Remember, these categories are on a somewhat relative basis. If I were going strictly by play and level of accomplishment, the 76ers would be in the Ugly section every week. But that's no fun! I want to be able to look at a lot of different teams and players over the course of the season instead of hammering home the same tropes. So here we go.
The Golden State Warriors: The Clippers' rivals from the Bay Area have never looked better. While Steph Curry will not continue to shoot 60% from the field, and probably not 49% from 3, he (and the rest of the Warriors) have improved on defense in the offseason, and his handle is crisper than ever. Antagonist Draymond Green has easily been their second best player as Klay Thompson is off to a slow start. It hasn't mattered: the Warriors have won their first four games by a total of 100 points. Insanity. Curry is unguardable right now, and is doing things no basketball player should be able to. Tonight should be fun.
The Los Angeles Clippers: Hey there! While the Clippers haven't necessarily played great through their first four games, the record is what matters, and they are one of two (Raptors are the other) non Warriors team to remain unbeaten. Blake Griffin looks amazing (2nd in MVP race behind Steph right now), Lance has played pretty well, and the rest of the team will slowly round into shape. The worry right now is with Doc Rivers' rotations and the state of the bench, but hopefully things coalesce in the next month or two.
Play of the Rookies: This was an extremely heralded rookie class, and so far they are living up to the hype. Karl Anthony Towns has been ridiculously good for Minnesota, averaging 18/10 in 30 minutes per game with almost three blocks as well. Jahlil Okafor is doing his best to keep the 76ers in games, and while his rebounding and defense need work, his post moves are already some of the best in the NBA. Other rookies of note include Kristaps Porzingis with the Knicks (he moves well for a huge man and has an extremely nice shot), Emmanuel Mudiay with the Nuggets, and two wings: Stanley Johnson and Justice Winslow. There are going to be ups and downs through the rookie season as always, but this crop looks like they will have a lot to say in upcoming seasons.
Anthony Davis/New Orleans Pelicans: I was among those supporting a breakout Brow season, and wow do I look wrong so far. To be fair, Davis' supporting cast is absolutely decimated. With no Tyreke Evans and limited minutes of Jrue Holliday there are no reliable playmakers on the Pelicans, and the whole team has suffered. Yet I still expected a lot more from Davis, who is struggling on defense and with his shot selection. He is settling for too many contested midrange shots and isn't attacking the basket enough. With more spacing (Quincy Pondexter is due back soon) Davis should improve, but he has not been good. His play has not helped the Pelicans in their 0-4 start, which is honestly kind of a big hole in the Western Conference. They need the artillery to come back healthy and quickly if they want to remain in the playoff race.
The Memphis Grizzlies: Last season I predicted that the Grizzlies would start falling down the rankings in the Western Conference and out of contention. That happened to a small extent, but this year really looks like the last in the Grit and Grind era. Tony Allen, Matt Barnes, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, and Beno Udrih are all well over 30 and showing their age this season. Allen's defense, once the model for perimeter defenders in the NBA, has suffered hugely, and the former half man-half amazing can barely dunk anymore. The rest of their rotation are no spring chickens either: Mike Conley is 28, Jeff Green is 29, and Marc Gasol is 30. Conley and Gasol are still All Star or near All Star level players, but both are done improving, and the rest of the supporting cast isn't there. And as in every year of the past half-decade, the Grizzlies simply lack shooting. Memphis will probably win 45+ games and make the playoffs, but I don't know if any of the top Western Conference teams will really fear a matchup with them in the playoffs. A team like the Mavericks kept largely the same core every year and ran it back over and over until they got just the right mix and the right set of circumstances to win a championship. It is basically what the Clippers are doing now. Memphis was just never quite good enough, and the West was too strong.
Kobe Bryant: At this point it is just sad. The Black Mamba is by almost any account one of the 15 best players in NBA history, and many would rank him substantially higher. This is his 20th season, and he is awful. Maybe as the juices get flowing and he adjusts to new teammates and such he might improve a bit, but it is painful watching him right now. Of Kobe's 51 shots so far this season (before the game Tuesday night), 29 have been threes. And no, not of the open, catch and shoot, JJ Redick variety. They are classic in his prime Kobe heat checks from 26 feet out with a hand right in his face. Ugly. An incredibly low four of his shots have come within five feet of the basket, as his speed and ability to take defenders off the dribble has vanished completely. Kobe is dominating the ball and stopping the offense like it is 2005. The real year is 2015. It is never fun to watch a star break down, and Kobe is a great example of the effects Father Time has on everyone.
Derrick Rose: Rose now appears destined for entering that sad NBA section of history: the "what if" hall. The explosiveness to his game is gone. It just is. He will always have that MVP award in 2011 (undeserved if we are being honest, as both LeBron and Dwight were on different levels than him that season) but who knows what would have happened if he had stayed healthy. Last year he played in 51 games and put up pretty poor statistics. He is terrible in terms of offensive efficiency and turns the ball over far too much. His defense has collapsed from above average to turnstile. There is still a place for Rose in this league, but it increasingly looks like a reserve role. He was never a terrific passer and mostly relied on his incredible speed to make plays. Without that speed, he can't function effectively. Now he is only capable of exploding on days where his knee feels good, or when his shot is falling. But on the others he can't get his teammates involved, clanks terrible three point shots, and hemorrhages buckets on the other end. I hope he can turn it around as he continues to get further away from injury, but a return to even above average form looks more unlikely by the game.