5. Philadelphia 76ers
Come for Joel Embiid, stay for James Harden.
I’ve run out of words to describe just how good Embiid has been this month. After last year’s runner-up finish in the MVP race, I expected him to take a slight step back to his regular averages. I was so wrong. He’s even better this season, leading the league in scoring with a 33.1 per game average. In December alone, he’s averaging 35 points on 55 percent shooting. That’s just absurd.
You know who’s been incredible for Philly lately too? James Harden. In nine games this month, he’s averaging 21 points and 12 assists. He dismantled the Clippers with 21 assists, then followed that up with a 29-point, 13-assist performance.
It’s been fun watching these two grind down their opponents this month. Harden and Embiid are the best pick-and-roll combination in the league right now.
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Come for the offensive highlights, stay for the defensive highlights.
It’s no secret that the Grizzlies are one of the most entertaining teams in the league. I love scrolling through their Twitter feed to watch Ja Morant soar in for a putback slam or switch hands mid-air (their social media game is just as fun too). Now that Jaren Jackson, Jr. is back, Morant has someone to snatch from up high to throw it down hard.
But did you know that the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive teams in the league as well? They’re currently fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. Their defense isn’t just the boring disciplined kind. They like to take risks by going for steals and flying in for blocks.
when people flood our mentions with bad energy...... pic.twitter.com/ZhjKXYmhyq— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) December 24, 2022
They’re third in the league in blocks, averaging 5.8 per game, while they’re in the top 10 in steals with 7.5 a game. These defensive highlights often lead to highlights on the other end as well. That’s one fun cycle.
3. New Orleans Pelicans
Come for the improvement of the team, stay for the youthful irreverence.
New Orleans is currently the second-best team in the West. At one point, they were the best team in the conference. That speaks volumes about the team’s improvement. It’s easy to rise the rankings when your generational franchise player is finally healthy. With Zion Williamson back and better than before, the Pelicans are finally meeting lofty expectations.
You know what I love about them though? They don’t care. They don’t care about the expectations. They don’t care about the stats. They don’t care about the rankings. They don’t care about the injuries on their team. They don’t care about unwritten rules.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN... ZION WILLIAMSON. pic.twitter.com/MhjV7Zpl0R— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) December 10, 2022
They just keep chugging along. Different players step up while their core guys lead the way. The young Pelicans have started learning how to win and they’re now obsessed with it.
2. Brooklyn Nets
Come for Kevin Durant, stay for Kyrie Irving.
Kevin Durant is the most unstoppable scorer in the history of the NBA. There, I said it. He makes scoring look so easy. Every aspect of his game is so smooth. He looks like he’s dancing on the court, swaying left to right as he dribbles to get open. Then he turns deadly as he rises up for the pull-up J. Durant has been the one constant in this inconsistent season for the Nets.
You know who’s an elite shot-maker as well? Kyrie Irving. He has the best handles in the NBA right now. If Durant plays the smooth sax of the team, Kyrie is the trumpeter, improvising on the fly. Irving sees angles and space in a different way. All he needs is a sliver of room and he can find a way to get through it to score.
14 in the fourth for KAI 🥶 pic.twitter.com/lLxUAkr61P— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) December 24, 2022
Irving’s improved play this month has been a big reason for Brooklyn’s resurgence. They’re one of the best offensive teams in the NBA lately and that’s because Durant and Irving are torching opponents. Because of that, the Nets are 9-1 in their last 10 games and have risen to fourth place in the East.
1. Denver Nuggets
Come for the MVP, stay for possibly the best team in the NBA.
In his last 10 games, Nikola Jokic is averaging 30.6 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 13.4 assists. During that stretch, he had two 40-point triple-double games and six 30-point performances. He’s bounced back from a rough start to the season by putting up ridiculous numbers this month. Beyond the numbers though, Jokic continues to prove that there are things only he can do. What is this even?
JOKER JUST HAVING FUN OUT THERE pic.twitter.com/CvK4Fbw7Le— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) December 21, 2022
I fully believe that Jokic is good because his team is built perfectly to complement his unique skills. They’re a team full of intelligent cutters and shooters that constantly hover around their MVP’s gravity. Because of that, Jokic has multiple options and can get crafty when needed. Having Jamal Murray and Michael Porter, Jr. back from injury is a huge boost to the team.
For the past few years, everyone has been pegging Denver as the best team in the NBA. Can they finally live up to the lofty billing this year?