NBA Eastern Conference Midseason report | January 26, 2013
NBA MID-SEASON REPORT CARDS. EASTERN CONFERENCE.
As we reach the All Star break in the association, many teams have figured out their rotations and found a groove going into the second half of the season. Many teams are merely playing to see where their respective ping pong ball will drop come lottery time. In the first edition of my new NBA blog here on 1AMSports i’m going to take a close look at the teams of the Eastern conference, grading each of their seasons so far and touching on where i think they can improve for the rest of the 12/13 season. We’ll start by looking at a division that is close to my heart…..
New York Knicks 27-14
The Knickerbockers are having one heck of a season so far. Mike Woodson saw what this team was missing in terms of veteran leadership and addressed it with the signings of Jason Kidd,Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace in the offseason. Perhaps the key addition though has been the return of point guard Raymond Felton. Maligned in the media and a complete flop in Portland, no one was overly concerned when Felton resigned with the Knicks but he has proved the doubters wrong. He seems to have galvanised the starting 5 and elevated the play of others around him. Also key to the Knicks success is the new found defensive intensity, lead by Carmelo Anthony. Melo still likes to get his shots,but he’s been passing the ball better than ever and helping the Knicks become a more rounded offensive team. Ama’re Stoudamire seems to have bought into the team first mentality and is coming off the bench and contributing. Wether that will continue when he returns to full health is an obstacle this team may face down the line.
Grade A. Excelling without the usual turmoil.
Brooklyn Nets 26-17
The OTHER team in New York has had a tremendous start to life in Brooklyn. After going all in for Dwight Howard and coming up empty, the play of Brook Lopez has got to be pleasing the Nets top brass. They are a startling 26-11 with the 7 footer on the court who has found some rebounding to match his scoring prowess. Avery Johnson won coach of the month in November and was promptly fired following a Christmas Day loss to Boston. Interim coach P.J Carlisimo has taken the shackles off Deron Williams and the all star point guard is flourishing in his system. If the Nets can get more out of the likes of Gerard Wallace and the disappointing MarShon Brooks they could be a contender in the post season.
Grade B+. Riding the Brooklyn momentum.
Boston Celtics 20-24
Boston retooled its roster rather than rebuilding it this off season. So far Danny Ainge’s plan has shown little sign of working. The plan was to limit the minutes of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce by bringing in premium bench players. Jeff Green has been a huge disappointment especially with his gaudy contract. Courtney Lee and Jason Terry are competing for the same minutes and both their games are suffering. Leandro Barbosa has not provided the instant offence he was signed for and the depth in the back court has become more of a detriment. The Celtics simply lack quality bigs. Jared Sullinger has done well and looks to be edging closer to a starting spot. The likes of Brandon Bass,Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins have been simply awful. Rondo needs to step up and lead this team. His play is too erratic and he needs to find some middle ground between ridiculous and sublime. Players need to step up all over the board or i feel a trade will be coming and Ainge is certainly not shy of that.
Grade D. Don’t sprinkle dirt just yet,but it’s looking bleak.
The Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors round out the Atlantic division with 17-25 and 16-27 records respectively. The Sixers are in rebuild mode and are yet to see their new franchise centre Andrew Bynum hit the court. Spencer Hawes has played well in spurts but Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday are clearly the talent of this team and should continue to improve as the season rolls on. Toronto is a really young team and has a lot of upside,but they need to figure out the point guard conundrum of Jose Calderon and Kyle Lowry before they can progress. They are both starting calibre guards,the Raptors need to decide on one and trade the other for some assets. DeMar Derozan has played well and rookie Terrence Ross has shown a few encouraging signs in what has been a disappointing season so far in Canada.
Grades. Sixers-C, Raptors-D.
THE CENTRAL DIVISION.
Chicago Bulls 26-16
Considering the Bulls are without former MVP Derrick Rose they are having a wow of a season. Joakim Noah has emerged as one of the leagues best centres and his improved passing has give the Bulls a whole new dimension. Carlos Boozer is playing out of his skin and finally justifying his huge contract. Luol Deng has played more minutes than anyone in the NBA and has really emerged as an elite NBA defender. The Bulls really recruited well this off season. Kirk Hinrich knows this system and runs the offense well. They have shot makers coming off the bench in Marco Bellinelli and Nate Robinson, neither of which is afraid of the big shot. Second year man Jimmy Butler has ramped up his defense and has helped when Luol has been injured. All in all they have very few weaknesses and the key will be how they integrate Rose post all star break. They have a good thing going and coach Thibodeau has to find a way not to upset the balance of his rotation.
Grade A. Potential NBA champions.
Indiana Pacers 26-17
The Pacers keep rolling on despite star man Danny Granger missing the entire season so far. David West and Paul George have stepped up in his absence and have lead this team into contention. Lance Stephenson has contributed from the bench on occasion and the Hansborough brothers have given the team a physical presence (and chipiness) off the bench. Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been Roy Hibbert,the newly paid big man, averaging 9 points and 8 rebounds to this point, should be a double double threat every night but for whatever reason it’s not happened. Should Granger return and find some form and if Hibbert lifts his play the Pacers should make noise in the post season.
Grade C. Potentially very dangerous should they hit their stride.
This division is made up by the Milwaukee Bucks,Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Bucks started the season like a house on fire and have one of the most dangerous back courts in the league in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Ultimately Coach Scott Skiles was fired as he couldn’t decide on a rotation. Leaving proven player like Sam Dalembert and Ersan Ilyasova out in the cold in favour of younger players like Tobias Harris. Looking at the Bucks roster as a whole if they can find the right mix they could make a run at a play off place. The Pistons have been a massive disappointment. Starting the season with 8 straight losses, coach Lawrence Frank has steadied the ship of late and has got Greg Monroe and Tayshaun Prince leading this team on the court. Rookie Andre Drummond has had some impressive dunks too off the bench and looks a real prospect. The Cavs have been cut down by the season ending injury to star big man Anderson Varejao. 4th overall pick Dion Waiters started off smoking hot but tailed off and has been trying a bench role as of late. Youngsters Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller have struggled with big minutes and the recent trade for Mareese Speights should help ease the load. The bright spot for the Cavs has been newly elected all star Kyrie Irving who is looking like a franchise point guard in every sense.
Grades. Bucks-C, Pistons-D, Cavs-D
THE SOUTHEAST DIVISION
Miami Heat 28-12
Not as dominant as expected,still the Heat continue to roll on as one of the best teams in the league. LeBron James is playing on another level and is a legit triple double threat every night of the week.Dwayne Wade has found his groove after a minor benching hiccup. Chris Bosh continues to play at an all star level and is more important to this team than anyone gives him credit for. Ray Allen continues to average double digits as the sixth man and will only get more dangerous as the season wears on. I still feel the Heat are in need of interior presence. Udonis Haslem is not playing well and Joel Anthony is not the answer either. The recent signing of Chris Anderson may help but i’m not expecting big things from the former Nugget. Mike Miller and Shane Battier continue to provide outside scoring. If the Heat manage to get another quality big,the rest of the East should be very afraid.
Grade B. Not yet dominant but the big 3 is as good as it gets.
Atlanta Hawks 25-18
The Hawks are a contender as far as the east goes. Josh Smith continues to play well,and his contract situation continues to be a worry for the ATL outfit. Should they get something for him or ride him in the hope of competing for a title? It’s a tough situation which needs to be resolved. Al Horford continues to be a presence, but the injury to Louis Williams is a massive blow. The young guard was giving Atlanta some nice production and forming a nice back court tandem with the ever improving Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver has moved into the starting line up and the journey man guard has to find his deep range if he hopes to be effective. Where this team goes depends on what they do with Smith. Their season hinges on that decision.
Grade B. Punching above their weight and play off bound.
The Southeast is rounded out by the Orlando Magic,Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Bobcats. The Magic have struggled since the loss of their superstar Dwight Howard. Their roster since the Howard trade is a mish mash of journey men and raw youngsters. Aaron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson have to continue to play well to keep youngsters like Moe Harkless and Andrew Nicholson on the path to developing as NBA players. You feel the Magic are at a cross roads. If they are smart they could make a few tweaks and have a promising roster on their hands, if not they could plummet further. The Wizards started the season on a long losing run and were looking like the worst team in the entire NBA, but things have picked up slightly and they can at least send a full strength outfit onto the court. John Wall is back and should continue to improve, they need to get more out of Nene and Emeka Okafor. The lone bright spot has been Bradley Beal. The 3rd overall pick has had an excellent rookie campaign. Hitting the 3 ball and taking some big shots late in games. Beal is a real prospect. What can you say about the Bobcats? They matched their 11/12 win total in the seasons early stages but have lurched from one disaster to the next ever since. A long, depressing losing run came to an end recently and the improved play of Kemba Walker has given them hope. Walker and Michael Kidd Gilchrist are the future of this team and every other player on the roster i would say is expendable. Bismack Biyombo needs to step up otherwise he is looking every bit a bust. The likes of Gerald Henderson and Ramon Sessions have been erratic and inconsistent. This is a bad basketball team with a lot of holes.
Grades. Magic-D, Wizards-E, Bobcats-E.
So that rounds out the East. Check back in the coming days for my assessment of the Western conference where I’ll look at the likes of the Clippers,Thunder and Lakers. You can follow me on twitter @NEILDONOHOE for Celtics/NBA chat and Fantasy Basketball.