Atlanta Hawks: C-. The Hawks spent alot of money this offseason adding Rajon Rondo, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Danillo Gallinari in the offseason and it seemed like it was playoff or bust for Lloyd Pierce and the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have improved (their net rating has increased by 7.7 points per 100 possessions from last year) but they still currently sit at the 11 seed in the East and at times their lack of effort makes them downright terrible to watch. The only thing keeping the Hawks away from a D grade has been the emergence of Deandre Hunter who is averaging 17.2 points per game and shooting over 51% from the field.
Boston Celtics: C. Public perception is an interesting thing, if the Celtics had been a rebuilding team rather than a contender the last couple years I think Celtics fans would be delighted with what we’ve seen this season. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are 24 and 22 years old respectively and both are averaging over 25 points per game this year and look like bonafide superstars. Unfortunately the rest of the roster construction has been botched and the Celtics (at the time this was written) sit 6th in the East with a 15-15 record. If you’re a Celtics fan, just enjoy the emergence of your 2 young superstars and hope that the front office can put some better pieces around them.
Brooklyn Nets: A. The Nets found a way to acquire James Harden without giving away Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant and now are a top contender to win the finals. The Nets have had some inexplicable losses and have played horrible defense against some pretty weak offenses, but last weeks west coast road trip (without Kevin Durant) showed that the Nets are true championship contenders. The Nets are scoring an outrageous 118.6 points per 100 possessions and truly might be unstoppable on that end of the floor when fully healthy. At the trade deadline the Nets could use another big to matchup with Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Anthony Davis.
Charlotte Hornets: A-. LaMelo Ball looks like a future all star and has raised the level of play from other recent Hornets draft picks like Miles Bridges and PJ Washington. The Hornets got clowned for the contracts they gave to Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier and both guys are averaging over 20 points per game this year. I’m really not sure how this season could be going any better for the Charlotte Hornets. Bottomline these Hornets are fun as hell and for a Charlotte franchise that has been irrelevant throughout most of its existence that is enough. The Hornets are currently 8th in the Eastern conference and have the potential to steal a game or 2 from the Easts top seeds in a first round series.
Chicago Bulls: B-. Zach LaVine is awesome and the Bulls have some good young players but when you watch this team it just feels like they are missing something. The Bulls received a fairly positive mark because they are still in the thick of a playoff race despite only 3 players starting more than 20 games for them (LaVine, Coby White, and Patrick Williams). With so many injuries the last 2 years we haven’t really seen this young core together for a long stretch of time, hopefully the remaining stretch of season gives us more data points pointing to the ceiling of this Bulls team.
Cleveland Cavaliers: D-. The Cavaliers are the worst team in the NBA by a pretty wide stretch (their net rating of -9.7 is the worst in the NBA by 2.5 points) but at least Cavs fans will always have that comeback win over the Nets. The Cavs have lost 10 games in a row and none of them have been particularly close. If the Cavs do have the top pick let’s hope that the empty stats of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland don’t deter them from taking Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs. The Cavaliers should be sellers at the deadline and it’ll be interesting to see if they get positive return on players like Andre Drummond and Larry Nance.
Detroit Pistons: C-. The Detroit Pistons aren’t very good, but like the Charlotte Hornets they are fun as hell. This team has been a breath of fresh air for Pistons fans as they actually enjoy playing with each other and have had some close calls against the leagues best teams. It stinks that we missed out on the rookie season of Killian Hayes but Saddiq Bey looks like one of the steals of the draft. It is still dumbfounding why this team just gave up on retaining Christian Wood but Jerami Grant has stepped up and is the current favorite for Most Improved. Exec. Troy Weaver looked pretty competent in his first offseason so it will be interesting to see how he builds up this Pistons team.
Indiana Pacers: B-. The Pacers aren’t any different than they have been in past years and it’s unlikely to me that they make it out of the first round. Damontas Sabonis and Myles Turner are both individually good but struggle to fit together. Maybe a potential Caris LeVert return can turn things around but this Pacers season seems destined to end in the same fashion as Pacers seasons of past.
Miami Heat: D. Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic, and Jimmy Butler have all missed time, but as deep as the Heat are it shouldn’t have been this catastrophic. Coming off a finals appearance the Heat are 14-17 and 10th place in the downtrodden East. As a team the Heat are hitting 35% of their 3’s after hitting 38% a year ago during their finals run. Their defense anchored by Bam Adebayo has been solid this year but they still need more scoring. Tyler Herro is currently first on the team in field goals attempted per game which is probably not a recipe for success moving forward.
Milwaukee Bucks: B-. Time appears to be ticking on head coach Mike Budenholzer. Giannis is having another phenomenal year but the Bucks seem to have disappeared from the title discussion. Their defensive rating is 10th in the NBA after they led the league last year and this is after acquiring Jrue Holliday. The Bucks top 3 scorers (Giannis/Middleton/Holliday) have all been very efficient all shooting over 50% from the field and Middleton and Holliday hitting 43% and 39% of their 3s, respectively. The Bucks need to make some trades and find the right group of role players to put around their top 3.
New York Knicks: B+. The New York Knicks are… good? Tom Thibodeau has come in and instantly flipped this teams defensive rating from 23rd into the league to 3rd, and with the Knicks ground and pound style they are #1 in the NBA in points allowed per game (103.5), but they are also 30th in points per game (ironically 103.5). Like the Pistons and Hornets the Knicks draw marks for atleast being fun again. Julius Randle is playing like a modern day Charles Barkley and RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley look like integral parts of the Knicks future, things haven’t looked this good for the Knicks since Linsanity.
Orlando Magic: D+. If there was one team in the East I could skip in this piece it would be the Orlando Magic. Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier are still pretty good which means the Magic are pretty boring, they will lose in the first round of the playoffs, and another year will go by and we still will have no idea if Mo Bamba is good or not. The Johnathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz injuries were horrible for the Magic’s future and in the present it leaves them virtually devoid of storylines. I don’t know maybe they can make a fun Vucevic trade?
Philadelphia Sixers: A. There was a lot of talk about how it was impossible to build a roster around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and then Daryl Morey came in and built a perfect roster around them in three weeks. The Nets have three first ballot hall of famers in their prime and yet Philly might be the best team in the East. The advanced metrics aren’t as bullish on the Sixers (9th overall in Net Rating and in Expected W-L) but with their lineup combinations and positional versatility this is going to be a very tough team to beat in a 7 game series. Joel Embiid looks like Hakeem Olajuwon right now and if he wants to take over in the playoffs, there might not be a player in the East that can stop him.
Toronto Raptors: B. After starting the season 2-8 the Raptors have themselves right back in the mix in the East. Toronto is much like Indiana in that their team this year isn’t much different from years past. The Raptors are a pesky team that is going to push the opposition to its absolute limits in the playoffs. Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and Chris Boucher are all averaging career highs in points per game as the Raptors player development system continues to have unmatched success. Speaking of Chris Boucher the undrafted big man out of Oregon has shockingly led the Raptors in win shares this year (3.5), just another brilliant find by this organization.
Washington Wizards: D-. After acquiring Russell Westbrook many expected the Wizards to be a lock for the playoffs but things haven’t worked out that way. Bradley Beal is averaging 32 points per game, Westbrook is averaging a triple double, and the Wiz have some solid players around them such as Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, and Deni Avdija, yet they are 11-17 and 13th in the East. AKA how on earth is Scott Brooks still allowed to coach this basketball team???
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