It’s hard to believe we’re already a month into the NBA season. It seems like yesterday the Cleveland Cavaliers raised their championship banner on opening night. But the fact of the matter is it’s November, and most teams have played between 13 and 16 games.
Some teams have performed well right out of the gate, others not so much. Here are the winners and losers after the first month of the NBA season.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers improved to 13-2 this season after beating the Toronto Raptors 123-115 on Monday. They stand atop the NBA with their best start in franchise history.
It has been an all-around effort for the Clippers. Chris Paul is having an MVP season so far, J.J. Reddick has been the most accurate 3-point shooter in the NBA through 15 games (49.3 percent), DeAndre Jordan has made an early case for Defensive Player of the Year, and Blake Griffin has looked impressive after an injury-plagued season.
It’s only November, but the Clippers look like the team to beat in 2016-17.
2. Russell Westbrook, James Harden, LeBron James
The only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season was Oscar Robertson in 1961-62, but three of today’s superstars are flirting with triple-double numbers.
Westbrook is averaging 31.8 points, 10.6 assists and 9.5 rebounds for the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder. Harden is averaging 28.6 points, 12.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds after moving to point guard for the Houston Rockets. Meanwhile, James is averaging 23.2 points, 9.0 assists and 8.4 rebounds, and Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says James could average a triple-double “if he wanted to.”
It’s good to be Westbrook, Harden or James these days.
3. DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan has been on fire. He has 10 30-point games through the first 12 games of the season, the most since Michael Jordan had 10 in the first 12 games of the 1986-87 season.
Jordan averaged a league-high 37.1 points on 48.2 percent shooting that season. DeRozan is in the ballpark, averaging 30.9 points on 49.1 percent shooting.
The Raptors have to be feeling good about DeRozan after the first month of the season.
4. Joel Embiid
Embiid notched his fifth 20-point game this season after scoring 22 points in Monday’s 101-94 win over the Heat. He has made an early case for Rookie of the Year despite missing his first two seasons with an injured foot.
The 2014 third overall pick is averaging 18.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in just over 22 minutes per game. To put into perspective how good Embiid has been in limited playing time, consider this:
Good things come to those who wait; Embiid is a perfect example.
5. Luke Walton
Los Angeles Lakers fans have to be feeling good about the job Walton has done in a short amount of time. The Lakers, who ranked dead last in scoring last season, are averaging the third-most points per game (109.9) and have the best scoring bench in the NBA by a significant margin.
Not only that, but Los Angeles has won key games against the Warriors, Hawks and Thunder. It’s too early to be talking playoffs, but the Lakers are definitely headed in the right direction under Walton.
1. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas (2-11) is off to its worst start since 1993-94, and the franchise’s streak of 16 consecutive seasons with a record of .500 or better is in real jeopardy. Not having Dirk Nowitzki (strained Achilles) for the last eight games hasn’t helped the situation, but the good news is he’s getting closer to returning.
On the bright side: Free-agent pickup Harrison Barnes is having his best season ever, averaging 21.2 points and 5.9 rebounds. The Mavericks may have found a player to build around once Nowitzki retires.
2. Washington Wizards
The Wizards have performed poorly on both ends of the court this season, but more so on defense. Washington ranks 20th in the league, allowing 105.6 points per game. However, help is on the way in the form of Ian Mahinmi, who is back on the practice floor after October surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus. The Wizards acquired Mahinmi in the offseason to provide defense and rebounding, which is severely lacking at the moment.
The good news is Bradley Beal is starting to get hot after a slow start. His career-high 42 points in Monday’s 106-101 win over the Suns gave him 76 points over his last two games, the highest two-game scoring mark by a Wizards player since Gilbert Arenas in 2009, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
3. New York Knicks
Things have gotten so bad for the Knicks that a team meeting was held on Saturday with the players, coaches and team president Phil Jackson. More was expected from this team after adding some big names in free agency.
Signing point guard Derrick Rose hasn’t improved the offense, as New York ranks 21st in points per game (102.7) and 16th in assists per game (21.6). Also, Joakim Noah hasn’t been the defensive anchor that he once was, as the Knicks rank 21st in points allowed per game (105.9).
Funny enough, the Knicks beat the Atlanta Hawks 104-94 on Sunday. Will the team meeting be the turning point of this season? We’ll soon find out.
4. Klay Thompson
Normally one of the top 3-point shooters in the NBA, Thompson got off to a slow start in the first seven games of the season, as he went 11 of 53 from deep. That’s pretty bad, but the Golden State Warriors star is starting to find his rhythm.
Thompson is 12 of 26 from 3-point range in the last three games, and he has scored at least 25 points in each of those games. For what it’s worth, Thompson got off to a slow start last season, and he still managed to connect on 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts by the end of the year.
5. Miami Heat
In the first season without Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, Miami is finding it difficult to produce enough offense to win games. The Heat average the third-fewest points per game (96.0) but play tough defense, allowing just under 97 points per game. Still, Hassan Whiteside can’t do it all himself on the offensive end. Take Monday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers for example. Whiteside scored a career-high 32 points but it means nothing if the rest of the team fails to step up.
Miami got 48 wins and made the playoffs as the third seed in the East a year ago, but there isn’t enough depth around Whiteside to be talking playoffs this year.