Merry Christmas! By now you’re probably sitting back and watching some NBA games on Christmas, like you do every year with the family! If you’re wondering what games to watch, you can always look back at my NBA Review article to tell you about the five games today.
Of course, there is no Christmas for the NBA without the defending champs facing their biggest rival on a new team. That is the Golden State Warriors facing LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.
I hope that is at the top of your list of games to watch, because I know it is mine! But that’s not the only list you should be thinking about. No, I’m not telling you Santa left the biggest gift for last. Instead, I’m telling you about our “Naughty or Nice” list.
Since it’s Christmas, it’s time for us at Fourth Quarter Sports to provide you with a gift. A gift that does, indeed, include Charlotte Hornets’ PG Kemba Walker. But let’s see what he has decided to pick from Santa’s sleigh.
We’ll have to wait a little bit longer to get to what exactly Walker and the Hornets pick for the Naughty or Nice list. We will, instead, look at three of the top five teams and their division first.
Atlantic Division: Kevin Dannaher
Nice: SF Kawhi Leonard
The decision to put Kawhi Leonard on the nice list was easier than Santa’s decision to have Rudolph lead the reindeers. The only player shrouded in more mystery than Markelle Fultz is Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors took a huge risk trading their beloved star DeMar DeRozan. It was unknown just how bad Leonard’s injury was, or if it was even real. Kawhi Leonard has put these questions in the past by averaging 27 points and 8 rebounds per game. He has looked a lot like the two-way superstar that led the Spurs to the playoffs every season he was there. The only question left is, will he do it for them next year, or will he leave in free agency?
Naughty: G/F Norman Powell
If I had to put a player on the Naughty List, it would probably be Norman Powell. He’s been injured a majority of the season. Something even more concerning is the Raptors’ three-point percentage. At 34% on the season, they are tied for 24th in the NBA in that department. Players like Kyle Lowry and CJ Miles have gone on awful cold streaks. For this egalitarian style offense, three-pointers are required for spreading the floor and opening up space.
Nice: C Joel Embiid
There are a lot of strong candidates for the 76ers’ Nice List. The Jimmy Butler trade has worked out well, and he looks like he’s more than a one-year rental. Ben Simmons still looks like a potential All-star, which is rare for a non-shooting point guard. But of course, Joel Embiid is the name on NBA Santa’s Nice List. He has played himself into the MVP conversation. Averaging 26 points and 13 boards per game, Embiid has looked like the superstar needed for a Finals run.
Naughty: PG Markelle Fultz
I don’t enjoy putting him here, but Markelle Fultz is on the Naughty List. There’s a lot of mystery over whether Fultz is really injured or if he just forgot how to shoot. The Sixers could have even tried to change his shooting form, and that had something to do with it. We may never know. What we do know, is they traded another first rounder to move two spots up in the 2016 draft for Fultz. As the first overall pick, he has averaged just eight points and three assists in the games he does play. If Markelle could return at a high level, then this team could be first in the Eastern Conference. Instead, GM Elton Brand said we may not see him play again this season.
The Celtics could easily have Kyrie or Tatum on the Nice List, but instead, I’m going to put talent. Boston is probably second in the league (behind the Warriors of course) with the amount of talent they have. They are stacked at every position, and proved it last year with a competitive Eastern Conference Finals despite missing two All-stars. Even though they have had early season struggles, they are still one of the most feared teams in the NBA because of all their talent. Some experts think they’re the only team who can give Golden State trouble if their talent starts playing well together.
Naughty: Chemistry (Team, not Science class, Kyrie)
Similarly to a lot of college students, Boston fans have to hate chemistry. Everyone knows how much talent is on Celtics’ roster, so why aren’t they the top team in the east? Well, in one word, chemistry. Kyrie Irving explained it quite simply, on offense the team has been selfish. For the past four years, the Warriors have been the best team in basketball. For the past four years, the Warriors have also been the most unselfish team in basketball. Coach Stevens needs to call up Steve Kerr and figure out how to make talented players share the basketball for the betterment of the team.
Nice: G/F Joe Harris
This player has started every game this season and shot efficiently from the floor while averaging 13.3 points per game. He has been shooting the fourth highest three-point percentage in the NBA on five threes per game. He’s doing this while earning less the nine million for this season and next. Nope, this isn’t Caris Lavert, Spencer Dinwiddie or D’Angelo Russell. This is Joe Harris. All of those players could very well be on this list (not to mention Jaret Allen), but they’re all at least two years younger and will get their shot. Joe Harris has been steady throughout the year, and his hard work and pure stroke has earned him this spot.
Naughty: G/F Allen Crabbe
Allen Crabbe’s story is pretty funny. He was a restricted free agent, and the Nets wanted him, so they offered him a big contract. The Trail Blazers matched the contract, but quickly realized they needed cap space, and he wasn’t worth the money. So the Nets, of course, traded practically nothing for Crabbe and thought they had made a steal. Fast forward two years and Crabbe’s contract is almost untouchable. He is super inefficient and losing playing time to players younger than him. Just from watching him, you can tell he looks lost on defense sometimes. His 18.5 million for the next two seasons (player option he will definitely opt into) is one of the worst contracts in the NBA right now and the reason he is on the Naughty List.
New York Knicks:
After saying he would be willing to play for the Knicks, Zion Williamson is atop the Nice List… I’m just kidding. There are a lot of individual candidates for the Knicks’ Nice List, so I’m going to put potential. Is this a cop-out? Absolutely. But I don’t care because there’s a lot to talk about. For example, Emmanuel Mudiay has scored 30+ points in three of the last five games. Kevin Knox has looked like a draft day steal, which is surprising considering he was taken in the top 10. Alonzo Trier took advantage of Frank Ntilkina’s poor play and earned real minutes and a long-term deal. Even Trey Burke could possibly be the future franchise point guard for this team now oozing with young talent. Oh, and not to mention Kristaps Porzingis is coming back from injury next season when the Knicks have enough cap space for a max contract (Could KD or Klay want to play in MSG?)
Naughty: SG/SF Tim Hardaway Jr.
This award could go to Frank Ntilkina, but with the number of young point guards available for the Knicks, he is somewhat exempt. It may come as a surprise to the average basketball fan, but Tim Hardaway Jr. is on the Naughty list for the New York Knicks. Yes, the same Tim Hardaway leading the team in points and steals per game. His points per game are backed by a high volume and low efficiency. At 39.6%, Hardaway has the lowest field goal percentage in the NBA for a player shooting more than 17 times a night. His three-point shot this year is just average. Despite leading the Knicks in steals, Hardaway is a negative on defense. The advanced statistics even show the lowly Knicks are four points better with him on the bench. All of this wouldn’t be awful, except Hardaway’s contract will prevent the Knicks from having two max contract slots during free agency. Despite his high scoring numbers, it would require shipping away valuable assets to get rid of Tim Hardaway’s remaining 37 million dollars.
Central Divison: Joel Deering
Nice: The Greek Freak’s Supporting Cast
Giannis Antetokounmpo makes the nice list, but we all know that. The recognition deserves to go to his supporting cast. By that, I mostly mean the players in the Bucks’ starting lineup. I’m talking about Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon and Brook Lopez.
The reason why these four players deserve to be on the nice list is because they’re all making life a lot easier for the Giannis. Giannis is a star, but he’s not a star who has to do everything himself. The other four guys in the starting lineup are all averaging 11.4 points or more. This is one of the main reasons why the Bucks are the number two team in the Eastern Conference right now.
Naughty: PG Matthew Dellavedova
Matthew Dellavedova is no longer a part of the Bucks. He was traded to the Cavaliers not too long ago, but he still makes the naughty list for this team. In his 12 games played with the Bucks, Dellavedova averaged 1.7 points on 31.6% shooting. Those are both career worsts for him. That probably has something to do with why he was traded.
Nice: SG Victor Oladipo
Victor Oladipo makes the nice list for the Pacers because he’s their best player. He currently leads the team in points and steals per game. He’s also second in assists. Oladipo continues to be the leader of this team. Right now they sit as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They wouldn’t be there without Oladipo.
Naughty: SG Victor Oladipo
Yes, Oladipo makes both the nice and naughty list. Oladipo has helped the Pacers earn the three seed in the Eastern Conference right now, but he’s also missed a significant portion of time early in the season. Of the 34 games the Pacers have played, Oladipo has missed 11 games. Those injuries aren’t necessarily his fault, but the Pacers need him back and healthy throughout the season.
Nice: PF Blake Griffin
The Pistons had a hot start to their season. Blake Griffin is one of the main reasons why. He leads the Pistons in scoring and assists, while also being second in rebounds. He’s doing a little bit of everything for the Pistons so far this season. They’ve since taken a fall after starting off hot, but Blake Griffin is doing everything he can to keep the Pistons alive and in a playoff spot.
Naughty: Those who thought the Pistons were a top Eastern Conference team
It’s fair to say the Pistons are an improved team from last season, but it was never fair to think of them as a top Eastern Conference team. They started hot, but it was early in the season. We’ve seen them take a fall, currently sitting in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. We can’t say this for sure, but the expectations for them to be a top team in the conference may have hurt them.
Nice: G Jordan Clarkson
Jordan Clarkson was terrible for the Cavs last season, but this season has been a different story. Clarkson is currently averaging 16.9 points per game. That’s the second most points per game for the Cavs. It’s actually first if you take away Kevin Love, who has only played four games compared to Clarkson’s 33. It’s even more impressive that Clarkson has done this without starting a single game for the Cavs this season.
Naughty: PF/C Tristan Thompson
Thompson could make the naughty list just because he’s a player who likes to talk a lot of trash and get in fights. The real reason he makes the naughty list this season though is because he said earlier in the year that the Cavs still run the Eastern Conference. We pretty much all knew that wasn’t true when he said it, but it makes it worse that the Cavs have done nothing to back that up in any way. Instead of being the team to beat, they’re the worst team in the conference. Thompson needs to think about what he says before he says it.
Nice: G Zach LaVine
The Chicago Bulls haven’t been a good team this season, but Zach LaVine has been a bright spot for them. He’s averaging 23.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and just over one steal per game. This has been LaVine’s best season so far, and he looks like a future star in the NBA.
Naughty: F Jabari Parker
Jabari Parker hasn’t been bad statistically this season, but he just hasn’t seemed to fit in with this team. He just signed with the team in the offseason and now is most likely going to be traded. This signing just hasn’t worked out for either side.
Southeast Division: Joel Deering
Nice: PG Kemba Walker
With the Hornets currently in the playoff picture, Hornets fans have to know Kemba Walker is the reason why. Walker is averaging over 24 points per game on the season, which is about 10 more points per game than their next leading scorer (Jeremy Lamb).
In addition to being their leading scorer, Walker is also leading the team in assists and steals. Kemba Walker is having his best season yet. If he can keep this up throughout the season, the Hornets will be back in the playoffs.
Naughty: SF Nicolas Batum
Nicolas Batum is not having himself a good season. His nine points per game are his lowest since his first NBA season (5.4). In seasons past, Batum has been a significant contributor for the Hornets. This season, not so much. It’s not like his minutes have significantly decreased either, Batum has made small contributions here and there, but he’s taken a step back this year.
Nice: C Nikola Vucevic
Orlando has fallen out of playoff position after holding the eight spot for a while. If there’s any way they’re getting back into the top eight of the Eastern Conference, it’s going to be because of Vucevic. He leads the team in scoring and rebounding. If it weren’t for his average of about 20 points per game, I’m not sure Orlando would score above 80 points in a game. If this team is going to make it back into playoff position, their only offensive weapon has to keep up his great play.
Naughty: SG Evan Fournier
Evan Fournier makes the naughty list for Orlando because he’s not having a great season. His points per game are lower than the previous two seasons. The reason for that is because he’s shooting the worst three-point percentage of his career. He’s also shooting his second-worst field goal percentage of his career. For a team who already struggles offensively, they need Fournier to step it up, as he’s supposed to be a scoring threat for them.
Nice: SG Josh Richardson
Josh Richardson is currently the leading scorer for the Miami Heat. To this point in the season, Richardson is having the highest scoring output of his career. His points per game this season are about six more points than any of his other seasons. He’s also averaging the most rebounds and assists of his career. Richardson is proving he’s developing into a future star for this team.
Naughty: Dwayne Wade’s retirement tour
Dwyane Wade himself doesn’t make the naughty list, but his retirement tour does. I get it, Miami wants to see Wade go out with a bang. That’s why they’ve been so focused on him this year. Shouldn’t the focus be winning? If Miami truly wants to send Wade out on a high note, they’ll do everything they can to win. I just think this focus on Wade retiring has distracted the team from something more important. They’re in playoff position right now, but I think they could be better if their focus wasn’t on Wade.
Nice: F Trevor Ariza
Trevor Ariza has been great for the Wizards since being traded to the team. In his first three games with the team, Ariza averaged 16.0 points, seven rebounds, 4.7 assists, and four steals. Ariza hasn’t seemed to have a problem fitting in. I’m not sure Ariza is what this team needs to fix all their problems, but he can fix some. Ariza is a veteran leader who can defend and shoot. Any team can use him. So far, Ariza has been valuable for the Wizards.
Naughty: Wizards Front Office
The Washington Wizards have struggled this season. Their struggles have led to rumors about John Wall and Bradley Beal being traded. The problem with those rumors is that it creates more problems for this team. The Wizards’ front office may be looking to trade one of their star players, but I don’t like how they let the rumors get out.
What I don’t like is that nobody has shut down the rumors. Instead of putting the rumors in their place, the rumors are being allowed to fly around. How can that help your team? It can only hurt them. Obviously, it has.
Nice: PF John Collins
John Collins has made great strides in his second NBA season. He’s averaging about eight more points than his rookie season. He’s also averaging more assists and rebounds. Just in his second season, Collins is already showing he’s a future NBA star with his improvement. He’ll only get better as he matures.
In addition to improving his stats, Collins is leading the Atlanta Hawks in points and rebounds per game. Atlanta may be one of the worst teams in the NBA right now, but when they make the jump into the playoffs in a few years, Collins will be one of the main reasons why.
Naughty: PG Trae Young
People fell in love with Trae Young because of his ability as a shooter. Yes, he’s made some good three-point shots, but overall his shooting hasn’t been good. The so-called next Steph Curry is shooting about 25% from three-point range this season. Young is leading the team in assists, which is great, but it’s not why people love him. The reason why people want to watch young players hasn’t been one of his strengths this season, which is why he lands on the naughty list this season.
Northwest: Jon Geib
Nice: MVP numbers from C Nikola Jokic
The Nuggets have the best record in the Western Conference and hold a Western Conference second-best +6.6 points per game differential this season. Nikola Jokic should be considered a fringe MVP candidate leading the Nuggets in points (18), rebounds (10) and assists (7) per game. Lastly, Michael Porter Jr. and Isiah Thomas have yet to play for Denver.
Naughty: No Star power
Denver lacks a proven star and veteran presence. Jokic is proving to be a force and future superstar, but is only 23 years old. The Nuggets boast the youngest roster in the NBA just under 25 years old and are unproven in the playoffs.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
Nice: PG Russell Westbrook
Russ, Russ, Russ! Say it three times because believe it or not, Westbrook is going for a third straight season of potentially averaging a triple-double. Paul George has settled into his role as the leading scorer as well, and the Thunder are rolling.
Naughty: Thunder’s bench
The bench for Oklahoma City is shallow. With Roberson hurt and Melo leaving in the offseason, the vast majority of the scoring for OKC is from three players: Westbrook, PG13 and Steven Adams. Hopefully Dennis Schroeder and Nerlens Noel can help with that as the season goes along!
Portland Trail Blazers:
Nice: G’s Lillard and McCollum
The big question all Blazers fans ask themselves is, are Dame and CJ considered the best backcourt in the game yet? Well, to the eyes of Portland fans I could say yeah! They combine for an average of nearly 50 points a game and are looking to be comfortable in the playoffs with the fifth seed at the moment, but we know they are known for being hot later. Maybe they’ll finish third best again.
Naughty: No interior presence
But third best and getting swept in playoffs doesn’t help the case of being the best duo. That’s not on them though. I mean, since the departure of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Trail Blazers have lacked a strong interior presence and have trouble rebounding the ball. Where could they get help to find a way to get better? Could Portland be in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes?
Nice: C Rudy Gobert
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert is the bright light in Utah. He is improving his game on the offensive end as well averaging 3.6 offensive rebounds per game (eighth best in league). Now only if he could get some help from his supporting cast, like Rookie Of The Year runner up, Donovan Mitchell.
Naughty: SG/SF Donovan Mitchell
Donovan Mitchell is still scoring at an impressive clip, but seems to have regressed slightly from his rookie season. Maybe not having an award motivating him this year is the issue. Or maybe it’s another issue. Whatever it is, Mitchell needs to figure it out before it’s too late and the Jazz end up missing the playoffs.
Ben Simmons: Not A Rookie, THE Rookie.
Nice: SG/SF Jimmy Butler
Getting rid of Jimmy Butler may have been the best thing for Minnesota because of his toxic relationship with individual members of the team. It might have also been a slight decrease in offensive efficiency, but at least there won’t be any troubles in the locker room anymore. The Timberwolves are 10-8 since Butler’s departure.
Naughty: SG/SF Jimmy Butler
However, Jimmy Butler is also the Naughty for Minnesota. He is a top-15 player in the league and the intensity shown in his famous practice for the Timberwolves shows the kind of leader you want for a team. Maybe Wiggins and KAT do need to get in line.
Pacific Division: Jon Geib
Golden State Warriors
Nice: The Whole roster
Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Boogie Cousins. I could list the whole roster, but the Nice in the Bay Area is having the most talented and deepest roster in the league. The video of Boogie Cousins dunking on KD in practice was just the reminder I needed that the Warriors have more all-star talent that has yet to play. It’s disgusting and dangerous they will all be together if they can avoid the conflict.
Naughty: Internal Conflict
Golden State is losing games while fully healthy, and apparently, there is an internal conflict in the locker room over Kevin Durant’s pending free agency. I know it is early in the regular season still, but this year feels different than the past few. And it’s possibly the last year of the Warriors’ era…
Los Angeles Lakers:
Nice: F LeBron James
Pretty sure this one is self-explanatory: LeBron James. Having the potential G.O.A.T. in the city of Angels finally made the Lakers relevant again and restored the Purple and Gold to glory.
The Lakers’ roster is very young and has potential, but Lonzo, Kuzma and Hart are all inexperienced. The lack of playoff experience and short bench could hurt the Lakers come April.
Los Angeles Clippers:
Nice: Coach Doc Rivers
Rivers is making the team with no name players a playoff contender. The Clippers seem to be filled with role players who all know their place. Their team ball has them in the top tier of the Western Conference.
Naughty: Defensive effort
The second team in Los Angeles cannot compete with teams who have bonified stars. Skill players cause matchup problems for the Clippers on the defensive end, who are letting up 114.3 points per game.
Nice: PG De’Aaron Fox
De’Aaron Fox is another young star in the making, and dare I say, he looks like a young Russell Westbrook. Sacramento is also scoring 115.3 points per game, which is currently fourth in the NBA.
Naughty: Young guards’ struggle
The Kings’ Naughty is similar to the Nuggets in being a young team. They have a deep bench in the frontcourt, but the backcourt struggles when Fox goes to the bench.
Nice: Duke’s Zion Williamson
Am I allowed to say nothing? Spin Zone though, the Suns may have the best Nice of any team in the league, as they are primed for a great spot in the Zion Williamson sweepstakes.
Naughty: Worst Western Conference Record
Phoenix is last in the Western Conference with an 8-24 record. They also have a Western Conference worst -9 points per game scoring differential. Not a lot of hope for the Suns, especially with rumors of the team possibly moving from Phoenix.
Southwest: RahimAli Merchant
San Antonio Spurs:
Nice: PF/C LaMarcus Alridge
This season has been interesting for the Spurs because it’s the first time they don’t have any player on the roster from the 2014 championship team. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green were the last remaining pieces, until they were traded.
But that trade was good for Alridge, because with Leonard out all season last year, he averaged 23.9 points per game. He isn’t even close to that mark yet, but he is the top option on the team now despite having Demar DeRozan there.
Naughty: SF Kawhi Leonard
Leonard is on the naughty list for the Spurs. I mean, that probably could’ve used the change away from him anyways, especially since he was probably not going to return. But he could’ve handled the situation a bit better.
Nice: SG James Harden
As long as Harden is out there shooting threes, I’m sure the Rockets will be fine. He has changed the face of the Rockets’ organization since he was traded there in 2011. He made a name for himself and won his first NBA MVP. This season, he’s looking to do more and won’t give up easily. After struggling to get hot early in the season, Harden and the Rockets are finally climbing up the playoff ladder. As long as they stay healthy, we should see them in the playoff picture from here out.
Naughty: PG Chris Paul
Speaking of health, let’s talk about father time catching up to Chris Paul. He’s been injured this season. It feels like he has been his entire career. I mean, he is 33 years old and has never tasted an NBA Finals in his career. In fact, last year was the first time Paul made it to the Conference finals in his career. It’ll be tough to see him getting there again without him being able to play.
Nice: SG/SF Lukas Doncic
I think the trade to get Doncic from the Atlanta Hawks for Trae Young and another pick was brilliant. Doncic has been a shining star for Dallas and is the front runner for rookie of the year. He has also been a reason why the Mavericks are in the playoff picture right now.
Naughty: PF Dirk Nowitzki
It’s great to be in the playoff picture, but it’s not great when you try to play more years than you should have.
Like honestly, I love Nowitzki and all that he’s done for the game of basketball, but it’s time to hang it up big man! You don’t look like the same Nowitzki I saw beat not only Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in a playoff sweep, but also Miami’s Big Three of LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh in an NBA Finals.
Nice: PG Mike Conley
This was an easy decision. As long as he stays healthy, the Grizzlies are going to be tough to beat. Conley has always been one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA. Being injured never helped him get appreciated for it! Let’s continue to watch what this Grizzlies team can do with Conley and Marc Gasol both healthy.
Naughty: Bench depth
Even with those two guys healthy, they might still need some help. The only way for that to be possible is if the bench and role players start to contribute more. The problem with that though, there never was any PG depth on the Grizzlies teams, even when he was injured the last two seasons. That probably explains why they have been so bad, but addressing this issue in a trade would benefit them.
New Orleans Pelicans:
Nice: PF/C Anthony Davis
Of course it’s Davis! What are the Pelicans without him? I mean, Davis is proven to be the best center in the game and there is no body who can stop him. If it wasn’t for the Warriors being super stacked, I believe we could’ve seen him lead his team past the second round. The bad part about Davis and his success with the Pelicans, is the next chapter of his career.
Naughty: PF/C Anthony Davis
The first chapter of his career was getting drafted. He has spent the last five years building his name. He will be putting his name on the naughty list, as we all expect him to leave the Pelicans behind and take his talents elsewhere. But where?
I don’t think we’ll be finding out that answer until the Summer when he tells us all.
Until then, have a Happy New Year and enjoy the rest of your Christmas day! Also, don’t forget to read the “naughty or nice” list for all your favorite NFL teams as well.