The Eastern Conference standings don’t look as expected one month into the 2021-2022 season. The Washington Wizards (10-3), Chicago Bulls (10-4) and Brooklyn Nets (10-4) sit atop the standings as the East’s only 10-win teams with approximately one-sixth of the schedule complete.

Brooklyn’s record is no surprise, given that the Nets have been the clear NBA favorites since the summer. Washington has been viewed as a fringe playoff contender after sneaking into the 2021 postseason through the play-in tournament. Chicago is exceeding expectations, looking to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. 

The Wizards and Bulls made significant changes to their rosters that are paying immediate dividends. Washington sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers (8-7) in a blockbuster five-team trade. Chicago added DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso in free agency, just a few months after trading for Nikola Vucevic.

DeRozan scored a season-high 38 points in Chicago’s 121-103 win over the Lakers on Monday. The 32-year-old is having a resurgent year with the Bulls, ranking third in the NBA with 26.9 points per game.

“I can go down the list of just being counted out, being looked over,” DeRozan said Monday, via ESPN. “So many chips that's on my shoulder that I carry. And just wanting to be a winner and wanting to enjoy this ride. We can’t play this game forever, so I want to get as much as I can out of it.”

 

 

The trio of DeRozan, Ball and Zach Lavine is averaging a combined 65.7 points and 12.5 assists per game while shooting 39.8% from three-point range. Caruso is third in the league with 2.5 steals per game. Vucevic is averaging a double-double.

Chicago ranks fifth in defensive rating. Washington has the NBA’s fourth-best defense, which has led the team on a five-game winning streak for the East’s best record. The Wizards have beaten the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks (6-8) and the current No. 5 seed Cleveland Cavaliers (9-6) during that stretch.

Bradley Beal leads Washington with 23.3 points per game, but it’s been the role players who joined the Wizards in the offseason that have made the biggest difference. Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma are averaging a combined 32.5 points and 17.6 rebounds per game. Spencer Dinwiddle is putting up 17 points, 5.5 rebounds and a team-high 6 assists per contest. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is contributing on both ends of the floor.

The Nets beat the Wizards earlier this season, quickly rebounding from a sluggish start. Brooklyn has climbed up the standings with eight wins in nine games, losing only to Chicago during that stretch. The Nets have a plus-11.4 point differential in their last nine games.

Kevin Durant is a top MVP candidate, leading the league with 29.6 points per game. Durant is shooting 58.6% from the field, giving him the best field goal percentage of the league’s top-five scorers.

James Harden is averaging 20.4 points and 10 assists per game in November.

The Miami Heat (9-5), Cavs and New York Knicks (8-6) round out the very early playoff picture in the East.

Lonzo Ball DeMar DeRozan Chicago Bulls Lonzo Ball #2 and DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls celebrate a shot made by Ball during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on November 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images