Stephen Curry is one of the big reasons Golden State's grade has improved.
Here's the scene at the bar, or over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the cafeteria, whatever applies:
There are two friends, both fans of the same team, talking about their favorite club.
One is drunk off peanut butter and spouting off about how amazing his team is, while the other is drinking a beer (glass of milk) half-empty and everything is spoken with end-of-the-world negativity.
Then, of course, there's the third, less fun friend who is Mr. Reasonable.
As we break down the grades, we'll hear from all three parties.
(All statistics are updated as of games played prior to Dec. 18.)
The overly optimistic fan says: We are the real deal. Our dynamic, diverse frontcourt of Josh Smith and Al Horford offers an advantage against teams with less athletic bigs.
We're not just strong up front. The depth at the guard position features the strong play of Louis Williams and Jeff Teague, not to mention further depth in Devin Harris and Kyle Korver.
The pessimistic fan says: Smith and Horford are not enough to win. We were exposed in the blowout loss to the Golden State Warriors.
When Smith isn't on, neither is Atlanta.
That's a lot of weight on the shoulders of a guy who has never averaged more than 18.8 points per game and whose shooting percentage is down. The Hawks simply don't have enough offensive talent outside of Smith and Horford to truly contend.
The big-picture realist says: The unexpected hot start has been a nice surprise. But the reality is the Hawks don't have the overall talent to compete with the top teams in the East. Atlanta should be happy if it makes the playoffs. Maybe the Hawks can surprise someone in the first round.
Updated grade: A-
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo have work left to do in Boston.
The overly optimistic fan says: We've got this. How many times have people counted us out, only to watch our core perform in the playoffs?
Rajon Rondo is the league's best point guard, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are still superstars. Have you seen what Jeff Green has done in December? He has emerged with 13.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Some of these other guys also will step it up.
The pessimistic fan says: We definitely can't rebound; we can't really defend. Rondo is on a mission to rack up assists totals, but he's still not the leader who can put this team on his back.
We have wins against Oklahoma City, Chicago and...oh, that's right, no one else. San Antonio took us apart twice, and so did Brooklyn. We would never be able to beat Miami in the playoffs.
This isn't the next great run by the Celtics. This is the end of the run. We'll barely make the playoffs.
The big-picture realist says: The Celtics are playing way below their recent standard, but they still create a scary matchup in the playoffs. They've proven in the past that they are able to rally at the right times. They are likely to end up with a No. 5 or 6 seed in the playoffs.
Updated grade: C
Brook Lopez has proven valuable for the Brooklyn Nets.
The overly optimistic fan says: Every team goes through rough stretches, so you might as well get them out of the way in December.
We suffered through a brief injury to our star center, Brook Lopez. Those things are going to happen.
We're one of the best defensive teams in the league when healthy. Have you noticed what Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans have accomplished off the bench? Deron Williams will get it going. He's a superstar.
We've won two of three and should have have beaten Chicago in that one-point loss.
The pessimistic fan says: Hey, it was a heck of a run while it lasted. Starting 11-4, we were on top of the world. But come on, this thing wasn't sustainable. All of us realize that. We're real about things in Brooklyn.
Where's our depth? An injury to Lopez crushed us. Deron Williams has been above average, but he hasn't been the elite point guard we need.
We've lost six of our last eight games. The ship is sinking.
The big-picture realist says: The Nets' hot start was a bit of a surprise. When Brook Lopez went out, their lack of depth was exposed. They will compete for middle-of-the-pack status in the Eastern Conference, but they don't seem to be legitimate contenders at this point.
Updated grade: B+
The overly optimistic fan says: We are definitely the next Oklahoma City Thunder.
Look at our young nucleus. We already have Kemba Walker (Russell Westbrook) and Michael-Kidd Gilchrist (Thabo Sefolosha). Bismack Biyombo is a tremendous defensive player (hello, Serge Ibaka).
Now all we need is our Kevin Durant, or as we like to say, UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad in the draft.
The pessimistic fan says: C'mon, we have lost 11 in a row. We're young but awful. We're one of the worst defensive teams in the league. We have such a long way to go.
The big-picture realist says: The Charlotte Bobcats do have a long way to go, but they are moving in the right direction. Results won't come this season, so keep an eye out for small progressions from guys who should be key components down the road.
Updated grade: C-
Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer are making things work in Chicago without Derrick Rose.
The overly optimistic fan says: We're in first place in the Central, a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference, and we're doing it all without Derrick Rose.
When our superstar returns, he'll blend into an even more title-ready Bulls team. With each win, we create more time for Rose to return to full strength.
We're allowing the third-fewest points in the league, and Rose's defense only makes us tougher.
Last year, there was no way we could manage the sudden loss of our most valuable asset. This year, we'll be at full strength and ready to rip through the playoffs.
The pessimistic fan says: Rose might not come back at full strength.
We need to keep him on ice for the remainder of the season rather than risk a too-soon return. We're doing alright without him, but I still don't think we have enough offensive juice to do it without a pre-injury Rose.
What if he comes back and he's not the same, or he doesn't mesh with his teammates?
The big-picture realist says: The Bulls are proving they are a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference, even without their superstar. If Rose returns to his previous form, the Bulls can compete for a title.
Updated grade: A
Kyrie Irving's face says it all for Cleveland.
The overly optimistic fan says: Hey, at least we're not Washington!
Anderson Varejao collects a lot of our misses!
Cleveland finally has a masked hero!
The pessimistic fan says: Once again, we have one of the league's worst records. Kyrie Irving is forever going to be that guy on injured reserve for everyone's fantasy team. First a broken finger, now a fractured jaw.
Dion Waiters is already learning to follow suit after his recent sprained ankle.
Trade Varejao now while his numbers are still inflated based upon all of our clanked shots.
The big-picture realist says: The Cavaliers aren't really as bad as their record may show. Irving is part of the league's next generation of dynamic superstars, and Waiters looks like he'll be a valuable sidekick.
This won't be the year, but they're building. Injuries have worsened the record, and that doesn't help their overall grade much.
Updated grade: D+
O.J. Mayo has been a lift, but the Mavericks are beginning to struggle.
The overly optimistic fan says: We're preparing for the return of our German superstar.
We've been counted out before. Remember 2011? Dirk Nowitzki will have his last stand upon his return.
Meanwhile, O.J. Mayo is one of the league's most improved players, averaging more than 20 points per game on 48.2 percent shooting. He's shooting 51.2 percent from three-point range, making 2.8 treys per game.
The pessimistic fan says: We still have no clue when Dirk Nowitzki will return or what type of player he'll be when he is back. We can't do anything without him.
As of now, the only thing we do know is that he's not close. The team is spiraling with a streak of losses, and Derek Fisher, Elton Brand and Vince Carter are not the answer.
The big-picture realist says: We have no idea what the Mavericks will look like until Nowitzki returns. The team is pieced together around its superstar, and the timetable of his return is still unknown.
The Mavericks hung around early in the season, but they might be sinking fast.
Updated grade: C+
The overly optimistic fan says: We're still figuring things out. We were the preseason darlings of so many for good reason.
We're scoring despite shooting issues and we're rebounding. We're balanced in all areas with depth in the necessary positions. Guys like Kenneth Faried embody the "manimal" in us all.
The pessimistic fan says: Where's the defense? Where's the outside shooting?
Where's the superstar in Andre Iguodala? He ranks third on our team in points, third in assists and fourth in rebounding.
We need a player to take over, and he's not showing up.
The big-picture realist says: The Nuggets are about where they should be right now. They have the potential to gel but have been inconsistent.
Ty Lawson has epitomized the team's ups and downs, and Iguodala has cooled off.
Updated grade: B-
The overly optimistic fan says: We're developing talent.
Greg Monroe is growing into one of the league's best centers; a piece that any contender will eventually need. Now, we just need to collect pieces to place around him.
Brandon Knight, Kyle Singler and Andre Drummond offer a good start.
The pessimistic fan says: It's cold in Detroit. The plan is far from fruition, so I'll check back in a couple years.
The big-picture realist says: The Pistons have one of the league's worst records and have dropped five in a row. They do have good young size in Monroe and Drummond, but there is a lot of progression that needs to occur before they become competitive again.
Updated grade: D
Stephen Curry and David Lee have Golden State in a good place.
The overly optimistic fan says: We believe again! Seriously, we are for real. David Lee is one of the West's best power forwards, and Stephen Curry, on finally healthy ankles, is breaking out as one of the league's next superstar guards.
We have depth on the bench like never before, highlighted by Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack, who are both relatively inexpensive pieces at less than $10 million combined this season.
Once Andrew Bogut returns, we will be considered a contender in the Western Conference.
The pessimistic fan says: The only thing proven so far with this team is that vulnerable ankles never last. If Curry falls, this team falls. And there is little evidence to support that ankle.
The big-picture realist says: The Warriors are playing excellent basketball under coach Mark Jackson. The team is playing with poise, proven by its recent 6-1 road trip, an historic accomplishment for the franchise.
Curry and Lee have created a tough tandem, and the balance provided by second-year shooter Klay Thompson and rookie Harrison Barnes is only growing.
There is a depth to the roster that hasn't existed in years. If Bogut does return healthy, the team will add just another layer.
Updated grade: A-
The overly optimistic fan says: Defense is overrated when you can score.
The league's "best team," the New York Knicks, couldn't handle our offense on Monday night. We have now won three of four, including that win against the Knicks and Boston. Prior to that, we took the San Antonio Spurs to overtime.
We're back to .500 and just beginning to click.
The pessimistic fan says: Welcome to mediocrity again. The additions of James Harden and Jeremy Lin are nice and all, but we can't defend. We're one of the league's worst defenses, allowing 103.7 points per game.
The big-picture realist says: The Rockets need to come together to play better team defense. They might not have the depth to last in the West. They will be carried only as far as Harden and his 25.1 points per game can take them.
Lin has been a mild disappointment at 11.3 points and 6.0 assists. Chandler Parsons has been a nice surprise.
The team probably deserved a lower grade, but this recent stretch has helped.
Updated grade: C+
Paul George is a bright young star for Indiana.
The overly optimistic fan says: Look what we are accomplishing without our superstar.
We're beating the teams that we're supposed to beat, and we'll be ready to challenge more when Danny Granger returns. We're second in the Central, what more do you want?
The pessimistic fan says: We were never a true contender to begin with. Last year was a good run, but we didn't have the talent to sustain it. It created unrealistic expectations and you can see how quickly we fold without our star. We have too many holes, including a lack of backcourt depth.
We're not beating any true contenders.
The big-picture realist says: Roy Hibbert may well epitomize last season's over-achievement in Indiana. The Pacers are not a top-five team in the Eastern Conference, but they are still a likely playoff first-round exit.
Updated grade: B
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are part of a new chemistry in Los Angeles.
The overly optimistic fan says: We have won 10 in a row.
We are winning the title. It's finally our time. We have the best point guard in the league and no team has depth like ours.
Blake Griffin is back from a quieter November. He's averaging 20 points per game on 58.5 percent shooting and he's hitting the offensive glass.
The pessimistic fan says: There's little for me and my negative friends to say right now. Still, I'm a glass-is-half-empty Clippers fan, so, of course, thoughts will flood my mind of a seemingly inevitable Clippers fold.
The big-picture realist says: The Clippers have all the tools. Paul is the best point guard in basketball, and he's been the general of a team with more depth than a Mike Martz playbook.
The Clippers are balanced both offensively and defensively and play with a high degree of unselfishness for a roster loaded with names. That's a good sign for a contender.
A rough road stretch in November included losses to Oklahoma City, Brooklyn, Atlanta and New Orleans, despite beginning with a win in San Antonio. The Clippers have proven they can beat elite teams with wins over Miami and Chicago.
Kobe Bryant's Lakers are struggling.
The overly optimistic fan says: Wait, just wait. Wait, wait, wait.
Hold on, it's still early. We are still adjusting to a new system and new talent.
Just relax. Things will come together.
The pessimistic fan says: How long will we continue to make excuses? Bryant can score, but can he lead? Dwight Howard doesn't have enough intensity to redirect the Lakers' losing pattern. Pau Gasol looks toast.
We have starting-five talent, but no depth and no direction. Early isn't an excuse in January. This season is nearing its halfway point.
The big-picture realist says: The Lakers have put together a minor streak and are hanging around just enough.
It will take more than a handful of practices to implement D'Antoni's system. The offense probably won't be running at full strength until well into the New Year.
Still, the clock is ticking a bit swifter, and there still haven't been many positive signs that Los Angeles can contend for a title. We'll know more once Nash returns.
So far, it's been a complete disaster.
Updated grade: F
The Grizzlies are going for it in 2012-13.
The overly optimistic fan says: We're the best defensive team in the game. In case the memo got lost, defense wins championships.
Everyone is overlooking us, and that's exactly what we want. We are what the Detroit Pistons were in 2004. It's not about the superstar name on the back of the jersey.
The pessimistic fan says: We're sinking back down to earth. We've lost three of five and maybe we're still a superstar away from being able to overcome the Spurs or Thunder.
The big-picture realist says: The Grizzlies allow the fewest points per game in the NBA, and they rebound the ball. They'll likely finish as a top-three seed in the Western Conference, and they might have what it takes to overcome a team of superstars.
The biggest question will be whether a guy like Rudy Gay can carry this team through tense moments battling superstars.
Updated grade: A-
LeBron James is once again leading the Miami Heat to one of the league's best records.
The regular season is just a warmup, and only scrubs try hard in warmups. We're doing enough to keep warm. Wade will come back to form, and Bosh is having his best season in a Heat uniform.
The pessimistic fan says: Nothing is guaranteed here.
Our defense is struggling and our rebounding is atrocious. Charles Barkley is right, Wade isn't his old self. We're no longer the most talented team in the league, even if we have one of the best players.
The big-picture realist says: The Miami Heat are obviously one of the better teams in basketball. The rebounding needs to be addressed, and the defense should improve when Wade is back to full health.
This team is still the favorite.
Updated grade: A-
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis have the Milwaukee Bucks hanging on.
The overly optimistic fan says: We’re fun to watch, and we’re finding a spot as one of the bottom-half playoff teams in the East.
Check out our dynamic backcourt. Monta Ellis is averaging 19 points and 5.5 assists, and Jennings is dropping 16.9 points and 6.0 assists.
We don't need big names to work the post. We have a number of guys contributing.
The pessimistic fan says: We’re not really great at any one thing. We float around the schedule and pick on the bad teams, but we have few wins against quality opponents.
The backcourt of Ellis and Jennings was already experimented with in Golden State. We're just swapping Stephen Curry with Jennings. There’s simply not enough in the frontcourt.
The big-picture realist says: The Milwaukee Bucks can earn wins against lesser teams, but this team isn’t built to win a playoff series, let alone contend for a title.
Updated grade: B
Kevin Love thinks his Timberwolves don't have a plan.
The overly optimistic fan says: Despite all the doubt, we're a top-six team in the Western Conference.
We have the talent.
Kevin Love is a top-10 player in this league. And check out what Nikola Pekovic (15.5 points and 7.6 rebounds) and Andrei Kirilenko (13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds) are doing for us. This frontcourt is set, and Rubio's return makes us a complete team, maybe even a contender.
The pessimistic fan says: Love was right. This team has no direction. How many years will we continue to wait on Ricky Rubio to develop? We are floating in mediocrity, and this is the ceiling with this group.
The big-picture realist says: The Minnesota Timberwolves have collected the right kind of talent. Depending on the health of Rubio, there’s an opportunity for the Timberwolves make a jump into the playoffs.
Anthony Davis hasn't been able to stay on the floor for New Orleans.
The overly optimistic fan says: We're building, and growing pains are inevitable. With Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers, the future looks bright.
The pessimistic fan says: This franchise has been completely dismantled, and recovery mode is going to take too long. We're going to need a lot more lottery picks.
The big-picture realist says: The landscape of a down NBA team can change quickly.
So much depends on the development of Davis and Rivers. Both have tremendous attitudes and work ethic, so New Orleans should be able to count on them both.
Updated grade: D-
(The team is all rookies, and the rookies aren't failing.)
Carmelo Anthony has New York on top.
The overly optimistic fan says: We have it figured out. All it took was some veteran leadership and a coach who understands what it takes to win.
We're now the best team in the East.
The combination of a reinvigorated Raymond Felton and the he's-still-got-it play of Jason Kidd is leading a backcourt that also features J.R. Smith. Hello, Rasheed Wallace is even contributing.
The pessimistic fan says: Uh, yeah, optimistic fan said it: Even Rasheed Wallace is contributing. That's not a good sign. Our defense has dropped off, and so has our overall play.
We still rely way too much on a hot night from Carmelo Anthony. That doesn't work well in a seven-game series.
The big-picture realist says: The Knicks have been a surprise. Anthony has proven he's able to do more than just score, and that's a direct reflection of his coach.
Updated grade: A
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have the Thunder back in control of the West.
The overly optimistic fan says: There is no way anyone can beat us this year. We lost James Harden and we got better. It's not just the elite duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but it's also the evolving overall game of Serge Ibaka.
Kevin Martin is a better fit than Harden. We're the highest-scoring team in basketball.
Who can stop us?
The pessimistic fan says: I love how we're playing so far, but I have a hard time believing it will be enough after last season's fall to the Miami Heat.
What happens when we face a team in the playoffs that can hold us to under 100 points like the Heat did in four of the five games last year in the NBA Finals? Have we proven that we're a different team?
The big-picture realist says: Oklahoma City is one of the best teams in basketball and will be contending for a title this spring.
Updated grade: A
Glen Davis is a bright spot in Orlando.
The overly optimistic fan says: I'm glad Dwight Howard is gone.
We weren't going to win with him anyway. We are proving that we are plenty capable of playing defense and can compete on any given night.
I'm fine with the rebuilding process, and I'm happy with Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis.
The pessimistic fan says: Listen to yourself. Put the milk down, you've had enough. Davis and Afflalo, who are you kidding? This team has less talent than a Chili's on a Tuesday night.
The big-picture realist says: The Orlando Magic are playing good enough defense to earn wins here and there. Obviously, they need to add talent through the draft or free agency if they hope to become contenders again.
Updated grade: C
Jrue Holiday has lifted the 76ers.
The overly optimistic fan says: I'm so glad Andrew Bynum is resting up.
Think how good this team is going to look when he returns. We're floating around .500 without him. You can only imagine what happens when we add one of the league's top centers. By the way, Jrue Holiday is definitely an All-Star.
The pessimistic fan says: Save it.
Bynum is a career hobbler, and we're the lucky team to risk our best player on him. That one really worked out. He'll probably play well enough at some point to spike our hopes and take big money somewhere else like Toronto.
We're one of the worst scoring teams in the league, and Holiday hasn't proven himself for a whole season.
We are not a playoff team.
The big-picture realist says: Don't count Philadelphia out. There are some role players proving their worth, including Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young. If Bynum does return to health, they could make the playoffs. Of course, they're not contenders.
Updated grade: C
Goran Dragić is finding a role despite a down season in Phoenix.
The overly optimistic fan says: C'mon, man, we're always so good. Things will bounce back.
Goran Dragic is the new Steve Nash. Marcin Gortat is the new Amar'e Stoudemire. We'll get guys going.
The pessimistic fan says: We can't defend. Our stars are limited to the offensive side of the ball, and there are no real signs of future promise.
There's no plan yet.
The big-picture realist says: Dragic, Gortat and Luis Scola make up a nice little nucleus, and there are some minor role players in place, but this team can't compete against most of the league.
They have won three in a row, including home wins vs. Memphis and Utah.
Updated grade: D+
Damian Lillard is a top candidate for Rookie of the Year honors.
The overly optimistic fan says: I am excited about what we can accomplish in the second half.
We have an extremely talented core in place, as LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum and top rookie Damian Lillard make an incredible foundation. We just beat San Antonio.
We can make a playoff push.
The pessimistic fan says: No we can't. Do we have one clear leader on this team? Aldridge needs to take some blame for things not working out here so far—if he is our leader, that is.
That core has played well, but how do you explain that we're under .500? We don't share the ball; we're second-to-last in the league in assists.
The big-picture realist says: The starting lineup has produced, led by top Rookie of the Year candidate Lillard. While Batum and Wesley Matthews have been scoring threats, they are shooting a combined 12.2 three-pointers per game, and neither is shooting better than 40 percent.
There needs to be more direction with the offense and further production from the bench.
Updated grade: C+
Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins haven't been enough to lift the Kings.
The overly optimistic fan says: I don't really exist anymore.
The pessimistic fan says: I'm sitting by myself.
And I feel like I am screaming at a brick wall about this team. There is no direction. We don't even know if the Kings are staying in Sacramento, let alone what moves they might make for the future.
DeMarcus Cousins is struggling to control his play. Tyreke Evans has been all but erased from the offense.
Isaiah Thomas is not the answer at point guard. We passed on Damian Lillard for a guy in Thomas Robinson who can't score around the basket.
The big-picture realist says: This team is floundering, and there's no true light at the end of the tunnel.
Updated grade: F
There are plenty of reasons to smile in San Antonio.
The overly optimistic fan says: There is no reason to ever be down on the Spurs as long as we have our trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Here we are, doing it again. One of the best records in the league, and our guys are performing at a high level.
The pessimistic fan says: Check the injury sheet, bud. First we lost Kawhi Leonard, and now Ginobili is hurt. I feel like we're built on sticks—sticks that are becoming older and more brittle.
We've lost four of five games and things are fading fast.
The big-picture realist says: The Spurs don't go away. This season could play out similar to last year, and Duncan's boys will be back in the mix come the playoffs.
There is cause for concern that this team won't benefit from a shortened season as it did last year.
Updated grade: A-
Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon aren't finding much success in Toronto.
The overly optimistic fan says: It's a cold world in Toronto basketball.
But, hey, we're on a three-game winning streak. Jose Calderon is picking it up, and his numbers are improving. DeMar DeRozan can score the ball. Let's build around him.
The pessimistic fan says: We have no one to build around.
We're the beautiful breed of bad defense and offense. Terrance Ross and Jonas Valanciunas haven't given us much reason for hope, either.
The big-picture realist says: Help will hopefully come via the draft lottery, because that's where this team is headed.
Updated grade: F
Al Jefferson and the Utah Jazz are floating around the .500 mark.
The overly optimistic fan says: We have nearly half of all the big men in the NBA. And our young bigs can score and rebound.
Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors average more than 25 rebounds and more than 40 points per game combined.
The pessimistic fan says: Not many fans can, or would, say this, but we have too many bigs. The roles aren't clear and we're completely unbalanced.
For all those names above, what about Marvin Williams and Enes Kanter? There's just not enough minutes and shot attempts for all these guys.
The big-picture realist says: It's true that there is a lack of balance on the Jazz. The backcourt of Mo Williams, Randy Foye and Gordon Hayward doesn't have nearly as much depth as the frontcourt.
However, the Jazz are finding a way to get things done, including recent wins over Brooklyn and San Antonio
Updated grade: B+
John Wall's absence has been hard on the league-worst Wizards.
The overly optimistic fan says: Give us a new general manager and we will start to win.
The pessimistic fan says: Give us a new general manager and we can start to win one day.
The big-picture realist says: The Washington Wizards went into train-wreck mode this season. The loss of John Wall for significant time has revealed glaring holes throughout the roster.
Bradley Beal hasn't been able to do enough, and the salaries of Emeka Okafor (to be paid $14.5 million next season) and Trevor Ariza ($7.7 million next year) leave little wiggle room for change.
Updated grade: F