With every team in the NBA having reached a minimum 20 games, we have arrived at the second quarter of the regular season.
The first was enthralling, unpredictable and offered up many exciting moments. Elephant Sport breaks it down into some fun categories.
Best Team: Golden State Warriors
It’s hard to look past the Golden State Warriors for this one. Despite losing their opening game to the San Antonio Spurs, and then suffering defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers a few days later, many were quick to attribute issues of chemistry to this Warriors side.
After all, this was the team to beat prior to the season. But how do elite teams bounce back? By winning. Golden State went one step further, though.
They swatted each and every single opponent out of their sight, notching a streak of 12 wins before falling to the Houston Rockets on their 20th match. They are currently nurturing a 17-3 record.
Kevin Durant and Steph Curry, contrary to popular belief prior to the season, have grown a strong on-court bond together.
The former is posting up career-highs in every single department – not least of which, points. Meanwhile Curry has embodied the role of facilitator, aptly putting his ego to the side.
Worst Team: Dallas Mavericks
It’s tough to argue against a side who has only won four of their 21 encounters this season. Unfortunately, there have been two teams that have recorded an identical record.
The difference between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Mavericks? The former have at least looked entertaining and have some young stars that are lighting up the league, eg, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.
The 76ers have also taken the biggest of teams to overtime and tend to lose by small margins. The Mavs, on the other hand, are completely devoid of any quality.
Dirk Nowitzki – their only star – has been injured for the majority of the season, which has exposed how frail and disappointing the Dallas side is without the 38-year-old.
The most disappointing thing about the Mavericks is that players like Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut – two former NBA champions – have turned in good performances sporadically at best.
Bogut has been inconsistent when protecting the rim and has fouled out twice already this season. Whereas Barnes is failing to dish out assists, averaging only one per game. By having the highest ball-usage on the team, he should be producing more often.
Most Improved Team: Houston Rockets
The Rockets were lambasted in the off-season when they appointed Mike D’Antoni as head coach. This was seen as a signing that would continue to allow the Rockets to play shoddy defence.
But what most seemed to forget was that defence matters very little in the regular season, especially if you can create All-Star numbers on the other end of the court.
But, even then, many punters had the Rockets failing to reach the play-offs once the season ends. As of right now, the Rockets are sitting in fourth place behind only the Spurs, Warriors and Clippers – inarguably the three best teams in the Western Conference.
D’Antoni has assembled a team of cut-throat three-point shooters, including new boys Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon.
With this maximised potential on offence, the Rockets have broken two records already this season: most three-point shots attempted in NBA history (51) and longest streak of three-points made in NBA history (17).
James Harden is posting MVP numbers and very close to averaging a triple-double for the season. D’Antoni’s influence has allowed ‘The Beard’ to both orchestrate play and run it too.
The Rockets are currently 13-7 and are the only side in the league to have beaten both the Spurs and Warriors already; both on the road.
Who Needs to Trade Immediately: Boston Celtics
The Celtics are struggling more than most expected. Despite being third in their conference, a 12-8 record has been seen as a disappointment from inside the franchise.
Boston are in dire need of a strong rebounder – something they thought Al Horford could be. While Horford has been fairly good this season, his role seems to be more focused on getting points in the paint rather than winning possession off the board.
With a consistent rebounder, the Celtics would lose a lot less. In fact, they currently lead the NBA in most second chance points conceded. This is, without a doubt, due to their lack of proficiency in the air when leaping for a rebound.
Who could they trade for? The Celtics aren’t devoid of pieces that they could put up. And they are also not a franchise unrecognisable to most.
With superstar Isaiah Thomas leading the floor, and a consistent army of good players surrounding him, now is the chance to join up with the Celtics.
In an ideal world, the Celtics move for Sacramento’s Demarcus Cousins. The often-aggressive centre is becoming disillusioned with what is shaping up to be another season of disappointment for his team.
He’s averaging over 10 rebounds per game, which should ring shouts of excitement in the ears of Boston. After all, how hard could it be to tempt a disillusioned player away from his suffering franchise while he’s in his peak years?
Sacramento needs picks in the draft to start building for the future. Boston could offer a pick or two, along with outcasts such as Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. It makes sense.
Surprise Package: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers post-Kobe Bryant were supposed to be an incoherent mess on the court. Plays on offence were going to diminish, meanwhile defensive presence was to continue being non-existent at best.
Having finished bottom of the West in the previous season with Kobe, one would be forgiven for thinking this season would be worse. Except they are already seven wins away from bettering last season’s measly 17 victories.
They are also one win away from a play-off spot already.
This is the first quarter they have had to play without Kobe’s influence in over 20 years. And they couldn’t look freer from his shackles.
Offensive play has been smooth, with sophomore D’Angelo Russell facilitating play from the point-guard position. His rotation partner, Jordan Clarkson, has also been posting up monster numbers from the bench.
Nick Young, often ridiculed for being a veteran with a kid’s mentality, has won two games for the Lakers with buzzer-beater shots and is leading the team effortlessly.
And then you have Julius Randle – by far the Lakers’ finest player this quarter. The 22-year-old has already registered a triple-double this season and is averaging 13 points and nine rebounds per game.
A supporting cast of Lou Williams and Timofey Mozgov has enabled the Lakers to flourish and, with a 10-12 record, they look like a dark horse for a play-off spot in a season where everyone expected the franchise to hit rock bottom.
MVP at the Quarter: Russell Westbrook
Many predicted this, but nobody quite predicted the enormity of Russell Westbrook’s play.
Following the departure of Oklahoma team-mate and long-term friend Kevin Durant, it was expected that Westbrook would play out of his skin in every game to compensate for the fact that he is the only remaining superstar on the Thunder.
Fast-forward 20 games and the point-guard is averaging a triple-double per game, including six in a row, which has equalled and bettered greats such as Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson.
With his outstanding play, Westbrook is now averaging a monster 31 points per game, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He has single-handedly dragged a quality-depleted Thunder side to fifth in the conference with an admirable 13-8 record.
James Harden seems like the closest contender but, if Westbrook does not slow down, elite names such as LeBron James, Curry, Durant and Chris Paul won’t even stand a chance next to the 28-year-old.
Rookie of the Year at the Quarter: Joel Embiid
Can anyone genuinely look past the eccentric 7’0″ Cameroonian centre?
After two long years of injury, nobody expected Embiid’s first NBA season to be one of such pure dominance on both ends.
Despite being restricted to just 23 minutes per game, Embiid is averaging 18 points, eight rebounds and two blocks.
Consider the fact that he is only appearing in half of every match, this is a fascinating return for the 22-year-old.
While honourable mentions such as Pascal Siakam and Jaylen Brown look impressive, they are nothing in comparison to the 76ers behemoth.
He moves as though he is several inches shorter on offence, and operates as a man possessed when protecting the rim on the other end. His entertainment factor is sky-high, often lighting up what is a very poor Philly side.
He already looks like an All-Star in the making.
Offensive Play of the Quarter:
A game-winner? Some fancy handles? A three-point shot?
How about all three combined into one smooth play by the Rockets’ James Harden against the Utah Jazz:
Defensive Play of the Quarter:
Two plays rolled into one, watch as Kristaps Porzingis cements two monster blocks deep in the fourth quarter and OT to deliver the New York Knicks a victory against the Charlotte Hornets:
Elephant Sport will be continuing this four-part series throughout the NBA season at every quarter.