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NBA Mid-Season Grades: Flailing Lakers Are Failing

Jeffrey Dubrof |
February 9, 2015 | 11:39 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Jeff Teague (Twitter/@ESPNNBA)
Jeff Teague (Twitter/@ESPNNBA)

The NBA is closing in on the midpoint of its season with the All Star Break. The season has been nothing short of incredible thus far and promises to keep up the outstanding entertainment in the latter half of the season. From the Atlanta Hawks surprising everyone around the league to the hot-handed Golden State Warriors, the second half of the season and the lead-in to the playoffs should be as exciting as ever. There have been teams that have shocked us in both good and bad ways, but how should they be graded? Here are my mid-season NBA grades:

Atlanta Hawks

Wow. That is all I can say when it comes to the Atlanta Hawks. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has finally broken through into the elite of NBA coaches. I know it is early but it was not hard to predict this. Budenholzer, a former San Antonio Spurs assistant, has put together all the pieces needed to do what the Spurs did last season.

Point guard Jeff Teague is playing outstanding basketball and is complemented by the sharp shooting veteran Kyle Korver. The Hawks also have the quietest superstar in basketball that is Al Horford. Horford is averaging 15.4 points per game along with 7.2 rebounds. These numbers aren’t outstanding but he has quietly been guiding this team in the right direction. The Hawks are playing incredibly going into the break and a little rest may make them even more dangerous.

Grade: A+

Boston Celtics

It is hard to do much when you trade away your star player early in the season. But the Boston Celtics have been playing some decent basketball despite the departure of Rajon Rondo. Players such as rookie Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger have been playing very well to make up for Rondo. The Celtics also traded away their best scorer in Jeff Green to the Memphis Grizzlies. However, they are still playing sub .500 basketball and are 12 games below .500. Head coach Brad Stevens has not really lived up to the expectations set out for him when he was hired from Butler. It could be a bumpy second half of the season for the Celtics.

Grade: C-

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are old. I’ll blatantly say it. Deron Williams is aging and hasn’t played an impressive span of basketball since his days with the Jazz. Kevin Garnett is losing his touch and is looking ready to pack up his shoes and retire. The Nets are in the bottom ten statistically for all offensive categories. They are 12.5 games back from first place in their division led by the Raptors. They are still a playoff team but that is only due to the fact that the Eastern Conference is the worst conference in all of professional sports. Their ownership is slowly crumbling and it looks as if this team will squander away the second half of the season, like the majority of the East.

Grade: D+

Charlotte Hornets

It is time for Michael Jordan to give up ownership of the Hornets because this is an extremely bad basketball team. Lance Stephenson has completely failed to live up to the expectations that everyone had when he was signed in the summer. The only bright spot of the season is the play of Kemba Walker who is averaging 18.8 points per game. The defense has actually been quite impressive this season as well. The Hornets are 3rd in the NBA for points allowed per game at a solid 96.6 ppg. This team will make the playoffs but only to be swept in the first round by some other mediocre east team. There is a lot of potential for this team to be great but they were quite unimpressive in the first half of the season.

Grade: C

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Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose is not the reason why the Bulls have been playing so well in the first half of the season. While it has been nice to see the return of Rose and the addition of Pau Gasol, it has been the tremendously quick rise of Jimmy Butler that has the NBA in awe. Butler is averaging 20.6 points per game and around two steals per game as well. The Bulls are 11 games above .500 and have had to deal with various Derrick Rose injuries. The Bulls are going to be a dangerous team in the east and could be the representative for the conference in the NBA Finals this summer. I believe they have the talent to do so.

Grade: A-

Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron James returned home this year and took his talents to the cold wasteland that is Cleveland, Ohio and for the first couple of months it looked as if Lebron had made a mistake leaving South Beach. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were not their usual selves to start the season and head coach David Blatt looked to be on the hot seat early into his first NBA coaching job.

But like always, the Cavs turned the ship around and are now on a tear. Winning 13 out of their last 14, including a 12-game win streak, the Cavaliers are looking to be the threat that everyone thought they would be when the team was formed. LeBron and Kyrie are starting to look like one of the best duos in the NBA now and it’ll only be a matter of time until Love can mesh as well as they have. 

Grade: B+

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs had a pretty eventful first half of the season. They had a high powered starting lineup to already with the acquisitions of Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler. A trade for Rajon Rondo gives the Mavs what I believe to be the best starting five in the NBA right now. Monta Ellis is still playing at an amazing level averaging 20.4 points per game and the team as a whole is second in the league in points per game. The Mavs however do lack some sort of high caliber bench after trading for Rondo in December. They are third in the Southwest Division and are playing pretty solid basketball heading into the break. There is still some work to be done, but the Mavs definitely have the core group to make big strides late.

Grade: B+

Denver Nuggets

There are honestly times when I forget that the Denver Nuggets are still an NBA franchise. That is the honest truth and it pains me to say that because I pride myself on being an NBA fan. But the Nuggets are so bad and irrelevant these days that it is almost sad. Kenneth Faried, aka the Mannimal, has not been seen on Sports Center’s top 10 in a long time and the Nuggets have just been overall poor. They are 13 games below .500 and in the Western Conference that’s all it takes for your season to be over at the break. The Nuggets need some change and it needs to come soon or soon I won’t be the only one who forgets the Nuggets actually exist.

Grade: D

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons started off the year on an exciting note. They finally had a new head coach in veteran Stan Van Gundy and it finally looked like Brandon Jennings would hit his stride and their two big men Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond would produce some monster numbers. However, that was not the case. The Pistons start was lack luster and management quickly decided to make a change. That change was made and Josh Smith, ex-superstar, was out of Detroit.

Then an amazing thing happened, the Pistons won eight games in a row and looked as if the change they needed in order to gain some momentum was made. The Pistons cooled off just a bit, but are still playing some pretty decent basketball. Drummond is averaging 13 rebounds per game and has been an animal inside. The Pistons could be a dark horse if they continue to play well.

Grade: B-

Stephen Curry (Twitter/@ESPNNBA)
Stephen Curry (Twitter/@ESPNNBA)
Golden State Warriors

It is hard to find a team that is more fun to watch in the NBA than the Golden State Warriors. The Splash Bros. are playing just absolutely stellar basketball and head coach Steve Kerr is utilizing his role players in the perfect way. Players such as Harrison Barnes are playing a lot better than they did under the tutelage of Mark Jackson.

The Warriors are the best team in the Western Conference statistically and don’t look like they’ll relinquish control of first place this season. They are in the toughest conference in sports so they’ll have to play their best in order to make a deep playoff run.

Grade: A+

Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets started off the season as one of the hottest teams in the league. They opened unbeaten, but have been playing decent basketball lately to put it nicely. The Rockets are not playing bad basketball, but they aren’t playing as well as they can be with the roster that they have. Dwight Howard has had to sit out games due to injury and the Rockets could use some better play from their supporting cast. Maybe Dwight and James Harden will include the rest of the team at their very exclusive dinners.

Grade: B

Indiana Pacers

It is hard to play a season without your best player. Ever since the absence of Paul George after his gruesome injury in his international play this summer, the fate of the Pacers has pretty much been sealed. However, the Pacers are playing a lot better basketball than expected. George Hill is playing pretty good basketball this year and the team has been able to put up a fight against top competition. I believe Frank Vogel is a great coach and has been coaching his team pretty well. The Pacers are playing better than most thought but still not great.

Grade: C+

Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers are playing like they do every single year: mediocre. Hyped up by ESPN, the Clippers are deceiving fans into thinking they are better than they actually are. The Clippers are currently on a four-game losing streak and their schedule does not get any easier from here. They are above .500 and have been up and down but they have not been anything notable.

I don’t understand where all the hype for the Clippers comes from. The team has not made it to the Western Conference Finals with the group they have and Chris Paul is outplayed by nearly every point guard in the conference. This is the most overrated team in the NBA and will continue to show it. I was not impressed with their first half performance to say the least.

Grade: C+

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are in turmoil. There is no getting around the fact that this team has hit rock bottom. Kobe is out for the season and coach Byron Scott has done a fairly poor job coaching this team which is no shock to me. I never understood this hire by the Lakers. You are the Los Angeles Lakers, the most storied franchise in the league and you decide to go with a coach with no accolades to show in Byron Scott. How does he differ than Mike D’Antoni? Kobe also dug his team's own grave before his old arms gave out on him. The only upside to this team is that Swaggy P got a car for his birthday.

Grade: F

SEE MORE: Is Pac-12 Basketball In Trouble?

Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies haunt my nightmares. They are a big, physical team that loves to make games more aggressive than they actually should be. And let me tell you, it works. This team is good. Mark Gasol and Zack Randolph might be the best frontcourt duo in the NBA. Tony Allen is a fearless defender and Mike Conley is the most underrated point guard in the league. They played great in the first half of the season and have managed to have a lead in their division. With the addition of small forward Jeff Green, the team is putting together the pieces to be great and they showed it in the first half of the season.

Grade: A

Miami Heat

The Miami Heat have actually been one of the more pleasant surprises in the NBA this year. Despite their record (21-29), the Heat have actually been playing very good basketball. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are playing  well and the team looks as if it has better chemistry this year than they had in the years with LeBron James. Don’t look at the stats because they will not show the whole story. The team has been without power forward Josh McRoberts, and Dwayne Wade is not healthy like always. There is work to do for this team, mainly on the offensive side of the ball. But this team could be playing much worse.

Grade: B

Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks have been the biggest surprise of the NBA season aside from the Hawks. With new head coach Jason Kidd and a very young roster, it would make since to doubt the Bucks coming into the season. Milwaukee has done nothing but prove the doubters wrong. The Bucks are 28-23 and are playing great team basketball. Point guard Brandon Knight has been playing great basketball and is averaging 17.3 points per game. Alongside Knight is the new phenomenon, the Greek freak Giannis Antetokounmpo. This team is very similar to the Hawks: no stunning talent but a great all around team ethic. I am shocked to see how well they’ve done.

Grade: A-

Milwaukee Bucks (Twitter/@ESPNNBA)
Milwaukee Bucks (Twitter/@ESPNNBA)
Minnesota Timberwolves

This was no surprise for me. With the departure of Kevin Love in the summer and the arrival of Andrew Wiggins, it was expected that the team would continue to play at their subpar level of years past. The team is 11-40 and is competing for the last place spot in the west.

On the upside, Wiggins has been starting to play a tad better and they are starting to get lots of support from other young role players such as Zach LaVine. Kevin Martin has been playing well averaging 19.9 points per game but it is just not enough to compete in the west.

Grade: D

New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans are the most unfortunate team in the NBA. They have what many to believe to be the best player in the league in Anthony Davis and for some reason cannot produce results. Davis is averaging a double-double and is being supported by a cast of shaky role players. The team has a lot of upside and tons of potential but have not been able to cash in the rewards.

They are 10th in the Western Conference and it does not look like they will be able to pass up the Thunder and the Suns based on their off and on first half performance. The Brow (Davis) will have to rally the troops in order to make a playoff push. The Pelicans were average at best.

Grade: C

New York Knicks

Spike Lee might want to stop wearing his Knicks gear because it's becoming the NBA’s ugliest new trend. Carmelo’s Knicks are 10-41 and are the worst team in the Eastern Conference behind the Philadelphia 76ers. It is unreal and pathetic to see a team with so much raw talent tank like this. The Zen Master, Phil Jackson, has failed in his first attempt to rebuild one of the most storied franchises in the league. Derek Fisher has failed to coach the team in an effective manner as well. I cannot even say Carmelo’s points per game stats are an upside because there is no upside. This team is just flat out terrible. Amare Stoudemire has basically shriveled into nothingness. This has been the biggest disappointment of the season.

Grade: F-

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are in the perfect position at the moment. They started out the season slow with the injuries to both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but they have climbed back to hold the ninth spot in the West at the moment. The team is slowly gaining momentum and is looking to be 100% healthy heading into the break. Westbrook is shooting lights out lately and has been leading the way for the Thunder while Durant is on the mend. OKC is one game over .500 and are in 2nd place in their division. Mitch McGary has been going off lately and is looking to be a key role player for the Thunder. The team played as best as they could with all the problems they faced.

Grade: B-

Orlando Magic

The Magic have been an irrelevant team in the NBA since the days of Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy and this year has been no different. The Magic are 16-38 and are not looking like they will improve anytime soon. With the recent firing of head coach Jacque Vaughn, Orlando is looking to be in some serious turmoil. The roster is not terrible with players such as Victor Oladipo and Ben Gordon, but they have not found the right coach to be the guide. The Magic’s season looks to be over at the halfway point of the season. They have not been playing good basketball and their record shows it.

Grade: D

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Philadelphia 76ers

76ers head coach Brett Brown has the toughest job in the NBA. He has been tasked with the challenge of trying to coach this young team and has done a better job than most anyone could. With that being said, that is still no excuse for the poor performance the team has had thus far. The team is 12-40 and started off the season winless for an extended period of time. It has been a horror show for the team but the Sixers have battled fairly well, keeping their head up the entire time. This is a team that, with a couple more years, could be a contender in the East but not this year. Their performance thus far has been terrible to say the least and it won’t get any better from here. 

Grade: D-

Phoenix Suns

The Suns have made the biggest mistake so far of any team this season. Pheonix has failed to separate itself from the Thunder in the race for what looks to be the last playoff spot in the West. They have one of the most talented rosters in the league and have failed to produce the results. When Isaiah Thomas is coming off your bench along with sharp shooter Gerald Green and you can’t produce more than 30 wins in the first half of the season, there has to be a problem up top. I am convinced Jeff Hornacek is a great coach but I want to see him prove it. They have played average basketball thus far but they could be playing great.

Grade: C+

Portland Trail Blazers

I’ve always said this, but I’ll say it again, the Blazers are one key role player away from being a championship team. They are led by an outstanding point guard in Damian Lillard, and LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the most skilled big man in the NBA. They are ranked in the top 10 of every offensive statistical category and are currently leading their division. Portland has had its ups and downs however and could be playing a lot better basketball than they have been playing. That is not saying they are playing bad basketball, but they could be playing at an elite level. They just have not reached that point yet.

Grade: A-

Sacramento Kings

The Kings are leading in every single notable stat category by one person: DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. If I could rate Cousins’s play throughout the first half of the season, it would be an A+. Unfortunately this is a team sport and you can’t win a game when one person is doing all of the work for you. The Kings are young and have work to do but they could be playing better on the defensive side of the ball. Sacramento ranks 27th in points allowed per game and are giving up around 104 points. The ball movement for the Kings has been horrendous as well. Sactown ranks last in the league in assists per game with a mere 19 assists per game. On paper this is a fairly talented roster, but it's young and still has a lot to prove.

Grade: C-

Danny Green (Twitter/@ESPNNBA)
Danny Green (Twitter/@ESPNNBA)

San Antonio Spurs

It is hard to come into a season as the reigning champions. Everyone is gunning for that team and every team plays their best game against them. It is no easier for the Spurs when they have not been 100% healthy for the majority of this season. The Spurs have managed to scrape by without Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills for the majority of the season and have a 32-19 record. Not terrible for an average team, but in the West you cannot be an average team. 

Even with Leonard and Mills back in the lineup, the Spurs have continued to struggle against mediocre teams. Their offense is not nearly as potent as it was last year but the Spurs have made up for it with an improved defensive effort this season. The Spurs are lucky to be in the position they are but they could be much worse off. 

Grade: B-

Toronto Raptors

It is easy to stand out in the Eastern Conference when your record is 35-17 at this point in the season. The Raptors from the start of the season have played pretty good basketball and have caught the eye of the national spotlight. Up and coming players such as Kyle Lowry and ex-Trojan Demar Derozan have stepped up their game and are leading this team through the East.

But when you look at the team stats, it is easy to assume that the strength of schedule is primarily responsible for their current record. They are 22nd in rebounds per game and 19th for assists per game. Along with that, they are giving up a whopping 101 points per game this season. The Raptors have played well so far, but let’s credit the horrific Eastern Conference for making the Raptors look a tad better than they actually are.

Grade: B

Utah Jazz

Similar to the Magic, the Jazz have become irrelevant since the departure of star players Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams. However, it looks like the Jazz have found their future star in small forward Gordon Heyward. Heyward leads the team in scoring and has been a standout player this season. Utah has had the potential to be a dark horse due to their hidden gems on their roster.

However, the Jazz have not been able to put it together. Playing mediocre games in the Western Conference is something that will put a team in a hole that no one can escape from. I believe this team would play good enough basketball to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference but not the West. Their first half performance has not been a true shock to most but they have played a little better than in years past.

Grade: D+

Washington Wizards

The Wizards made a risky move in the off-season by signing center Marcin Gortat to a five-year, $60 million contract. The move has somewhat paid off on the defensive side of the ball as the Wizards rank amongst the top ten in points allowed per game.

However, offensively, the Wizards have had a roller coaster of a season. Star John Wall has played mediocre at best and can’t really find his rhythm at the moment. The Wizards are 19th in the league for points per game and have a lot of room for improvement. Being in the Eastern Conference has allowed the Wiz to disguise their average play with a somewhat decent record. However, it is evident that the Wizards can and will have to play better in order to have some sort of second half burst.

Grade: C

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