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Team Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team in Early Part of 2013-14

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 10, 2013

Team Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team in Early Part of 2013-14

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    Let's play teacher. 

    No, I'm not going to school you on how to play basketball, informing you about the merits of pin-down screens, two-for-one situations and when to hedge against pick-and-roll sets. Instead, I'm going to hand out letter grades for each of the NBA's 30 teams. 

    Expectations matter a lot here. 

    A 4-3 start to the 2013-14 season is not the same for the Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers, as one team is expecting to three-peat and the other was widely assumed to be one of the worst teams in NBA history. But that's only one example. 

    What fun would it be if the grades just proceeded to go up as we rose up in the standings? Record matters, but so too does context and the way in which the record was achieved. 

    As a reference point, I consider "B" to be an average grade, which means that the team receiving that mark is falling in line with the expectations (or experiencing a weird mix of unforeseen circumstances, as was the case for two squads). It's also worth noting that alphabetical order was used when teams received the same grade; I'm not tacitly showing favoritism. 

    Here's hoping that your favorite team is passing!

Brooklyn Nets

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Weren't the Brooklyn Nets supposed to be one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference? 

    They've been undoubtedly elite, but only if we're talking about the ability to earn a great spot in the chase for Andrew Wiggins. Through their first six games, the Nets sit at the very bottom of the East, and they've been struggling on both ends of the ball. 

    Chemistry hasn't been the problem. It's been everyone on the roster taking a step backward, with the notable exception of Brook Lopez. The big man has actually gotten better, primarily thanks to his offensive improvements, but that hasn't been enough to get the team off the schneid. 

    Deron Williams hasn't been much of a scoring threat, partially because he's been fighting illness and injury. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson all look at least a step slower, and their execution down the stretch has been horrid. 

    It's a little bit too early for Brooklyn to panic, as the starting lineup does boast so many prominent new pieces, and the first guys off the bench are newcomers as well. But still, this start is anything but promising. 

    What's going to happen once the wear and tear of an NBA season takes hold of the Barclays Center residents? It may not be pretty. 

     

    Grade: F

Denver Nuggets

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    Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

    The Denver Nuggets are hemorrhaging points on the interior, and there don't appear to be any easy fixes. While Brian Shaw is known around the league as a great developer of talent, he's been too preoccupied with all the responsibilities a head coach faces to do his thing with the Denver frontcourt. 

    JaVale McGee has been awful, and Kenneth Faried hasn't done too much better. Plus, the bench players aren't getting the job done when they enter the contest, and they're playing a lot since Shaw just can't trust the starters on either end of the court. 

    While Ty Lawson has been great, the rest of the roster has struggled tremendously, and the Nuggets could still be without a victory if Al Horford had hit the last-minute bunny attempt to force overtime for the Atlanta Hawks. 

    According to Basketball-Reference, Denver has put together the No. 23 offensive rating and No. 24 defensive rating in the NBA. That's never a good combination. 

    Help is coming in the form of Wilson Chandler—and Danilo Gallinari down the road. It can't get to the Mile High City soon enough. 

     

    Grade: F

Chicago Bulls

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    Derrick Rose just hasn't been Derrick Rose, and the Chicago Bulls offense has struggled accordingly. 

    Through his first five outings of the 2013-14 campaign, the former MVP is averaging only 14.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game while shooting 32 percent from the field, 27.3 percent from beyond the three-point arc and 90 percent at the line. He's also turning the ball over five times per contest. 

    All of it adds up to a 5.2 PER, which is well below the league average. 

    Rose has looked explosive and shown flashes of better mechanics on his jumper, but the pieces just haven't come together yet. As a result, Chicago has struggled to score points, and too much pressure has been placed on the defense. 

    It's not time to panic yet, but this is quite a poor start for a team that entered the season with such high expectations. Remember, the Bulls were a trendy pick to dethrone the mighty Miami Heat. 

     

    Grade: C-

Sacramento Kings

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    The poor Sacramento Kings...

    Even when they make inspired runs like they did in the fourth quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers, they still struggle to come out on top. 

    Only the Utah Jazz have been outscored by a bigger margin so far, and Sac-Town's lone victory has come in the season opener against the struggling Denver Nuggets, a team ill-equipped to handle DeMarcus Cousins. Then again, the inspired play of Boogie has left just about every team trying to figure out how to stop him. 

    Unfortunately, he and Isaiah Thomas have been the only consistent producers for Sacramento. The rest of the roster has shown up, just never at the same time. 

    At the end of the day, though, at least there's a team in Sacramento. Fans can take some solace in that. 

     

    Grade: C-

Utah Jazz

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    The Utah Jazz have been absolutely horrific so far, and they remain the lone team in the NBA without a single victory after losing to the Toronto Raptors by 24 points in a game that wasn't even as close as that wide margin would indicate. 

    After that blowout, the Jazz are now being outscored by an average of 13 points per game. They're the only team in the league with an average deficit in double digits. 

    Ouch. 

    While the play of Enes Kanter has been a bright spot and Gordon Hayward hasn't been terrible, the rest of the team has struggled mightily. Even Derrick Favors' work on the glass hasn't trumped his lack of offensive output. 

    It's clear that this team desperately needs help, especially at the point guard position. There will be plenty of pressure on Trey Burke when he eventually returns to the lineup. 

    The Jazz figured to lose a lot of games, but the young pieces were also supposed to be flashing potential. Only one of the two has happened so far. 

     

    Grade: C-

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    Dave Joerger's system hasn't been working for the Memphis Grizzlies. 

    Part of what made this unit so potent in 2012-13 was the chemistry and unspoken communication that all the prominent defensive pieces enjoyed. It's what allowed Marc Gasol to win Defensive Player of the Year even though he doesn't have elite physical skills. 

    But in 2013-14, everyone is questioning their roles, particularly on the defensive end. 

    Gasol has been caught out of position and is allowing opposing players to torch him around the basket. I feel like I'd be struck down with lightning if I wrote that about the '12-13 version of the big man. And it's all because he doesn't have an inherent understanding of the team's defense. 

    Yet. 

    That's the key for the Grizz. 

    Things started to come together against the Los Angeles Clippers, and that should continue as the season progresses, even if the first portion has been rather ugly. 

     

    Grade: C

New York Knicks

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    The New York Knicks avoided having to hit the panic button by exacting some revenge on a Charlotte Bobcats team that was trying to beat them twice in the same week, but they're not out of danger yet. 

    Without Tyson Chandler, it's going to be even tougher for the Knicks to slow down opponents with a competent offensive frontcourt (i.e. not the Bobcats), especially as they were already having difficulties doing so. 

    Although the slightly sub-.500 record wouldn't indicate it, the first portion of the season has been a disaster for New York. The team went from hoping to break into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference to reeling and attempting to figure out what Andrea Bargnani brings to the table on the fly. 

    All the while, Carmelo Anthony has been fantastic, even if his shooting percentages are down. 

    He's making a concerted effort to involve teammates, and the numbers are depressed because they're missing shots and passing him the ball in situations that almost force him to play hero ball. Eventually, he'll either rise up in the scoring competition or see his assist total skyrocket. 

    But still, New York has to stop people to win games.

    There's legitimate reason to be concerned about owner James Dolan doing something crazy like panic trading Iman Shumpert for a mediocre center while Chandler's fibula heals. 

     

    Grade: C

Detroit Pistons

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    It's too soon to pass judgment on the Detroit Pistons experiment playing Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings in the same lineup, especially because the lefty point guard has played in only three games.

    That said, the team is 0-2 when Jennings starts, and he's gotten off to a horribly inefficient start. Shooting 36.7 percent from the field isn't going to cut it, especially when he's making only two three-pointers per game.

    Fortunately, Josh Smith has been a saving grace for the team. 

    Smoove has yet to truly light it up from downtown, but he's shooting the ball with confidence and providing the Pistons with the floor spacing needed for Monroe and Drummond to go to work in the paint. Once his shots start falling, this team will become even more dangerous. 

    But once more, this team hasn't been that impressive as a whole, and its still building up chemistry. There are a lot of new pieces in place, after all. 

     

    Grade: C+

Miami Heat

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    Maybe the Miami Heat understand how the San Antonio Spurs felt during Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals—just on a slightly lower scale—now that the Boston Celtics pulled a victory out of their you-know-what. 

    Dwyane Wade had a chance to ice the game against the Heat's rivals, but he missed the first free throw and then failed to hit everything on the second (an intentional miss still has to draw iron). That allowed Boston to inbound the ball with 0.6 seconds, and Jeff Green hit a ridiculous buzzer-beater for a one-point win. 

    Now instead of sitting pretty at 5-2, with losses only to the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets, Miami is 4-3. 

    Not exactly the start that the Heat wanted as they attempt to three-peat. 

    They've looked vulnerable, particularly on defense. Even though the roster is unfairly talented, no one has been too focused, and the team has been entirely too sluggish at the start of games. 

    There's no need to panic in South Beach, but it's easy to be quite disappointed with how the season has gone thus far. I mean, the defending champions lost to the Sixers...

     

    Grade: C+

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Well hello there, Kyrie Irving

    Eventually hitting the game-winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in double overtime, the 21-year-old point guard had his breakout performance of the season on Nov. 9. He'd been struggling during the early portion of the season, but no longer thanks to 39 points, five rebounds and 12 assists against the Sixers. 

    Still, the beginning of the season has been a bit disappointing for Cleveland, particularly after getting Andrew Bynum back earlier than anticipated. Well, at least a shell of Andrew Bynum is in the lineup now. 

    Cleveland's defense still needs to take a few steps forward if the squad hopes to keep pace with the many teams competing for a postseason spot. The Cavs have allowed 99 points per game thus far, which would be more respectable if it weren't accompanied by only 94.1 points per game on the offensive end. 

    Tristan Thompson breaking out isn't enough. Bynum playing won't get it done. 

    If the Cavaliers are going to earn a better grade, it'll need to come from Irving and Dion Waiters. 

     

    Grade: B-

Los Angeles Clippers

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    No team is scoring at a higher level than the Los Angeles Clippers, but it hasn't been enough to push them well above .500. 

    Defense...well, I can't really talk about something that doesn't exist. 

    So let's focus on the positives. 

    As impressive as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have been, the story still revolves around Chris Paul. The do-everything point guard for the Clippers has been absolutely sensational, asserting his name firmly within the MVP race by averaging well over 20 points and 10 assists per game while maintaining efficiency. 

    Words can't describe how good he was at the start of the season, but I'll try. That description up above is the version of CP3 that has cooled off. 

    Yeah, enough said. 

    But unfortunately for the Clippers, all the CP3 in the world can't make up for the fact that LAC has lost too many close games and given up far too many points.

     

    Grade: B-

Washington Wizards

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    Had Nene failed to tip home John Wall's missed layup, a shot that ended up sending the game to overtime and eventually leading to a victory over the Brooklyn Nets, the Washington Wizards would have earned the dreaded failing grade. 

    Now they're still earning subpar marks, but not by as wide a margin.

    Unless you're named Randy Wittman—not-so-bold prediction: He's gone by Christmas—there's no reason to panic in the nation's capital. With Nene rounding into form and Marcin Gortat looking better and better each time he suits up for the Wizards, things are going to start going more smoothly. 

    Plus, they have this guy named John Wall running the show at the point. 

    Although the Kentucky product isn't hitting on his two-point attempts with as much frequency as Washington would like, he's been a dynamic facilitator who is showing constant signs of a burgeoning three-point game. 

    That said, the Wizards don't deserve a positive grade yet. At this early stage, they aren't meeting the lofty expectations that accompanied Gortat on his cross-country journey to D.C. There are plenty of positive signs, though, so expect a better grade later in the season. 

     

    Grade: B-

Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics somehow escaped South Beach with a surprising win over the Miami Heat. After Dwyane Wade failed to draw iron on an intentionally missed free throw, Jeff Green drilled a fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer to push the C's to 3-4. 

    All of a sudden, it appears as though this team is overachieving. Unfortunately for supporters of the Green Machine, it's a mirage.

    Vitor Faverani has been falling back to earth after a scorching start to his NBA career, Avery Bradley still isn't the man you want leading the charge at point guard and the C's are being outscored on the season. They're averaging a minus-2.4 margin through seven outings.

    Rajon Rondo returning will help out greatly, but there's still not a definitive date set for his debut in the 2013-14 season. In fact, there's a chance that it becomes just the 2014 season for the dynamic floor general.  

    Although Boston is right in the middle of the pack at the moment, it would be a mistake to expect that to continue. The lottery is still the ultimate destination for this team. 

     

    Grade: B

Houston Rockets

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    Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

    The defensive woes of the Houston Rockets have been completely overblown. 

    Yes, the team is allowing 103.6 points per game, one of the higher totals in the NBA. But they also play at a remarkably fast pace, and more possessions inherently lead to more points allowed. Their defensive rating of 104.4, per Basketball-Reference, is much more respectable as it places the team right in the middle of the pack. 

    James Harden has been his typical fantastic offensive self, but he's the man who can make all the difference on the less glamorous end. The bearded shooting guard has been embarrassingly uninvolved when not trying to score points, and that must change if the Rockets hope to become elite. 

    Dwight Howard has also looked impressive during his first season in Rocket red, but the team's depth is less than stellar. Until some of the role players step up on a more consistent basis, there's an inordinate amount of pressure on the starting four five. 

    Sorry, sometimes I forget that Houston actually gets to use five players. 

     

    Grade: B

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

    Pau Gasol's expression is saying it all. 

    We didn't really know what to expect going into the season. The Los Angeles Lakers were pretty commonly viewed as a lottery team, but they were still supposed to be pretty competitive because, well, they're the Lakers. 

    Plus, Kobe Bryant's return date was mired in uncertainty. Maybe he'd return for opening day. Maybe he'd suit up against the Houston Rockets. 

    Well, neither happened, and we still don't know when the Mamba will be back on the court. But we do know that the Lakers aren't all that competitive. 

    They caught the Los Angeles Clippers by surprise on opening night, playing with the fiery intensity of a team that truly wanted to be sharing space on the roster. But since then, they've struggled to a 3-4 record with a ridiculously porous defense and an offense that just can't score. 

    Basketball-Reference shows that they boast the No. 26 offensive rating in the league (something that Kobe will help with when he returns) and the No. 20 defensive rating (something that he won't aid). 

    Still, isn't this just about what we should have expected during the early portion of the year?

     

    Grade: B

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Losing Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour at the start of the season has been a blessing in disguise for the Milwaukee Bucks. It's allowed Nate Wolters to start games, and the South Dakota State product (yes, you read that correctly) has shown that he's a nice draft-day gem. 

    Wolters has averaged 8.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game during his rookie season, but the most impressive aspect of his game has been his knack for running the show. He constantly makes the right decision, even in the face of ridiculous hedges on pick-and-roll sets, and he has yet to turn the ball over more than twice in any contest. 

    In fact, he currently boasts a 31-5 assist-to-turnover ratio. 

    Beyond Wolters, though, the season hasn't gone so smoothly. Larry Sanders has struggled immensely, whether we're talking about his ability to earn minutes, stay in the lineup or make a positive impact. 

    Additionally, the offense just doesn't have enough scorers. 

    Milwaukee has struggled to remain competitive, but there are some positive pieces in place. 

     

    Grade: B

Philadelphia 76ers

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    Wait, so do the Philadelphia 76ers get a good grade or a bad grade? 

    On one hand, the surprising performances from Tony Wroten, Michael Carter-Williams and Spencer Hawes have carried this team to an absolutely shocking 4-3 record. That trio, plus a breaking-out version of Evan Turner who wants to get paid in the offseason, is basically laughing at the preseason predictions that they could challenge for the worst record in NBA history.

    But at the same time, is that a good thing? 

    Philly's biggest asset is its first-round pick in the loaded 2014 NBA draft, and each victory devalues that asset. They're supposed to be tanking, and every offseason move pointed toward them doing exactly that. 

    Let's give them an "A+" for performance and an "F" for tanking success. 

     

    Grade: B

Phoenix Suns

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    What to make of the Phoenix Suns...

    Ultimately, they've found themselves in a situation quite similar to the Philadelphia 76ers, which is why the two teams are receiving the same grade. The Suns were supposed to be bottom-feeders, competing with the Utah Jazz for the worst record in the Western Conference. 

    As if that weren't already obvious enough, they traded Marcin Gortat to the Washington Wizards for a draft pick and an injured center who likely won't make an impact until next year. Miles Plumlee was actually tabbed as the starter at the 5 for opening night. 

    Well, Plumlee and Phoenix have both exceeded the expectations, playing with heart, flair and insane athleticism. 

    Eric Bledsoe in particular has been incredible, though it's inexplicable why he wasn't extended before the deadline. I suppose Phoenix has its heart set on paying him max money when it has to match any offer he receives next summer. 

    By giving Phoenix a "B," I'm averaging out their unexpected ability to win games (a positive) and simultaneous failure to commit to the tanking game plan (a negative). 

     

    Grade: B

Toronto Raptors

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    The Toronto Raptors are a dangerous team, even if they sit under .500 at this early point in the 2013-14 campaign. 

    So far, defense has been the calling card, even if none of the starters are known as true point-preventers. The team entered Saturday night's matchup with the Utah Jazz fairly even in terms of offensive and defensive prowess, but after shutting down the Jazz, the less glamorous end has pulled slightly ahead. 

    On offense, there has been an abundant supply of quality players. Rudy Gay has shown flashes of a more efficient version of himself, Jonas Valanciunas has been impressive in spurts, Kyle Lowry has done it all and DeMar DeRozan finally has a working jumper. 

    All the pieces are in place. But is Dwane Casey the man to put them all together? 

    The head coach may have cost Toronto a victory against the Miami Heat by failing to put Valanciunas back into the game for nearly 12 minutes down the stretch, and he's already facing a lot of questions about his decision making. 

     

    Grade: B

Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks have been clicking on all cylinders lately, and that's good news for the team when Lou Williams eventually returns to the lineup. 

    Behind Mike Budenholzer's tutelage, Jeff Teague has already blossomed into an upper-tier point guard. Soon enough, he'll deserve to be called a poor man's Tony Parker, as he's learning all the skills and systems that make the Frenchman so special. 

    Paul Millsap has also been a nice find for the Hawks, dominating in a number of ways as he adapts to his new threads. 

    But this team still revolves around Al Horford. The big man in the middle is the anchor for the defense, and he's an offensive hub who can consistently score with mid-range looks and facilitate from either the block or the elbow. 

    The Hawks still don't look like they have elite-level upside, but it's abundantly clear that this is a playoff squad in the parity-filled Eastern Conference. 

     

    Grade: B+

Dallas Mavericks

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    So far, the Dallas Mavericks have been able to outscore the opposition, but how long will that last if the team keeps allowing an average of 104.4 points per night?

    The defense, as expected, has been remarkably porous. That figure up above comes after holding the injury-depleted Milwaukee Bucks to only 82 points, so that should say a lot. 

    Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis can't keep guards out of the paint, and Samuel Dalembert is no longer capable of deterring everyone from making shots at the rim. There are going to be a lot of gaudy point totals when Dallas plays, and that makes it tough to remain above .500. 

    So far though, the offense has been filled with positives. 

    Most notably, Ellis has been superb. 

    Although turnovers have been problematic for the dynamic 2-guard, he's shown better shot selection and decision-making skills, allowing him to rack up points and assists each time he steps onto the court. He was particularly impressive against the Los Angeles Lakers, getting to the rim at will en route to 30 points and nine dimes. 

     

    Grade: B+

Golden State Warriors

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    Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

    The Golden State Warriors have developed into a defensive juggernaut. 

    Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala are great perimeter stoppers, the latter being among the best in the game. A healthy version of Andrew Bogut has regained his status as one of the top defensive centers in basketball. 

    On top of that, David Lee has done a nice job on defense (gasp!), and Stephen Curry is making a more concerted effort to stop looking like a matador as he ushers guards into the paint. 

    It's all come together nicely, as Basketball-Reference shows that only the Indiana Pacers boast a better defensive rating during the 2013-14 campaign. The 108 points allowed to the Memphis Grizzlies don't factor into that rank, though, so there's a chance they could slip out of the No. 2 spot soon. 

    Still, it's not like there's a shortage of points for the Dubs either. Everyone is contributing and leaving no doubt that Golden State is one of the more solid squads in the Western Conference. 

    Are they elite, though? That question remains up in the air. 

     

    Grade: B+

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Anthony Davis hasn't just been good during the first portion of the 2013-14 season; he's been absolutely unbelievable. 

    The Unibrow has a league-best 31.3 PER, and he's averaging a mind-boggling 23.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 4.3 blocks per game. In the history of the NBA, only two players have averaged those numbers (or better) for a full season: David Robinson in 1991-92 and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1989-90. 

    Not bad company to be in, last time I checked. 

    That said, the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans haven't been as dominant. 

    A 3-3 start to the season is respectable for a team with so many new pieces—especially with Ryan Anderson nursing a foot injury—but it could be even better. Once Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday start hitting shots with more frequency, this team will be a strong competitor for one of the eight playoff spots in the Western Conference. 

     

    Grade: B+

Orlando Magic

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    If you look solely at point differential, the Orlando Magic suddenly shoot up near the top of the Eastern Conference. 

    They've outscored opponents by 3.1 points per game, a mark beaten by only the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and...no one else. Wait, so are the Magic an elite team? 

    Nah, not really. They have plenty of promising pieces, and they've remained competitive in every game while recording two big victories over the New Orleans Pelicans and Brooklyn Nets, but they still can't hang with a good team on its game. 

    That said, Orlando is doing exactly what a team in its situation should do. It's shown off a promising future for many players—including Nikola Vucevic, who is now on the verge of cracking the top-10 list for the league's best centers—but it's still remaining out of the playoff picture. 

    Adding a piece like Andrew Wiggins to this squad would be quite scary in a few years. 

     

    Grade: A-

Charlotte Bobcats

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    The Charlotte Bobcats are exceeding the expectations, remaining .500 through six games and doing so without the help of Al Jefferson in five of those half-dozen contests. This is a team with a surprising amount of talent, and it won't be too long before the rest of the NBA discovers—like the New York Knicks did—that it's not OK to take the 'Cats lightly. 

    Somewhat surprisingly, it's been defense that has carried this squad. 

    Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in particular has looked like a standout wing defender, and Kemba Walker is starting to pick and choose his gambles better than ever before. Once Jefferson is back, the strength will likely shift back to offense, but it's already clear that Charlotte can play both ends of the court well. 

    It's still tough to view the Bobcats as a squad capable of making it to the postseason, but that wouldn't be completely shocking now that it's clear how much young talent is on the roster. If Walker and Gerald Henderson can get their shots to start falling with more frequency, anything could happen. 

     

    Grade: A

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

    It's time to start talking about Kevin Love as a legitimate MVP candidate, assuming that he can keep up this type of play while carrying the Minnesota Timberwolves into the postseason. 

    Through six games, Love is averaging 27.2 points, 14.7 rebounds (the No. 1 mark in the league), 5.0 assists, 0.7 steals and 0.5 blocks per game. He boasts a 31.0 PER that is beaten out only by Anthony Davis' gaudy number. 

    Plus, you can add in the clutch three-pointer he hit to send Minnesota to overtime against the Orlando Magic. The big man already has one hell of a resume. 

    While he's been dominating, Kevin Martin has been thriving in his shadow. The shooting guard is off to a torrid start, and he's everything that the 'Wolves have ever looked for in a complementary 2-guard. 

    Minnesota is finally proving what it can do with a healthy roster: Not just compete for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, but also stay competitive for one of the better berths. 

     

    Grade: A

Portland Trail Blazers

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    The Portland Trail Blazers are for real. 

    Not only has Damian Lillard used the second-best pull-up jumper in the league (only Stephen Curry has been better) to get better as an offensive player, but he's also vastly improved on the defensive end as well. Pick-and-rolls no longer make him scratch his head in confusion. 

    Additionally, the presence of a real defensive center like Robin Lopez and a lot of depth has helped LaMarcus Aldridge become an even better offensive player. He's scoring at such a high level, and the offense as a whole is following suit in Rip City. 

    While the defense could stand to take a step forward, the offense is just blazing along for Portland. It's proving that we were sleeping on this team going into the season. 

     

    Grade: A

San Antonio Spurs

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    Ho-hum. 

    Another year, another spot right at the top of the Western Conference. With a 5-1 record, the San Antonio Spurs hold the early lead in the race for the coveted No. 1 seed, though staying healthy is still a bigger priority than earning home-court advantage throughout the postseason. 

    Tony Parker has been his typical fantastic self, averaging 19.3 points and 6.7 assists per game while shooting well over 50 percent from the field. Even though Tim Duncan has already sat out a game and is playing at a level far lower than anything we're accustomed to seeing from him, the Spurs are still playing well. 

    You can thank the surprising play from Boris Diaw and the continued excellence from Kawhi Leonard for that. 

    San Antonio has actually struggled on offense, though, and so far, it hasn't come back to bite the team. The Spurs have the No. 24 offensive rating in the league, according to Basketball-Reference, a mark trumped by the No. 3 defense in the league. 

    That weakness—and the fact that the Spurs have a heightened set of expectations—keeps the Spurs from earning an "A+," but they aren't far off the mark. 

     

    Grade: A

Indiana Pacers

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    The Indiana Pacers haven't won their first six games to start a season since Mel Daniels led the squad to a scorching start during the 1970-71 ABA season. 

    It's been that long. 

    Now the Pacers are the lone undefeated team in the NBA, sitting pretty at 7-0 thanks to what is—easily—the most suffocating defense in the league. 

    Paul George has blossomed into a superstar, and even that is the second-biggest reason for the team's success. It's been all about defense, as George, Roy Hibbert and David West have put the clamps on everyone they've faced. 

    No team has hit triple figures against the Pacers, and they're allowing only 85.3 points per game thus far. To put that in perspective, the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs are tied for the next-stingiest defense, both giving up 93 points per contest. 

    At times, it seems impossible to score against this squad. Or to win, for that matter. 

     

    Grade: A+

Oklahoma City Thunder

31 of 31

    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    The Oklahoma City Thunder seem to be flying below the radar, yet they're asserting themselves as true title contenders again. 

    They were supposed to be reeling after losing Russell Westbrook for approximately the first month of the season. However, the superhuman point guard returned way sooner than expected, and the Thunder have only lost a single game as a result. 

    Sure, it was a humiliating outing against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but that just showed how important Westbrook is. Durant was kept in check by Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams and the myriad help defenders thrown in his general direction, and teams haven't been able to do that since the dynamic duo was back in full force. 

    Now Durant is back in the pole position for the scoring title, and he's putting up efficient numbers again. 

    On top of that, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams have looked stellar, which makes OKC all the more dangerous. Even though Kevin Martin is gone, the second unit has actually been more impressive in 2013-14 than it was in 2012-13. 

     

    Grade: A+

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