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15. Minnesota Timberwolves (15)
Andrew Wiggins has always had a low turnover rate for a player with such consistently high usage, but he’s been especially mistake-free this season.
Among players averaging at least 25.0 points, he’s the only one averaging under two turnovers per game this year. The typical pushback against a Wiggins stat like this involves a joke about how you can’t turn it over if every possession ends with a contested 19-footer off the dribble, but Wiggins has made strides in cutting those low-percentage looks from his repertoire this season.
He put up 33 points in Monday’s win over Detroit and then 30 more to lead the Wolves in a 129-114 defeat of the Spurs on Wednesday. His clutch performance has been heroic, his shot profile improved. The previous five years of disappointment still count, but if you were a Wiggins optimist when he went first overall in 2014, this is the type of player you imagined.
The standing ovation Wiggins received as he walked off the floor on Wednesday might matter more than anything else. After years of pariah status, he’s winning over a huge swath of once-entrenched detractors.
The Wolves just finished a 3-5 stretch that all but erased their 4-1 start, but it’s safe to say there’s one big, redemption-story positive in Minnesota.
14. Orlando Magic (21)
Markelle Fultz continues to start, but the Magic’s offense remains ineffective. That’s largely why D.J. Augustin played the final 17 minutes of Wednesday’s 112-97 win over the Sixers. With Augustin at the helm, Orlando outscored the Sixers (who were playing without Joel Embiid) 32-15 in the final frame.
Jonathan Isaac’s sprained ankle is a concern, but Al-Farouq Aminu rendered it moot on Friday, starting and putting up 13 points and 13 boards just two days after head coach Steve Clifford told him he was out of the rotation.
The Magic have quietly shaken off a horrendous start on offense that saw them fail to break the century mark in their first seven games. They’ve gotten over 100 in each of their last six contests and have won four of their last five games overall.
13. Indiana Pacers (13)
Victor Oladipo practiced with Indiana’s G League affiliate this week, and Myles Turner made it back from an ankle sprain that sidelined him for two weeks in time to lead Indiana in scoring against the Bucks on Saturday.
The Pacers still fell to Milwaukee by a final of 102-83, a game Malcolm Brogdon missed after suffering lower back soreness on Friday in Houston. So it’s not exactly like Indy is all the way healthy. Still, with such bad injury luck to this point, good news on Oladipo and Turner’s comeback count as major positives.
Two straight losses against quality opponents in Houston and Milwaukee underscored a point of concern: Indiana has had the league’s easiest schedule. When the slate inevitably toughens, the Pacers will need their key players healthy. Otherwise, we could see this team slip into the morass of East mediocrity.
12. Dallas Mavericks (11)
Dallas may go on to do great things this year, and the more distant future is bright. Luka Doncic is a no-questions-asked cornerstone who might average a triple-double in his age-20 season. He is getting better by the game and is playing with the craft and guile most 10-year veterans wish they had, as evidenced by 19 free-throw attempts in Saturday’s 110-102 win over the Raptors.
But two losses to the Knicks? Within the span of a week?
There’s a price to pay for that, and it comes in the form of rankings slippage.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (8)
Even if they came on the road, back-to-back losses against Oklahoma City and Orlando are a bad look for a Sixers team that fancies itself a title threat. And that’s without considering Philadelphia was a Joel Embiid game-winner away from falling to Cleveland before those two concerning defeats.
Though the 76ers managed to bookend their week with another win over the Cavs on Sunday, it’s hard to avoid feeling discouraged.
Tobias Harris went five straight games without making a three from Nov. 6-13, and a Sixers defense that was supposed to be as dominant as any in recent memory is barely clinging to top-10 status through 13 games. A sky-high foul total is part of the problem; Philadelphia is last in the league in opponent free-throw rate.
It doesn’t matter how great your defense is if you aren’t allowed to defend the guy shooting foul shots. Those are called freebies for a reason.
Ben Simmons and Embiid are the Sixers’ most important offensive players, and both turn the ball over far too often. If Philadelphia can get out of its own way by taking care of the ball and avoiding ill-advised fouls, it’ll get this mess sorted out. Still, in the wake of a sloppy 3-5 stretch, that 5-0 start seems like it never even happened.