There's nothing wrong with prematurely judging coaches before giving them a fair shake, right?
Of course not.
I knew who I was going after the moment I heard it was time for report cards.
These evaluations are based on how each coach's team has performed, in relation to its potential. However a bad team's coach isn't getting a high grade unless there's a specific reason he deserves one.
All statistics and records accurate through Dec. 20, 2012.
Not many teams lose their leading scorer and improve. The Hawks traded Joe Johnson and are off to a 15-8 start without a ball-dominant scorer or typical go-to offensive option.
Their attack has more balance, and coach Larry Drew has a notoriously undisciplined team playing high-IQ basketball. The Hawks are top 10 in both points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage.
In the offseason, the Hawks added Louis Williams, whose skill set is ideal for the sixth man role, and Drew has used him perfectly.
He's also found a way to incorporate two point guards into the lineup, while having Josh Smith playing the most efficient ball of his career.
Drew is getting the most out of the talent he has, and he deserves some praise and recognition for the way his team is performing.
Adding a guy like Joe Johnson isn't like just throwing on a hat. He draws enough attention that forces you to reorganize your outfit so it all blends together.
Avery Johnson is still trying things on in the dressing room.
At 13-12, Johnson has the team's head above water, but it isn't comfortably floating on the surface. The Nets haven't beat any of the top teams except the Knicks, who they've also lost to twice, and the Celtics, who are getting beat a lot these days.
There's work to be done, and it might require a more long-term plan. Johnson gets a B so far for getting valuable production out of Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans and Jerry Stackhouse.
I think Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge should share this B-, a low grade for one of the smartest tag teams in the class.
The roster just doesn't seem capable of competing with the more athletic, younger teams. Three of their top four scorers are at least 35 years old, and they've spent $36 on Jeff Green's nine points, three rebounds and 42 percent field-goal percentage.
The Celtics rank in the middle of the pack in almost every statistical category, which seems about right. They look average and non-threatening in terms of a postseason run.
Assuming Rivers has a say in the makeup of his lineup, he should be pushing to move one of their many combo-guards and look for some athleticism up front.
Forget the record and ignore the losing streak. This team is playing far more inspiring basketball under Mike Dunlap, and it's easy to recognize.
The Bobcats have won seven games so far out of a total of 24. It took them 43 games to reach that mark last year, and then they lost 23 straight.
Dunlap has given his most dynamic playmaker freedom, and Kemba Walker has run with it. He's averaging 18 points and six assists on 43 percent shooting, up from the 12 points, 4.4 assists and 38 percent he shot as a rookie.
However, the Bobcats are sorely undermanned down low, and they can't stop opponents from scoring (last in the league in points allowed).
This roster lacks talent, leadership and experience, but it's competing, and that reflects favorably on Dunlap.
As long as the Bobcats compete, they'll have the opportunity to knock off a better team on any given night.
Without the former MVP, the Bulls should be competing for the lottery, not the top spot in their division.
As if Tom Thibodeau wants any part of the draft.
Whatever that raspy voice is saying, it's probably pretty smart. The Bulls are second in the NBA in points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage, and they've given up the least amount of three-pointers in the league.
They protect the rim and the perimeter. They also do security at bar mitzvahs and weddings.
Nobody gets easy ones past this stout Chicago defense—that has Tom Thibodeau's annoyingly hard-to-spell last name written all over it.
They're not contenders without Derrick Rose, but Thibs is certainly getting the most out of the cards he's been dealt.
The Cavaliers have five wins through 26 games, suffering through injuries involving their top two scoring options: Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
Without one of these two in the lineup, the Cavs offer little firepower. Byron Scott is getting first-rate production out of Anderson Varejao, but other than that, close your eyes, reach your hand in the bag and hope you come up with something.
On the bright side, I don't think there's a doubt in anyone's mind that this team found a franchise cornerstone in Irving.
Scott seems pretty helpless on the sidelines, standing arms crossed with half a grin while his team loses game after game.
Let's see if he can find a way to max out Irving and Waiters and turn talent into wins despite their brief time in the league.
The Mavericks have been without Dirk Nowitzki, but that's no excuse for giving up 101.8 points a game, good for fourth most in the league.
Rick Carlisle's team hasn't looked very sharp, and has lost by at least 15 points six times already, and that doesn't include two losses to Minnesota and one loss to Charlotte.
Without Dirk, the team is pretty average, but it's lost too many games to mediocre teams.
The bright spot has been O.J. Mayo, its top offseason acquisition, who's averaging 20 points on 48 percent shooting, up from the 12 points on 40 percent he shot last year in Memphis.
With Nowitzki approaching a return, it will be Carlisle's job to acclimate him and Mayo into the same cohesive offense.
Dallas is 12-14 and will have to do some digging in order to get back to ground level.
George Karl has a team full of second and third offensive options, but no go-to guy.
Karl does a nice job of maximizing his players' strengths—for example, taking Andre Iguodala's defense, Danilo Gallinari's shot-making, Ty Lawson's playmaking, Kenneth Faried's motor, JaVale McGee's length and Andre Miller's leadership and applying them accordingly.
He's a little stubborn from time to time, sticking with two point guards in the lineup and sacrificing athleticism for decision-making, but overall he hasn't done anything to hold this team back.
Karl just needs to get this team over the hump in order to increase his grade.
Coach Lawrence Frank was put in a tough spot with a young team that has minimal upside.
Detroit has been the best of the worst so far, not exactly a title to strive for.
If I'm Frank, I'm going to the rookies now. Forget Rodney Stuckey and his 38 percent shooting on 10 attempts a game; enough with Charlie Villanueva and his three rebounds per contest.
Andre Drummond has been a bright spot for Detroit in a limited role. Get him more time than 18 minutes a game when Jason Maxiell is playing 27.
Give some burn to Kim English, the two-way sharpshooter from Missouri who's 8-of-16 from downtown on the year.
The Pistons aren't going anywhere anytime soon; they have three nice building blocks in Brandon Knight, Greg Monroe and Drummond.
I'm just not sure there's anything Frank can do when the veterans on the team are the ones holding it back.
The Warriors are 17-9, playing some inspiring two-way basketball for the first time in years.
Mark Jackson has this team playing hard, and this squad is focused on all the right things. Golden State is sixth in the NBA in opponent's three-point percentage and top 10 in opponent's field-goal percentage.
The Warriors have already beaten Miami and the Clippers. They're playing with confidence, and though it sounds like I'm taking this straight out of a Mighty Ducks movie, there's a visible difference in desire and performance when a team truly believes it can win.
What's even more impressive is that the Warriors doing this without Andrew Bogut (which might say more about Monta Ellis), who was supposed to play a substantial role until, well, Andrew Bogut happened.
Jackson has gotten solid veteran production out of Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry, and he hasn't been afraid to use rookies Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli.
He's done a fantastic job of mixing and matching to minimize his team's weaknesses and exploit its strengths.
With the tragic death of coach Kevin McHale's daughter, the Rockets have split time playing under interim head coach Kelvin Sampson.
Unlike most coaches who own a signature style and feel reluctant to adapt, the Rockets coaching staff devised a plan that plays to the strengths of its core players.
With James Harden and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets have two lightning-quick guards whose strengths revolve around speed, dribble penetration and attacking the rim. The Rockets push the tempo more than any team in the league, looking to catch defenses sleeping and earn easy points in transition.
HoopData says the Rockets rank first in the league in pace, which measures the number of possessions per game.
Without scorers who can create their own shot, other than Harden, McHale has his backcourt pushing the ball off makes and misses, eliminating as many half-court possessions as he can.
McHale and Sampson have allowed the Rockets to overachieve with one star and a few useful counterparts. They're 13-12 to start the year.
The Pacers are somehow 14-12 despite the absence of their go-to scorer in Danny Granger and Roy Hibbert averaging 9.7 points and 8.3 rebounds on 39.3 percent from the field.
Frank Vogel has Indiana making up for some nauseating offense at times with stifling defense. It's first in the league in defending the arc and opponent's field-goal percentage and third in the league in points allowed.
The Pacers are also first in the NBA in defensive rebounds, an underrated statistic that shows the ability to limit opponent's second-chance opportunities.
Without much total offensive firepower, the Pacers are winning all the sub-battles, and it's keeping them afloat. Now, if Vogel could just a way to get Hibbert to show up...
The Clippers are winning a whole lot of games, and whether that has to do with Vinny Del Negro or the talent around him, it all reflects positively on the head coach.
While guys like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are improving as individuals, they're doing so without jeopardizing team concepts and cohesive basketball.
Defensively, the Clippers have been stellar. They're top five in opponent's field-goal percentage and points allowed.
Unlike the Portland coaching staff, Del Negro has found a way to integrate Jamal Crawford into the lineup by maximizing his potency and minimizing his inefficiency. The team has shown sound balance from top to bottom, and has put itself in position to compete with the best in the west.
It's starting to click on all cylinders, and with a 19-6 record, the Clippers are tied with the Knicks for the second-best record in the league.
However, since his arrival, the Lakers have given up 101.7 points per game. That would rank fourth worst in the NBA if it had been for the whole season.
D'Antoni's frustration culminated in a heated exchange with a reporter, who asked if the teamed worked on defensive preparation. Before D'Antoni told the reporter he was starting to piss him off, he answered with, "Hell yeah, we worked for a half-hour on it."
A whole 30 minutes. I hope they didn't get too exhausted.
The problem with D'Antoni is his inability to adjust. I'll cut him some slack without Nash, but instead of changing his game plan to fit the personnel, he's now changing the rotation to fit the game plan.
D'Antoni's signature system just can't be run effectively without a visionary point guard.
It's tough to give a fair assessment of coach D'Antoni without the pilot to his vehicle. But there won't be any excuses once Nash returns to the lineup.
The Grizzlies look tremendous, sitting atop the Southwest Division at 17-6 to start the year.
This team is all business. Its discipline is noticeable. Lionel Hollins has transformed a dead-money one-and-done playoff team into a legitimate title contender.
He’s one of the few to maximize Zach Randolph’s potential, a feat worthy of mad respect, as the kids say.
The Grizzles are one of the most enjoyable teams to watch because of their offensive unselfishness, defensive intensity and overall maturity as a unit.
Memphis is first in the NBA in points allowed and top five in both opponent's field-goal percentage and three-point percentage.
Hollins has done a masterful job displaying ideal leadership qualities and implementing a successful game plan. Put this man's name in the Coach of the Year conversation.
The fact that he looks just like John Witherspoon, father from the Wayans Brothers, is only a plus.
Eric Spoelstra has one job to do, and that's get out of the way.
This isn't a team that needs rigid structure. Spoelstra just needs to put his playmakers in position to make plays, rather than giving them detailed instruction in a methodical set.
Miami leads the NBA in field-goal percentage, and it has been the most efficient team in the NBA from behind the arc at 41 percent.
But it's around the middle of the pack in defensive categories, and that's too low. Ideally, Miami could use a more intimidating rim protection unit, but that's just not something Spoelstra has access to at the moment.
The Heat have unusual standards when you consider who's on the roster. It's tough to give Spoelstra a high-quality grade when his team has gotten blown out by New York twice, once without Carmelo Anthony at home, and has a bad letdown loss to the Washington Wizards.
They're still my favorite to win it all, but we haven't seen their best basketball 23 games into the year.
Without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves won five of their first nine games.
Credit Rick Adelman for putting his reserves in a position to step up and make plays they aren't always given the chance to make.
Hoopdata has the T-Wolves at sixth in the NBA in defensive efficiency, something you would never have thought possible a few years ago. They're also second in the NBA in offensive rebounds, making up for a lack of a go-to guy by getting second-chance opportunities.
Adelman is getting productive minutes from Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved, and he's using his depth wisely.
With a 13-11 record, Adelman has done an excellent job of preventing his team from digging an early hole without its stars.
These Timberwolves should be a fun team to watch once Rubio is back to full strength.
The Bucks haven't beaten any of the powerhouses yet, but they still have a solid 13-11 record. We'll give Scott Skiles credit for his team taking care of business early in the season.
With Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis in the backcourt, Skiles has his team playing uptempo, ranking fourth in the league in pace, according to Hoopdata.
Unfortunately, the combination results in a lot of bad shots and low field-goal percentages, which has led to a No. 22 ranking in offensive efficiency, measuring points scored per 100 possessions. The Bucks shoot 43 percent from the floor, good for seventh worst in the league.
Skiles is still somewhat inconsistent with his rotations, making it tough for his frontcourt players to pick up any sort of rhythm. Although, to his credit, the Bucks probably have the fewest interior scorers in the league.
His future grade is dependent on Milwaukee's seed in the playoffs, if in fact it gets there.
It's not Monty Williams' fault that New Orleans traded Chris Paul for a guy who can't stay, or even get on the basketball court. And it doesn't help that Anthony Davis has missed half the team's games already.
But Williams is doing his best to deal, getting some unexpected production from Greivis Vasquez, Brian Roberts and Jason Smith.
This team plays hard. It's come up with wins at the Clippers in Los Angeles and at Chicago, and it has played a number of teams tight despite a 5-20 record.
Without a go-to guy like Eric Gordon, this team will be in the hunt for top pick overall once again. I have a feeling, with more established pieces, Williams has the chance to build something in New Orleans.
Mike Woodson gets my vote for the coach who's gotten the most out of his players.
The Knicks weren't supposed to be this good. They were supposed to be old, selfish and fragile.
Instead we've come to learn that they're wise, sharing and deep.
New York is making two more three-pointers a game than any team in the league, and it's not because it has the best shooters. Woodson's offense is predicated on creating spacing and spreading the floor.
The Knicks are making threes because they're constantly open. Between pick-and-rolls, drive-and-dishes, ball-reversals and Carmelo Anthony, whose ability to draw double-teams opens scoring opportunities for others, the Knicks offense has remained as balanced and fluid as any team's in the NBA.
And the most important stat of all for the Knicks is that they lead the NBA in least amount of turnovers.
With Tyson Chandler playing the best two-way basketball of his career, Melo producing at an MVP level and the rest of the boys playing smart, disciplined basketball, Woodson has this team in the best position it's been in since 1999.
I still believe that the less coaching Scott Brooks does, the better, but with the best record in the NBA, it's hard to make any complaints.
What is there to say?
The Thunder are first or second in the league in points scored, field-goal percentage and free throws made per game. They score on the perimeter (No. 3 in the league in three-point percentage), at the rim and from the stripe.
They could improve defensively, technically, but they're still top 10 across the board.
Brooks has done what every coach with superstar talent needs to do: put his players in position to excel without over-coaching.
You look at this roster and wonder who the Magic should take when they get the first pick overall.
Except Jacque Vaughn has this team competing despite not actually having a best player. To nobody's surprise, it's doing it with defense, because it's certainly not with offensive firepower.
Orlando ranks sixth in the NBA in points allowed, second in opponent's three-point percentage and fourth in defensive rebounds per game.
With a bunch of sixth and seventh men, the Magic are 12-13 and only a game behind the Celtics.
They haven't really beaten anyone yet, but props must be given to Vaughn, who has the Magic taking care of winnable games.
Philadelphia lost Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams, two of its top-four scoring options from a year ago. Andrew Bynum was supposed to fill the void left between them, but he's still sidelined with knee issues.
Doug Collins has officially decided to let Jrue Holiday loose in the meantime, and it's paid off. The four-year guard is averaging 18 points and 8.9 assists and has established himself as one of the premier point guards in the league with this newfound freedom.
Whether this has Collins' prints on it or not, he's finally found a way to get production from Evan Turner (15 points, four assists per game). It turns out Turner's space might have been crowded with Iguodala on the wing, and now he's able to get comfortable scoring from the perimeter.
The 76ers are 12-14 without any eye-opening wins. But Collins has kept them relevant with their presumed top scoring option still unable to go. This grade is likely to change, for better or worse, after 82 games are played.
I was trying to figure out how Phoenix has 11 wins despite being, statistically, one of the worst defensive teams in the league.
Until I realized eight of them came against Detroit, Charlotte (twice), Cleveland (twice), New Orleans, Portland and Sacramento.
Alvin Gentry's defense is in the bottom five of the league in points allowed, opponent's field-goal percentage, opponent's three-point percentage and rebounds per game. If you look at its rotation, it's not hard to see why.
Gentry doesn't have much to work with. I respect the fact that he's decreased minutes for Michael Beasley, whose name has been bigger than his game.
The Suns are picking on teams their own size and getting shoved in lockers by the stronger ones. Not a bad formula, if you like late picks in the lottery.
The Trail Blazers have a better-than-average starting lineup, but their depth is just brutal. They have five guys averaging in double figures, and everybody else is under five points a game.
Coach Terry Stotts has done a nice job of introducing Damian Lillard and getting him acclimated with running a pro offense, so we'll give him credit for that.
But the defense...
Portland is No. 28 in the league in opponent's field-goal percentage, and it falls in the bottom 10 in points allowed. It's not potent enough offensively or deep enough off the bench to make up for that type of lackluster defense.
Without a more consistent defensive effort, the .500 mark appears to be the Blazers' ceiling.
Gregg Popovich's passive arrogance has me going. Whether it's one-word interview answers or giving his team time off during a nationally televised game, the man has confidence, and it reflects on his players.
I had no problem with what Pop did when he sent home Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green, except for the fact that he didn't notify the league in a timely fashion, if indeed that's true.
In a season that essentially requires 100 games in order to go this distance, staying fresh and minimizing risk of injury is necessary with an older bunch.
The team looks sharp at 19-8, and Pop is getting valuable production out of guys like Green and Kawhi Leonard.
Imagine the brightest kid in the class, and his last name is "Clueless."
The Keith Smart jokes write themselves at this point. His decision-making has resulted in a mass sinus infection breakout across the city and the basketball community alike.
He's been juggling lineups like a damn circus acrobat. Jimmer Fredette, Isaiah Thomas and Thomas Robinson see their roles change weekly, while minutes for dead-end guys like Aaron Brooks, John Salmons, Francisco Garcia and Jason Thompson prevent anyone from gaining rhythm.
DeMarcus Cousins is still the maddest dude in the league, and we're still not sure who Tyreke Evans is.
The team is a mess, the chemistry is toxic, and the coaching has been harmful.
Sorry, Kings fans—Keith Smart gets our only failing grade.
Don't look now, but the Raptors have won four straight. The problem is, they lost 19 of their first 23 games.
Dwane Casey has a better roster than his 8-19 record suggests. This was supposed to be a team clawing for a playoff position, not a top-five pick.
To his credit, Kyle Lowry can't stay healthy, Landry Fields has been out, Andrea Bargnani is Andrea Bargnani and rookie Jonas Valanciunas has struggled to produce consistent results.
To no surprise, they're in the bottom half of the league in almost all defensive categories, and their offense has been anything but efficient.
They rank 25th in the league in field-goal percentage and 26th in three-point percentage.
Casey must find a way to put his players in better position to score easy baskets. This team is better than its record.
The Jazz are pretty much average across the board, and their 14-13 record reflects that.
Tyrone Corbin's crew has been awfully streaky, which probably has more to do with the roster's lack of balance. The Jazz have a surplus of big men and a shortage of guards.
This is an underwhelming roster. Mo Williams and Randy Foye make up one of the least intimidating backcourts in the league.
So far, Corbin has done his job, though. The Jazz are winning the games they should, and even some they shouldn't.
But if this team wants to threaten the league, it'll have to add some talent and speed. I still think it needs to move either Paul Millsap or Enes Kanter and look for help in some other areas of need.
Corbin may not be winning these games for Utah, but he's not the one losing them either.
When all you're given is a cup of flour, a pinch of salt and a touch of butter, you can't bake a cake.
Randy Wittman is missing a ton of ingredients needed to build a winning roster, including its franchise player, John Wall, who hasn't suited up yet.
You can analyze the stats and go through what they need to improve, but when your top offensive weapon is Jordan Crawford, expectations shouldn't be more than ankle-high.
The Wizards knocked off the Heat in one of those "any given night" type of games, so give Wittman credit for his team's competitiveness. The players seem to have his back, and despite all the losses, the temperature seems to be cool in Washington.
We'll visit this grade again once Wall returns to the lineup.