NBA

Stock Up, Stock Down for Every NBA Team

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistNovember 18, 2013

Stock Up, Stock Down for Every NBA Team

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    The Mavericks look pretty good so far.
    The Mavericks look pretty good so far.Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Just like every year in the NBA, there have been plenty of surprises in the early goings of the season. Some teams are exceeding expectations, while others have been fairly disappointing thus far.

    However, you probably know that many of the anomalies and outliers rarely last.

    It's like the saying goes: The cream rises to the top. Eventually, ballclubs who are playing over their heads will settle back down to earth, and the squads that have not been playing up to expectations will generally begin to hit their stride soon enough.

    So, will the stock of some of these scrappy, upstart teams drop? Will it do the opposite for the predicted contenders that are struggling? Or, maybe, it will simply remain steady for some clubs?

    Note: All statistics in this article are accurate as of Nov. 18, 2013.

Atlanta Hawks

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    The Atlanta Hawks are doing essentially what everyone anticipated, which is basically what they have been doing for the past seven years. They are playing solid basketball—basketball that is good enough to earn them a decent record and a playoff berth, but not good enough to get them very far in the postseason.

    Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap are all off to very good starts, each of them maintaining PERs of over 20 and shooting rather efficiently as a trio (although it would be nice to see Teague improve upon his shooting percentages a bit).

    However, the rest of Atlanta's ballclub leaves a bit to be desired. Outside of Kyle Korver, the Hawks have had trouble finding consistent production off their bench, as Dennis Schroder is too raw to be a regular contributor and Elton Brand is struggling to integrate himself.

    The Hawks did get a nice boost the other night with Lou Williams' return from a torn ACL, a 10-month absence. But while he can certainly provide a spark, he is not what one would call an efficient scorer, and ACL injuries are tough to come back from right off the bat.

    Regardless, no one expected Atlanta to be a contender this year, anyway. Everyone basically had it pegged as the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference.

    What will be interesting to monitor here is the point guard situation. Teague is off to a great start, and Schroder is a great talent in the wings. Do the Hawks trade one of the two?

    Stock: Steady.

     

Boston Celtics

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    Brian Babineau/Getty Images

    Who expected the Boston Celtics, a team that many thought would tank, to go into Miami and beat the Heat early in the season?

    Probably not even the Celtics themselves.

    Boston got off to a rough start, losing its first four contests, but the silver lining in all of that was that it was competitive in all four losses. The C's then reeled off four straight wins behind strong point guard play from Jordan Crawford. Yes. Jordan Crawford.

    Of course, the Celtics then went on to lose three in a row, and that inconsistency is likely the sort of thing we can expect from this group throughout the year.

    Looking up and down the roster, there is a considerable amount of talent there. Jeff Green is an emerging star at the 3, and young big men like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk could be part of the long-term foundation for the Celtics. Plus, with Crawford now manning the point guard spot until Rajon Rondo returns, Avery Bradley has moved back to his more natural position at the 2.

    Finally, Vitor Faverani looks like a potential steal.

    So, does Boston have a shot at making the playoffs? Well, if Rondo comes back healthy (which is a big "if"), there actually is a possibility in the weak East, especially considering that the ballclubs that were expected to challenge for the final couple of playoff spots in the conference haven't been doing so well.

    You can wish for the C's to tank for a better draft pick all you want, but nothing is more conducive to a young team than building a winning culture.

    The Celtics probably won't win any more than 35-38 games this season, but that could be good enough for a postseason berth and some very valuable experience.

    Stock: Steady.

     

Brooklyn Nets

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The Brooklyn Nets are off to a very rough start, but honestly, I can't say I'm surprised. And I don't mean that in a bad way.

    Everyone is ready to bury the Nets, but what we all have to realize is that this team has so many new faces. It is going to take time for these guys to really gel, and it doesn't help matters much that Deron Williams' ankle is still barking and Andrei Kirilenko has been having some back issues (among many other team ailments).

    I also don't think it's any coincidence that Brooklyn's strongest performance of the season thus far came against the potential rival Miami Heat (who are we kidding? They are already rivals). That isn't to say that the Nets weren't trying in all of their other contests (that's silly), but given the fact that they are an older team, they are going to pick their spots throughout the year.

    Remember all of those times the majority of basketball watchers counted the Celtics out? Well, the same principle applies to Brooklyn.

    If you're already writing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce off, you are making a huge mistake. Garnett is not going to keep shooting this poorly, and both veterans know how to handle the grind of an 82-game campaign. At their age, you can't go all out for the entire season.

    The Nets won't win 60 games or anything, but they will go on a couple of nice runs that will make you start to believe. And when the playoffs roll around, they'll be ready.

    Stock: Up.

Charlotte Bobcats

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    Brock Williams-Smith/Getty Images

    Last season, the Charlotte Bobcats started out 7-5 and, well, we all know how that turned out. This year, they have split their first 10 games, and you can expect them to stop playing .500 basketball soon.

    To be fair, this Bobcats team isn't as bad as last year's. Al Jefferson is now in the fold, and guys like Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Jeff Taylor are a little more experienced. But still, Charlotte isn't very good.

    Shooting 40.2 percent as a ballclub is just awful. They don't exactly have much depth, either.

    Is there anything left to say about this squad? Well, not really. Back into the lottery, MJ.

    Stock: Down.

Chicago Bulls

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    Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

    Yes, Derrick Rose is back. And yes, they ended the Indiana Pacers' unbeaten streak in convincing fashion, but I am still not buying the Chicago Bulls as a title contender. Not with Rose still clearly not himself (he currently owns a 9.4 PER) and with limited firepower around him.

    The Bulls are undoubtedly a good team, but are they good enough to make it out of the Eastern Conference? At the moment, no.

    Let's be real here: Chicago still has the same issues now that it had in 2011 when it met the Miami Heat in the conference finals. The only difference is that this time, Rose is balky, and the Bulls don't have as much depth.

    If Rose isn't able to fully get his legs underneath him as the season progresses, I don't see how Chicago poses any sort of threat at all. And even if he does, is there enough offensive talent surrounding him to catapult the Bulls to the next level? Barring a trade, it doesn't seem likely.

    Until then, I can't say Chicago's stock will rise.

    Stock: Steady.

     

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    It hasn't been a very pleasant start for the Cleveland Cavaliers. From losing seven of their first 10 games to Andrew Bynum saying he may have to retire to players nearly throwing fisticuffs in a players-only meeting, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst, it's been a tumultuous first couple of weeks, to say the least.

    That being said, there is too much talent on this ballclub to not expect it to pick things up eventually.

    Kyrie Irving is off to a very poor start, shooting under 40 percent from the floor, and the similar lack of efficiency from Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack hasn't helped much.

    It's only right to assume that Irving's percentages will soon fall in line with his career averages (45.2 percent) and that No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett will give them something.

    As far as Bynum goes, that's anyone's guess.

    In what is currently a pretty pathetic Eastern Conference, things should start looking up for the Cavaliers soon. After all, it may only take 35 wins to earn a playoff berth at this rate.

    Stock: Up.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    It's hard not to like what the Dallas Mavericks have been able to do thus far.

    Their offseason acquisitions have been paying off big time, and Dirk Nowitzki is absolutely lighting it up from long range. Plus, there is a substantial amount of depth here.

    This is a playoff-caliber team—there is no doubt about it. Monta Ellis is playing some of the best basketball of his career, Jose Calderon has caught fire after an inauspicious start, and DeJuan Blair is looking like one of the biggest free-agent steals of the offseason (why didn't Gregg Popovich give him any minutes again?).

    Also, Jae Crowder and Samuel Dalembert, the latter of which was another great summer signing by Mark Cuban, have been great.

    All of this and the Mavericks are still awaiting the returns of Brandan Wright, Devin Harris and Shane Larkin from injury.

    I'm not ready to say that Dallas is a contender out West, but you know what? The higher seeds do not want to see this Mavs team in the first round. Heck, maybe Dallas will end up getting a top-five seed?

    Good for Dirk. You can't help but root for the guy.

    Stock: Up.

     

     

     

Denver Nuggets

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    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Spor

    The Denver Nuggets are in all sorts of turmoil right now, from JaVale McGee joining Danilo Gallinari on the injured list with a fractured tibia to Kenneth Faried's name popping up in seemingly endless trade rumors, per Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post.

    Still, the Nuggets aren't that bad.

    Some felt they were doomed this season after firing George Karl and losing Andre Iguodala to free agency, but there is still more than enough talent and depth on this squad for it to make the playoffs.

    You have to take into consideration how dominant Denver is at home. It went 38-3 at the Pepsi Center last year, and while the Nuggets are a human 3-2 in their arena so far this season, history dictates that they will win around 30 games there at least.

    So that means that for Denver to challenge for a postseason berth, it will just have to be passable on the road, and Brian Shaw's guys should be good enough to accomplish that.

    Hopefully for the Nuggets, Gallinari, who doesn't know when he will be back, per ESPN.com, and McGee return sooner rather than later.

    Stock: Up.

     

Detroit Pistons

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    So the Detroit Pistons are having issues with floor spacing and rank last in the NBA in three-point percentage. Is anyone actually surprised?

    Yet, the Pistons are attempting over 21 threes a game.

    Why?

    For some reason, despite having little to no outside shot to speak of, Josh Smith continues to hoist triples at a rapid rate, taking nearly six per contest this far. That's the core problem.

    Smith needs to learn that he is at his best when he posts up or puts the ball on the floor and takes it to the rack. Not when he jacks up bombs, and head coach Maurice Cheeks has to take some initiative and drill that into Smith's brain, too.

    You want to know what is surprising about this Detroit team, though? It's that it ranks last in opponent's field-goal percentage.

    I thought that with Smith and Andre Drummond, the Pistons would at least be stout defensively, but apparently, they aren't even good in that area.

    Detroit needs to make a move somewhere. If that means dealing Greg Monroe for the sake of a more well-rounded offense, then so be it.

    Until then, the Pistons aren't getting any better. They probably won't get any worse either, so I guess that's something.

    Stock: Steady.

Golden State Warriors

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    Not only are the Golden State Warriors one of the most exciting teams to watch, but they are one of the best ballclubs in the league, as well.

    Stephen Curry is getting better and better, averaging a career high with nearly nine assists per game while still dropping bombs from distance. Klay Thompson has also been spectacular, and how about Andre Iguodala shooting over 50 percent from beyond the arc? No; that is not a misprint.

    Plus, while you may not think of the high-octane Warriors as a defensive-minded group, they currently rank fourth in defensive efficiency. They can thank Andrew Bogut staying healthy for that (and, of course, the newly signed Iguodala).

    I look at the Western Conference, and I see only one team that is better than Golden State: the San Antonio Spurs, and the Dubs nearly beat them on the road without Curry.

    The Warriors are a title contender. The scary part is that they haven't even hit their ceiling yet.

    Stock: Up.

Houston Rockets

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    It has been an up-and-down first couple of weeks for the Houston Rockets as they have tried to integrate Dwight Howard into their system. Still, much like the Nets, you have to give them time to jell.

    It's odd that a Howard-anchored defense would rank near the bottom of the league in points allowed, but it's very early in the season, and it's only logical to assume that will change as Dwight becomes more comfortable in his new surroundings.

    Once he does, this team will be very dangerous, especially if Jeremy Lin keeps shooting the ball the way he has been thus far.

    Plus, the Rockets have the pieces to orchestrate a major trade if need be. Of course, they'll have to match salaries in the process, but they have a lot of young talent that they could part with if they feel the need to acquire another star to put alongside of Howard and James Harden.

    Omer Asik already looks to be on the move, per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, and being that he is a valuable asset, Houston could end up receiving something nice in return for the big man. What should be frightening to other ballclubs is the fact that the Rockets also have guys like Terrence Jones, Greg Smith and Patrick Beverley that they can make a part of a package.

    As currently constructed, Houston probably does not have enough to best the Spurs in a seven-game series, but one trade can change all of that.

    Stock: Up.

     

Indiana Pacers

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    Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

    It's hard not to trend down after the start the Indiana Pacers have gotten off to.

    The Pacers finally lost after winning their first nine games, but with that defense, you have to like their chances in May and June.

    Offensively, Indiana hasn't been great (as expected), but it has been getting production from numerous sources. Paul George is clearly the team's best scorer, but Roy Hibbert and David West have been providing a steady 11-12 points a night apiece. So has George Hill. Then you have second-leading scorer Lance Stephenson, who certainly looks improved.

    Throw in some bench production from the likes of Luis Scola, C.J. Watson and Orlando Johnson, and you have a very balanced attack.

    It would be nice if Danny Granger could finally get healthy, but at this point, it seems like his chances are just as good as Greg Oden's.

    Granger or no Granger, the Pacers are still an outstanding team and a serious championship contender.

    All of that said, they aren't going to keep playing .900 ball, so their stock has to drop from here. It's only natural.

    Stock: Down.

Los Angeles Clippers

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    The Los Angeles Clippers are a very good team. They have the best point guard in the league. They have a battle-tested coach. They are explosive. They are exciting.

    But they are nothing more than a fringe title contender.

    That may sound jarring given the fact that they are averaging 110 points per game, but let's not overlook that they are also giving up almost 106. 

    This is not a very good defensive ballclub right now, and even with their gaudy offensive numbers, you have to wonder if they are going to run into the same problems on that end of the floor that they encountered during the playoffs the last two years.

    That big issue was that when they weren't able to get out on the break, they were grounded. The San Antonio Spurs did it to them two years ago. The Memphis Grizzlies did it last May.

    Yes, the Clippers have more shooters this season, but they still don't have a reliable low-post threat. While Blake Griffin has showed some flashes, he is hardly what one would call a dependable player down on the block.

    Will Los Angeles win over 50 games? Yes. Does it have a shot to make it to the conference finals? Sure. Can they best the Spurs in a seven-game series? As it stands, probably not, even with Paul playing the role of Superman.

    Stock: Steady.

Los Angeles Lakers

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    This one is tricky.

    Right this very minute, the Los Angeles Lakers are not, um, good. At all. They aren't good defensively and they are just flat-out bad offensively. Pau Gasol looks like a shell of himself, Steve Nash is still dealing with back problems, and Jodie Meeks is their leading scorer.

    Of course, a major reinforcement is on the way for the Lakers.

    Kobe Bryant is back at practice and has been cleared for all activities, per Bleacher Report's own Kevin Ding, and that will help Los Angeles considerably. It won't solve all of the Lakers' issues, but it will give them a closer and a guy who can drop 40 on any given night (assuming Bryant is healthy).

    Still, what kind of shape Kobe is going to be in when he returns to the floor is anybody's guess, and he isn't going to solve their lack of rim protection. He'll help the defense as a whole due to the fact that he will play a role in preventing opposing guards from getting into the lane, but he won't be a cure-all.

    Let's assume that Bryant will be good to go. In that case, LA will improve as a ballclub. Probably not enough to make a run at the playoffs, but it will be better.

    Stock: Up.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    It's pretty hard to fathom how the Memphis Grizzlies got off to such a rocky start defensively. After all, this was the No. 2 ranked defense in the league a year ago, and it houses the reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Marc Gasol.

    Anyway, it seems like the Grizzlies have righted the ship, and they will likely continue their run as an elite defense.

    You really have to like how Mike Conley has performed these first couple of weeks, shooting over 50 percent from the floor and registering a PER of over 23. Zach Randolph has also seen a spike in his efficiency after an unfavorable start, and Marc Gasol remains a reliable source on both ends of the court.

    Of course, the biggest problem for Memphis is its lack of a wing scorer. It also isn't very good at shooting the three-ball as a team, making the need for a 2-guard or small forward who can create points on his own that much more dire.

    The fact that the Grizzlies do have that glaring hole is what is holding them back from being a legitimate title contender. They have the frontcourt, the point guard and the defense, but not enough threats on the perimeter.

    I bet they wish they held on to O.J. Mayo now.

    Regardless, Memphis is still a very good ballclub.

    Stock: Up.

Miami Heat

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    Like the Grizzlies, the Miami Heat have dealt with some defensive issues at the start of the season. The result has been three early losses, although I'm not too sure just how much the Heat care about their regular-season record, especially in November.

    When you're a two-time defending champion, the grind of an 82-game campaign becomes somewhat tedious. You just hope to make it through without any injuries and to make sure you post a decent enough record to get a high seed.

    That is likely what Miami is going to do throughout the majority of the 2013-14 season. We'll see it lose to teams like the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on occasion due to the fact that it really doesn't care as much. It might sound tacky, but it's the nature of the sport.

    The Heat are going to pick their spots until late April arrives. Then you'll see them turn things up a notch.

    All of that said, you still have to expect their defense to get better as the season progresses.

    Stock: Up.

Milwaukee Bucks

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The Milwaukee Bucks have endured some hard luck so far, with key guys like Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, Luke Ridnour and Carlos Delfino missing considerable time with injuries, but it's not like the Bucks were going to be that good of a ballclub anyway.

    Take Sanders and company out of the equation, and you've got yourself a pretty bad team.

    The only things that interest me about Milwaukee this season are the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the progress of John Henson. Other than that, there really isn't much to look for on this squad, unless you're part of the Nate Wolters fanclub.

    So, yeah. The Bucks are pretty dull, much like their red road uniforms.

    Stock: Steady, as in steadily bad.

     

Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    Thanks to impeccable play by Kevin Love and a red-hot start by Kevin Martin, the Minnesota Timberwolves have come out of the gates fast.

    This is an offensive juggernaut right now, as the Timberwolves have virtually no weaknesses on that side of the floor. They have inside scoring, outside shooters and guys who can slash to the basket and get out in transition.

    Plus, Minnesota currently ranks fifth in defensive efficiency. Who would have expected that?

    Where the Wolves are hurting, however, is in bench production.

    Rick Adelman's group has one of the best starting lineups in the NBA, but just ask the 2012-13 Portland Trail Blazers about what a lack of a pine can do to you.

    The Blazers were in playoff contention all the way up until March, and then their lack of competent reserves finally caught up to them.

    Will the Timberwolves suffer the same fate? Maybe not, but it has to be concerning that J.J. Barea is really their only bench player who has given them anything so far. If they don't make a move to remedy this issue, Minnesota may find itself regretting it come April.

    Stock: Down.

New Orleans Pelicans

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    Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    For a team that was expected by many to contend for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, it's been a turbulent start for the New Orleans Pelicans.

    After looking very impressive in beating the Grizzlies and Lakers, the Pelicans proceeded to drop three in a row, giving the Utah Jazz their first win in the process.

    Anthony Davis has been spectacular, but the rest of the squad has been very inconsistent.

    You have to wonder if it was a mistake for New Orleans to acquire both Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans over the summer, as Evans simply looks out of place and without a role so far. He is clearly not comfortable coming off the bench.

    The good news is that Ryan Anderson is back from injury, and he looked outstanding in his return, draining six threes en route to 26 points.

    Plus, we do have to allow some time for the Pelicans to jell, as there are plenty of new faces here.

    Still, it's hard to imagine a scenario where the Eric Gordon/Holiday/Evans experiment works. It just seems like New Orleans has too much of a logjam at that spot.

    Stock: Steady.

New York Knicks

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    It hasn't been a very amicable time thus far at Madison Square Garden, to say the least.

    James Dolan is furious, Mike Woodson is under pressure, and Iman Shumpert's name is surfacing in trade rumors while he is apparently feuding with his coach, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. Oh, and let's not forget that Tyson Chandler is out with a fractured fibula.

    Clearly, the New York Knicks have seen better days.

    Fortunately, it is still very early, and this is a Knicks team that won 54 games a year ago.

    Yes, the defense is going to struggle mightily in Chandler's absence, but it's not like the big man is out for the season. All New York needs to do is stay afloat in a weak Eastern Conference until he returns to the hardwood, and it should be alright.

    It should also be interesting to see what kind of trade they could swing for Shumpert, if the Knicks do end up dealing him, that is.

    At ease, Knicks fans. It's November. The sky is not falling yet.

    Stock: Up.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    The Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the best one-two punches in the league with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but do they have enough to win a championship?

    Well, let's take a look.

    They don't have a reliable No. 3 scorer, they have little to no depth, and they still don't have a legitimate low-post threat.

    Not exactly a recipe to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy, is it?

    The Thunder will win plenty of games merely due to the fact that their tandem of Durant and Westbrook will be too much for opponents to handle on many nights, but how far is that going to get them come playoff time?

    I know Oklahoma City is the trendy pick to win the West this year, but I just don't see it. Not with the Spurs still going strong and the Warriors on the rise.

    The Thunder do have some trade assets in the way of Steven Adams, Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson, but are they going to want to pay another star? They didn't do it with James Harden, after all, and they also let Kevin Martin walk without replacing him.

    This is a good, consistent ballclub, but it just isn't strong enough to seriously contend for a title.

    Stock: Steady.

Orlando Magic

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    In a couple of years, no one is going to want to mess with the Orlando Magic. There is a ton of talent here, and you really have to admire the way they have rebounded after trading Dwight Howard.

    A lot of people feel like the Magic don't have a shot at making the playoffs this season and that they should tank, but I don't see it that way at all. Not in the Eastern Conference.

    Orlando has been playing very well thus far and owns wins over the likes of the Nets and the Clippers. Nikola Vucevic continues to be a double-double machine, Arron Afflalo is shooting the lights out, and VictoryOladipo's professional career is off to a very auspicious start.

    Let's also not forget that the Magic aren't even fully healthy at the moment. They are still waiting on Tobias Harris and Glen Davis to return, and whenever those two are ready to hit the floor again, they will make Orlando that much better and that much deeper.

    With expected playoff contenders like the Cavaliers, Pistons and Washington Wizards struggling, I see no reason why the Magic can't make the postseason. There really is a lot to like about this ballclub, and I'm personally excited to see how it progresses throughout the year.

    Orlando isn't tanking. It is going to contend for a playoff spot.

    Stock: Up.

Philadelphia 76ers

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    That 3-0 start feels like ages ago.

    The Philadelphia 76ers are gradually proving that they are who we thought they were, and their recent 135-98 loss to the Pelicans further solidifies that thought, the absence of Michael Carter-Williams notwithstanding.

    This is just not a good basketball team. They are last in points allowed, and they have about as much depth as a low-level high school squad.

    Yes, there have been some positive signs, particularly Carter-Williams' play and Tony Wroten displaying that the Grizzlies gave up on him way too soon (I still can't figure out why Memphis dumped him so early), but the fact of the matter is that the 76ers are much closer to being the worst team in the league than making the playoffs, regardless of what their current record shows.

    Expect their decline to continue.

    Stock: Down. Way down.

     

Phoenix Suns

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    Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

    That brings us to the West's version of the 76ers.

    The Phoenix Suns have managed to scrap together a few impressive wins early on, but that was nothing more than a mirage. This team is pretty bad.

    The good news is that Eric Bledsoe appears to be developing into the star that many expected, so at least the Suns have that to look forward to. As for Markieff Morris, it seems hard to believe that he can maintain his hot start, given the fact that he had been pretty, um, terrible prior to the first couple of weeks of this season.

    What Phoenix really should do is focus on trading Goran Dragic. A player like him could certainly be worth something to a contending team.

    Other than that, expect the Suns to earn a pretty nice draft pick.

    Stock: Down.

     

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Most of us anticipated that the Portland Trail Blazers would be a good team this season, but none of us thought they'd be this good.

    The Blazers look like world-beaters right now, winning eight of their first 10 contests and staking claim to the NBA's first victory over the Spurs.

    While they are probably playing a bit over their heads right now, Portland is certainly a playoff-caliber ballclub. Much like last year, it has one of the best starting fives in the league, but this time, it actually has a bench to support it.

    The additions of Mo Williams, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson have proven to be great pickups, and while the Blazers pine isn't spectacular, it's in significantly better shape than it was a year ago.

    Looking at Portland's first eight wins, though, you can't help but notice that all of them sans the win over San Antonio were partly the product of a weak early schedule. It has beaten the Sacramento Kings twice, and its other five triumphs have come against below .500 opponents.

    That being said, you can only play who is on your schedule, and most importantly, the Blazers are beating who they are supposed to beat.

    Still, expecting the Portland to play .800 basketball the rest of the way is a bit silly.

    Stock: Down.

Sacramento Kings

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    Every time you think the Sacramento Kings are going to improve, they remind you that they are still the Sacramento Kings.

    The Kings are off to another underwhelming start, with DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas the only two players on the team who have really shown much of anything thus far.

    In Sacramento's defense, it is missing a pretty big piece in Carl Landry, who will miss a good portion of the season due to hip surgery, but still, the Kings should be better than this.

    Even though I have gotten burned for believing in Sacramento in the past, I am going to stick with Mike Malone's club for now and say that it will raise its level of play.

    Cousins needs some help, though. Role players such as Marcus Thornton and Jason Thompson need to step up.

    Greivis Vasquez has been alright, but he can play better, as well.

    Stock: Up...reluctantly.

San Antonio Spurs

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    What can we really say about the San Antonio Spurs at this point?

    They are a well-oiled machine. People doubt them every year and proclaim that they are too old, but every year, the Spurs prove them wrong.

    It has been no different this season. So many seem to be on the Thunder or Clippers bandwagon, but Tim Duncan and company quietly keep winning and are showing that the Western Conference still runs through San Antonio.

    Not only are the Spurs the best team in the West, but they are the best team in the NBA, period, right now.

    Marco Belinelli is a great fit for this offense, Boris Diaw is deceptively awesome, and Patty Mills looks like he is becoming an integral part of the rotation.

    You have got to love the San Antonio Spurs.

    Stock: Steady, just like always.

Toronto Raptors

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    John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Spo

    Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan continue to be inefficient and Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas haven't taken the leap that many expected.

    That right there should tell you more than enough about why the Toronto Raptors have struggled out of the gate.

    Many felt that this could be a playoff team this season, but it certainly hasn't resembled that type of squad thus far.

    It's still early, so there is time for Gay and DeRozan to improve their shot selection and for Ross and Valanciunas to augment their games, but it just seems hard to believe in the Raptors after all of their years of futility.

    Also, can we expect Toronto's defense to keep playing this well? I'm not so sure.

    This is probably a 35-win team, which could be enough to make the postseason in the East. How sad is that?

    Stock: Steady.

Utah Jazz

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    The Utah Jazz are bad. No. They are awful, but you know what? That seems to be exactly what they want. Why else would they be giving guys like Richard Jefferson and John Lucas III major minutes?

    The good news for the Jazz is that Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors have been pretty darn solid up front, and that is absolutely huge for the future. Gordon Hayward has been alright, too, although he could serve to be a little more efficient.

    With that trio plus young guards like Alec Burks and Trey Burke, Utah isn't in as bad of shape for the long run as you may think. Add a potential No. 1 overall pick this summer into the equation, and you have a pretty nice nucleus to build upon.

    But as for this season? Right now? The Jazz are hard to watch.

    Stock: Steady, as in Andrew Wiggins, here we come.

Washington Wizards

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    The Washington Wizards' ineptitude has been a bit puzzling, especially considering how solid they looked upon John Wall's return last season.

    The numbers of their individual players aren't too shabby, either, although Wall continues to struggle with his shot selection.

    I'll maintain my original prediction that the Wizards are a playoff contender. There is too much talent here for them not to make a postseason push in the Eastern Conference.

    They just need Wall to dial it back a little bit.

    Plus, you have to be impressed with Bradley Beal, who is averaging over 20 points a contest. The kid has star potential.

    Beal and Wall should develop into a lethal backcourt tandem as the season progresses.

    Stock: Up.

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