With 2012 coming to a close, and the NBA season just over a quarter of the way through, it’s a good time to grade each team on their performance so far. Some teams have passed with flying colours, others have simply scraped by, and a few hapless teams have failed miserably.
Boston Celtics: C
So far this season’s Celtics have looked an awful lot like last season’s Celtics. The team is more reliant than ever on Rajon Rondo to create offense in the half-court, and they’re hopelessly inept on the glass—the worst rebounding team in the NBA, in-fact. But last year the Celtics turned things around after the all-star break, and this group has enough quality for the same to happen again this season. Picking up a rebounder at some stage would help them immensely, however.
Brooklyn Nets: B-
The uniforms are great, the arena is amazing, the owners are endlessly entertaining, but the team has been, well, a little average. At times they’ve looked excellent, particularly the much-maligned Brook Lopez, but a recent losing streak, and the sub-par play of Deron Williams has sent them back to the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack. They need the aforementioned Williams and Joe Johnson to step up their play if they want to challenge for home-court in the playoffs.
New York Knicks: A+
The Knicks are absolutely for real. A team that had a multitude of questions heading into the season, has answered them with emphatic aplomb. Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd have been fantastic in the backcourt, J.R. Smith has given the team great production off the bench, Carmelo Anthony is playing at an MVP-type level, and the team can’t stop scoring from downtown. If Amar’e Stoudemire can come back without disrupting the chemistry (a big IF) this team could really threaten in the post-season.
Philadelphia 76ers: C
Whether the Sixers were going to be a powerhouse in the East was always going to depend on the play of Andrew Bynum, and seeing as Bynum hasn’t played a second of basketball so far this season, Doug Collins’ team is predictably mediocre. Jrue Holiday has been the major bright spot, keeping the Sixers in playoff contention with some all-star-type displays, but when Philly’s been bad, they’ve been REALLY bad.
Toronto Raptors: D-
There were so many high hopes for the Raptors coming into this season, and although we’re only just past the quarter mark, the dreams of contending for 8th place in the conference are dead and buried. Granted, the team has suffered injuries to the likes of Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields, but the Raptors are dealing with the same old problems defensively—a lack of communication and effort. Something to keep an eye for the rest of the season, however, is the emergence of Ed Davis; a player who is beginning to make Andrea Bargnani look very expendable at the power forward position.
Chicago Bulls: B
Although the Bulls don’t have the greatest record in the NBA, and frankly have been involved in some really ugly basketball games this season, you’ve got to admire their ability to stay competitive without star man Derrick Rose. The key to the season was always going to be their defense, which is the great equalizer for the Bulls. Without Rose they’ve looked anemic at the offensive end, and have zero outside shooting, but Thibodeau has kept his team disciplined defensively, and thus, they’re in the playoff hunt. Also, mark Joachim Noah down for the all-star game. He’s been playing out of his skin.
Cleveland Cavaliers: D
It’s so tempting to give the Cavs a higher grade given that Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao, two of the most entertaining players in the NBA, play on this team. Unfortunately their record is dismal, and Irving and Varejao might have the worst supporting cast in the NBA. This team would lose every single game by a boatload, if it weren’t for the heroics of that aforementioned duo, but even they can’t save the Cavs from the basement of the East.
Detroit Pistons: D
Greg Monroe is the rose among thorns on this Pistons team. His play in the frontcourt has been great, but Detroit is severely lacking at the guard positions. Brandon Knight has had his struggles coming to grips with life in the NBA, while Rodney Stuckey was shooting under 30% from the field for a good stretch at the beginning of the year—yuck. The Pistons are probably the most forgettable team in the NBA right now, and that might continue.
Indiana Pacers: B-
Just like the Bulls, the Pacers have struggled immensely on offense without their star man, in this case Danny Granger. But on defense Indiana has been the cream of the crop. They lead the league in points against and rebounding, with David West and Roy Hibbert providing some fearsome protection in the frontcourt. Paul George has been doing his best to make up for Granger’s absence and this team has been playing ugly, but effective basketball thus far to stay afloat in the playoff race.
Milwaukee Bucks: C+
Brandon Jennings began the season on a tear, but has since slowed down, and the Bucks have been a bit of an up-and-down team in general. They’ve been dangerous in the backcourt when Jennings and Ellis have caught fire, but they’ve struggled to get much production from their big men. Ersan Illyasova has been a major disappointment since signing that big contract in the off-season, and they’ll need him to play like he did last season if they want to make the playoffs.
Atlanta Hawks: A-
Ladies and Gentleman, the most underrated team in the Eastern Conference: the Atlanta Hawks. With the departure of Joe Johnson, many thought the Hawks would be entering a year of rebuilding, but instead they’ve surprised many by starting the season on fire. The return of Al Horford at centre has been a major plus, as has the continued development of Jeff Teague. And for the first time in what seems like an age, the Hawks have some really dangerous shooters on their roster—the likes of Kyle Korver, Lou Williams, and Anthony Morrow. Even more encouraging is the fact that the Hawks have started well despite Josh Smith’s indifferent beginning to the season.
Charlotte Bobcats: C-
The Bobcats equaled last season’s win total only 12 games into this season, which sounds more impressive than it actually is seeing as they only won 7 games last year. However, they aren’t the worst team in the NBA right now—a bonus—and they’ve been getting impressive production out of second-year man Kemba Walker. They’re still bad, but not quite bottom of the barrel bad right now.
Miami Heat: B+
The Heat are playing well enough to lead the Southeast division, and Ray Allen has slotted seamlessly into the team, but you can’t help but feel like they’re playing with their foot off the gas pedal. When they’re feeling it, they can blow out any team in the NBA—their recent victory over the Hawks was evidence of that—but they seem to be going through a slight post championship-season hangover lately. Losing to the lowly Wizards was shocking, and the defense has been far from impressive. Joel Anthony may need to play more minutes at centre in order to improve their rebounding and rim protection.
Orlando Magic: C+
The Magic’s relative success this year—I say relative because they’re still far from being a playoff team—is evidence that sometimes moving on from your franchise superstar is a good thing. No one on this team enjoyed playing with Dwight Howard last year—it was a constant distraction—and this year, despite their obvious flaws, they’re playing like a united group. Mark J.J. Reddick down as one of the more underrated players in the NBA right now.
Washington Wizards: F
The Wizards are currently languishing in the basement of the Eastern Conference and it isn’t pretty. They’re the lowest scoring team in the NBA, as well as the worst shooting team in the league. Their top scorer is Jordan Crawford, who averages just 14 points per game. Of course, you can put some of their struggles down to the fact that they’ve been without John Wall for the entire season, and Nene for a large chunk of the opening games, but this has been ugly viewing for fans in D.C.