NBA Midseason Report Cards

By Steve Tsilimos | Posted 1 year ago

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? We’re past the halfway point in the NBA season, and the thirty organizations that make up the association are answering that exact question about their teams right now. The halfway point means the February 9 trade deadline is looming, and every team is looking to add value to their team in one way or another. 


GMs and executive staff look at the numbers and grade each individual in their organization. They get paid the big bucks to make the tough decisions when their team is underperforming. I have the easier task of grading each team and giving my opinion on their direction this season. 


Starting with the Eastern Conference, I will look at each team and where they stand compared to their preseason projections. Only two teams are practically out of the playoff race in the East, but that doesn’t mean those two teams are failing this season. Failing to make the playoffs this season earns a lottery pick and a shot at winning the No. 1 pick, which will undoubtedly be the young French phenom Victor Wembamyama


Atlanta Hawks (25-25) 

Projected win total: 42


The Atlanta Hawks won 43 games last season and finished as the eighth seed in the East. That followed an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in the 2020-2021 season. But since their unlikely run, the Hawks have been right around average for the past year and a half.


Guard Trae Young is still their centerpiece, and his tenacity and style of play helped define this team. The issue in Atlanta is that their mediocrity is not enough, which is likely why Young has had issues with coach Nate McMillan. There are trade rumors around John Collinsand I am sure the executives are asking if it is time to tear it apart and start a rebuild.


Atlanta ranks 28th in 3-pointers made this season, and their lack of 3-point shooting is a real issue for a team that is fighting for a playoff spot. The Hawks need to make some serious changes, or they will continue to be a middle-of-the-pack team destined for an early playoff exit. 


Midseason Grade: C-

Boston Celtics (36-15)

Projected win total: 53


The Celtics are coming off an NBA Finals loss in 2021-2022 and came into this season looking to take it to the next level. They are right on pace and look like one of the three best teams in the East. Boston has the best record in the NBA, 2.5 games ahead of the Sixers and Bucks for the first spot in the East.


The deadly duo of Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who emerged as the best duo in the postseason last year, have taken another step forward this season. A big reason the Celtics have the best record is that their two All-Stars are the best one-two punch in the NBA and have been available for most of the games thus far this season. 


Boston started the season on the wrong foot when their coach Ime Udoka was suspended on the eve of training camp for violating team policies. Replacement coach Joe Mazzulla has not only filled the void but has done a magnificent job preparing his team and putting his stamp on their identity. The Celtics have the No. 1 offense to go with their No. 7 defense.


If Boston is healthy come playoff time, they will be the team to beat in the East and should have no problem making it to the Eastern Conference Finals.


Midseason Grade: A


Brooklyn Nets (30-19)

Projected win total: 51.5


It took about 15 games for the Nets to get on track after an offseason full of drama. Kevin Durant requested a trade while Kyrie Irving continued his off-court antics. After a slow start, Brooklyn put together their best stretch in franchise history with a record of 18-2, which helped put them atop the East standings.


The Nets are 5.5 games back of the first-place Celtics and now have to figure out how to win without Durant. Durant sprained his MCL in a win over the Heat on Jan 8. Since then, the Nets have compiled a 3-6 record. Can Kyrie Irving carry this team while Durant is out, or is there not enough support from Ben SimmonsNic Claxtonand Royce O’Neale for this team to be competitive?


The Nets are in a win-now situation and definitely have the firepower to be a threat in the playoffs. Brooklyn has the second-best three-point percentages in the league and has two of the best closers in basketball, but they still seem to be missing some much-needed depth and a third scoring option.


Midseason Grade: B+

Charlotte Hornets (15-36)

Projected win total: 26.5


The Hornets went 43-39 and snuck into the play-in tournament last season. They have fallen from grace and now rank in the bottom five offensively and defensively. Charlotte lacks talent and depth and is not doing the little things to win.


The Hornets could blame injuries, but realistically they need to get better at rebounding and taking care of the ball before they can blame a few injuries. LaMelo Ball has played in less than half the games this year, and his presence should help in the second half of the season. But they will stay a bottom feeder until this team starts playing better team basketball. 


Midseason Grade: D-

Chicago Bulls (23-26)

Projected win total: 38.5


At the midway point of the 2021-2022 season, the Bulls sat atop the East with a 27-14 record. That was after they went out and acquired Lonzo BallAlex Caruso, and DeMar DeRozan during the offseason. The front office of the Bulls looked like they outsmarted the rest of the league in the offseason before last season. That didn't last long, though.


Since the fantastic start to last season, the Bulls have gone 42-48 with a first-round exit to the Bucks in the playoffs last year. The below-average performance over their last 90 games has Chicago with some serious questions to answer before the trade deadline. 


It would be surprising if they blew the whole thing up only two years after creating a team that should easily make the playoffs. But the absence of Ball for the entirety of the season so far, mixed with questionable chemistry out of DeRozan, Zach LaVineand Nikola Vucevichave the Bulls’ faithful questioning the direction of their team. 


Midseason Grade: C

Cleveland Cavaliers (31-21)

Projected win total: 50.5


The Cavaliers made a huge splash this offseason by trading for All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell. The imminent impact has been exactly what they were hoping for in Cleveland. Mitchell has been nothing short of miraculous so far this season, averaging nearly 28 points while shooting nearly 40% from three. 


Cavs fans hope the second half of the season will bring Mitchell more chemistry and consistent help. Darius GarlandEvan Mobley, and Caris LeVert can shoulder more of the load if they all can stay healthy. The young, unproven Cleveland team is the fifth seed in the East and is trying to develop their game enough by the time the playoffs roll around to make them a real threat to the teams ahead of them right now. 


With twin-towers Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen roaming the paint, the Cavs have given up a league-low 45.2 points per game in the paint, which has been a big factor in why they have the No. 1 defense in the league. Veteran forward Kevin Love has provided key leadership and is providing key minutes off the bench, which once again has put him in the conversation for the Sixth Man of the Year award. 


Midseason Grade: A-

Detroit Pistons (13-38)

Projected win total: 21.5


Detroit has the second-worst record in the NBA, which is not at all surprising. There was an early season spark when their newest lottery pick Jaden Ivey and last year’s No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham were on the floor together. But that spark fizzled out when Cunningham suffered a season-ending shin injury. 


The Pistons are young and are in the process of evaluating their young talent. Detroit will have a top-five pick and one of the best odds of winning the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. The team is still a few years and some good decisions away from being competitive again.


Midseason Grade: C-

Indiana Pacers (24-28)

Projected win total: 37.5


The Pacers' strong start has surprised many NBA analysts. Indiana is only one win away from equaling their win total from a year ago. There have been a tremendous amount of trade rumors surrounding the Pacers for over a year now. As the trade deadline approaches, the Indiana front office now has some of the toughest decisions in the NBA.


Their trade last season that brought point guard Tyrese Haliburton from Sacramento for Domantas Sabonis has benefited both teams. Haliburton has been a great addition, leading the league in assists per game (10.2). He distributes to sharpshooter Buddy Hield and rookies Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew NembhardMyles Turner is having another fantastic year and just signed a two-year extension with the Pacers.


Turner has been the main subject of trade rumors along with Hield. The big man’s new contract protects the Pacers from losing him for nothing if they cannot trade him and makes him more valuable in the trade market because his new team would get two more years before having to extend him. The Pacers have put together a nice team, but it’s still ways away from competing with the top teams. Their decisions over the next week could greatly impact the outcome of the 2022-2023 season.


Midseason Grade: A-

Miami Heat (28-23)

Projected win total: 44.5


The Heat, who were a last-second missed three away from the Finals last season, are right on schedule when it comes to wins and making the playoffs. The issue is that this team, as good as they can be, can be equally as frustrating to watch. The Heat's lead man Jimmy Butler sets the tone on both ends of the floor most nights, but he has been in and out of the lineup. Butler and Bam Adebayo anchor a tenacious defense, and defense travels well.


The 33-year-old Butler is nearing the end of his prime, putting Miami in a win-now situation. And outside their core, which has now been there for a few years, the team is very thin. The lack of depth is why the Heat will be involved in many trade speculations leading up to the Feb. 7 deadline. 


Midseason Grade: B

Milwaukee Bucks (26-14)

Projected win total: 52.5


The Bucks are the third seed in the east, 2.5 games back of the Celtics, but it's hard to tell if this team has what it takes to make another run at the championship. Former league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo gives this team a chance to win every night, but the team's No. 2, Khris Middleton, has been out of the lineup for 32 games this season. 


Center Brook Lopez is turning back the hands of time, having a resurgence season that has helped the Bucks remain atop the East. But the Bucks look complacent at times and struggle to find offensive consistency. 


A healthy Middleton and Jrue Holiday should help the Bucks string together some wins. The real issue at hand is that the Bucks have the league's oldest roster, and teams have had years to figure out how to attack them. 


Midseason Grade: B+


New York Knicks (27-24)

Projected win total: 41.5


A team with a top-10 offense and defense usually has a top-10 record. But that is not the case with the Knicks this season. They rank in the top 10 in offense (114.1), defense (111.7), and net rating (2.4) and somehow are the seventh seed in the East.


Julius Randle is having another fantastic season averaging a double-double with 24.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. His backcourt mate Jalen Brunson is also playing at an All-Star level and compliments Randall well. The Knicks have the recipe for success, but they lack depth and experience.


New York looks like they will be a tough matchup come playoff time. If they can continue to improve and define their identity, they will be a team the higher seeds will not want to host. The tide is turning in New York, something the fans have been waiting long for.


Midseason Grade B+

Orlando Magic (19-31)

Projected win total: 31.5


The Magic had the No. 1 overall pick in the last draft, and there was a lot of debate on who they should take. Their pick Paolo Banchero is off to a great start and has ended any doubts of him not being worthy of the first overall pick. Banchero's special combination of size, skills, and style of play has helped him top 20 points 24 times this season. His play makes him the early favorite to win Rookie of the Year and has the Magic on the cusps of the play-in tournament. 


Young front-court member Franz Wagner is progressing nicely alongside Banchero. The problem with Orlando is that their back-court has been injured and inconsistent. The best part about the Magic? They have 11 players under the age of 25. I expect the Magic to end the year with a lot of optimism about the future as Banchero continues to improve while they secure another lottery pick in the upcoming draft.


Midseason Grade: B-

Philadelphia 76ers (32-16)

Projected win total: 51.5


Sports in Philadelphia mean the world to many people living there, and life is good in Philly right now. The Eagles are headed to the Super Bowl, while the 76ers have the second-highest winning percentage in the East and third in the NBA. 


The Sixers are deep and have two of the best scorers in the NBA. Their Finals hopes hinge on their two All-Stars and how well they can play come playoff time. Joel Embid is putting together another MVP-level season, averaging a league-leading 33.8 points per game. On the other hand, James Harden is showing signs of aging, averaging 21.4 points per game in his 32 games.


The 76ers are once again a top-four team in the East, but their executives and fans are ready for a Finals appearance. Their season’s success will be solely based on how well they perform come playoff time.


Midseason Grade: A-

Toronto Raptors (23-28)

Projected win total: 37.5


The Raptors were supposed to kick their reliance on their starting five but have done anything but. The starting five oPascal SiakamScottie BarnesOG AnunobyGary Trent Jr. and Fred Van Vleet have accounted for around 85% of the team's points this season.


Toronto's slow start can be attributed to the fact that their preferred starting five have only played nine games together. But that is a weak excuse when their starters have gone 3-6 in those games. The Raptor’s unique roster of a bunch of 6-foot-9ish forwards has its perks, but teams have figured out their weaknesses. 


The Raptors' video game approach of targeting a bunch of long forwards that can be interchangeable on both ends of the floor makes their style of play different. What they ended up with is not enough shooting or a floor general. They are the only team in the east below the seventh seed with a positive point differential which should mean they will win some more games. Either way, it is time for the Raptors to pivot and make some moves before the trade deadline. 


Midseason Grade: C-


Washington Wizards (23-26)

Projected win total: 36.5


The Wizards are right on pace to win about 36 games and compete for the play-in tournament. The Wizards' top three players, Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kyle Kuzma, are all averaging more than 21 points per game, which means they can score with anyone. But teams can’t expect to outscore everyone in the NBA if they do not play defense and rebound well. 


The Wizards already traded away forward Rui Hachimura to the Lakers for guard Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks. The Wizards made the move because they are satisfied with Kuzma’s play and need shooting and depth on their roster. The Wizards could stay where they are, which is a team that could beat anyone but will most likely just miss the playoffs or get bounced early, or they could start selling pieces for the future. In my opinion, they should do the latter.


Midseason Grade: C



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