In the spirit of shameless holiday content, here’s what each NBA team should be thankful for this season.
Article continues below ...
Cavaliers:The best player in the world. LeBron James is still honeymooning after the greatest Finals upset in NBA history. This team shouldn’t face any scrutiny until late June of next year, and it has LeBron to thank for that.
Hawks:Change! Change has been good for the Hawks, who are still second in the East after losing Al Horford and Jeff Teague in the off-season. Dwight Howard has played well in Atlanta, and he looms as a potential gamechanger come playoff time.
Hornets:Kemba Walker, who is playing at an All-Star level.
Bulls: Happy accidents. Chicago’s head-scratching off-season plans have somehow resulted in a 9–6 record. Dwyane Wade is meshing well enough with his new team, though Rajon Rondo’s play has left a little to be desired. Jimmy Butler is making a case for himself as the best shooting guard in the league.
Celtics: Health. It’s been a simple formula for the Celtics early this season—when Al Horford is healthy, they look like one of the best teams in the East. With Horford back in the fold after missing some early games, Boston doesn’t need to ask for much more.
Raptors:Sports Illustrated! DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors and the city of Toronto were so offended by SI’s Top 100 list that DeRozan decided to go full mid-90s Michael Jordan on the NBA to start the season. DeRozan has since cooled off, so it may be time for another slight to help kick his game back into gear.
Knicks: The unicorn, Kristaps Porzingis, who is single-handedly keeping this team from being a higher priced, more depressing version of the Nets.
Pacers: Woof, I don’t know, the Colts? I hope people are paying more attention to football in Indy this year, because the Pacers have been a disappointment so far this season. Of course, they have plenty of time to turn things around, and Paul George and Myles Turner are two great players to lead a midseason surge.
Bucks: Giannis! Two years after trying a smoothie for the first time, Giannis Antetokounmpo has become one of the most exciting young players in basketball. The challenge for Milwaukee now is finding the right roster to fully unlock the Greek Freak’s potential.
Magic: Frank Vogel’s defense. Orlando’s D is ranked in the top half of the league, which explains how it has managed to win a few games despite a bottom-three offense.
Pistons: Stan Van Gundy, who is the wokest coach east of San Antonio. Ironically, it’s SVG who wants to tear down walls when it comes to social issues. Van Gundy does need to improve on the court though, where the Pistons are under .500.
Heat: The weather and no state income tax, both of which will be crucial to luring a big-time free agent next summer. Erik Spoelstra has coaxed a top-three defense from Miami’s motley crew of veterans and youngsters, but this team is (and should be) headed for the lottery.
Nets: Kenny Atkinson, who has the Nets playing very frisky in the season’s first month. Brooklyn has been far from a disaster, and the Nets’ massive uphill climb to relevancy at least looks slightly easier than it did in the summer.
Wizards: It seems as if nothing is going as planned in Washington, D.C. these days. Personally, I think that city has been in big trouble ever since GBD Fried Chicken and Doughnuts closed down in the spring. Things are just as bleak on the court, where John Wall has half as many ejections (two) as the Wizards have wins (four). This team should be thankful for that young, crying fan who oddly looks like a young Andrew Sharp. At least someone cares.
76ers: Joel Embiid, the NBA’s first true millennial superstar in the making.
Clippers: Patience! I thought Doc Rivers was going to blow up this team in the summer. Instead, the Clippers are back for at least one more run, and so far they look like the biggest threat to the Warriors’ supremacy in the West. Chris Paul has played brilliantly, and the bench is no longer a glorified YMCA 30-and-over league team.
Warriors: Whatever the hell happened between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, because if that really is the reason Durant wanted to leave OKC, the Warriors (and their impossible-to-guard offense) are reaping the benefits.
Spurs: Death, taxes and all the other constants in life, like Gregg Popovich always coaching a 50-win team. The Spurs haven’t missed a beat since losing Tim Duncan, and they set the tone for their season with an opening-night blowout win at Golden State. Never sleep on San Antonio.
Grizzlies: Learning new tricks. The old-dog Grizzlies long played basketball the way it wasn’t meant to be played—slow, plodding and inside the arc. With new coach David Fizdale, Memphis is playing like a 21st-century team, and with Mike Conley hitting his stride, the Grizz look primed to give any opponent in the West a hard-fought playoff series.
Rockets: Throwing caution to the wind. Houston’s defense—though not horrific—is in the bottom half of the league. The Rockets have made up for this issue with a top-five offense, led by an MVP candidate in James Harden. Houston knew it wouldn’t be able to stop people from scoring after flanking Harden with Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. But the Rockets’ gamble on being able to outshoot teams is paying off early in the season.
Thunder: Loyalty, or whatever it is in Russell Westbrook’s heart that led him to stay in OKC. We’ve seen some good Russ and bad Russ so far this season, and the Thunder could definitely use another veteran scorer, but for now, this team is weathering the loss of Durant as best it can.
Lakers: One last Kobe assist. Getting rid of a high-usage, inefficient player has been good for the Lakers, who have found the right mix of young talent and capable veterans who can challenge any team on any night. Hiring Luke Walton has also paid dividends, and now the next era of Lakers basketball can truly begin.
Trail Blazers: The trade machine? Portland has been disappointing so far this season, with its off-season spending spree resulting in a pitiful defense and some awkward fits on offense. The Evan Turner contract may never be movable, but the Blazers have some pieces that could maybe net a positive player in return, preferably a big man who can anchor Portland’s backline.
Jazz: Growth. The Jazz got off to a hot start this season, only to be beset by injuries to George Hill and Derrick Favors, among others. The early injuries have opened up playing time for Dante Exum and Trey Lyles, perhaps the two players in the Jazz’s young core who can use the extra minutes. Exum particularly is still looking to find his stride after missing last year due to injury. The Jazz should be thankful they can get some early-season minutes for their young guys, because their rotation will be promising—and crowded—at full strength.
Nuggets: Jamal Murray! The No. 7 pick has arguably been the most fun player selected in the 2016 draft. Murray can shoot, which is refreshing for a rookie these days. The Nuggets should be excited about a solid young group of players—now it’s about taking the next step.
Kings: Nobody has been fired yet! The Kings should wildly celebrate this brief moment of stability.