Merry Christmas Basketball Nerds!
We've nearly reached the new year, and most teams pretty much have their identities.
Let's look at our Surprises, Disappointments, and Things to Keep an Eye on.
- Devonte' Graham
If you created a list of players that would make a leap this season, Devonte' Graham probably wouldn't have even been on there. But his play has helped the Charlotte Hornets find themselves just one game back of the playoffs.
He has made himself the leader in just his second season, on a team full of guys who have been in the league for multiple years. But his vocal leadership has been backed up by his play.
- Ben McLemore
The Houston Rockets have somehow unlocked the talents of Ben McLemore. In his last 15 games, he has had three 20+ point performances, shot 39% from three, 45% from the field, and has made an incredible 48 three-pointers.
It seems as if the Rockets have found another guy they can bring off the bench and add more scoring. And maybe Ben has finally found the right fit for himself.
- Portland Trail Blazers
This is the second time they have gotten on this list. We usually try to switch things up, but not much has changed with these guys. They have played better with Carmelo Anthony in the lineup, but it still hasn't been enough.
To be fair, injuries to Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins, and Rodney Hood have killed their chances of being one of the top teams in the West. But they still have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, which should lead to a better record than 14-18.
- Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings have been the most inconsistent team in the NBA. Even with the recent returns of Marvin Bagley III and De'Aaron Fox, they have still not really found their footing.
Over their most recent stretch, they've achieved wins over the Nuggets, Rockets, and Mavericks. But they've also suffered losses to the Knicks, Bulls, Grizzlies and Wolves. Their current five game losing streak matches their longest of the season, so let's hope they can figure it out quickly.
Things to Keep an Eye on
- East vs. West
During the 2010's the Western Conference playoff race was a dog fight. However, with disappointing play from more than half of the conference, the Western Conference has taken a step back. Only 6 teams have a winning record in the Western conference.
The East has taken a step forward this season and has just one team without a winning record in the playoff race. Both conferences have two heavyweight contenders and a couple of teams on the fringe of being contenders. We'll see how things shake out.
- The Trades!
We finally had our first movement since the Chris Paul trade before the season when Jordan Clarkson got shipped to the Utah Jazz. It'll be interesting to see which teams are buyers as we approach the deadline.
With a clear cut four or five championship contenders, I would be surprised to see any of those teams on the fringe make any kind of desperate moves. But we may see teams like the Blazers, Wolves, or Spurs make a move to help them in a playoff push.
I wouldn't be surprised if we saw more sellers than buyers. Teams trying to get rid of contracts to get some future assets in return. The Cavs, Suns, Pelicans and Bulls all have talent that they could give up on to build toward the future. Especially since the playoffs are a distant thought for those franchises.