First of all, I know that it's ridiculously early to start handing out end of the season awards. But without taking anything away from Rick Adelman, Paul Westphal, Alvin Gentry, Mike Woodson, or any other coach whose team is playing surprisingly well (although I'm not that surprised by the Rockets, that's due in part to Adelman), the most surprising team (to me) this year has been the Detroit Pistons.
Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm an idiot for not understanding what Joe Dumars was doing, but when you consider the injuries this team has sustained, the fact that they are playing .500 ball astounds me. It may not seem so surprising, considering this was a .500 team last year, but looking at their offseason additions and subtractions (plus injuries) seems to predict a major regression.
The nine players who played the most minutes for the 2009 Pistons were Antonio McDyess, Kwame Brown, Rasheed Wallace, Jason Maxiell, Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton, Arron Afflalo, Allen Iverson, and Rodney Stuckey. For the 2010 Pistons, it is Ben Wallace, Kwame Brown, Jonas Jerebko, Jason Maxiell, Charlie Villanueva, Austin Daye, Ben Gordon, Will Bynum, and Rodney Stuckey. How many of these changes could be expected to make the Pistons better?
Change #1: Replacing Antonio McDyess with Ben Wallace. Coming into the season, Wallace had been declining steadily since 2006, only played 12.6 MPG for the Cavs during their playoff run last spring, and almost retired after the loss to the Magic before signing with the Pistons for the veteran's minimum. Meanwhile, McDyess almost averaged a double-double for the Pistons last year, and was given a three year contract by the Spurs for the mid-level exception. It's safe to say that this was expected to be a downgrade for the Pistons. Instead, Ben Wallace is having his best season in several years, and McDyess has been somewhat disappointing for San Antonio.
Change #2: Replacing Sheed with Charlie Villanueva. I think it's safe to say that I didn't think replacing Sheed with someone with the worst defensive rating on last year's Bucks (and a sparkling .529 TS%) wouldn't end well.
Change #3: Due to injury, the Pistons have been forced to replace Tayshaun Prince, arguably their best player last year, with the rookie duo of Jonas Jerebko and Austin Daye. While they haven't been exactly good, they have played much better than I would expect two non-lottery picks to play.
Change #4: Replacing the injured Rip Hamilton with Ben Gordon. Gordon's been a bit better offensively, probably a bit worse defensively, which is about what was expected.
Change #5: Increased playing time for Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum (especially) replacing Arron Afflalo and Allen Iverson. Unless Stuckey or Bynum improved, this seemed like treading water, with better chemistry. However, Bynum has been better than expected as the team's 6th man.
Looking at the Pistons (assuming you knew about their injuries) before the season, the bulk of their offseason moves would seem to indicate a step backwards. Why hasn't this happened? A 35 year old Ben Wallace has bounced back, Will Bynum's filled in capably, and somehow a team that's giving significant minutes to two rookies, a 6'0 combo guard, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, and Kwame Brown has been an average defensive team so far. Maybe their success so far has been a fluke. With Rip Hamilton coming back from injury, Kuester will have more talent to work with, and a .500 record may not warrant Coach of the Year consideration, especially if Tayshaun Prince returns soon. But the fact that this team has been competitive is impressive enough to throw Kuester into the Coach of the Year discussion, for now.