By: Isaac Gillen, KCOU Sports
It’s that time of the year again, professors are handing out midterms and the NBA season is into its final stretch before the playoffs. March Madness takes some eyes and ears off the league, but some teams might welcome that. I’m here to grade all 30 NBA teams up to this point.
Atlanta Hawks- (47-12) A+
Wrote extensively about these guys a few weeks ago, but what more can you say about the biggest surprise in the NBA. Jeff Teague’s even admitted they surprised themselves. Atlanta has the East’s one seed in a vice grip and doesn’t look to relinquish hold of it down the stretch.
Boston Celtics- (23-33) B+
Don’t look at the standings or anything but Boston is in prime position to snatch the 8 seed in the East if they want it. Although Jared Sullinger was just announced to be out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, the Celtics looked to bolster their middling offense with the addition of Isaiah Thomas. They have the best chance to make the 8 seed unless Paul George comes back quicker and healthier than expected for Indiana.
Brooklyn Nets- (24-33) D+
Brooklyn is currently the lucky holder of that not so coveted 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. Basically they chose GM Billy King over Jason Kidd last summer and it has cost them dearly. Clearly, Kidd is a solid NBA coach and should’ve been given the opportunity to be GM. Billy King has run the franchise so far over the tax line, filing chapter 7 bankruptcy wouldn’t get them under the tax. The only talk going into the trade deadline was “Brook Lopez will be moved”. King had multiple offers from several different sources, and didn’t get anything done as he watched the Jazz steal the trade right out from under them with Enes Kanter. The only belief I have that the Nets will make the playoffs is that the basketball gods may smile on the fact that they were willing to send KG back to Minnesota. (Smartest move Billy King has ever made by the way, got Thad Young back for him).
Charlotte Hornets- (23-33) C-
What a terrible follow-up to the previous season. The Hornets rose from the Bobcats ashes fresh off their second playoff berth in history and came out flatter than ever. The Lance Stephenson signing was a flop. But Cody Zeller is much improved from last year and this team still plays solid defense in Steve Clifford’s scheme. Another East team poised to make the 8 spot if they can string together some wins.
Chicago Bulls- (37-22) B+
The 2 seed in the East (for as long as Cleveland takes to top them) has their work cut out for them down the stretch. Derrick Rose (Brandon Roy?) suffered another meniscus tear in his right knee and will be sidelined for at least a month. This just to go along with a rash of other injuries Chicago has had to deal with this season. Dunleavy, McDermott, Rose, Noah and Jimmy Butler all missed swaths of time due to injuries. Some people believe Thibodeau runs his best players into the ground, playing them excessive minutes. It’s beginning to look like that strategy has hurt the Bulls more than helped. The play of Pau Gasol, along with Nikola Mirotic has been a huge reason why the Bulls have appeared to remain unbothered by their rash of injuries.
Cleveland Cavaliers- (37-23) A-
We all knew LeBron would eventually remind us that, “oh yeah I’m the king of the basketball universe at the moment, maybe I should act like it.” All it took was a little sabbatical and some public demeaning of Kevin Love to whip this team into championship contending form. They will be the 2 seed in the East, you can put that in stone.
Dallas Mavericks- (39-22) B
This team will likely lose in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Whether it be to Houston, Memphis, or Portland. The Mavs did the best they could in getting Rajon Rondo and trying to shore up their porous defense but had to give up Tyson Chandler Jr. (Brandan Wright) to do it. Sad day for me to say this, but Dirk doesn’t look like he’s bound to get his second ring.
Denver Nuggets- (20-38) D
This is the darkest timeline of my Nuggets fandom. I’ve never been so excited for a season to be over. Thinking positively now on these guys, Jusuf Nurkic shows a ton of potential if he can cut down on fouls and Gallo appears to have his confidence back. If the Nuggets can land a top 5 pick in the draft and can fix their rotation come next fall, they could be the 2013-2014 Phoenix Suns. They got rid of JaVale but had to give up a pick to do it and replaced Afflalo with Will Barton. To the lottery!
Detroit Pistons- (23-36) C-
I actually like what Detroit has done so far as moves this season. Josh Smith had to go, although cutting him and his huge salary isn’t worth it from a GM standpoint. Bringing Tayshaun Prince back didn’t carry the same weight as KG to Minnesota but nevertheless NOSTALGIA! Trading DJ Augustin for Reggie Jackson is interesting. DJ was playing great and Reggie Jackson is basically a homeless man’s Russell Westbrook. I think Stan Van has another move or two he has in mind this offseason to put together a roster he likes. Again, if Detroit hadn’t suffered an injury to (the new and improved) Brandon Jennings, they might not have pulled that Reggie Jackson trigger and would be attempting to make the 8 seed out East. Side note: Is DJ Augustin the Juan Pierre of the NBA or is it Aaron Brooks? (Shout out to Juan on the retirement!)
Golden State Warriors- (45-11) A+
Draymond Green emerged as one of the league’s top defensive forwards. Oh and Klay Thompson and Steph Curry continued their pure hatred for nets. No one thought Steve Kerr would be this much of an improvement over Mark Jackson, but alas. First in this year’s West is the equivalent of Russell Crowe in Gladiator.
Houston Rockets- (40-18) A
The “James Harden” Beard deserves MVP more than anyone right now. Without Dwight Howard, Harden has not only kept the Rockets afloat in the brutal West but has pushed them up to third place. Would’ve given the Rockets an A+ because I loved the KJ McDaniels trade, but the Josh Smith acquisition was a little baffling because of their offense (In James they trust I guess). Now if they can avoid the pesky Spurs they should be able to make some headway in the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. Congrats to Daryl Morey for getting girls in high school by the way.
Indiana Pacers- (23-34) B-
That grade is based almost solely on the coaching ability of Frank Vogel. Wow, to have the poop platter of a roster he had to coach them into the playoffs would be huge for the franchise. Especially if Paul George comes back, they could be the most dangerous 8 seed since…OKC of this year. (Who says the NBA playoffs aren’t fun!)
Los Angeles Clippers- (38-21) B-
They’ve steered the course despite losing Blake Griffin for a month to a staph infection in his arm. They also have maintained their spot in the middle of the West despite having zero two way shooting guards or small forwards. The Spencer Hawes signing wasn’t what it was expected to be and Doc Rivers the GM is not helping Doc Rivers the coach by going out and getting his son. Hack-a-Jordan is still one of the biggest eyesores of the NBA game.
Los Angeles Lakers- (16-41) D+
Really the Lakers are only playing to keep that top-5 protected pick out of Philly’s hands this year. Byron Scott has admitted his disdain for analytics and the three point shot repeatedly throughout the season. Swaggy P for better or definitely worse is the new face of the hallowed Lakers franchise. Get well soon Spielberg (Kobe)!
Memphis Grizzlies- (42-16) A
Grit-n-grind has been a force all year. My only worries with this team are that they still haven’t suffered a major injury to anyone. Also they have been aligned to matchup with the Spurs for weeks which despite Memphis’ success against them in the playoffs the past few seasons, never bodes well for any team. They did great to get Jeff Green for Tayshaun Prince and keep Kosta Koufos. If they can avoid the Spurs they could really make a run at the Finals.
Miami Heat- (25-33) B
The Heat haven’t looked great. Chalmers and Cole really wet the bed this season. And the godfather Pat Riley replaced Cole with Goran and Zoran Dragic. Chris Bosh’s lung issues derailed all talks of Miami making a run at the Eastern Finals within 24 hours after the trade deadline brought those talks to the table. If Wade can muster 2 more playoff series they could easily find themselves in the Eastern Finals (assuming they avoided the Cavs somehow).
Milwaukee Bucks- (32-27) B+
I would’ve given the Bucks an A but I was extremely confused by the Michael Carter Williams for Brandon Knight deal. Yes, Knight would be a free agent after this season where MCW has 2 years left on his deal, but Knight is a much more productive player and really found his niche in Kidd’s offense. If Larry Sanders hadn’t suffered anxiety and depression issues this team might have a serious chance to upset someone in the first round in the East. The Greek Freak has progressed nicely. The team is on the up and up, but needs to hold on to its young talent to continue that growth this offseason.
Minnesota Timberwolves- (13-45) C-
The reason I won’t dump on Minnesota for being the second worst team in the league is that they made a great trade this offseason. The haul they got for Kevin Love was huge, Andrew Wiggins is going to be a star in this league in a few short years. Zach Lavine is one of the most explosive young talents in the league. Bringing in Kevin Garnett is also huge for veteran presence in this young locker room. Flip Saunders has one more year as coach before he should be put on the hot seat as he plays his best players the same amount as Thibodeau.
New Orleans Pelicans- (31-27) B
You can’t blame them for not making the playoffs in this vicious Western Conference. Especially when you factor in all the time Jrue Holliday, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis have missed. This team was right where they were supposed to be, contending for a playoff spot. If Davis continues to progress and they can stay healthy they may find themselves on the right side of the playoffs come this time next year.
New York Knicks- (12-46) D-
The Knicks have been so pitilessly awful that Anthony Mason couldn’t bear it any longer (RIP Mase). You can say Melo’s injuries are the issue here, but this team other than Carmelo would be doing a disservice to the term dumpster fire. Only reason they don’t get an F is that Phil Jackson finally started clearing out cap space.
Oklahoma City Thunder- (32-27) A-
Would’ve graded them much more harshly if Russell Westbrook didn’t just put on an Oscar Robertson mask for the past month. He deserves to be in the MVP talk with Harden, Curry, and James. For his work carrying this team through tough slogs and pushing them into the playoffs with sheer will and determination, he certainly deserves votes. Then you remember we aren’t talking about the second best player on the planet because he’s been hurt most of the season. Would’ve given them a B, but Sam Presti made some shrewd moves to shore up OKC’s weak bench. The Thunder will be the most dangerous 8 seed of all time.
Orlando Magic- (19-41) D+
The Magic are bad, there’s no getting around that. But if they can develop all of the young talent on this roster the way Oladipo and Vucevic have progressed, they could see themselves competing for a spot in the playoffs in no time. Firing Jacque Vaughn was the best move they made so far this year. The man was playing Willie Green big minutes when they have 4 young guards who need minutes to develop. If they make the right hire of coach next season could see drastic improvement.
Philadelphia 76ers- (13-45) D-
WHAT ARE YOU DOING HINKIE!? The Sixers appear patient enough to compete for a title in the window 2050-2055. He traded away two of his three assets that are alive to amass Javale McGee’s salary (to get above the salary floor with two months to go in the season) Isaiah Canaan and a first and second round pick. KJ McDaniels was probably Philadelphia’s best player this season. Him and reigning Rookie of the Year winner Michael Carter-Williams are both gone now. Hinkie has amassed four first round and five second round picks in this year’s upcoming draft. Three of those are protected pretty heavily this year but that number is still insane. Philly fans just hope there is a method to Hinkie’s hijinks.
Phoenix Suns- (31-29) D+
Ryan McDonough might’ve got a little too big for his britches as he boasted about trading players who “weren’t our best player”. Goran Dragic was in fact their best player and Isaiah Thomas probably was their fourth best player. The Suns are fighting for playoff lives like everyone else in the West, but after last year’s success you’d figure they would be able to sneak into the back end of the West playoffs. Sure Eric Bledsoe is a great player, but Dragic was putting up solid numbers before McDonough decided they needed two more point guards who needed the ball. I can see why Dragic didn’t trust him. Which is why I don’t trust them going forward.
Portland Trailblazers- (38-19) A-
The Blazers made a great move in acquiring Arron Afflalo to try and diminish the lack of shooting they had on the wing since Nic Batum forgot how to shoot. But with Aldridge pushing surgery on his finger to the offseason you have to wonder how far he and Lillard can take these Blazers.
Sacramento Kings- (20-36) F
Completely botched this entire season. Bill Simmons said it best last year that he thought the crazy new owner theory meant the Kings would make some rash win-now decisions. DeMarcus Cousins started the season as the NBA’s best big man and a likely MVP candidate as Sacramento got off to a hot start. Next thing we know the Kings fire head coach Mike Malone and put the reigns in the hands of the bumbling Ty Corbin. Corbin lost 21 of 28 games on his way to being fired and removing Sacramento from any hope of the playoffs. The Kings looked like they could be a playoff contender in November and a top 5 pick contender by January. They hired George Karl which would have been great for a team with a bunch of young athletic wings and not a horde of slow it down pound it inside bigs like Cousins.
San Antonio Spurs- (36-23) A? B? D? (B-)
Copy and paste any hot takes about the Spurs being old or this year being the end of the road for Pop, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs, while struggling and seemingly failing the eye test, are in the same position they need to be in to make a run. Injuries have caught up with the World Champs. Tony Parker and Leonard have both missed significant time. But the cyborg that is Tim Duncan has kept them in the hunt. They are poised to move into the fifth seed if they can put together a good stretch run. NEVER DOUBT SAN ANTONIO!
Toronto Raptors- (37-22) B-
Easy scheduling and all-star play from Kyle Lowry jumped Toronto out to a fast start in the East. Since the month of December though things have not been so sweet. Derozan has missed time with injury and Masai Ujiri didn’t make a move to help the frontcourt. The Raptors should be the three seed if they can fend off Chicago for it.
Utah Jazz- (23-35) C+
Utah has done pretty well for itself of late, getting rid of Kanter for cap space was a nice move. Injuries to their guards have hurt their young core’s development, but Gordon Hayward continues to make the leap.
Washington Wizards- (34-26) B-
A tale of two halves, Washington was one of the most exciting teams in the league in the first half. That despite not having Bradley Beal for most of that stretch. Since then though it has been a lot of downhill for the Wizards. John Wall’s numbers have declined and Marcin Gortat is no longer playing in the fourth quarter. Head coach Randy Wittman is on the hot seat and the Wizards are on a slide. They can still have the three seed if they can put it together in the coming weeks, but if the season ended tomorrow I would bet money against these guys.
So for those of you keeping track at home, that is 7 A’s, 11 B’s, 4 C’s, 7 D’s and 1 F. Bringing our league wide GPA to a reputable 2.533. This season has been discussed as being one of the best regular seasons in league history, and I am inclined to agree. Let’s just hope that Finals Week (The Playoffs) are just as exciting. Let’s also hope the GM’s, owners, coaches, and players (like all of us) do their homework and study hard. Happy viewing NBA fans!