Tag:Quarterly Grades
Posted on: February 22, 2012 5:09 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 6:35 pm
 

Midseason Report Team Grades: Cream rising

Familiar faces are back on the top at the halfway point of the season. (Getty Images)

With 30+ games under everyone's belt, there's been sufficient time for NBA's thirty teams to adjust to the breakneck lockout-shortened season. The midterm results? The cream has mostly risen to the top, with preseason favorites Chicago, Miami and Oklahoma City continuing their dominant play. Traditional powers in San Antonio and Dallas have also emerged after slow (by their standards) starts.

CBSSports.com's Eye On Basketball staff sat down to grade each team based on potential and expectations, graded on a curve. Here's what we came up with. 

Atlantic Division Grades

The Sixers continue to lead the way in the Atlantic. (Getty Images)
by Ben Golliver

Philadelphia 76ers (20-13)


The Sixers followed up a sensational 11-5 first quarter with a middling 9-8 second quarter. Even with the choppy play in February, which includes a current 4-game losing streak, Philly still enjoys a 4-game cushion over its next closest division rivals. The 76ers boast the NBA's best defense, a top-8 offense, a Defensive Player of the Year Candidate in Andre Iguodala and an emerging reliable late-game scoring threat in Lou Williams. Their entire body of work through 33 games deserves top-level recognition.

GRADE: A-

New York Knicks (16-17)

The Knicks are virtually un-gradeable. Any team that discovers a player who is making Jeremy Lin's impact, paying him virtually nothing in the process, deserves an A+++ by default, right? That's the temptation, but this is a grade for the full first half of the season, not just the most exciting free agent find in recent memory. New York is much better than its record, thanks to Tyson Chandler's solid defense and the recent additions of Lin and J.R. Smith. Injury and role questions concerning Carmelo Anthony cast a bit of a shadow but, like MSG stock, the Knicks are a fast riser. 

GRADE: B+

Boston Celtics (15-16)

For everyone's sake, let's hope one of the NBA's most unwatchable teams stumbles down the stretch so we don't have to watch them suffer through them getting swept in a first round playoff series. Boston has been a MASH unit all season and the trade deadline promises to be the most interesting portion of the Celtics' season. The timing of Boston's fall couldn't be better. At least this is the lockout-shortened season to minimize the damage with a fully-stocked draft and free agency class to offer hope just around the corner. 

GRADE: C-

New Jersey Nets (10-24)

The only good thing about New Jersey's season is that Deron Williams hasn't yet publicly demanded a trade or rampaged on his teammates. 10 wins at this point is actually probably a win or two better than expectations given the roster that surrounds Williams and the injuries the team has had to deal with. Completely irrelevant for another season.

GRADE: D

Toronto Raptors (9-23)

The bright side is that Toronto's defense has improved from completely and truly awful last season to simply below average under new coach Dwane Casey. The offense is now bottom-3 in the league and the Raptors simply don't have the personnel to turn that around. Tank Nation was completely correct from the outset. 

GRADE: D

Central Division Grades

Rose remains unstoppable. (Getty Images)
by  Royce Young 

Chicago Bulls (26-8)
 

It's no big surprise that the Bulls are 26-8 and see-sawing with the Heat for the East's top spot. But considering they've had to do it with a rash of injuries that had Derrick Rose and Luol Deng missing some time is what makes it impressive. Depth has been one of the Bulls' strengths and it's what has pushed them through the first half. They did this same thing last season too, getting by without Carlos Boozer. Now that they're getting healthy again, they're set up for a strong second half push. 

GRADE: A

Indiana Pacers (20-12)

When grading a team, it's good to keep in mind preseason expectations. The Pacers were expected to be better than the team last season that slipped into the postseason, but how much better was the question. There have been some ups and downs, but the verdict thus far is that the Pacers are much improved and in position to fight for home court in the first round. 

GRADE: B+

Cleveland (13-17)

The road back from "The Decision" is going to be long, but the Cavs clearly have picked up a pretty nice car to get there in Kyrie Irving. The Cavs probably aren't playoff material, but in terms of coming back from where they were last season when they dropped 26 straight games, they're on track. They're currently just four games under .500 and sit ninth in the East, just 1 1/2 games out of the playoffs.

GRADE: B

Milwaukee Bucks (13-19)

What's new in Milwaukee? Oh, just Andrew Bogut getting hurt again. And just their season going down the tubes with that. Remember how this was a playoff team two years ago? Remember all the fun "Fear the Deer" stuff? It looks like it's going to be back to the lottery for this group. Brandon Jennings' improvement is a plus, but the Stephen Jackson situation combined with injuries is dragging them down.

GRADE: C+

Detroit Pistons (11-23)


The Pistons are playing much better basketball as of late, winning seven of 10. But still this has been another colossally disappointing season. Remember how the Pistons were once a team contending for the East? You know what's weird about that? That was happening as of just five years ago. But it feels like the Pistons have been bad for a long time. That's where it's at for Detroit. Save for a better stretch early on, it's been another bad year for the Pistons. Horrible attendance, fan apathy and worst of all, there really doesn't appear to be a path out right now.

GRADE: D

Southeast Division

LeBron looks like a solid MVP favorite so far for Miami. (Getty Images)
by Matt Moore

Miami Heat (26-7)

The best team in efficiency differential. Home of the presumptive MVP. They have just finished winning seven in a row, all by double-digits. The best record in the National Basketball Association. A better offense than last season. The same quality defense as last season. Better supporting players. Quality wins over the Lakers, Bulls, Magic. The Heat aren't surprising anyone; we knew they would be, could be this good. But they're doing it, and that's a fact. 

GRADE: A

Orlando Magic (21-12)

Well, they've handled this whole mess surprisingly well. As Dwight Howard rumors continue to swirl and he's forced to endure media questions everywhere he goes, the Magic have kept on winning with the same formula they've won with for years. Great defense, three-point shooting, and Dwight Howard offense. The dual-losses in five days to Boston in humiliating fashion should have sent the team into a tail spin. But instead they've kept themselves above water. There are rough times ahead for this team one way or another, but you have to give them credit for how they've survived a tough situation. 

GRADE: B

Atlanta Hawks (19-13)

The Hawks are six games over .500 despite starting the year without Kirk Hinrich, and being without Al Horford for most of the season as he's done for the year. That should be pretty good, right? They have wins over the Bulls and Heat. That should be enough for a good grade, right? Except you know where the Hawks are going. They're not the most talented kid in class, they're not the hardest workers. They just kind of glide by. You can't fail them, but to reward them is to celebrate being "fine." You can't fault their coaching or players. They just are who they are, as cliche and meaningless as that seems. 

GRADE: C+

Washington Wizards (7-25)

Well, their coach was fired, their star center runs the wrong way on possessions, their star point guard hasn't developed, and they had to bench their starting power forward they gave an extension to two years ago. So no, it has not gone well in D.C. 

GRADE: D-

Charlotte Bobcats (4-27)

Mrs. Charlotte fan, I'm sorry. I know this is difficult to hear. We did everything we could, but we had to put your franchise down. This team is a plague on the NBA season. 

GRADE: F

Southwest Division

Tony Parker is playing like a top-5 MVP candidate. (Getty Images)
by Ben Golliver

San Antonio Spurs (23-10)

The Spurs went a ridiculous 13-3 in their second quarter, and that includes an on-purpose loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night, as Gregg Popovich opted to rest his starters. Does it get better than an 11-game winning streak when one of your All-Stars is in and out of the lineup with long-term injuries? That's a stupid rhetorical question. It doesn't get any better. The Spurs have pulled within 2 1/2 games of the Oklahoma City Thunder and are well positioned to finish strong, with 19 home games and 14 road games remaining on their schedule.

GRADE: A

Dallas Mavericks (21-12)

Like the Spurs, Dallas got up to speed during the second quarter, going 11-5 and running off an impressive 6-game winning streak, which included 4 wins over playoff teams (the Nuggets twice, the Clippers and 76ers) and 2 others against teams on the fringes (the Blazers and Timberwolves). Dallas is still underperforming on offense but no one saw a top-5 defense coming when Tyson Chandler moved to the Knicks in December. Dirk Nowitzki's numbers are essentially back to normal in February -- 23.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game -- and the Mavericks look to be a playoff force as they defend their 2011 title.

GRADE: A-

Houston Rockets (19-14)

The USS Houston is steady as she goes: The Rockets went 9-7 in the first quarter and 10-7 in the second quarter. Kyle Lowry has made the whole thing work and Kevin Martin has stayed healthy. The roster is deep, random and likely to see major changes this summer. Despite all of that, Houston is squarely in the playoff picture when another lottery trip seemed inevitable after December's failed trade for Pau Gasol fell through. If this continues, Kevin McHale might sneak into the short list for Coach of the Year candidates in his first season with the Rockets.

GRADE: B+

Memphis Grizzlies (19-15)

The Grizzlies were a late-charging dark horse last season and it's shaping up again this time around, as Zach Randolph is progressing back to the court after a knee injury. Memphis' offensive efficiency has fallen off significantly without Randolph, and Lionel Hollins has done another nice job in keeping the wheels from falling off after a hectic early season. Credit, too, to an All-Star campaign from Marc Gasol, who is averaging 15.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.

GRADE: B+

New Orleans Hornets (7-25)

That this team has won seven games is a miracle. Monty Williams, one of the league's biggest gentlemen, must have done some serious wrongs in a past life to deserve this group. He's made due the only way he really can, sucking the life and pace out of every game and hoping for the best. Gustavo Ayon was an intriguing find but this team was not headed anywhere with Eric Gordon, let along without him due to injury. It's probably time for New Orleans to step up its tanking efforts to ensure a top-2 chance at the lottery balls. Leaving this season without that would be a major failure.

GRADE: D

Northwest Division

Durant's Thunder have been dominant in the West. (Getty Images)
by Matt Moore 

Oklahoma City Thunder (25-7)


Kevin Durant is having his best season as a pro, and it shows. His defense has been terrific. There are lingering questions about this team's ability to defend, but their offensive is the most powerful in the league and they've managed to stay exceptionally healthy this season. The West may be largely a crapshoot this season, but the Thunder are still the prohibitive favorites to make it to the Finals. Their late-game execution has been a mixed-bag, but that's still better than the circus clown show it was last year. 

GRADE: A

Denver Nuggets (18-15)

There's something dark and twisted about a team that deliberately loaded up on excessive depth through trades and free agency winding up one of the most damaged by injury. The Nuggets have had Nene, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, and Arron Afflalo miss time with injuries and it dropped them into the gutter after an exceptionally strong start to the season. Outside of health, the biggest problem for Denver has been what you'd think it would be, the lack of a star player to lead them in close games. Someone has to step up and become the guy for Denver in the playoffs for them to have a chance at making any noise. 

GRADE: B-

Portland Trail Blazers (18-16) 

Things started so well, too. After getting out to an awesome start and looking unstoppable, versatile, and deep, everything has fallen apart for the Blazers. Nate McMillan's on the hot seat all of a sudden, the team is just two games over .500 (and one of them was the Spurs' surrender game Tuesday). They're not doing anything particularly well, Raymond Felton has been benched, and they're having nagging injuries. all over the place. It was a rough second quarter of the season for Portland. 

GRADE: C+

Minnesota Timberwolves (16-17)

Well, well, well. Look who got themselves a legit coach and a franchise point guard. Rick Adelman's work with the Timberwovles has made the biggest impact, but Ricky Rubio's playmaking and defense has helped change the vibe. The Wolves are excessively fun to watch, a highlight factory, and feature Kevin Love's All-Star blistering work offensively. The Wolves can't quite get themselves into that 8th spot, but don't be surprised if they somehow sneak their way into the postseason. 

GRADE: B-

Utah Jazz (15-16)

The popular analogy with teams like this is a rollercoaster but I like to think of the Jazz more as a boat that keeps tipping with the tide and the wind. Everyone rushes to one side of the boat, vomits, then gets thrown to the other side. Are they a good team? They can be, from time to time. Are they a terrible team? They can be, from time to time. There's no figuring out the Jazz. They're a young, inconsistent team, and those kinds of teams usually tail off as the season goes on. 

GRADE: D+

Pacific Division

Paul has the Clippers out to a faster start than the Lakers, barely. (Getty Images)
by Royce Young

Los Angeles Clippers (19-11)


Blake Griffin changed the game for the Clippers. It started last season with the crazy dunks and high-flying highlights, but quietly, the Clippers had a solid second half. Then they got Chris Paul before this season and boom, they're a top team in the West. How have they handled that hype and expectation? Pretty darn well, I'd say. And they've even endured a major injury to a key player. I don't know if the Clips are set up to really challenge in the Western Conference playoffs, but the point is, they will absolutely be there and probably sitting as a top four seed. Think about that.

GRADE: A

Los Angeles Lakers (19-13)

There was a pretty unsettling tone set about this Laker season before it even started. Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol were traded, and then untraded by David Stern. Then Odom was traded for basically nothing. And Kobe hurt his wrist. The front office might be in shambles, players might be unhappy with Mike Brown and there's a lot of uncertainty around the roster only except for No. 24. They're still in the thick of things, but it's hard to see this team moving forward until whatever is looming around the roster, finally happens. 

GRADE: C+

Phoenix Suns (14-19)

There's a catch 22 with the Suns. Steve Nash continues to defy common sense by playing some of his basketball at age 38. But what that's done is make the Suns competitive, meaning they will likely miss out on a top five pick and Nash will remain as part of the roster instead of the front office blowing it up. The Suns are stuck in a state of mediocrity. Maybe they're fine with that, but this team is just two years removed from the Western Conference Finals, but that seems so, so far away.

GRADE: C-

Golden State Warriors (12-17)

For a brief second, it really seemed like the Warriors were ready to turn a corner. They had won three straight heading into a showdown with the West's best, the Thunder. And then OKC completely humbled them in a three-quarter blowout. Mark Jackson wanted to install defense and while they're a bit better, they aren't winning more. 

GRADE: D+

Sacramento Kings (10-22)

I bought into a little preseason hype around the Kings. The talent seemed to be in place for them to finally make a step forward. There have been some flashes like a national TV win over Oklahoma City, but for the most part, it's just another Sacramento season. Paul Westphal got fired, DeMarcus Cousins had an issue again and Jimmer Fredette hasn't produced much buzz or points so far. And their arena situation and future in the city is still way up in the air. 

GRADE: D

Posted on: January 23, 2012 5:28 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 12:18 am
 

Quarterly Report Team Grades: Deep teams thriving

The Bulls and Nuggets both get high marks for their first quarter work (Getty Images)

This compact season is rushing by and so we've already reached the first quarter-mark of the season. We've seen the Bulls crush nearly everyone even with injuries to Derrick Rose and others. We've seen the Heat at their best, flying through teams and playing elite defense, and worst, losing in crunch time thanks to LeBron James' late-game failures. We've seen the Celtics, Lakers, and Mavericks stumble out of the gate with lingering questions about whether they can recover. And we've seen deep teams like Philadelphia and Denver thrive to become conference powerhouses with speed, youth, and cohesiveness. We've also seen the Wizards, but we try not to talk about that. We sat down to grade each team based on potential and expectations, graded on a curve. Here's what we came up with. 

Atlantic Grades

The Sixers have surprised nearly everyone with a hot start. (Getty Images)
by Royce Young

Philadelphia 76ers (11-5)


It's a little bit hard to know what to make of the Sixers. They're good, yes, but are they really this good? They're four and half games up in their division, but can they really stay there? They might be a top four East team now, but are they really a contender? I think it's a bit easy to look at the roster, seeing no true stars and assume they're overachieving. And while maybe they are, the truth is, the roster is well constructed and every play knows and executes his role well. The lack of having true scoring might bite them at some point, but the 76ers have been an early season surprise. Not that they're good, but that they're this good.

GRADE: A

Boston Celtics (6-9)

The Celtics endured their longest losing streak in the Big 3 era, started seeing things unravel, are averaging less than 90 points per game and are three games under .500. Think they're happy with this start? The Celtics have done too much and have built enough credibility for us to start writing them off, but something has to start turning around. It's only been 15 games, but there haven't been any decided improvements to date. I think they're still going to be a playoff team, but the fact that's even a question should tell you all you need to know about their first quarter.

GRADE: D

New York Knicks (6-10)

There was this expectation that the Knicks were actually going to be a team contending for the East. That was a funny expectation. Because no matter the starpower you may have and the supposed defensive improvements you've made, you're not winning without at least decent point guard play. The Tyson Chandler signing seemed good at the time because it gave the Knicks help on the interior, but I think it's a legit question as to if this team would be better without Chandler and with Chauncey Billups. They're sitting on a six-game losing streak and are 6-10. The contender talk was premature, but they shouldn't be this bad.

GRADE: F

New Jersey Nets (5-12)

The Nets were dealt a really bad hand when Brook Lopez went down before the season even really started. It's kind of tough to rebound from losing your second best player. As a result, Deron Williams hasn't really played well and the team has steadily lost games. Really, the lone bright spot has been rookie MarShon Brooks who looks to be a fine scorer to have next to Williams in the backcourt. But the worse it gets for New Jersey, the more anxious the trade deadline will be. The good news though: They're only a game and a half behind the Knicks right now.

GRADE: D

Toronto Raptors (4-13)

A decent start gave a little hope in Toronto that maybe Dwane Casey's defensive and motivational tactics were going to be able to lift the Raptors a bit. And while they're playing better defense and Andrea Bargnani is finally realizing a bit of his potential, this is still a bad team. They've fallen to the bottom of the East, have lost eight straight and don't really seem to have a way out right now.

GRADE: D

Central Division

What, you expected anything less from the MVP? (Getty Images)
by Ben Golliver

Chicago (15-3)
 

The Bulls have taken care of business on and off the court, jumping out to the league’s best record and locking up Derrick Rose to a long-term extension. A Year 2 drop-off under the demanding Tom Thibodeau hasn’t materialized, as Chicago’s defense and rebounding numbers continue to be excellent. Nitpick Joakim Noah and preemptively wring your hands over Carlos Boozer in the playoffs if you must, but this is as good a team through the first month of the season as there is in the NBA.

GRADE: A+

Indiana (11-4)

It’s so nice when a plan actually comes together. The Pacers have one of the best fitting rosters 1-10 in the NBA, a carefully-constructed group that makes up for an absence of true starpower with hard work, excellent team defense and well above-average attention to detail on the glass. Axing Jim O’Brien for Frank Vogel is looking like one of the best under-the-radar moves league-wise, and Vogel should get some Coach of the Year buzz if the Pacers are able to deliver a top-4 seed in the East.

GRADE: A

Milwaukee (6-9)

When Jon Leuer is the best thing your franchise has going, it’s probably time to break out the amnesty clause and dynamite on the roster. A 2011 NBA Draft day trade brought a discontented Stephen Jackson and his baggage and not much else. The Bucks get hammered on the boards and have struggled mightily to score the ball for stretches this season. An upset this week of the Miami Heat was clearly the season’s highlight, and Milwaukee’s record will definitely improve once their home/road game imbalance evens out, but this is a treadmill of expensive mediocrity.

GRADE: C-

Cleveland (6-9)

After 15 games, Cleveland is percentage points away from being a playoff team, something no one saw coming entering the season. Rookie sensation Kyrie Irving deserves the lion’s share of the credit and it’s great to see Anderson Varejao back to double-double form. There are an unbelievable amount of truly awful teams in the Eastern Conference; being a cut above that flotsam through the first quarter of this season is a great first step for this rebuild, even if Cleveland falls off as the playoffs approach.

GRADE: B

Detroit (4-13)

A mish-mashed, talent-deficient roster and some questionable contracts during the free agency period kept expectations low entering the season. The Pistons are right on target to be terrible, in line for a top pick in what should be an excellent 2012 Draft crop. Greg Monroe has shown impressive growth and Brandon Knight is getting some meaningful seasoning but, once again, the end of the season can’t come soon enough.

GRADE: D

Southeast Division

Uncertainty around Dwight Howard hasn't stopped the Magic (Getty Images)
by Matt Moore

Orlando Magic (11-4)


Considering the entire organization is stuck with a gigantic scythe hanging over their heads (which Dwight Howard is holding while smiling away), they've done exceptionally well. They have big wins over the Lakers and Knicks, have improved play from Ryan Anderson, and are executing well on both sides of the ball. All this and Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson have been struggling. The Dwight Howard circus has only made them stronger, it seems, and the possibility of him being traded before the deadline seems awfully slim.

GRADE: A-

Atlanta Hawks (12-5)

You know the Hawks, I know the Hawks, we both know the Hawks. They are 8th in offensive efficiency, 5th in defensive efficiency, solid play all over, have overcome the loss of Al Horford, signature wins over the Heat and Bulls, signature losses to the same. Atlanta keeps plugging away, and will be in the top five of the East when all is said and done. They'll lose out in the second round, and the salary will still seem too much. But there's something to be said for playing professionally and winning, and the Hawks have done both despite losing Al Horford.

GRADE: B+

Miami Heat (11-5)

The Heat continue to be that student where if he or she applies his or herself, they can get the highest marks in class and set the curve. When they don't, they produce work that you post on the fridge in the teacher's lounge and make fun of, it's so bad. The offense looks better, right up until those final two minutes, and the defense is still great. There have been improvements all over the place for this team, despite some puzzling losses. 

GRADE: B+

Charlotte Bobcats (3-14)

The Bobcats have won just three times. Byron Mullens starts for them. They have some awful blowout losses on their roster. And yet, this team has a passing grade. Why? Because for what this team is supposed to be, they've played to expectations. They compete, they try out different, young players. They're not just trotting out veterans to try and cheap their way to a win. D.J. Augustin has played well, Gerald Henderson has played well, even Boris Diaw has played well at times. The Bobcats are rebuilding. It's painful, but it's also what has to happen. They're a train wreck headed on their way to the repair station. It counts that they're at least competing night to night.

GRADE C-

Washington Wizards (2-14)

And then there are teams that are train wrecks flying off the canyon. Lack of effort. Lack of cohesiveness. No fundamentals. Poor offense. Terrible defense. Bad decision-making. Players with big contracts who are booed by their own fans. Silliness. Flotsam. Jetsam. Barnum. Bailey. And their sister, Sue. This is the worst team in the league.

GRADE: F-

Southwest Division

The Grizzlies have rallied behind Rudy Gay. (Getty Images)
by Matt Moore

Memphis Grizzlies (9-6)


A terrible start to the year could have unhinged this team. Losing Zach Randolph was a disaster, Darrell Arthur a nightmare. Mike Conley going down was pretty much the death knell for them to start the season. They could have unhinged, broken apart, pointed fingers, gone solo, and fell into the dark. But the team got back to its identity as a scrappy team that kills you with options, hustle, and heart. It got itself right on the perimeter, Marc Gasol stepped up, and the Grizzlies lead the division. Lionel Hollins could coach his way out of an underwater prison chained to cement in shark-infested waters.

GRADE: B

San Antonio Spurs (10-7)

The Phoenix Suns have a better defensive efficiency than the Spurs do on Monday. But only six teams have a better offensive rating. Sound familiar? The Spurs have reverted back to their "score-a-lot-don't-defend" ways of last season. The wins are coming, slow and easy, and it's easy to see this team winning the division in a landslide. But it's also hard to see this team competing for a title if it doesn't buckle down and get back to the defense it showed the first two weeks of the season.

GRADE: B-

Dallas Mavericks (10-7)

Yuck. Talk about a hangover. The Mavericks' biggest issues are in conditioning. They're just not in great shape. They've all got injury issues, they haven't come together, and they are struggling to find an identity with the players they lost in free agency. There's time to get it right, and they've started to find ways to win. But this team looks like a shell of the one that took the Mavericks to the promised land.

GRADE: C+

Houston Rockets (9-7)

The Rockets are 7-1 at home and 2-6 on the road. They can seem like world beaters the first minute and a definite lottery team the next. It's maddening trying to understand what this team is and where it's going. But they've gotten it together enough to make a run and look to be as in the race as any team in this wacko division. 

GRADE: B-

New Orleans Hornets (3-13)

They give some fight, but the talent isn't there. Injuries have wrecked them, and the team is more than aware it is now a team of castoffs. The new players were castoff to get Chris Paul, the old players were castoff by Chris Paul. Tanking is what's best for this team, but they're still well coached. They just don't have the weapons to get it done.

GRADE: C-

Northwest Division

Durant and the Thunder are right where they should be. (Getty Images)
by Ben Golliver

Oklahoma City Thunder (13-3)


The slip up against the Washington Wizards was both memorable and regrettable, but OKC has otherwise been clicking on all cylinders to start the season. It doesn’t come as a surprise, given how aggressively Kevin Durant and company attacked the lockout. If you’re handicapping the West, it sure looks like “Thunder or the field” already, which is scary given the youth of their core. Did I mention that they locked up an All-Star point guard for the next half decade?

GRADE: A+

Denver Nuggets (12-5)

Denver is leading the league in pace while protecting the basketball at a better than league average rate and the up-tempo approach under speedster point guard Ty Lawson is currently producing a top-3 offense. Lawson should be an All-Star this season and not even some disgruntled comments from Andre Miller have thrown off a Nuggets team that continues to surge after moving Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks at the deadline. Depth, youth, energy and talent: it’s all there. Given the loss of multiple rotation guys to China, it wasn’t supposed to be this smooth. 

GRADE: A

Utah Jazz (10-5)

Arguably the NBA’s biggest first quarter surprise, the Jazz have found success thanks to a favorable home/road schedule so far and a compete-every-night roster that allows coach Tyrone Corbin to go deep into his bench. The Al Jefferson / Paul Millsap tandem has thrived so far. There are clearly questions about whether this is sustainable but after the ugliness of last season, Jazz fans are playing with house money in what was expected to be a rebuilding gap year. 

GRADE: A-

Portland Trail Blazers (9-7)

A hot start, fueled by Rose Garden success, raised expectations for a potential playoff run, but the Blazers have issues: poor shooting, lack of frontcourt depth, ball control at the point guard position, and a continuing minutes crunch that keeps Nicolas Batum on the outside looking in. Assuming Raymond Felton picks up his atrocious play as the season wears on, the Blazers should be a lower-seeded playoff team, but it will take a superhuman series from LaMarcus Aldridge or Gerald Wallace to prevent yet another postseason one-and-done.

GRADE: C

Minnesota Timberwolves (7-9)

Thanks to the arrival of Ricky Rubio and the return of a fit Kevin Love, Minnesota has transformed into the Land of the 10,000 eternal-hope-springing Lakes. A consensus pick for “one of the most fun teams to watch” Minnesota could be a +.500 team already if not for some early season slip-ups. It’s only fair to grade this significant progress under new coach Rick Adelman on a curve compared to previous years of pathetic play and inept management.

GRADE: B+

Pacific Division

Is Chris Paul the new king of L.A.? (Getty Images)
by Royce Young

Los Angeles Clippers (9-5)


You know what's funny? The fact the Clippers are atop the Pacific Division, firmly in the top eight of the West and it still feels like they've underachieved a bit. That's weird, right? The Clips have played well through the first quarter, have a few statement wins with their five losses coming against quality opponents, but just a +1.3 point differential and some obvious issues within the rotation and some of the decision-making coming from the bench make it feel like the Clippers could've done better in the opening couple weeks. But then again, the Clippers are in first place! 

GRADE: A

Los Angeles Lakers (10-8)

At first we were all like, "The Lakers are falling apart," and then we were all like, "The Lakers are the best in the West!" and now we're all like, "Man, I don't know about the Lakers." They started 0-2, then won nine of their next 13, but now have dropped three straight. A 10-8 mark isn't good enough for the Lakers, and it's definitely doesn't feel right they're looking up at their roommates in the division. The Lakers are having serious problems scoring the ball (averaging just 92.3 ppg and haven't scored at least 100 points since Jan. 3) and lack depth. They are still good, but it's going to be a bit of a bumpy ride it appears.

GRADE: B

Phoenix Suns (6-9)

The frustrating thing with the Suns is when they beat teams like Portland or New York or Boston and you wonder, maybe this team isn't THAT bad. And then you look at their 10-man rotation and see that other than Steve Nash and Grant Hill, who collectively could be World War II vets, that this team just isn't good. Six wins in 15 tries is probably overachieving which isn't what they should be doing. They should be preparing to set dynamite to it all and doing the right thing and freeing Steve Nash to go play somewhere where it matters.

GRADE: D+

Sacramento Kings (6-11)

It's been an eventful quarter for the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins already had a couple issues, Paul Westphal got fired, Jimmer Mania has been trumped by Rubio Fever and the Kings are a pretty bad team. I honestly was a little surprised when I looked at their record and saw they had six wins. They have won two of three though with victories against the Spurs and Pacers (before getting demolished by Memphis), so maybe there's a page being turned. Maybe.

GRADE: C-

Golden State Warriors (5-10)

Sometimes, a full on culture change doesn't just happen overnight. Shocking, right? Mark Jackson has worked to get his Warriors to defend and while they're a little better in terms of points per game allowed (99.4), they're still in the bottom third of the league in defensive efficiency. Basically, they're just playing slower (14th in pace) and are trying to make their defense defend fewer possessions. They've been without Stephen Curry for a lot of the season though and have really strange wins over the Bulls, Heat and Knicks, but are losing games they shouldn't. They really don't look all that different to me. It's hard to change culture without changing personnel. And that might be the next move for owner Joe Lacob and company.

GRADE: C
 
 
 
 
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