NBA Midseason Report Cards: Western Conference

By Steve Tsilimos | Posted 1 year ago

The midway point of the NBA season has come and gone, and it’s time to take a look at how each team in the West has fared through the first half of the season. The February 9 trade deadline is quickly approaching, and many teams in the crowded West are looking to make a move to help them secure a playoff spot.


Which teams are exceeding expectations, and which teams are not? Thirteen out of the 15 teams in the Western Conference are still in playoff contentions. Let’s take a closer look at the 15 teams in the West and assess their season up to this point.


Dallas Mavericks (27-25)

• Projected win total: 48.5


At the true midway point, the Mavericks were five games above .500 because they were coming off a seven-game win streak that ended on Jan. 5. But since then, Dallas has gone 5-9, bringing its record right back around .500. The Mavericks are led by All-Star Luka Doncic, who is one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA which is why they have a top-10 offense.


Doncic is nearly unstoppable most nights, but they lack another All-Star to be a second option. Christian Wood is showing great chemistry with Doncic and averaging 18.4 points, but he is a third option on a true championship contender. When Doncic is hot, the Mavericks can beat anyone, but they will stay around .500 as long as their defense is in the bottom half. The Dallas front office wants to win now, so it would not at all be surprised if they made a move in the coming week.


Midseason Grade: B-

Denver Nuggets (34-16)

• Projected win total: 51.5


The Nuggets once again find themselves atop the Western Conference standings. Denver has consistently been atop the standings for three years, with Nicola Jokic as itscenterpiece. The reigning MVP is making a strong case for his third straight MVP award as he continues to do it all for the Nuggets. Jokic finally has a complete team around him with the return of Jamal Murray, who missed all last season, and Michael Porter Jr., who played just nine games in 2021-22.


On January 5, the Nuggets beat the Clippers to move to 25-13 on the season and then proceeded to win eight more in a row. Denver's 2021 first-round pick, Bones Hyland, is progressing into a nice depth piece along with newly added shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. With more depth and health to key players, the Nuggets have put together their best team around Jokic.


Midseason Grade: A-

Golden State Warriors (26-24)

• Projected win total: 52.5


It’s common for reigning champs of any sport to have a bit of a ‘hangover’ to start the next season. The Warriors ‘hangover’ was a bit more extreme than many expected, losing seven of their first ten games to start the season. Coach Steve Kerr quickly turned the ship around and got his team back on track after dealing with several injuries and illnesses to start the season. 


After losing two straight, the Warriors entered last week below .500. That did last long because Steph Curry is hitting his midseason stride, leading the ‘Dubs to three straight wins while averaging over 36 points. If the Warriors stay healthy, they will figure things out defensively and climb the Western Conference standings. But as it stands right now, they are definitely not where they wanted to be at this point in the season.


Midseason Grade: C-

Houston Rockets (12-38)

• Projected win total: 23.5


The Rockets are also not where they were hoping to be at this point in the season. They entered the season in the midst of a three-year rebuild, so expectations were low. But even though the expectations were low, their front office hoped to see faster progress out of their young team. Coach Stephen Silas even admitted Houston wants “this rebuild to go faster. We want it to go quicker.”


Developing their young roster is what they want out of this season. The development should result in competitive games and a fun basketball team to watch. At times Houston looks like they are on track, and at other times, the rebuild could take forever. They need to take the 2022 Chicago Bears approach – find ways to be competitive without winning – so they have the highest odds of winning the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. Frenchman Victor Wembanyama should vastly speed up the rebuild.


Midseason Grade: D+

Los Angeles Clippers (28-25)

• Projected win total: 52.5


The Leonard-George era of Clippers basketball has disappointed anyone who thought the duo would be a perennial championship contender. There have been flashes of how good this team could be, but they are quickly dimmed by injuries or lack of chemistry. Kawhi Leonard continues to ease his way back from ACL surgery by regularly taking nights off, playing in less than half of the games thus far. 


The Clippers have all the potential in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything if they can't put together a serious push for a title. It’s tough to judge how much the addition of John Wall will impact this team because players are constantly in and out of the lineup. The Clippers are currently the fourth seed, and if they can keep themselves out of the play-in games, then coach Ty Lue has done his job during the regular season.


Midseason Grade: B-

Los Angeles Lakers (23-28)

• Projected win total: 44.5


LeBron James continues to defy time by playing at an elite level in his 20th NBA season. James is averaging 30 PTS, 8 REB, and 7 AST while playing 36 minutes per game. But James can no longer take a below-average roster and put them on his back and win 50 games as he did in his first stint in Cleveland. James needs help, and he was getting it from Anthony Davis before he went down with a foot injury on Dec. 16.


The roster build is clunky and doesn’t have enough defense or shooting. AD is injury-prone, and Russell Westbrook, as good as he is, is a liability at times. The Lakers are on the outside looking in at the play-in spots, but they are still right in the mix. The Lakers already made a midseason move by sending Kendrick Nunn and several second-round picks to Washington for their 2021 first-round pick SF Rui Hachimura. The Lakers better not stop there and go out and get Eric Gordon if they want to be a contender come playoff time.


Midseason Grade: D+


Memphis Grizzlies (32-18)

• Projected win total: 49.5


The Grizzlies have something special brewing in Memphis. Ja Morant is a bona fide Superstar, and when he and Desmond Bane are on the floor they are one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Jaren Jackson Jr. has developed into a nice third option for Memphis, but the first half of the season barely saw the three all play together. The trio finally all suited up together for the first time this season on Dec. 23. The Grizzlies won that matchup with the Suns and promptly went on to win 12 out of their next 14 games with an 11-game winning streak in there.


Stephen Adams’ relentless work on the glass is another big factor in this team's success. Adams leads the NBA in offensive rebounds per game with 5.1 and is fourth in total rebounds per game (11.5). The Grizzlies' 109.7 defensive rating is the best in the league, and their net rating of 4.3 is good for third. Watch out because this team is scrappy and plays great team basketball with a polarizing superstar.


Midseason Grade: A

Minnesota Timberwolves (27-26)

• Projected win total: 49.5


At this point, it is fair to question Minnesota’s front office after sending five players and five picks to Utah for Rudy Gobert. The Timberwolves hoped that pairing Gobert with Karl-Anthony Towns could create mismatch problems in the paint. Towns went down with a calf injury on November 20 and has not played since, so I guess it's not fair to say they were wrong. But, while they were on the court, they looked out of sync and not the best fit.


Anthony Edwards continues to improve in his third NBA season. The 21-year-old hasn’t missed a game this season and is showing the work ethic and skills to become a Superstar in the NBA. That is great news for the T-wolves, but they have to be questioning if they gave up too much for a defensive and rebound specialist that doesn’t seem to mesh well with Towns.


Midseason Grade: C-

New Orleans Pelicans (26-25)

• Projected win total: 45.5


At the true midway point of the season, the Pelicans were 25-16, jostling with the Nuggets and Grizzlies for the top spot in the West. Since then, they have lost 9 of 10 and are on an eight-game losing streak. When the Pels have Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram on the court, they are very tough to stop. The key to the previous statement is when – Williamson has played in 17 games, while Ingram has 29 games under his belt this season.


I must credit the Pelicans' front office for this roster build. They have a deep team with a good mix of youth and veterans. Acquiring C.J. McCollum less than a year after getting Jonas Valanciunas has paid off greatly. The team needs their young stars to stay healthy and be on the court so they can figure out their rotations and build chemistry, but all in all, they are way ahead of schedule. 


Midseason Grade: B+

Oklahoma City Thunder (24-26)

• Projected win total: 23.5


The Thunder have the youngest roster in the NBA, yet they are right in the mix for a play-in spot. It’s even more impressive because they started the season with the horrible news that their No. 2 overall pick from the 2022 draft, Chet Holmgren, was going to miss the entirety of the season with a Lisfranc injury. 


A big part of their success has been the progression of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into a superstar. Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 30.9 points a game, fifth most in the NBA while being a complete menace on the defensive side of the ball. The future is bright in Oklahoma City because they have 17 draft picks (10 first-round) over the next three years.


Midseason Grade: B

Phoenix Suns (27-25)

• Projected win total: 52.5


The Suns have been one of the best teams in the West for the past two years but started this season with a strange contract situation with Deandre Ayton that seemed to linger. Then the injury bug bit the Suns, but they survived it. The last two months have been streaky for the Suns as they ended the first half of the season losing nine out of ten and have now won six out of their last seven games. 


Phoenix still has the same core guys who led them to the NBA Finals a few years back. They are hard to stop when they are all on the court together. But their offense lacks firepower outside Devin Booker, and their defense is in the middle of the pack. Jae Crowder is likely on the move after a rocky start to the season where he was asked to come off the bench and has not produced in his new role. 


Midseason Grade: D-

Portland Trail Blazers (24-26)

• Projected win total: 39.5


The Trail Blazers started the season sizzling as they welcomed back six-time All-Star Damien Lillard, who underwent season-ending abdominal surgery last season. Portland went 4-0, with Lillard dropping 135 points during those games. Lillard has continued to score buckets (averaging the sixth most points, 30.4 ), but his team has cooled off and hung around .500 this season. 


Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant have been great this season. Both young players are averaging over 21 points per game and have yet to miss a game. The Blazers lack size and defensive chemistry, so they are not a real title contender. Dame’s scoring and leadership make Portland a perennial playoff contender, though. 


Midseason Grade: C


Sacramento Kings (28-21)

• Projected win total: 34.5


The Kings, with the third-best record in the West, look well on their way to ending the NBA’s longest postseason drought of 16 years. Coach Mike Brown, my front-runner for COTY, is getting the most out of his young core of De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Kevin Huerter, and 2022 No. 4 overall pick Keegan Murray. The dynamic Kings are scoring at will, averaging a league-leading 119.5 points per game.


Sabonis came over last year in a trade with Indiana and is leading the NBA in rebounding and putting together an All-Star-caliber year. Now in his fifth season, Fox, another serious All-Star candidate, is developing into one of the best PGs in the game. The Kings have benefited from being healthy so far this season, which can change in a heartbeat. Nevertheless, Sacramento is the NBA’s biggest surprise thus far this season.


Midseason Grade: A

San Antonio Spurs (14-37)

• Projected win total: 22.5


The Spurs' 5-2 start was nothing more than deception for any fans that got their hopes up for this season. Since their hot start, the Spurs have won nine games, placing them two wins ahead of Houston for last place in the West. The Spurs will not make the playoffs or finish with one of the three worst records. 


Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Tre Jones, and Jakob Poeltl have shown that they could be competitive with some more experience. If anyone can build this team up to a contender in the next few years, it is the Spurs front office and Greg Popovich. Maybe Popovich can figure out how to tank successfully to give him a better shot at Wembanyama.


Midseason Grade: F

Utah Jazz (26-26)

• Projected win total: 23.5


Expectations were low in Utah after they traded away Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert while also hiring the NBA’s youngest head coach (Will Hardy). The Jazz are currently in the ten-spot in the West and seemed to strike gold with Lauri Markkanen, who they acquired in the Mitchell trade. Markkanen and the 22nd overall pick in 2022, Walker Kessler, are developing into a very strong backcourt in Utah.


The Jazz are a great example of a team ahead of schedule in their rebuild. Utah started off the season fast, going 10-3 before losses started to mount. The Jazz sat atop the conference standings for a combined eight days in November. It will be interesting to see if they can hold on to a playoff spot or if their youth and inconsistency will bite them in the end.


Midseason Grade: B+



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