The NBA season has gone past its quarter pole. Trends are becoming more believable. We are learning that teams like the Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat really are much better than expected. Teams like the New Orleans Pelicans, Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs are worse than we thought.
In the past week, things have still continued to change a bit, though. Let’s talk about several teams that were especially impressive or disappointing in the last seven days.
NBA Week 6 Risers
Dallas Mavericks (16-6, No. 2 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
With the Mavericks, we are past the point of this just being a case of “Luka Doncic is amazing.” Sure, Doncic has been arguably the NBA’s best player this season, but you don’t register a plus 10.3 point differential by having one superstar and a bunch of run-of-the-mill players.
Give credit to nearly the entire Mavericks rotation for stepping up their games this season. Essentially Every player seeing consistent minutes has been playing well. Guys are perfectly fulfilling their roles with Doncic doing most of the heavy lifting.
One impressive thing about all of the Mavs’ success is that Kristaps Porzingis, the team’s supposed second star and key franchise building block, is shooting a terrible 39.4 percent from the field and a mediocre 34.1 percent from three-point range this season. Despite that, Dallas has been one of the league’s best teams this season.
Detroit Pistons (9-14, No. 9 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-1)
When three-point shots go in, things tend to go well for your offense in the modern NBA. Detroit has formed a somewhat unconventional roster that is surprisingly No. 1 in the NBA in three-point percentage (39.6 percent).
Indeed, it has been outside shooting that has spearheaded the Pistons’ recent surge. Detroit has made 14 threes per game over its last five contests at a 43.2 percent clip. The team doesn’t have any of the big-name snipers in the league, but Blake Griffin, Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard, Svi Mykhailiuk, Markieff Morris, Christian Wood and Tony Snell have made it so that every key lineup Detroit plays has some respectable shooting in it.
Detroit probably needs more talent (potentially via trade?) to be a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. The formula of inside dominance from Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin plus a ton of accurate shooters is a good starting point for the Pistons.
Milwaukee Bucks (20-3, No. 1 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
A 4-0 week is really not that out of the ordinary for the NBA’s best team so far. The Bucks have won 14 games in a row now. The impressive part is how they got this week’s wins and, in some cases, who they played.
This week, the Bucks won their four contests by 39, 44, 24 and 28 points, respectively. Most upper-tier teams would be happy to have one such blowout win per week, but Milwaukee had four. The Bucks beat a red-hot Pistons team on the road for their 24-point win, and their 28-point win was against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and an excellent Clippers team that had won nine of its previous 10 games.
Milwaukee’s success is thanks in large part to excellent defensive principles instilled by coach Mike Budenholzer, as well as the effort and execution from Milwaukee’s long and athletic roster. Offense is the team’s weaker end of the floor, but the approach of surrounding superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo with four shooting threats is working like a charm once again.
Antetokounmpo should probably be the MVP favorite right now but it is amazing that his team has been so dominant despite him playing only 31.4 minutes per game.
NBA Week 6 Fallers
Utah Jazz (13-10, No. 6 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 1-3)
In the last 10 games for the Jazz, they have played five teams with records below .500 and five teams with records above .500. Utah won all five games against the below .500 teams.
The games against above .500 teams were a different story. Utah lost all five by an average of 15.6 points. The Jazz defense, considered by some as the best in the NBA prior to the season, has ranked just 11th in the league despite having a mostly healthy roster all year.
If the Jazz are going to be a title contender, that defense needs to be elite. The team does not have the offensive firepower to blow teams away with their scoring, especially with Mike Conley and Joe Ingles continuing to underachieve wildly on that side of the ball.
New York Knicks (4-19, No. 15 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
This spot goes to the Knicks for not only being terrible on the court, but for their incompetence in the front office. New York lost its four games by a combined 91 points this week and lost in comical fashion to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
Indiana took a modest six-point lead in Madison Square Garden with 5:17 left in the game. The Pacers ended up not scoring the rest of the game, but since the Knicks shot only 2-of-16 the rest of the way, they failed to take advantage and still lost.
Before the game, New York had fired head coach David Fizdale, who was somehow expected to do something positive with a roster full of raw youngsters and mediocre journeymen. It was unfair for anyone to expect anything out of this roster. For the rest of the season, expect the Knicks to embrace the tank and move more away from their veteran players and toward their youngsters.
New Orleans Pelicans (6-17, No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
Nobody could have predicted the Pelicans to be this bad. There is no reason that a team of Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick, Lonzo Ball, Derrick Favors and Josh Hart should have a bottom-five record in the NBA.
Rookie sensation Zion Williamson is going to help cover up some flaws when he returns from his meniscus injury but I really think a lot of this team’s problems are coming from the sideline. Head coach Alvin Gentry has accomplished very little in his tenure with the Pelicans and only has won three playoff series in his 16 years coaching in the NBA.
With the important veterans on this roster, tanking might not be the best option. In my opinion, the best option for this season is finding a fresh voice to guide the locker room that can at least turn around the team’s spirit and create some optimism while still likely getting a mid to late lottery pick.