Winners, losers from first half of 2022-23 NBA regular season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Some things are going to plan, some aren't.
The 2022-23 NBA regular season is past the halfway mark of the 82-game slate, and All-Star weekend is fast approaching in mid-February.
While teams like the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers are leveling expectations, other units like the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are hoping a late surge propels them to the upper echelon of NBA teams.
The same applies to players, too. While some are chasing records, others are stuck in a floundering team providing little hope for improvement in the future.
Let's take a look at some winners and losers with more than half of the season in the books:
Winner: Denver Nuggets
Would you look at what happens when Nikola Jokić has some help - and more importantly, health.
Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are back and assisting Jokić, who desperately needed relief off his shoulders. But it's not just those two that have been instrumental. Aaron Gordon, Bones Hyland, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Bruce Brown and Jeff Green are all chipping in, giving Denver a glimpse of hope that a potential playoff push will last much longer than previous campaigns.
So far, the team is in first place in the Western Conference. It's difficult to argue they don't deserve it, and they could very well remain at the summit for as long as health agrees to support them. Jokić could seriously add another MVP to his individual trophy cabinet if this persists.
Loser: Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have some consequential decisions to make pretty soon. It's been another underwhelming start to the regular season, but optimists could point to what transpired last season when Toronto peaked at the right time to claw its way back into the top tier of Eastern Conference teams.
But as the slow start has returned yet again, you have to wonder if the Raptors can pull off the same trick twice. The roster construction won't lift them above any of the true contenders, which in turn could see them tear it down and become sellers at the trade deadline.
If so, contenders will be chomping at the bit to land one of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, or Gary Trent Jr. Otto Porter Jr. and Thaddeus Young are two veterans who could collect rotational minutes, too.
Winner: Sacramento Kings
The Kings are no doubt the biggest surprise and best story of the regular season. They were predicted as a sleeper team coming into the year, but to say they would be the No. 3 seed at this point would be excessive.
Nonetheless, Mike Brown's first year as Sacramento's head coach could not be going any better, with Domantas Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox flourishing and certifying themselves as legitimate All-Star candidates. Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes and Malik Monk have all been solid tertiary playmakers, with Keegan Murray establishing himself as a potential Rookie of the Year.
Sacramento does need some more potent bench pieces to maintain this level until the end of the season, but there's no doubt the city is lighting its way to ending a 16-year playoff drought.
Loser: Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are in a similar boat to the Raptors. Chicago has been another underperforming Eastern Conference side with poor roster construction and not enough talent that came in over the summer to improve upon its standing last season.
Chicago could be another selling team at the deadline, with DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine carrying a heavy load of the offensive duties. Nikola Vucevic has been a solid center, too, but the rest of the squad just isn't adequate enough and the youth hasn't come along as hoped.
One also has to wonder how long the leash is on Billy Donovan, despite his recent contract extension.
Winner: LeBron James
The Los Angeles Lakers may miss the postseason for another year in a row, but at least LeBron James can extract something positive from it. He's inching closer to breaking the all-time scoring record before the All-Star break, and his performances for being 38 years old defies Father Time like no other. There's at least something Hollywood about the Lakers' season.
Loser: LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets have been bounced from the play-in tournament in consecutive seasons. And not just in close battles either, as both resulted in blowouts. Now in LaMelo Ball's third season, he's consistently dealt with lower-leg injuries and the rest of the roster isn't showing signs of being good enough for the looming seasons.
Charlotte could be another seller at the deadline and doesn't appear destined for a late play-in tournament push. If it can't show signs of building a promising core for the future, then Ball's future with the franchise becomes intriguing.