Biggest NBA Winners and Losers from November
Some NBA teams and players had plenty to be thankful for during the month of November.
For others, though, the month of December can't get here quickly enough.
Such is the topsy-turvy trek that is the Association's 82-game marathon.
From teams trouncing over expectations to clubs falling ominously short of their win-now aims, let's highlight some of the biggest winners and losers from November.
Winner: Indiana Pacers
This season was supposed to be defined more by player development than wins in the Circle City. If November is any indication, though, the Pacers may not actually have to choose.
Despite leaning into a youth movement—of the 13 Pacers to log 100-plus minutes, only three are over the age of 25—Indiana is suddenly cruising at a clip most win-now teams are struggling to match. In November, the Pacers have the NBA's second-best winning percentage (.750) and eighth-highest net rating (plus-3.8).
Will this success sustain over the entire season? Maybe, maybe not. What's important, though, is that the young Pacers are way ahead of schedule in terms of establishing an identity and crafting a successful system around their emerging talent.
"They play a good brand of basketball," Kevin Durant told reporters. "They move the ball, they've got quick shooters."
This all revolves around cornerstone guards Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin, who lead this roster now and will continue leading this rebuild going forward. In November, Haliburton has controlled the court like few other floor generals, pairing his 18.5 points with 12.5 assists per game. Mathurin, meanwhile, has kept himself firmly in the Rookie of the Year running with 18.2 points in only 28.8 minutes a night.
This entire roster is clicking around them, too.
Myles Turner is playing better than ever, which either drives up his trade value or makes the Pacers seriously consider bringing him back in 2023 free agency. Buddy Hield's quantity-plus-quality perimeter shooting has significant value to this team and on the trade market. Andrew Nembhard already makes the short list of the 2022 draft's biggest thefts. Aaron Nesmith is flashing some three-and-D ability.
Indiana's youth-filled rotation shows a clear commitment to the franchise's future, but this group is showing the organization can prepare for tomorrow without sacrificing today.
Loser: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls were ostensibly out for redemption this season. More than simply validating their success from 2021-22, they hoped to show their flashes of dominance could be stretched into something far more significant.
Remember, they held the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference at times last season. It was the sort of outcome skeptics thought this club could never reach after they had invested in the good-not-great, awkwardly fitting Big Three combo of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević.
If the early returns from this campaign should be trusted, that skepticism was very much warranted. The Bulls are just 6-7 in November (9-11 overall) with the month's 16th-ranked net rating (plus-0.1).
Chicago has been mediocre, which is why CBS Sports' Sam Quinn dubbed the Bulls "the NBA's primary rebuild candidate." It's why The Ringer's Michael Pina classified them as "the NBA's most depressing team."
The Bulls aren't bad, but that can't be the selling point for a group built around two 30-somethings (DeRozan and Vučević) and a 27-year-old with a worrisome knee injury—and a contract that will pay him over $215 million between now and 2027 (LaVine).
Vučević is a poor fit for this roster, as his offensive skills are muted and his defensive limitations are glaring. Factor in the trade cost Chicago paid to get him—Wendell Carter Jr., a draft pick that became Franz Wagner and a 2023 first with only top-four protection—and it's all bad for the Bulls.
LaVine's shooting efficiency has tanked, and you wonder if his knee issues will stop him from ever getting his groove back. DeRozan is rock-solid, but with his 33rd birthday behind him, he's already racing against the clock.
Lonzo Ball might be two months away from returning from an injury that was supposed to cost him two months and has sidelined him for 10 already. None of Chicago's other young pieces are giving the Bulls the boost they need.
As brutal as it looks for the present, shifting the focus forward increases the horror exponentially. If things don't change in a massive way, the Bulls will have paid a premium for real estate on the dreaded treadmill of mediocrity.
Winner: Sacramento Kings
Four teams will carry an 8-5 November record into Wednesday night. Three entered the campaign with championship expectations: the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers and Memphis Grizzlies. The fourth, the Sacramento Kings, came into the season stuck in a record-setting 16-year playoff drought.
What, exactly, does an early season 8-5 stretch really mean? No clue, but given what this franchise and fanbase have endured together over the past decade-plus, this is already reason enough to celebrate.
The Kings are legitimately fun. They fly up and down the floor, they squeeze scoring out of a number of different players (remember Terence Davis lighting the beam with 31 points in 26 minutes?) and they can overwhelm opponents with offensive eruptions. Already this month, they've knocked off the Cavaliers, Warriors, Nets and Grizzlies, averaging 128.8 points in those four signature wins.
Again, it's hard to say for certain where this is headed, but if the Kings were to engineer a breakout season, this November script is how it would look.
De'Aaron Fox has a credible All-Star case (24.2 points on 51.0/38.7/81.8 shooting, 6.6 assists against 1.9 turnovers). Domantas Sabonis is tying everything together with efficient scoring, active rebounding and deft playmaking. Malik Monk has never been better finding his own shot or shots for his teammates. Kevin Huerter is climbing the ladder as an elite three-point shooter. Harrison Barnes molds his talents however needed from one night to the next.
If Keegan Murray settles in and Davion Mitchell finds his sweet spots as a scoring threat, then Sacramento's agonizingly long wait for a playoff appearance could finally be over.
Loser: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves were a play-in tournament participant last season. A first-round casualty, too.
For all of the reasons to be stunned by Minnesota's offseason decision to make a massive, win-now push for Rudy Gobert—at the staggering price of four first-round picks, a pick swap and five players—the squad's so-so starting point may have been the biggest. This type of massive expenditure only makes sense if it serves as the final puzzle piece for a good-to-great transformation.
Minnesota brokered the blockbuster without having cleared the mediocre ranks yet. It was a gross miscalculation of what the Wolves had on hand, let alone what they could realistically accomplish with Gobert.
This super-sized zig against the Association-wide zag toward smaller, more skilled lineups is already going awry. Minnesota is just 6-8 in November, has a negative net rating during Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns' shared floor time this month (minus-2.8) and has yet to receive any of the perks associated with the twin-towers style, like controlling the glass, protecting the paint or dominating the interior.
"If we are going to play (big), we've got to dominate in the paint," Austin Rivers said, per The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski. "If we're going to play big, we've got to be big. ... If we're going to continue to play that way, we've go to find ways to get better at it. It's early, but at the same time, it's not."
The Wolves have a 114.2 defensive rating this month. Last season's group finished with an even 111. Opponents are shooting 68.5 percent inside of the restricted area; last season, the conversion rate was 66.4. They have plummeted from fifth to 25th in second-chance points.
This trade was supposed to fix their flaws, make their defense more formidable and help them strike the kind of two-way balance needed to succeed in the postseason. Instead, the defense might be worse, the offense is considerably less flexible and this club could struggle to secure a return trip to the play-in.
Winner: Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson exited October with six games under his belt. He shot better than 43 percent from the field in just one of those contests. He failed to splash 34 percent of his long-range looks in four of them.
A six-game slump may not typically sound any alarms, but in this context, worry seemed warranted. After all, the 32-year-old was only in his second season back from a two-year layoff forced by devastating injuries: first a torn ACL, later a ruptured Achilles. Some wondered aloud if he'd ever be the same.
Thompson heard the criticism. Too much of it, actually, so he unplugged from social media and apparently unlocked the path back to his typical marksmanship.
In those six October outings, Thompson averaged just 12.3 points while shooting 34.6 percent overall and 28.6 percent from range. But through 11 November contests, he was up to 20.6 points on 43.2 percent shooting and 44.8 percent from three. And while he struggled shooting in the final game of the month—a 116-113 loss to Dallas on Tuesday—cutting out "the noise" made a difference.
"That's a direct correlation," Thompson said, per Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area. "When you just come to work every day happy to be an athlete and put this uni on, and you don't pay attention to the noise, you're just playing with such a free mind. And that's the key to success right there, just being able to flow and play for the love of the game."
Thompson wasn't the only one holding the Warriors back earlier this season, but it's no surprise that his return to form has coincided with the flexing of their championship muscle. Golden State, which has won eight of it past 11 games, has fared a whopping 24.5 points better per 100 possessions with Thompson than without him this month.
He's not quite as nimble defensively as he once was, and given his age, injury history and mileage, he might never get all the way back on that end. Offensively, though, he's right back to being a net-shredding buzz saw and floor-spacing asset for this attack.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.