Thanksgiving is a time to stop and reflect. It is a time to think about the things we are thankful for and to recognize all of the positive things in our lives. The basketball world, more specifically the National Basketball Association, is no different. While there are many teams that have not gotten off to the desired start they were looking for, they have still found several positives one month into the season.
There are no games scheduled on Thursday as players and staff enjoy the holiday with their loved ones. As teams prepare for this grueling three-month stretch before the All-Star break, Basketball Insiders has identified at least one thing that each organization should be thankful for on this important holiday break. We wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!
Celtics – Dennis Schroder’s contract
Boston had the best deal of the summer when they inked Schroder to a one-year deal for just $5.9 million. It took him a few games to find his groove but he has been playing lights out recently, with Boston missing so many bodies. Schroder has been averaging nearly 19 points per game in the month of November and the Celtics have won six of their last nine games.
Nets – Veteran additions
Speaking of value signings, Brooklyn made a few of their own this summer. Patty Mills was the most underrated addition of the offseason, filling the void left by Kyrie Irving. LaMarcus Aldridge returned from retirement and has been sensational. Steve Nash has finally moved him into the starting lineup, making them even more lethal. Paul Millsap and DeAndre’ Bembry have both been excellent in their roles as well.
Knicks – The bench
The story in New York City this season has been the production from the second unit. The spotlight was on Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier entering this season but it has been guys like Derrick Rose, Alec Burks, Obi Toppin, Nerlens Noel, and Immanuel Quickley that have saved them several times already this season.
The Knicks’ Bench in the 4th quarter pic.twitter.com/IQqXiBdW4S
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) November 18, 2021
76ers – Tyrese Maxey
Philly remains a disaster right now, and it goes well beyond the Ben Simmons situation. Joel Embiid has missed the last three weeks due to COVID-19 protocols. Tobias Harris, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle, and Isaiah Joe have all missed time as well. Maxey has grabbed this opportunity by the horns and is making the most of it. His PER this season (19.8) ranks top 50 in the league and is the same as Simmons’ career number. All things considered, the saga may be a blessing in disguise for Daryl Morey.
Raptors – Scottie Barnes
When the Raptors surprised everyone in the draft by selecting Barnes, naysayers were quick to pile on. One month into the season, the forward is the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. Barnes has done more than just fit in with the starters in Toronto, he has fueled them on both ends of the floor. The Raptors are relying on their depth this season, but it sure looks like they have a future All-Star in Barnes.
Bulls – 2021 summer
Chicago won the offseason with their moves to acquire Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, and DeMar DeRozan. The most impactful player to change teams this season has undoubtedly been DeRozan. The veteran has been putting up insane numbers and sits 4th in scoring at 26.8 points per game. The Bulls are back, and while there are several reasons for this, the biggest one is the play of DeRozan.
“If you were to have an MVP power rankings as of today, I’d put DeMar DeRozan third after Steph and KD.”
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) November 16, 2021
Cavaliers – Evan Mobley
Ricky Rubio might be the right choice here with the loss of Collin Sexton but before he suffered an injury to his elbow, Mobley was making a strong case for Rookie of the Year. The athletic big man was a large part of the resurgence in Cleveland, making his presence felt on both ends of the floor. The Cavs might be coming back down to earth, but the frontcourt pairing of Mobley and Jarrett Allen along with Darius Garland has them playing inspiring basketball.
Pistons – Cade Cunningham
Patience is the name of the game in Detroit, where fans are finally getting to see just how talented their rookie point guard is. The top overall pick has come along slowly, but he is going to make it well worth the wait.
Pacers – Rick Carlisle
The biggest upgrade for the Pacers this summer was bringing back their old head coach. It has been a sluggish start for Indiana but they have dealt with a ton of injuries and still changing their offensive identity. After a convincing beat down of the Bulls on Monday and an overtime loss to LeBron and the Lakers last night, the Pacers could make up some ground in the next couple of weeks as eight of their next nine games are at home.
Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo
The two-time MVP has been nothing short of spectacular once again this season.
Hawks – Home games
After a disappointing start to the season, it appears the problem has been identified. The Hawks are 8-1 at home and just 2-8 on the road. Now it is up to Nate McMillan and the players to figure that out. After a much-needed homestand, the Hawks have now won six games in a row.
Hornets – Emergence of Miles Bridges
LaMelo Ball is having an incredible season, which is being overshadowed by the breakout season that Bridges is having. The former Spartan is posting career-high numbers and has no intention of slowing down anytime soon.
— Bally Sports: Hornets (@HornetsOnBally) November 22, 2021
Heat – Arrival of Kyle Lowry
After making it to the Finals two years ago, Miami fell flat on their face last season. The addition of Lowry has rejuvenated this team, most notably Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro. Just as Chris Paul turned things around in Phoenix last season, the Heat are hoping the veteran point guard can do the same for them.
Magic – Good health
For the first time in the last five years, the Magic are in relatively good health. Considering all that they have endured with player injuries, they are finally getting to see what type of talent they have on the floor. Cole Anthony has been sensational and Wendell Carter Jr has been playing excellent as well. Their rookies are legitimate and Mo Bamba continues to improve. Rebuilding is never fun, but this team at least has a definite direction now.
Wizards – Rob Pelinka
Sure, the Lakers would probably like to use a mulligan on the trade for Russell Westbrook, but Washington could not be happier with how it went down. Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have all made sizeable contributions to this team. Right now the Executive of the Year award goes to Tommy Sheppard, who was just rewarded with a new deal himself.
The Washington Wizards have the fourth best Defensive Rating in the league sitting at (104.0).
If the season ended today it would be their highest in seven years – 2014-15 (103.0)
— Quinton Mayo (@RealQuintonMayo) November 22, 2021
Nuggets – Will Barton
Denver has already seen their fair share of injuries this season. The Nuggets could have three players out for the season in Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr, and PJ Dozier. Nikola Jokic has been out of the lineup with a wrist injury as well, making things even more difficult for Michael Malone’s team. They have lost their last five games and their next two are against the Bucks and Heat. Barton is averaging career highs in points and assists but the ten-year pro can’t do it alone.
Timberwolves – Anthony Edwards
Edwards is oozing with athleticism, but the second-year player is evolving into the complete package. He has already had five games with 30 points or more and nine games with at least five made three-pointers. He is 17th in scoring and has a solid 17.37 PER this season. Edwards is also helping change the culture in Minnesota, as the Wolves have now won five straight games, their longest streak since the 2017-18 season. Last night he finished with 33 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals, and this monster dunk in their victory over the Heat.
ANTHONY EDWARDS DID IT AGAIN pic.twitter.com/0ieQHcsJd7
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) November 25, 2021
Thunder – Josh Giddey
The rebuild in Oklahoma City is going very well, in large part thanks to Giddey’s playmaking. The rookie looks comfortable on the floor and doesn’t have to face the pressure of winning right now. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort leading the way, Giddey is the perfect compliment for this team. He is averaging 10.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists this season. Giddey has scored in double figures in his last five games and ranks 19th in the league in assists.
Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard’s loyalty
Portland had a shaky start to the season, after a tense offseason that could have sent them in a completely different direction. Lillard is a man built on loyalty and is determined to lead this team to the promised land. His shooting woes, reportedly caused by an undisclosed injury, have evaporated and the Blazers have won five of their last seven games. If it was any other star in his position, things would be much worse for Portland.
Jazz – Camaraderie
Utah has made some minor tweaks to its roster in recent years but has largely remained the same. Their core group has a lot of experience together and the pieces fit well. Add to that the fact that Quin Snyder is in his eighth season as head coach, and the Jazz are primed for another strong playoff run. They currently sit third in the West, having won four of their last five games. Up next they have a double date with the Pelicans on Friday and Saturday.
Warriors – Roster depth
Oddly enough, Golden State’s strength this season was their biggest weakness last year. Even with Klay Thompson and James Wiseman out, they have gotten solid production from veterans Andre Iguodala, Nemanja Bjelica, and Otto Porter Jr. Their two rookies will only get better and the play of Gary Payton II has only made their defense that much better. All of this along with Jordan Poole’s breakout season has the Warriors back in the familiar spot of best in the West.
Proud vet is an understatement . I’ve seen this man put in the work everyday for the last few years and his future is incredibly bright ✨ 👌🏽 https://t.co/PDLWQG0lO4
— klay thompson (@KlayThompson) November 23, 2021
Clippers – Paul George’s shoulders
Without Kawhi Leonard, the fate of the Clippers lies on the shoulders of George. So far he has responded well, carrying the team to a spot at the top of the conference. George leads the team in scoring and assists and is 4th in scoring this year. The roster is far from championship-worthy but that will change if and when Leonard returns this season.
Lakers – Carmelo Anthony’s shooting
All is not right in Laker Land, with criticism being spewed in all directions. From LeBron missing time due to injuries and a suspension to Anthony Davis being too soft and needing to post up more, to Russell Westbrook and his decision-making and turnovers. The one pleasant surprise has been Anthony, who started the season on fire. This team has desperately needed his offensive production and shot-making from outside. They are still only a .500 team but the panic meter would be at 100 without Anthony’s production.
Suns – Chemistry
This team is absolutely steamrolling through their schedule right now. The Suns are just as hot as their name as they have won 14 consecutive games. There doesn’t appear to be any burnout with this team after their trip to the Finals and as long as they remain healthy, they could find themselves there again next summer.
JJ asked @mikal_bridges if he feels like The Suns are being overlooked by the media this year.
His answer was amazing. pic.twitter.com/2bMc8Mv9rs
— TheOldMan&TheThree (@OldManAndThree) November 24, 2021
Kings – Young talent
Another year and another coach firing in Sacramento. As the Kings search for their 10th head coach in the past 15 years, they will find solace in knowing that there is plenty of talent on the roster. The loaded backcourt of De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Davion Mitchell, and Buddy Hield is more than enough to make this team competitive. Richaun Holmes and Tristan Thompson are hungry as well. The Kings should be better than they are, and if they can finally figure out the coaching thing, they might finally break their long playoff drought.
Mavericks – A motivated Kristaps Porzingis
Not many people realize that Porzingis has the 12th-best PER in the league right now. He is also top 20 in scoring and top 30 in rebounding. After missing some time earlier in the year, the big man has come back strong for the Mavericks. He is clearly motivated this season and is finally giving Dallas that second star alongside Luka Doncic.
Kristaps Porzingis is playing the best basketball of his life right now.
He has scored 20+ in 7 straight games, the longest streak of his career. pic.twitter.com/tUQNAWHE2O
— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 24, 2021
Rockets – Low expectations
It should surprise no one that the Rockets have the worst record in the league this year. By not playing John Wall and embracing the losing culture that comes along with playing the young guys, Houston is sitting with a 2-16 record. Without the pressure of winning though, players like Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr, and Alperen Sengun are free to make mistakes in order to learn. They rank last in essentially every statistical category (except pace, where they are first) but that is part of the rebuild. Stephen Silas has been rumored to be on the hot seat, which is ridiculous considering the unfair hand he was dealt.
Grizzlies – Ja Morant
He is the real deal, and he is must-see TV every single night. He currently leads the league in scoring in the paint, which is unheard of for a non-center, let alone a point guard. He has elevated this team and makes everyone around him better. If Morant doesn’t make the All-Star team this season, someone should launch an investigation.
It’s still surreal to watch Ja Morant these days, he’s taken such a massive step forward as a scorer and he’s got incredible confidence in himself. He just dominates the court. Absolutely backing up the All-Star talk. He’s gonna be in the All-NBA discussion soon at this rate.
— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) November 19, 2021
Pelicans – Zion Williamson
Without Zion, this is what the Pelicans are. Things are gloomy in New Orleans right now, but brighter days are ahead when he finally returns to the floor.
Spurs – Scouting department
They might not be winning a bunch of games but the Spurs have a lot of young talent. Dejounte Murray is having an All-Star-worthy season. Keldon Johnson is oozing with potential. Devin Vassell, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker have all become solid contributors. These are all players that San Antonio has drafted in the last five years, and molded into what they are today. Gregg Popovich might be on his way out but he is certainly leaving this franchise in a much better place than when he arrived.