More than six weeks into the NBA season, the Phoenix Suns are main the West, the Utah Jazz have been main the West, a Tom Thibodeau crew is struggling on protection and the Timberwolves can’t rebound.

Those are just some of the surprises — large and small, good and unhealthy — as we attain the quarter mark of the season. What has been every crew’s greatest head-scratcher to date? The Athletic posed that query to the writers who know the groups finest. Here’s what they stated:

Atlanta Hawks

The rookie: AJ Griffin has been a pleasant discover for the Hawks after going sixteenth within the 2022 NBA Draft. Atlanta has wanted dependable wings to place round Trae Young, and now Dejounte Murray. Griffin looks like he might be that man. He has scored in double-digits in 5 of his final seven video games, whereas averaging 24.9 minutes an evening. Griffin’s shot appears to be translating from Duke; he’s hitting 38 % of his 3s to date. If Griffin can proceed to play effectively sufficient to interrupt the rotation and keep wholesome, Atlanta ought to have another dependable participant round its dynamic duo, even when he’s a rookie. — Mike Vorkunov

Boston Celtics

A historic offense: Even with out the injured Robert Williams, the Celtics at the moment personal one of the best offensive score in NBA historical past. They have scored 5 factors per 100 possessions greater than the NBA’s second-best offense this season, a wider hole than the one between the second-place Suns and the Fifteenth-place Trail Blazers. After the way in which they scored following final season’s commerce deadline, the Celtics have been anticipated to have an excellent offense once more. But they’ve excess of that. They have an unstoppable hurricane of buckets. — Jay King

The Celtics offense has nailed down just a few ideas it was constructing final season to the purpose that it’s head and shoulders above the league. Boston is emphasizing pushing in transition, even off makes, whereas understanding when within the recreation it desires to waste clock to remove just a few additional possessions from the opponent. Then when the ball is within the half courtroom, they’re making selections so rapidly and persistently that they create open appears to be like at a charge no person within the league can contact. — Jared Weiss

Brooklyn Nets

Nic Claxton: The Nets re-signed Claxton within the offseason on a two-year, $20 million deal, and to date, he’s been wholesome and constant, averaging 12 factors and almost 9 rebounds per recreation. He leads the NBA in subject purpose proportion, is high 5 in blocks and has proven flashes of being the decision-making large he was at Georgia. Claxton at all times had this in his recreation, but it surely was about being wholesome and having the runway to take action. 1 / 4 into the season, Claxton’s achieved simply that. — Alex Schiffer

Charlotte Hornets

Dennis Smith Jr.: He hadn’t performed a lot NBA basketball the final three seasons after a promising begin to his profession, however Smith has re-emerged with the Hornets and is averaging a decent 9.3 factors to go together with a career-high 5.7 assists by means of 15 video games (11 begins). Smith was and not using a crew for a lot of the summer season and received this chance as a consequence of accidents to LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, however he’s been a pleasant shock for a crew that misplaced 15 of its first 21 video games and is as soon as once more coping with an damage to Gordon Hayward. — Joe Vardon

Chicago Bulls

Veteran free brokers: Coming into the season, most would have assumed a sure degree of extremely impactful minutes by Zach LaVine and Alex Caruso, and extra minor influence by Goran Dragić and Andre Drummond. It’s been the other. The Bulls’ two ho-hum signings have been vastly essential to fortifying the crew’s bench, boosting final season’s rebounding difficulties and offering the Bulls with on-court leaders who assist settle the crew when issues aren’t going so easily. — Darnell Mayberry

Cleveland Cavaliers

Donovan Mitchell’s seamless match: Mitchell’s expertise and character are simple, and it’s been on show since he stepped onto the courtroom in a Cavaliers jersey alongside Darius Garland within the backcourt. Sometimes there may be an adjustment interval when a participant is traded, and trades can go plenty of other ways. Mitchell and Garland have created a selfless chemistry that has a dynamic circulate to it the place they facilitate, playmake and create for others and themselves. It’s helped lead the Cavs to 3rd within the East regardless of a handful of accidents. — Kelsey Russo

Dallas Mavericks

Josh Green: He performs basketball just like the Australian guidelines soccer he grew up with. His recreation abounds with athleticism and kineticism, however the refinement of this sport’s finer abilities — taking pictures method, defensive positioning — has shined in his third 12 months. It was unfair that he was forged with the shadow of who Dallas might’ve drafted as an alternative of him, however Green’s emerged from that this season, turning his motor of renewable vitality into constant influence almost each minute he’s on the courtroom. — Tim Cato

Denver Nuggets

Nikola Jokić’s (constructive) step again: Don’t look now, however the Nuggets are pushing for the highest spot within the West with out two-time MVP Jokić (22.7 factors, 9.8 rebounds, 8.9 assists per recreation) having to play the position of Mile High City Superman. He’s a far cry from Clark Kent, however Jokić has clearly adjusted his recreation to make room for Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the 2 gamers who have to be particular if the Nuggets are going to contend for a title. And right here’s the neglected silver lining of this nuanced and obligatory growth: Even with Jokić’s lower in scoring (from 27.1 factors per recreation final season to 22.7), he’s on tempo to hit the aforementioned 22-9-8 marks which have solely been achieved 13 occasions earlier than in league historical past, in accordance with — Sam Amick

Detroit Pistons

Killian Hayes’ taking pictures: The 2020 No. 7 decide spent his first two years within the NBA as one of many least environment friendly jump-shooting guards within the league. Over the previous couple of weeks, Hayes has discovered a trusty weapon together with his midrange jumper and has been one of many Pistons’ finest catch-and-shoot guys. Hayes’ general taking pictures numbers aren’t the place they have to be due to a gradual begin, but it surely actually appears like he’s turned a nook. — James L. Edwards III


Don’t write off Pistons’ Killian Hayes just yet: ‘He’s our best playmaker’

Golden State Warriors

Defensive score: The Warriors completed final common season at 106.6, second stingiest within the league. That held up within the playoff gauntlet. It has fallen aside the primary couple months of this common season. To shut November, they sat twenty second general with a 113.3 score. What are the explanations? More youth within the rotation. Less urgency from the veterans. The lack of Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. The departure of Mike Brown, their coordinator. Perhaps even the quickly diminished management voice of Draymond Green, which means much less accountability. But it’s stabilized currently. In their final 12 video games, the Warriors have a 110.5 score, ninth finest, after excising James Wiseman and Moses Moody from the rotation and amping up their general effort. They’ll have to be even higher to repeat as champs, however it’s trending within the appropriate path. — Anthony Slater

Houston Rockets

Ok.J. Martin-Tari Eason duo: Let’s zoom out a bit: Per Cleaning the Glass, the Rockets are twenty seventh in offensive effectivity (109.4 factors per 100 possessions) and twenty eighth in defensive effectivity (116.7 factors allowed per 100 possessions). There aren’t a ton of lineups Houston throws out on a nightly foundation that generate any kind of constructive influence — aside from those that function each Martin and Eason. Of the teams which have performed a minimum of half-hour collectively, the Rockets someway have three mixtures (out of a potential seven) with constructive web scores, all that includes each gamers. Their mixture of vitality, athleticism and aggression on each ends of the ground is clearly contagious. Why don’t they play extra usually? — Kelly Iko

USATSI 19476006 scaled

Rookie Tari Eason has been one of many few vivid spots for Houston this season. (Troy Taormina / USA Today)

Indiana Pacers

Andrew Nembhard: Seeing as how the Pacers are one of many greatest shock groups within the league, it stands to cause that their roster is dotted with one large shock performer after one other. Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Bennedict Mathurin, Buddy Hield, Aaron Nesmith, Jalen Smith. For me, although, the largest shock is rookie second-rounder Nembhard, who’s received an old-guy recreation and veteran moxie, averaging seven factors per recreation in 21 minutes and beginning seven of 16 video games. He is a chameleon, his recreation becoming in fantastically with no matter gamers Rick Carlisle places on the ground. Didn’t see that one coming. — Bob Kravitz

LA Clippers

Offensive struggles: This is an comprehensible shock to some extent, given the personnel points. Kawhi Leonard enjoying solely 5 video games considerably lowers the ceiling of what the Clippers are anticipated to do offensively, and now Paul George and Luke Kennard are of their second week of damage absence too. The Clippers have been a bottom-10 offense final season whereas coping with myriad absences. But it’s nonetheless jarring to see the Clippers within the backside 5 of offensive effectivity this season, and that’s with comparatively improved play of late. — Law Murray

Los Angeles Lakers

The growth of Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV: The Lakers wanted a few of their youthful position gamers to make a leap this season, and Reaves and Walker are enjoying at career-best ranges, significantly as scorers. The ceiling for each gamers is larger than beforehand anticipated. Walker has assumed a Malik Monk-esque position as an athletic finisher and deadly midrange risk. Reaves is a dynamic ballhandler and playmaker who will get to the free-throw line a ton and is posting a close to 50/40/90 season. If the Lakers are in a position to creep into the Play-In combine, it’ll partly be as a result of each younger guards have made a leap. — Jovan Buha



State of the Lakers after 20 games: Davis’ re-emergence, LeBron’s role, trade talk

Memphis Grizzlies

Extra assist: The contributions of John Konchar and Santi Aldama to date with Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. lacking important time have been a shock. Konchar did a few of this final season, however he has much more minutes and an expanded position now. Aldama, now in his second season, is already a man they want minutes for. The Grizzlies are among the finest at plugging within the subsequent man up. — Zach Harper

Miami Heat

Kyle Lowry’s well being: At age 36 and coming off a tough 2021-22 marketing campaign by which he missed 19 video games in the course of the common season for a pair causes, after which an enormous swath of the playoffs with a hamstring damage, Lowry has performed in each recreation for the Heat. He’s averaging 14.6 factors, up from a 12 months in the past, however a part of that is because of Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo lacking some, most or the entire season to date. At his age and coming off the season he suffered a 12 months in the past, Lowry coming by means of the primary quarter of this season wholesome and powerful is considerably of a stunner. — Vardon

Milwaukee Bucks

Jevon Carter, the menace: While Jevon Carter performed effectively for the Bucks final season after becoming a member of them off waivers in February, even essentially the most optimistic of followers couldn’t have anticipated him to be fairly this good in his second season in Milwaukee. Carter has began all 20 video games this season, doubling the variety of begins he acquired in his first 4 NBA seasons mixed. He is at the moment placing up profession highs in minutes (27.5), factors (9.1), rebounds (2.8), assists (3.5) and steals (1.4) per recreation, whereas taking pictures 42.3 % from deep. And he has achieved all of these issues offensively, whereas nonetheless being a menace defensively alongside Jrue Holiday. — Eric Nehm 

Minnesota Timberwolves

Glass half empty?: The Timberwolves acquired one of the best rebounder in all the NBA once they traded for Rudy Gobert this summer season, and but there was no discernible distinction of their efficiency on the glass. Last 12 months, the Wolves have been twenty eighth in defensive rebound proportion at 70.6. This 12 months, they’re ranked twenty fourth within the class, however their proportion is definitely worse at 70.2. Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns merely haven’t dominated the inside to the diploma that they should to make this experiment value it. Gobert has admitted to being a “step slow” on some nights, and he appears to be like it on the market. It is a serious concern after the Wolves paid such a steep worth to get him. — Jon Krawczynski

New Orleans Pelicans

Responding to vary: The Pelicans have been coping with a ton of accidents and illnesses to their core gamers, which would be the least shocking factor about this season contemplating the franchise’s current historical past. But the surprising half about this season is how the crew has responded to the fixed adjustments within the lineup. They haven’t missed a beat. New Orleans is 13-8 after 21 video games regardless of Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson lacking a mixed 15 video games. The Pels have solely put their projected beginning lineup (Williamson, Ingram McCollum, Herb Jones and Jonas Valančiūnas) on the courtroom 10 occasions this season. They’ve nonetheless managed to piece collectively the NBA’s sixth-best offense and fourth-best protection. The depth on this roster could be very actual, and it’s past something we’ve seen earlier than in New Orleans. And it’ll solely get higher as soon as everybody (lastly) will get wholesome. — Will Guillory



Zion Williamson is playing like a superhero again, which makes the Pelicans even scarier

New York Knicks

Un-Thibodeau-like protection: I do know the Knicks aren’t loaded with defensive personnel. I do know the group’s defensive anchor, Mitchell Robinson, missed a while with a knee damage, and its high perimeter stopper, Quentin Grimes, was out with a foot ailment. Yet, I can’t unsee the defensive points. The Knicks, a crew that Tom Thibodeau of all folks runs, are twenty sixth in factors allowed per possession 22 video games into the season. That sort of stuff simply doesn’t occur. They pieced collectively a roster of brawn, not finesse, but have floated across the NBA’s backside 5 in defensive rebounding all season. Opposing wings and guards fly in from the perimeter to safe misses and pull again out for one more 14 seconds on a regular basis. Their pick-and-roll communication is every kind of off. Sometimes, it’s tough to decipher precisely what coverages they’re imagined to be working. The Knicks weren’t overflowing with defensive expertise final season both however nonetheless discovered a strategy to climb to eleventh in factors allowed per possession. Chances are, there may be some constructive development coming. But twenty sixth? This is new. — Fred Katz

Oklahoma City Thunder

SGA’s leap: Through 20 video games, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 31.1 factors, 4.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per recreation. That is up from final season’s 24.5 factors, 5.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks. That is a fairly large leap. The solely different gamers in NBA historical past who’ve averaged a minimum of 30-5-6 with a steal and a block per recreation is Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Gilgeous-Alexander additionally leads the league in complete clutch factors, is fourth in factors within the paint and fifth in free-throw makes an attempt (taking pictures 92 %). He additionally leads the league in drives by a mile. The Thunder have discovered their first foundational star of the put up Russell Westbrook period. — Andrew Schlecht

USATSI 19502810 scaled

OKC may need discovered its foundational piece in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. (Alonzo Adams / USA Today)

Orlando Magic

Bol Bol. Bol Bol. Bol Bol: I’m going to say it thrice simply to let it sink in. He’s been a little bit of revelation this season in Orlando. Revealing in how a 7-foot-2 surprise could be so expert but in addition nonetheless revealing what he could be within the NBA. Orlando is the primary crew to provide him legit NBA minutes, and Bol is a low-key Most Improved Player candidate. The Magic can use him of their large skill-ball lineups, and he’s proven aptitude taking pictures from the perimeter and in ballhandling. Not a foul return from a participant who had simply 328 NBA minutes over his first three seasons. — Vorkunov

Philadelphia 76ers

Resiliency in Philly: Twenty video games into the season, the Sixers have acquired 9 video games performed from James Harden, 12 from Joel Embiid and 15 from Tyrese Maxey. And but they have been over .500 on the quarter pole because of the position gamers (particularly Shake Milton, who out of the rotation in the beginning of the 12 months) stepping up. The Sixers began the season fairly poorly, however they’ve showcased their depth over current weeks. — Rich Hofmann

Phoenix Suns

Still contending: Let’s stack this up. Phoenix entered this season with some drama. There was the Robert Sarver mess. Jae Crowder by no means confirmed. Deandre Ayton didn’t appear completely satisfied. Then the season began. Cam Johnson injured a knee, limiting him to eight video games by means of Phoenix’s first 20. Chris Paul injured a heel, limiting him to 10. And but Phoenix nonetheless has one of the best report within the West? That’s the largest shock. The Suns clearly had an MVP candidate in Devin Booker and proficient gamers round him, however this appeared extra like a crew that would wish time to seek out its stride. Maybe that’s nonetheless the case. But give the Suns credit score for battling by means of adversity. Their drive was underestimated. — Doug Haller



Devin Booker unplugged: On Suns’ offseason, MVP race he’s ‘not even in’ and more

Portland Trail Blazers

Jerami Grant’s excellence: The hope was that Grant could be an improve at energy ahead, however he has been a lot greater than that for the Blazers. Quite merely, Grant has been the Blazers’ MVP by means of the primary quarter of the season. He is averaging 21.5 factors and 4.4 rebounds, however his value goes past his statistics and his monster scoring video games of 44, 37 and 30 factors. Grant has additionally been the Blazers’ finest and most versatile defender, usually guarding the opponent’s level guard, which has helped the Blazers go from terrible to respectable on protection. Along the way in which, he has hit game-winners, is taking pictures a scorching 48.5 % from 3 and has turn out to be an influencer within the locker room. — Jason Quick

Sacramento Kings

Score, rating, rating: When Mike Brown was employed by the Kings in early May, his focus was squarely on the necessity for defensive enchancment. Not solely had the earlier 16 years of playoff-less basketball made it clear the Kings’ protection needed to be fastened, however Brown got here with a defense-first fame that match the popular invoice. Yet 20 video games in, it’s the offense that’s propelling these dynamic Kings to a powerful begin. They’re fifth within the league in offensive score, a large step ahead from the twenty fourth rating they completed with final season. And franchise centerpiece De’Aaron Fox is hardly a solo act, as everybody from Domantas Sabonis to Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk and Terence Davis is proving to be potent scoring choices. The Kings are second within the league in factors per recreation (119.9), up from sixteenth final season (110.3 beneath Luke Walton and Alvin Gentry). — Amick

San Antonio Spurs

Devin Vassell’s taking pictures: Vassell made 34 % of his 2.4 tried 3s per recreation as a rookie. Decent. That bumped to 36.1 % on 5.4 makes an attempt his second season. Better accuracy on a doubled quantity. Trending up. So perhaps some kind of a 3rd season leap ought to’ve been predicted. But it’s been a vault into elite territory. Vassell is taking 7.2 per recreation and making 42.3 % of them. That equals 52 makes in 17 video games, ranked twentieth within the NBA. This is a big growth for one of many Spurs’ few constructing blocks. — Slater

Toronto Raptors

Possession battles: Last 12 months, by means of their excellence in creating turnovers and dominance on the offensive glass, the Raptors took 7.2 extra subject targets per 100 possessions than their opponents, the largest disparity within the league. There was some thought that with their technique on movie, they wouldn’t be capable to execute the sport plan as effectively. Wrong! The distinction is as much as 8.9 subject targets per 100 possessions, as they each take essentially the most and permit the least in the entire league. Jumping from twenty third to tenth in defensive rebounding proportion has allowed them to enhance what was already the crew’s most notable power. — Eric Koreen

Utah Jazz

The victories: To win 13 of their first 24 video games in opposition to maybe essentially the most unforgiving schedule within the league is an enormous accomplishment for a crew most thought could be close to the underside of the league by the 25-game mark. The Jazz have performed essentially the most highway video games within the NBA up to now. They have performed essentially the most back-to-backs. They have performed essentially the most units of three video games in 4 nights. Most of their opponents have been playoff groups. And they’ve gone six video games with out Mike Conley, their most essential participant. It ought to be attention-grabbing to see what, if any, adjustments they make to the roster, significantly in the event that they maintain enjoying effectively, by the commerce deadline. Will they be patrons? Or sellers? — Tony Jones

Washington Wizards

Jordan Goodwin’s contributions: Players on two-way contracts not often play important roles for NBA groups, however Goodwin has been an exception. When Delon Wright suffered a major hamstring pressure in Washington’s fourth recreation, the crew misplaced its most disruptive perimeter defender and its second-string level guard. Coach Wes Unseld Jr. positioned Goodwin into the rotation within the crew’s tenth recreation, and Goodwin has been a mainstay ever since. Through Tuesday, he led the crew in FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR metric at +4.3, and he has galvanized his extra skilled teammates on protection together with his vitality. Goodwin arguably saved the primary quarter of Washington’s season. — Josh Robbins

(Top picture of Jerami Grant: Troy Wayrynen / USA Today)

Source link