Time to get caught up

The post-Christmas NBA Guide

NBA Action is heating up heading into the new year. Photo by Paul Muth

It's jokingly understood that most people believe basketball doesn't really begin until after Christmas, and as football winds down for all but the NFL's playoff bound the spotlight is ever so slightly beginning to tilt towards the NBA. So instead of bugging your friends about how you totally almost won your fantasy league, maybe try striking up a conversation about something other people might actually be interested in. Here's a quick recap of what you need to know that you probably missed leading up to Christmas.

The Good Teams

Golden State Warriors - Yeah, they're still good, but they've been mortal this season. They have wrestled different teams at the top of the Western Conference standings all season season long and Christmas Day they were blown out by the Lakers who only had LeBron for one half of basketball. That marked their 12th loss this season, whereas last season it took until February to reach a dozen losses for the Dubs. They're still the favorites, but at the moment, they are not a lock.

Toronto Raptors - Toronto lost their adopted son DeMar DeRozan in a trade during the offseason with San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard. Fans were furious with the organization until the team started playing basketball and melting faces. Suddenly that DeRozan thing isn't such a big deal after all. Toronto holds the best record in the league, and Leonard leads the team in points per game (26.9), rebounds per game (8.4), and steals per game (1.8). The Raptors are legit.

Denver Nuggets - Yes, the team that lost out on a playoff spot in overtime on the last game of the season last year is now one of the best teams in the NBA. Spurred by the young backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris, and anchored by one of the most underrated stars in center Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets exploded to a 9-1 start. Jokic is leading the second best team in the West in...well...everything. Seriously, though, he is averaging 17.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.5 steals. They're a little hurt at the moment, but the return of Will Barton should be a boost. This Nuggets team isn't a fluke.

Milwaukee Bucks - It wasn't too long ago that the Bucks making this section would draw a double-take, but as long as my favorite player in the game, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is dribbling for Milwaukee this team will remain relevant. The Greek Freak has morphed into one of the greatest players in the league and is an early leading candidate in the MVP race.

Other good teams - Oklahoma City looks great in Paul George's second year with the Thunder, Boston is one of the deepest teams that's finally getting healthy and figuring out their rotation, and Philadelphia looks like they could be scary if they let Joel Embiid carry the team.

If you're wondering about Houston, they've been OK. They're not out of it, but they don't look as good as last year so far.

Way-too-early MVP candidates

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo - NBA fan or no, you owe it to yourself to watch the Greek Freak play. Maybe a year or two away from becoming the best player in the league.
  • Kawhi Leonard - Whatever leg problem kept him out last season, he looks to be very healthy. He's the best player on the best team.
  • Joel Embiid - Embiid has been an absolute force in the paint, averaging 26.6 points and 13.2 rebounds.
  • Stephen Curry - It's Stephen Curry, he's just doing what he always does.
  • Nikola Jokic - The Nuggets center is nearly averaging a triple-double.

Other notables: Lebron James, James Harden, Anthony Davis

Rookies that actually look good

  • Luka Doncic, SF, Dallas Mavericks - Dallas replaces a foreign Hall of Famer with what looks like his heir-apparent. Doncic is already a terror (19 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.1 apg) and he's only 19.
  • Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Memphis Grizzlies - Stud defender, stat-sheet stuffer, could be great.
  • Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix Suns - Capable Scorer, great rebounder, you won't see him play for a while though because he plays in Phoenix.
  • Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks - His scoring ability carried over from college, averaging 15.5 points per game to go with 7.2 assists per.

Top storylines so far

Scoring - New 'Freedom of Movement' rule implemented by the league has been widely accepted as the reason for a massive surge in scoring this season. Last season six teams averaged 110+ points per game. This year that number has ballooned to 17. No, it's not a conspiracy, and yes it's fun to watch.

Jimmy Butler - Butler headlines held the league hostage for most of the first month of the season until he was finally traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. Seeing how Butler's role and fit alongside the youngsters Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will be worth keeping an eye on throughout the season.

Western parity - As long as most can remember the Western Conference has been a dominant top-heavy force. That's hardly the case this year. While the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors enjoy an 8.5-game lead on their 8th seed, you would have to travel down to the 15th seed to find the same disparity. Every team in playoff contention right now could seize the lead within four games, leading to a truly wild west.

Ok now you have got the gist of the season so far. Now for everyone's sake please stop talking about your fantasy team.

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Let him cook! Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of a rebuild. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr are studs. KPJ just signed a four-year extension with the team. Other guys like Jabari Smith Jr, Kenyon Martin Jr, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, and Jae'Sean Tate are really good pieces to surround Green and KPJ with. The only issue with this group: they're REALLY young! Tate is the elder statesman at 27 of the young nucleus. Most are barely old enough to buy a drink. Some still aren't old enough! They're a bunch of green bananas waiting to turn yellow to slightly brown and be ripe enough for consumption.

We need to give it time. Just like bananas, they take time to ripen. Coach Stephen Silas is known for developing young players. His most prized student is the star player for that team in South Oklahoma up 45. Number 77 for that team credited Silas with helping him realize his All-Pro potential while Silas was a part of the coaching staff there. To a man, all his former players credit him with being a positive influence on their careers. So why are fans in a rush to get rid of him?

When you look at the Rockets' record over the last few years, it's gross. Sure, they've been a lottery team the last couple of seasons, but that was by design. As part of the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades, they gave away pick swap rights. Had they not been that bad, they wouldn't have been able to draft Green or Smith Jr. Those two guys are building blocks for the future, along with KPJ. Giving those picks away would've put this team further down the totem pole of developing themselves into a contender. Losing pays off when you can hit on high lottery picks.

If you give a chef dirt, bread, ham, molded cheese, and spoiled mayo, can you expect anything else but a nasty ham sandwich? How about if the chef was given a steak that is almost rotten, potatoes with root growth, and spoiled butter? Could you expect a better meal than the sandwich? Yes! However, that meal may still cause a stomachache. Now, give said chef a full complement of gourmet groceries and guess what you'll get?

This is why I say let Silas cook. He's the perfect coach for this group of kids. He can teach them all the fundamentals of the game at this level and help them grow into their full potential. If there's a change to be made on the sidelines, move Silas into a front office role, but DO NOT get rid of him! Guys like him are too valuable. Why do you think Mark Cuban hated losing him, but knew he couldn't retain him because he had a head coach already? Cuban knew what he had in Silas and what Silas did for Luka Doncic. He can do something similar for the Rockets if given the time to work his magic.

Should Tilman Fertita find the need to move on, I'd look for a more experienced coach who can guide them from bottom of the playoff ladder into top four in the West and real contenders. For now, Silas is the head chef. Continue giving him the groceries he needs, and he'll continue giving these kids the lessons they need to develop. Changing the coach now could stunt their growth. Let him cook!

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