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Midseason Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterFebruary 1, 2013

Midseason Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team

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    You didn't think I'd go through the first half of the 2012-13 NBA season without offering my thoughts on all 30 teams, did you? You might've seen more than a few of these all-encompassing shindigs already, but there's been more than enough action and intrigue so far to make room for many more.

    And that's before you factor in the soap opera-caliber drama that's befallen the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics through the first three months or so.

    Some (Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls) have exceeded preseason expectations. Others (Lakers, Celtics, Toronto Raptors) have largely underwhelmed.

    And still others are precisely who Denny Green thought they were, for better (Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs) or worse (Charlotte Bobcats, Sacramento Kings).

    With that in mind, let's hand out some midterm grades, with teams listed in ascending order from lowest marks to highest.

Charlotte Bobcats

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    Once upon a time, things were looking up for the Bobcats. They were 7-5, matching their entire win total from 2011-12, thanks in large part to the improved play of second-year point guard Kemba Walker and a hustling, energetic defense instilled by rookie head coach Mike Dunlap.

    Then, the rest of the schedule happened. Charlotte has lost 29 of 33 games since outlasting the Washington Wizards in overtime in late November.

    The Bobcats' NBA-worst 11-34 record is hardly a surprise given the way this team has played over the last two months or so. Charlotte currently ranks 29th in efficiency on both sides of the ball and dead last in net rating, with a point differential of minus-9.6 per 100 possessions.

    That's a massive improvement over last season's catastrophic minus-15.5 mark, but it still leaves the 'Cats on track for their second league-worst record in as many seasons.

    Midseason Grade: F

Phoenix Suns

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    Few (if any) expected the Suns to be anywhere near the playoff picture in the Western Conference this season. After all, no team can expect to be all that competitive after replacing Hall of Famers like Steve Nash and Grant Hill (borderline) with Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley.

    Not that such lowered expectations can, or should, render a 16-30 record acceptable. Dragic (14.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.5 steals) has proven a solid signing, as has Luis Scola (13.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists), but this team remains devoid of a clear identity on either end.

    Firing Alvin Gentry midseason didn't make matters any easier given the massive drop off in talent. Neither did replacing Gentry with Lindsey Hunter, a coaching novice. The latter move drove out long-time assistants Elston Turner and Dan Majerle, the former of whom has been on the precipice of a top job for years now.

    A deadline-defying trade for Hawks forward Josh Smith (per Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld) would seem little more than a desperate attempt by Suns executives Lon Babby and Lance Blanks to keep their jobs.

    This team would be better served to start from scratch rather than attempting to scrap together mediocre squads, as the current edition has made all too clear.

    Midseason Grade: F

Sacramento Kings

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    The Kings have once again been miserable from the start, but their struggles have only grown as relocation talks have intensified.

    A group led by hedgefund whiz Chris Hansen and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer seems all but certain to take the club off the Maloofs' hands and move it up north, where it'd then become the second-coming of the Seattle SuperSonics.

    But the city of Sacramento has made it clear that it won't lose its lone major sports franchise without a fight. Former NBA All-Star and current mayor Kevin Johnson has rallied a number of Sacramento's most prominent moguls, including Ron Burkle and Mark Mastrov, to keep the Kings in California's capital.

    Whether the team stays or goes, it's clear that the 2012-13 season will go down as a lost one in Kings lore. DeMarcus Cousins has been as tantrum-prone and defensively indifferent as ever, all the while putting up solid offensive numbers despite a ghastly 43.7 percent shooting from the field.

    That doesn't reflect well on the team's player development staff, including Keith Smart. The current head coach has also struggled to juggle Sacramento's overload of selfish gunners.

    He eventually turned back to second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas to run the show, but only after granting far too many minutes to Aaron Brooks, Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans on the ball. 

    Midseason Grade: F

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Early-season injuries to Kyrie Irving and rookie Dion Waiters set the Cavaliers back a bit from the start. A more serious setback to Anderson Varejao, who once seemed destined for his first All-Star selection, has all but guaranteed that Cleveland will once again be battling for the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

    There are plenty of positives for the Cavs to take away from the first half of the season, though.

    Tristan Thompson has emerged as a dependable double-double guy with an ever-improving offensive game, Waiters might be a special player if he ever improves his shot selection and Tyler Zeller looks like a serviceable member of the team's frontcourt rotation going forward.

    Oh, and that Irving fellow is pretty good too.

    This team has so often played like the third youngest in the league, and they may well show signs of further improvement under Byron Scott as the 2012-13 campaign rolls along.

    Midseason Grade: D

Washington Wizards

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    As is the case with so many teams in the NBA this season (which you'll see as we move along), it's difficult to judge the Wizards' performance to this point. On the one hand, their 11-33 record—the second worst in the NBA—speaks for itself.

    As does the fact that Washington is dead-last in offensive efficiency (by a wide margin) and field-goal percentage, and 27th in team turnover percentage.

    On the other hand, the Wizards were without star point guard John Wall for the first 33 games of the season on account of a knee injury. Since Wall's return, the Wizards have ranked among the top 10 in net efficiency while winning six of 11 games.

    Washington's offensive output is still among the 10 worst, but it has improved by more than five points per 100 possessions with Wall in the rotation. And, to head coach Randy Wittman's credit, the Wizards are sixth in defensive efficiency overall and have been among the top 10 in that regard all season.

    Also worth noting has been the inspired play of Emeka Okafor recently.

    Throw in the improving play of rookie Bradley Beal, and the pieces are quickly aligning for the Wizards to finally escape the final vestiges of the failed Gilbert Arenas era.

    Midseason Grade: D

Toronto Raptors

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    In many ways, the Raptors have been the Suns of the Eastern Conference this season.

    Sure, Toronto hasn't had to deal with the loss of a franchise legend, but it did peg itself for a playoff push after forking over a bunch of money to a largely unproven wing player (DeMar DeRozan) and acquiring a quality, young point guard (Kyle Lowry) over the summer.

    So far, the results have been underwhelming. The Raptors are 16-30 and rank among the bottom five in defensive efficiency, despite the presence of supposed defensive maestro Dwane Casey on the sideline.

    To be fair, injuries to Lowry, Andrea Bargnani and rookie Jonas Valanciunas have hindered this team's development. The development of Amir Johnson and first-year swingman Terrence Ross into tantalizing prospects has added an element of intrigue to the campaign.

    As has the Raps' recent acquisition of Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay. For better or worse, Toronto's season from here on out will be judged by how it performs with Gay, another supposed "gunner" next to the likes of DeRozan and Bargnani.

    Anything less than a serious run at the eighth seed in the East would drop the Raptors perilously close to "Fail" territory.

    Midseason Grade: D

Detroit Pistons

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    What is it with the Pistons and slow starts? They stumbled out to a 4-20 record in 2011-12 before going 21-21 the rest of the way. In 2012-13, they set themselves back with an 0-8 slide before "settling in" at 7-21.

    Since then, though, Detroit has posted a more-than-respectable mark of 10-8, with wins over the Heat and the Celtics to boot. The Pistons have defended at a top-10 rate as a team in that span, and rookie man-child Andre Drummond is a big reason why.

    Predictably enough, Drummond's sample-sized dominance has led many a blogger to call on Pistons coach Lawrence Frank to unleash his big man, though the organization certainly has its reasons for bringing the big boy along slowly, as Grantland's Brett Koremenos recently pointed out.

    The addition of point guard Jose Calderon, as an adjunct to the Rudy Gay trade, may well expedite that process.

    The accompanying loss of long-time swingman Tayshaun Prince won't help Detroit's D any, but Calderon's steady hand and whip-smart passing at the point should be a boon to the ongoing development of the young nucleus, which currently includes Drummond, Greg Monroe and Brandon Knight.

    Midseason Grade: D

Los Angeles Lakers

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    What hasn't been said about the Lakers so far this season?

    This star-studded squad, once thought to be a surefire title contender, may well go down as the most disappointing in NBA history if it fails to crack the Western Conference playoff picture.

    Which, at this point, is a distinct possibility. A loss at the Phoenix Suns dropped L.A. back to 20-26, a full four games behind the Houston Rockets for eighth place in the West.

    The Lakers offense has ranked among the 10 most productive in the NBA all season, but their defensive performance has slipped precipitously ever since Mike D'Antoni took over the team's head coaching duties.

    Of course, there are myriad ways to explain (if not excuse) the Lakers' lackluster play in 2012-13.

    Crippling injuries to Steve Nash (leg), Pau Gasol (knees, concussion) and Dwight Howard (back, shoulder), chaos among the coaching, poor work by the front office and outsized expectations have combined to make it exceedingly difficult for this revamped squad to develop any semblance of chemistry or trust as a unit.

    Kobe Bryant has done his best to hold this piecemeal operation, but this squad may already be beyond his or anyone else's saving, especially if Howard's shoulder troubles drive him back to the operating table.  

    Midseason Grade: D

Orlando Magic

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    The Magic have been on a skid of epic proportions of late. They've dropped 18 of 20 games since a surprising start that had some (like Grantland's Zach Lowe) wondering if this team could sneak its way into the playoffs in the immediate aftermath of the "Dwightmare."

    This was likely the plan all along for Magic general manager Rob Hennigan. A disciple of OKC guru Sam Presti, Hennigan has expressed in the past that his blueprint for Orlando's future is much the same as it was for the Thunder—stink for a while, build through the draft and add veteran talent on the fringes.

    Not that the Magic are lacking some solid players with whom to work.

    Arron Afflalo has proven himself a decent building block on the perimeter, Nikola Vucevic has developed into a double-double machine and J.J. Redick has emerged as a valuable trade chip amid what's been the finest season of his pro career.

    With Hennigan and Jacque Vaughn at the controls, the Magic should be back to respectability before too long.

    Midseason Grade: C-

Dallas Mavericks

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    So much for retooling on the fly. The Mavericks' experiment with a roster full of short-term contracts has thus far fallen flat, to the tune of a 19-27 record.

    They haven't exactly taken off since Dirk Nowitzki's return, either. Dallas is 7-12 with the big German in the lineup this season. The current constitution of the roster poses a serious danger to the Mavs' 12-year playoff streak.

    A poor season may not be the worst thing for the Mavs if general manager Donnie Nelson's cap-cautious strategy yields a superstar (Dwight Howard, anyone?) via free agency.

    Short of that, the Mavs risk wasting Nowitzki's remaining years (and a shot at another title after 2011) for the sake of financial flexibility.

    Midseason Grade: C-

Boston Celtics

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    The Celtics came into the 2012-13 season seemingly refreshed, as if prepared to prolong the Big Three era without Ray Allen.

    As it happens, those glorious five years have definitely come to a close, leaving behind an old, offensively inept team that will spend the rest of the campaign without Rajon Rondo. The All-Star point guard tore his ACL against the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 25.

    The playoffs remain well within reach for Boston, even without Rondo's services. The Celtics currently enjoy a three-game cushion on the eighth seed in the East, ahead of the Andrew Bynum-less 76ers, with only lottery-quality competition beyond them.

    The C's certainly have enough talent on their roster to hang on. So long as Paul Pierce anchors the offense, Kevin Garnett and Avery Bradley the defense and Jason Terry steps up as a facilitator, Boston figures to find itself in the postseason.

    But counting on old, injury-prone players like Pierce and Garnett to carry the day is a dangerous proposition. In any case, it doesn't behoove the C's to "blow it up" unless they can squeeze some valuable assets out of trading the Truth and/or the Big Ticket.

    Midseason Grade: C

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Any attempt to properly assess the 76ers so far is a futile endeavor. They've been without Andrew Bynum all season, and the All-Star center has yet to return to testing his troublesome knees with lateral movement (per Jordan Raanan of NJ.com).

    Without him, the offense has plummeted to 26th in efficiency, while the defense, once among the league's elite, now sits squarely in the middle of the pack. Throw in the 22nd-fastest pace in basketball, and what you get are plenty of unwatchable Sixers games.

    On the bright side, Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner have emerged as a competent core for Philly going forward. Holiday, in particular, has played phenomenally well in the wake of signing a lucrative extension. The fourth-year guard out of UCLA is 13th in scoring (19.4) and fourth in assists (9.4) and has played strong defense at the point on the other end.

    It's no wonder, then, that Jrue will be playing in his first All-Star Game come mid-February.

    On the whole, though, this team won't be complete until Bynum finally puts on his Sixers uniform. Until then, they can only hope to tread water and keep the eighth-seed Celtics in sight.

    Midseason Grade: C/Incomplete

New Orleans Hornets

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    How does the team with the worst record in the West wind up with a better grade than the Lakers and the Mavs, among others?

    Consider the circumstances.

    Eric Gordon missed most of the first half with a knee injury, leaving rookie Austin Rivers with far too many minutes in which to stink things up. Anthony Davis, the top pick in the 2012 NBA draft, has missed 13 games this season.

    The Hornets have also played the toughest schedule in the league to this point. All things considered, New Orleans is fortunate to have 15 wins on its resume.

    The fact that this squad has managed to upend the likes of the Clippers, Spurs, Bulls and Grizzlies this season, and that Greivis Vasquez and Ryan Anderson have been integrated into the team as key contributors, speaks volumes of the job done by head coach Monty Williams.

    Don't be surprised if the soon-to-be-Pelicans play the role of spoilers in the Western Conference over their final 36 games.

    Midseason Grade: C

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Despite their head coach quitting on them midseason and the roster being a mish-mosh of ball-dominating guards and young bigs, the Bucks are four games above .500, with a two-and-a-half-game cushion on the seventh seed.

    It helps that they're 8-4 since Jim Boylan took over for Scott Skiles. It also helps that five of those eight wins have come against teams with losing records.

    Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are both scoring close to 20 points per game while shooting just over 40 percent from the field, which is about what one might expect from those two gunners. 

    The bigger stories, though, have come up front.

    Ersan Ilyasova is finally playing up to the value of his hefty contract. The talented Turk is averaging 15.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 50 percent from three since Skiles skipped town.

    Larry Sanders has been a terror on the defensive end, to the tune of a league-leading 3.1 blocks and a sterling defensive rating of 96 points allowed per 100 possessions.

    Sanders' 8.4 points and 8.4 rebounds aren't half bad either. He'll presumably be a promising part of the future in Milwaukee, as will Ilyasova.

    It'll be up to general manager John Hammond to decide whether Jennings and Ellis belong in that conversation, with a close eye on how they perform during the second half of the season.

    Midseason Grade: C+

Utah Jazz

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    It seems like everyone and their mother thinks they know what the Jazz should do with their roster ahead of the Feb. 21 trade deadline, and for good reason.

    At 25-21 and in seventh place out West, Utah is a solid bet to make its second consecutive playoff appearance under head coach Tyrone Corbin. The Jazz also have something that most of their potential opponents lack, willfully or otherwise: quality size, and lots of it.

    But two of Utah's best bigs (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap) will be free agents come summer, as will point guard Mo Williams. The Jazz employ another pair of gifted giants (Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors) who could use some of the minutes currently being sopped up by Big Al and Millsap to further their own development.

    The Jazz would appear an obvious choice to wheel and deal before deadline day. But which of those expiring contracts is most expendable? And which other teams might be willing to talk the kind of shop that would interest them?

    The Clippers could certainly use another quality big for their title run, but would they be willing to give up prized point guard Eric Bledsoe in return? This is why general manager Dennis Lindsey gets paid the big bucks. 

    Midseason Grade: B-

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    How is it that the Timberwolves get even a passing grade after losing five games in a row and 10 of 11?

    Simple: Because injuries matter, and Minnesota has done a solid job of managing a myriad of them this season. In fact, Luke Ridnour is the only member of the team that's played in all 42 games in 2012-13.

    Two-time All-Star Kevin Love's missed all but 18 games on account of a twice-broken hand. Ricky Rubio spent the first month-and-a-half recovering from a torn ACL and has battled back problems since.

    The Brandon Roy experiment ended after just five games, when the shooting guard's retirement-inducing knees gave out on him again. Even noted "Neanderthal" Nikola Pekovic has missed seven games due to various issues.

    That makes a 17-25 mark seem like a victory, even for a squad that came into the campaign with legitimate playoff aspirations. Rick Adelman has done a masterful job of keeping his team together and playing solid basketball (for the most part) amid the ongoing agony.

    One of these days, the T-Wolves will have Love and Rubio together again on the floor.

    Midseason Grade: B-

Houston Rockets

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    The only problem Houston has these days is deciding when to make its next big move. Signing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik over the summer and trading for James Harden allowed general manager Daryl Morey to establish a solid foundation on which to build a potential contender.

    With valuable draft picks and cheap, young talent to spare, the Rockets may well look to add a big-time piece before the trade deadline or wield their cap space in free agency (Josh Smith, anyone?).

    In the meantime, what Houston has on its hands is a talented, streaky team that's fun to watch. The Rockets push the pace at every opportunity and attack the basket with reckless abandon, thanks to the aggressive stylings of Harden and Lin.

    That is, when the Rockets aren't jacking up jump shots. They currently lead the league in three-point makes and attempts.

    They don't play much defense (16th in efficiency) and are prone to long losing streaks, but when the Rockets are on, they're on. Of their 25 wins so far this season, 15 have come by double-digit margins.

    Midseason Grade: B

Atlanta Hawks

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    Sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with a record of 26-19, is right about where most folks might've expected the Hawks to be after 45 games.

    General manager Danny Ferry shipped off Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams in separate deals for spare parts—among them, Anthony Morrow and Devin Harris—and signed Lou Williams and Kyle Korver to mid-sized deals to fill out the roster.

    The return of Al Horford from a triceps injury portended a strong season, but a string of defeats through the first three weeks of January, coupled with a season-ending injury to Lou Williams and signs of discontent from Josh Smith, point to yet another roster strip down by Danny Ferry.

    Despite all of this chaos, the Hawks are essentially in the same place they've been since the 2007-08 seasons—floating anonymously in the ether of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, bound for an exit after a round or two, with a team that neither excites nor disappoints in any particular way.

    The question is, should Ferry take the axe to this team once again? Should he dump Smith, a free-agent-to-be, before the trade deadline? Or should he hang on to Smith and hope that the Atlanta native can somehow lure Dwight Howard into whatever tidbits of financial flexibility that the Hawks will have at their disposal this summer?

    Or should he go a different route and sacrifice players like Horford and/or Korver at the alter?

    In any case, you know you've got a dull team on your hands when the intrigue of potential trade scenarios outshines anything that's happening on the court. 

    Midseason Grade: B

Denver Nuggets

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    It's all finally coming together in Denver. After slogging through a brutal road-heavy schedule in the early going while adjusting to a revamped roster, the Nuggets are now 29-18—winners of five in a row and 11 of their last 13—with their sights now set on stealing a top-four seed.

    Don't be surprised if they pull it off, either. Their remaining schedule is one of the easiest and most home-friendly in the NBA. They'll be on the road seven times in nine games to close out the month of February, but five of those away dates will come opposite Eastern Conference teams with losing records.

    Moreover, general manager Masai Ujiri, a sneaky-good dealmaker in his own right, has plenty of attractive pieces at his disposal with which to make a landscape-shifting move. He may opt against it, given all the turnover that's come with the acquisitions of Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee and Danilo Gallinari, among others, over the past few years.

    Trade or no trade, the Nuggets are poised to continue their climb through the Western Conference standings. They're playing at the second-fastest pace in the NBA, as many anticipated they would, and are finally playing some semblance of defense on the other end. 

    Midseason Grade: B

Brooklyn Nets

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    Hello Brooklyn, how ya doin'?

    Better, now that Avery Johnson is no longer in the picture. The Nets are 13-5 under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who's done a solid job of allowing his guys to play to their strengths rather than trying to force them into some rigid system of his own design.

    It helps that he's had All-Star center Brook Lopez back healthy and that Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have finally begun to figure out what had been a tenuous on-court chemistry.

    Defense, though, remains a serious concern for Brooklyn. The Nets have given up a whopping 103.2 points per 100 possessions under Carlesimo and still rank among the bottom 10 in opponent team turnover percentage.

    But the East isn't particularly deep at the moment, and the Nets have more size and talent in their core than most. So long as they continue to crash the boards and score efficiently, the Nets will be in the mix for some semblance of home-court advantage come playoff time. 

    Midseason Grade: B

Portland Trail Blazers

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    The fact that the Trail Blazers are as close to a playoff berth as they are at the moment, after a second-half collapse in 2011-12 and a summer spent retooling the roster, is a victory in and of itself. That Portland has a 23-22 record despite employing the NBA's least-productive bench (by a wide margin) and a rookie at point guard is patently miraculous.

    Until you consider that the Blazers have played a relatively easy, home-heavy schedule so far, and that the aforementioned rookie is Damian Lillard, who leads all first-year players in points (18.1) and assists (6.5).

    Having an All-Star (LaMarcus Aldridge) and two other considerable talents (Nicolas Batum and J.J. Hickson) in the frontcourt doesn't hurt, either. Neither does the development of Wesley Matthews into a sharpshooting assassin.

    It's tough to see this team holding together long enough to crack the playoff picture, given its ghastly lack of depth. But it wouldn't exactly be a huge surprise at this point if they do.

    Midseason Grade: B+

Memphis Grizzlies

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    With Rudy Gay, the Grizzlies were 29-15, with a middling offense all too reliant on last-second shots and a second-ranked defense that ground opponents to a pulp.

    Without Gay? That's anybody's guess at this point. Memphis must lean on the interior tandem of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, but it now must count on Mike Conley, Jerryd Bayless and Tayshaun Prince to provide some semblance of floor spacing to make this whole thing work.

    That's a tall task considering that none of those three is what one might call a high-volume scorer or a sharpshooter.

    An in-season shakeup of such proportions likely leaves the Grizzlies on the outside of title contention looking in, though they would've had a tough time outlasting the Thunder, Clippers and Spurs to begin with.

    The job now falls to head coach Lionel Hollins to help his team forge a new identity with 37 games to go, and for his players to follow suit.  

    Midseason Grade: B+

Indiana Pacers

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    A 27-19 record may not seem like much for the Pacers, given the way they pushed the Heat to the brink in last year's playoffs. But doing so without Danny Granger, their most pivotal offensive player, is nothing short of an achievement for Frank Vogel and Co.

    Especially considering that Roy Hibbert, all 7'2'' of him, is shooting an abysmal 41.6 percent from the field.

    In the absence of any offensive punch (29th in offensive efficiency), Indy has taken up the task of playing stifling, grind-it-out defense. The Pacers are tops in defensive efficiency and lead the Bulls and Grizzlies in that department by a considerable margin.

    The development of Paul George into an all-around star in Granger's absence has also given Indy a singular talent around whom to rally.

    Trouble is, teams that struggle to score as mightily as the Pacers don't normally make much noise come playoff time. But Granger is due back soon, and his return portends an offensive turnaround, be it with him in the lineup or on the trading block.

    Midseason Grade: A-/Incomplete

New York Knicks

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    The Knicks have settled down considerably since their scorching-hot start, thanks in no small part to an ongoing game of injury Whac-A-Mole.

    Amar'e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert and Raymond Felton have all returned to the rotation, but subsequent injuries to Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace have left New York without its full complement of players.

    Such is to be expected of the oldest squad in NBA history.

    Through it all, though, Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Carmelo Anthony have carried the Knicks to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

    Smith in particular has been fantastic as a volume-shooting sixth man (16 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.9 assists), though his shooting percentages have tailed off considerably since his hot start to the season.

    Anthony's missed seven games this season, but that's hardly disbarred him from the MVP conversation. He's on pace to set new career highs in scoring (29.1 points) and three-point percentage (.416) for a talented team that's finally realizing its full potential.

    Midseason Grade: A-

Miami Heat

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    There's no sense in being too hard on the Heat for dominating at times and playing down to the level of competition at others. They're the defending champions, which, by "definition," means that they've earned the benefit of the doubt and that nothing really matters until the playoffs come around.

    As such, we'll just have to get used to watching other teams kill Miami on the boards (22nd in rebounding percentage).

    Not that the Heat's shortcomings have done much to keep them from rolling right along through the Eastern Conference. They're still the top dog in the East, thanks to a defense that's coming around and an offense that ranks second in efficiency and three-point percentage.

    Oh, and that LeBron James fellow is having a decent season too. So long as LeBron is healthy and doing LeBron-like things, the Heat will be just fine.

    For now, though, they get a slight demerit for going through the motions as often as they have this season. 

    Midseason Grade: A-

Golden State Warriors

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    Kudos to Mark Jackson for transforming the Warriors from a tanking travesty to a playoff-bound operation. It must be nice to have had a skilled center like Andrew Bogut filling the middle next to David Lee, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson all season...

    What's that? Bogut's played just six times this season and finally returned to the court on a more full-time basis on Jan. 28?

    Well then, let's anoint Mark Jackson the league's Coach of the Year, shall we? He's got the Dubs playing solid, scrappy defense in addition to leading the NBA in three-point percentage.

    The players deserve some credit, though. Lee's an All-Star, Curry's played like one, Thompson is starting to sizzle after stumbling through his sophomore slump, and Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack are currently duking it out for Sixth Man of the Year honors.

    The "We Believe" Warriors were an exciting bunch, but this current iteration has the requisite parts to be much more than a pest for years to come.

    Midseason Grade: A

Chicago Bulls

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    The Bulls are well on their way to their third straight Central Division title and are currently ensconced in the three spot in the Eastern Conference.

    All without a single minute played by Derrick Rose. The former MVP has returned to full-contact practice and should be back shortly after the All-Star break.

    His teammates have done a marvelous job of covering for his absence. Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have both earned All-Star bids for their superb efforts, Carlos Boozer is finally carrying his weight and Nate Robinson has yet to wear out his welcome completely in Chicago.

    Still, as well as the Bulls have played without Rose (fourth in defensive efficiency, first in opponent effective field-goal percentage), his return can't come soon enough. Deng and Noah have played far too many minutes to this point and are bound to break down sooner or later if the trend continues.

    Assuming they haven't already.

    Midseason Grade: A

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Quick: Name the two teams in the NBA that rank among the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

    If you guessed the Spurs and Clippers, then you guessed right! Unfortunately, I'm fresh out of prizes. The Clips, though, may be headed for one of their own.

    They have the talent, chemistry, depth (thanks to the league's most gifted and most productive bench) and breadth of ability to give the Thunder a run for their money in the Western Conference.

    That is, assuming Chris Paul's bruised knee isn't so serious as to keep him out of action come playoff time. L.A. has looked nothing like the world-beater that it once did since CP3 slipped back into street clothes.

    Those struggles have bolstered Paul's MVP case, albeit negatively, but have done little to ensure the Clips' survival among the league's elite. Without CP3, the responsibility will fall to Blake Griffin (aka "Pumpkin Spice") to play like a superstar and do much more than just run, jump and dunk.

    Midseason Grade: A

San Antonio Spurs

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    There are only a handful of certainties in life: Death, taxes and the Spurs contending in the West.

    So long as Tim Duncan is still in the game, that is.

    San Antonio's surge back to the top of the standings should come as no surprise. The Spurs have finished with the best record in basketball after each of the last two seasons, and they currently sport essentially the same roster that they trotted out in 2011-12.

    This time around, the team has been formed in MVP-candidate Tony Parker's likeness to an even greater extent, though Duncan (17.5 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 blocks) seems to have settled into a more comfortable niche within that realm.

    Gregg Popovich has also done a spectacular job of bringing along and integrating a slew of younger, fresher bodies into his aging rotation. But there's still a sense of inevitable shortfall with this squad.

    They struggled to keep pace with the Thunder in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, and they have since been found out by the Clippers squad that they swept out of the postseason once upon a time.

    Manu Ginobili's evident decline doesn't help San Antonio any, either. For now, though, the Spurs, winners of nine in a row, are playing superb ball.

    Midseason Grade: A+

Oklahoma City Thunder

31 of 31

    So much for the James Harden trade submarining OKC's season.

    The Thunder might actually be better this year sans The Beard, who's tearing things up in Houston. Kevin Martin is making his own case for Sixth Man of the Year, Russell Westbrook is playing more like a point guard than he ever has and Serge Ibaka has emerged as a legitimate scoring threat at power forward.

    But OKC's return to the elite wouldn't have been so swift and so decisive without the improved play of Kevin Durant. At present, Durant is on pace to claim his fourth straight scoring title, join the 50-40-90 club, set new career highs in every assist-related category and, in turn, challenge LeBron James for NBA MVP honors.

    Durant's also playing much better defense (at multiple positions, no less) and with a certain edge that's turned him into the sort of star who inspires as much fear as awe in the opposition.

    With Durant in the driver's seat, it's safe to say that the Thunder are the best team in the league and a solid bet to win the West for the second time in as many seasons.

    Midseason Grade: A++


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