Pranav Ramasubramanian | November 29th, 2019
It’s almost December and at this point, the NBA season has shown what teams came to play to start the season and those that didn’t. It’s no debate who some of the top teams are in the league right now and who needs to reevaluate their approach before it’s too late. Here’s where the teams that have gotten off to a marvelous start rank.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (16-2)-
An easy schedule compiled with LeBron James racking up triple-doubles and Anthony Davis racking up double-doubles has the Lakers steamrolling their competition so far. The defense has been lackluster after Avery Bradley‘s injury and the Lakers seem to face a huge deficit before making comebacks in the fourth quarter to save their pride from losing to a bad team. The Lakers must avoid getting complacent after their blazing hot start because the schedule is gonna heat up for them soon.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (15-3)-
Mike Budenholzer saw his depth leave over the offseason as Malcolm Brogdon was traded and Nikola Mirotic went to play overseas forcing him to unleash Giannis Antetokounmpo more and Giannis has used his anger to fuel his 31.1 points per game and 13.7 rebounds per game. Eric Bledsoe has also pitched in with 16.8 points per game even though his IQ isn’t the sharpest at times. Budenholzer’s kick the ball to the three-point shooter in space is a proven winning system and the Bucks are thriving off of it yet again.
3. Denver Nuggets (13-3)-
A slow start had everyone questioning this Nuggets team thinking maybe the expectations had gotten the best of them, but they responded in November with big wins over the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, and Boston Celtics. They did it with the defense as they have the No.1 defensive rating in the league and are converting it into good offense on the other end of the floor. The Nuggets depth has to step with good outputs for the Nuggets to maintain their current momentum.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (14-5)-
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have finally hit the floor together and although they can be rusty on offense the defense is on point as their length alone is disrupting passing lanes and forcing opponents into long contested jumpers. The Clippers have yet to lose with the full team healthy and they seem to get better as they love the challenge of the elite competition with no one being able to close them out in the 4th quarter. Kawhi and PG will likely take turns load managing so that lineup won’t be on the court much, but one of the two needs to be playing so that the Clippers can keep racking up the wins to get homecourt advantage in the playoffs.
5. Boston Celtics (13-5)-
No Kyrie no problem for these guys as the communication has improved as Kemba Walker is willing to talk to his teammates about what they are doing or what he is doing wrong so that they don’t repeat the same mistake and derail the team success. Brad Stevens wasn’t able to be himself as a head coach with too much talent stockpiled on the roster with no one willing to sacrifice, but now everyone is sharing the ball and just letting the offense naturally flow so Stevens has gone back to drawing up his innovations that strike gold for the Celtics. It’s crazy, but because of how well the Celtics are playing if Gordon Hayward was healthy the Celtics would be the top team in the East.
6. Toronto Raptors (13-4)-
People seem to forget that the Raptors only lost Kawhi Leonard and not anyone else because the Raptors haven’t missed a beat with Pascal Siakam maintaining the same aggressive mindset driving to the hoop for effortless baskets while Fred VanVleet continues to shoot lights out from the perimeter. Their bench is the next man up approach, which means that they can also develop that talent to try and get even better than they already are. The Raptors defense is based on taking the airspace away from the shooter and disrupting the shooters’ rhythm so if they can continue to lock down opposing offenses the title defense will go through Toronto.
7. Miami Heat (12-5)-
The Heat organization has this special skill of taking the talent that no one has heard of or underestimates and turning that player into a rotational player, which goes to the credit of Pat Riley, who is willing to take the roster risks to get the Heat where they need to be. Jimmy Butler has taken some games off and that’s when Kendrick Nunn emerged as a scoring machine to make the Heat establish a rhythm early on so that they wouldn’t have to worry about when Butler would come back. It’s not just Nunn, but Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson have helped the offense turn back the clock and their exceptional defense has them looking at a big turnaround season.
8. Dallas Mavericks (11-6)-
Luka Doncic is playing at an MVP level averaging 30,10,9, which is nearly a triple-double and very impressive for a second-year player to be averaging LeBron-like numbers. Kristaps Porzingis has regained his form looking like the dominant force that he was in New York to make Mark Cuban happy for shelling out a ton of money to him. They may not be as flashy as other dynamic duos around the league, but when they are clicking no one will want to see this team in April.
9. Houston Rockets (12-6)-
The philosophy of playing star players a lot of minutes along with getting them to shoot a ton of three’s while playing the pick and roll effectively is always a major key to the regular season success for the Rockets. This is why despite the addition of Russell Westbrook you can still see the Rockets taking three’s over two’s because they are playing the analytics game and know that approach will result in more wins. James Harden should be in the running for MVP because of his relentless iso basketball helping him score more points by drawing fouls and with the way the Rockets have started it looks like they will be true contenders for the NBA Finals this year.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (12-6)-
Joel Embiid disappointed this week by scoring as many points as the average NBA fan would if he tried to play in a real-life NBA game against the Raptors, but he did bounce back with 33 points leading the 76ers past the Kings for their 12th win. Ben Simmons has shown his willingness to extend his range and try to start shooting threes, which if he can make them at a consistent rate would force the defense to play more up creating more good looks for his teammates on the perimeter while Tobias Harris has started off a little sluggish. You never know what version of the 76ers you will get and until they can start getting some marquee wins they look like mere pretenders in a relatively weak conference.
11. Indiana Pacers (11-6)-
Nate McMillan has instilled a toughness into his players to go out and give it their all letting their effort dictate the result. This is why the Pacers initially struggled with tough love, but once they adjusted with the help of new addition Malcolm Brogdon they started putting their imprint on games. If they keep the balanced play up and Victor Oladipo returns at 100% then the Pacers could be in the contention for a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
12. Utah Jazz (11-7)-
Donovan Mitchell needed some help after another playoff exit by the hands of James Harden because it just seemed like they didn’t have enough pieces around him so they traded for Mike Conley and signed Bojan Bogdanovic. It improved their defense because they are players that rely on instinct on that end of the floor helping Rudy Gobert out, but their shooting slumps can get ugly. Utah must find ways to score without making Mitchell be the primary distributor as well as a scorer because that would be asking him to do too much exposing his weaknesses making the opponents easily stop him.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-8)-
A lightbulb seems to have gone off in Andrew Wiggins‘ and Karl-Anthony Towns‘ heads that they are former No.1 picks or maybe it’s Kendrick Perkins still sleeping on them that is driving their will to play harder with Wiggins averaging 25.3 points while Towns is averaging 26.3. Wiggins is playing so well that Jeff Teague has hit the bench so Wiggins can initiate the offense and put the Timberwolves in the right situations to help them get wins. Wiggins’ and Towns’ have to learn how to conserve their energy with all the minutes they are playing as this has been a problem in the past where they start out playing very well, but then cool down due to tired legs leading to previous downfalls.
14. Phoenix Suns (8-9)-
The right coach knows how to run the right Xs and Os to get a team to play well under their guidance and the Suns were missing that stability in years past. Monty Williams came in and saw the roster and was able to do a 360 by making the players believe in his schemes making basketball for them enjoyable again which is hard to do in Phoenix. If Ayton can come back and pick up where he left off then the Suns could accelerate their rebuild by a couple of years.
15. Brooklyn Nets (10-9)-
The shoulder impingement injury to Kyrie Irving has knocked him out for the last 8 straight games, but Spencer Dinwiddie has filled in well as a starter even getting them a win today vs the Celtics. If the Nets follow the formula of how they created and made their threes today they will do just fine without Kyrie. When Kyrie comes back he must put his past behind him and be a good leader to this Nets team until Kevin Durant comes back or else they may have to go fishing in mid-March.
16. Orlando Magic (7-10)-
The Magic were scraping the bottom of the barrel on offense until Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier took it upon themselves to stop it. The Magic were able to win 4 out of those five games in that stretch of their schedule to give them the last spot in the East. The Magic should still consider a trade for DeMar DeRozan if they want to be taken seriously at all this season.
Western Conference Standings
Team Record GB
|1. Los Angeles Lakers||16-2||—|
|2. Denver Nuggets||13-3||2|
|3. Los Angeles Clippers||14-5||2.5|
|4. Houston Rockets||12-6||4|
|5. Dallas Mavericks||11-6||4.5|
|6. Utah Jazz||11-7||5|
|7. Minnesota Timberwolves||10-8||6|
|8. Phoenix Suns||8-9||7.5|
|9. Sacramento Kings||7-10||8.5|
|10. Portland TrailBlazers||7-12||9.5|
|11. Oklahoma City Thunder||6-11||9.5|
|12. New Orleans Pelicans||6-12||10|
|13. San Antonio Spurs||6-13||10.5|
|14. Memphis Grizzlies||5-12||10.5|
|15. Golden State Warriors||4-15||12.5|
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