Posted April 15, 2014

Midseason grades for all 30 NBA teams

Ben Golliver
Dirk Nowitzki

At 35, Dirk Nowitzki is still a nightmare for opponents. (Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Dallas Mavericks: B

25-19, No. 8 in the West

The Lakers would kill to be the Mavericks, wouldn’t they? Let’s go down the checklist. Aging superstar enjoying an All-Star-caliber season? Check. A few savvy free-agent signings to power a strong offense and ramp up the fun quotient? Check. The possibility of meaningful games through April, with the added benefit of taking a shot at playing first-round spoiler? Check and check.

Everything that hasn’t worked out for the Lakers has gone according to plan for Dallas, which is riding mainstay Dirk Nowitzki (21.1 points, 47.9 percent shooting, 23.2 PER) and newcomers Jose Calderon (11.7 points, 45.1 percent three-point shooting) and Monta Ellis (20 points, six assists, 46.1 percent shooting, 18.0 PER) to a No. 7 offense that can shoot it out with the NBA’s best on any given night. The Mavericks have enjoyed good health for those three, plus Shawn Marion and Vince Carter, and that’s been enough to work around the 23rd-ranked defense and a fairly glaring hole in the middle that’s contributed to the No. 27 rebounding rate.

Complaining about the Mavericks’ state of affairs would be a waste of breath and time: They are just about dead-on with preseason expectations. It would similarly be folly to get too enamored with Nowitzki’s strong bounce-back season; he just doesn’t have the horses around him to make any real noise in May.

MAHONEY: Why Dirk Nowitzki still means everything to the Mavericks


Denver Nuggets: C-

20-21, No. 10 in the West

To be clear: The real damage was done during the offseason with the departures of general manager Masai Ujiri, coach George Karl and swingman Andre Iguodala. There was no way for Denver to take those three punches and pretend like nothing happened, but the resulting season has been even more deflating than expected.

Injuries are part of that: Danilo Gallinari never returned, undergoing a second and season-ending knee surgery this week, and big-money center JaVale McGee was lost to a stress fracture in early November. Really, there isn’t a more depressing phrase than, “Our $10.8 million center has logged more minutes on his Oprah Winfrey Network reality show than he has on the court.”

Some of the deflation is coming from the lingering uncertainty caused by the transition. Compared to last season, the Nuggets are slightly worse on offense and defense, they are playing at a slightly slower pace and they are way, way worse at protecting their usually stellar home-court advantage (they are just 11-9 this year after going 38-3 last year). Coach Brian Shaw has proved he means business by standing up to backup point guard Andre Miller, but he hasn’t yet succeeded in crafting a true identity for his club. That process can now be expected to stretch even longer given Gallinari’s new recovery timeline, which could stretch into next season.

A gold star to Ty Lawson for doing his best to keep things afloat, but that’s little consolation when the good vibrations of last year’s 57-win campaign can no longer be heard in the distance. The immediate question is whether Denver can claw back into playoff position, but that pales in comparison to the long-term worries that accompany a star-less roster that seems to have lost its magic chemistry.

DOLLINGER: Nuggets at No. 12 in latest NBA Power Rankings


Detroit Pistons: D-

17-25, No. 9 in the East

The Pistons might try to camouflage themselves in the Eastern Conference muck — they are one of five bubble teams separated by four games — but we shouldn’t let that happen. Why not? There are at least $83 million reasons why not — namely, the offseason money dumped into Josh Smith ($54 million over four years), Brandon Jennings ($24 million over three years) and Chauncey Billups ($5 million over two years).

How are Joe Dumars’ latest round of investments panning out? Smith is in the discussion for the most self-destructive offensive force in the league. Not only is his shot chart almost entirely red (that’s not a good thing) but he’s also on pace to become the first player to shoot worse than 25 percent from beyond the arc while attempting at least three three-pointers (minimum 700 minutes played). He hasn’t made a significant impact on Detroit’s defense (20th in efficiency this year, 23rd last year) and his pairing with Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond has fizzled offensively, leaving the Pistons stuck yet again. Do they try to sell off Smith? (What’s the market at this point?) Do they try to cash in Monroe before his offseason payday (which is coming, one way or another)? Or do they grit their teeth and continue with their patented brand of expensive, sub-mediocre basketball?

Jennings isn’t helping matters. He’s shooting 37.4 percent and committing a career-high 3.1 turnovers, and his 106.6 defensive rating is among the team’s worst. As for the 37-year-old Billups (who is dealing with life after a torn Achilles)? His PER is a microscopic 5.9 and he’s played only 18 games, so any contribution he’s making falls under the oblique “veteran leadership” heading. This is a good reminder that the only people who should be getting paid millions to make speeches are former presidents.

The silver lining here is that Drummond has been granted a significantly larger role in his second season, and he’s responded by scaling his production in a way (12.6 points, 12.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 1.4 steals, 60.4 percent shooting, 21.4 PER) that hints at All-Star potential as soon as next year. The 20-year-old big man is a true franchise building block, but the first half of Detroit’s season suggests that Dumars has made a mess of the construction plans. The Pistons’ outlays were so large in scope that they should have theoretically been in position to compete for home-court advantage once the conference fell apart around them. Instead, they have work to do simply to earn the right to be bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Even worse, their 2014 first-round pick will transfer to the Bobcats unless they tank their way to one of the league’s eight-worst records. Just bad, bad, bad.

MAHONEY: Pistons’ frontcourt still finding its way with Josh Smith


Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry’s standout play has earned him the first All-Star nod of his career. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Golden State Warriors: B

26-17, No. 6 in the West

The public opinion/hype pendulum swings faster with this team than just about anyone else in the league. The Warriors went from championship contenders to disappointments to possible contenders again in less than three months. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle, as it usually is, and Warriors fans should be pleased that Golden State survived Andre Iguodala’s extended injury absence without compromising its shot at a top-four seed. This team is not taking the world by storm, but it is holding on to a spot in the West’s loaded top six, an accomplishment that shouldn’t be pooh-poohed.

Coach Mark Jackson leans so heavily on his top-six players (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson average 37.9 minutes apiece and fellow starters Iguodala and David Lee play at least 33) that Golden State is constantly one injury away from another swing on the pendulum back toward disappointment. Impartial observers should be crossing their fingers that the hypothetical, rotation-wrecking injury never comes. In addition to being one of the league’s most exciting five-man groups, Golden State’s starters are also one of its most balanced and devastating. In more than 500 minutes together, the lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodal, Lee and Andrew Bogut has posted a phenomenal plus-19.9 net rating, meaning they are capable of blowing out just about anyone at any time. The Bogut/Iguodala pairing has also powered Golden State to a No. 5 defensive rating, helping pick up the slack for an offense that hasn’t quite been as potent as last season’s.

Bogut said this week that the Warriors are “close … but not there yet” when it comes to contention, and perhaps the onus is on management to seek reinforcements before the Feb. 20 trade deadline. General manager Bob Myers has already made one move in swapping Toney Douglas for Jordan Crawford, and the time to be proactive is now with a roster that’s loaded up salary-wise and a core that’s hoping to build off its 2013 second-round appearance. Perhaps an extra set of hands (or two) can turn those lofty preseason expectations into reality.

GOLLIVER: Winners and losers from NBA All-Star starters announcement


Houston Rockets: B+

29-15, No. 5 in the West

Dwight Howard’s arrival wasn’t going to answer every question and solve every problem for the Rockets, but he’s succeeded in reaching one, overarching goal so far: nudging Houston up one notch from the playoff bubble to the conference’s second tier. In many ways, the Rockets’ year is what the Lakers expected last season with Howard. A fully healthy Howard has found a way to make an offensive impact without killing James Harden’s vibe while taking the Rockets’ defense from average to No. 10, even though he hasn’t played alongside a traditional power forward and Omer “Disgruntled” Asik has provided only headaches.

The pace of Houston’s dunks-and-threes offense has slowed somewhat compared to last season, but it still stands as an incredibly effective point-generating machine. The Jeremy Lin/Patrick Beverley combination, when healthy, is one of the better two-headed point guard monsters, and Chandler Parsons (17.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals) is generating career-best numbers while handling huge minutes.

Taking the next step — from the fringe to the center of the championship-contention discussion — falls on management’s shoulders, not Howard’s or Harden’s. Houston entered camp with major questions at power forward, and while Terrence Jones has emerged from a deep pack of candidates for those minutes, he still feels like a less-than-ideal solution.  The Asik quandary also hangs there, and finding a resolution by the trade deadline surely continues to be Houston’s top priority. Rotation gaps and redundancies aside, the Rockets are fun, improved as a two-way team, in possession of two A-list superstars and owning some chips to play next summer. The start to their season suggests that by this time next year they could be ready to move up into the conference’s top tier.

MANNIX: Rockets’ star-studded duo still working out the kinks


Indiana Pacers: A+

33-8, No. 1 in the East

The team with the NBA’s best record stands as the single easiest grade in the league. The Pacers are sitting in the front row of the class, they’re turning in their homework early, they’re acing every test and they’re even volunteering to help the janitors mop the classroom floors. Never has a teacher’s pet been this imposing: Indiana’s defense is the league’s best by nearly five points per 100 possessions, it’s lost just one game to a team currently below .500 and it has scored signature wins over the Heat, Spurs, Clippers (twice), Rockets and Warriors.

Entering the season, The Point Forward saw Indiana as one of four teams (along with Brooklyn, Chicago and New York) that could conceivably give Miami a run for their money in the East. Not only are the Pacers the only one of that quartet left standing, but they also lead the Heat by three games for home-court advantage and appear championship-ready. The bugaboos continue to be their offense (No. 17, up slightly from last year) and turnovers (No. 25 in turnover rate), but their defense is so potent and disciplined that they should be able to book a trip to the conference finals without a second thought.

It’s not hyperbolic to state that Indiana has achieved sustained excellence, a height that few teams, including last year’s Pacers, manage to reach. The Pacers are therefore deserving of all the accolades that come with that, and it could wind up being a long list. Paul George (23.3 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 46.2 percent shooting, 39 percent three-point shooting, 22.6 PER) has grown into a top-five MVP candidate and no-brainer All-NBA selection. Roy Hibbert (12.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, No. 1 defensive rating in the league) should be the runaway Defensive Player of the Year winner. Lance Stephenson (career highs in virtually every category) has emerged as a key playmaker and a Most Improved Player candidate. And Frank Vogel should be among the leading vote-getters in the Coach of the Year race.

Perhaps the most magnetic aspect of the Pacers’ season has been their total focus on claiming the No. 1 overall seed, a drive that reflects a confidence that they can unseat the Heat and a vision for their own greatness. Something tells me that the Heat and Pacers will cause a lot of “This is the best matchup in the East since the Bad Boys Pistons and the early-Jordan Bulls” ink to be spilled between now and June.

MIDSEASON AWARDS: Hibbert unanimous Defensive Player of the Year

61 comments
DavidHarte
DavidHarte

The Warriors need to find a #2…David Lee is incapable of guarding anyone, and though his rebound numbers look impressive, big power forwards like Serge Ibaka and Anthony Davis eat him alive.


This team will never compete as structured, and if Lacob insists on keeping Lee (who is clearly his favorite player after Curry), everyone is wasting their time: Bogut has a small window of, as does Iguadala.


Time to trade, Joe.  Let Jerry West work…Myers can watch and learn.



BigBubba
BigBubba

Joe Dumars drafted a Georgia guy, Pope, over a Michigan guy, Burke--who is in line to win Rookie of the Year.  And Pope?  Is he even playing?  LOL.


Dumars gets an F

Joe R2
Joe R2

Golliver is just another Miami/Lebron slurping NBA writer....  Miami has underachieved all season and they get an A?  And the Bulls, losing their 2 best players and still a 4 seed in the East get a D?  Keep gargling LeBron's testicles...

David S
David S

Pretty good article but the author needs to take a more in depth look at Terrence Jones play in Houston. Clyde Drexler says he can see Terrence becoming the best power forward in the NBA within two years. Terrence is the real deal and the full package at power forward.

ikhoops
ikhoops

Cleveland should get a D-. Young talent has not come together and their controversial draft picks are not panning out. Tristan Thompson has not been a difference maker for a high pick and AB is awful. Deng acquisition is the only thing that doesnt make it an F but if he leaves in the offseason then giving away those pick makes the first half of the season an F-. Even worse than the Bucks who are obviously terrible but they will pick at 1-4 this year and can continue their rebuild. But a long way to go there. On a positive side if Portland doesnt get an A ,that's crazy. Their talent is coming together and are now is a place to compete in the west for years to come. Young talented team whose leaders now want to stay in POrtland and keep their core together.


Jeremy_Lynn
Jeremy_Lynn

Derrick Rose didn't re-injure his knee... the injury occurred to the other knee, not the same one that forced him to miss last season, thus it is not a re-injury, just another injury...

RichardKeller
RichardKeller

Also, to give the Nets a "D: is ludicrous!  Their payroll should have nothing to do with expectations.  Williams has missed a ton of games and Lopez was at 50% or less in the games he played.  They deserve a B for getting to where they are as of today.

RichardKeller
RichardKeller

SO stupid to give Miami an "A".  It should be the Miami LeBron....."A".  The Heat are NOT a TEAM.

CraigWachs
CraigWachs

A  [ D ] FOR Bulls , come on , i give them A-  just for playing 500 ball with what theve gone thru ...

buzzman69
buzzman69

This idiots dislike of the Lakers is palpable. I'm not a Lakers fan, but come on. This is supposed to be sports journalism, not for some small minded guy to vent his personal frustrations. And his take down of the Bulls, like they had a choice about injuries. Where does SI find these guys? My dog could write a better column....

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

Moral of the story:  playing as well as possible through adversity (like the Bulls losing their star player) gets you a bad grade.

This isn't school.


Nate the Pate
Nate the Pate

The grading system is wrong.  The writer should not factor injuries into the equation - the grade should solely be based on the team's actual performance relative to the expected performance (WITH THE PLAYERS AVAILABLE).  

For example, people are pissed off that the Bulls got a D.  The writer means that they had super high expectations because of Rose' return but because of injuries, they rank only a D.  It's not a knock on how the Bulls are performing with the current available roster, which, if anything, has been not bad.  Like I said, it's a stupid grading system because it's not the team's fault when players get injured.  Grade the teams for the talent they have and the actual results.  In which case, Knicks get an F for sure.

PaulWeeldreyer
PaulWeeldreyer

This is why the NBA is stupid. Because even NBA writers have to pretend like the NBA is something that it's not. Giving Milwaukee an F, for instance, is ludicrous once you accept the obvious fact that they are trying to tank. Ask a Bucks fan what grade they would give and they would probably mostly say "A". Why do you insist on pretending like bad teams are having bad years because they are losing games?

JustinLerner24
JustinLerner24

article is garbage except for the Knicks... got it spot on and loved the no explanation 

MikeKulpa
MikeKulpa

 You are a hack. Give the Knicks who I know are not playing well an F with no explanation? They did beat The Heat and a few other good teams. Remember the Texas trip? Not a word about all the injuries either O right all you could write was Duh.

GTT
GTT

For this Hawks fan it's enough to know we now have a GM who wouldn't blow lottery picks like Billy Knight did multiple times. And, there is a coach who gets the most from his players' talents, unlike Woodson and Drew.

Stephen O
Stephen O

hahaha.  these things always make me laugh.  whatever troll.

J Diddy
J Diddy

Bulls get a D and the Cavs get a C-? No need to read the rest of this junk...


Cavs get an F for wasting a ton of money on Bynum, being at full strength most of the season, and STILL being worse than they were a year ago. If Deng is smart, he'll play out his half-season in Purgatory and go to a team with a clue next year. 

DeanHewitt
DeanHewitt

Well, this guy doesn't know what he's talking about. 

An a "A" for Miami.  First, Miami is breaking down right before our eyes and he doesn't see it.  Can't wait to see if they even get the second seed.  

A "D" for the Bulls, right.  The Bulls have righted the ship since the DRose loss.  I would expect a team to have problems after losing their MVP.  I think they went 3-12 for the fifteen games after losing him. Losing Luol may seem like a loss but all the cards haven't been played  yet.  Snell is getting time to develop, Dunleavy is getting his grove and Butler continues to grow.  It's a positive.  And then in a sense we traded and got DJ Augustine for Teague.  In the Bulls system DJ can act more like a sg with assist potential.  Hinrich takes some of the pressure off along with Noah in running the offense. Big plus.  We may not catch the Heat, but don't count us out.  We've won 11 of 13 and looking solid.  41 games and counting.

dinohealth
dinohealth

@DavidHarte Nonsense.  You are not going to get anything better; Lee is one of the premier PFs in the league.  The bench needs shoring up.  If that is done, this team is a contender.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@Joe R2Why do some of you insist on bringing your fantasies into a sports forum?

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@Joe R2 Miami is at a similar pace as last year, has had not very much Dwayne Wade, and will only get better as the season goes on - as opposed to other teams who peak regular season.... this is typical Miami the last few years for this time of year, and this writer knows it - unlike you

CLECavsOutsider
CLECavsOutsider

@ikhoops  I agree, makes absolutely no sense. They are currently 10th in the East,  5½ GB of Chicago, who just beat them at home shorthanded, but 2 GM from being 13th. They failed at making the most from the Bynum situation, nothing was at risk but time and money. The guy should have been on the floor to close games, and EASILY 10-15 FGA, he barely got 8, and yet Deng comes on, and its no problem getting him 12-14 FGA easily. While Deng may bring scoring to the position, he;s also getting MORE shots there, he isn't ADDING anything dynamic, or difference making, he was on the floor in losing at Sacramento by 44 PTS. 

I just don't believe in giving up assets for a player made expendable, in the last year of his contract, when all it takes over the summer, is money and his desire to take it. Deng was offered 3 YRS/$30 MIL, I don't see him worth more than that, in 10 years he WASN'T a difference maker in Chicago. I just don't think you overpay to keep him. If he doesn't get the Cavs to the playoffs, then it only confirms him not being a difference maker. The Cavs haven't done well in the draft, so maybe in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter. I agree with the D- 

OpacTheDON
OpacTheDON

@RichardKeller The Nets should get an F. They're 3 games under .500 having played half the season. In the weak Eastern Conference they've blended in with teams like the Cavs at times. You can't honestly tell me that you thought before the season, even with D-Will and Brook Lopez out. This team was suppose to contend for a title, if one or 2 stars fall down, the other other were suppose to pick up the slack, along with their loaded bench. Payroll is 100% expectations, an organization pays the players certain amounts to reach certain expectations. And even your point of saying that they deserve a B for getting where they are is ludicrous, I'm sure the organization in the most luxury tax was not hoping to be half way through the season with a 19-22 record. The only thing where they deserve an A is their recent play, but even so I still don't think they will beat out the Raptors for the division and they look like a first round exit or a second round sweep at best.

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@RichardKeller you dont watch much basketball then.  They are 2nd in the east despite heardly playing at their best and only turning it on for stretches.  This same thing happened last year.

duckfan59
duckfan59

@CraigWachsHelps to put it into context if you read the disclaimer at top of the column:

Grades are primarily determined by first-half performance relative to preseason expectations. 

Marc6
Marc6

@Nate the Pate I prefer to see teams graded based on how they've performed vs. original expectations and including injuries. Otherwise, why write an article. You'd simply look at the standings and give out the grades. Grading against expectations ties in great coaching like Stotts and Hornacek have done.

TheDistrict
TheDistrict

@Nate the Pate Yeah it is a bit ridiculous that the Bulls who lost their franchise player is graded only slightly higher than the abomination that is the Detroit Pistons. Although only four wins separate the two teams; if the writer is going to account for how much the Pistons spent on free agents he should account for the Bulls losing Rose, even if it is the second year in a row. 

TheDistrict
TheDistrict

@PaulWeeldreyer Yeah it's weird that the writer account for how much the roster cost to put together, yet wouldn't account for the benefit of tanking over winning a few more meaningless games and not getting a top-3 pick. 

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@MikeKulpaA hack because he didn't like your team.... LOL..... dude you just sound plain homer - everyone knows why the Knicks deserve an F

mjw149
mjw149

@MikeKulpa I'm a Knicks fan.  F is right.  


How is it that one of the largest cities in the entire world, with some of the best schools and some of the smartest money people in the ENTIRE WORLD, has TWO extremely rich franchises run by owners who don't understand salary caps, training science or basketball analytics?


This Knicks team looked like contenders.  You know, LAST year, before they traded Lin and Novak.  Even with Chandler back, they haven't looked nearly as good, even if they beat the (underachieving) Heat.  This is a team that can barely compete, let alone contend but all the draft picks are gone.  How could this happen in just one short year?

cc24ny
cc24ny

@MikeKulpa I don't think he's a hack, but I do think he's lazy and unprofessional. 

pdiamond
pdiamond

@MikeKulpaI assume you're kidding but, well, you never know around here.  You're calling the guy a 'hack' because he didn't feel like he needed to explain why and how the Knicks are terrible this year?  Really?  Most people would agree that no explanation is needed. If you think about it, the fact that they have the talent to beat the Heat on a given night, and yet suck so righteously almost every other night, is reason enough to give them an F.  And this has been going on for 2 or 3 generations.

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@J DiddyCavs do get a lower grade, but come on - that Bynum deal was smart and anyone with a brain knows it. 

AaronDunckel
AaronDunckel

@DeanHewittMiami is breaking down just like last year at this time?  Really?  They are similarly situated and have been visibly disinterested just as they were last year around January and early February.  Pay attention to the whole thing and not just the big headlines

pickle
pickle

@DeanHewitt I think he is giving Miami an A because just like last year they underachieved in the regular season for their talent level but dominated the playoffs. Lebron and co. know that they just need to get a top 4 seed and they will be able to at least get the rematch with Indiana. Still, I would probably give them a B.

J Diddy
J Diddy

@DeanHewitt I'm a Bulls fan, too, and agree with most of your thoughts. But I still think it's fools gold with our Bullies right now. They're winning on grit and tenacity--which is enough to beat everyone in the East except Miami and Indy. However, their future (and any title hopes) is in the upcoming draft, bringing over Mirotic (sp? LOL), Butler & Taj continuing to develop, and a healthy D-Rose. My point: Winning this year only helps one of those things (the development of Butler & Taj).


I'm not suggesting tanking (I'm too afraid Thibs might read this and come after me! :), but the best thing would be for 4 or 5 other teams in the East to wake up and push the Bulls out of the playoff picture. Noah, Boozer, and Butler aren't winning a championship. And that's the goal for this franchise, not just getting to the playoffs and maybe out of the first round. We aren't the Hawks or Cavs for Heaven's sake. ;)

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@Joe R2 And you keep reading his column.  That'll really show him.

pickle
pickle

@mjw149 @MikeKulpa Agree completely. I am also a Knicks fan and I was simply floored when I heard that the big offseason moves to help them make the Eastern Finals were getting Ron Artest and Bargnani. Immediately I knew that the season was lost and I haven't even watched a single game. I don't think I will until there is some new management. 


Call me a fair weather fan, but I just can't even stand to watch when I know that my mom could probably make better offseason moves than this franchise. 

TheDistrict
TheDistrict

@cc24ny @MikeKulpa Did you read the descriptions of any of the other teams? He gives plenty of good reasons for his grades and offers a lot of interesting data points - clearly he's done his homework. Just because he did't grade the Knicks doesn't mean he's lazy and unprofessional. 

JustinLerner24
JustinLerner24

 @MikeKulpa im a die hard knick fan... but he got it spot on, the knicks dont even deserve an explanation 

J Diddy
J Diddy

@AaronDunckel Wait, how was the Bynum deal smart? Did he add even one extra win for the money and headaches the Cavs expended on him? He didn't even last until the all star break. No, it was a useless move for them in the offseason that cost them more in team chemistry than anything they gained. 


Now, if you're talking about sending him over for Deng, then yes, that was a brilliant, can't-lose deal for them. But that's not what I was referring to in my original comment.