2011 NBA First Half Breakdown: Eastern Division
In the midst of the NFL playoffs, most people don't pay much attention to the NBA this time of year. It's easy to see why with the 82 game schedule and lack of national exposure. However, for me, this is the most attention I've ever paid to the NBA, probably because this is the first year I've had the NBA League Pass.
From being able to watch every team (except Memphis, which gets blacked out here even though I don't get most of their games), I have been able to make certain observations about teams I either never noticed or never had the chance to notice before. So, starting in the East, here's a small breakdown of every team at the half-way point in the season.
Record: 13-31 (13th in the East)
The Raptors have actually been better than I anticipated, which isn't saying much, considering I thought they were the worst team in the league. It still might be the least talented roster in the league, with no one outside maybe DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani being able to create their own shot.
I challenge any non-NBA fan to be able to name three Raptors off the top of their head. Jay Triano has been able to get the most out of his players, and they compete every night. However, this team is a long way away from seriously competing in the Eastern Conference.
Record: 33-10 (1st in East)
This year seems to be no different for the Celtics, with them once again getting off to a strong start. However, two weaknesses are apparent on this team. Behind Rajon Rondo, the point guard position is razor thin. The Celtics signed Delonte West to be Rondo's backup, but he got hurt early in the year, and now Nate Robinson is forced into the backup role. Nate's the kind of player I would never want to have to play because he's either hot or cold and shows it within the first few minutes he's on the court. If Rondo gets hurt, the Celtics are in trouble.
The other, not so noticeable weakness is center. When Kendrick Perkins comes back, it probably won't be an issue, but Shaquille O'Neal is a liability offensively and doesn't have much backing him up right now. Compared to the rest of the East, the Celtics are in fine shape.
New York Knicks
Record: 22-21 (6th in East)
The Knicks have slightly outperformed my expectations. I don't see any way they move from the six seed in the East. They're not catching the Hawks, and they are much better than the 76ers.
This team is like a vintage D'Antoni team: loads of offense, not much defense. That formula can get this team to the playoffs, but not far into them. Raymond Felton may be the surprise of the season thus far, playing at an All-Star level. If the Carmelo Anthony deal happens, their peak could grow much higher, but for now, Knicks fan should be happy to see their best team in many years.
New Jersey Nets
Record: 12-32 (14th in East)
The Nets have as many wins as they had all last season, but the team is still dreadful. Brook Lopez has fallen off dramatically, and they are full of average and decent players with low ceilings. The one player that has a high ceiling, Derrick Favors, doesn't get any playing time, which may mean his ceiling isn't as high as many thought on draft night.
The Carmelo deal would've helped, but with him they would only have been a fringe playoff candidate. The team is headed in the right direction and should be back in the playoffs in a year or two with a couple smart offseasons.
Record: 18-25 (7th in East)
Someone has two claim the last two playoff spots in the East, so why can't Philadelphia do it? Elton Brand finally looks alive for the first time since he arrived in Philly, and the young players around him have emerged, taking the load off Iguodala, who is great defensively but shouldn't be asked to shoulder the offensive burden.
The surprising part is how little Evan Turner has contributed to the team's success. Nonetheless, this team is on the rise with a very young nucleus that will only get better.
Record: 8-35 (15th in East)
Where to start.
Everyone expected a great drop after "The Decision", but did anyone expect the Cavs to be this bad? They have lost 16 straight games and have an average point differential of -11.4 per game, six points worse than any other team. That number is probably a bit inflated with the 55 point loss to the Lakers, but there's no arguing they are dreadful.
Rebuilding this team is a job I would not want to have. Cavalier fans are going to remember the LeBron James years as the glory days for a long time.
Record: 16-28 (11th in East)
The rebuilding job in Detroit is going to take a while. Almost everyone on their roster is either washed up or has reached their peak, Greg Monroe being the only obvious exception. The entire roster needs to blown up and infused with young talent. Detroit fans remember just three short years ago when the Pistons were in the Conference Finals every year and were upset with only one title. Getting back into title contention is a long ways off.
Record: 16-25 (T-9th in East)
The Pacers may finally end their playoff drought this year. The team has done a good job of drafting Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger, and Tyler Hansbrough in recent years. The trade for Darren Collison was one of the most unnoticed deals in the offseason which is paying off greatly for the Pacers. They're still a superstar away from contending for championships, but this could be a playoff team for years to come.
Record: 30-14 (3rd in East)
The Bulls emergence this season should come as no surprise. Derrick Rose keeps improving and needs to be talked about amongst the best point guard in the league. Their weakness last year was outside shooting, so naturally they bring in the best three point shooter from last year in Kyle Korver. It's hard to point out a weakness, especially once Joakim Noah returns. A run to the Finals is very possible this year, even with Boston and Miami in front of them.
Record: 16-25 (T-9th in East)
It's amazing that the worst scoring team in the league is almost in the playoffs. Their defense really has been great, but this is an offensive challenged team. Things could change once Brandon Jennings comes back, but there just aren't playmakers on the roster. John Salmons can shoot when open, but has difficulty creating his own shot. I've seen Andrew Bogut screw up too many times in crunch time to trust him with the ball. The Bucks should be in the playoffs and will probably take over the seventh seed by the time the season is over.
Record: 13-29 (12th in East)
Credit the Wizards for knowing when to start rebuilding. The process has begun with the addition of John Wall and subtraction of Gilbert Arenas. Nick Young and Andray Blatche have emerged as playmaking threats. Add another high draft pick next year and maybe the playoffs are in the not so distant future.
Crazy stat: 13-9 at home, 0-20 on the road. Unbelievable home-road split, but not totally shocking because the team is so young.
Record: 17-25 (8th in East)
This is the hardest team to write about in the East because I'm not sure what I would do if I was running the team. The seventh or eight seed is this team's peak, and blowing it up would be difficult to do, but it may be what needs to happen for them to get over the hump. Charlotte needs a real superstar to become an elite team. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are nice players, but definitely shouldn't be asked to carry a team far into the playoffs. Next offseason will be interesting to see which direction the team decides to head.
Record: 29-16 (5th in East)
The Hawks keep improving every year behind the nucleus of Joe Johnson, Al Horford, and Josh Smith. However, their record may not show the improvement because of the improvement at the top of the East. Atlanta is close to breaking through to the top of the East, but need a true center and young point guard to make that jump. There aren't many years left before the Hawks come back down to earth, so the rest of this season and offseason they should be in win-now-mode.
Record: 29-15 (4th in East)
The Magic have undergone the most change of any team from the beginning of the season until now, acquiring Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas and trading Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter. Orlando finally resembles the team they had two years ago when they surprised everyone with their finals run. They are extremely hard to guard and play very unconventionally, shooting a ton of threes. With a better point guard, the Magic could win the title.
Record: 31-13 (2nd in East)
It's hard to come up with analysis on the Heat that hasn't been said already. I still don't think they match up well enough with Boston to beat them in a seven game series. Mike Miller finally showed the world he can play against the Raptors. Now that the superstars have learned to play alongside one another, the championship could be in sight, but I don't believe this year will be their year. The Celtics may prove to Miami that chemistry beats talent. By next year, the Heat may have both, which could prove to be virtually unstoppable.