Monday morning, Jack Winter started Basketball Insiders’ newest series titled Trade Targets, where he looked at the best players that could potentially be on the trade market when the fateful Feb. 7 deadline arrives.
Today, we take a look at the Northwest Division. Before we get to it, we need to set the stage. With the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder, every single team in the Northwest came into the season aiming to make the playoffs. Since the season began, everyone’s seasons have been pretty topsy-turvy.
Up until the last few weeks, there were red flags everywhere concerning the Utah Jazz’s season outlook. Now, there’s red alarms everywhere concerning Utah’s potential. Coming off their run to the Conference Finals, the Portland Trail Blazers’ injury-plagued roster has put their playoff hopes in jeopardy. The Minnesota Timberwolves were turning some heads early on. Then, those heads instantly turned back after a miserable December. The Denver Nuggets are the one team that’s looked like a great team from the get-go, but it’s odd that they managed to keep things afloat while Nikola Jokic got himself into game shape.
The one team that’s shown consistency has oddly been the one team that didn’t have much current aspiration to begin with — Oklahoma City. With the season entering its halfway point, teams are going to look wherever they can to add to their playoff hopes. The Northwest Division has quite a few of those.
If you’re familiar with our guys up in the Northwest, then you probably know who’s going to show up on here.
Let’s just get this out of the way — this is going to be very Thunder-centric because they could very well dominate the trade buzz from here on from now until the deadline. If we’re being honest, they’ve taken over the rumor mill ever since the Russell Westbrook-Chris Paul swap, so seeing their name in any new buzz shouldn’t send any shockwaves.
We should rename the Thunder, “The Oklahoma City Clash” because the title of OKC’s season right now is “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” Even though the plan reportedly has been to trade away what they can to start fresh, they have a likable winning team on their hands.
They have all the makings of a squad who would give any contender fits in the playoffs. Yet, as much of a fun story that they’ve been, their play hasn’t deterred the front office from their original objective. Their most recent loss at the hands of the LeBron James-less and Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers served as a good reminder that they’re not going anywhere near a title.
From the looks of things, Oklahoma City is going to cut ties with all of its best players not named Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. To evaluate this fully, we have to do this in order from most expendable to least expendable. Usually, that starts with the player whose contract is the closest to expendable
Danilo Gallinari — $22,615,559
Gallinari’s return to full health is one of the stories that doesn’t get enough attention around the league. Over the years, we’ve forgotten about what he can do on the court because of both his prolonged injury history and playing for irrelevant Denver teams between Andre Iguodala’s departure and pre-Nikola Jokic.
He had quite the resurgence with the Los Angeles Clippers last season, and that’s only continued since playing for the Thunder. While Gallo has not been able to maintain the same efficiency he had in LA last season — averaging almost 20 points on 46/43/90 splits — his numbers this season, 18.3 points on 43/40/90 splits, should make him a desired asset on the market.
Plenty of teams can use a feared scorer like Gallo. His scoring abilities won’t make him an alpha dog but a very respectable secondary scorer. Teams like Toronto, Phoenix, and, for some reason, Boston, have expressed interest in Gallinari and for good reason. His ability to score from just about anywhere can make a huge difference in the playoffs.
The only qualm is the expiration date. Teams don’t usually pay top dollar for an expiring deal. As good as Gallinari is, OKC shouldn’t expect much of a haul for him since he’ll be looking for a new deal six months from now. Then again, their ship already came in from the deals they made last summer, so they won’t lose much sleep over it.
Thunder general manager Sam Presti’s best option might be just to wait it out until the summer then work out a sign-and-trade with Gallinari. That’s what Denver did back in 2017, and it got them Paul Millsap. Presti doesn’t have to get a Millsap-type to cash in on Gallo. He just has to add to an already strong foundation of assets.
Steven Adams — $25,842,697
Adams has been through it all with the Thunder. He was there when they came within inches of returning to The Finals. When they almost upset the Warriors. When they lost Kevin Durant. When Russell Westbrook had his MVP season. When Paul George came to town. When Carmelo Anthony followed. When the team bowed out in disappointing fashion. When they somewhat blew it up.
Adams has been there to witness it all.
Now, it looks like his time might be up in OKC. What’s somewhat sad about this is that Adams has been a good soldier throughout all the turmoil. He always kept his head up and did his job no matter what changes he had to go through with the Thunder. That’s one of his more subtle appeals. Adams is a presence in your locker room.
The main appeal to the New Zealander? He’s pure beef in the frontcourt. The guys clogs up the paint. Any team who needs an upgrade in the frontcourt will get its money’s worth. This season, he’s putting up a respectable 12/10, as well as putting up his usual fantastic rim protection. Adams is currently is surrendering a respectable 54.2 shooting percentage at the rim. Should he make his way to a contender, he can change the equation when defending the post.
The only teams who have been linked to Adams have been Sacramento and Atlanta. Neither team exactly fits the contender profile, but their youth movement could be a suitable change of pace for Adams, who’s only 26. It wouldn’t be the worst fate in the world, but NBA fandom would prefer to see him on a contender again.
Dennis Schroder – 15,500,000
It’s depressing that on his second team, Schroder is again playing the perfect role for him — the very overqualified backup point guard — on a team that again is facing its final days. It’s not his fault that much like how it was in Atlanta, there isn’t much use for him now in Oklahoma City.
Much attention has been given to OKC’s three-point guard lineup containing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Schroder. Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander get the most attention for that because one is a star veteran while another is a star on the rise. Not enough is being put on Schroder, which honestly is kind of unfair.
The three of them together are plus-29 when they share the court, which has the highest net rating among any Oklahoma City three-man lineup that has logged 200 minutes or more. If you don’t think Schroder has a lot to do with that, check out the net rating of the next five three-man lineups.
Chris Paul-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-22.2
Chris Paul-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-20
Danilo Gallinari-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-19.5
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Steven Adams-Dennis Schroder: Plus-17.2
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-Danilo Gallinari-Dennis Schroder: Plus-16.9
Seeing a pattern?
For the duration of his entire career, Schroder’s developed a reputation for being the league’s best backup point guard. On his next team, wherever that is, Schroder should slide in just fine whether if he’s starting or coming off the bench. Let’s just hope he stays there when that happens.
Chris Paul — $38,506,482
*Hot Take* Chris Paul is still an elite player.
He’s still an excellent floor general. He’s still capable of taking over games. He’s killing it from mid-range. He’s still a reliable three-point shooter. He still plays great defense. He’s no longer the very best in the league — if he was, Oklahoma City would probably keep their squad together — but his play this season has been so good that just about everyone in the league is begging for his services to be put on a contender.
It’s just the elephant in the room that’s been there since last year. As his game continues to age, his contract further plummets as an albatross. There is some draw to that, though, when you look at what he’s still able to do. He’s very available right now. Oklahoma City will do just about anything to get off his deal. As bad as that contract is, Paul has plenty of playoff experience on his belt, and he’s even proven from his time in Houston and Oklahoma City that he can adjust accordingly as his prime dwindles.
The options are limited. Only teams like Miami and Dallas have the expendable contracts to acquire Paul. Those teams have been better than advertised, yes. Are they winning a championship with their current squads? No. Does acquiring Paul change that? It’s possible. Of course then, they have to consider cap flexibility and all, which is hard to give up. This writer has also written about where he thinks CP3’s ideal team would be.
Even if he’s badly overpaid, a player with as much talent as Chris Paul can basically be had without having to exchange any valuable assets. If getting him on your team gives you a championship window, then what does it matter how much you have to pay him for the next two years?
Robert Covington — $11,301,219
The Wolves are at a crossroads right now. They could roll with this crew if they’d like. They can fight tooth and nail for a playoff spot, and maybe even get one. Doing so would make the season a success. It would probably lead to a sweep in the first round, but expectations were low coming into this season. They should be proud of themselves if they make the playoffs.
Or, they can punt on the season. Is it worth fighting that hard for such little reward that is the last playoff spot? If they decide to tank, there’s only one other team in the Western Conference that’s all but out of the playoffs right now — the Golden State Warriors. The opportunity to increase your lottery odds has never been bigger.
If they choose Option B, then Robert Covington easily becomes one of the most coveted players at the trade deadline. RoCo has one of the most desired skillsets a team vying for a championship could want. He’s an All-NBA Defense alum and has shown that he can’t be left wide open from three.
Covington’s already been in a fair amount of trade rumors. The worse Minny plays, the likelier they are to trade him because a win-now veteran like Covington doesn’t have a place on a team like that. Someone like him should be put on a team that’s fighting for more than just a playoff spot.
The upside for the Timberwolves is, because of what he does and because of how cheap his contract is, Covington should fetch some good value back. For the Timberwolves, he might be better as an asset than as a player.
Malik Beasley — $2,731,714
It’s not often you see a productive player on a rookie contract get mentioned among the more valuable trade targets. If all the buzz surrounding the Denver Nuggets and Beasley is true, then we’ve got a potential steal in the works.
After taking a leap in his third year as a pro, Beasley’s seen his minutes take somewhat of a dive this season. Going from an average of 23.2 minutes to 16.7 shouldn’t come as a welcome development for Beasley. He established himself a long-range threat last season, shooting 40.2 percent from three. While his minutes and point average have declined, Beasley’s ability to stretch the floor has not wavered, as he’s still shot 38.6 from deep on the season.
It may only get worse. Michael Porter Jr’s development is starting to get some great results. He and Beasley don’t play the same position, but as Porter gets more minutes, more players in the active rotation are going to have their minutes adjusted to make room for him. Beasley might just be the odd man out.
If that turns out to be the case, expect teams in need of a three-point shooter — or really, anyone trying to win it all — to come calling Denver. They’d be foolish to trade Beasley to a rival, so don’t be shocked if they trade him somewhere in the east if it comes to that.
He will be a restricted free agent this summer, so it’s not like the Nuggets are caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. If they trade him, it means they don’t see him as a building block going forward. If they don’t, then they clearly see value in him.
There was some temptation to put Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore on this list, but at this point in time, if they were to get traded, teams that would trade for them would pull the trigger more for matching contract purposes than to acquire their talent.
The race to the championship should only get tighter as the season goes on. If trade season plays a major role in shaping up who wins the championship this season, don’t be too shocked if the players in the Northwest Division have something to do with it.
NBA Daily: Deadline Dilemma In Toronto
After winning the 2019 NBA Championship and losing Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors have defied the odds, winning 30 of their first 44 games this season — but Drew Maresca argues that conceding this season in hopes of building an even stronger future roster is the smarter long-term move.
The Raptors have overachieved in a ridiculous way in 2019-20. They were +700 to repeat as NBA champions prior to the 2019 free agency period, according to the Draft Kings.
Immediately after Kawhi Leonard fled West, the Raptors’ odds grew to +2200 to repeat – tied with the Celtics, who just lost Kyrie Irving, and the Nets, whose best player was set to miss the entire year. And yet through 44 games, the Raptors are third in the Eastern Conference with a 31-14 record and only one-and-a-half games behind last year’s pace (32-12).
But what’s in a record? There’s more to unpack than just wins and losses, especially when success has almost certainly been redefined in a city that just experienced its first NBA championship ever. So a logical test is how well you’re playing against the crème de la crème. And in that regard, the Raptors haven’t fared too well. Including their home win against Philadelphia on Wednesday night, the Raptors are still only 7-12 against winning teams with a net rating of minus-37 in those 19 games.
Very few teams would be terribly upset to be in a similar situation as the Raptors. In fact, most teams would be thrilled to be third overall in their conference. But the Raptors are barreling toward an interesting decision: embrace the opportunity to continue to gain playoff experience (and additional playoff revenue) or expedite a miniature rebuild. This writer’s thoughts on the matter are well documented in our 2019-20 Toronto Raptors Season Preview and our recent Atlantic Division – buyers or sellers piece. But let’s officially build a case supporting the Raptors trading some of their veterans in an attempt to add assets prior to the Feb. 6 trade deadline.
The Raptors’ most valuable trade chip is also their longest-tenured player – starting point guard, Kyle Lowry. Lowry is 33 years old and experiencing a career resurgence after taking a back seat to Leonard last year. Lowry is averaging a near career-high 37.1 minutes per game, in which time he’s scoring 20 points per game – more than he’s scored since 2016-17 — and dishing out 7.5 assists.
But Lowry is probably the last guy the team wants to move. He’s a fan favorite and has been with the team for eight consecutive seasons; Lowry is currently third overall for games played in franchise history. But if they chose to dangle Lowry on the trade market, they would certainly get a good amount of interest from teams like the Lakers, HEAT, 76ers and maybe even the Jazz and Nuggets. What interested parties would offer is an entirely different story, but it would have to be pretty aggressive to get the Raptors to part with their franchise player.
But there are other guys who make more sense in a trade.
There’s Marc Gasol, their soon-to-be 35-year-old center. Unlike Lowry, Gasol is not experiencing a career renaissance. He’s missed 12 of their 44 games, with down years in scoring (7.8 points per game compared to his 14.7 career average), two-point shooting (44% compared to his from 49.7% career average) and rebounds (6.4 rebounds compared to his 7.6. career average). But he still has a good amount of utility in him. After all, he leads the Raptors in defensive plus/minus, per Basketball Reference – something that he’s prided himself on throughout his career and an attribute that would be a welcomed addition to most contenders.
There’s also Serge Ibaka, their 30-year-old sometimes-starting, sometimes-backup big man. Ibaka is actually outpacing career averages in scoring (14.9), rebounds (8.4) and assists (1.3). Ibaka is still widely viewed as an above-average and versatile defender, and the fact that he’s shooting 37% on three-pointers makes him all the more valuable to teams like the Boston Celtics – who lack a true big man who can stretch the floor.
Gasol and Ibaka’s standing in Toronto is especially vulnerable since both will enter free agency this summer — whereas Lowry signed an extension last year that runs through 2020-21, when he’ll make $30.5 million. The Raptors could choose to keep Gasol and/or Ibaka, but either or both could walk without returning any assets as soon as this July. Further, the team is unlikely to break the bank for either considering they’ll have to make a generous offer to retain soon-to-be free agent guard Fred VanVleet – who is having a breakout season, averaging 18.7 points and 6.7 assists per game while shooting 38.8% on a career-high 6.9 three-point attempts per game. VanVleet is only 25 years old and fits alongside Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and the team’s young role players like Norman Powell far better than Ibaka or Gasol.
As it stands, the Raptors have about $85 million in salary commitments for 2020-21 with $3.8 million in a player option (Stanley Johnson) and another $1.5 million in a team option (Terence Davis). The cap is projected at $116 million with the luxury tax kicking in at $141 million. They can (and should) invest between $20 and $25 million per year in VanVleet, which brings them up to about $110 million. If negotiations begin creeping north of $25 million per year, the Raptors will have to make concessions elsewhere if they hope to retain VanVleet – Ibaka would theoretically be among those concessions since he’ll probably be looking for at least one more generous payday. It’s unclear what Gasol would seek in a new contract.
All three of the aforementioned Raptors have at least one thing in common – they are the only three Raptors born before 1990. So whether they like it or not, the Raptors have turned their roster over quickly and effectively to the extent that they have a talented young core with the framework of a contender in the making.
All three veteran players can definitely continue contributing for at least the remainder of this season – and to varying degrees, well beyond it. But their impact will be more profound on a contender looking to add quality veterans. And despite what their record tells us, that’s just not the Raptors right now.
Instead, the Raptors are a team in the very fortunate position of being able to reload relatively quickly around a blossoming young core. Yes, they’re significantly better than average, but which would you prefer: a team that qualifies for the conference semifinals in 2019-20 or a team that loses in the first round of the 2019-20 playoffs, but adds additional assets — some of whom help the team remain competitive for years to come?
Granted, dislodging Lowry from Toronto requires a monster offer and would result in at least some backlash; but neglecting to trade Gasol and/or Ibaka is likely to result in one or both leaving to pursue more money and/or additional championships – neither of which can the Raptors offer. The Raptors and team president Masai Ujiri have made bold moves time and again. There is no reason to hold off on moving either Gasol and/or Ibaka before Feb. 6 – and if a sweetheart offer comes in for Lowry, then him, too.
Regardless, the Raptors are fairly well set up for the future, so it is unlikely that this move (or lack of it) is analyzed too aggressively in the future. And also, there is certainly a fine line between being opportunist and greedy. But trading one, both or all veterans allows the team to add additional assets to a cupboard that already looks pretty well stocked.
And it’s probably one of the final opportunities to add talent before their core takes its final form — and if that form results in future championships is partially dependent on how the Raptors proceed before the 2020 trade deadline.
NBA Daily: Raptors’ Thomas Patiently Perseveres
It took a tight family, two years in Spain and a broken finger, but Matt Thomas’ chance to showcase his shooting on the biggest stage might be finally just around the corner.
Matt Thomas’ long-awaited break was disrupted by a more literal break. After the shooting guard spent two years impressing in the Liga ACB in Spain, Thomas’ first season with the Toronto Raptors was supposed to be his chance to prove himself NBA-ready.
And as the Raptors suffered injury after injury in November, that chance looked like it could grow into a full-blown role, if only on a temporary basis.
“He’s shown he can play at this level, where we can come out there and run stuff for him and he can do work,” Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s a really good team defender; he’s much better defensively than maybe people give him credit for.”
Instead, Thomas joined the walking wounded with a broken finger, the first injury to force him to miss extended time in his professional career.
“Anytime you’re injured, it’s hard,” Thomas said. “As a competitor, I want to be on the court, especially we had so many injuries. There was a big opportunity on the table for a first-year guy like myself.”
Thomas had hit 14-of-26 threes at that point, 53.8 percent, already arguably the best shooter on the Raptors’ roster, albeit in limited minutes. The Iowa State product was making the most of his break until his break.
He had waited for it since finishing his four-year career in Ames and Thomas seemed on the verge of reaching the NBA right away in 2017. He spent that Summer League with the Los Angeles Lakers, knowing the Raptors were keeping a close eye. In time, though, Valencia beckoned, a tough decision for someone exceptionally close with his family. Up until that point, the closeness had been as literal as figurative, with Iowa State a four-hour drive from Thomas’ hometown of Onalaska, Wisconsin.
“I wanted to spread my wings and get out of my comfort zone a little bit,” Thomas said of his two years in Spain where he averaged 13.3 points and shot 47.2 percent from deep. “The distance is tough. The time change is the other thing. It’s a 7-to-8 hour time difference, so you really have to coordinate when you’re going to talk to people.”
That was frustrating for a brother intent on keeping up on his sister’s college career, now a senior at the University of Dubuque. Moreover, it was an even bigger change for a family that had been tight-knit since Thomas lost his father in fifth grade.
Thomas’s mother, brother and sister did manage to visit him in Spain, but watching games stateside is obviously much easier. At least, in theory. When the Midwestern winter dumped five inches of snow on the highways between the Target Center and his hometown about 2.5 hours away, that recent trek to see him became that much tougher.
Nonetheless, about four dozen Thomas supporters filled a section above the Raptors’ bench. They were most noticeable when Nurse subbed in the sharpshooter with just a minute left in the first half.
“It’s special because I have a really good support system,” Thomas said. “I’ve had that my entire life . . . It’s just really special to have so many people make the trip, especially given the weather conditions. I was talking to one of my cousins from Iowa; he was driving 30 on the highway. He got here in six hours, it would normally take maybe three.”
If anyone could understand that Midwestern stubbornness, it would be Nurse, himself from just four hours south of the Twin Cities. When asked why his fan club was not as vocal as Thomas’, Nurse joked his was stuck “in a snowdrift somewhere in Carroll County, Iowa.”
It might not have been a joke.
Nurse did not insert Thomas just to appease his loyal cheering section. The end of half situation called for a shooter — he had gone 7-of-18 in his four games after returning from the broken finger. Of players averaging at least two attempts from beyond the arc per game, Thomas leads Toronto with a 46.7 percentage.
“It’s too bad that he was one of the guys out when we had everybody out because he could have logged some serious minutes,” Nurse said. “Now he gets back and everybody’s back and he kind of gets filtered in.”
That close family, that time in Spain, that broken finger and now that filtering in have all been a part of Thomas getting a chance to prove himself in the NBA.
If he has to wait a bit longer before seeing serious minutes, so be it.
The Raptors did, after all, give him a three-year contract. He has time on his side.
Who The NBA’s Top Road Warriors?
Jordan Hicks takes a look at the teams boasting the top-five road records in the league and breaks down what makes them so good away from home.
Winning in the NBA is not easy by any means — but a victory on the road is almost more valuable than one at home. Maybe not as far as standings are concerned, but road wins are harder to come by in the league. Being able to get victories away from home can shoot your team up the standings faster than anything else.
Each year there are new teams that impress. Whether it’s expected franchises such as those led by LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard — superstars with historically great track records, rosters that must do so to meet lofty expectations. But there are always surprise newcomers such as the Miami HEAT or the Dallas Mavericks, too. Either way, a large chunk of those aforementioned team’s success relies heavily upon their ability to get wins on the road.
Who are the best road warriors this year? What teams are posting the highest records away from their home cities at the halfway point? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the top five teams in that realm, plus points to certain reasons they may be finding success.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers (19-4)
This first one should come as no surprise. For one, they are led by LeBron James. Secondly, they are co-led by Anthony Davis. Do you even need a third reason?
Listen, everyone thought the Lakers would be good. But did anyone think they’d be this dominant and click this fast? Honestly, high-five if so. But it’s not just those two that are doing all the work. Players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are thriving, Dwight Howard is having a mini-resurgence, Kyle Kuzma is playing for his roster spot and Rajon Rondo is still dishing dimes at a high rate – though not as high as King James.
LeBron is averaging 26 points, 10.9 assists and 8.4 rebounds on the road, almost a triple-double. Davis is just behind scoring-wise at 25.9 points and almost a double-double with 9.2 rebounds. Kuzma is shooting 47.2 percent from the field and scoring just over 15 a game and, most surprisingly, leading the team in plus-minus at a plus-7.1.
With multiple road-wins against the Mavericks — and one each over the Miami HEAT, the Utah Jazz, and the Denver Nuggets — what’s not to appreciate? The Lakers appear to be the clear front runner in the Western Conference and their impressive road record is a large reason why.
No. 2: Milwaukee Bucks (18-4)
On top of the road-win totem with the Lakers sits the Milwaukee Bucks. They’ve been every bit as dominating as the Lakers, which is helped, in part, to the much-weaker bottom of the Eastern Conference. But this by no means is a knock on their talent level. Just like the Lakers are the current kings of the West, the Bucks are dominating the East.
Giannis Antetokounmpo appears ready to secure his second consecutive MVP award. He’s even more dominant than he was last year and he’s finally shooting the three at a respectable clip.
While Antetokounmpo’s numbers seem to be pretty steady overall when compared to his road numbers, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton both see a bump in production when playing away from their home arena. Although the Bucks have an insanely-impressive point differential of plus-13.8 at home, it dips to just plus-11.4 when they play on the road. This is a true testament to their consistency as they travel.
The Bucks appear to lack the road-win resume that the Lakers bolster, but with solid wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, they can clearly take care of business against evenly-matched opponents.
No. 3: Dallas Mavericks (14-5)
By far and large the biggest surprise this NBA season has been the Mavericks. A few smart people probably had them penciled in as a surprise eighth-seed, but it’s almost a guarantee no one had them in as a playoff lock as early as December.
The reason they’re playing so well? Luka Doncic. He’s only half an assist away from averaging a triple-double on the road and he’s scoring more to boot. In fact, the Mavericks are averaging just 115.1 points at home compared to a whopping 118.6 on the road.
What’s even crazier is the fact that Dallas’ offensive rating while on the road not only leads the NBA — it’s over four full points greater than the Lakers at No. 2. The gap between them and second place is as big as the space between Los Angeles and the eleventh-ranked team.
The Mavericks boast quite the slate of road wins including the Nuggets, Lakers, Bucks, Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. Yes, you read all those names right. One thing is for certain, the Mavericks will be a nightmare for whoever has to play them in the playoffs – regardless of seeding.
No. 4: Toronto Raptors (14-7)
You would think that after Kawhi Leonard’s departure that the Raptors would have slightly folded, but they’ve almost picked up right where they left off. Sure, Leonard’s absence was going to leave some sort of void, but it’s amazing just how well Toronto has fared this season.
They boast the second-best road defense with a rating of 102.7, just behind the Bucks. They also have the fourth-best net rating away from home.
The three-headed monster of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry has been as effective on the road as it has been at home. Thanks to the ever-improving play of Siakam, Toronto should comfortably find themselves with home-court advantage come playoff time. They might not have what it takes to repeat as champions, but they’re absolutely going to make life tough for whomever they end up facing.
Solid road wins against the Boston Celtics and Lakers certainly look impressive on the resume, but they’ll need to continue to improve as a unit if they want to make any noise in the playoffs.
No. 5: Denver Nuggets (13-7)
The Nuggets are having an interesting season. Gary Harris hasn’t been playing well at all, Jamal Murray hasn’t been turning heads either, but Nikola Jokic is still feasting on any opposing center thrown his way.
The biggest surprise so far? The stellar play of second-year rookie Michael Porter Jr. He’s only averaging about 15 minutes per game but, on the road, he’s scoring 8.3 points per game on 56 percent from the field and 51.6 percent from three. His NBA sample sizes aren’t quite big enough yet, but it’s becoming more and more clear just how good he’ll become.
Despite no one else on the roster improving much from last season, the Nuggets still find themselves in the upper-echelon of the Western Conference — and their stellar road play is a major reason. With solid road-wins against the Lakers, Mavericks and Indiana Pacers, the Nuggets are primed to finish the second half of the season strong. If Porter Jr. continues to improve and see expanded minutes, Denver could turn into a real threat out west.
All the teams on this list have been pretty impressive up to this point in the season, but there is still a long way to go. Will the Bucks or Lakers get dethroned as the road warriors of their respective conferences? Only time will tell.
But if one thing is certain in the NBA, road wins are no “gimmes,” regardless of opponent. The above teams all deserve their rightful spot on this midseason list. How many will remain come April?