The NBA season is almost to its half-way point. Some teams are doing much better than expected, while some are quite disappointing. Here is my opinion and ranking of all 30 teams.
30- CLEVELAND CAVALIERS- With a league-worst record of 8-30, the Cavs are in full-on tank mode. After losing Lebron James in free agency, Cleveland has also fired the head coach that led them to 4 straight Finals appearances in Ty Lue, and have a young core they plan to develop for the future. Although they do have a great young point guard in Collin Sexton, not much else is working for the Cavs right now.
29- CHICAGO BULLS- The Chicago Bulls, with a record of 10-28, need to find some sort of offense. They are dead last in points per game, and second to last in field goals made, free throws made, and 3 pointers made. They can’t make any shots, their defense is bottom half of the league, and their front office is dysfunctional beyond belief. They’ve already fired their head coach and still can’t find a rhythm. The Bulls would be the best off to just get a high draft pick and hope for the best next season.
28- NEW YORK KNICKS- The Knicks are struggling without their star Kristaps Porzingis. New York is 9-29 and are getting blown-out way too often. They’ve lost by 15 or more points in 13 of their 29 losses. They have the 22nd ranked offense and the 27th ranked defense. They are missing out on both sides of the floor, despite having six players averaging double-digit points. It looks like another year with the Knicks in the lottery.
27- PHOENIX SUNS- The Suns are once again losing games left and right. Phoenix has picked top-4 in the draft 3 since 2016 and it doesn’t look like that will change. They have the worst record in the Western Conference at 9-30. Devin Booker, though, is playing like an All-Star. Booker is averaging 25.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 7.2 assists, although he was out for some time with an injury. Deandre Ayton is a Rookie of the Year candidate, averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds. Hopefully for them, they can build on the individual success of these players and turn it into team success sooner rather than later.
26- ATLANTA HAWKS- The Atlanta Hawks have become a team everyone expects to be bad, and they’re meeting those expectations this year. With a record of 11-26 , the Hawks are not living up to their potential. With young stars John Collins and Trae Young both looking like future studs, the Hawks should be performing much better. They have picked up their performance recently, winning 5 of their last 7 games in December, hoping to carry momentum into the new year.
25- WASHINGTON WIZARDS- The Washington Wizards have made the playoffs the past 2 seasons, but that seems highly unlikely this year. They suffered a devastating blow when their star John Wall announced he would be having season-ending surgery on his heel. Many speculate they will trade either Otto Porter or Bradley Beal and embrace the tank. However, for now, it’s time for Beal to take the helm, hoping to lead the 15-23 Wizards to the playoffs, even though it seems as if they will be picking in the lottery in the 2019 draft.
24- ORLANDO MAGIC- Although Orlando is only half-a-game back from the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, they lack consistency. Most of their games seem to be blow-outs; either they smoke the competition, or they get shut down completely. They are bottom 5 in points per game and lack the star power to energize a game. If they can make a trade for a better point guard, which would be very beneficial, they be able to level out and find a playoff berth.
23- NEW ORLEANS PELICANS- It is a tough time for the Pelicans. They are probably the most disappointing team so far this year. They had such high expectations after sweeping the Portland Trailblazers in the 1st round of last years playoffs. Currently, the Pelicans are 17-22 and are struggling to close out games. Their offense is phenomenal, averaging a whopping 116.3 points, which is second in the league. Their defense, however, is forcing them to lose games. They have the 26th ranked defense and can’t seem to stop opponents in the 4th quarter. With Elfrid Payton returning recently and Nikola Mirotic looking to come back soon, the Pelicans may get that defense back and make a run for the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.
22- MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES- Similar to the Pelicans, the Timberwolves are a team with great potential that simply aren’t able to perform at their max. At 17-21, Minnesota can still make the playoffs, but aren’t looking as powerful as once thought. They are 4-6 in their last 10 games, heavily struggling on the defensive side. Karl-Anthony Towns is playing great, averaging roughly 22 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 assists. Unfortunately, it is not translating to team success.
21- DETROIT PISTONS- The first team on this list that is currently in the top 8 in their respective conference, the Pistons started off looking great. They went 4-0 in their first 4 games and were 13-7 20 games in. However, since then, they’ve taken a major nosedive, as they now sit at 17-19. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are all-star caliber players once again, with Griffin averaging almost 25 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5 assists and Drummond with 17 points and 15 rebounds. These two are the only reason the team is still afloat though, as the rest of the lineup is struggling majorly. The Pistons lack depth, and it is showing in their record.
20- BROOKLYN NETS- The Brooklyn Nets are finally finding some footing in the East, only half-a-game back from the 8th seed and winning 7 of their last 10. The Nets have been the laughing stock of the NBA for years, with their horrendous trades that made them lose what seemed like 10 years worth of draft picks and giving out ridiculous money to average players. It looks as though they are all-in on the playoffs this year, searching for their first berth since 2015.
19- DALLAS MAVERICKS- After looking pretty good to start, the Mavericks have gone 3-7 in their last 10 games, kicking them to 11th in the West. Dallas has the front-runner for Rookie of the Year in Luke Doncic, who is averaging almost 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists. The biggest hit on the Mavs is their road record, going 2-16 on the road. They have to learn to win away games in order to get back into the playoff hunt.
18- MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES- The Grizzlies are another team that started off red-hot, starting 12-5 and looking like a top 5 seed in the formidable Western Conference. Since then, Memphis’ bench has struggled and can’t find a way to make an impact. The Grizzlies have gone 2-8 in the last 10 and have fallen to 10th in the West with a record of 18-19. They are also seeming to lose touch inside the locker room, as Garrett Temple and Omri Casspi got into a scuffle following a loss to the Pistons. If the bench can find their groove, Memphis should find their way back into the playoff picture.
17- CHARLOTTE HORNETS- Kemba Walker is playing out of his mind. Kemba is having a career year with averages of 25.4 points, 6 assists and 4.3 rebounds. His play his feeding off onto his teammates, as the Hornets are 18-19, good enough for the 7th seed in the East. Their biggest downfall is their inability to win close games. They have a top-10 net rating among all 30 teams, but just can’t win the down-to-the-wire contests. A little more help of the bench, and the Hornets are looking solid.
16- UTAH JAZZ- Although they are 18-20 and 12th in the West, the Jazz have picked up their play recently. They’ve gone 5-5 in their last 10 and have the 4th ranked defense in the conference. Donovan Mitchell is once again averaging 20 points and Rudy Gobert is dominating on the defensive side of the ball. If the Jazz can keep their momentum going, they can return to their 2018 form, where they finished as the 5th seed
15- SACRAMENTO KINGS- The Kings are one of the more surprising teams in the league, with a record of 19-18. Prior to the season, most analysts believed the Kings would once again be a bottom 5 team in the league, but now they are only 1.5 games out of the playoffs. They are now top 5 in points per game and are improving on defense. After starting 15-12, they’ve lost 6 of their last 10. De’Aaron Fox is playing phenomenal, averaging 18 points and 7.5 assists as a second-year player. Buddy Hield is also playing great, with almost 20 points a game. If the Kings can pick up wins on the road, where they are 8-11, they can surge right back in to the 8th seed, or even higher.
14- MIAMI HEAT- The Miami Heat overcame a slow start, won 7 of their last 10 and are sitting at 18-18. As the current 6th seed in the East, the Heat are a team without a big-name star, yet they don’t need one. They have 7 players averaging double-digit points, but they really make their impact on defense. The Heat have the 7th ranked defense in the league, giving them a chance to limit the better offensive teams in the league, considering the Heat’s offense ranks bottom 10.
13- LOS ANGELES LAKERS- LeBron James is mortal. LeBron has missed 4 straight games after injuring his groin on Christmas day. The Lakers have lost 3 of the 4 games LeBron has missed. Los Angeles is 21-17 and the 8th seed in the West, but are getting riddled with injuries. Kyle Kuzma, Michael Beasley, LeBron James, and Rajon Rondo are all battling injuries right now. The Lakers still have playmakers though. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart are all taking strides to become better players for the Lakers. Lonzo is even in the early debate for an All-defensive team, as he’s locking down some of the league’s top guards.
12- PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS- The Portland Trail Blazers are heating up at the perfect time. After CJ McCollum had hit a slump, he is back on track. Damian Lillard is playing lights-out averaging almost 27 points per game. And the biggest surprise, Jusuf Nurkic is having a fantastic year. Just a few nights ago, Nurkic had the first game in NBA history comprised of 20+ points, 20+ rebounds, 5+ assists, 5+ blocks, and 5+ steals. This amazing stat line is exactly what the Blazers needed. Although the Blazers are middle of the pack in both offensive and defensive averages, they are winning games and that’s what’s important.
11- LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS- Arguably the biggest surprise this season, the Clippers are the 6th seed in the West and could easily move up. As a team, the Clippers are averaging the 4th most points per game. Unfortunately they’ve hit a small slide, losing their last 2 and 6 of their last 10. At one point this season, the Clippers were the NUMBER 1 SEED in the West. Tobias Harris is playing better than expected, averaging 21 points and 8 rebounds and Danilo Gallinari is finally healthy and playing great. If the Clippers can find their early season success again, the Western Conference may have another powerhouse.
10-SAN ANTONIO SPURS- The San Antonio Spurs are playing some great basketball. Over the month of December, the Spurs went 11-5 with great contributions from their all-stars Demar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. DeRozan is averaging roughly 23 points 6 assists and 6 rebounds on the season while Aldridge is averaging 20 points and 9 rebounds. After a rough start, at least by Gregg Popovich standards, the Spurs have returned to being that constant playoff team that everyone must be careful of.
9- HOUSTON ROCKETS- “Guess who’s back, back again” Although this is a quote from an Eminem song, it perfectly describes the Houston Rockets. No team is hotter over the last 11 games than the Rockets. The Rockets were looking rough at 11-14, then James Harden went into MVP mode. They’ve won 10 out of 11 and Harden is averaging an outstanding 39.7 points over the 11 games. Eric Gordon and Chris Paul have both suffered injuries recently, yet the Rockets are still rolling. Had they not started so slow, they would be higher on the list.
8- BOSTON CELTICS- The Boston Celtics are another team really picking it up after a slow start. In the last 16 games, Boston is 11-5 and are scoring efficiently. Kyrie Irving returned from injury and made the NBA aware of his clutchness, taking over the 4th quarter game after game. The Celtics are at the 5th seed in the East, and if they continue playing their 4th-rated defensive style, they’ll continue to ride the wave of Kyrie and the now-improving Gordon Hayward.
7- PHILADELPHIA 76ERS- The Sixers are 4th in the East with a record of 25-14 and have one of the best “big 3’s” in the league: Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, and Ben Simmons. They have both a top-10 offense and top-10 defense, and are a legit threat to any team. Joel Embiid is having a monster season, averaging 27 points and 13.6 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. Jimmy Butler is having a down year scoring wise, but is playing great defense as usual. Ben Simmons is really flourishing in his role as the primary ball handler is a candidate to make his first all-star game in only his second year. The 76ers are team that are not very deep, which at times causes issues, but when they’re good, they’re GOOD.
6- OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER- Paul George has taken over in OKC. Here are his stats from December: 30.8 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, and 43% from beyond the arc. George is a viable MVP candidate and the team is reacting to that. They are 7-3 over the last 10 games, even though former MVP Russell Westbrook isn’t playing his best. It’s funny how even though it’s not his best, Russ is still averaging a triple-double. Steven Adams is having his best scoring year to date, averaging 15.6 points. OKC has the number 1 defensive rating in the league and are averaging the most steals per game at 10.5. OKC has become efficient and effective on both sides the ball, leading them to the 3rd seed in the West.
5-INDIANA PACERS- Indiana is currently the 3rd seed in the East, and its not because of their scoring. The Pacers are a fantastic defensive-driven team. They have the second rated defense in the league. They also have the 2nd highest point differential in the league at a +6.5. They’ve won 5 in a row and 8 of their last 10, putting them within 2 games of the 1st seed. Victor Oladipo is once again making his case for 1st team All-defense, and Bojan Bogdanovic has become a premier 3-and-D wing. Watch out for Indiana.
4- GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS- Yes, Golden State can be ranked somewhere other than 1st. Something is just different about this Warriors team. They’ve had to suspend Draymond Green because of disciplinary troubles. One of the best three-point shooters of all-time, Klay Thompson, had a stretch where he could not score from beyond the arc. At one point, they lost 4 in a row. That being said, they are still a very good basketball team. Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are both averaging roughly 28 points and they have the 3rd ranked offense. Although they don’t look as dominant as usual, the Warriors are still a powerhouse, waiting to beat opponents in any way.
3- DENVER NUGGETS- Well, well, well. Nikola Jokic may be “the Joker”, but the rest of the NBA isn’t laughing. The Nuggets are playing great team basketball and are the 1st seed in the West. They are averaging the 2nd most assists per game, so everyone is really getting a chance to score the ball. Jamal Murray is surprisingly leading the team in scoring, averaging 18.3 points per game. Jokic is having a great year as well, averaging 18 points per game, along with 10 rebounds and 7.6 assists. They’ve fought through countless injuries: Gary Harris, Will Barton, Jarred Vanderbilt, Isaiah Thomas, and Michael Porter Jr. Still, they are fantastic with the players they do have and are shocking the league.
2- TORONTO RAPTORS- Kawhi Leonard is healthy and rewarding his new team with all-star play. He’s averaging 27.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and almost 3 assists. These stats are leading the Raptors to the 2nd seed in the East and a league-best 28 wins. The Raptors are top 10 in points, field goal percentage, and free throw percentage. Not only are they scoring the ball, but they are doing it efficiently. They also have a top 10 defense. Unfortunately, their second option Kyle Lowry has missed some time with injuries, but they’ve kept pushing and are just behind the Bucks for the 1st seed. When Lowry is healthy, the Raptors are a really scary team.
1- MILWAUKEE BUCKS- Yes, that’s right. “The Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo has led his team to the best win percentage and the number 1 seed in the East. He’s currently the front-runner for MVP and is almost unguardable. The Bucks as a whole are the most well-rounded team in the league, ranking 1st in offense and 3rd in defense. The front office and coaching staff have done a phenomenal job at building the perfect lineup for Giannis’ play-style. The Bucks are 2nd in three-pointers made. They’re also on a tear recently, winning 8 of their last 10. If opponents don’t find an answer for the 3 point shooting power of Kris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon and the slashing of Giannis, we have a new NBA champion come June.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter: @therealbduhon