76ers, Suns, Magic, Bobcats surprisingly find some fuel in the 'tank'

Six months before they stare longingly at a hopper of miniature balls and hope for the best, a quartet of NBA teams are already finding things bouncing their way.

Philadelphia, Phoenix, Orlando and Charlotte have packed what was expected to be a season's worth of highlights into the first two weeks. Widely regarded as contenders only for the services of presumed top draft pick Andrew Wiggins, the suddenly fearsome foursome is showing that patience can be overrated.

The 76ers and Suns may have identified their point guards of the future in Michael Carter-Williams and Eric Bledsoe. The Magic has found a potential All-Star in center Nikola Vucevic and a promising rookie in Victor Oladipo. The Bobcats have discovered that their roster holds promise beyond high-priced addition Al Jefferson.

All four teams won three of their first five games, putting them above .500 deeper into the season than anyone could have envisioned.

The startling starts probably will be forgotten as the teams' lack of talent and depth eventually sabotages any playoff hopes. But their November to remember is showcasing one sustainable upside to being awful: playing time for emerging stars.

By the time reinforcements arrive from the deep drafts of the next two years, there could be enough talent to transform these teams from lottery locks to playoff regulars.

Philadelphia is already feeling like the big winner of last summer's draft thanks to Carter-Williams, a precocious talent who somehow slipped to the 76ers as the 11th pick.

Being overlooked has become the norm for a player who as an eighth-grader was told he could develop into a Division III college player someday with a lot of hard work.

All Carter-Williams did in his NBA debut was collect 22 points, 12 assists, nine steals and seven rebounds in an upset of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Two games later, he outplayed Derrick Rose in a victory over the Chicago Bulls.

The former Syracuse standout became the first rookie selected conference player of the week to start his career since Shaquille O'Neal in 1992.

That Carter-Williams was playing such a prominent role was largely a result of what some thought were the 76ers' efforts to essentially forfeit their season in hopes of landing a high draft pick. The team jettisoned All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday in a trade, bid farewell to center Andrew Bynum in free agency and will likely allow lottery pick Nerlens Noel to sit out the entire season while recovering from a knee injury.

Even so, the 76ers are not bereft of talent beyond their rookie find. After the team started 3-0 for the first time in seven years, a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News suggested that expected trade chips Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young are worth keeping to comprise the veteran core that nurtures the parade of draft picks set to arrive in coming years.

Phoenix may have found a franchise cornerstone in Bledsoe, the onetime understudy to the Clippers' Chris Paul who has aced his first round of tests as a starter with his new team.

Bledsoe quickly showed why Clippers owner Donald Sterling was so reluctant to part with him that he had to be talked into consummating the trade by new Coach Doc Rivers. The speedy guard had 22 points, seven rebounds and six assists in his Suns debut and then scored his team's final 14 points — including a game-winning three-pointer — in a victory over the Utah Jazz.

Bledsoe is one of a bevy of Suns who have made the most of expanded roles following the departures of veterans Jared Dudley (in the Bledsoe deal), Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat.

Orlando has been similarly rebuilding since the departure of Dwight Howard in the summer of 2012, a process that has been expedited by the development of Vucevic and the arrival of Oladipo.

Vucevic logged 30 points and 21 rebounds in an upset of the Clippers, the kind of numbers that could help the 7-footer become the first All-Star from USC since Gus Williams with Seattle in 1983. Oladipo could accompany his teammate to participate in the dunk contest after showing his springy side with a 360-degree slam against the Brooklyn Nets.

Long beset by wretched personnel moves and a coaching carousel in perpetual motion, Charlotte was off to a respectable start under new Coach Steve Clifford before the former Lakers assistant was hospitalized with chest pain and had two stents placed in his heart Friday.

The Bobcats were receiving big-time contributions from youngsters Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and could absorb some uneven play from rookie Cody Zeller because of a defense that had allowed only two of its first six opponents to score 100 points.

Nobody has to pass along the stock caveat to the overachievers. All together now: It's still early!

Charlotte won six of its first 10 games last season before finishing 21-61 and Orlando briefly had a winning record in November on the way to going 20-62, the league's worst record.

Yet every properly executed play and breathtaking move by the new generation of players leaves teams alleged to be tanking for the future realizing that their present isn't as bleak as it once seemed.


Twitter: @latbbolch

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