It’s been a rocky ride for the NBA over the past six weeks. More than 300 players (as well as plenty of team staffers, referees, and other personnel) have landed in the COVID-19 health-and-safety protocols, leaving teams scrambling to fill open roster spots in hopes of remaining competitive and staying afloat. Amid the absences and upheaval, though, the league has pressed on, managing to white-knuckle it through the first half of its 2021-22 schedule.
With 41 games now in the books for all 30 NBA teams, let’s celebrate our arrival at a manageable fraction by taking stock, recognizing the best of the best of what we’ve just watched, and handing out some imaginary hardware. Before we get underway, a point of clarification: These awards are based purely on performance in the second quarter of this season, the 20-plus-game period between our last check-in on December 2 and this third week of January. Focusing on who rose, fell, delighted, and disappointed during that time, rather than on who has played best through the entire season, better crystallizes the state of play as we enter the second half.
These are not predictions of who will take home the league’s official individual and collective trophies come season’s end, but rather a tip of the cap to players and teams at this particular moment. And at this particular moment, the hottest spot in the NBA is Grind City:
All stats and records updated leading into Wednesday’s games.
Team of the Quarter: Memphis Grizzlies
You can nitpick individual wins if you want: Phoenix without Deandre Ayton, the Lakers without Anthony Davis (twice), the Clippers without Paul George, the Cavs with only one guard (Darius Garland) who can dribble, the Warriors without Draymond Green, etc. But you don’t caveat your way to an 11-game winning streak, a 20-5 record, or a plus-11.4 efficiency differential—all of which were the best in the NBA during the second quarter. You crush your way to that.
Besides, it’s not like the opponents got the Grizzlies at full strength every night. Ascendant superstar point guard Ja Morant missed the first 10 games of this stretch…