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Good, Bad, and Ugly: NBA at Thanksgiving

The NBA season is almost a month old, and conference standings are starting to take shape. Here are some of the best and worst stories around the NBA from the past couple weeks.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Jrue Holiday: Jrue missed the first 11 games of the season because he was tending to his wife, Lauren, who is recovering from surgery to remove cancer. His return has been great first and foremost because she is healthy and doing well. That’s by far the most important aspect of the whole situation. Even better, his play has also been terrific. The Pelicans are 3-0 since he came back, and have looked like a completely different team with him running point guard. Jrue is averaging 19 points and 6.7 assists per game so far along with above average defense—All Star numbers. While his return might be too little too late to get the Pelicans to the playoffs after their early season woes, it should be enough to make them a respectable and fun team again. It’s just been great to see him playing and healthy.

Kemba Walker: Kemba has been one of the best point guards in the NBA to start the season, improving on his standout year in 2015-2016. Scoring almost 25 points per game on by far a career high efficiency, Kemba has led the Hornets to the third best record in the Eastern Conference, and shows no signs of slowing down. His defense is also substantially better than scoring guards of similar ilk such as Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard—he tries hard on that end, and is a pest on the ball. Walker is also just a joy to watch, and plays with an infectious energy. He has come a long, long way from his first couple years in the league, and is a terrific example of a player whose hard work on his game has paid off tremenoudsly.

Bad

Utah Jazz: The Jazz have lost four games in a row, and are now one game under .500. Far worse, they have been plagued by injuries to start the season. Alec Burks is out indefinitely after foot surgery (his 3rd surgery in the past three seasons). Derrick Favors has already missed time, and is going to miss a lot more with a knee contusion. Those two losses will cost the Jazz heavily, despite the continued development of Rodney Hood and Trey Lyles. George Hill has been fantastic to start the season, but has also spent time on the bench with a thumb injury. If he stays healthy the rest of the way the Jazz should make the playoffs, even with their other injuries. However, Favors must be close to 100% if Utah is going to wants to win home court advantage in the playoffs. Relatively slow starts are costly, even in the still-weakened Western Conference. The Jazz simply haven’t played like the 50 win team so many people (including yours truly) predicted them to be.

Ugly

Dallas Mavericks: Harrison Barnes’ signing for a max deal in the offseason was received on a spectrum ranging from skeptical to contemptuous by most NBA fans. Through a month of the NBA season, however, he has proven all the haters wrong, scoring 21.2 points per game on relatively strong efficiency. The problem isn’t Barnes, as so many thought, but the rest of the team—Dallas currently has the worst record in the NBA at 2-11. The Mavericks have very little talent, and much of it is contained in the bodies of aging veterans. Those older players have almost all come down with injuries to start the season, and their advanced age and injury histories make them unlikely to be healthy for the remainder of the season. Dirk Nowitzki is still the most important player on the Mavs at age 38, and it would be extremely unwise of them to rely heavily on him for a playoff push. Instead, this should be a rebuilding year for the Mavs. The problem with that lies in letting down Dirk, who has been so patient and understanding of the Mavs’ roster revamping over the years. Dallas simply might not have a choice, as they clearly appear to be one of the worst teams in the NBA.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Minnesota is 2-4 in the last two weeks, and has fallen to a 4-9 record overall. The Timberwolves were extremely hyped over the offseason, the combination of extremely promising young talent and new coach Tom Thibodeau tantalizing many NBA fans into predicting a playoff appearance for the first time in a decade. Minnesota has struggled, however, their prospects impressing individually but failing to coalesce, especially on the defensive end. They have blown huge leads time and again in the 3rd and 4th quarters—unable to stop anyone on defense, and lacking a player who can consistently get buckets every trip down. These struggles culminated two nights ago when the Celtics’ bench went on a 19-0 run against the Wolves, after which the team was booed off the court. On the other hand, they still look better than last year, and disappointment in them is due more to unrealistic expectations than actual play. They should improve, but right now, they are making a lot of preseason optimists appear very foolish.