Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers
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The NBA trade deadline is around the corner, All-Star weekend is just down the road and, sooner or later, the Detroit Pistons might get their fifth win. After Monday's games, all but one team will have played at least 41 games, so it's time for a halfway-mark check-in.

What follows is a brief breakdown of each of the league's 30 teams, along with a letter grade for its performance through the first 50% (or so) of the season. 

Atlanta Hawks: D-

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  • Record: 18-24
  • The basics: 12th in offense, 26th in defense, 24th in net rating (-2.4)
  • One notable stat: Trae Young's 50.5 eFG% registers in the 29th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass, which is barely better than Russell Westbrook
  • One reason for optimism: Despite Young's continued clunky shooting, his creation and potential for shotmaking gives the Hawks a chance against anyone, and Jalen Johnson has established himself as a major impact player moving forward. 
  • One reason for pessimism: Atlanta's most-used lineup is being outscored by over 14 points per 100 possessions. 

The first half of the season could not have gone much worse for Atlanta. If Quin Snyder wasn't given the keys to the franchise in the middle of last season, his seat would be on fire. The defense is abysmal, and the Dejounte Murray trade is a bust. This is a team that had honest intentions of competing for a title when it traded for Murray and hired Synder, and here they are below .500 and still stuck in Play-In Tournament purgatory. It's dismal stuff. -- Brad Botkin

Boston Celtics: A+

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  • Record: 33-10
  • The basics: 3rd in offense, 2nd in defense, 1st in net rating (+9.8)
  • One notable stat: With All-Star candidate Derrick White on the floor, Boston has a +14.0 net rating. (And with both White and Kristaps Porzingis on the floor, +17.1.)
  • One reason for optimism: The Celtics are only 20-1 at TD Garden following Friday's loss against Denver, but they are still outscoring opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions at home, the highest mark any team has recorded since the 2016-17 Warriors (+15.8).
  • One reason for pessimism: Boston is 17th in free throw rate. This isn't terrible, but the other teams near the top of the East are much better at getting to the line. 

The Celtics aren't head and shoulders over the competition or anything, but they've been the best team in the NBA this season. There's no good way to guard their starting five, and they don't give you any weak defenders to pick on. Porzingis hasn't even shot well from deep (35%), but the threat of his quick-release 3s has proven extremely powerful. The turnovers have decreased as the season has gone along and they're starting to get to the line a bit more, so it's getting harder to find reasons to concern-troll them.

It's kind of crazy that Jrue Holiday is on this team, averaging a modest 13 points, seeming not the least bit fussed about whether he takes seven or 17 shots (and whether he defends one of the league's quickest guards, most skilled wings or most powerful bigs). What a luxury. -- James Herbert

Brooklyn Nets: C-

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  • Record: 17-25
  • The basics: 15th in offense, 19th in defense, 20th in net rating (-1.5)
  • One notable stat: In their last 21 games, the Nets have had the second-worst transition offense in the NBA, per Cleaning The Glass. For a team that entered the season emphasizing pace, this is not ideal.
  • One reason for optimism: Before Day'Ron Sharpe hyperextended his knee on Jan. 7, the backup center was playing the best basketball of his career. On the season, Sharpe has a Drummondesque 16.5% offensive rebounding percentage.
  • One reason for pessimism: Since we published our quarter-season grades, when the Nets were 12-9 and tied for eighth in net rating, they have gone 5-16 with the league's fifth-worst net rating. Things aren't trending in the right direction.

Six weeks ago, the season seemed to be going just fine, considering Ben Simmons was out with a nerve impingement in his back again. Then it went off the rails. Brooklyn has a bunch of guys who can help good teams win games, many of whom I'd categorize as good two-way players, but this hasn't been a good team -- on either end -- for some time. 

Should the Nets try to cash in some of their chips and try to salvage the season? Should they be trade-deadline sellers and focus on the future? Either way, the vibes are off. It feels like changes are coming. -- Herbert

Charlotte Hornets: F

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  • Record: 9-31
  • The basics: 27th in offense, 28th in defense, 30th in net rating (-11.6) 
  • One notable stat: Charlotte's league-low -11.6 net rating registers over a point worse than the Detroit Pistons, who've won four games. Yikes. 
  • One reason for optimism: LaMelo Ball, who has played at an All-Star level when healthy, and 2023 No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller seem to fit as well on the court as they do on paper. If this team has any kind of future, those two are it. 
  • One reason for pessimism: It's hard to trust Charlotte's capacity for filling out a competitive, let alone contending roster around Ball and Miller.  

You want to give the Hornets a bit of a pass because Ball has played in just 19 games as of this writing, but even when Ball has been on the court the team is still being outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions. Terry Rozier has been spectacular, and the Hornets still lose his minutes by over 13 points per 100. There is just no positive combination to be found on this team. Rozier will likely end up traded, if not at the deadline, then this summer, and the Hornets almost certainly end up tanking as a result. -- Botkin

Cleveland Cavaliers: B

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  • Record: 25-15
  • The basics: 18th in offense, 3rd in defense, 9th in net rating (+3.9)
  • One notable stat: They have the best net rating in the league (plus-11.2) since Darius Garland and Evan Mobley went down.
  • One reason for optimism: They've excelled without Garland and Mobley around.
  • One reason for pessimism: They've beat up on bad teams, but are 8-13 against teams with a winning record.  

When the Cavaliers learned that Darius Garland (fractured jaw) and Evan Mobley (knee surgery) would both be facing long-term stints on the sideline, they were 13-12 and on a three-game losing streak. Instead of cratering, they've taken off. They have the best record (12-3) and best net rating (plus-11.2) in the league since then, and recently destroyed the Bucks by 40 points. 

Due to the injuries, the Cavs have been forced to reinvent themselves on the fly. They play a more traditional one-big style with Jarrett Allen patrolling the paint and have surrounded him and Donovan Mitchell with shooters, which has juiced the offense. Most notably, they bomb away from behind the arc now, shooting 36.6% on a league-leading 42.8 3-point attempts per game during this stretch. Best of all, the defense has remained stout. 

The big question now is what happens when Garland and Mobley come back. -- Jack Maloney

Chicago Bulls: C-

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  • Record: 21-23
  • The basics: 23rd on offense, 15th on defense, 22nd in net rating (-1.7)
  • One notable stat: The Bulls play at the slowest pace in the league (96.82).
  • One reason for optimism: Coby White is really good now.
  • One reason for pessimism: All of the big picture issues still exist.

Perhaps no team underwent a vibe shift as dramatic as the Bulls from the first quarter of the season to the mid-way point. Their big picture issues – going nowhere with an aging core that has limited trade value – still exist, but at least they're running on the treadmill of mediocrity these days instead of walking it like zombies. On second thought, perhaps running isn't the best word, considering they play at the slowest pace in the league, but you get the point. 

Coby White's emergence has been the biggest difference. The fifth-year guard has started every game this season, but he took off when Zach LaVine went down with his initial foot injury, and has never looked back. He's increased his scoring average from 9.7 points per game to 18.6, all while increasing his efficiency as well. White is the most exciting aspect of the Bulls these days and his leap appears to be for real. -- Maloney

Dallas Mavericks: B

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  • Record: 24-18
  • The basics: 8th in offense, 18th in defense, 14th in net rating (+1.0)
  • One notable stat: Dereck Lively II is becoming important in Dallas, and here's one stat to prove it. When he sits, Dallas plays like the 28th-ranked defense. When he's on the floor, Dallas has a 15th-ranked defense. That mega difference is jaw dropping given that he's a rookie. 
  • One reason for optimism: Kyrie Irving has been absurd since returning from a 12-game absence. He's putting up nearly 30 points, seven rebounds and six assists over the last nine games. If he can maintain that level of play alongside Luka Doncic, this team could very well outscore most teams in the league. 
  • One reason for pessimism: Since Dec. 1, Grant Williams is shooting 30.1% from deep, and he hasn't made as big of an impact on defense as the Mavericks hoped he would. You have to wonder if he's just going through a funky stretch, or if this is what Dallas is going to get from him for the remainder of the season, which isn't great news.

It's been an ideal start for the Mavericks through the first half of the season, and even if their record is similar to where this team was a season ago, it doesn't feel like the same squad from a year ago. They're winning the games they should against weaker opponents – something they struggled to do last season – and are picking up enough wins against above .500 teams to hover around a top-6 seed. The defense is still a major concern, and if that issue isn't addressed at the trade deadline, then I wouldn't be surprised if they have to go through the Play-In Tournament to secure a playoff spot. But for right now, given the injuries this team has dealt with through the first half of the season, they have to feel pretty good about where they are. And they're still awaiting the return of Dante Exum, who has had a pleasantly surprising comeback into the NBA this season. -- Jasmyn Wimbish

Denver Nuggets: B

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  • Record: 30-14
  • The basics: 7th in offense, 11th in defense, 6th in net rating (+5.3)
  • One notable stat: For the millionth year in a row, the Nuggets still fall off a cliff whenever Nikola Jokic sits. They have a +11.3 net rating with him in the game and a -8.3 net rating when he sits.
  • One reason for optimism: This is probably the healthiest the Nuggets have ever been. Jamal Murray is the only starter to miss more than 10 games. Michael Porter Jr. has played all 44. Their starting five has played more minutes together than any lineup in basketball, except for Houston's starting five.
  • One reason for pessimism: The Nuggets aren't exactly going all out for home-court advantage. At this stage, they would only have it in the first round, and with an 13-10 road record, their road to a championship looks harder than last year's.

The Nuggets are exactly who they've been for the past half-decade or so. They run teams off of the floor to the tune of a double-digit net rating when Nikola Jokic plays and then they try and often fail to protect the leads he builds when he goes to the bench. All things considered, the Nuggets have done a reasonable job of rebounding from Bruce Brown's departure. Christian Braun has built on his strong rookie season and is now a reasonably reliable 20-minute reserve. Reggie Jackson, who couldn't find the floor during the championship run, looks much more like the menace he'd been with the Clippers in the several seasons prior. Peyton Watson has exceeded all expectations defensively without being a complete non-factor on offense. Depth will never be Denver's strength, but the team hasn't taken a massive step back without Brown, so that's a win.

You won't find many underlying flaws here besides a bit of apathy. That happens to former champions. The Nuggets are fattening up on the NBA's worst teams with an 18-3 record against teams below .500. They're treading water against the big boys, and the result, unlike last year, has been a real fight for seeding. The top of the West is so tight that there's a real chance they wind up with the No. 4 seed. That likely doesn't bother them much. They went 6-3 on the road in last year's playoffs. But a stronger conference and more road games are going to make their bid to repeat harder than last year's title run. The Nuggets can flip the switch when they're ready, but thus far this season, they've been closer to good than great. -- Sam Quinn

Detroit Pistons: F

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  • Record: 4-38
  • The basics: 26th in offense, 30th in defense, 29th in net rating (-10.4)
  • One notable stat: Their 28-game losing streak is the longest single-season record and tied the NBA's all-time record.
  • One reason for optimism: They're going to get another top draft pick and will have $60 million in cap space.
  • One reason for pessimism: The same ownership, front office and coaching staff that got them to this point are still in charge moving forward.

What is there to really say about this team that hasn't already been said? This season has been a total failure. They have tied the all-time record for most consecutive defeats with 28 and are on pace for the worst record by any team since the league moved to an 82-game season. They've been beset by injuries and there's not even enough growth from the young players to show for all the losing. Perhaps nothing summed up the mess in Detroit better than Monty Williams' comments after a narrow loss to the Rockets earlier this month. With Cade Cunningham sidelined due to a knee injury, Williams finally let second-year guard Jaden Ivey operate as a primary ball-handler. 

"We had a big meeting as an organization, and we looked at the numbers from all of our players, from a roster analysis standpoint, and that's the one thing I haven't tried this year that everyone was somewhat curious about," Williams said. "I had to eat it. I was like, 'Well, I haven't done it. I have to at least give him a shot.' We fell into it tonight, and I kind of kicked myself for not doing it earlier."

That was Game 39 and Williams was given a six-year, $78 million deal last summer. -- Maloney

Golden State Warriors: D

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  • Record: 18-22
  • The basics: 13th in offense, 24th in defense, 19th in net rating (-1.2)
  • One notable stat: The Warriors' regular starting lineup from last year – the best five-man unit in the NBA – has a minus-8.8 net rating in almost 140 minutes this season.
  • One reason for optimism: Draymond Green is back and Andrew Wiggins is showing signs of life. If those two get on track, Golden State could once again become a threat.
  • One reason for pessimism: Even if you convince yourself that Green will solve the defensive issues, the Warriors still lack a legitimate second offensive option and it's hard to see where that comes from if they don't make a needle-moving trade.

Green's suspension, Wiggins' inexplicable disappearing act and injuries to Chris Paul and Gary Payton II headlined Golden State's first half. It's about as close to a complete disaster as it gets. The defense has been atrocious, due to too much fouling and a general lack of athleticism. Offensively, the Warriors have turned the ball over excessively and have been unable to find a consistent second option next to Stephen Curry, who has endured a recent slump – perhaps because of the "unfair" burden that Steve Kerr acknowledged. Kerr has mixed and matched lineups so often that it's been nearly impossible to develop chemistry. One silver lining is that the young Warriors – Jonathan Kuminga, Brandin Podziemski, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Moses Moody – have proven that they are ready to contribute. But, so far, any excitement they've provided has been soured by the stench of a potentially rotting dynasty. -- Colin Ward-Henninger

Houston Rockets: B+

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  • Record: 20-22
  • The basics: 22nd in offense, 8th in defense, 17th in net rating (+0.3)
  • One notable stat: Ime Udoka and the new additions on the team (Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks) have come in and taken a 29th-ranked defense from a season ago, to a top-10 defense.
  • One reason for optimism: For all the comparisons to Jokic, Sengun is scoring the ball more efficiently and at a higher clip than Jokic did in his third season in the league.
  • One reason for pessimism: Jalen Green's development seems to have taken a step backward this season, as he's averaging fewer points while shooting a career-low 39.7% from the field and from deep (32.0%).

The Rockets have been one of the most disciplined teams on defense this season, a major shock given where this team was a year ago. Credit Udoka for stepping in and fixing some bad habits some of the younger players formed over the past couple seasons along with the additions of VanVleet and Brooks. The offense hasn't caught up yet, but there's reason to believe that could turn around. Sengun's rapid development into becoming the go-to guy has been a treat to watch, and Jabari Smith Jr. 's improved efficiency from his rookie season is also notable. The Rockets could use some more shooting on the team as the trade deadline nears, as they rank 24th in 3-point percentage, but even if that help doesn't come right now, they figure to be fighting for a Play-In Tournament spot toward the end of the season. -- Wimbish

Indiana Pacers: A

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  • Record: 24-19
  • The basics: 1st in offense, 27th in defense, 12th in net rating (+1.7)
  • One notable stat: The Pacers are first in points in the paint per game (56.4) and 30th in opponent points in the paint per game (60.4)
  • One reason for optimism: They have a genuine second star now in Pascal Siakam
  • One reason for pessimism: The defense is truly shambolic.

Any concerns that the Pacers were just a fun early season story have long since subsided. They are a legitimate playoff-caliber team and should end the franchise's postseason drought, which dates back to 2020. Their offense remains historic and the defense remains disastrous, but the formula works – at least in the regular season. Most opponents simply can't keep up with their run-and-gun style. 

How they'll fare in the playoffs remains to be seen, and is ultimately a question for another day. But they made a major move to improve their chances on that front by trading for Pascal Siakam, who is a legitimate second star next to Tyrese Haliburton. Even better, they did so without giving up any of their most promising young players. -- Maloney

Los Angeles Clippers: A-

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  • Record: 27-14
  • The basics: 5th in offense, 14th in defense, 4th in net rating (+5.6)
  • One notable stat: Lineups with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden are outscoring opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions in over 600 minutes, with an offensive rating of 121.5.
  • One reason for optimism: Since their horrific 0-5 start with Harden, the Clippers have been the best team in the Western Conference and are second in the NBA in net rating.
  • One reason for pessimism: Health. The track record of Leonard and George staying on the floor for the duration of the season is suspect at best.

The Harden trade looked like an unmitigated disaster … until it didn't. Ty Lue preached patience and boy has it paid off, with the Clippers looking like a legitimate championship contender thanks to a nearly unstoppable offense and a defense that can turn it up when required with a few outstanding individual stoppers. Moving Russell Westbrook to the bench was essential, and he has become a bona fide wild card as a 15-20 minute player. Harden has revitalized Ivica Zubac, as he's turned into one of the best roll men in the game, but ultimately the Clippers' success comes down to their best player, Kawhi Leonard, who has re-established himself as one of the league's premier offensive alphas. -- Ward-Henninger

Los Angeles Lakers: C

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  • Record: 22-22
  • The basics: 21st in offense, 13th in defense, 18th in net rating (-0.9)
  • One notable stat: With their three best players on the court (LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves) the Lakers have a net rating of minus-4.4.
  • One reason for optimism: James and Davis have been elite and healthy for pretty much the entire season.
  • One reason for pessimism: Extended periods without James and/or Davis could be on the horizon, and it's scary to think what will happen to the Lakers offense without one or both of their stars.

Pegged as a title contender based on last season's post-trade deadline surge, the Lakers have disappointed largely due to one of the worst offenses in the NBA. It's staggering to think that with James performing at an All-NBA level with vintage efficiency AND with Anthony Davis healthy and thriving, the Lakers still can't figure things out offensively. Part of that is the regression of Austin Reaves from his spectacular postseason run. Darvin Ham experimented with bringing him off the bench, where he's been much better, but the results were less than spectacular (14-11 with Reaves as a reserve). Another reason is a lack of 3-point shooting (last in the league in attempts per game and bottom-three in makes). The Lakers' defense has been solid, but it hasn't been enough to make up for the offensive struggles. It appears the front office will look elsewhere prior to the trade deadline to try to salvage another outstanding year from the 39-year-old James. -- Ward-Henninger

Memphis Grizzlies: D

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  • Record: 15-27
  • The basics: 29th in offense, 12th in defense, 25th in net rating (-5.9)
  • One notable stat: After ranking first in the league in points in the paint a season ago, the Grizzlies have fallen off a cliff in that category, dropping to 28th this season. But we all know why (Ja Morant).
  • One reason for optimism: The defense has kept them in most games, even with all the injuries.
  • One reason for pessimism: *Waves generally at the lengthy injury report*

I can't imagine all the emotions the Grizzlies and their fans have felt this season. The first 25 games were a dud without Morant, then he returned and genuine hope returned. Then he was ruled out for the rest of the season as he underwent shoulder surgery. Then Marcus Smart got hurt (out for six weeks), followed by Desmond Bane joining him (also out for six weeks). And that doesn't even mention Steven Adams missing the entire season and Brandon Clarke still out as he recovers from a torn Achilles tendon. The worst part is, the Grizzlies can't even really get excited about potentially holding a top-five pick in the upcoming draft in what's expected to be one of the weaker draft classes. -- Wimbish

Miami Heat: B

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  • Record: 24-19
  • The basics: 20th in offense, 10th in defense, 15th in net rating (+0.4)
  • One notable stat: The Heat make their 3s at better than a 37% clip, which ranks well inside the top 10. It helps them survive on low volume. 
  • One reason for optimism: Stats don't make me optimistic about the Heat. Jimmy Butler does. As does their recent postseason history. This team flat out knows how to win, and it's proving it yet again through adversity. 
  • One reason for pessimism: Miami has to grind out offense with the second most difficult shot diet in the league, per Cleaning the Glass. 

Writing off the Heat has become an annual tradition, as has Miami's propensity for making all who did so look foolish. They're doing it again. Despite losing the starting backcourt from last year's Finals team, and not to mention the fact that Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Caleb Martin have all missed significant time to injury, the Heat are tracking toward a 50-win campaign and have uncovered yet another draft gem in Jaime Jaquez Jr., who went No. 18 overall and should finish no worse than third in the Rookie of the Year race. -- Botkin

Milwaukee Bucks: B+

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  • Record: 29-13
  • The basics: 2nd in offense, 22nd in defense, 10th in net rating (+3.7)
  • One notable stat: The Bucks' 17 "clutch" wins are the most in the league.
  • One reason for optimism: The defense they played in the first half vs. the Celtics.
  • One reason for pessimism: They haven't been able to break any of their bad habits.

The Bucks have two of the league's best players in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard,  the second-best offense and the third-best record, but something continues to just feel … off. Their effort comes and goes from half to half and game to game, Antetokounmpo has questioned their pride and coaching and they've called multiple wins turning points only to immediately fall back into bad habits. 

Their elite talent is going to keep them near the top of the standings, but the fact remains that it's very rare for teams who defend as poorly as them to win the title. The first half against the Celtics was a positive sign on that end of the floor, but there's been no indication that they can play at that level consistently. Acquiring a perimeter defender would be ideal, but they have limited trade assets after the Lillard trade. -- Maloney

Minnesota Timberwolves: A-

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  • Record: 30-12
  • The basics: 19th in offense, 1st in defense, 5th in net rating (+5.5)
  • One notable stat: The Karl-Anthony Towns-Rudy Gobert pairing has a 117.1 offense rating this season after posting a 106.2 offensive rating last season.
  • One reason for optimism: The Timberwolves have played the NBA's second-hardest schedule to date (trailing only the Warriors), so their path to the No. 1 seed is fairly clear.
  • One reason for pessimism: The offense declines by a staggering 11.7 points per 100 possessions whenever Anthony Edwards goes to the bench.

Minnesota's defense speaks for itself. It's the best in the league by a country mile, and what should terrify opponents is how much stronger it gets over the course of games. The Timberwolves allow 105.7 points per 100 possessions in second halves. Only the 76ers and Grizzlies are even within five points of that figure. This isn't just the best defense in the NBA, it's the best defense three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert has ever played on. 

During his Utah days, Gobert propped up mediocre teams with his stellar rim-protection. Now that he has Jaden McDaniels, Anthony Edwards and Nickeil Alexander-Walker hounding ball-handlers on the perimeter, Gobert barely has a rim to protect. Minnesota is the only team in the NBA to rank in the top six in both fewest restricted area shots allowed (24.1) and lowest restricted area field goal percentage allowed (64.2), yet they haven't sacrificed the perimeter in service of that rim protection as they allow the sixth-fewest 3-point attempts per game in the league as well. Yes, they foul too much, but it's in service of the physicality that makes them special. This is absolutely a championship-caliber defense.

So why only an A-minus? The offense leaves just a bit to be desired. It dies whenever Edwards goes to the bench and despite ranking third in 3-point percentage, it ranks 26th in 3-point attempts. Another ball-handler for the bench that could also tick those 3-point attempts up a bit would go a long way. The Timberwolves can cobble together a bit of matching salary with Shake Milton and Troy Brown, and could go even further if they're willing to put Kyle Anderson on the table. More likely, the Timberwolves try to take advantage of a suddenly wide-open buyout market now that teams above the apron can't touch those players. That last burst of bench offense is the final piece here. In just about every other way, the Timberwolves are ready to contend for the title. -- Quinn

New Orleans Pelicans: B+

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  • Record: 25-18
  • The basics: 10th in offense, 9th in defense, 8th in net rating (+4.6)
  • One notable stat: One of four teams to rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense.
  • One reason for optimism: There was a lot of criticism thrown at Zion Williamson to start the season, but since Dec. 1 he's averaging over 20 points while shooting 60.8% from the field. 
  • One reason for pessimism: The Pelicans haven't done well in clutch situations, ranking 26th in the category with a 6-9 record. That doesn't spark confidence when things begin to tighten up in the second half of the season as teams really begin jockeying for playoff positioning. 

It's a wonder what a healthy roster can do. At the start of the season it was all doom and gloom for the Pelicans as CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr. and Trey Murphy all missed time. Williamson was voicing his frustrations to the media, saying he was trying his best to buy into the Pelicans' new system. At that point the team was 4-6, and staring at a five-game losing streak. But since then, the Pelicans have gone 21-11, the seventh-best winning percentage during that span. There's been less focus on Williamson's diet, as he's looking more and more like his All-Star self with each game, and rookie Jordan Hawkins has been a flamethrower every time he lines up a shot from 3-point range. Williamson's been given more freedom to do what he does best: make opponents pay when he gets the ball on the move, and the Pelicans have been reaping the rewards. -- Wimbish

New York Knicks: A- 

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  • Record: 26-17
  • The basics: 9th in offense, 7th in defense, 7th in net rating (+4.8)
  • One notable stat: In OG Anunoby's 404 minutes, the Knicks have been a juggernaut: 121.7 points per 100 possessions on offense, 99.3 per 100 on defense.
  • One reason for optimism: Not only has Anunoby's presence given the Knicks an enormous boost on defense, it's possible he'll play next to Mitchell Robinson sooner than expected. The team was denied an injury exception for the big man because he might be able to return this season.
  • One reason for pessimism: In the 2024 calendar year, New York has the highest turnover rate of any team in the NBA.

The Anunoby trade simplified things for the Knicks seemingly overnight. As soon as he got on the court, coach Tom Thibodeau went with a totally different rotation, staggering Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle instead of almost exclusively playing them together. Anunoby's presence simultaneously improved New York's spacing, its ball movement and, obviously, its defense. This is a better, more balanced team with him on it, and it was predictable that Thibodeau would have trouble taking him off the court. 

Brunson has a case to start in the All-Star Game. Isaiah Hartenstein is playing himself into a hefty raise. And between the possible return of Robinson and the fact that the front office has pieces to play with before the trade deadline, this might not yet be the best version of the 2023-24 Knicks. -- Herbert

Oklahoma City Thunder: A

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  • Record: 29-13
  • The basics: 4th in offense, 6th in defense, 3rd in net rating (+8.1)
  • One notable stat: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is currently averaging 31 points on 54.9% shooting. If he gets to 55%, the only three players in NBA history to average at least 30 points on at least 55% shooting are forwards: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karl Malone and Adrian Dantley.
  • One reason for optimism: The Thunder are elite in basically every area except for one we're about to cover. They rank fourth in offense, sixth in defense, fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio, second in turnover rate, third in effective field goal percentage, first in true shooting percentage, first in turnovers generated and are tied for first in blocks.
  • One reason for pessimism: The Thunder rank 28th in rebounding rate. Only one bottom-three rebounding team (the 2013-14 Miami Heat) has made the Finals this century.

The Thunder entered the season as the league's second-youngest team and they're already great at almost everything. They're an elite shooting team that also ranks fifth in paint points and sixth in fast-break points. They generate a ton of turnovers and they never turn the ball over themselves. They allow the lowest field goal percentage in the restricted area in the NBA and the ninth-lowest corner 3-point percentage. They do all of this and it's pretty safe to assume they're going to continue getting better, both because of age and their mountain of trade assets. It's not even fair to say the Thunder are ahead of schedule at this stage. They're ahead of anyone's schedule. The NBA has never had a team that was both this young and this well-rounded.

The weaknesses are scarce and solvable. They're not a particularly strong team. Chet Holmgren is going to have disadvantageous matchups against the NBA's burliest centers. They can't get a rebound to save their lives. They have more than enough ammo to fix this at the trade deadline. They foul too much, but many top defenses do, and frankly, their young players will start getting their own star whistles soon enough. The Thunder aren't some looming threat that will start competing for titles eventually. They're ready right here and right now, and if the league can't stop them now, they're probably not going to be able to for a long, long time. -- Quinn

Orlando Magic: B

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  • Record: 23-20
  • The basics: 24th in offense, 5th in defense, 13th in net rating (+1.1)
  • One notable stat: Orlando is one of just four Eastern Conference teams with double digit wins against above-.500 teams. 
  • One reason for optimism: A top-five defense with two emerging All-Stars in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner is a good place to start. 
  • One reason for pessimism: Orlando is the least productive 3-point shooting team in the league, with the worst percentage and the fourth-lowest volume. It's tough to dig out of that big of a mathematical hole every night. 

Orlando has crashed back to earth after spending a good amount of time in the top half of the Eastern Conference. As of this writing, the Magic are back in Play-In Tournament territory. Still, this has been a successful first half. The Magic are building around two cornerstone pieces in Banchero and Wagner. Additionally, Jalen Suggs changes games with his defensive pressure and overall energy, and he's growing offensively as well. The Magic have plenty of depth with the fourth-highest scoring bench in the league. Ultimately, Orlando wins with size and defense while trying to get by offensively on paint points, offensive rebounding and getting to the free-throw line at a top-five rate. For a while, they were the biggest overachievers in the league. They haven't maintained that status, but they're still firmly in the success-story range. -- Botkin

Philadelphia 76ers: A+

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  • Record: 28-13
  • The basics: 6th in offense, 4th in defense, 2nd in net rating (+8.3)
  • One notable stat: Philadelphia has the fourth-best aggregate bench net rating in the NBA. (A related stat: The team has outscored opponents by 4.2 points per 100 possessions with Joel Embiid on the bench in non-garbage-time minutes, per Cleaning The Glass.)
  • One reason for optimism: Tyrese Maxey has made 49.6% of his catch-and-shoot 3s. (Full disclosure: I also considered using this as a reason for pessimism, since it's such an insanely good number as to be unsustainable.)
  • One reason for pessimism: Philadelphia is only 5-6 against opponents with a top-10 net rating, per Cleaning The Glass, and it has had one of the league's easiest schedules.

Embiid's knee is a cause for concern, but he's having yet another career season. Do you understand how crazy it is that he's making 53% of his long 2s (per Cleaning The Glass) on high volume? The only time Dirk Nowitzki did that for a full regular season, his team went on to win the championship.

The Sixers should be thrilled with how Maxey has developed, how Tobias Harris has played recently and how Nicolas Batum, Kelly Oubre and Patrick Beverley have fit in. They should also be opportunistic on the trade market, and Daryl Morey's track record suggests they will be. -- Herbert

Phoenix Suns: B

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  • Record: 24-18
  • The basics: 11th in offense, 16th in defense, 11th in net rating (+1.9)
  • One notable stat: Lineups with Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal have outscored opponents by over 15 points per 100 possessions in nearly 200 minutes, with a smoldering 124 offensive rating.
  • One reason for optimism: With the stars on the court, the Suns are a top-tier offense with enough firepower to take them all the way to the title.
  • One reason for pessimism: The Suns essentially have six reliable players (if they're all healthy). Will that be enough to carry them through a full postseason?

It's been difficult to judge the Suns for most of the season due to the absences of their stars, but when they've all been on the floor they've been dominant. Despite all the talk about defensive issues, they sit in the middle of the pack with plenty of room for improvement. Durant, Booker and Beal are already jelling offensively, so the defense likely only needs to be around the top 10 for the Suns to be an elite postseason team. Grayson Allen has been an excellent complementary piece, shooting 48% from 3-point range. Outside of Allen and Jusuf Nurkic, however, it's hard to know which role players will show up from night to night. -- Ward-Henninger

Portland Trail Blazers: C-

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  • Record: 12-30
  • The basics: 30th in offense, 23rd in defense, 28th in net rating (-9.6)
  • One notable stat: Portland's offense isn't just worse than any other offense this season, but is worse than any offense from the 2022-23 season despite the league-wide offensive rating being nearly one full point per 100 possession higher this season (115.7) than it was last season (114.8).
  • One reason for optimism: The Blazers are getting quality minutes out of several unheralded young players, including foreign league journeyman Duop Reath, former No. 57 overall pick Jabari Walker and No. 52 overall pick Toumani Camara.
  • One reason for pessimism: Scoot Henderson is on track to become the sixth rookie in NBA history to shoot below 37% from the field on at least 12 shots per game. The rest of that group isn't exactly encouraging. Throw out Zavier Simpson who only played four games and you have Reggie Williams, Emmanuel Mudiay, Dajuan Wagner and Kevin Knox.

The Blazers aren't judging themselves on wins and losses this season. It's all about the development of their young players. Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe are more or less growing as expected. There are pops of stardom out of them, but neither has proven ready to lead a team quite yet. More concerning has been Scoot Henderson's rookie year. We knew he wasn't going to make jumpers as a rookie, but it's borderline impossible for a player as athletic as he is to shoot 45.7% in the restricted area. To put that number in perspective, the next closest player at his volume is LaMelo Ball at 53%. 

Inefficiency is the norm for rookies. The hope is that it's balanced out with the occasional explosion as proof of upside. Those haven't really come either. Henderson has scored 20 or more points just four times as a rookie, and he's shooting 38.5% in those games. He's barely getting to the line. Portland goes from a typical bad team when he's on the bench to worse than the Pistons when he's in the game from a net rating perspective. What does this mean for the long haul? It's hard to say. It doesn't exactly rule out future stardom. The NBA is hard for young point guards and this is a bad team not exactly situated to cultivate a player like him considering all of their other mouths it has to feed. But we've never seen such a rough start for a rookie that ultimately grew into a star. Henderson's development is the single most important element of Portland's season. It hasn't gone well thus far. Hopefully that changes down the stretch. -- Quinn

Sacramento Kings: B

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  • Record: 23-18
  • The basics: 14th in offense, 17th in defense, 16th in net rating (+0.3)
  • One notable stat: The Kings' net rating improves by nearly eight points per 100 possessions with De'Aaron Fox on the floor.
  • One reason for optimism: The defense has improved from 24th last season to 17th this season.
  • One reason for pessimism: Last year's record-setting, top-ranked offense has fallen to 14th this season.

Mike Brown talked about getting more physical defensively, and it's paid off with significant improvements. The problem is that last year's record-setting offense has dipped, due in part to a slow start from Keegan Murray and a rough first half from Kevin Huerter. The Kings have outperformed their net rating thus far, so they have to feel optimistic that if their offense kicks into high gear that they can rattle off a hot second half. One thing they don't need to worry about is their stars, as both Fox and Domantas Sabonis have maintained their All-Star level play. Lineups with Fox, Sabonis and Murray have outscored opponents by nearly six points per 100 possessions. -- Ward-Henninger

San Antonio Spurs: C-

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  • Record: 8-34
  • The basics: 28th in offense, 25th in defense, 26th in net rating (-8.8)
  • One notable stat: Tre Jones leads the Spurs in assists (5.4) despite only starting in nine games this season.
  • One reason for optimism: Victor Wembanyama's development is going to speed up San Antonio's rebuild.
  • One reason for pessimism: The Spurs score six fewer points when Wembanyama is on the floor, which says more about the team's inability to get him the ball where he needs it, than it does about his impact when he plays. 

The Spurs have actually turned a corner over the last week, thanks to some lineup and position changes that were well overdue. Tre Jones was – finally – inserted into the starting lineup as point guard, Jeremy Sochan was moved back to his natural position of power forward and Wembanyama was moved to center. Moving Wemby to center has massively improved San Antoinio's defense. And putting Jones into the starting lineup gives Wembanyama someone who is far more equipped to get him the ball in the post and elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see if the Spurs make a move at the trade deadline to get Wembanyama an even greater upgrade at point guard, because nailing that position down will go a long way in his development. -- Wimbish

Toronto Raptors: C-

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  • Record: 16-27
  • The basics: 17th in offense, 20th in defense, 21st in net rating (-1.6)
  • One notable stat: Toronto ranks 20th in halfcourt offense — not great! — but it's second in transition offense, per Cleaning The Glass.
  • One reason for optimism: In their first 11 games with the Raptors, Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett are shooting a combined 41-for-88 (46.6%) on above-the-break 3s.
  • One reason for pessimism: Since Dec. 30, the day Toronto traded Anunoby, only three teams -- Milwaukee, Detroit and Golden State -- have been worse defensively.

Scottie Barnes has taken a giant step toward stardom. The Raptors were again less than the sum of their parts through the season's first two months, though, so the front office finally changed course.

The trades of Anunoby and Siakam, shortly after losing VanVleet for nothing in free agency, represent an acknowledgment that Toronto's bet on its former core did not pay off. This appears to be a mediocre team right now, and it could be worse than that after the trade deadline. The newcomers have played well individually, though, and Quickley is such a nice long-term fit with Barnes. -- Herbert

Utah Jazz: B+

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  • Record: 22-22
  • The basics: 16th in offense, 21st in defense, 23rd in net rating (-1.7)
  • One notable stat: Through 32 games, Lauri Markkanen came two made field goals, one made 3-pointer and four made free-throws short of 50-40-90 shooting numbers. Only three forwards in NBA history have ever hit that marker over a full season: Larry Bird, Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki
  • One reason for optimism: The starting lineup of Kris Dunn, Collin Sexton, Simone Fontecchio, Lauri Markkanen and John Collins is 9-3 with a +5.2 net rating.
  • One reason for pessimism: The Jazz are 10-7 in clutch games with a +17.5 net rating, suggesting they aren't quite as good as their record indicates.

Look, we can't give the Jazz an "A" because the first quarter or so of the season happened. We can't just pretend Utah didn't start 7-16, but ever since then? The Jazz have been one of the NBA's best teams. Utah has ranked seventh in offense, 11th in defense and eighth in net rating since they moved Collin Sexton into their starting lineup on Dec. 13. They've done this despite having some of the worst opposing shooting luck in the league, as Jazz opponents have made 41.6% of their wide-open 3's in that stretch. It isn't a case of close-game luck either, as the Jazz are 10-3 in non-clutch games during this stretch. There's no gimmick here, no statistical tidbit that suggests it's fake. The Jazz are just beating everyone they're facing.

The balance of their starting lineup goes a long way. Everyone can handle the ball and they've all defended admirably, but there are certainly specialists within the group. Dunn is the designated stopper, and if he were playing more minutes, he'd be a strong All-Defense contender. Sexton is the perimeter scorer, and he's shooting 52-42-91 as a starter. Collins is thriving without having to play next to another traditional big man, and Walker Kessler can anchor the defense just fine from the bench. But the real praise here needs to go to Markkanen. Rick Carlisle blessed him with a Dirk comparison on Tuesday, saying "He's the closest thing that I've seen to Nowitzki in terms of a seven-footer that can really stretch the game out and play inside." Carlisle isn't wrong. Any notion that Markkanen's breakout season was a fluke, or that he's available via trade, should be gone now. He's Utah's cornerstone player, and now that Will Hardy has figured out how to put the right pieces around him, the Jazz look like a legitimate playoff team. -- Quinn

Washington Wizards: F

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  • Record: 7-35
  • The basics: 25th in offense, 29th in defense, 27th in net rating (-8.9)
  • One notable stat: Jordan Poole has the worst individual plus-minus in the league (-338). The second worst? Kyle Kuzma at -328. 
  • One reason for optimism: Deni Avdija is impacting games in a multitude of ways. His development is by far the highlight of Washington's first half. 
  • One reason for pessimism: Let's see, the Wizards can't score, can't defend and can't rebound. That essentially covers it.

Only in a world where the Detroit Pistons exist can the seven-win Wizards not be the worst team in the league. I would actually argue they are the worst team, even if they've won a few more games than Detroit. There are real players in Detroit; they're more competitive than their record suggests. The Wizards are a circus act. At times it has seemed like Jordan Poole thinks he's playing for the Washington Generals. Kyle Kuzma probably isn't long for the team. It's hard to know what Bilal Coulibaly is, or can be, in this context, though he can clearly defend at least. Deni Avdija is starting to stuff the stat sheet, but other than that, it's hard to find anything positive happening this season for the Wiz. -- Botkin