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2015-16 Phoenix Suns Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Phoenix Suns’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders



This year, it’s possible that the Phoenix Suns could be a playoff team. Apart from the Markieff Morris situation that must be dealt with, there is optimism in Phoenix.

In the brutally tough Western Conference, there may be at least one spot up for grabs if the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks drop out of the playoff picture (and the Oklahoma City Thunder climb in, as expected).

The only teams that could conceivably rise to be the eighth-best team in the conference would be the Suns, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings. The Kings might have the talent, but there are a whole lot of new pieces and drama surround the team. The Jazz will be without sophomore guard Dante Exum for the season, but even so they are the Suns’ top competition for the final playoff spot in the West. Can Phoenix take the next step and crack the top eight?

Basketball Insiders previews the Phoenix Suns’ 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

The Suns nearly won the offseason by signing LaMarcus Aldridge. At the end of the day, Aldridge’s decision came down to Phoenix and the San Antonio Spurs, with the free agent power forward admitting that it was a very tough call. He obviously went to the Spurs, but the Suns still did add some veteran reinforcements over the offseason such as Tyson Chandler, Mirza Teletovic and Sonny Weems (in addition to drafting rookie Devin Booker). I’m excited to see how Brandon Knight does alongside Eric Bledsoe, since Knight was sidelined and limited for much of his time with the Suns last season after joining Phoenix via trade. I’m also curious to see how the addition of Chandler impacts this team. I believe the Suns will compete for the eighth seed in the Western Conference this season, but as of the right now, I have the Utah Jazz sneaking in instead of them. With that said, it’ll be a tough battle for that final seed and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Suns get in if they play to their full potential.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

– Alex Kennedy

On the one hand, getting Tyson Chandler to bolt Dallas was a coup. That was one of the better pickups of the offseason, mostly because this talented Suns roster needed some hard-nosed veteran leadership to help them take things to the next level. Of course, that was when it looked like they were still seriously in the hunt for LaMarcus Aldridge, and that obviously didn’t happen. Now, even Markieff Morris is unhappy with his brother having been shipped off to Detroit, and the Brandon Knight/Eric Bledsoe backcourt combination isn’t one guaranteed to dominate. There are plenty of kids on this roster to like, but it feels like an odd mix. The Pacific is a rough division this year with the Lakers and Kings improving this offseason, so Phoenix could slip a little. If they didn’t make the playoffs the last two years, they certainly aren’t going to do it this season.

5th Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

Phoenix hovered around .500 last season, but in a stacked Western Conference those type of results won’t raise many eyebrows, if any at all. The team unexpectedly changed pace at the trade deadline shipping guards Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas out of town. The team netted guard Brandon Knight, who was recently locked into a long-term deal with the franchise. On the interior, the Suns signed aging center Tyson Chandler, who will provide a defensive presence. Although there has been plenty of changes in Phoenix, don’t expect too much fluctuation in one direction. Stagnant would be a word that comes to mind when evaluating the 2015-16 Phoenix Suns.

4th Place – Pacific Division

– Lang Greene

If you thought there was drama with the Sacramento Kings, the Phoenix Suns are right there with them. Markieff Morris has made his displeasure with the organization abundantly clear following the trade of his twin, Marcus, to the Detroit Pistons. The outlook of the Suns’ season depends on how this situation plays out. A disgruntled top player doesn’t lead to wins, it leads to turmoil in the locker room and on the court. A trade could garner new talent, though Morris’ public display of unhappiness doesn’t give them much leverage. Where the Suns do have dependability is in the backcourt with guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. They also added Devin Booker in the draft. If Morris cannot contribute as he has in the past, the offseason signing of Tyson Chandler gives the Suns a veteran big man presence regardless. Just as the Kings have gone through ups and downs with DeMarcus Cousins, the Suns could find themselves in a similar situation if this continues this season, which could hinder their improvement.

3rd Place – Pacific Division

-Jessica Camerato

Anyone who has spent time around Jeff Hornacek would attest to his spirit and presence. There’s something about him that simultaneously puts his players at ease, but still garners their respect. Entering this season, the two questions I have for them revolve around Eric Bledsoe and Tyson Chandler. First, Bledsoe quietly put together what could be regarded as the best season of his career last year. He played 81 games after missing 39 games of the 2013-14 season. Without Goran Dragic, Bledsoe will have to carry more weight for the Suns, as Brandon Knight will clearly be regarded as his secondary. Tyson Chandler’s spirit and work ethic will have a positive effect on the youngsters he will be surrounded by, and in the end, I’d expect the Suns to continue to overachieve behind Hornacek and have a shot at a playoff berth. Along with the Mavericks, Jazz and maybe the Kings, the Suns will probably hang around the eighth seed until the final week of the season, though they are still a notch below the powers in the Pacific. I’ll pencil the Kings in above them, but I do so reluctantly.

4th Place — Pacific Division

-Moke Hamilton

Top of the List

Best Offensive Player: Eric Bledsoe

This is Eric Bledsoe’s team. While Brandon Knight is his running mate in the dual point guard attack, everything stems from Bledsoe’s driving penetration, blazing speed and Hulk-like strength and toughness finishing in the lane. It’s his time to be the Suns’ alpha dog. Seemingly, Bledsoe is taking a larger leadership role going into the season and becoming more vocal. It may his time to take the league by storm, and it seems he is primed for a big season. The Suns will only go as far as Bledsoe takes them.

Best Defensive Player: P.J. Tucker

Tyson Chandler could’ve gotten the nod here, but we’ll focus on him more later and decided to go with Tucker instead since he is the heart and soul of this Suns team. Tucker is the king of fourth-quarter clutch rebounds, and he is a great defender. He is also versatile, guarding multiple positions. Additionally, he has what every coach looks for in a player: an intense work ethic and team-first attitude. Every year, Tucker adds something to his game, typically on the offensive side of the ball. We’ll see what new wrinkles to his game he comes to camp with this year, but expect him to continue being a lockdown defender.

Top Playmaker: Brandon Knight

It’ll be nice to see Knight actually flourish in a Suns uniform this year after being limited by injuries toward the end of last season. Last year was a disaster for Phoenix in many ways. They were beaten on a ridiculous amount of improbable buzzer beaters, were kind of forced to trade away a third of their roster at the trade deadline and dealt with some nagging injuries. This year (especially once the Markieff Morris fiasco gets sorted out), everything is looking up for the Suns in general and for Brandon Knight. Healthy and comfortable in the system, Knight may be able to produce at the level he did in the first half of last year with Milwaukee.

Best Clutch Player: Markieff Morris

Morris was far and away the most consistently clutch player for Phoenix last year and near the top of the league as well. The chance that he’ll be on the Suns by the beginning of the season is quite low, and it’s even less likely he’s on the team following the February trade deadline. But he remains with the team right now, so he’s eligible for this distinction. If he does stay in Phoenix and everything gets resolved, he’s the go-to option down the stretch in a close game.

Best New Addition: Tyson Chandler

This is such a great (and underrated) pickup for the Suns. While he is past his prime, Chandler brings exactly what the Suns need. He brings stability to the center position (the budding Alex Len tends to get banged up with small “inconsequential” injuries). He brings spectacular interior defense as well as communication, leadership and accountability on that end, which the Suns have basically never had in the history of their franchise. He also sets great picks, which Phoenix has been recently pretty poor at and will benefit Bledsoe and Knight greatly.

-Eric Saar

Who We Like

Alex Len: Len is a cornerstone piece for the Suns. He is a legit center with a smooth touch on his shot. He has length, explosiveness and athleticism. While still learning the game, for a 22-year-old he shows flashes of greatness. He is a bit injury-prone, but not in a major way. He’s had a broken nose here, bruised something there, but nothing major since his early ankle/foot issues. He gets to be mentored by Tyson Chandler and gets to play against backup centers (even though he started last year and is starting-caliber). He’s going to feast on backup centers all year. He has the whole package. It’s coming along slowly, but the improvement is there. Look for a big season from him this year or next.

Archie Goodwin: Goodwin is just fun to watch. He seemingly has boundless energy and a knack for disrupting the opposition. He’s a spark. His season will be very intriguing to track. He isn’t a “gimmick” player (i.e. dunk contest winner Jeremy Evens, who hasn’t done much else), but he also hasn’t proven that he can have consistent production across a season. His shot was unreliable to say the least, but as is evident from summer league, he seems to have reworked it and his release is quicker and cleaner, and his shot looks smoother. He will be competing with sharpshooter rookie Devin Booker for backup shooting guard duties and probably has the upper hand right now due to experience, but if he can’t have a consistent jumper in his back pocket, he could end up buried on the depth chart.

T.J. Warren: Toward the end of last season and even during this year’s summer league (where Warren took home first-team honors), he looked like a breakout candidate for his sophomore season. He has a beautiful arsenal of floaters and unconventional shots around the basket that he can pull out at any time. His floater even extends further, rivalling the rest of the NBA. His off-ball cutting is superb as well. His jumper is just okay, but not great, and he hasn’t quite extended it to three-point range yet. That, as well as upping his defense from barely below average to average defender, will take him to the next level. But he really has an amazing knack for scoring. He just gets the ball in the hoop.

Devin Booker: Booker is a flat out pure shooter. Just being drafted, he instantly became the best three-point shooter on the Suns. He’s a rookie and depending on how the competition between he and Goodwin goes, he could spend some time over in Bakersfield playing for the Suns’ D-League affiliate. His shot release is quick and so, so, smooth. It’ll be nice for Phoenix to have a knockdown shooter from deep again. He will help space the defense for the likes of Bledsoe and Knight to drive into the lane.

Mirza Teletovic: It never hurts to have a guy on your team who cares so much that he says he’d die for basketball, right? That really is the embodiment of the phrase “ball is life.” Teletovic is a stretch-four, who missed a bunch of last season when he played for the Brooklyn Nets and developed a blood clot in his lung. Depending on how the Markieff Morris situation plays out, Teletovic could have a bigger role on the Suns than initially expected when he was first acquired.

Sonny Weems: A relative unknown to casual NBA fans, he started his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors but has been playing overseas in Lithuania and Russia in recent years. Now, Weems will be a veteran presence on the young squad. The 29-year old will be a spark off the bench. He shouldn’t be relied on to initiate the offense, but he can get out in transition, he works well off the ball and he can shoot pretty well (including from three, especially after expanding his shot while overseas). He has a long wingspan, great athleticism and plays good defense. We’ll see how he fares against NBA competition once again, seeing as he hasn’t faced opponents of that caliber in a while. He has a high IQ and a high motor and could thrive in a bench role for Phoenix this year.

-Eric Saar


One strength for Phoenix is their depth. They have one of the better benches in the league, especially with the addition of Chandler moving Len back to the bench, Warren’s emergence and the drafting of Booker. This Suns team has always loved getting out in transition and that shouldn’t change this year. They prefer that style and are very good at running that up-tempo system. Their bigs like to run, along with their point guards. They also have a solid mix of youth and experience, which is what teams want.

-Eric Saar


In contrast to their depth, probably the biggest problem Phoenix has had (since Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire left) is the lack of a superstar. They have a lot of good players, but no great ones (yet).

Phoenix also has a problem winning close games. They won a few last year, but lost even more, including some brutal buzzer-beaters. They had issues getting technical fouls at all the wrong times, which may be helped by moving Marcus Morris and the seemingly imminent departure of Markieff Morris, but Bledsoe and Tucker were also part of this problem. Tyson Chandler will help in this aspect for sure.

Booker (and to a lesser extent Weems) will help with Phoenix’s three-point shooting woes, but it will probably still not be a strength for them. The same goes for Chandler and Phoenix’s rebounding.

-Eric Saar

The Burning Question

What will happen with Markieff Morris?

This is obviously the big question with the Suns. By making it clear that he wants to leave, this hurt the leverage the Suns have in trade talks, which may actually decrease the chance of Morris getting dealt.

However, Morris insists that he doesn’t have a future with the Suns, so it’s very possible he’ll be moved anyway despite Phoenix’s lack of leverage. Markieff is an above-average player, but is by no means a star who can try to demand anything from his team. He also can’t threaten to leave since he has several years left on his contract. Morris hasn’t handled things very professionally, publicly demanding a trade (which resulted in a fine) and overreacting to the trade of his brother. He also had an offseason assault charge that really hurt his trade value.

Morris is probably gone by opening night, unless they can’t get his trade value up, in which case he’s almost certainly gone by the February trade deadline. He’s not a bad player and will probably still improve, but he isn’t a player worth this recent trouble.

-Eric Saar


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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.

Drew Maresca



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.

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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.

Douglas Farmer



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.

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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.

Jordan Hicks



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?

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