NBA Teams That Will Struggle in Season's 2nd Half
There are several NBA teams that will struggle after the trade deadline. These teams will fall off for a variety of reasons: Rebuilding through trades, a tougher schedule, or because they have generally over-performed.
Here are the five teams that will see the biggest drop-off in winning percentage during the season's second half. All of them are in the top nine of their respective conferences, but that won't be the case at the end of the season.
The Milwaukee Bucks are currently 26-25 and eighth in the Eastern Conference, but they have overachieved and can be expected to have less success in their final 31 games.
First, the team may be forced to trade its best player. CBS Sports has reported that Jennings is unhappy in Milwaukee and will be looking to play elsewhere when he becomes a free agent this summer. While a trade doesn't guarantee that the Bucks will struggle, trading their point guard and best player this late in the season will change the entire makeup of the team.
Next, even while playing Jennings and Monta Ellis together in an overly offensive-minded backcourt, the Bucks still are ranked 25th in offensive efficiency, according to John Hollinger's team statistics. They may rank ninth in defensive efficiency, but they are still giving up 1.3 points per possession more than they are scoring.
Finally, the Bucks' Relative Percent Index shows that they have played statistically like a team that should be 23-28, three games worse than their actual record. The Bucks have the sixth easiest record in the NBA so far this season, so it will get tougher in the second half. Expect the Bucks to fall below .500, and possibly into the lottery.
The Trailblazers are in a fight for the No. 8 seed in the West, currently in ninth between the Rockets and Lakers. Don't expect them to make the playoffs, however.
Portland has been the biggest overachiever this season, according to ESPN's NBA RPI. They have performed like a 20-33 team, yet they've managed to win 25 games.
There are three factors in Portland's unlikely success. First, they have had the ninth easiest schedule in the league so far. Of their remaining games, 19 of 29 are against teams currently in the playoffs.
Next, the team has been incredibly successful in close games. They have won 12 of 18 games decided by five points or less. The Trailblazers are unlikely to win two-thirds of those games the remainder of the season.
Finally, Portland is statistically a below-average team. They rank just 16th in offensive efficiency and a dismal 26th in defensive efficiency, according to Hollinger. They are being outscored by 3.6 points per 100 possessions. They have been able to beat weaker competition, but will be overwhelmed by top NBA teams the rest of the season.
With the NBA trade deadline coming up, the Utah Jazz are one of the teams most likely to make a move. They have been rumored to be shopping both of their starting big men. Chris Sheridan reported that the Spurs could trade for Al Jefferson, and the latest report from ESPN has Paul Millsap being discussed in a trade to the Clippers.
There are no guarantees that the Jazz will make any move, but trading at least one of the two now will allow former top-five picks Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors to get more playing time. And the Jazz wouldn't risk losing Millsap and Jefferson for nothing in free agency this summer.
That being said, the Jazz would be sacrificing their present for the future. Jefferson and Millsap have both played well this year, and both rumored deals would make the Jazz a worse team this season.
On top of that, the Jazz have over-performed this season. They are giving up .8 points more than they are scoring per 100 possessions, according to Hollinger. Also, their ESPN NBA RPI suggests that they should have a record of 26-28, four games worse than their actual 30-24 record.
Even if the Jazz don't make a move, expect them to regress towards a .500 record. If they do move one (or both) of their big men, they could even struggle to make the playoffs.
Before their two January trades, the Grizzlies looked like a dark-horse championship contender. While they are still a competitive team in the West, their moves have clearly set the team back this season.
Rudy Gay was traded by the Grizzlies in order to save money and maintain future cap flexibility. In return, they received Tayshaun Prince from the Pistons and Ed Davis from the Raptors.
Prince is a solid defender and is shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc this season, but he is definitely not the player Gay is. At 32 he is no longer an excellent athlete, and he lacks the ability to create his own shot. Gay's absence will force Memphis to find scoring from other players, likely Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
While receiving Ed Davis in the deal offers the Grizzlies a good backup post player, the Grizzlies already had one before their trade with the Cavaliers.
In another money-saving deal, the Grizzlies traded Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby for Jon Leuer. Speights and Ellington were giving the Grizzlies roughly 13 points per game off the bench, while Leuer has barely played.
Because of their need to save money, the Grizzlies have basically replaced Gay with Prince and Speights with Davis, while not replacing Wayne Ellington's six points per game.
Prince is clearly a downgrade from Gay, and Davis and Speights are essentially even in their per minute numbers. While the Grizzlies have fixed many of their long-term financial issues, their record this season will suffer.
The Atlanta Hawks began the season 19-9 and were one of the biggest surprises of the season. Then they lost nine of their next 12 games, and lost Lou Williams for the season during that stretch.
While they are currently sixth in the East with a 29-22 record, the Hawks are rumored to be ready to trade Josh Smith, according to ESPN.
While Smith has not always been happy in Atlanta, he is still the team's best all-around player. He leads the team in points and blocks per game, and is second in rebounds, steals and assists per game.
The Hawks are looking towards the future, building around Al Horford and Jeff Teague. Dealing Smith for prospects or draft picks would help their future, but expect them to fall in the Eastern Conference standings.