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Around the League

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Let’s see what’s going on as we near the midway point of the season.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday all. Let’s do a quick Around the League, shall we?

HOT

Brooklyn Nets: Winners of nine of ten, they find themselves just a half game out of a playoff spot in the East. They’ve been scoring a ton and with balance. Spencer Dinwiddie has been particularly hot since signing his extension. The Nets are interesting: They play incredibly small—Jarrett Allen and Ed Davis are the only bigs who play, it’s those two and a ton of wings, but don’t play very fast, 23rd in pace. They look for, and make, a lot of threes of course. Right now it’s working without anyone resembling a star.

Milwaukee Bucks: Winners of six of seven, including their first Christmas Day appearance in forever. The Bucks are top seven in both offensive and defensive rating, and lead the league in both efg percentage and efg percentage allowed, as well as defensive rebounding percentage. They are now tied in the loss column with the East leading Raptors, and there’s a real argument that they have been the best team in the league up to this point.

Houston Rockets: They seem to have righted the ship, with eight wins in their last nine games. They just completed an impressive 3-0 home stand with wins over the Spurs, Thunder, and Celtics, without Chris Paul. James Harden has found his MVP form. They will have to defend better long-term, but they are too good to have remained below .500 forever.

Phoenix Suns: Hey! Five of seven for the Suns! Not sure this is anything other than a blip, but for hopeful Suns fans they can at least imagine that their young talent has some possible upside.

NOT

New Orleans Pelicans: Have lost five in a row, tumbling down to 14th in the Western Conference. With all the talk surrounding Anthony Davis’ future, the Pels need to show something this season, and this stretch has not been good. Davis remains astounding, but their three point shooting has cooled, and they struggle to get stops consistently. With the way the West is playing out, they can still get back into it, but will need to get going soon.

Washington Wizards: Losers of four of five and eight of ten, including some real clunkers like at Cleveland and at Atlanta. Things fall apart, and clearly this iteration of the Wizards has run its course. Does anyone trust Ernie Grunfeld to figure a way out of this mess? I’m pretty sure Wizards fans don’t.

New York Knicks: They are just bad. 2-13 over their last 15, with both wins coming in overtime. Next five games, all on the road: Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers, Blazers, Warriors. Yikes. I hope the organization is patient with David Fizdale, who I think is a good coach, but there just isn’t enough talent here to win. They’ve taken some interesting fliers on guys that look like they might be useful, but right now it’s ugly.

Rookie Watch

Three rookies have pretty clearly broken away from the pack: DeAndre Ayton, Jaren Jackson, and Luka Doncic.

We haven’t talked much about Ayton since he’s stuck on the Suns, but he’s been very impressive. He scores very efficiently, but also has shown good passing chops, rare for a young big man. He’s shooting 60 percent on decent volume. There are weaknesses, but he’s a rookie big averaging 16 and 11. There’s a lot to like.

Jackson isn’t the post dominator Ayton is, but has shown more versatility and defensive chops, and is amazingly young. He’s also contributing to a decent team in Memphis. Nice to see a couple of young big men among the top rookies.

Doncic has been, of course, the headliner. He’s 19, averaging 19-7-5 in 32 minutes a game, carrying 27 percent usage, and has immediately become the central figure for the Mavericks, who are hanging around .500. It’s really amazing stuff.

Of the other rookies in this class, who has caught your eye?

What else is happening around the league? Discuss below.