Early surprises in the Western Conference playoff picture
After the Nuggets first 23 games of the season they are 16-7 and tied for the best record in the western conference. Denver is hitting on all cylinders on the offensive end which is scary considering the amount of talent they possess. Unlike most teams in the NBA nowadays, continuity is a strength for this team. The core group for this current Nuggets team the past 3 years has been Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris, and Will Barton. What's even more impress with this excellent core of players is that the average age between all 4 of them is under 24 years old. The Nuggets are extremely balanced with excellent guard play as well as bigs who get rebounds and contest shots down low as well as spread the court by being able to hit jump shots. This team prefers a fast pace as they have no problem with simply outscoring the opponent. They can also run a half-court offense as well thanks to tremendous guards who can facilitate and run an offense. Even in a stacked western conference this team is a lock to make the playoffs in my opinion so that is what will ultimately judge this team in then end. Especially a franchise who has been cursed with early playoff exits in the past.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are off to an extremely hot start averaging the second-most points per game in the NBA. This team made big moves last offseason by dealing away stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in two blockbuster trades. Before the season started, nobody really knew what to expect from this team because of how different they look from last season. Freeing up a ton of cap space had most people thinking this would be a player development year as the team looks to sign a big free agent for next season with the expiring contracts of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, and Klay Thompson looming after seasons end. This newly assembled team is proving everybody wrong after winning 16 of their first 23 games and currently tied for the best record in the west. Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari are having the best seasons of their career; both are averaging over 19 points per game doing it by being extremely efficient scorers from all over the court. 20 year-old rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who played at Kentucky last year is already looking like a stud. But the biggest story of this team is has been Montrezl Harrell. In Harrell's 4th NBA season he is averaging a career high 16 points per game and shooting 65% from the field. This is a breakout year for the young player from Louisville who has finally been given the minutes and trust from head coach Doc Rivers playing well over 20 minutes per game for the first time in his career and it has done nothing but pay off.
Defensive basketball is still alive and well down in Memphis. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are now playing their 11th consecutive season together. These two have built a brand of basketball for this team once they entered the league and it will be a staple for this franchise for many years to come. At the beginning of this season however, the Grizzlies were coming off there worse record in their last 10 seasons, winning only 22 games last year. But after a terrific draft and signing a couple good newcomers the Grizzlies are back in the playoff picture. The only good thing that came off of last season for Memphis was obtaining the 4th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft where they were able to pick Jaren Jackson Jr. out of Michigan State. Jackson Jr. was incredibly hyped coming into the draft as a tremendous physical profile for a PF/C who is versatile on the defensive end. When the Grizzlies picked him they knew they were getting an NBA ready player who going to make an immediate impact. 22 games into the season and Jackson Jr. has started every single one. He is averaging 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 25 minutes of action per game and is everything that NBA scouts described. At just 19 years of age, the sky is the limit with this young player. Memphis has also gotten great contributions from role players like Garrett Temple, JaMychal Green, and Shelvin Mack. Lots of credit goes out to J.B. Bickerstaff who took over for David Fizdale last season at the 16 game mark of the 2017-2018 season. Bickerstaff has really gotten the most out of all his players as the Grizzlies now enter the playoff conversation in the west. Currently they stand 2.5 games behind the top spot in what has turned out to be a free-for-all early on in the western conference.
Ladies and Gentleman, Luka Doncic has arrived in Dallas. He is 19 years old and only has 21 games under his belt. But this "rookie" is already the best player on the team and a true leader. Doncic has been playing professionally in the highly renowned European Basketball league since he was 16 years old. Finally eligible to enter the 2018 NBA draft at the age of 19, his hype only became greater. Some thought he could go #1 in the draft and everyone saw Doncic being picked in the top 5. Doncic ended up being drafted at #3 overall by the Atlanta Hawks but was traded shortly after to Dallas for their #5 pick, Trae Young. We'll see who becomes the true winner of this gigantic trade in the long term as both of these players have already made their cases for this years rookie of the year along with the first overall pick, DeAndre Ayton. Dallas is already half way to their win total of last year(24), just 22 games into the season. Second year player Dennis Smith Jr. out of North Carolina State is showing why he belongs in the league averaging an impressive 14 points and 5 assists through the first 89 games of his career while being a true NBA point guard and facilitator. Also DeAndre Jordan has proved to be a big addition to this team. Even though Jordan comes with some controversy, he has always been a double-double machine and a block specialist. He's proven to be an important commodity on this Dallas Mavericks team because he gives them a true inside presence which this organization has been missing these last couple of years.