NBA Power Rankings: Grading Every Team, Post All-Star Game
The first half of the season brought us some intriguing basketball, and it's time to grade every team around the NBA coming out of the 2012 All-Star break.
With familiar teams at the top and bottom of the slagheap, the real shakeup is in the middle of the pack, where the Boston Celtics are falling and the Portland Trail Blazers are experiencing a tough patch in the road.
It's going to be tough to knock off the top-tier teams from where they currently sit, but the next stretch of the season will be sure to change the outlook of several teams.
The trade deadline is looming, and there are a lot of teams in the market.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
We knew that this would be a rebuilding season for the Bobcats, but just four wins in the first half of the season is a lot less progress than the team was hoping to see.
The real question for this team going forward will be about its ability to draft, because it's going to be extraordinarily tough for Charlotte to lure any marquee free agents into the fold despite the presence of Michael Jordan.
29. Washington Wizards
What has gone wrong in Washington this season? There is some legitimate talent on the court, but this team is not one with any sort of semblance at either end of the floor.
There are too many selfish plays being made consistently on offense, the athleticism on the roster isn't translating to results and the club can't afford to rely on John Wall a ridiculously large offensive burden.
28. New Orleans Hornets
It's extraordinarily difficult to justify the rationale behind the Chris Paul trade when viewed through a retroactive lens, but at the time the deal was made, David Stern got exactly what he wanted to rebuild the Hornets.
New Orleans faces an incredibly challenging task in reconstructing roster, but the focus on the second half of the season should be on executing a plan for 2012-2013 and beyond.
27. New Jersey Nets
Some might think a passing grade is too lenient for the Nets, but consider what this team has been through with the rash of injuries sustained.
Shawne Williams (foot), Damion James (foot), Keith Bogans (ankle) are all out for the season, while DeShawn Stevenson (knee), MarShon Brooks (Achilles/toe), Mehmet Okur (back), Anthony Morrow (ankle), Jordan Farmar (groin) and Brook Lopez (foot) have all missed time this season.
Deron Williams is quietly playing very well for the Nets, and this team's future is directly tied to what comes out of the Dwight Howard scenario.
26. Toronto Raptors
Andrea Bargnani (calf) being absent from the lineup has really hurt the Raptors, but Toronto was expecting this to be a turbulent season at the onset.
With Jonas Valancinuas waiting in the wings for next season and the team staring at a high-end draft selection, things could be a lot different in basketball in Canada next season.
25. Sacramento Kings
DeMarcus Cousins has really played a strong brand of basketball under Keith Smart, and the insertion of Isaiah Thomas into the starting lineup has given this group a jolt of energy.
There are still serious concerns about perimeter defense as well as spacing on both ends of the floor, but the coaching staff will be looking for marked improvement from this youthful roster for the remainder of the season.
24. Detroit Pistons
Some were pegging the Pistons to be miserable all season long, but given what Lawrence Frank had to work with, the results have been better than expected.
Detroit has excellent pieces in Greg Monroe, Rodney Stuckey, Brandon Knight and Jonas Jerebko, but Joe Dumars needs to do a lot of other work in order to right this ship as quickly as some would like.
23. Milwaukee Bucks
The injuries to Andrew Bogut and Drew Gooden have left the team desperate for production inside, but the larger concern at this point has to be the play of Brandon Jennings.
He cooled off considerably before the All-Star break after a hot start, and considering that he's already doing his "homework" on big-market teams, it might be time for this franchise to contemplate a future without him.
22. Cleveland Cavaliers
There were absolutely no expectations for this Cleveland crew to contend for anything with two top-five draft picks and coming off of a historically bad season, but Kyrie Irving has flipped the script in a big way.
The team has a real shot to land a postseason berth if things align properly, and the Cavs are playing much better than almost anyone expected prior to the campaign beginning.
21. Golden State Warriors
There are some signs that the Warriors may be able to put a slow start to the season in the rear-view mirror, but health concerns surrounding Stephen Curry and consistent woes at the center position are two big, dark clouds hanging overhead.
The personnel has to match the coaching philosophy in order for a club to be clicking on all cylinders, and there is growing concern as to whether or not this is the right mix for Mark Jackson and the future.
20. Phoenix Suns
Phoenix remains adamant in the stance to keep Steve Nash despite a sub-.500 record, and the Suns have played much better after an absolutely dismal beginning to the year.
There are still mind-numbing contracts that bring questions about the decision-making in the front office, and the Suns will have to address that in order to achieve real progress in a crowded Western Conference.
19. Utah Jazz
The success at the beginning of the season that so many fans had claimed was for real and wasn't a mirage? There aren't many people still singing the same tune.
The depth along the frontline is nice to have, and there have been some solid contributions, but the problems in the backcourt are too great to overlook and really limits the ceiling of this team as constructed.
18. Boston Celtics
The expectation for the Celtics this season was that this team could compete for one final title before the core was blown up.
That has not happened, and it doesn't appear likely to occur at any point in the near future.
Rajon Rondo trade rumors continue to surface, and the long-term outlook of Boston is an uncertain one with the March 15 deadline looming.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves
Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love have combined to form a formidable one-two punch that has fans excited about the Timberwolves for the first time in a long while.
Nikola Pekovic's emergence as a credible center has been a major benefit for this team, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Minnesota make a deal to change something up in the second unit.
16. Denver Nuggets
Like several other teams around the league, the Nuggets have been banged up and without Danilo Gallinari (ankle) and Nene (calf, heel) at various points this season.
After a piping hot start, the Nuggets have a lot of questions to answer in the second half, and many are still concerned that the lack of a true "superstar" will override the impressive depth on the bench.
15. New York Knicks
The only team that gets an incomplete grade in the rankings is the Knicks, and that's simply because we need to see more with Jeremy Lin as the starter and everybody healthy in the starting five.
New York needs to make the Jeremy Lin experiment work with both Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire in order for anyone to be buying fully into the long-term stock of this team.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
It's been a really disappointing first half for the Trail Blazers, and that is because there were such high expectations surrounding Portland at the onset of the campaign.
Raymond Felton hasn't worked out as the starting point guard, Wesley Matthews has regressed a tad and struggles on the road have been tough to overcome.
13. Memphis Grizzlies
The record might not impress those glancing at the standings, but the Grizzlies have remained in the thick of the postseason hunt without Zach Randolph.
With Z-Bo chomping at the bit to return in March, Memphis could be in store for a huge second-half lift if he's able to return without any sort of complication.
12. Atlanta Hawks
There was doom and gloom in the air when Al Horford (pectoral) went down this season, but the Hawks have been able to keep up the solid play despite being forced to move on without him.
Josh Smith's monstrous campaign is a big reason why Atlanta has been able to do that, but if it's going to continue in the second half, both Jeff Teague and Joe Johnson will have to step up their games to another level.
11. Houston Rockets
Despite Houston deciding to decline contract options on a litany of reserve players, the bench has actually been a big part of what the Rockets have been able to accomplish.
Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin have really impressed with their play in the backcourt, but the Rockets may be one team looking to change a few things up near the deadline in other areas.
10. Indiana Pacers
Some doubted just how much the Pacers could grow after an encouraging postseason showing in 2011, but Indiana is officially on the map in 2012.
Larry Bird won't be afraid to make a move near the deadline, the improved play from Paul George has been huge and the addition of David West is not one that can be overstated.
9. Orlando Magic
Obviously, the future of the Magic is tied directly to how Dwight Howard, and there won't be any fans resting easy until something more substantial happens on that front.
It's going to be next to impossible for this team (in its current form) to compete with a handful of teams in the Eastern Conference, and as well as Orlando has played at times, there isn't a lot to like outside of Howard.
He sets up the shooters on the perimeter, takes pressures off others and makes his teammates appear more far more talented than they might if playing with a different club.
8. Los Angeles Lakers
It's pretty crazy that some are referring to Los Angeles' season as a nightmare year for the Lakers, but that is what happens when constant success becomes the expected state of normalcy.
The problems are obvious with this team: point guard, small forward, depth and three-point shooting.
With limited trade chips available (Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum), speculation will continue to swirl about potential possibilities until something is done.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers got off to a really strong start, but the team hit a slide heading into the All-Star break, and that is a problematic trend to watch.
Philadelphia needs improved consistency from Jrue Holiday and Elton Brand in the starting lineup going forward, but there is a serious concern over Spencer Hawes and his health.
The Sixers have a sub-.500 record without Hawes in the lineup.
6. Dallas Mavericks
Remember all the questions about Dallas' identity?
How about the fear that the Mavericks had changed too much up?
And then there was the issue about Dirk Nowitzki's slow start that had left some wondering about how much he had left in the tank.
The Mavericks still have some question marks, but not nearly as many as once believed.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
The Chris Paul to Blake Griffin connection has worked out just as well as anyone in Los Angeles could have hoped, and the Clippers look like a much different team than we've seen in recent seasons.
This team is still finding its identity going into the second half of the year, and it will be very interesting to see if the Clippers decide to pull the trigger on any potential trades.
4. San Antonio Spurs
Manu Ginobili has missed the majority of the season, but the Spurs have found impressive success on a consistent basis.
Tony Parker is a very real MVP candidate, Tim Duncan still has plenty to offer and surprising sources of contributions in Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner and Tiago Splitter has Gregg Popovich's team playing brilliant basketball once again.
3. Chicago Bulls
Rip Hamilton was billed as the big offseason addition for the Bulls, but he hasn't been able to contribute as much as he would've liked in the first half due to injury issues.
Now poised to come back healthy, Chicago could really present a difficult task for Miami, as everybody on the roster is chipping in on both ends of the court.
With a healthy Derrick Rose, the sky is the limit for the Bulls.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
The dynamic between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has always been overblown, but anyone who thought there might have been an issue between the two has been effectively silenced this season.
Both 23-year-old stars are playing lights out basketball, but the bigger story (in terms of the team's overall success) has been the emergence of 22-year-olds James Harden and Serge Ibaka as big-time players for Oklahoma City.
The future is bright in Thunderville.
1. Miami Heat
LeBron James is having a historic season, but coach Erik Spoelstra is the driving force behind the mentality of this team—and that's really saying something.
Many people wanted this guy fired not all that long ago, and what he's been able to implement with such success is impressive to watch.
Frustrated by a poor showing at the NBA Finals last season, Miami is motivated on a mission to win it all in 2012.