Top Five NBA Teams for the First Quarter of the Season

NBA

We are more than a quarter of the way through the NBA season which is a large enough sample size to draw an early picture of the young NBA season.  At the very least it paints a much clearer picture than what could’ve been predicted before the season.  This is also the point in the season when certain teams start to separate themselves from the rest of the competition.  Surprisingly enough teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets, and the Golden State Warriors do not make the list.  Once again, this is a list of the best teams thus far and it’s a long season so things will surely change as the season goes on.  With that being said, the following five teams have stood out above the rest thus far this season and most of the teams listed were not expected to do this well before the season:


5.  Los Angeles Clippers (16-7)

The Los Angeles Clippers were not anticipated to be one of the better teams this season; however, they have exceeded all expectations this year.  With wins against the Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Golden State Warriors; this Clippers team should be taken seriously.  Doc Rivers has done a masterful job coaching this team boasting a team with the 5th best Net Rating in the league this year.  The Clippers may not have a designated superstar; however, the depth they have is some of the best in the league.  Tobias Harris, Danilo Galinari, Lou Williams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and especially Montrezl Harrell have done an excellent job.  Fun fact – per Basketball-Reference – Montrezl Harrell leads the league in Win Shares per 48 Minutes.  Not bad at all for a 2nd round pick. 

4.  Oklahoma City Thunder (15-7)

The Oklahoma City Thunder had a fairly slow start to the year starting at 2-4 in the month of October.  They have picked it up since then and have gone 13-3 the rest of the way.  Russell Westbrook and Paul George have been playing like superstars but that has not been the main reason why they have been so good.  The Thunder have the highest Defensive Rating in the league and that is with Andre Roberson still out with an injury.  Their offense is still not quite at the level they would like; however, the defense has been so dominant it has not mattered.  Steven Adams and Jerami Grant have been positive contributors on the court with Steven Adams boasting the top Net Rating for the team.    

3.  Milwaukee Bucks (15-7)

The Milwaukee Bucks have not been themselves the past five games, with two wins and three losses in that stretch with losses to the Phoenix Suns, Charlotte Hornets, and New York Knicks; not exactly the toughest gauntlet of teams to face.  In spite of the underwhelming performances, they still boast the highest Net Rating in the league with the league’s best offense.  This is largely due to the play of MVP candidate, Giannis Antetokounmpo or as some may reference as the “Greek Freak”, who has been an absolute beast this year averaging 27.6/13.2/6.0 on the season!  Surrounding Giannis with shooters has unlocked the potential he’s always had to put up these kinds of numbers.  Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, and Khris Middleton have stepped it up as tertiary options; all three showing the ability to create shots off the dribble and make clutch shots down the stretch of tight games.  Speaking of performances down the stretch, Giannis will need to develop his jump shot further to become a more reliable option in tight games.  He is still an excellent player but he does not pose the same threat down the stretch of games because it is fairly predictable that he will drive to the basket due to his lack of a consistent outside shot.  Once he resolves this weakness the Bucks become that much dangerous especially in high leverage playoff games.

2.  Denver Nuggets (16-7)

The Denver Nuggets have won six games in a row with their most recent win on the road against the Toronto Raptors who currently hold the best record in the league.  The Nuggets were expected to improve this year but what’s interesting is how they’ve improved.  The Nuggets have a top ten offense but the catalyst for their impressive performances has been their top three defense which is only behind the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Boston Celtics.  Also, that Nikola Jokic guy continues to be very good this year.  He is currently fourth in the league in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus (RPM) only behind Marc Gasol, James Harden, and Anthony Davis.  Another fun fact before moving on to the number one team this year; per Basketball-Reference the top ten players in Assist Percentage all play in the backcourt – the one exception you may ask?  None other than Nikola Jokic, it’s going to be a fun year.

1.  Toronto Raptors (20-5)

It would be difficult to justify the Raptors being anything other than the best team through the first quarter of the season.  They have the best record in the league; the second best Net Rating in the league and are the only team in the league top five in both offensive and defensive Effective field goal percentage.  Effective field goal percentage has shown to be a solid predictor of playoff success as well. Although the Raptors held the number one seed during the regular season last year, this year’s team is much different.  As good as the Raptors were last year, they were 17-8 through their first 25 games last year which is not quite as good as the 20-5 start they’ve had this year.  The leap Paskal Siakam has gained this year has been huge and he is only becoming more confident by the game.  They added Danny Green in the Kawhi Leonard as a throw-in who now happens to lead their team in on/off court Net Rating. 
All positive signs; however, their most impactful change was replacing DeMar DeRozan with Kawhi Leonard.  As good as Demar is during the regular season he has had his fair share of struggles during the playoffs, potentially none more embarrassing than last year’s sweep at the hands of the LeBron-led Cavaliers.  DeMar has consistently been a subpar playoff performer, shooting only 41 percent from the field throughout his playoff career.  Kawhi Leonard has proven to be a dominant playoff performer who has made his teams better come the post season.  His playoff career shooting percentage is an impressive 51 percent which is a far cry from DeMar DeRozan who has never managed to shoot above 44 percent from the field.  This Raptors team is not like last year and the additions of Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are the reason for that.  Last fun fact, the player with the second highest RPM among point guards happens to be Kyle Lowry who was not mentioned until this sentence...Underestimate this team at your own risk.

Please note any stats provided are from the official NBA.com website unless stated otherwise.