Team Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team in Mid-November of 2013-14 Season

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 16, 2013

Team Report Card Grades for Every NBA Team in Mid-November of 2013-14 Season

0 of 30

    In the second half of November, not all records are created equally, even in the NBA.  

    Teams can get off to blazing starts (or slow ones, if you're more unfortunate), but looking at a win-loss record in a vacuum only means so much. And that's what makes grades so important—and difficult—in an NBA landscape that has failed to help many teams emerge from the pack. 

    To show you what I mean, take a look at two hypothetical teams and tell me which one should receive the higher grade: 

    • Team A: 5-5
    • Team B: 5-5

    Hmmm. No idea, right? 

    Now, let's give you a little bit more information:

    • Team A has played a ridiculously hard schedule, had mediocre expectations entering the season and outscores its opponent by two points on the average night. 
    • Team B has faced an easy slate of "competition," was unquestionably considered a contender going into the campaign and has been outscored by two points per night. 

    At this point, it's quite clear that Team A should be receiving the higher grade, even if the two squads boast identical records. 

    Expectation matters. Context matters. As The Wire's Lester Freamon might say, "All the pieces matter."


    Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from and are current as of Nov. 16. Additionally, teams with the same grade are listed in alphabetical order, so don't read into the intra-grade orders.

Brooklyn Nets

1 of 30

    Deron Williams is nursing a sprained ankle, and it's not like he's been too effective even when he's on the court. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett look multiple steps slower, and KG in particular is just a carcass of the player he was with the Boston Celtics. 

    This offense has revolved almost completely around Brook Lopez

    That's all right, as Lopez is the best offensive center in basketball, capable of hitting anything around the basket and showing off an expanded ability when shooting mid-range jumpers. But it's still tough to maintain offensive flow, as the Nets discovered in the fourth quarter against the Phoenix Suns. 

    Going into the season, the Nets had sky-high expectations, and many thought they could dethrone the Miami Heat.

    So much for that. Right now, it appears as though the playoffs would be a lofty enough goal, as there just aren't many positive signs. 

    I know, I know. Give it time. There are so many new pieces.

    But at some point, the Nets have to be held accountable for their putrid play. They're being outscored by 4.5 points per game, and that doesn't look like it'll be easy to turn around.


    Grade: F

Sacramento Kings

2 of 30

    Sacramento Kings fans might have set the world record for the loudest sound recorded at an indoor arena, but that doesn't mean they have anything to cheer for. 

    Although DeMarcus Cousins continues to be heavily featured in the Sac-Town offense, and he's responded well, there just aren't many positives. No one outside of "Boogie" and Isaiah Thomas has been able to score with any degree of frequency, and that's resulted in just 93.9 points per game. 

    The Kings have picked up victories during the season opener against the still-jelling Denver Nuggets and a few games back against the reeling Brooklyn Nets. But that's it.

    And scarily enough, there are no immediate signs of an upcoming turnaround. Not only are the Kings playing poor defense, but there's no intelligence displayed on offense.

    For some reason, there's one play sticking out in my mind.

    With just under four minutes left against the Detroit Pistons, the Kings were down nine points. They ran a set that resulted in a three-pointer from the corner for...Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The same player who has made 21 triples in his six-year career.

    Why? Because it's Sacramento we're talking about. 


    Grade: F

Utah Jazz

3 of 30

    The Utah Jazz are just awful. Yes, the extra emphasis is necessary. 

    How else do you describe a 1-9 start to the season, giving them the worst mark in the NBA through 10 games? What about a league-worst 11.3-point margin of defeat? 

    How about checking in at No. 30 in offensive rating and No. 27 in defensive rating, according to Basketball-Reference

    My mother taught me that if I didn't have anything nice to say, I probably shouldn't say it.

    So let's just move on. 


    Grade: F

Washington Wizards

4 of 30

    How much longer is Randy Wittman going to last in the nation's capitol? 

    Although it's tough to place much blame on the head coach, the Washington Wizards need a scapegoat after their poor start to what was supposed to be a playoff campaign. Everything done in the offseason pointed toward a run at the postseason, and that can't change now.

    However, it's not Wittman's fault. Well, some of it is, like the poor shot selection and lack of quality defensive rotations that have plagued this team.

    But also at the heart of the struggle is the inherent weakness of the bench, a problem that should rest at the feet of general manager Ernie Grunfeld.

    Regardless of who deserves the blame, there's plenty to go around. Washington has looked inept on both sides of the ball, even with the flashes of brilliance from Bradley Beal.

    This isn't what was supposed to be happening, especially after trading for Marcin Gortat. 


    Grade: F

Cleveland Cavaliers

5 of 30

    Weren't the Cleveland Cavaliers supposed to be good? 

    Although the Mike Brown-coached defense has actually been competent, it's the offense that has struggled tremendously. No team with Kyrie Irving leading the charge should be this bad at scoring points, yet the Cavs have scored more points per possession than only the Utah Jazz. 


    The heart of the problem is Irving, who has struggled during what was supposed to be his breakout season. Instead of asserting himself as an elite point guard, he's regressed, averaging 19.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 7.2 assists. 

    Solid numbers, right? 

    Sure, but not when you take efficiency into account. The currently masked man is shooting 38 percent from the field and turning the ball over three times per game. Until those numbers are more positive, Cleveland's offense will continue to stagnate. 

    And it's tough to win games—much less make the playoffs—when you can't score. Or when you can't get along, for that matter. 


    Grade: C-

Milwaukee Bucks

6 of 30

    At least Nate Wolters looks good. 

    Thanks to B/R's Dan Favale, I'm now the president of the Nate Wolters Is a Point God fan club, and he should be earning quite a few members thanks to the early returns from his rookie season for the Milwaukee Bucks. I'll be accepting membership requests in the comment section, and don't worry, there are no dues required.

    The South Dakota State product is averaging 8.8 points and 5.3 assists per game, but he's doing so while coughing the ball up only once per contest. Pretty impressive for an unheralded rookie, huh? 

    Unfortunately, that's about where the positives stop for the Bucks.

    O.J. Mayo and John Henson have been solid, but the injury-riddled nature of the squad has prevented it from earning many wins. The loss of Larry Sanders has been particularly detrimental. 

    Somehow, some way, the Bucks will eventually have to find a way to score. They're averaging only 91.6 points per game, near the bottom of the league.


    Grade: C-

New Orleans Pelicans

7 of 30

    Anthony Davis has been incredible. He'd be an MVP candidate if the New Orleans Pelicans were actually winning games, as he's averaging a stellar 21.8 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 3.1 blocks per game. 

    But there's a flaw in that last sentence. They aren't winning games. 

    Defense hasn't been a problem by the bayou, but offense has. Outside of Davis, no one has been able to put the ball in the basket with any degree of consistency. 

    Whether it's Eric Gordon shooting 40.3 percent from the field, Jrue Holiday making him look good with his 39.8 percent shooting or Tyreke Evans averaging only 9.2 points per game on 36.2 percent shooting, the NOLA guards have been rather pathetic.

    That has to change, and the eventual return of Ryan Anderson will help, as he can space the court and take some of the scoring pressure away from his smaller teammates.


    Grade: C-

New York Knicks

8 of 30

    The New York Knicks are being outscored by more than a three-pointer per game, and it's tough to see how that changes anytime soon. 

    With J.R. Smith back in the lineup, the Knicks have more offensive options, but it won't matter if they can't stop other teams from scoring. And Andrea Bargnani certainly isn't going to look like a Tyson Chandler doppelganger anytime soon. He's great at contesting shots that don't exist, but the high-block outings seem rather fluky. 

    At least Bargnani has been solid on offense, an adjective that can really apply just to him and Carmelo Anthony. 

    Raymond Felton and Smith are the only other players on the roster averaging at least 10 points per game, and they're shooting 37.6 and 25.7 percent from the field, respectively. I apologize to everyone for subjecting you to those numbers.

    There's no doubt the Knicks have talent, but something has to change if they're going to hang tough while waiting for Chandler to return. 


    Grade: C-

Detroit Pistons

9 of 30

    The Detroit Pistons got their third win by beating the Sacramento Kings, but they've still been completely unable to hang with solid competition.

    And they're being outscored on the season, falling by an average of two points per game. 

    The Pistons need time to come together, as there are plenty of new faces in the Motor City, but it's still not particularly promising how much they've all struggled. Plus, how insane is Josh Smith's three-point shooting?

    At some point, that needs to stop. He needs to be shown the red light and then taught what it means, as he clearly failed to grasp the concept with the Atlanta Hawks.

    Despite shooting 28.3 percent from beyond the arc, Smoove is firing away 5.8 times per game. Basketball-Reference shows that going into this season, only eight players in NBA history had fired away at least five times per contest while shooting worse than 30 percent from downtown. 

    Smith, James Harden and Brandon Jennings are all doing so this year. 

    The fact that the Pistons have two of the guys shows just how little basketball intelligence has been displayed in Detroit thus far.


    Grade: C

Memphis Grizzlies

10 of 30

    The Memphis Grizzlies need to take note of their 89-86 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. And by "the Memphis Grizzlies," I actually mean Dave Joerger. 

    His uptempo schemes that involve plenty of frantic movement haven't suited the Grizz well on either end of the court, and the team had its most successful outing of the night when it intentionally slowed things down to counter L.A.'s breakneck pace.

    Zach Randolph in particular was phenomenal. 

    Eventually, Joerger will have to realize that the slower pace is best for his squad. He can't mold a team to his philosophy, but instead he has to mold the philosophy to the team. Mike Conley can't carry the team forever, after all. 

    Memphis has been one of the more disappointing teams in the NBA thanks to the lack of cohesion it's shown on both sides of the ball. But at least there are signs of an upcoming turnaround. 


    Grade: C

Los Angeles Lakers

11 of 30

    The Los Angeles Lakers are getting outscored by a rather significant margin. In fact, only the Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Utah Jazz are looking up at the scoreboard after the final buzzer and seeing a larger disparity. 

    Without many elite options to help Pau Gasol while he's struggled with his shot, the offense has stagnated. Fortunately, that's something that will be aided by the eventual return of Kobe Bryant

    But the bigger problem is the defense.

    L.A. is just awfully porous, particularly in the backcourt. The Lakers' defensive rating isn't actually all that bad, falling in the middle of the pack thanks to their lightning-quick pace. But the extra possessions aren't helping things because the Lakers are generally the less talented team on the court.

    Unfortunately, Kobe isn't going to help the defensive woes. He was bad enough on that end last year, and it's highly unlikely he improves coming off such a devastating injury—one that can sap explosiveness. 

    We'll see what happens, but there's reason for pessimism in Tinseltown. 


    Grade: C+

Chicago Bulls

12 of 30

    Somewhat sneakily, the Chicago Bulls have crept back above .500. 

    For all the problems with Derrick Rose, the defense has emerged as a truly stellar unit, and that's carried them back near the top of a parity-filled Eastern Conference. Not only are the Bulls allowing only 89.4 points per game (the No. 3 mark in the NBA), they're also giving up just 96.5 points per 100 possessions, according to Basketball-Reference

    Now, can the offense finally get rolling?

    As positive as the defense has been, the point-scoring abilities have been almost as negative. And it all starts with Rose, who has shown flashes of explosiveness but failed to put together many impressive outings. 

    Beset by hamstring issues, Rose may take even longer to rebound now, and he's averaging 14.7 points, 2.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists with an embarrassingly low 6.75 PER. Until he starts shooting better than 33.3 percent from the field and cuts back on the 4.2 turnovers per contest, it'll be hard for the offense to flow.

    Chicago is climbing the ranks of the East, but it still won't reach its lofty goals until the former MVP starts playing like, well, a former MVP. 


    Grade: B-

Denver Nuggets

13 of 30

    The Denver Nuggets' slow start to the season is a thing of the past.

    It just took a few games for this team to find its groove under Brian Shaw, and it's now firmly groovin'.

    The Pepsi Center is always a great dose of home-court advantage, and this is a deep team that has been able to use 11 quality players even with Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee nursing injuries. 

    Between Ty Lawson emerging as an elite point guard, Kenneth Faried playing like the trade rumors hurt his feelings, and Timofey Mozgov emerging as a competent offensive weapon, there's a lot to like in the Mile High City.

    Well, except for the Nuggets defense. That's still pretty awful.

    It's easy to see this team getting better and better as the season progresses, but Denver is still trying to recover from the slow start to the season. This team wasn't supposed to be hovering around .500 in mid-November, so while the grade is rising, it's still not where it'll end up.


    Grade: B-

Oklahoma City Thunder

14 of 30

    It's amazing how much of a difference one shot can make. 

    Andre Iguodala's game-winning buzzer-beater is all the difference between a 5-3 start and a 6-2 opening salvo that looks significantly more impressive. As Bubbles might say to Jimmy McNulty, there's a "thin line 'tween heaven and here." 

    We're dealing with a mixed bag for these contenders for the crown in the Western Conference.

    On one hand, the team hasn't kept pace with the other elites in the tougher of the two conference. 

    But on the flip side, Scott Brooks' squad is still attempting to get back in the swing of things following the early return of Russell Westbrook. He's been struggling with his efficiency, although a 31-point outing against the Golden State Warriors highlighted by what was almost a game-winning dagger of a triple could get him rolling.

    So far, the Thunder have lost to the Dubs, Los Angeles Clippers and red-hot Minnesota Timberwolves. That's not embarrassing, but it's still three dropped games in eight outings.


    Grade: B-

Toronto Raptors

15 of 30

    It's been a mixed bag for the Toronto Raptors. 

    Although they're the not-so-proud owners of a losing record, they've outscored their opponents through mid-November and still have plenty to look forward to. Of course, that's assuming Jonas Valanciunas wasn't massively overrated heading into the season.

    If the Raptors are going to ramp it up a little, two things have to happen. 

    First, Dwane Casey needs to go. He's holding back the team by failing to come up with creative offensive sets, his rotations are horrid, and he's made numerous late-game mistakes already. Until there's a more competent coach on the sidelines, the upside is inherently limited North of the border.

    Second, Rudy Gay has to become more efficient. He can't shoot 37 times in a single game, especially when he's hitting just 37.3 percent of his shots on the season.

    Share the wealth, dude. 


    Grade: B-

Boston Celtics

16 of 30

    The Boston Celtics enjoyed a four-game winning streak highlighted by Jeff Green's ridiculous game-winner over the outstretched arms of LeBron James, but things haven't gone so smoothly since then. Back-to-back losses to the Charlotte Bobcats and Portland Trail Blazers depressed the record to 4-6. 

    That said, there are positives. 

    Jordan Crawford broke out with 16 points and 10 dimes against the Orlando Magic, and he's continued to dish out the ball rather well since then.

    Why is that positive? 

    Well, the obvious answer is that Crawford has become more than a gunner with a conscience. More subtly, it also bodes well for what will happen when Rajon Rondo eventually returns from his torn ACL. 

    This Boston offense desperately needs someone to serve as the primary facilitator, creating looks for the players who can't do that on their own. And who better to do exactly that than Rondo? 

    So far, the Celtics have just about met the expectations. They're hanging around the playoff picture, but they aren't getting into it yet. Not without Rondo. 


    Grade: B

Dallas Mavericks

17 of 30

    The Dallas Mavericks have looked like an offensive machine during the early portion of the NBA season, but one has to wonder how long they can keep it up.

    Monta Ellis has led the charge, averaging 22.2 points and 4.7 assists per game. For the first time in his career, he's playing the right type of basketball, eschewing three-point attempts so that he can attack the basket. That's allowed him to shoot efficiently, and he's making the proper decisions once he gets into the paint. 

    Shawn Marion has also enjoyed a bit of a renaissance season, stuffing the stat sheet with his seemingly endless reserves of energy. His rebounding has been crucial for a Mavs team that doesn't feature an elite big man on the boards, but do you want to entrust that responsibility to a declining 35-year-old throughout a playoff push? 

    There also haven't been any positive signs on defense. Both the backcourt and frontcourt are basically hemorrhaging points. Eventually, that will catch up to the team.

    Dallas looks like the type of squad that will factor heavily into the race for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference, but it's tough to see the Mavs doing anything beyond that. 


    Grade: B

Houston Rockets

18 of 30

    Even though James Harden hasn't been healthy, he's remained effective. While plagued by a foot injury, the bearded shooting guard has averaged 26.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, shooting 45.2 percent from the field. Once his three-ball starts to fall, he's only going to be even scarier on offense. 

    However, his defense has been a major problem.

    As Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney wrote, "These are not new problems. Houston has been exploring how best to hide Harden for the better part of a year, as the same underlying laziness and lack of awareness were problematic for the Rockets last season as well."

    Even with two elite rim protectors (Omer Asik and Dwight Howard), the Houston Rockets have struggled on defense because the guards are just that good at imitating sieves. Opponents are shooting almost 50 percent at the rim against Howard, and it's because he has to be in almost constant motion. 

    Until the Rockets start functioning as more of a team on that end of the court, it'll be impossible for them to move too far ahead of a .500 record.

    Yes, the offense is stellar. But good play on one end only gets you so far.


    Grade: B

Miami Heat

19 of 30

    The Miami Heat haven't gotten off to the stellar start they were hoping for, but only the Indiana Pacers have a better record in the Eastern Conference. When "struggles" lead to a 6-3 record by mid-November, that's when you know you're talking about an elite team. 

    Fortunately for Miami, LeBron James is still LeBron James. 

    The reigning MVP is averaging 27 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game, but his percentages are even more impressive. "The King" is shooting a mind-boggling 61 percent from the field, and he's also knocking down more than half of his shots beyond the three-point arc. 

    In NBA history, only 58 individual seasons have been recorded (going into this season) in which a player shot at least 60 percent while qualifying for the scoring title. Of those, only five have seen the player in question average at least 20 points per game: 

    • Wilt Chamberlain: 24.1 points per game in 1966-67
    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 24.8 points per game in 1979-80
    • Kevin McHale: 26.1 points per game in 1986-87
    • Kevin McHale: 22.6 points per game in 1987-88
    • Shaquille O'Neal: 22.9 points per game in 2004-05

    Not only is LeBron on pace to break the all-time record, he's also trending toward becoming the first non-big man to join the exclusive club.

    The Heat are all about efficiency, and no player is a better example.


    Grade: B

Orlando Magic

20 of 30

    Oh hey, vintage Arron Afflalo. We've missed you.

    All of a sudden, the disappointing acquisition is catching fire. Over his past five games, Afflalo has averaged 21.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while shooting a scorching 48.6 percent from the field and making exactly half of his attempts beyond the three-point arc. 

    But he hasn't been able to push Orlando above .500, as two losses to the Boston Celtics in three games don't look very good. 

    The Magic offense as a whole is struggling. It's been unable to put together good nights from multiple key players at the same time. Beyond Afflalo and Nikola Vucevic, there just haven't been too many consistent options. 

    At least we can safely assume that Victor Oladipo will eventually turn things around. I think...


    Grade: B

Atlanta Hawks

21 of 30

    Jeff Teague is an elite point guard. 

    Let's not sugercoat it any longer. Under the tutelage of Mike Budenholzer—the man who helped Tony Parker develop into a superstar—Teague has been absolutely fantastic for the Atlanta Hawks, averaging just shy of 20 points and 10 assists per game. 

    The Wake Forest product is playing aggressive, athletic and intelligent basketball, and he's ensuring that the Atlanta offense is much more flavorful than it was under Larry Drew. Al Horford is no longer the sole offensive hub in Hotlanta.

    But that's not the only positive development in the backcourt. Lou Williams is back, seemingly out of nowhere. 

    The dynamic combo guard debuted against the Philadelphia 76ers with seven points, three rebounds and two assists, and his early return is great news for the Hawks. They need another player who can create his own offense, and that just happens to be Sweet Lou's speciality. 


    Grade: B+

Los Angeles Clippers

22 of 30

    Wasn't Doc Rivers supposed to make the Los Angeles Clippers into a good defensive unit? Wasn't DeAndre Jordan supposed to become a bona fide Defensive Player of the Year candidate? 

    Through mid-November, the Clippers are allowing a close-your-eyes-if-you're-afraid-of-scary-things 106 points per game, although that number is admittedly boosted by the quick pace the team employs. Jordan and Blake Griffin have been porous on the interior, although Griffin is at least making strides on the less glamorous end.

    Fortunately, LAC is still boasting an uber-elite offense, and that's allowed the Clippers to put together a relatively hot start to the season. The sustainability of the .667 winning percentage is questionable, but it still exists nine games into the season.

    Chris Paul is playing like a point god, not a point guard. Griffin is putting up monster numbers and becoming a well-rounded scorer. Everyone is shooting the ball well. 

    There are major question marks for these Staples Center residents, but they've still fared well through mid-November. 


    Grade: A-

Philadelphia 76ers

23 of 30

    The Philadelphia 76ers have enjoyed a tremendous start to the season, and fortunately, it's one that won't prevent them from sinking back down to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. 

    Eventually, the shooting percentages will continue to normalize, and the offense will fall back to Earth. And if it doesn't, general manager Sam Hinkie will just have to trade either Evan Turner or Thaddeus Young to a contending team, as everything is still being planned around the 2014 NBA draft. 

    Plus, there's no way that Philly will continue to win games until it shores up its defense. 

    So far, the Sixers are allowing 108.7 points per game. The Los Angeles Clippers (106) and Houston Rockets (105.8) are the only other teams on the wrong end of 105, and that's not particularly conducive to success. 

    But there are so many bright sides in Philly.

    Not only has Evan Turner emerged as a stud, but players like Tony Wroten, Spencer Hawes and James Anderson are beginning to look like nice options. At least it's now clear that there are more than six NBA players on the roster.


    Grade: A-

Charlotte Bobcats

24 of 30

    The Charlotte Bobcats are—gasp—dangerous. 

    Not because they're going to put up a lot of points. Au contraire. They're having a lot of difficulty scoring on a consistent basis, and that's not suddenly going to change just because Al Jefferson returns to the lineup with some degree of frequency. 

    But at least it'll be helped.

    It's defense that has emerged as the calling card of these 'Cats.

    Holding opponents to only 93.2 points per game, Charlotte has allowed fewer points than all NBA teams outside of the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. That's pretty elite company right there. 

    Don't sleep on the Bobcats any longer. As Michael Kidd-Gilchrist told the Associated Press via ESPN after the victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, "It's a new season, new guys, a new staff, new everything. I'll take this win. I'll take any win we can get this season. One step at a time."

    And if they keep taking steps...

    This defensive play is sustainable, and they could be in the mix for the No. 8 seed throughout the season, finishing with between 35 and 40 wins.


    Grade: A

Golden State Warriors

25 of 30

    The Golden State Warriors just continue to look great on both ends of the court. It's becoming increasingly clear that this is a championship-caliber roster.

    Need offense?

    Stephen Curry by himself has you covered. He's developed into one of the elite offensive players at any position. Between his potent three-point shooting—which draws so much attention from defenders—and his incredible distribution skills, he's a point-producing machine.

    And it doesn't hurt to throw in a versatile swingman like Andre Iguodala, another great shooter like Klay Thompson, and David Lee, one of the best scoring power forwards in basketball. 

    Need defense?

    Thompson and Iggy have morphed into a point-preventing powerhouse on the perimeter, and Andrew Bogut does a great job protecting the paint. 

    The Dubs are scoring 105.2 points per game and allowing 98.2, giving them an average margin of victory that is right up there among the best in the Association.


    Grade: A

Minnesota Timberwolves

26 of 30

    The Minnesota Timberwolves offense has been absolutely unstoppable thus far. 

    Even though Ricky Rubio still can't score to save his life—whether he's shooting from mid-range or attempting to finish at the rim—the Spanish floor general is exhibiting plenty of patience and passing prowess. Racking up dimes, Rubio has gotten the 'Wolves to run like a pack. 

    Of course, it helps that Kevin Martin is shooting the lights out of the gym and Kevin Love is playing out of his mind. The power forward in particular has been unbelievable, emerging as an MVP candidate thanks to his gaudy rebounding totals, scoring ability and ridiculous outlet passes.

    But the real key for Minnesota has been a defense that is suddenly clicking. It's still prone to off nights, but the team isn't as porous as it's been in the past.

    The 'Wolves are for real.


    Grade: A

Phoenix Suns

27 of 30

    Unlike the Philadelphia 76ers, the Phoenix Suns are experiencing legitimate success.

    They could be 6-3 if Joe Johnson hadn't caught the ball in the perfect spot at a perfect time during the overtime loss to the Brooklyn Nets, and there are multiple developments that appear to be rather sustainable, especially if Alex Len becomes a contributor.

    First, the defense is truly frightening. 

    With a defensive rating of 99.6, per Basketball-Reference, the Suns boast the No. 5 point-stopping unit in the NBA, trailing only the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors. This is a fiery team, one that plays with plenty of energy on that end of the court. 

    Second, Eric Bledsoe is quickly developing into one of the best guards in basketball. 

    Shooting 50 percent from the field, the former Los Angeles Clipper is averaging 20.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game, and he's consistently displayed moxie once the fourth quarter of a close game rolls around. He's not just going to go away, and the Bledsoe-Goran Dragic pairing will only get more and more dangerous.

    Tanking isn't as big a priority for Phoenix because it has so many potential first-round picks in a stacked draft class and a number of players who could be around for a long time. It'll be fun to see how this one plays out, because the Suns have become one of the more fun-to-watch teams in the league.


    Grade: A

Indiana Pacers

28 of 30

    The Indiana Pacers are an elite team. There's no doubt about that, whether we're discussing the "elite" or "team" portion of the previous sentence. 

    Despite all the attention that Paul George has gotten for his stellar start to the season—and he should be considered the leading MVP candidate at this point—the Pacers are about so much more than one player. 

    Lance Stephenson's breakout is legitimate, to the point that it might be difficult for Indiana to afford him in the coming years. Roy Hibbert is an absolute monster on the defensive end, and the same can be said about David West, even if he doesn't record the glamour stats.

    No team in the NBA plays better defense, and that's been the reason Indiana has rocketed out to a perfect start through mid-November, something no other team has done. 

    There's only one possible grade here. 


    Grade: A+

Portland Trail Blazers

29 of 30

    Are the Portland Trail Blazers a playoff team? 

    B/R's Sean Hojnacki certainly thinks so, arguing that this offense is capable of carrying them to one of the eight coveted spots in the brutally difficult Western Conference. And that's a sentiment we should all agree with at this point. 

    Although Rip City has feasted on an easy schedule, there's no shame in that. All you can do is beat the opponent you're facing every night.

    Which is exactly what Portland has done.

    Damian Lillard continues to emerge as a stellar point guard, LaMarcus Aldridge is battling it out to be considered the No. 2 power forward in basketball, and the rest of the Blazers are looking solid. Nicolas Batum in particular is a stat-stuffing machine, and his efforts have also helped Portland boast a respectable defense.

    While the Blazers will eventually fall out of the truly elite portion of the Western Conference, they won't sink too far in the standings. There's just too much talent, and it's being used correctly now that depth allows minutes to be limited a bit more.


    Grade: A+

San Antonio Spurs

30 of 30

    Is anyone actually surprised by this? 

    The San Antonio Spurs sit atop the Western Conference with the second-best record in the league on the heels of a seven-game win streak that featured victories over the Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks and a bunch of mediocre-to-poor teams. 

    Even though Tim Duncan has taken a few steps backward, the Spurs keep winning. Even when Tony Parker has struggled with his shot, the Spurs keep winning. Even when Boris Diaw has stolen the show, the Spurs keep winning.

    The narrative can change every year, but the conclusion is always the same. 

    The Spurs keep winning.


    Grade: A+