NBA Eastern Conference Report Card
As we approach the midway point (41 games) of the NBA season (due to the way the schedule is set up, some teams have played more, some have played less), now is as good a time as any to look back and give a grade for each team in regards to expectations and talent and how they have performed. Because of this, you might see a team with a losing record receiving a B rating. Conversely, you may see a team 10 games above .500 only getting a C rating. This will be a long article, so let’s get down to business and start with the East.
Note: Please excuse the repeated use of synonyms for the word “horrible”. I tried to avoid it, but with so many teams sucking, it was impossible to describe them accurately without making up words.
Miami Heat (30-12): Miami started this season emphatically but they have stalled recently, losing 4 out of 6 games (including 3 in a row to teams under .500). Despite this, they are still 30-12 and are in no danger of dropping below the 2nd seed. I don’t like to make excuses for teams underachieving, but if any team can be justified for putting it into cruise control, it’s the Heat. They have been to 3 straight NBA finals, and are looking to return for a 4th trip. The only 2 teams in NBA history to go to 4 straight finals are the Lakers of the early 80’s and the Celtics who won 9 straight championships in the 60’s. It’s an incredible piece of history that they’re chasing, and if they value rest over regular season wins, then so be it. Grade: B-
Atlanta Hawks (22-19): Atlanta is in quite an interesting situation: They’re only 3 games above .500 (22-19) yet they’re somehow the 3rd best team in the East record wise (although that’s really not saying much considering how pathetic this conference has been this season). So what should they do? Their best player, Al Horford, is out for the remainder of the season with a torn pec. If they had him, it would make sense for them to make a trade or two using some of their draft picks to challenge now, but is that worth it for what a certain second round exit at the hands of the Pacers or the Heat? Absolutely not. They shouldn’t be tempted with the fool’s gold that is the seeding that they have right now. With that being said, I’m super impressed that they were above .500 with Horford. The fact that they’ve maintained this pace without him is remarkable. Grade: A
Washington Wizards (20-21): Ever since the end of the Gilbert Arenas era in Washington, The Wizards have underachieved mightily, and despite being in the 6th seed in the East, this season is no exception. Their roster features John Wall, Trevor Ariza, Bradley Beal, Nene, Marcin Gortat and Martell Webster. For them to have that much talent and still be below .500 is a disappointment. The emergence of leadership by John Wall has been a bright spot for them and does give hope that they can make the playoffs, and with the East being so terrible, they could easily advance to the second round if they are able to avoid Miami or Indiana in the first round. Grade: C
Charlotte Bobcats (19-25): Even though I predicted Charlotte to make the playoffs before the season, for them to be in this position despite the injuries to Jefferson and Kidd-Gilchrist is impressive. The backcourt of Walker and Henderson is growing in front of our eyes, and Josh McRoberts has been effective playing in front of Cody Zeller. If they can get healthy, they have the pieces to make a run. Jefferson allows them to play inside out on offense and take some pressure off Walker, and Gilchrist has the potential to be the best perimeter defender in the NBA. The fact that they’re still 8th in the East despite injuries to two of their three best players is impressive. Grade: A-
Orlando Magic (11-32): Expectations this season were quite low for Orlando, but with how weak the East is, there is no excuse for them to only have 11 wins. Their starting 5 is Big Baby Glen Davis, Jason Maxiel, Aaron Afflalo (who has played incredibly well), Victor Oladipo and Jameer Nelson. That line-up really isn’t that bad. And this team is atrocious. Grade: E
Before I go on, this division is pitiful, I was tempted to skip it completely. In all my years of watching basketball, I have never, ever seen a division this bad.
Toronto Raptors (21-20): There’s a lot to like about The Raptors; they’re young, athletic, they play hard and they have an unbelievable opportunity to win this division. What will probably get them into the playoffs (regardless of if they win this division) is their depth that they received from the Rudy Gay trade. The core of players they have (DeRozan, Johnson and Ross) could be something special if they continue to grow and develop and they’re ahead of schedule. Grade: B+
Brooklyn Nets (18-22): The Nets started so incredibly slow, they were on pace to receive a F.U. grade for insulting the game with their pathetic effort. But with the emergence of Shaun Livingston (or maybe it was Deron Williams’ absence?), Brooklyn has moved into playoff positioning and could further ascend in the second half of the season. The talent and depth is there, and so is the desire, but can they overcome certain team cancers *cough*Deron Williams *cough* and old age? I think they will win this division, but don’t expect them to go on an extended playoff run. Grade: D
New York Knicks (15-27): Speaking of insulting everyone that watches the game of basketball, the entire Knicks organisation not named Carmelo Anthony, Shumpert and Chandler, have been a joke. Regardless of the salary cap implications, they have to just cut J.R. Smith. He’s beyond a detriment to this team. I always shake my head when it comes to Amare. I remember when he was younger and dominant, and even back then, he wasn’t making the fundamental errors that he makes out there now. There are so many distractions on this team, and I guess we should have seen this coming, but it’s just so frustrating as a fan of the game to watch this. They should be challenging Indiana and Miami for supremacy in the East, not barely winning 1 out of 3 games. I simply can’t put my disappointment into words. Grade: F
Boston Celtics (15-29): The Celtics went through an entire rebuild in the offseason (trading their two captains, replacing their coach and waiting for their star player to return from knee surgery). When we look at it, if any team has a right to have 8 wins, it’s probably Boston. But Jeff Green has been in All Star form and they have been coached incredibly well, and are only 4 games away from the last playoff spot. With Rondo back, they could easily climb the rankings. Avery Bradley and Rondo make up the best defensive backcourt in the league, and Rondo’s gift on offense is to set people up. This will help Green directly and indirectly as everyone on the court now will be a threat. Sullinger has emerged as a solid presence inside for them, and all of this has been an unexpected. Kudos to them. Grade: B+
Philadelphia 76ers (14-28): Remember when these guys shocked the world and beat the Miami Heat in the second game of the season? The talent is there with Evan Turner and Michael Carter-Williams, but this team is incredibly young and raw and because of this, they’re wildly inconsistent. Grade: C
Indiana Pacers (33-7): Sweet Jesus! Who would have seriously predicted this? The Pacers are on track for 68 wins. Go back and re read that, and if you’re not shocked, look up the list of teams that have won 68 games in a season. Ah fuck it, I know you won’t so I’ll just list them: 95/96 Bulls, 96/97 Bulls, 71/72 Lakers and the 67/68 76ers. That’s it. Now, there’s no way they keep up this pace, but for them to be in this spot is as reflection of their real mental toughness as much as their talent. All the attention has been on Paul George but the play of Lance Stephenson has made this team even better than the one that was one game away from making the NBA finals last year. Can he keep it up? Probably not, but this team has proven everyone wrong the past 3 seasons, so who the hell knows? Grade: A+
Chicago Bulls (21-20): So many expectations for The Bulls were thrown out the window when Derrick Rose was lost for the season again as they went from being a legitimate championship contender to borderline playoff team, and the midseason trade of Deng is proof of Chicago’s realisation that they can’t compete without the former MVP. That being said, they have remained above .500 through great leadership and coaching, but they did this last season too and the conference is much weaker. They should be better. Grade: C+
Detroit Pistons (17-25): Another year and another season of mediocrity. The past 4 seasons Detroit has missed the playoffs (their highest win total was 30 in that period), and whilst they are on pace to exceed that, they will still probably miss the playoffs. They do have some nice pieces to build around (Drummond and Monroe), but they’ve handcuffed their future to Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith. This is not good. Grade: C-
Cleveland Cavaliers (15- 27): Even with the Pacers unbelievable start to the season, this is (to me at least) is the most surprising record in the NBA right now. When you look at their talent, starting with Kyrie Irving, Jarrett Jack, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miles, Earl Clark, Luol Deng, Tristan Thomas, Tyler Zeller and Anderson Varejao, you realise there is some legitimate depth here. For them to be only winning one out of three games is mind blowing. Grade: E
Milwaukee Bucks (8-33): Sometimes teams try and get too cute and sacrifice talent in order to find the right balance. This mindset usually works, but in this case, it hasn’t, and now it is painfully obvious they’re tanking. Grade: D
Well that’s 1700 words! The Western Conference grades will be coming soon.