A Midseason Review of the NBA
We’ve just passed the halfway mark of the NBA season, so let’s check in with each team and possibly update some predictions.
Detroit Pistons (17-23, 9th in Eastern Conference)
It’s safe to say Detroit has had a disappointing season so far. I truly thought Dwayne Casey would push this team over the hump, but while their amazing frontcourt of Griffin and Drummond has dazzled, the rest of the team seems to have lost its fire from last year (the loss of Ish Smith for over a month certainly hasn’t helped). Reggie Jackson has failed to take over as a leader at the point guard position, and Detroit’s search for a true wing continues as Stanley Johnson looks more and more like a lost cause. Because the East is so bad (as usual), they could squeak into the Playoffs, but it will take some individuals (Luke Kennard?) stepping up to get them there.
Denver Nuggets (28-12, 1st in Western Conference)
Okay, I think we can all admit the Nuggets are for real now. Do I expect them to hold off the Warriors for the one seed? Heck no, but they’ve been mighty impressive and have even proven they can beat Golden State, which is all that matters in the Western Conference. Jamal Murray is coming into his own as a young leader and Nikola Jokic has replaced (for now) Kristaps Porzingis as the Unicorn at the center position (I mean what kind of center average 7.6 assists per game?!). The starters look great even without Gary Harris (who is close to returning), and the ever-improving bench will get a huge lift (if and) when IT hits the court.
Philadelphia 76ers (27-16, 4th in Eastern Conference)
Does Markelle Fultz even exist anymore? Either way, the Sixers are rolling with Jimmy Butler, but they’ve found some stiffer competition atop the East this year. As long as this team can continue to develop their chemistry and maybe add a bench piece, they should stick around the four-three seed range like last year.
Phoenix Suns (10-33, 15th in Western Conference)
They’re rebuilding, what do you expect? DeAndre Ayton has lived up to his hype and Devin Booker continues to improve, and I really love the addition of Kelly Oubre Jr. They have a lot of young guys (Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, De’Anthony Melton, T.J Warren) developing really quickly, and they are starting to build a team identity. They won’t compete this year, but if they continue to develop at this pace we might see them rising in future years.
Toronto Raptors (32-12, 1st in Eastern Conference)
“I always tell myself they’re not the best team in the East and then they grab the one seed…” I said this in my preview of this NBA season, and it’s true once again. With Kawhi Leonard in Toronto now, I really do believe in the Raptor’s postseason chances (though Drake isn’t going to help). Their young bench players have developed into starters (Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam) but they remain dizzyingly deep. Their defense is as suffocating as ever and Nick NUrse has improved the offense to a point where this team can truly compete with anyone...looks like another one seed in The Six.
Memphis Grizzlies (19-22, 14th in Western Conference)
Just a few weeks ago I would’ve praised this team (by which I mean Mike Conley) for driving themselves back into contention, but a really poor stretch of play has them a few games under .500. They are still very much in it (three games behind the eight-seed Lakers), but with Dillon Brooks out for the season now and the Kelly Oubre trade, it seems as if Memphis is not pushing too hard to get there. They finally bought out Chandler Parsons which was good but barring any acquisitions they probably will not see the Playoffs.
Washington Wizards (18-25, 10th in Eastern Conference)
Oh how the...mediocre….have fallen. John Wall is out for the season so at least we’ll get to see Bradley Beal go solo-mode, but the turmoil in D.C clearly rotted away this team’s core and they are in a worse position than ever. Honestly if I was the Wizards, I would hope Beal plays out of his mind and raises his trade value enough to help with the rebuild Washington needs. They’ll be sitting around where they are now (if not a little lower) for the remainder of the season.
Sacramento Kings (21-21, 10th in Western Conference)
Whoa. The Kings have actually been legit this year. De’Aaron Fox has continued to shoot towards stardom and Buddy Hield is playing like he did in college. Their big men are meshing really well and forming one of the better frontcourts out there (at least one of the better young ones), but they still are lacking in the wing department (though Bogdan Bogdanovic provides a nice scoring lift). The West feels too talented to let a team like this sneak into the Playoffs, but you can never discount the hunger of a young and underestimated team.
Milwaukee Bucks (29-12, 2nd in Eastern Conference)
Can we please just cut the crap and give Giannis the MVP? You can argue they are more high-power stars out there who deserve it more solely because their age, but the Bucks are SECOND in the East due to the Greek Freak’s best season yet. He is literally unstoppable...I don’t know that Milwaukee will drop from this spot, as they look so much more mature and complete than last year and I believe they are better than Indiana and Philly (for now…). Boston is on the periphery but the Bucks should finish top-three.
San Antonio Spurs (25-18, 7th in Western Conference)
Well, I got this one wrong. Should’ve known better than to question the Almighty Pop...DeMar Derozan is a perfect fit and has played better than ever, and we all know what LaMarcus Aldridge is capable of. They may be thin at guard but they have overcome it, so I would expect maybe a pickup or two before the Trade Deadline passes. This team has the heart and enough talent to stick around in the crowded West.
Cleveland Cavaliers (8-35, 15th in Eastern Conference)
Yikes...I talked up the combination of Rodney Hood and Jordan Clarkson, but Hood’s numbers are down and Clarkson hasn’t done much outside of score (a category in which he is rather inefficient even). Obviously it hurts that their best player, Kevin Love, went out early and seems to be out indefinitely, but with so many young guys (none of whom have particularly stepped up) you can see why Cleveland is occupying the cellar (and why they’ll stay there).
Oklahoma City Thunder (25-16, 3rd in Western Conference)
Was I right about Melo or what? He joins Houston and they struggle, meanwhile the team he left in Oklahoma City has flourished. Russ, Paul George and Steven Adams form a great Big Three similar to the KD days, and that trio has been especially boosted by George's return to pre-leg injury form. Their defense looks strong, the offense is cruising; now if only they could get Russ to stop shooting threes … either way, they should stick around the top of the West.
Chicago Bulls (10-32, 13th in Eastern Conference)
I think Zach Lavine has proven he can score … however, he doesn’t show a ton of discipline, mainly on the defensive end where most of these young Bulls players struggle. But hey: they’re young, they’re talented, and they can score. Throw in a few years of maturation and some top picks and you get a team that should emerge from the cocoon of this rebuild as a beautiful butterfly. As for now they’re in full-tank mode, and they’ve done a nice job of that.
New Orleans Pelicans (20-22, 11th in Western Conference)
It’s the Anthony Davis Show again, though I will say Jrue Holiday has been a freakin’ stud on offense this season. Julius Randle and Nikola Mirotic have formed an amazing power forward combo, but New Orleans still lacks a true wing. Elfrid Payton has been effective as a point guard when healthy and the Pels just look better when he plays, so as he continues to play in return from injury the team should improve. I want to say they will fill their classic seven-eight seed hole but the West looks real tough this year...
Orlando Magic (17-24, 11th in Eastern Conference)
The Magic have been steadily improving, and I honestly think they have the talent to squeeze into the Eastern Playoffs. However, they have absolutely no backcourt and just about everyone (save for renewed beast Nikola Vucevic) has seen their numbers drop. If just a few guys could return to form Orlando would shoot up the weak East standings. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up a guard or two either...
Minnesota Timberwolves (20-22, 13th in Western Conference)
Well, it got ugly, and Jimmy Butler was shipped out to Philadelphia. He leaves behind Andrew Wiggins (still hasn’t capitalized on his potential but will be interesting to watch at SG under new coach Ryan Saunders), Karl Anthony-Towns (has lived up to his potential but can’t lead a team) and Derrick Rose (clearly the MVP because why not?). Seriously though, I love what D-Rose has done this season, and you could argue he is holding this team together. Robert Covington helped lift this woeful team to a top defense before he went out with injury, but Dario Saric has had reduced production with his reduced minutes. They have the talent, but with no clear leadership and a new head coach I don’t see them moving up much in the standings.
Indiana Pacers (28-14, 3rd in Eastern Conference)
Them and the Bucks have gotten over the hump this year, though I will say I see Indiana as a more well-rounded team. Domantas Sabonis has had a great season in tandem with Victor Oladipo, and Tyreke Evans has been as-advertised off the bench (though I maintain he would be so much better utilized in a larger role). Remember, this is a team that pushed LeBron’s Cavs in last year’s Playoffs, and they’ve nothing to disprove the notion that they can compete with the big boys in the East. They should keep this up and ride high into the Playoffs with a better seed.
Golden State Warriors (28-14, 2nd in Western Conference)
“They won last year, they’ll win this year. See you in June.” ―Nate Charles 2018.
Boston Celtics (25-16, 5th in Eastern Conference)
Well, they’re certainly healthy, but their record doesn’t really reflect that. Everyone is playing fine, they just haven’t meshed at the level of a topflight team. I still believe they’re a top-two talent in the East, and when all is said and done I would expect the standings to reflect that.
Los Angeles Lakers (23-20, 8th in Western Conference)
The Lakers have actually performed right around expectations, though the recent injury to LeBron James has slowed them considerably (as would be expected). When LeBron comes back, the Lakers will probably remain around the six-seven-eight seed mark, but I don’t see them missing the Playoffs simply because LeBron has proven he can carry this team.
Brooklyn Nets (21-23, 7th in Eastern Conference)
Well looky here...despite losing the blossoming Caris Levert, the Nets have remained competitive this year due to a horde of youngsters stepping up, especially in the backcourt. Should the current roster continue to play at this level, Brooklyn will become very interesting with the returns of Levert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Kenny Atkinson may be piecing it together with this team, and in a weak East they could easily stick around the lower end of the Playoffs (barring a return to tanking).
Portland Trail Blazers (26-17, 4th in Western Conference)
I swear this team has not changed at all in the past few years. Once again, Dame and C.J are carrying the load, but once again the Blazers find themselves in the top half of the Western Playoff race (they finished with the three seed last year). I will say Al-Farouq Aminu has been a great role player for them, and Jusuf Nurkic continues to be one of the best all-around centers in the game, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a squad that plays better as a team than Portland. If they could pick up some wing talent at the deadline, they’d put themselves in a nice position to remain where they are, but if not they risk falling a few spots.
Charlotte Hornets (19-22, 8th in Eastern Conference)
It’s been more of the same for Charlotte this season, though at least Miles Bridges’ dunks are entertaining. They continue to be as mediocre as possible while Kemba Walker continues to be as spectacular as possible, and I’m losing all hope that the Hornets can ever improve. Nicolas Batum’s production has steadily dropped and they still are without a legitimate frontcourt. I think it would be in Charlotte’s best interest to tank and draft a big man, but if not then they’d better hope half their roster has career years. Yet once again, we see the weakness of the East, meaning Charlotte could stick around at the eight or seven spot.
Utah Jazz (22-21, 9th in Western Conference)
What is going on in Utah? I’ll tell you what: Donovan Mitchell is woefully inefficient, Joe Ingles has taken a big step back from his career year and Derrick Favors just isn’t the same guy anymore. They still have a great defense, but apart from Kyle Korver their offense has been lacking, especially in the efficiency department. It doesn’t help that anchor Ricky Rubio has not been running the point as he rehabs, but even with Rubio this team appears to have gone backwards after a surprising run last season. Barring a hot streak, the Jazz are likely to either snag one of the final Playoff spots or narrowly miss it.
New York Knicks (10-32, 14th in Eastern Conference)
It has been ugly, though what can you expect? Kevin Knox has played excellent for a rookie and looks to be a good building block for the future, but this team has really felt the absence of Porzingis. Tim Hardaway Jr., while a capable scorer, has been forced to take on too large a role in the offense and as a result his efficiency is way down. They’ll get a top pick, and if Porzingod comes back strong they could start trending up soon.
Houston Rockets (24-17, 6th in Western Conference)
As much a struggle as the Warriors may have had, the Rockets look much worse. They’ve climbed back into relevancy due to James Harden scoring 70 points every night, but at some point he will slow down or get cold, and when he does there’s no one behind him to support the team. They sorely need Chris Paul to return, but even then they have no defense and no wings, so I wouldn’t expect them to move up really at all.`54
Miami Heat (20-20, 6th in Eastern Conference)
Just like always, the Heat are right at .500, and in this year’s East that’s plenty good. Their young core continues to develop and this team looks like it can stick around for awhile. They’ve been held back by a good amount of injuries and Goran Dragic appears to be out for a long time, but with the rest of the team looking healthy the Heat can compete. When Dragic returns, I would expect them to nudge a little over that .500 mark, but until then they’ll toe the line comfortably.
Dallas Mavericks (20-22, 12th in Western Conference)
LUKA FREAKIN’ DONCIC. The Mavs are ahead of schedule thanks to the Slovenian Superstar, but of course it would be rash to expect them to compete this year. With Dirk on his way out which means it’s time to beef up the depth in the frontcourt. Honestly, this team has played really well and looks to have a bright future, just not quite this year. They’ll most likely stay around where they are now.
Atlanta Hawks (13-29, 12th in Eastern Conference)
I didn’t expect it to be quite this...lousy...but at least the Hawks are fostering some serious young talent. They are building good depth behind a developing starting five, but after watching a few games it’s clear they are a ways off. They won’t climb out of this hole, but this is another team that has a great outlook.
Los Angeles Clippers (24-17, 5th in Western Conference)
How about another over performing team? The West seems to be full of them this year (meanwhile in the East…) Tobias Harris is really coming into his own, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has played great for a rookie. Montrezl Harrell has become a dominant starting big and Danilo Gallinari has bounced back in a big way from a down year, but they still lack depth in the frontcourt. While I do love this team, I don’t know how long they can hold onto this perch, so I would expect them to drop a few spots by the time the Playoffs roll around, though they will definitely be a part of them.
P.S: I know I bashed the Eastern Conference a lot in this post, and that’s honestly because it deserves that. HOWEVER, I am NOT a supporter of the “best 16 teams” Playoff structure. After all, that’s what makes the East so magical; even a team five games under could easily make it into bonus play.