After winning back-to-back NBA championships in their 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons and ending their 2018-19 season with a record of 57-25 and the Western Conference title, the Golden State Warriors solidified themselves as a powerhouse team in the NBA. Now, they sit in last place in the West with the worst record in the NBA after the first quarter of the season.
This season has been the opposite of what Golden State dreamed. Although Klay Thompson was set to miss the season after tearing his ACL in the NBA Finals last year, the addition of D’Angelo Russell in the summer seemed a suitable replacement after Russell qualified for his first All-Star Game last season. The Warriors’ campaign, however, was flipped on its head when Steph Curry broke his hand in the fourth game of the year and Russell sprained his right thumb soon after. At this point, Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr had reduced All-Star Draymond Green’s role to fewer than 20 minutes a game with all hope lost for this season.
While a return to the NBA Finals seems out of reach this seemingly disastrous season, the Warriors will be back. In the off-season, they may consider trading Russell and using their high draft pick in the 2020 lottery to acquire an All-Star forward or center. Alongside a healthy Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, the same core that won them the NBA Finals in 2015, a high-profile acquisition will help reestablish the Warriors as a top organization in the league.
Apart from the Warriors, the top performing teams in the league are, as expected, heading into the season. In the West, the storylines have been all about the Lakers. Their big off-season, highlighted by the acquisition of superstar Anthony Davis, created high expectations in Los Angeles. The Lakers have not disappointed thus far, winning 14 games in November with their only loss coming at the hands of the defending champion Toronto Raptors. This run included a 10-game winning streak, the longest streak for the organization in over a decade. LeBron James has fallen into a supporting role in the offense, paving the way for Davis as the main offensive force as James averages a career high 10.9 assists per game. This Lakers team, a strong contender for the finals, continues to be challenged by their hometown rival, the Los Angeles Clippers, led by 2014 and 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard as well as perennial All-Star Paul George, both of whom were acquired by the Clippers this summer.
The Clippers made a statement in the opening game against the Lakers with a 10-point win. Kawhi Leonard posted a 30-point game to give the Clippers a promising start to the season, making it appear that the team could win without star forward Paul George, still sidelined with an injury suffered during the off-season. The Clippers experienced some struggles during their opening 11-game stretch, however, as they fell to 7-4 after Leonard received substantial load management. The team’s rocky start was resolved when Leonard and George returned to the court together. The Clippers are 5-1 when the two have played together, losing only to the Spurs. As of now, the Clippers can be expected to continue their winning streak and challenge the Lakers for the top spot in the West.
In the East, the story has been all about the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo has only improved since winning his first MVP award last year with averages of 30.9 PPG and 13.4 RPG as of Dec. 3. There was some concern in Milwaukee after guard Malcolm Brogdon signed with the Pacers in the off-season. However, players like Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez have proven themselves to be a sufficient supporting cast for Antetokounmpo, although a star player like Antetokounmpo finds enough success on his own. Given their roster of players, the Bucks should expect to return to the Eastern Conference Finals this season.
With the loss of Kawhi Leonard in the off-season and the left thumb fracture to Kyle Lowry, it seemed as if Toronto was in for a disastrous season. However, the Raptors have maintained their form from last season and are currently sitting second in the East. Pascal Siakam has carried the team with averages of 25.6 PPG and 8.4 RPG and will likely make his first All-Star appearance this season. He could also become the first player in the NBA history to win consecutive Most Improved Player awards.
The Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are all still in contention for the top spot in the East as they sit within three games of the Bucks. The Heat have been impressive with breakout seasons from rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro. The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward to a fractured hand in mid-November but have still managed to win because of the likes of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The 76ers have underperformed for their roster but still boast a 15-6 record, including eight wins in their last nine appearances.
These teams are just some among many in the NBA that are off to a notable start of the season. The Blazers have found a potential savior in Carmelo Anthony, winner of the most recent Western Conference Player of the Week, James Harden is averaging close to 40 PPG to keep the Rockets in contention and the Nets have actually been better with Kyrie Irving off the court. As all major teams continue to produce in new ways following last season, the NBA has yet to disappoint and promises to get better by the day.