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NBA 2022-23 Midseason Grades: Eastern Conference

NBA midseason grades

NBA 2022-23 Midseason Grades: Eastern Conference

The NBA season is at its halfway point so let’s hand out some midseason grades!

These grades are doled out relative to a team’s expectations, so whilst the Pacers and Hawks sport similar records, their grades will be very different.

Today we’re looking at the NBA’s Eastern Conference, with the West to come in a few days.

Atlanta Hawks (24-23 win/loss record): C-

The all-in trade for Dejounte Murray was meant to solidify the Hawks’ defense at the point of attack. To that end, it has been a successful move with the Hawks defense improving from 26th to 16th in defensive rating.

Offensively, Murray was supposed to give the Hawks some flexibility, allowing Trae Young to play off-ball more whilst giving the team a focal point when Young sat. That hasn’t worked. The Hawks’ attack has dropped from second to 18th in offensive rating. Perhaps the team underestimated the impact that Kevin Huerter – the man Murray replaced in the rotation – had on them.

On-court product aside, there is something that isn’t right with this group.

Coach Nate McMillan has reportedly offered to leave his post, whilst the man who assembled this roster, Travis Schlenk, has effectively been let go by the organization.

If the Hawks don’t find a way to pull it all together, expect some wholesale changes at seasons end.

Brookyln Nets (28-17): C+

Considering the start to the year that Nets endured – much of it of their own making, in fairness – it’s remarkable that they’re sitting in the top three in the conference.

To reach their current heights the Nets have had to lean on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to an almost unhealthy level given the lack of support they’re receiving from Ben Simmons (very good defensively, to be fair), Joe Harris, Seth Curry and Royce O’Neal. Nic Claxton, though, has been excellent.

Now, with Durant sidelined for the time being, the Nets are struggling again. They lost four straight with KD out before an Irving masterclass got them over the line against the Jazz.

Assuming Durant comes back soon, and they can keep he and Irving on the floor, the Nets look something like a cohesive and successful basketball team.

Boston Celtics (35-12): A

Their coach left the club in disgrace; their defensive linchpin missed most of the first half of the season; one of their prized offseason recruits was gone for the season before he even played a minute. Does it matter?

The Celtics have picked up right where they left off last season, with Jayson Tatum playing at an MVP level, Jaylen Brown an elite sidekick, the defense not missing a beat now that Robert Williams back in the lineup and the offense elite.

Credit to Joe Mazzulla who wouldn’t even be the Celtics coach if Will Hardy hadn’t been poached by Utah. He’s steered this ship away from every rocky outcrop and has them positioned as the class of the East and, maybe, the class of the entire NBA.

Charlotte Hornets (13-34): D-

The Hornets are brutul.

I’m holding off on giving the Hornets an outright F due to some circumstances that are out of their control — namely LaMelo Ball‘s intermittent injuries, Gordon Hayward‘s not at all unexpected injury concerns and Miles Bridges‘ legal issues.

It doesn’t matter which team you are: if you lose your best three players for extended periods, you’re going to struggle. When you’re the Hornets – average at best, even when fully healthy – you’re going to stink.

There is no promise of a better tomorrow for Charlotte, either. Given his brother’s health issues, the team must be concerned with Ball’s recurring injuries. Any games you get from Hayward are gravy at this point. Bridges – with any luck – won’t be returning to an NBA court anytime soon.

The team’s recent draft record is deplorable, as well. James Bouknight and Kai Jones might lead the Shanghai Sharks to glory in 2025. They’re an afterthought for the Hornets in 2023. Rookie Mark Williams is barely hanging on at the end of the rotation.

It’s unlikely, given their history, but the Hornets hold a raft of veterans that other teams would love to get their hands on. Kelly Oubre Jr. and Jalen McDaniels are having career years. Mason Plumlee has quietly been excellent.

It’s the Hornets, though. They won’t trade anybody. Mediocrity is the goal, year after year after year.

Chicago Bulls (21-24): D+

The Bulls are caught betwixt and between.

Are they a veteran team trying to push themselves into the conversation in the East? Are they a team trying to develop youngsters in Patrick Williams, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu?

Right now, they’re neither.

Their core veterans are not able to get them into the upper echelons of the East — though admittedly injuries to Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine have scuppered them. Those same vets are standing between the youngsters and the court time needed for their development.

To be fair, the Bulls half-court offense is very good, despite the fact that they almost never shoot threes. Their defense is decent despite not playing anything close to a rim protecting big. The Bulls are a decent team. They could be very good if they get their full roster together.

Time, though, is running out for that to occur. Ball’s injuries look chronic and LaVine hasn’t exactly been a reliable presence through his career. DeMar DeRozan is almost 34 years old, Nikola Vucevic an old 32. These two can’t have much left in the tank.

As the Bulls might be about to find out, it’s always later than you think.

Cleveland Cavaliers (29-19): A-

The Cavaliers jigsaw is not yet complete.

Sure, they’ve got four foundational players, even though the fit between those four isn’t seamless. It’s the rest of the roster that still requires upgrading.

The Cavs desperately need a small forward worthy of starting alongside their big four. Isaac Okoro is not it, nor is the delightful Dean Wade. Caris LeVert consistently flatters to deceive.

The return of Ricky Rubio could give the Cavs another playmaker, though their bigger need in the backcourt is a true defensive ace. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley are defensively impassible at times, but the Cavs could do with some more offensive shooting and creativity which, to be fair, Mobley could eventually provide.

That said, the Cavs big move for Donovan Mitchell has paid off with the Cavs pushing the Durant-less Nets for a top four seed.

They’re a long way ahead of schedule.

Detroit Pistons (12-36): B

It could have all gone pear shaped for the Pistons when Cade Cunningham went down with what turned out to be a season ending injury. Instead, the Pistons have made the most of their situation.

Detroit knows that without their crown jewel they can tank without pressure, which they’ve done perfectly, sitting at the bottom of the East at the time of writing.

They’ve used their low-pressure environment to pump minutes into rookies Jaden Ivey and Jalen Duren, who have both been very impressive.

Detroit has also turned itself into an island for misfit toys. Former lottery pick Killian Hayes has stepped into Cunningham’s role and played well, averaging 12 points (including 34.8% shooting from deep), 6.8 assists and 1.4 steals as a starter. Marvin Bagley III has rightly been supplanted by Duren in the starting lineup, but has been solid, nonetheless. They’ve even been able to get the occasional tune out of Kevin Knox!

The Pistons are balancing their lottery aspirations with player development (Cunningham aside, of course) perfectly.

Indiana Pacers (23-25): A-

The hits just keep on coming from Indiana general manager Kevin Pritchard, whose ability to rebuild on the fly is really quite impressive.

Paul George wants out? Let’s turn him into future All-Stars Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. DoMo doesn’t quite work alongside your All-Defensive center? That’s fine. We’ll swap him for one of the best young guards in the NBA and one of the NBA’s premier marksmen. Need some support players? No problem. Let’s pull Jalen Smith and Aaron Nesmith from teams that don’t appreciate them. How about picking a quality player like Andrew Nembhard in the second round?

The Pacers were supposed to be in the tank this season – I was as guilty of buying into that as anybody. What Indiana has produced so far in 2022-23 has far exceeded what just about anybody could have predicted.

If they can re-sign Myles Turner to a long-term deal, then this team might just have its core sorted out. Given Pritchard’s record of fiddling around the edges of rosters, the Pacers must be feeling good about themselves right now.

Miami Heat (25-22): B

The Heat have been decimated by injuries so far this season. Their opening night starting five — Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Caleb Martin, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo — have played just 15 very effective games together.

Adebayo has been utterly brilliant as he’s battled to keep his team afloat, finally taking control of the offense, finally topping the 20-point average mark whilst providing his usual numbers across the board on top of stellar defense. Herro, who started the season on fire before being curtailed by injury, has started to look himself again. Butler – when he plays – is still the NBA’s most underappreciated superstar.

They’re trending in the right direction, winning eight of their past 13 games. If they can maintain some modicum of health – a big if – expect the Heat to push back into a top four seed in the East.

Milwaukee Bucks (29-17): B

The Bucks are just about playing to their limits to maintain their top two seeding in the East.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing out of his skin at both ends most nights to carry his hamstrung team. Brook Lopez‘s early season form saw him as a leading contender for Defensive Player of the Year. It’s not a coincidence that as his form has fallen away, the Bucks’ defense has done the same. Bobby Portis is the only reserve player that can be relied upon to create anything offensively.

Of course, all of what ails the Bucks could be solved by a touch of improved health to Giannis’ key lieutenants in Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton. Holiday’s season has gone in fits and starts, the guard missing 15 games in five separate blocks. Middleton has played just the 171 minutes so far this season; in other words, 80% of a Lord of the Rings movie.

Getting those two back on board would help the Bucks exponentially. They have to hope it happens in time for the rest of their core to have something left in the tank for a deep playoff run.

New York Knicks (25-22): B+

Yes, he was pretty expensive, but Jalen Brunson has given the Knicks everything they could have wanted. As a point guard should, he’s given the team a structure and offensive focus that they haven’t had in previous seasons. It’s reasonable to assume that Brunson’s presence has played a large part in Julius Randle‘s resurgence, too.

Randle’s shooting numbers are not quite at the outlier level of his All-NBA season, but his counting stats are excellent; 24.4 points and 10.7 boards both representing career highs.

Most encouragingly, the famously inflexible Tom Thibodeau has shown an adaptability that belies his reputation. He’s been able to move Evan Fournier to the edge of the rotation whilst cutting the cord with his long time Golden Child Derrick Rose, the former MVP not having seen a second of court time since the turn of the year. The emergence of Quentin Grimes has given the Knicks a genuine two-way wing, something they haven’t had for the longest time.

The Knicks are not elite, but they’re a genuine playoff team that look to have a sustainable future. That represents genuine progress for the Knickerbockers.

Orlando Magic (17-29): A-

This grading is all about perspective. The Magic are sitting well outside a play-in spot, let alone the top six. Yet the feeling around the team couldn’t be more positive.

Since their 5-20 start, the Magic are humming along with a 12-9 record and an above league average offense despite getting next to nothing from their backcourt at that end of the floor.

The young trio of Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. could be Orlando’s starting front court for the next decade. They’re a +10.7 when sharing the floor and are ably backed up by the delightful Bol Bol and Franz’s older brother, Moritz. Jonathan Isaac is set to return after an age away from the floor. If he can provide anything it is, it’s a bonus.

As poor as their backcourt has been, there is intriguing talent on the roster. Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz and Jalen Suggs could all turn themselves into legitimate starters on a good team. At worst, they’re rotation pieces.

Not ideal, but with the Magic due to get another bite at the lottery apple at the end of this season, they could still find a future starting guard to complement that fantastic front line.

Philadelphia 76ers (30-16): B+

The Sixers didn’t get off to a flyer this season, but they’ve righted the ship after that poor start despite the fact that Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and James Harden – only the team’s best three players – have all missed chunks of the season.

General manager Daryl Morey has created a team with serious depth and versatility. Harden has settled into his role as a master distributor; Maxey is an electric secondary scorer. The oft maligned Tobias Harris is playing career best defense alongside outstanding offensive efficiency. He has, at long last, found his level. De’Anthony Melton has been one of the best acquisitions of the offseason.

Of course, none of that matters without Embiid, yet again, playing at an MVP-level. He is averaging a career high 33.7 points per game but it’s how he’s doing it that is so encouraging. With shooters stationed all around him, Embiid is taking less threes and is instead setting up at the elbow or nail, using the threat of mashing his defender to open up his midrange game. He’s also playmaking superbly when given the chance.

The Sixers, suddenly drama-free, just need good health to maintain their status as a legitimate threat in the East.

Toronto Raptors (20-27): C-

This is not what the Raptors’ power brokers expected.

The team isn’t able to stop teams from scoring and whilst it does create a truck load of turnovers their formidable fast break offense can’t cover for their awful half court attack.

It will be interesting to see if general manager Masai Ujiri decides to stick or twist with this group through the trade deadline and the offseason.

An aside, keep an eye out for a new video series coming from Vendetta Sports where I cover various NBA topics. The first item in the agenda is these very Raptors. I’ll go into more detail on the Raptors’ issues there.

Washington Wizards (20-26): D+

The good vibes of the Wizards’ early season form are a distant memory as the team has reverted to type.

The high-profile trio of Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma are very good, posting a +3.5 net rating. The issue is that Beal has yet again proven an unreliable presence, missing 20 games so far this campaign.

Porzingis, by contrast, is enjoying his longest run of good health in years (cue limbs just randomly falling of the giant Latvian). It’s not coincidental that he’s playing his best basketball since his ACL injury as a New York Knick. Assuming he can maintain his health, Porzingis will remain a borderline All-Star.

Kuzma presents a very Wizardsy problem. He’s playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 21.7 points per game as well as four assists – both career highs. He holds a player option for $13 million next season – he’s a mortal lock to decline it. Do the Wizards want to extend him on a much larger figure? If they don’t, they really should look to trade him. Wouldn’t it be so Wizards, though, to retain him long term and lock themselves into – at best – mediocrity?

Outside of those three, there really isn’t much to speak of. Recent lottery picks Corey Kispert, Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija are rotation pieces but not starting quality players. Monte Morris is a fine reserve but nothing more.


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