The NBA season is officially in full swing, and with the All-Star break closing in, we are almost in the exact same place that we were last year. The Knicks have fallen short of expectations, Demarcus Cousins is in every trade rumor imaginable, and once again, super-teams are ruling the NBA.
Tier 1: The (Real) Title Contenders
Golden State Warriors
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we want the title race to be more competitive, but it isn’t. The Golden State Warriors are easily the best team in the West. They will be in the finals and there isn’t anything the West can do about it. The bay area super-team boasts the 2nd best offense and the 3rd best defense in the league. The balance that they lacked last year on the defensive end is sure to provide them the motivation to turn their defense around and make a deep playoff run. Seemingly one of the only teams that can beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Warriors offense is practically unstoppable and their defensive tandem of Durant and Green has provided the rim protection they were hoping for.
Again, this is the only team that can win the East. A coasting LeBron resting up for the playoffs and an improved Kyrie Irving currently have the Cavaliers sitting atop the Eastern conference standings. Although LeBron has fallen behind in the MVP race, he still continues to stuff the stat sheet on a nightly basis. Another part of Cleveland’s Big 3, Kevin Love, has solidified his role on the Cavs with a solid 20/10, putting up his best numbers since he arrived in Cleveland. Cleveland looks very impressive but lacks a starting caliber shooting guard with a JR Smith injury earlier in the season. Cleveland’s acquisition of Kyle Korver is sure to help but their lack of depth at that position is still their Achilles heel.
Tier 2: Almost There
The Raptors’ surprising success in the last two seasons is mostly due to the Raptors’ league-leading offense. With the emergence of DeMar DeRozan as a true superstar and a career year for Kyle Lowry, the backcourt duo will both feature in the all-star game for the second consecutive year. The Raptors have kept pace with the Cavaliers, staying within a game behind them while holding off the surging Boston Celtics. While the Raptors offense has helped them win games, their inability to defend could hurt them down the line, especially if they want any chance to beat the Cavs. With the injury of Jared Sullinger, their depth in the front-court has proved to be an issue. An upgrade at the backup center spot would help the Raptors in a potential playoff run.
The Boston Celtics have been hovering around the third seed and now aim to take the second seed from the Raptors. The Celtics disappointed coming out of the gate, but have recovered and are now in place for a top three finish in the East. Isaiah Thomas looks like a superstar despite his stature. Thomas is currently one of the top guards in the East and helped the Celtics recover from their early struggles. Rebounding still remains an issue for this squad even with the acquisition of Al Horford, who has still slotted in fairly well with the Celtics. The number-one issue for the Celtics, surprisingly, is defense. A team praised for their defensive effort last year added another defensive stopper in Al Horford, but is now 21st in defense. Their puzzling struggles continue, and the inconsistency of rookie lottery pick Jaylen Brown hasn’t helped.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are probably the best team on this list. The post-Tim Duncan era is underway and the spurs practically haven’t missed. With Aldridge’s surprisingly good defense along with the consistent Pau Gasol and an MVP-caliber effort from Kawhi Leonard, who gets it done on both ends night in and night out, the Spurs have kept close with the league best Golden State Warriors. Unfortunately, the pure amount of talent on the Cavs and Warriors rosters sets them apart from every other team, even Pop’s Spurs.
The Houston Rockets are back and James Harden is playing at an MVP level. Darryl Morry’s acquisitions of Eric Gordon, Ryan Andersen, and Nene have fit in perfectly with new head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Eric Gordon is the frontrunner for sixth man of the year voting, providing instant offense when Harden isn’t on the floor. Houston’s mediocre defense is an improvement over last year’s awful Houston defense, and Patrick Beverly is a top defensive guard. Houston’s offense is one of the league best’s and has kept the surprising Rockets in the top three all year long.
Los Angeles Clippers
Here we are again with the Clippers. Injuries have hurt them, but again, they are really good but not great. Blake Griffin has missed a large part of the season and DeAndre Jordan has stepped up and played at an all-star level. Chris Paul is his usual consistent efficient self, but will be missing six-eight weeks after undergoing successful hand surgery. The emergence of the Clippers bench has been an unexpected bonus for LA, but with Chris Paul’s injury and Blake Griffin trade rumors swirling, it looks like another season without the Clippers in the Western Conference Finals.
Tier 3: Good but Not Great
The Utah Jazz have finally arrived. New acquisition George Hill has fit in perfectly with Quinn Snyder’s system, although he has been hampered with injuries. The continued progression of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors has been a positive for Utah, as the Jazz boast a league-best defense. Rodney Hood has been a solid two-way player along with Gordon Hayward. Gordon Hayward is battling injuries, but continues to play at an all-star level as the Utah Jazz stay in the playoff hunt.
Same old same old, but it works. The Grizzlies’ stifling defense is amongst the top in the NBA once again. Marc Gasol is still a reliable big man, while Mike Conley is off to another great season in which he will once again be snubbed of an all-star spot. The Grizzlies have overachieved but desperately need offense wherever they can get it. On that note, Chandler Parsons has been in and out of the lineup and hasn’t provided offense for the Memphis Grizzlies which has the whole world wondering how this guy got a 94-million dollar contract to go with Conley’s fat deal.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder are exactly where we expected them to be at this time of the year, with Russell Westbrook taking the league by storm in his MVP campaign, almost singlehandedly winning games for OKC. Victor Oladipo has been okay, but not enough for them to truly compete against the big teams. The Thunder should make the playoffs, but even with Westbrook’s monster numbers, it seems unlikely that they can go on a playoff run.
Tier 4: Meh, Mediocre
The Atlanta Hawks had a great start, then trailed off, and now they are back. Kinda. Dwight Howard has been better than expected, but Kent Bazemore hasn’t lived up to expectations after signing a big money contract in the offseason. With Paul Millsap trade rumors and Korver already shipped out, this Hawks season seems like a failure. They are fourth in the East, though, and if the Hawks can string together some wins, they will be able to find some success in the mediocre East. Word has spread that the Hawks have committed to improving their team for future seasons, so it remains to be seen how the rest of the season will play out for Atlanta.
The originally slow out of the gate Wizards are surging and rising up the standings. John Wall is back to being a star and Bradley Beal is playing better than he has in past seasons. The emergence of Otto Porter has been huge for Washington, providing athleticism and living up to his draft position. They should consider rebuilding if they want to contend for a championship.
After a standout year last year for Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets overall, the Hornets have lost key members of their bench in the offseason in Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin. They didn’t make the offseason moves they needed to and are now stuck in mediocrity.
Tier 5: Promising/Disappointing
The Nuggets are filled with a lot of raw talent with a lot of promising young guys. Despite their promising future, Denver seems to look a couple of years away from a serious playoff run. The Nuggets are still fighting for a playoff spot and could possibly sneak in.
The Pacers came into the season with sky-high expectations and have failed to live up to the hype. Paul George has played up to scratch despite lowered numbers compared to last year. Monta Ellis is having his worst season since his rookie year and the Pacers are falling off. Myles Turner continues to show promise. Look for this team to make a playoff push after the all-star break.
The Bulls have been slightly disappointing. No one expected them to contend, but things have been a little wild in Chicago. As most suspected, Rondo has been a nightmare to coaches, as usual. Their biggest let down has been their bench. Doug McDermott has missed time with a concussion and the rest of the bench has struggled. Dwyane Wade has been solid and Jimmy Butler is playing like an all-star starter, but it just isn’t enough in Chicago.
Tier 6: Almost Mediocre
Portland Trail Blazers
One of the most disappointing teams on this list, after an amazing season last year and what looked like great signings, Portland has taken a major step back this year. Despite this, they are still in the Western Conference playoff race. If they want to take the next step, then they have to become a better defensive team.
After giving Cleveland a good run for their money in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Pistons have faltered without Reggie Jackson, who missed the first part of the season with a knee ailment. Detroit’s defense has failed this year, causing them to be one of the biggest disappointments this year. The only positive from this year is the play of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who has proved to be a very solid two way player in today’s game. The Pistons have a lot of talent but not enough star power to cut it in today’s game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has arrived. The Greek freak will be starting in his first career all-star game due to his amazing performances this season. Along with Giannis’ play, Jabari Parker has emerged and reminded NBA fans about his tremendous talent. The Bucks have a lot of pieces but seem to be a few years away from real contention.
New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans have squeaked into this tier. For the Pelicans, every game matters from here. Anthony Davis continues to shine as his team continues to lose. After an ugly start, the Pelicans have seen a slight improvement in play since Jrue Holiday has returned, along with the improved play of rookie Buddy Hield.
Tier 7: Ugh, We Suck
New York Knicks
After getting off to a solid start have fallen off in the worst way and have shown signs of boredom at times. The Knicks look unmotivated. Derrick Rose has shown that he may never get back to his MVP pedigree and Carmelo Anthony is amid trade rumors, a classic overrated underperforming New York team. Kristaps Porzingis has improved but his efforts alone haven’t been enough as the Knicks seem to be imploding.
Another season of Demarcus Cousins trade rumors. The Sacramento Kings are surprisingly still in the playoff race, but with the Boogie drama and a below mediocre bench and defense, the future doesn’t look so good in Sacramento.
New addition Serge Ibaka has been solid, but isn’t the defensive force he used to be. Along with this, Evan Fournier hasn’t been anything special after signing an extension this past offseason. Rotation consistency has been a mystery to Orlando this year as they haven’t found any stability there. One positive from this season is the improved play of guard Elfrid Payton who is playing some of the best ball of his career.
It’s a disappointing season for Minnesota after every journalist called them the next big thing. The future still looks bright for the T-Wolves. Karl Anthony-Towns has continued his ascent into one of the biggest stars in the NBA along with the improved play of Andrew Wiggins, forming one of the best young duo’s in the NBA. These two, along with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine provide the young nucleus that will undoubtedly lead the T-Wolves into future championship glory.
After an expected rough start, the 76ers are everyone’s favorite underdog team. Since December, the 76ers have been a top five defense, providing the team with an identity. Rookie Joel Embiid has been everything Philadelphia expected and more. Embiid and Ilyasova have been solid up front providing defense and offense. Philadelphia is doing all of this without Ben Simmons. Who knows how good they’ll be next season?
The sad end is here, the end of the Dirk Nowitzki era is looming. Dirk’s play is close to a career worst as Dallas is now one of the league’s worst teams. A positive from this season is Harrison Barnes as he has shown to be a dependable go-to scorer in his new role in Dallas. Dallas looks like it is close to rebuild mode as they desperately need youth and talent.
The Phoenix rebuild is still ongoing as young stud Devin Booker and fellow guard Eric Bledsoe have provided most of the offense for this Suns team. The Phoenix bench has been a positive in an otherwise pointless season. The Suns continue their rebuild as they continue to draft in the lottery and fail to find success.
An injury riddled Heat team has proven to be one of the league’s worst squads even with amazing efforts from all-star candidate Hassan Whiteside night in, night out. After a dynasty with LeBron, it’s clear that Miami is in full rebuild mode after letting Dwyane Wade walk and sign with Chicago.
Los Angeles Lakers
After the amazing start to the season where LA was in playoff contention and Luke Walton was getting coach of the year nods, the Lakers have trailed off and have regressed to being one of the league’s worst teams. Despite a disappointing season after the great start, the Lakers have a lot to look forward to with some promising pieces. Their young nucleus that includes Russell, Randle, Clarkson and even Nance Jr. will develop, so cheer up LA, you’ll be good again soon.
Tier 8: The Nets
Yep, they have their own category. They are that bad. With a league-worst record and rights to their future draft picks belonging to the Celtics, the future doesn’t look too good for Brooklyn. With no picks, the rebuild in Brooklyn is sure to last for many years.