Midseason grades for all 30 teams
By Ben Golliver
The midway point of the season is here. How has your favorite team fared? Below are grades for all 30 teams. Note: Grades take into account performance relative to preseason expectations. (All stats and records are through Jan. 23.)
Atlanta Hawks: B
24-18, No. 6 in the East
One of the biggest offseason winners hasn’t been bad on the court, either. The Hawks are firmly in the playoff picture and should remain there even after losing the electric Lou Williams to a season-ending knee injury. Josh Smith’s uncertain future hangs over this team, but general manager Danny Ferry must be pleased with how well his value-oriented offseason moves played out.
Boston Celtics: D+
20-21, No. 8 in the East
Is there anything working like it’s supposed to in Boston? The good news: So many players have underperformed in so many ways that there’s not just one whipping boy. Kevin Garnett can only play so many minutes; Paul Pierce is marginally worse than he was last year on offense; Rajon Rondo has been infuriating more often than he’s been game-changing; none of the new veteran parts (Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa) have stood out in good ways; and the above-average defense hasn’t been quite good enough to cover up for the below-average offense. Coach Doc Rivers has seemingly played every motivational card in his deck just to keep his team near .500. It’s possible Boston’s season hinges on its first-round playoff opponent more than anything else; if it draws Miami, New York or Chicago (with Derrick Rose), one-and-done seems like a foregone conclusion.
Brooklyn Nets: B+
26-16, No. 3 in the East
Careful grading the Nets: They look like an “A” team some weeks (including this one) and an “F” team other weeks (just ask Avery Johnson and Avery Johnson Jr.). Their current record represents the upper bound of expectations and it’s particularly impressive considering the defense is still below average and Deron Williams, by his own admission, hasn’t played like the All-Star that he’s paid to be. They’ve avoided potential pitfalls — serious injury to Brook Lopez, an arrest for Andray Blatche — and have come together after their crisis point. That counts for something. The violent swings this team has endured from month-to-month are cause for wariness, but they have some quality wins (Thunder, Pacers, Knicks twice, Clippers) that suggest they will be a postseason factor.
Charlotte Bobcats: C-
10-32, No. 14 in the East
There’s just no sugar-coating going 37 days between victories, as the Bobcats did from late November until New Year’s Eve. That’s bad, really bad. Still, the Bobcats have been worse — just look at last year. This year’s group has hope, thanks to guard Kemba Walker, who has improved his Player Efficiency Rating from 14.9 as a rookie to 19.2 this season, and rookie forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a blue-chip stud. Five of Charlotte’s 10 wins have come against others East also-rans — Toronto, Washington (twice), Orlando, Detroit — and the Bobcats rank in the bottom three in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The talk of hope here is meant in the long-term sense.
Chicago Bulls: A-
25-16, No. 4 in the East
Chicago’s relatively weak 13-11 record at the United Center has been the subject of much discussion. Overlooked, perhaps, is Chicago’s 20-6 record against the East and 12-5 record on the road, both tops in the conference. Considering that Rose’s return from knee surgery is sure to lift Chicago’s offense and its home crowd’s excitement level, shouldn’t the Bulls’ conference dominance and road success be read as extremely promising postseason indicators? In Rose’s absence, Joakim Noah’s All-Star play on both ends has been the highlight, Carlos Boozer’s re-emergence has been the pleasant surprise and who knew Marco Belinelli, of all people, would have such a flair for late-game dramatics?
Cleveland Cavaliers: C+
11-32, No. 13 in the East
This grade might seem generous for a team with only 11 wins, but it’s what results when averaging Kyrie Irving’s “A+” with the “F” of everything around him. In all seriousness, this Cavaliers’ season basically boiled down to Irving’s development: Would he be able to stay healthy and progress from an incredibly impressive rookie season? So far, the answers have been “for the most part” on the former (he missed 11 games with a broken finger) and “yes” on the latter. He’s surely headed to Houston for the All-Star Game, which should be the first of a decade’s worth of appearances. While the Anderson Varejao season-ending blood clot was a crushing blow, Tristan Thompson hasn’t gotten enough love for stepping up in his absence. In January, Thompson is averaging 14.7 points and 11.6 rebounds while shooting 51.1 percent from the field. That’s promising, and the Cavaliers can use all the promise they can get.
Dallas Mavericks: D
18-24, No. 11 in the West
The most interesting question facing the Mavericks down the stretch: How many thousands of dollars in fines will they accrue for whining about the referees in close losses? Owner Mark Cuban and Shawn Marion have both been popped already. Such is the state of disappointment and frustration in Dallas. The season was lost before it even began when Dirk Nowitzki went down and there wasn’t enough talent in place to maintain positive momentum. The Mavericks remain only 2½ games out of the No. 8 seed, but a rush up the charts to barely qualify for the postseason will only earn them a quick dismissal by the Thunder, Spurs or Clippers. No wonder Nowitzki is contemplating where this is all headed.
Denver Nuggets: B+
26-18, No. 6 in the West
Denver deserves kudos for survival. The Nuggets have had the third-toughest schedule and have played 25 road games, the most in the Western Conference. Even so, they are firmly in second place in the Northwest, right where you would expect them to be, and in the mix for the No. 4 seed. Not bad at all. Look for their No. 7 offense to rise with many Mile High home games left on the schedule.
Detroit Pistons: D-
16-26, No. 10 in the East
This has been another in a long line of pointless seasons for the Pistons, who are stuck in the below-average muck thanks to questionable decision after questionable decision and bad contract after bad contract from management. The worst part of this season has been the franchise’s handling of Andre Drummond. One of the most promising and productive rookies in the 2012 class has played 30 minutes or more just twice even though he is averaging 13.6 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 1.6 steals per 36 minutes. There’s no explanation for that. Making matters worse, Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe — the Pistons’ other two building blocks — haven’t taken significant steps forward either.
Golden State Warriors: A
26-15, No. 5 in the West
The temptation here is to ride the hype wave all the way to an “A+” because Golden State is clearly the breakout team of the first half. David Lee and Stephen Curry are playing the best basketball of their careers, and coach Mark Jackson has handled the absence of Andrew Bogut and the loss of Brandon Rush far better than could have been expected. Even with the deadly Curry/Lee pick-and-rolls, the credit goes first to the team’s marked improvement on defense (from No. 26 last season in points allowed per possession to No. 11 this season). If there’s a concern heading into the postseason, it’s that Golden State does everything well but nothing exceptionally well. That said, winning a playoff series looks like a very legitimate possibility, and only the most optimistic folks would have said that in September.
Houston Rockets: B+
22-22, No. 8 in the West
The Rockets, going wherever James Harden took them, rushed out to an excellent start before fading back to .500 in recent weeks. Regardless, .500 is still excellent for a team that many considered in the running for worst in the West. Chandler Parsons is legit, Omer Asik has proved worth the Rockets’ investment in restricted free agency and the Royce White saga finally appears to be nearing its end.
Indiana Pacers: B+
26-17, No. 5 in the East
The Pacers’ record looks gaudy, but it’s been inflated by one of the softest schedules in the league. Indiana has played the NBA’s best defense, but will that continue once the schedule catches up? Will Danny Granger’s return from a knee injury disrupt the team’s solid chemistry? Are there enough shots for Granger, David West and the new-and-improved Paul George? Those are the questions. Until they play out, enjoy George’s sensational two-way play and the level of discipline and awareness this group displays on a night-to-night basis.
Los Angeles Clippers: A+
32-11, No. 3 in the West
There were plenty of combustible variables for the Clippers entering the season: Matt Barnes had legal trouble over the summer; Jamal Crawford was coming off of a down year; Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill were aging and nursing injuries; Lamar Odom had conditioning issues; Blake Griffin and Chris Paul both had minor offseason surgeries; former GM Neil Olshey left for Portland; and Vinny Del Negro was still the coach. Out of those toxic ingredients has come sweet brew. The Clippers are deep, talented, intelligent, opportunistic on defense and cold-blooded late in games. They play as well together — even with so many new parts — as any team besides the Thunder and Spurs. They are a blowout waiting to happen every night if their opponent isn’t prepared, and they appear to be one of the league’s strongest championship contenders.
Los Angeles Lakers: F
17-25, No. 12 in the West
Memphis Grizzlies: B+
27-14, No. 4 in the West
The Grizzlies have a sort of “Poor Man’s Thunder” thing going on. Not for their style of play but for the fact that the important rotation pieces have remained together for a number of years now, making for fairly predictable results. The Mike Conley/Tony Allen/Rudy Gay/Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol starting five is one of the league’s best, it fits well together, it gets the damn thing done on defense and it’s jelled to the point where the record fits almost perfectly in line with expectations. This is a very good team that will be a tough out in the playoffs for the third straight season, even after dumping multiple rotation pieces in the name of luxury-tax savings.
Miami Heat: A-
27-12, No. 1 in the East
It’s easy to knock the Heat for taking their foot off the gas pedal this season. A little too easy. Miami remains No. 1 in the East, right where it should be, and LeBron James remains the most dominant player in the league, even with Kevin Durant doing everything he can to make that a two-man conversation. The world-beating level of play Miami produced during the 2012 postseason simply cannot and should not be attempted over the course of an entire regular season, especially by a roster with a number of key bench players who are either old or injury risks. For all the hand-wringing about Miami’s below-average rebounding numbers and slippage on the defensive end, the Heat still have the league’s No. 2 offense, trumping juggernauts such as the Clippers, Spurs and Knicks. Barring a major injury, the Heat aren’t losing before the Eastern Conference finals.
Milwaukee Bucks: B
22-18, No. 7 in the East
The Bucks seem pleased with their results, giving GM John Hammond a contract extension this week, but it’s hard to pitch this season as a total success. There are positives: Brandon Jennings looks like a keeper, Larry Sanders has emerged as a very good post defender, Ersan Ilyasova has shaken himself free of some unsightly early play and the Bucks have put forth very good effort for interim coach Jim Boylan. Will that lead to the franchise’s first postseason-series victory since 2000-01? It sure doesn’t seem like it.
Minnesota Timberwolves: C
17-22, No. 10 in the West
It goes without saying that the story in Minnesota has been injuries. Injury (Ricky Rubio) after injury (Kevin Love) after injury (Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, Josh Howard). Love’s second hand injury seemed to cement this team’s fate, with the words “lost season” appearing more and more often in local media reports. Rick Adelman has strengthened his reputation among the game’s best coaches by juggling his lineups through the madness, and Andrei Kirilenko, signed toward the end of the summer, has been a reliable bright spot. Remember, this season was supposed to be a year of marked improvement that ended with the franchise’s first playoff trip since 2004. The upshot: Rubio is back and claiming the No. 8 seed isn’t impossible. Even with all the devastation, it could be worse.
New Orleans Hornets: C+
14-28, No. 15 in the West
The Hornets are who we thought they were: cellar dwellers with a bright future. Unlike many of the league’s worst teams, New Orleans has a number of things going for it as it enters the second half of the season. First, Anthony Davis has been better than he’s gotten credit for, and he’s tracking nicely toward superstardom. Second, Eric Gordon is finally healthy. Third, Greivis Vasquez is looking like a quality backcourt piece for the foreseeable future. Fourth, Ryan Anderson is averaging the type of numbers — 16.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 39.6 percent three-point shooting — demanded by his four-year, $34 million contract. That the Hornets have posted an above-average offensive efficiency while playing the dreadful Austin Rivers heavy minutes might be the most promising indicator yet. Once Gordon gets back to his ultra-efficient ways, these guys will be able to put up some serious points.
New York Knicks: A
25-14, No. 2 in the East
The Knicks were the toast of the league after an 18-5 start before falling on (relatively) hard times in recent weeks. The defense has been merely average, but the offense, at times, has looked as good as anyone’s, Oklahoma City’s included. The talk, put forward by Tyson Chandler and others, is that New York could replicate the 2011 Mavericks’ championship run through unselfish and efficient offense, high-IQ play and solid team defense. That’s a possibility, although Raymond Felton’s recent absence has reminded the Knicks that such a run will require all of their perimeter players at full health. One missing link in the backcourt — whether it’s Felton, Jason Kidd or J.R. Smith — and this team starts to look significantly different. The Knicks can be damn fun to watch and hopefully they enter the postseason with no injury concerns.
Oklahoma City Thunder: A+
33-10, No. 1 in the West
The quality of the Thunder’s play can’t be overstated. Name virtually any aspect of the game and they rank somewhere between good to excellent. Their offense is the league’s most efficient (by a healthy margin) despite trading Harden, one of the league’s best individual scorers, just before the start of the regular season. Their much-improved defense is holding opponents to just 43 percent shooting, the third-best mark in the league. They are among the league leaders in field-goal shooting, three-point shooting, free-throw shooting (No. 1 by a wide margin) and rebounding. Durant is making a strong MVP case, Serge Ibaka has taken his game to new levels on both ends and Kevin Martin has plugged in smoothly for Harden. About the only knocks on these guys: They turn the ball over a fair bit (hard to avoid with aggressive playmakers in Durant and Russell Westbrook), and they lost to the Heat on Christmas. They will be the most feared team in the West come playoff time, and rightfully so.
Orlando Magic: C+
14-27, No. 12 in the East
The Magic had two goals entering this season: establish a hard-working culture and locate some diamonds in the rough after the franchise-altering trade of Howard. First-year coach Jacque Vaughn seems to have accomplished the first goal, even if some early success has given way to tougher times (14 losses in their last 16 games). As for the gem hunting, the discovery of Nikola Vucevic likely makes this whole season worthwhile, as the 22-year-old second-year center has averaged 11.6 points and 11 rebounds, far surpassing expectations. Rookie Andrew Nicholson has also shown potential in a smaller role. The heavy lifting roster-wise will likely continue for at least the next two summers, but at least first-time GM Rob Hennigan has a few cheap assets around which to build.
Philadelphia 76ers: C-
17-25, No. 9 in the East
Outside of Jrue Holiday’s breakout campaign and the occasional Nick Young highlight, the most engrossing moment of the Sixers’ season came when Andrew Bynum shot uncontested three-pointers in front of the media and explained that he has finally been cleared to run on a treadmill. That kind of says it all. The worst part is that Philadelphia will have very little time to enjoy Bynum’s return, which is expected relatively soon, before it’s contract-negotiation time. Brutal. Last season’s first-round victory over the Bulls feels like a decade ago.
Phoenix Suns: F
14-28, No. 14 in the West
One could see this absolute disaster coming a mile away — and yet all of this turmoil is still worth a failing grade. If the multiyear contract for Michael Beasley wasn’t enough to convince you that GM Lance Blanks doesn’t know what he’s doing, perhaps the coaching staff mutiny that unfolded when he named player development coordinator Lindsey Hunter as interim coach sealed the deal. The Suns are tied for the worst record in the Western Conference, and their fans can only hope for the losses to stockpile more quickly to increase their lottery odds.
Portland Trail Blazers: B
21-21, No. 9 in the West
Through December, the Blazers were in the discussion for the league’s biggest overachievers. The wheels have fallen off in January, though, with home losses to the Cavaliers and Wizards lowlighting an ugly six-game losing streak. Portland has gotten some help thanks to the weakest schedule in the Western Conference, but the stellar play of No. 6 pick Damian Lillard and improvements from Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson deserve kudos. Where does this end? Almost certainly in the lottery, although GM Neil Olshey, surprised by the team’s hot start himself, isn’t ruling out a playoff push. The fact that Lillard has demonstrated the ability to lead a team right out of the gate makes this season a success, regardless of whether Portland finishes No. 8 or No. 12 in the West.
Sacramento Kings: D
16-27, No. 13 in the West
The Kings have been set up for failure year after year by the Maloofs, who finally have reached an agreement to sell the team. On the court, Sacramento has been about what was expected. Even though he continues to make headlines for all the wrong reasons, DeMarcus Cousins is averaging a double-double for the second straight season. The Kings have enough scoring threats that they can make you pay for inattentive perimeter defense; that’s important, because their own defense is the league’s worst. Good things could happen once a competent GM has the ability to remove some of this roster’s redundancies. Unfortunately for Kings fans, those better days will almost certainly take place in Seattle.
San Antonio Spurs: A
34-11, No. 2 in the West
The sad part about the Spurs is that the world spent more energy talking about one of their losses (a November defeat to Miami in which coach Gregg Popovich strategically rested four key players) than all 34 wins combined. Yes, you read that correctly. The Spurs already have 34 wins, thanks to a 19-2 record at the AT&T Center and what feels like the fourth rejuvenation of Tim Duncan’s career. They didn’t make any major roster moves after losing to the Thunder in last year’s Western Conference finals, but it’s hard to imagine too many people in San Antonio will complain if that’s where their 2012-13 season winds up concluding.
Toronto Raptors: C-
15-27, No. 11 in the East
The Raptors deserve two grades: one with and without Andrea Bargnani. Before their franchise forward went down with an elbow injury in December, Toronto was 4-18. Since then, the Raptors are 11-9. Even with five losses in their last six games, the quality of play and entertainment value have been up considerably. They’re still going nowhere, but at least it’s not a total drag to watch. (In the case of Terrence Ross, it can actually be incredibly exhilarating.) The Raptors are clearly a team to watch at the trade deadline. It’s probably too ambitious to expect that they will find a sucker to take Bargnani, but they at least need to get value for Jose Calderon before he hits free agency this summer.
Utah Jazz: B
23-19, No. 7 in the West
Few teams seem to be as content with being slightly (but consistently) above average as the Jazz. There they are, again, stuck in the middle of the West. This year’s twist: They are staring down decisions on whether to trade Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap at the deadline or to wait to deal with the two pending free agents in the summer. Last season’s playoff trip was exciting given the circumstances, but another one-and-done won’t accomplish much in the big picture, and it would be worth taking a half-step back this season if it meant acquiring real assets for the future. Of Utah’s younger players, Gordon Hayward has had the most opportunity and he’s done fairly well with it, averaging 13.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists. While you can’t blame coach Tyrone Corbin for sticking to his veterans, this is shaping up to be a story about the guys who aren’t playing enough (Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks) more than the guys who are.
Washington Wizards: F
9-31, No. 15 in the East
Washington didn’t fall into the league’s worst record by accident. Injuries happen in the NBA and quality teams can manage them. Take Rose off the Bulls, and you still have a solid playoff team. Take John Wall off the Wizards, and you’re left with a team whose offense essentially does not function. The good news is that Wall is back from a knee injury, and things are looking up slightly. The bad news is that it’s way too late for it to matter this season.