Eastern Conference grades: https://thesportswave.net/2021/02/25/grading-every-eastern-conference-teams-performance-30-games-in/
Dallas Mavericks: D+. Instead of taking a step forward towards title contention, the Mavericks have taken a step back and currently sit in the 8th spot in the Western Conference. The entire team has struggled from three and Kristaps Porzingis has struggled to return to his peak form. All hope is not lost however because Luka is having a great season and solidified himself as a top 5 MVP candidate and it’s always easier to win a playoff series when the best player on the court is on your team. The Mavericks have won 3 games in a row and if they can hit their stride in the second half they can become a frustrating first round matchup for a top seed.
Denver Nuggets: B. The Nuggets have played like a better than their record says they are. They are currently 20-15 and 7th in the Western Conference but the Simple Rating System that takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule pegs the Nuggets as the 4th best team in the conference, ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers. Nikola Jokic has been the most valuable player in the NBA this year and currently leads the NBA in win shares (by a whopping 2.3 wins) box plus minus, and VORP.
Golden State Warriors: B+. Steph Curry is all the way back and the Warriors are back to being one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Andrew Wiggins has improved and James Wiseman is playing like a future all star. Steph and Draymond seem to have enough in the tank for one more title run. The Warriors aren’t title contenders this year, but they’re in good position to make another run once Klay Thompson is back in the fold.
Houston Rockets: F. The Rockets are terrible and they don’t have any rotation players under 24 years old. Luckily for the Rockets they inherited tons of future picks from the Nets in the James Harden trade. With a cheap owner and an already terrible roster it’ll probably be a couple years before the Rockets are able to compete again.
Los Angeles Clippers: B. After melting down in the Western Conference Semifinals the Clippers made some moves this offseason adding players like Serge Ibaka, Luke Kennard, and Nicholas Batum, but so far the advanced metrics say this years team isn’t much different from last years. In fact, their net rating is down .6 points per 100 possessions from last year. I think they should look to add another playmaker at the trade deadline, right now they are relying on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for all of their playmaking. The Clippers are as talented as any group in the league but it will be up to them to step up and seize the moment once the time comes.
Los Angeles Lakers: B. The Lakers got off to a good start, but have gone 3-6 since Anthony Davis strained his achilles on February 14th. With AD out for an extended period of time the Lakers are going to have to lean heavily on LeBron to keep them in the top 4 of the Western Conference standings. LeBron is having a vintage MVP caliber season and the additions of Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell have paid dividends. As long as AD is back fully healthy by the start of the playoffs the Lakers are the favorites out West.
Memphis Grizzlies: B+. The Grizzlies are building a very impressive culture in Memphis and are putting young players in a position to contribute on a competitive team immediately. While Ja Morant hasn’t taken the massive leap that some people were projecting, the development of players like Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Xavier Tillman is keeping Memphis in the playoff hunt. The roster Memphis is building is very impressive especially when you figure that outside of the Ja pick, Memphis hasn’t picked high in the lottery. Playoffs and an above .500 record were the goals for Memphis coming into the season, and at 16-15 they are on track to achieve that.
Minnesota Timberwolves: F. When the Timberwolves traded a lightly protected first round pick to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell last year they likely had illusions of building a playoff team around Karl Towns and D’Angelo Russell. But 36 games in the Timberwolves have by far the worst record in the NBA, and even if they can keep their pick this year (top 3 protected) then the pick will convey to Golden State next year with no protections. As a team without an obvious path out of the basement, this is the last thing the Timberwolves could possibly want. The Timberwolves do have some interesting pieces so some fun trades could happen if they do decide to blow it up, but for now the Timberwolves belong in NBA obscurity.
New Orleans Pelicans: C-. Zion and Brandon Ingram both have been awesome this season averaging over 24 points a game. But, even after a summer full of moves the Pelicans roster is lacking in a lot of key areas. Defense has been a big issue and the Pelicans can attribute much of their 15-20 start to their abysmal defensive rating (29th in the league). For a team with playoff aspirations the Pelicans are relying way too much on Eric Bledsoe to create offense for them. Zion’s skillset is a tricky one to build a team around, but hopefully New Orleans can identify some players on the trade market that will compliment their young super star.
Oklahoma City Thunder: C. OKC was predicted by many to be the worst team in the NBA this year, and they certainly aren’t that. The Thunder aren’t a playoff team either, but they play a competitive brand of basketball. The Thunder have 7 players under 24 years old that are averaging over 20 minutes a game, and we have seen good things from Theo Maledon, Shai Gilgeous Alexander, and Lu Dort amongst others. Everyone knows that the Thunder are playing the long game, and some of these young guys are getting experience could prove critical in the long run.
Phoenix Suns: A+. The Phoenix Suns made a risky decision this Summer, risking ruining team chemsitry after their 8-0 streak in the bubble. The Suns traded 2 fan favorites who were beloved in the locker room in Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre to the Thunder for Chris Paul. This risky addition of Chris Paul has paid off immensely and has brought this Suns team to an entirely new level. The point god has the Suns running one of the most efficient offenses in the league, despite being 29th in the NBA in pace the Suns are 13th in the NBA in points per game. Their slow grind it out style should translate very nicely into playoff basketball. The Suns staff has done a really good job developing guys like Abdel Nader and Cameron Payne into positive contributors, and Phoenix also done a very good job developing its young core of Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, and Devin Booker. Believe it or not, the Suns are currently the 2 seed out West and could hang around in these playoffs for a long time.
Portland Trail Blazers: B+. Despite the extended absence of CJ McCollum the Blazers have embedded themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. The Carmelo Anthony renaissance is a real thing and the Blazers are one of the most entertaining team in the league. Their usage of McCollum at the beginning of the season was very interesting as they had McCollum shooting a career high 11 three pointers a game, overall the Blazers are second in the NBA in 3 point makes and attempts. Kanter and McCollum are currently 9th and 10th in the NBA in Offensive Rating and hopefully CJ can return soon to a Portland team looking to make a playoff push.
Sacramento Kings: C-. The Kings hit it out of the park by drafting Tyrese Haliburton 12th overall, but this installment of the Kings looks just as lethargic as Kings teams of the past. The Kings don’t have a renowned defender on the roster and the results have been evident, the Kings are last in the NBA in most defensive metrics. In year 3 former #2 overall pick Marvin Bagley is still yet to add to his game and head coach Luke Walton will probably be coaching for his job in the second half. Haliburton and De’Aaron Fox are both blue chip players that any team would love to have, but now it’s up to the Kings to build a competent team around them.
San Antonio Spurs: A-. Did anyone expect this from the San Antonio Spurs? After finally missing the playoffs last year for the first time in 2 decades, many expected it would be a couple years before the Spurs got back. Instead they have started the season 18-13, good for 6th in the impossibly hard Western Conference. The Spurs have modernized their offense by playing Demar DeRozan at power forward. (although the Spurs still do shoot more 2 pointers than any team in the league) The Spurs, led by Gregg Popovich continue to be extremely disciplined, they average the fewest turnovers per game, and are 2nd in the NBA in fewest fouls committed per game. Keldon Johnson and 2 way star Dejounte Murray have stepped up another level and look poised to lead the next generation of Spurs.
Utah Jazz: A+. The Utah Jazz have finally become the powerhouse that pundits envisioned when they acquired Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic in the 2019 offseason. Everything is going perfectly for the Jazz who are currently #1 in the NBA in overall record and in Net Rating. With guys like Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, and Jordan Clarkson coming off the bench the Jazz are deeper than any team in the NBA. Conley, Gobert, Mitchell and Co. are capable of giving any starting lineups fits. Like it or not, this Jazz team has a legitmate chance of winning the NBA finals, especially if they can lock up the #1 overall seed. With the #1 seed the Jazz could potentially avoid the Lakers and the Clippers until the Western Conference Finals, where Utah would have home court advantage.