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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