Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant
With the All-Star break fast approaching, it is now time to grade each team in the NBA on the first half of their respective seasons.
It is important to remember, however, that these interim marks can certainly be improved upon by season's end.
These grades only evaluate the work completed to date, and they do not project how the second half will conclude.
Eight teams have earned below a "C" thus far, three have earned an "A+," and one is officially failing at the midseason point.
These grades were based on a combination of individual expectations, organizational goals and overall accomplishments to date. Also, each team is listed alphabetically according to the city they represent.
Atlanta Hawks' Josh Smith
The Atlanta Hawks are not as good as their 12-5 start to open the season would indicate.
They are also not as bad as the team that lost eight of its first 11 in January.
According to Hoopdata.com, the Hawks grade out at slightly below league averages in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Their bench has been a major driver for those below-average marks all season, and the Lou Williams injury certainly won't help that moving forward.
But the Hawks have won three of their last five games and currently own the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference. Earning a playoff berth this season after trading Joe Johnson would certainly qualify as exceeding the expectations that most people had for this team.
On the strength of Josh Smith and Al Horford—who are averaging just over 32 points and 18 rebounds between them—the playoffs are exactly where Atlanta appears to be heading.
Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett
It is almost impossible to grade the Boston Celtics right now. Everything they were this season changed dramatically with the report of Rajon Rondo's season-ending ACL injury on Sunday.
Instead of one last run with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, it's possible that Danny Ainge will now look to move his two veteran stars in a trade in order to acquire assets that Boston can eventually begin rebuilding with—assuming, of course, that a trade partner exists for such a deal.
Even prior to Rondo's injury, the Celtics had already fallen short of expectations. They are currently sporting a sub-.500 record.
In order to hold onto the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference without Rondo, the Celtics' rebounding effort must improve. Their rebounding rate of 47.9 through Sunday ranks as the second-worst mark in the NBA, and that was with Rondo collecting 5.6 rebounds per game himself.
Brooklyn Nets' Brook Lopez
Joe Johnson and Deron Williams should be playing better than they are this season—both individually and collectively.
Johnson and Williams were supposed to anchor one of the best backcourts in the NBA this season for the Brooklyn Nets. Instead, the Nets' backcourt currently ranks 16th in the league in terms of overall efficiency, according to Hoopsstats.com.
Instead, the strength of this Nets team resides in the middle with Brook Lopez.
It was Lopez who helped Brooklyn get out to an 11-4 start to open the season, and it was Lopez who was injured during a stretch of games that eventually helped Avery Johnson get fired. With averages of 18.6 points and 7.3 rebounds through Sunday, Lopez is arguably the best player in the Eastern Conference not originally named to the All-Star team.
If Johnson and Williams can elevate their games around Lopez in the second half of the season, the Nets will be dangerous come playoff time.
Charlotte Bobcats' Kemba Walker
Hopefully, Charlotte Bobcats fans saved their ticket stub from November 24. Following a victory over the Washington Wizards that night, the Bobcats triumphantly sat with a record of 7-5 after their first 12 games.
While I'm not sure if Charlotte had a parade to celebrate the accomplishment, it probably should have because since that game, it's been all bad for Bobcats.
They've invented new ways of losing on a nightly basis while amassing a 4-27 record over the last 31 games.
Besides Kemba Walker, who has averaged 17.9 points per game, and rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who is averaging 10 points per game, this team is very weak.
Weak is exactly what they are, and this is further emphasized by a league-worst record of 11-32 through Sunday.
Chicago Bulls' Luol Deng
Only the Oklahoma City Thunder have featured a more productive frontcourt than the Chicago Bulls this season. That is the primary reason why both Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are heading to the All-Star Game.
According to Hoopsstats.com, Deng, Noah, and Carlos Boozer have led a group that currently grades out as the seventh-most efficient unit in the NBA through Sunday. They have also recorded a defensive efficiency rating of 97.6 as a team this season, which ranks third in the league.
It is no surprise that the Bulls own the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, and they have earned that record without superstar point guard Derrick Rose, who continues to work his way back from a serious knee injury.
When he does return, this Bulls team will be one that nobody wants to see come playoff time.
Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving is averaging 31.3 points since the All-Star starters were announced on Jan. 17. He currently ranks sixth in the NBA in scoring and has done everything he can to help the Cleveland Cavaliers' young roster compete on a nightly basis.
According Hoopsstats.com, their bench grades out as the second-worst reserve unit in the league, though, and that's been a glaring issue all season.
But the Cavs are currently on a three-game winning streak, despite owning the third-worst record in the league, so maybe things are looking up.
Trading Jon Leuer to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Marreese Speights and Wayne Ellington should certainly help their fight for competitiveness in the short term.
Dallas Mavericks' O.J. Mayo
O.J. Mayo has been better than expected this season. However, the Dallas Mavericks' retooled roster—featuring Darren Collison and Chris Kaman—has not yielded the results that fans had hoped for.
The Mavs are currently four games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference through Sunday, and that's never where a Mark Cuban team wants to be.
Since Dirk Nowitzki has returned from injury, though, Dallas has been been trending upward.
They've won six of their last 10 games while Nowitzki has averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds.
While we shouldn't expect much from the Mavericks in the postseason this year, they still remain one regular-season run away from getting there.
Denver Nuggets' Ty Lawson
The Denver Nuggets currently own a record that would be good for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs through Sunday. Yet as it stands, the Nuggets are still in sixth place in the competitive West.
With Ty Lawson distributing the basketball, the Nuggets are the seventh-most efficient team in the league offensively. They are also one of the premier rebounding units as well, with a rebounding rate that is tied for third.
Now that the dust has officially settled on a stretch of road games that left Denver 8-9 as December began, the Nuggets are beginning to play like the consistently good team that everyone expected them to be before the season.
Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond
The hole was dug pretty deep when the Pistons opened their season with a 3-11 record after 14 games, and it almost hasn't mattered what the team has done since.
Despite appearing, at times, like a team that could threaten for the eighth seed in the extremely weak Eastern Conference, the Pistons remain at least a year away from contending for the playoffs.
Behind Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, however, there's certainly reason to be encouraged in Detroit moving forward. Also, Brandon Knight has shown great improvement for much of this season as well, and the future is bright in Detroit.
The rest of this season, however, will be filled with more losses than wins.
Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry
There is no player in the NBA who can say that he was more of an All-Star snub than Stephen Curry this season. Curry has averaged 21 points and 6.5 assists through Sunday, and alongside David Lee, he has helped lead the Golden State Warriors to the fifth-best record in the Western Conference.
To think that the Warriors have accomplished all that they have without Andrew Bogut is incredible.
They are doing it on both ends of the floor, and the winning culture that Mark Jackson has helped to create is apparent on a nightly basis.
This team has staying power and will be in the playoffs this season.
Houston Rockets' James Harden
James Harden hasn't even had enough time to learn his way around downtown Houston yet.
Yet in the short time since his arrival, he's recalibrated expectations for the Houston Rockets organization.
Behind 26 points per game from Harden, the Rockets are averaging the second-highest scoring total in the league through Sunday. As a result, they are currently a playoff team in the West, despite their struggles on the defensive end of the floor.
When you consider how long this group of Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik has been together, though, it's hard to argue that they're anything but a year ahead of schedule at this point.
If the defense is still this bad next season, there's cause for concern. At the moment, though, the Rockets have exceeded all preseason expectations that anyone had for them.
Indiana Pacers' Paul George
The Indiana Pacers have epitomized the "defense wins games" cliche this season. Their offense is really bad, but they've held opponents to the second-lowest scoring total in the NBA through Sunday.
They also grade out as the No. 1 team in terms of defensive efficiency as well, while they are also rebounding among the top third of the league. And when Danny Granger returns, the offense should improve.
Regardless, Paul George has been everything that Pacers fans could have asked for this season.
On his way to the All-Star Game in Houston, George is averaging 17.4 points and 7.7 rebounds. If the offensively slumping Roy Hibbert can turn things around, the Pacers could make some noise again in the Eastern Conference.
Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford
The Los Angeles Clippers are one of three teams playing above-.700 basketball through Sunday.
They went undefeated during the month of December and feature the most efficient bench in the NBA, according to Hoopsstats.com.
Chris Paul has earned MVP consideration for his play this season, and he's helped all of his teammates improve around him. With Paul sidelined over the last five games, the Clippers have only won five of their last 10.
Despite that, though, they still remain a legitimate threat to win the NBA championship by season's end.
Los Angeles Lakers' Dwight Howard
The Los Angeles Lakers have been a complete failure so far this season.
Things could still change in the second half of the season, but we can only grade the Lakers on what we've seen. And that product, despite beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, has not been good.
To be fair, the time that Pau Gasol and Steve Nash missed has been difficult to overcome. Dwight Howard has not been fully healthy either, but the end result is all a team like Los Angeles will be measured by.
To that end, despite the points that Kobe Bryant has hung on the board, he has not been good either.
The Lakers remain four games out of the playoffs through Sunday.
Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph
The Memphis Grizzlies are a team that maximizes what they can do.
They are not a prolific scoring group, and they have struggled handling the basketball at times this season, but they do feature one of the premier frontcourts in basketball, on both ends of the floor, led by Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
They are the second-best team in terms of defensive efficiency as well as rebounding rate on the strength of those two bigs specifically.
After beginning the season 12-2, the Grizzlies currently own home-court advantage in the Western Conference as the fourth seed.
That's about as much as you can ask from a team built on grit and grind.
Miami Heat's LeBron James
The Miami Heat have nothing to prove in the regular season.
They haven't played as well as we expected through Sunday, but they've still won enough to be standing as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, which is all the defending champions can hope to be at this point anyway.
Dwyane Wade has not looked like himself, but he still has time to change all that. The same goes for Bosh and everyone else on the roster not named LeBron James.
Collectively, the Heat must also improve their rebounding, and they need to start rotating better defensively.
But while they figure all of that out, they still have more than enough to get through the regular season.
Milwaukee Bucks' Brandon Jennings
Despite a coaching change that has already replaced Scott Skiles with Jim Boylan, the Milwaukee Bucks are still a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
Brandon Jennings has been a fringe All-Star this season and could get the nod to replace the injured Rajon Rondo.
Larry Sanders has had a breakout year as well, and Monta Ellis has been a top-20 scorer this season, currently boasting an average of 18.8 points per game.
The Bucks also have the fourth-best bench in the league thus far, and they appear destined for the playoffs.
While I don't expect the Bucks to advance past the first round this postseason, I suppose getting there is enough of an accomplishment.
Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio
The Minnesota Timberwolves have had everything go wrong this season.
As promising as a duo of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio appears to be, both of these players' respective seasons have now been cut short, and it has been a major bummer for everybody.
The Timberwolves have now lost nine of their last 10 games, but they should still be credited for not simply giving up and crying at this point.
Maybe next season will bring better luck to the T-Wolves. In the meantime, hopefully Rubio can get himself back to 100 percent by season's end.
New Orleans Hornets' Anthony Davis
The New Orleans Hornets' season would have gone differently if Eric Gordon had taken the floor from Day One this season. Since he's returned, the Hornets have won six of their last 10 games.
They're playing better than their 15-29 record would indicate, but they are still destined for the lottery despite their recent improvements.
Anthony Davis has been solid when healthy, and Greivis Vasquez has been a pleasant surprise as well.
Austin Rivers, however, has struggled mightily. After spending the 10th overall selection on Rivers in last year's draft, the Hornets will need much more from him moving forward.
New York Knicks' Carmelo Anthony
Carmelo Anthony is having an MVP-caliber season, J.R. Smith's name has been among those mentioned as a possible replacement for Rajon Rondo in the All-Star Game, and the New York Knicks are one of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.
All three of these statements would've seemed highly unlikely in September. At the moment, however, they are all completely true.
The Knicks have maintained success since working Amar'e Stoudemire back into a lineup that is balanced from top to bottom.
Oklahoma City Thunder's Perkins, Durant, Westbrook
The Oklahoma City Thunder are the best offensive team in basketball, and they also rank sixth in terms of defensive efficiency.
Despite losing to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, this team does everything well.
Kevin Durant is the leader in the MVP race, while Russell Westbrook is dishing out more assists than he ever has in his career.
Despite trailing the San Antonio Spurs for league's best record, the Western Conference will again go through Durant and OKC.
Orlando Magic's J.J. Redick
The Magic have lost five straight games and eight of their last 10.
After a brief stretch where they looked like they miraculously survived losing their franchise player by winning at a respectable clip, they've since become the team that we thought they'd be by the midseason point.
J.J. Redick has been impressive with his 15.3 points per game this season, but he hasn't had much help.
If he's not a piece that's moved prior to the deadline, Redick will have some help next season in the form of lottery picks.
Philadelphia 76ers' Jrue Holiday
Jrue Holiday cannot do everything on his own, and Andrew Bynum hasn't shown up yet either. As a result, the Philadelphia 76ers rank 25th in terms of offensive efficiency this season.
With Bynum, the Sixers were expected to contend for the Eastern Conference title, but without him, Holiday has still had an All-Star year.
That has helped Philly to the ninth-best record in the East through Sunday.
Phoenix Suns' Goran Dragic, Shannon Brown
Goran Dragic has been solid this season.
His teammates in Phoenix really haven't been, though—at least not collectively.
The Suns rank in the bottom third of the league in terms of both defensive and offensive efficiency through Sunday. That's been a major reason they possess the Western Conference's worst record of 15-30.
The Michael Beasley experiment has not worked out, and neither has the first-round selection of Kendall Marshall.
The Suns have a long way to go in this rebuilding effort, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.
Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard
The NBA's Rookie of the Year award is Damian Lillard's to lose.
The Portland Trail Blazers also feature the most dynamic starting five in the NBA.
That's all bookended by the league's worst bench, however, which has pushed Portland out of the playoff race as of Sunday.
I'm not sure that anyone expected the Blazers to make the playoffs this season, though, so simply making the postseason would be exceeding expectations.
With Lillard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum, the future is bright in Rip City, regardless of how things shake out this season.
Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins
It's easy to pile on the Sacramento Kings. They've given us plenty of reason to do so over the years, both on and off the court.
But it's difficult to judge how any team would react while reports of a move out of town are hanging over their heads.
Families need to move; children will be pulled from school. I'd probably end up getting myself suspended too with all that going on.
Unlike DeMarcus Cousins, though, I wouldn't be able to then bounce back in the way that he has. Cousins has averaged 19.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in the month of January following his suspension.
That's a positive, despite the Kings losing their last four games.
San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan
The San Antonio Spurs are that smart kid in your English class that everyone's jealous of.
All they do is win in San Antonio, and this season has been no different. Tim Duncan is in the midst of a resurgence, and he's being supported by the NBA's second-best bench.
Tony Parker is playing as well as he ever has, too, and San Antonio currently owns the best record in the NBA through Sunday.
The Spurs aren't the flashiest team in the league this year, but they might be the best.
Toronto Raptors' DeMar DeRozan
The Toronto Raptors looked like a playoff team on paper before this season began.
After starting the season 4-19, however, they are most certainly not.
They just lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers at home this weekend and have too much talent to be five games out in an extremely weak Eastern Conference.
DeMar DeRozan has been solid this season, but the Landry Fields signing hasn't gone as well as Toronto fans had hoped it would.
They are the fifth-worst team in terms of defensive efficiency this season, and it will only get worse if Kyle Lowry is traded before the deadline.
Utah Jazz's Al Jefferson
The Utah Jazz are on their way to a second straight appearance in the NBA playoffs due to the seventh-most efficient bench in the NBA and an underrated front line anchored by Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
After flirting with the idea of moving towards a youth movement headlined by Derrick Favors, Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter, the Jazz just keep winning.
They are currently owners of the seventh-best record in the Western Conference and appear to be there to stay as the second half of the season unfolds.
Washington Wizards' John Wall
John Wall and Bradley Beal are playing well together so far, and that's the main thing that Washington Wizards' fans should take from this season.
The rest is pretty discouraging, even though the Wizards have now won seven of their last 10 games with Wall in the lineup.
With another lottery pick this summer, a healthy Wall and year of experience for Beal, however, the Wizards could make major strides next season.
For now, though, it's just about incremental progress as the 2012-13 season concludes.