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Around the League at the Quarter Pole

Some random NBA thoughts as we are about a quarter of the way through the season.

Philadelphia 76ers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

We’re about a quarter of the way through the season, and it seems like time to take a look at what’s happening around the NBA.

The big news that just happened is the Grizzlies fired David Fizdale as head coach yesterday. The Grizz are in the midst of an eight game losing streak, and have fallen to 7-12 on the season, but this appears to be a result of the poor relationship between Fizdale and Marc Gasol.

It happens, obviously, but I hope (and expect) Fiz to get another opportunity at some point. I thought he did a terrific job last season. The Grizz have been staring this sort of decline in the face for a few years now, and have done an excellent job fending it off. But that can’t last forever, and it appears the end might be nigh for this iteration. It will be interesting to see what happens going forward, as the Grizzlies have three very highly paid veterans on their roster, with salary commitments to all of them through the 2019-2020 season. Will Gasol, Mike Conley, and Chandler Parsons all play out their contracts in Memphis? It seems unlikely, but they could be tough to move.

The ongoing story is that the Western Conference does not appear to be as good as we all thought it would be. In fact, the East currently has a better record than the West, which is quite surprising. A part of this is the Spurs, who often get off to strong starts, have been merely good, not great, in the absence of Kawhi Leonard, who the team is hoping to get back soon. In addition, the Thunder have struggled to an 8-11 start (currently 9th in the West) when they were expected to be one of the top teams in the conference after their off-season moves.

The East meanwhile has had a couple of pleasant surprises. The Indiana Pacers, after trading away Paul George in a deal that was widely panned, are cruising along at 11-9, in large part because of the terrific play of Victor Oladipo, who was a key part of the George trade.

The Knicks, who I thought were going to be truly awful, are instead a competitive 10-9, thanks in large part to the leap taken by Kristaps Porzingis. He’s been dominating, and the Knicks have been playing competent basketball around him. I’m still not sold that this will last, but they’ve been watchable.

The Pistons and the Sixers have both been better than I expected as well. Avery Bradley has been terrific for the Pistons, and frankly the whole team seems rejuvenated this season. Their two wins over the Wolves still rankle, but they were deserved. Meanwhile, the Sixers appear a year ahead of where I thought they were, with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid leading the way.

Of course the Celtics have been the big story in the East, with their 18-3 start despite losing Gordon Hayward on opening night. They’ve done it with defense, depth, and Kyrie Irving being Kyrie Irving. They lead the league in defensive rating, and have turned their poor rebounding around and now dominate the defensive glass. They probably aren’t really this good, but it’s been an impressive start so far.

The West, with a couple of disappointments already mentioned, has more or less played out as expected so far. The Rockets and the Warriors are leading the way, with a big group of teams just behind them in the 3-7 spots. The Spurs, Wolves, Blazers, Nuggets, and Pelicans are bunched up in those spots, and teams can move up and down quickly with a couple of wins or a couple of losses.

One of the best stories of the season so far has been the terrific group of rookies who are making an impact early. I don’t recall a recent season that has featured so many impressive rookies who are actually contributing to their teams.

Ben Simmons is likely the rookie of the year leader at the moment, and has been fantastic for the Sixers. He has an amazing set of skills, headlined by his passing ability. But he also scores efficiently despite his lack of range—he’s terrific inside 10 feet. He’s a strong rebounder as well. He’s sort of a genius passing version of Lamar Odom or something.

An argument could also be made for Jayson Tatum, who has played more than expected in the absence of Gordon Hayward. The Celtics haven’t missed a beat. He has an incredibly polished game, and has been making threes at a much higher clip than I expected. But he’s also showing he’s capable of being part of a stingy defense, and has some tenacity on the glass. Looks like a terrific player.

And those are just two of the headliners. John Collins, Lauri Markkanen, OG Anunoby...the list of rookies who are playing good basketball is remarkably long. I’d be interested to hear who has caught your eye among the rookie class.

What’s caught your eye around the league so far?