The big 20: who’s hot and who’s not?

We’re just under a month into the season. It’s never too early to discuss trending players for all the right and wrong reasons. Momentum can be picked up right from the start of the year. Some players did just that and others did just the opposite.

Hot: Khris Middleton (MIL – SG): 19.0 PTS (46.4% 3P, 88.4% FT), 5.0 REB, 4.2 AST

Team Record: 10-3

Khris Middleton could have easily been selected as an All-Star reserve last season. The All-Star game is shaping out differently these days, with a nationally televised draft even occurring this year.

Moving on, the Bucks have hit the ground running and Middleton has been an integral part of their early success. Although it’s definitely been a conscious team effort, Middleton is a more than satisfactory co-star to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not: John Wall (WSH – PG): 21.8 PTS (29.8% 3PT, 3.8 TO), 8.1 AST, 2.3 STL

Team Record: 3-9

Wall’s identity as a top notch point guard may slowly be dwindling. The Wizards are off to a miserable start and he hasn’t done many favors thus far. He can still attack the rim with the best of them but . . .

His effort on defense is inconsistent and he continues to make questionable decisions late in games. Wall’s stellar stealing average is likely dependent on his defensive gambling and not staying in front of his opponent.

Hot: Nikola Jokic (DEN – C): 17.8 PTS (53.4% FG, 41.0% 3PT), 10.3 REB, 6.9 AST

Team Record: 9-4

Jokic isn’t a dominant scorer from game to game but his all-around impact is unquestioned. He provides his team with what it needs in order to become a challenging Western Conference competitor.

As long as his team keeps winning, Jokic will keep receiving credit where it’s due. He has molded himself into one of the best centers in the game as well as one of the most versatile players.

Not: Chris Paul (HOU – PG): 17.3 PTS (40.5% FG, 33.9% 3PT), 7.9 AST, 5.2 REB

Team Record: 5-7

Paul’s drought should not continue much longer (at least based on history) and he should come around sooner than later. CP3 is still a supremely skilled point guard who can outsmart just about anybody on the floor.

After getting injured in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, Paul was devastated to watch his team concede its 3-2 lead over the Warriors, the eventual champions. That had to have been emotionally draining, especially considering the time it occurred in his career.

Hot: Kyle Lowry (TOR – PG): 17.2 PTS (49.7% FG), 11.0 AST (2.7 TO), 4.2 REB

Team Record: 12-1

Lowry is maintaining his regular season stardom and has meshed well with Kawhi Leonard after about six successful years with DeMar DeRozan. He is almost guaranteed to make it work regardless of the players he has around him.

Lowry does what his team needs him to do; he won’t fill the stat sheet every single game but he is the definition of a trustworthy guard on both ends of the floor. Lowry stays in peak shape as an almost 32-year-old veteran with plenty of miles on him.

Not: Lonzo Ball (LAL – PG): 8.5 PTS (41.4% FG, 61.5% FT), 4.9 AST, 4.8 REB

Team Record: 7-6

Lonzo may take some time to adjust with LeBron James now being the primary ball-handler. He has to figure out how to be more useful but his team needs to put in a position to do so.

It’s not even that Lonzo is playing poorly. He is a natural all-around contributor and just has a great feel for the game. With James in the picture though, it may be difficult for him to develop into the player the Lakers expected him to be.

Hot: Kemba Walker (CHA – PG): 27.9 PTS (45.8% FG, 3.9 3PM), 6.3 AST, 4.3 REB

Team Record: 7-6

The Hornets would likely win very few games without Walker. He really has no reliable second fiddle he can ever defer to. There is no reason he shouldn’t have one on a team he keeps respected enough within the Eastern Conference each year.

Although it might not be super obvious while watching his games, Walker undoubtedly makes his role player-like teammates better. We must recognize the group of players he carries through each game: Jeremy Lamb, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, etc.

Not: Otto Porter (WSH – SF): 10.6 PTS (44.7% FG, 36.4% 3PT), 4.7 REB, 1.5 AST

Team Record: 3-9

Porter’s early struggles directly relate to those of his point guard. His shooting accuracy should improve considering how he’s shot the ball these past two years. Like his first couple seasons in D.C., Porter appears more uncomfortable in the offense.

Porter receives his fair share of criticism for his lack of aggressiveness and unwillingness to look for more shots. However, he might be in the worst possible team situation at the moment. Therefore, he might not deserve too much blame.

Hot: Zach LaVine (CHI – SG): 27.2 PTS (45.6% FG, 85.7% FT), 5.2 REB, 3.9 AST

Team Record: 4-9

LaVine is playing All-Star caliber basketball thus far. Being part of a bottom feeder in the East won’t bode well for his chances to make the All-Star game. At the very least, he has certainly taken that next step as a high-octane scorer.

LaVine wasn’t known for outside shooting when he entered the league a few years ago. He has shown steady progress in that department, especially as it pertains to breaking down the defense and creating his own looks.

Not: Andrew Wiggins (MIN – SF): 17.0 PTS (41.6% FG, 39.6% 3PT), 3.7 AST, 1.9 AST

Team Record: 4-9

The time has come and Jimmy Butler is officially no longer a T-Wolf. That should benefit Wiggins but it’s far from a guarantee with how rocky his career has been. He averaged 23.6 points the season before Butler joined him and hopes to return to that form.

Whereas many young players like him mature within a few years, that hasn’t been the case for Wiggins. He remains an erratic jump-shooter and often doesn’t cut it as primary option on offense. His basic defensive skill-set hasn’t exactly wowed anyone either.

Hot: Caris LeVert (BKN – SF): 19.0 PTS (47.7% FG), 4.2 REB, 3.7 AST (2.2 TO)

Team Record: 6-7

LeVert showed high potential as a smooth operator within Brooklyn’s inexperienced attack last season. He made the necessary leap over the summer to make that his full-time duty.

The point forward is largely responsible for putting this team in position to win games this season. It might be fair to say he was somewhat overlooked in an Eastern Conference that could use more depth and excitement.

Not: Reggie Jackson (DET – PG): 15.9 PTS (36.7% FG, 30.9% 3PT), 3.9 AST, 2.7 REB

Team Record: 6-6

R-Jax just does not look like the rock solid point guard we saw in the 2015-16 season. He looks more like a shell of his old self without the green light he once had under Stan Van Gundy.

These days, we have reason to believe Jackson is probably more worthy as a strong backup point guard like he was earlier in his career with the Thunder. Jackson is a serviceable guard with maybe a bit too much responsibility on his hands.

Hot: Domantas Sabonis (IND – PF): 14.1 PTS (68.3% FG, 50.0% 3PT), 8.8 REB, 2.5 AST

Team Record: 8-6

Don’t let Sabonis’s pedestrian overall numbers distract you from the fact he does this in 24 minutes per game. That puts him at 21.3 points and 13.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, making him one of the league’s most efficient players.

It should only be a matter of time before he sees an uptick in playing time. I’m not sure Oklahoma City thought of Sabonis as a throw-in to the Paul George deal. I also don’t think they anticipated this level of play from him though.

Not: Rodney Hood (CLE – SG): 12.9 PTS (43.5% FG, 93.5% FT), 2.8 REB, 2.3 AST

Team Record: 1-11

The Cavaliers organization has clearly become an afterthought in the post-LeBron James era. The players on this team aren’t even mentioned for the most part, with exception to an injured Kevin Love. So why bring up Hood?

I’ll tell you why: Hood has shown he is capable of being a viable wing player with a sweet touch from mid-range out to the perimeter. His tenure with the Cavs has not been a memorable one. He does, however, have what it takes to act as a stronger asset to the team.

Hot: De’Aaron Fox (SAC – PG): 18.7 PTS (49.4% FG, 41.0% 3PT), 7.1 AST, 4.5 REB

Team Record: 7-6

Plain and simple: Fox and the Kings are overachieving right now. Fox is playing brilliantly. Even if this doesn’t sustain, he gives the city of Sacramento every reason to be more optimistic than it’s been in recent years.

Fox must have worked relentlessly on his jumper over the summer. He looks determined to become a top-shelf point guard in this league. His sound court awareness has been a pleasant sight as well.

Not: Goran Dragic (MIA – PG): 16.1 PTS (39.1% FG), 4.9 AST (2.4 TO), 3.7 REB

Team Record: 5-7

Dragic’s Heat has not started the year with great momentum. Miami still looks like a mediocre team for the most part. Josh Richardson appears to be overtaking Dragic as the team’s strongest weapon.

Barring a dramatic turn of events, I don’t expect Dragic to qualify for the All-Star team again this year (after being named a replacement last year). There is no question he makes his team better. However, his tendency to blend in rather than takeover the game should be noted.

Hot: Nikola Mirotic (NOR – PF): 20.6 PTS (48.3% FG), 11.7 REB, 1.3 AST (1.3 TO)

Team Record: 6-6

Mirotic has been tremendous ever since New Orleans acquired him from Chicago. His career was successfully rejuvenated based on the change of scenery and he has yet to slow down. Mirotic is one of the best in the league at scoring in bunches.

Mirotic is sure to produce whether he starts or comes off the bench and whether he plays 20 minutes or 35 minutes. He fits seamlessly alongside franchise player Anthony Davis. That being said, the Pelicans could use more help at the other forward position.

Not: Myles Turner (IND – C): 10.9 PTS (48.4% FG, 12.5% 3PT), 4.8 REB, 2.4 BLK

Team Record: 8-6

Turner had a disappointing campaign in 2017-18 and his long-lasting drought has continued. He seemed to be bothered by injuries last year and still doesn’t seem all that mobile when running up and down the floor.

As shown by his numbers, Turner is one of the ultimate shot-blockers in the league. However, he is too gifted offensively to be limited to just strong interior defense. Turner, like many other big men, doesn’t post up that often. He reminds me of a young LaMarcus Aldridge with his touch from mid-range.

Hot: Luka Doncic (DAL – SF): 20.3 PTS (48.9% FG, 39.5% 3PT), 6.5 REB, 4.5 AST

Team Record: 4-8

Doncic was quick to gain Dirk Nowitzki’s approval. Nowitzki indicated that Doncic is a fearless player with unique swagger on the floor. All the hype that surrounded Doncic entering the league is turning into a reality. As we all know, it’s usually hard to gauge the outlook of top foreign prospects.

Doncic has not been an adequate defender in this short time. It’s going to take time to learn that end of the floor though. Doncic is characteristic of a Dallas franchise that stays buzzing even without being a playoff-caliber team (in the West at least).

Not: Jaylen Brown (BOS – SF): 11.3 PTS (36.4% FG, 27.5% 3PT), 4.3 REB, 1.3 AST

Team Record: 7-6

Gordon Hayward’s return to the lineup has given Brown less space to work with. Brown found his niche as a knock-down shooter last season. He attempts just as many shots per game but has slid down to Boston’s fifth scoring option.

Brown should focus on being a 3-and-D presence similar to that of Trevor Ariza. He is one of the team’s several defensive workaholics. It’s much easier said than done but Brown needs to let the game come to him on offense.