Most NBA teams are approaching the 20-game mark of their respective season, which means roughly a quarter of the season is in the books. Over the course of the first month or so, there have been some great performances by players and teams and there have been some bad performances. Some of those performances have been expected, while many have been surprising. During the course of this week, we will recap the good, the bad and the ugly of what we’ve seen thus far this season.
Here are some situations that have been good to watch:
The Milwaukee Bucks:
The Bucks have been one of the feel-good stories of the league thus far. After winning a total of 15 games last season, the Bucks find themselves at 10-8 at the start of December and are playing like a completely different team. Part of what has helped the Bucks make the transition into this season has been the change of leadership. Jason Kidd may have left Brooklyn on bad terms, but he has arrived in Milwaukee and really instituted a system that the players have bought into and it’s showing on the court. The Bucks are getting significant contributions on the offensive side of the ball from Brandon Knight, Giannis Antetokounmpo, rookie Jabari Parker and O.J. Mayo.
The team has really made strides on the defensive end, which is allowing them to remain in ball games. The Bucks are seventh in defensive efficiency and are allowing the 10th fewest points per game at 98.3, which is down from the 103.7 they were giving up last season. The Bucks have shot blockers in Larry Sanders (1.82 per game) and John Henson (1.07 per game) that are protecting the paint very well. The players tasked with guarding the perimeter can gamble a little bit more knowing that they have another line of capable defenders down in the paint. More than the blocks and steals, the Bucks are tied for eighth in opponents’ field goal percentage, which indicates it’s a collective effort on the floor that’s getting the job done. Sure, the season is still young and a lot can still go wrong for the Bucks, but the way they have started off after winning just 15 games last season is certainly something to be happy about if you’re in Milwaukee.
Everyone is well aware of the obstacles that were in Bryant’s way coming into this season. This was a player coming off of two significant injuries who is also battling Father Time and dealing with questions about whether he’d be able to play a full season. While the jury is still out on if he can play at least 70 games this season, he’s certainly proved everyone wrong to this point.
Not only is Bryant proving to be durable, he’s also leading the league in scoring. The 36-year-old is averaging 26.6 points per game and has five games of scoring at least 30 or more points. If Bryant finds his way at the top of the scoring list at the end of the season, he’d be the oldest player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring. The current record was set by Michael Jordan, who was 35 at the time he won his scoring title. Bryant is coming off of a game in which he recorded a triple-double with 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds and became the first player in NBA history to have at least 30,000 points and 6,000 career assists in the process. While the Lakers are having struggles of their own, the team is certainly more watchable with Bryant on the floor.
Despite losing out on the Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the Houston Rockets are exceeding everyone’s expectations. The Rockets are doing so without those two All-Stars in Bosh and Anthony and are also playing well without Chandler Parsons. Players like Tarik Black, Jason Terry, Kostas Papanikolaou and Donatas Motiejunas are stepping up and it also helps to have proven players in James Harden, Dwight Howard and Trevor Ariza on the team as well. The Rockets’ defense is tied for second in the league in efficiency and is led by Howard, but Ariza is also a key part of their defense and Harden has even tightened up significantly as well.
Howard has now missed six games in a row with a knee injury. Although the injury doesn’t seem too serious, an injury like that could linger throughout the season and the Rockets will surely need Howard to be as close to 100 percent as he can to continue being a top-five defense. It wasn’t that long ago that Rockets head coach Kevin McHale was considered to be on the hot seat after underperforming in past seasons. While it’s still early and a sudden slump could drastically hurt a team in the competitive Western Conference, McHale’s Rockets are sitting pretty in the West at 13-4 and are projected to win more games than last season when they won 54 games.
It can be stated with confidence that not many experts and analysts predicted the Grizzlies to have the best record in the league on Dec. 1, but that’s exactly what has happened. The Grizzlies are making it happen on both sides of the ball as the team is currently ranked eighth in offensive efficiency and fourth in defensive efficiency and are giving up the fewest points per game at 92.4.
An underrated part of what’s made the Grizzlies so good early on is that the team’s core players have played together for several seasons now. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen have all played together for at least five seasons. The Grizzlies haven’t benefited from an easy early schedule, either. They’ve posted wins against some of the league’s best teams in the Suns, Rockets, Raptors, Clippers and Trail Blazers.
Golden State Warriors:
Had it not been for an incredible start by the Grizzlies, the Warriors could have found themselves with the league’s best record. The Warriors have won nine games in a row, including five straight on the road against the Thunder, HEAT, Magic, Hornets and Pistons. The team’s offense is scoring the third-highest points per game at 107.1 and have the league’s best defense in terms of efficiency. Stephen Curry is dropping nearly 24 points a night, Klay Thompson is averaging almost 21 points and the team is also getting solid offensive contributions from Draymond Green, Marreese Speights and Harrison Barnes. Green has been given an opportunity to play given the injury to David Lee and he has really taken advantage of that and recently earned praise from head coach Steve Kerr. Green has doubled his scoring output from last season, jumping from 6.2 per game to 12.5 per game and also has 7.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. The team is currently on pace to win 71 games, which would be very close to the record for wins in a season. It’ll be very hard for the Warriors to pull that off, but it will certainly be fun to watch them try.
To the surprise of no one, Davis has easily been one of the best players in the league to this point. After seeing how Davis came around during his time with Team USA over the summer, it’s no wonder that he is third in the league in scoring at 24.9 per game, sixth in rebounding at 11.3 per game, first in blocks at three per game and fifth in steals at 2.1 per game. The problem for Davis is that he’s not getting much support from the rest of his Pelicans teammates. The Pelicans are maintaining pace in the Western Conference at 7-8, but they won’t be able to continue to rely so much on Davis and that could keep the superstar forward out of the major award races later on this season.
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