A quarter of the NBA season is done, and a ton already has happened. Here’s a look at the surprises, good and bad:
Jimmy Butler’s new home
No move likely will have a bigger impact this season (and next summer) than the Philadelphia 76ers’ deal for Jimmy Butler, giving them a star wing to pair with playmaker Ben Simmons and center Joel Embiid.
Since the deal, Philadelphia has won seven of nine games and might even feel like it has the firepower to rise to the top of the Eastern Conference. If Markelle Fultz’s shoulder injury/mental block wasn’t such an issue, the 76ers would have even more to challenge the Toronto Raptors.
Butler’s insurance if Fultz never quite figures it out, giving Philadelphia three potential All-Stars, which should be more than enough to build around.
Leonard’s permanent home?
Teams planning to pursue All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard next summer in free agency can’t feel good about how well things have gone in Toronto.
Leonard has been a great fit with point guard Kyle Lowry and the Raptors’ young, versatile players including most improved player candidate Pascal Siakam, who is shooting almost 64% from the field.
Toronto has played like the best team in the NBA. Teams such as the Clippers who have plenty of salary cap space have to be hoping for a catastrophically cold winter in Toronto or something else, because on the basketball side, Leonard looks as comfortable as can be.
What’s wrong with Warriors?
How is the best team in the NBA not the best team in the NBA? How is Golden State swimming in the muck of the Western Conference pack with lesser teams? Is there too much drama?
The Warriors aren’t dominating the West because Stephen Curry hasn’t been healthy. It’s not a coincidence that the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green on-court argument came in a game when Curry was out.
It’s not a coincidence that the Warriors’ longest losing streak — four games — of the Steve Kerr era has come with Curry injured. They’re still great without him — Durant averaged 48 points in the three games before Curry’s return Saturday — but they’re not the same.
L.A.: Confusion capital of NBA
At the quarter point of the season, the Clippers, not the Lakers, lead the Western Conference. The Clippers, not the Lakers, are playing with consistency and urgency. The Clippers, not the Lakers, have been the best show in town.
The Clippers’ success has confused some NBA people who look at their roster and see a team without star power. But forwards Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari have been terrific, and power forward Montrezl Harrell might be the best non-rookie value in the league.
The Lakers’ issues have been more predictable. Scouts who watch the team on a regular basis still scratch their heads at the roster construction and have doubts about how players such as Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball will work with LeBron James.
At some point, these teams might crisscross in the standings — it’s hard to imagine James not carrying the Lakers upward — but the Clippers haven’t shown signs of slowing down.