The NBA is seven weeks into the 2020-21 season and so much of the news has been dominated by topics off the court: COVID-19 health and safety protocols, the James Harden trade, the Russell Westbrook trade, the merits of holding an All-Star Game during a pandemic, Kyrie Irving’s absence and the one-year mark of Kobe Bryant’s death.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting things happening on the court, such as the emergence of Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic as serious MVP candidates, Phoenix’s play with Chris Paul, Utah’s rise in the West, Jaylen Brown’s rapid improvement, Fred VanVleet’s 54-point game and Kevin Durant’s return to All-NBA caliber player after rupturing his Achilles in the 2019 NBA Finals.
Here’s something good and something bad about every NBA team. All stats and records through Sunday’s games:
Good: Atlanta improved defensively at No. 2 in 3-point field goal percentage allowed and No. 11 in defensive rating.
Bad: The Hawks are 24th in field goal percentage and 23rd in 3-point percentage.
Good: Somewhere in a short offseason Jaylen Brown found time to improve his shot and is posting career highs in points per game (26.4), field goal percentage (51.8), 3-point shooting percentage (42.2) and free throw percentage (76.3).
Bad: The Celtics are 25th in defensive rebounding and in need of frontcourt help.
Good: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden are the NBA’s best scoring trio (80.6 points per game).
Bad: The Nets are 27th in defensive rating. If they can’t stop anyone, meaningful playoff success will be hard to attain.
The question regarding the Nets has never been about the scoring prowess of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. The defensive end will likely decide their championship fate. (Photo: Brad Penner, USA TODAY Sports)
Good: Gordon Hayward has returned to All-Star level (23.1 points per game, 41.8% on 3s), and rookie LaMelo Ball is a playmaker with so much room for growth. Hornets are No. 1 in assists per game.
Bad: Charlotte is 26th in defensive rebounds per game.
Good: Zach LaVine, at 27 points per game, is close to the revered 50/40/90 line, shooting 51.2% from the field, 41% on 3s and 87.2% on free throws.
Bad: Chicago is 29th in turnovers per game at 17.2, which doesn’t help a defense that is 24th.
Good: Solid young core led by Collin Sexton, Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, plus Andre Drummond’s play, have the Cavs in early playoff contention.
Bad: The Cavs have worst offensive rating at 103.8 points per 100 possessions.
Good: Luka Doncic: 27.9 points, 9.5 assists and 8.7 rebounds per game.
Bad: The Mavs are the worst 3-point shooting team (33.8%), and Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and Josh Richardson are just above 30% on 3s.
Good: Nikola Jokic is not far from a triple-double average at 26.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists.
Bad: Nuggets coach Michael Malone wants his team higher than 20th in defensive rating.
Good: Free-agent signing Jerami Grant has thrived in a more prominent role (24 points per game, 10 points higher than his career-high).
Bad: The Pistons are the worst shooting team in the league at 42.8%.
Golden State Warriors (12-11)
Good: Steph Curry has the Warriors above .500 with 29.4 points per game on 48.1% shooting and 42.5% on 3s.
Bad: Draymond Green is shooting 34% (to be fair, the Warriors, as a team, are producing with Green on the court).
Good: Free-agent signee Christian Wood averages 22 points and 10.2 rebounds and is shooting 55.8%.
Bad: Houston is 23rd in offensive efficiency, not helped by the fifth-worst turnover rate.
Good: Malcolm Brogdon is averaging 21.7 points and 6.7 assists and shooting 38.7% on 3s.
Bad: The Pacers are 29th in rebounds per game. Domantas Sabonis (11.7 rebounds per game) can’t grab them all.
Los Angeles Clippers (17-8)
Good: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both near the revered 50/40/90 line while averaging more than 24 points.
Bad: Hard to find many flaws, but they’re not a top-10 defense right now.
Los Angeles Lakers (18-6)
Good: Best defense in the league with two of the best players in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Bad: The Lakers are 24th in points allowed in the paint without JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.
The Lakers' LeBron James and Anthony Davis are considered the best duo in the NBA. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
Good: The Grizzlies lead the league in steals per game and are third in points off turnovers per game, relying on their defense to create scoring opportunities.
Bad: The Grizzlies are 26th in 3-pointers made, 25th in 3s attempted per game and 22nd in 3-point field goal percentage.
Good: Bam Adebayo continues to emerge as a star – 20.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 58.1% from the field.
Bad: The defending Eastern Conference champions have been ravaged by injuries and COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and the offense has suffered.
Milwaukee Bucks (15-8)
Good: The Bucks have the best offense and net rating, and Khris Middleton and the addition of Jrue Holiday have eased pressure on Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Bad: Bucks are 24th in 3-point field goal percentage allowed at 38.2%.
Good: D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley are each at 20 points per game and better than 37% on 3s.
Bad: In 291 minutes on the court together, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards have been outscored by 16.4 points per 100 possessions.
New Orleans (10-12)
Good: Brandon Ingram (23.9 points per game, 39.7% on 3s) and Zion Williamson (23.7 points per game, 59.6% shooting).
Bad: The Pelicans’ bench scores a league-low 28.9 points per game.
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New York (11-14)
Good: New Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks up to No. 6 in defensive rating.
Bad: Offense needs work despite Julius Randle’s career-best contributions.
Good: Nikola Vucevic is one of the league’s underappreciated players: 23.1 points and 11.4 rebounds per game while shooting 48.2% from the field and 42.3% on 3s.
Bad: The Magic are 29th in net rating at minus-7.4 points per 100 possessions.
Oklahoma City (10-12)
Good: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is headed for stardom: 22.3 points, 6.4 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game and 51.5% shooting.
Bad: The Thunder are 28th in offensive rating, 29th in 3-point shooting percentage and 25th in assists per game.
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Good: Mikal Bridges continues to emerge as a quality 3-and-D wing, averaging 14.1 points and 5.6 rebounds and shooting 37.9% on 3s.
Bad: Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton have been outscored by 5.1 points per 100 possessions in 388 minutes together.
Good: Under new coach Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid is playing the best basketball of his career. Helps when Seth Curry and Tobias Harris are 44% or better on 3s.
Bad: Have to nitpick a bit, but the Sixers are 28th in turnovers per game. No one player is egregious. It’s a group effort. That’s turned into 16.6 fastbreak points allowed per game, worst in the league.
In his first season with new coach Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid is having an MVP-caliber season. (Photo: Matt Slocum, AP)
Good: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are lighting it up offensively – Lillard at 29.1 points per game and McCollum at 26.7 points per game and combined 40.6% on 3s.
Bad: The Blazers are 28th in defensive rating, allowing 115.4 points per 100 possessions.
Good: De’Aaron Fox continues to improve – scoring a career-best 23 points per game and shooting an improved 36.1% on 3s.
Bad: The Kings are the worst defensive team in the league, allowing 116.8 points per 100 possessions.
San Antonio (13-10)
Good: DeMar DeRozan is great at what he does – 20.5 points and 6.6 assists per game and 49.6% shooting.
Bad: San Antonio is 27th in 3s made and 26th in 3s attempted.
Good: Fresh off a recording-setting 54-point performance, Fred VanVleet leads the Raptors in scoring at 20.2 points per game while shooting 37.3% on 3s.
Bad: Toronto started slow, hampered by its 26h-ranked shooting percentage.
Good: The Jazz are the only top-five team in both offensive and defensive rating.
Bad: Another nitpick, but the Jazz are 29th in isolation points per possession.
Good: Bradley Beal averages 33.2 points on 47.3% shooting.
Bad: Washington has had six games postponed due to health and safety protocols.
Led by Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz is one of the NBA's surprise teams this season. (Photo: Russell Isabella, USA TODAY Sports)
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