With school practically taking me over, I thought it’d be fun to do a column where we apply a school-theme to the NBA season. So, we ended up here. This is a two part series, with the B+ and A grades coming Monday. For now, we get to make fun of some teams, and offer some help.
F: Dallas Mavericks, Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards
Dallas gets a F because while I didn’t expect them to make the playoffs, I thought they’d be better than the 3rd worst team in the league. Practically everything is going wrong for the Mavericks, and its so bad that even Rick Carlisle can’t fix it.
Injuries have killed them to start out. Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams have battled injuries, and their depth is a serious issue. Key bench guys like Devin Harris and J.J. Barea have played even less than Bogut and Williams, leading to role players filling in the missing minutes. It seems like this might be it for Williams. He took a cheap contract with Dallas in the Summer of 2015, bet on himself, and got rewarded. But this year it seems to have fallen apart. When he’s been healthy he’s played poorly. His usage rate is too high (23%) for a guy who’s shooting 38.7% of field goals and only scoring 12.3 points per game. You have to wonder what his future is if he doesn’t turn this season around.
Harrison Barnes is not the guy they hoped he’d be. They signed him thinking he’d be their No.1 option, but the three point shot is just not there. Come to think about it: Only Golden State can swap Barnes for Kevin Durant.
Wesley Matthews has never been the same since his Achilles tear in Portland. Thats an injury that affects you forever. You’re not the same athlete after you go through that (Not to compare myself to a professional athlete, but I tore mine in 6th grade). Matthews has been one of the worst players in the league this year based off of plus/minus, ranked 408 out of 443. At this point, I’m happy he got that big contract. Cause its gonna be bleak for him once its up.
If this is the year Mark Cuban says “Screw it.” and tanks, expect a lot of turnover next Summer. This Mavericks team is just not in a good place with this core.
The Kings and Wizards aren’t as bad as the Mavericks record wise, but have the same issue: Their core is just not gonna work anymore.
That mostly applies to Washington. John Wall just can’t do it by himself. If I’m running the Wizards, I’m trading everyone. I’m getting a huge package for John Wall, decent packages for Bradley Beal and Ian Mahimi, and trying to squeeze whatever I can out of Marcin Gortat. I’m keeping the young wings, Trey Burke, and Daniel Ochefu. Thats it! Everyone else is gone.
The stats say otherwise, but Bradley Beal is just not that good. That is, next to John Wall. Thats nothing against Wall. Its just hard to play those two together. The chemistry is not there. Marcin Gortat is closer to the bottom than the top when it comes to FG% on post-ups while ranking 7th in post touches. Yikes! He’s gotta go too. Hey, at least Otto Porter has figured it out!
Unfortunately for Washington fans, this gutting of the team won’t happen, because the Wizards front office is too incompetent to realize that they’re wasting John Wall and letting their fans watch a mediocre-at-best team.
The Kings don’t have to go through as large of a blowup because they have less assets than Washington. To put it in perspective, Sacramento has two players who have a PER above 20 this year: DeMarcus Cousins, and Skal Labasierre, who’s played in one game all year! Thats it! No one else has managed to get themselves to be considered a good NBA player. They’re all average or worse!
Like Washington, the Kings front office is too incompetent to trade their assets and stop torturing the fans. Maybe I should run these teams…
D: Minnesota Timberwolves, Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers
The teams I’m giving a D-grade are teams that should be much better as we’re a quarter into the season. Some can save themselves, some might be a lost cause at this point.
We’ll start here in Minnesota, where the mood about the Timberwolves is somber. Everyone’s confused and upset about the team right now. I, though not a Wolves fan, am too. Its disappointing to only have to watch only a half or three quarters of their games, because you know whats gonna eventually happen: They’ll blow a lead or collapse in the 3rd or 4th quarter.
The only real explanation is the fact that they’re young and inexperienced. There’s also a lack of leadership and experience on the team, which doesn’t help whatsoever. At the same time, they might be better without it. Reports over the past three weeks or so hint that Tom Thibideou could be gearing up for a panic trade. This would include dealing someone like Zach Lavine or Gorgui Dieng in exchange for a veteran who may or may not fit. If I’m a Wolves fan, that terrifies me. While I think Lavine may not exactly fit in with this current Wolves team, selling him low is the last thing you want to do. There are plenty of teams that would give up an insane amount to have him. Here’s an idea Thibs: Get rid of Ricky Rubio!
There’s not really a lot else to say about the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns is a monster. Andrew Wiggins, though struggling lately, has improved his offensive game. Kris Dunn looks awesome. There’s still a lot to like. They’re just young and inexperienced. They’ll get there eventually. Everyone needs to relax.
The Pacers are in a funky spot. They have a lot talent, but can’t seem to get the pieces to fit together.
The morning before I started on this column, Jonathan Tjarks decided to put a spotlight on the Pacers and explained them so perfectly that I’m not gonna even try to. Here’s Jonathan’s piece for The Ringer.
All I can say is, this is big news for us on the Glenn Robinson lll bandwagon.
Actually, I have a couple things I need to add. First of all, I think Nate McMillan has a huge impact on the decline of this Pacers team. Thats not to say he’s a bad coach. Its just, going from Frank Vogel to McMillan is a huge downgrade, and its playing out in front of our eyes.
Secondly, if the Pacers don’t figure this out, expect the Paul George trade rumors to start. I’m not sure if Indiana should do it, but there will be teams (like Boston) that will make the call.
On to the Nuggets, who have been one of my favorite teams to watch this season even though they’re struggling a bit to open the year.
Denver has a lot of guys. The problem, similar to Minnesota, is that they’re all very young. But its not the experience issue like we see with the Timberwolves. The Nuggets are simply raw. Its a raw collection of talent, and you can tell when you watch them. Emmanuel Muiday is a guy I think is really good, but he hasn’t fully developed the ability to shoot consistently and defend well enough. Muiday knows what he’s doing out there though. He has that command. As a point guard, you have to have that immediately.
The Nuggets have a ton of different lineups they can play too. No lineup of their’s has played more than 64 minutes together. Thats an incredible number, and shows off their versatility and unpredictability.
The fact that Denver has a lot guys but also has holes creates an interesting question: Who should they trade for?
The obvious answer? John Wall.
Why is that? Well, as much as I love Muiday, you have to wonder whether the ability to shoot will ever come. In Wall, you’re getting a do-it-all point guard who’s experienced and has team control. Plus, he’s your alpha-dog. Denver lacks that right now. They don’t have anyone who can takeover a game when needed.
A package for Wall probably looks like Muiday, the Wizards choice of Jusuf Nurkic or Nikola Jokic, and a draft pick. Thats two nice pieces (as I mentioned above) for Washington to reboot. For the Nuggets, you’re getting one of the 20 best players in the league while keeping your uniqueness.
If Denver pulls off a big trade, I think this is an A-team and an immediate title contender.
I’m very close to calling Portland a lost cause. They are lights out offensively, as they’re 6th in Off Rtg and score the 6th most points per game. But the defensive side of the court has been just a disaster this season. The best Def Rtg on their roster is Shabazz Naiper at 107, which is ironic because that was the one thing he sucked at in college. Napier has only played in 14 games though. Out of guys who have played at least 20 games, the best rating is 110 by Noah Vonleh. Good to know Vonleh is doing something right for once.
Its hard to solve Portland’s problem. They have a lot of guys, but I don’t think anyone is gonna offer you too much for Moe Harkless or Allen Crabbe (Who’s been a disaster after signing that big contract). The Trail Blazers’ assets besides Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are too spare-part-sy. Trading McCollum is something they should consider. His chemistry with Lillard is questionable, and they could get a lockdown D-and-3 guy (and more!) out of him.
C: Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics
This part of the C’s is the average teams that should and will be better later on. Whats the difference between these teams and the Ds? Well, these teams are just average. They all have a “meh” to them. That categorization doesn’t get you anything special. A C-grade is nothing special.
Detroit is pretty confusing so far. They have a lot of talent, and their talent is playing well. So whats the problem?
I think there’s two parts to it. 1) They aren’t dynamic enough offensively. 2) They’ve lost a lot of really bad games.
First off, Reggie Jackson getting back in the groove should help them smooth things out offensively. He’s only played five games so far, so the advanced metrics can’t prove anything. While I’d never thought I’d say Reggie Jackson is an upgrade over anyone, he certainly is over Ish Smith (What a world). I warned of this in my season preview with the Pistons. They might struggle a bit early on, and they have. I think Stan Van Gundy is a good enough coach to get them on the right track. However, there is something wrong with this team that does fall on his shoulders.
Detroit has lost a lot of really bad games so far. This includes losses to Phoenix, the 76ers, Brooklyn, and the Magic. Those are games they have to win. Those are critical if you want to make the playoffs. All four of those losses have came in crunch-time, and its the coach’s job to make the team stays in check throughout the whole game.
I think what also ties into that is that this roster is full of guys who haven’t really played in big games. Meaning, they just lack experience. Its kinda similar to Minnesota’s issues, but with a different cause.
I have confidence the Pistons will turn this around though. They’ll be fine.
Atlanta is the definition of “meh”.
The Dennis Schroder experiment has not gone well. The Hawks are just in a worst place with him running their offense. He doesn’t know what he’s doing out there. The stats show the decline too. While Atlanta is one of the best defensive teams in the league, the offense ranks 25th in Off Rtg. Schroder has a 16.1 PER on the season, compared to Teague’s 18.7.
Its disappointing. I liked Schroder, and the Hawks believed in him. There’s still plenty of time, but for now, the Teague -Schroder swap isn’t looking so hot, and Atlanta’s suffering because of it.
Milwaukee getting a C is going to raise some eyebrows. The Bucks have been one of the league’s surprises early on. Not to me though. In my eyes, they’ve underachieved. While Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing out of his freaking mind, the surrounding cast isn’t helping him out much. But its only in certain aspects.
If you take a statistical and eye test perspective, the Bucks are great. Greg Monroe has found himself again. Jabari Parker is turning into a really good scorer. The Greek Freak might have just turned into only “The Freak”. Malcolm Brogdon is showing us what he did in college so well. Everything seems to be working.
But, the Bucks are having issues that other teams I’ve mentioned above are having: Crunch-time.
Once again, its a lack of experience and, more so to this Bucks team, a lack of guys who’ve played in big games.
Every time I’ve watched Milwaukee, they’re blowing it at the end or are discombobulated. Thats literally the only problem.
I don’t think this team needs a trade. I think its gonna take some time for them to acclimate and play well when it matters. But man, once they do figure it out… Watch out, other NBA teams.
Boston is another team that you could make a B-case for. A lot of their current loses can be blamed on the fact that Jae Crowder and Al Horford missed a good amount of time. The Celtics were a mess when those guys were out.
The Celtics are really fun to watch. I’ve came around on Jaylen Brown, and I turned that corner really fast. I just like watching him run. He’s so athletic and runs so nicely. Jonas Jerebko has stepped up big time this season. Avery Bradley is getting a ton of rebounds, which is awesome and I have no idea where it came from.
Boston’s problems are big though. They struggle in crunch-time too, and have an issue at center. Al Horford has been awesome for Boston. He filled a huge need, but he’s not exactly the best rim protecter in the world, and he isn’t gonna do the dirty work. Boston lacks a competent dirty-work/rim protecter. Its not Kelly Olynyk. Its definitely not Tyler Zeller, who’s been just terrible every time I watch the Celtics.
I smell a trade. But it depends on how big Danny Ainge wants to go. Boogie is sitting right there for them, but they could swing low and grab someone like Andrew Bogut (???).
The problem Boston is not gonna be able to solve without swinging for the fences is the crunch-time issue. Their superstar is Horford, but he’s not a guy who you can put the ball in hands every possession and tell him to make something happen. For Boston to not have these issues, its gonna take a superstar trade. That in itself is a whole ‘nother conversation.
Boston’s win total is gonna climb for now, but come playoff time, these issues might catch up to them.
C+: Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, New Orleans Pelicans, Orlando Magic
This part of the C’s gets the extra points because while these aren’t good teams, they’re doing exactly what they should be doing. That is: Tanking or developing while being bad. The reason why these teams can’t hop into the B’s is due to their watchability. The case can be made for the 76ers though. Joel Embiid has been awesome this season. Hollis Thompson has came out of nowhere and proved himself competent. But besides that, this 76ers team is still pretty brutal. They’re not as fun as I thought they’d be. Dario Saric and Timothe Lawawu have struggled. The Gerald Henderson and Sergio Rodriguez experience has not been fun. All I know is: Ben Simmons needs to debut ASAP.
None of these teams, even my own Suns, really have my interest. Its just boring watching them.
B: Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks
These teams land right in the middle. They’re better than average, but aren’t quite in that top tier yet.
I really like this Hornets team. I enjoy watching them. They move the ball well, and don’t turn it over. Charlotte earns only a B though because Kemba Walker is their best player this year. That has its pro and cons. Its a con because he really shouldn’t be their best player. Nicolas Batum has struggled this year, shooting only 39% on field goals.
They’re making due, but Charlotte could be much better.
The Bulls are somehow afloat right now, which is hard to believe since Rajon Rondo has turned back into himself after playing well early, and since Nikola Mirotic is an out-of-control maniac with his decisions and is STILL being played ahead of Bobby Portis.
Whats going right for Chicago? Well, Jimmy Butler is a superstar, and is playing like one with a 27.2 PER. Dwyane Wade is shooting extremely and abnormally well. I’m also starting to really like this Christiano Felicio kid. He’s always there making plays.
Chicago can keep this up. But I’m not sure how much better they can be. This is where the offseason concerns start to come back into play. This team is just not built for contention.
However, Chicago can make themselves more watchable. Giving Bobby Portis minutes over Nikola Mirotic is where they can start. Portis has played extremely well in the short time he has. C’mon Fred Hoiberg!
Also, Jerian Grant has been enjoyable. He’s not a shooter by any means, but serves as a pretty good 2nd or 3rd guard.
Oh, the Knicks. So many pros and so many cons. I’m just gonna list them.
- Kristaps Porzingis is a freaking animal and this is HIS team now
- Kyle O’Quinn proving himself worthy of that insane contract
- Brandon Jennings serving as a good backup point guard
- Mingdaus Kuzminskas coming out of nowhere and turning into one my favorite players
- Carmelo Anthony not respecting that this is Porzingis’ team
- Joakim Noah being almost unwatchable
- The constant isolation ball between Melo and Derrick Rose
- (Sometimes) Not being able to watch Porzingis takeover
So yeah, the Knicks are frustrating, and its why they earn a B and have the record they have.
The Porzingis experience is on a whole ‘nother level this year. The guy is absolutely killing it every game, and is almost killing other players.
On the other end, Melo just needs to take a backseat. I’m so tired of watching him dance around with the ball in crunch-time as opposed to moving it around, or feeding Porzingod.
Kyle O’Quinn gives this Knicks offense a new identity, and its for the better. Joakim Noah has been simply atrocious this year. The dude is a center and he’s not even shooting 50%. The Knicks are a disaster collectively on the defensive end, but Noah’s Def Rtg is much worse O’Quinn’s. If I’m the Knicks I’m doing all I can to get rid of Noah.
Brandon Jennings, while the numbers don’t support it, has been a competent backup point guard this year, and I enjoy the Knicks much more when he’s out there as opposed to Derrick Rose. After coming back from a torn achilles, all you can ask for is to be competent. Jennings has been.
Part 2 coming Monday!!!