- Grade: A
Boston has played very well up until now, even with a glaring weakness at the center position and injury issues with Gordon Hayward. Currently 20-7, Boston ranks in the top five in both offensive (5th) and defensive (3rd) rating per 100 possessions. And while Kemba isn’t Kyrie, Kemba has proven himself to be the perfect fit to lead this team, most notably his effect on Jaylen Brown, who has taken a significant leap in production and should play in the All-Star game in February. Due to their salary cap structure, it will be difficult to make any upgrades without trading Marcus Smart or Gordon Hayward, so this might be the team they have come playoff time. But if they can keep their chemistry strong and somehow avoid the 76ers, who seem like they are the Celtics’ “Achilles’ Heel,” then Boston could find a way to sneak into the NBA Finals.
- Grade: B-
I’ll give credit to Brooklyn for keeping things afloat with Caris LeVert and Kyrie Irving being injured most of the season. Spencer Dinwiddie is making a case to be an All-Star and Jarrett Allen has made a mini-leap since last season. My problem with the Nets is that 1) their offensive rating, which they’re currently ranked 19th in the league for, has had to rely heavily on Dinwiddie. I’m not saying Spencer can’t do it, but it’s really difficult to only have one person on the team that can create their own shot — just ask Donovan Mitchell; and 2) if you have a limited offense, then your defense needs to be absolutely stellar to consistently win games. The defense is only ranked 13th in defensive rating per 100 possessions, which isn’t horrible but won’t cut it. The good news for the Nets is that Caris and Kyrie will eventually return from injury this season, which should give the offense a boost. Oh, and there’s a 7-foot offensive monster on their bench that will make them an instant title contender next season.
New York Knicks
- Grade: Early Drop
I’ll preface the next few sentences with this: The Knick may very well decide not to be sellers at the deadline and make an unprecedented run at the playoffs. They are only six games out of the 8th seed with 51 games left in the season. Should the Knicks decide against trading guys away for future assets, we could very well see the ugliest playoff series between the Knicks and the Bucks that’s ever been on television (maybe they’ll tape delay it). With all that being said, the Knicks have been really bad so far. They’re ranked in the bottom-five in points per game (last), offensive rating per 100 possessions (27th) and defensive rating per 100 possessions (28th). In terms of winning games, it may not get any better this season. But with a good amount of draft capital and at least R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson as good young players, the Knicks have a chance to be good in the distant future.
- Grade: B
Philly has been the most difficult team to evaluate. One night, their defense is strangling someone to death and they hit enough shots to look like a title contender. The next night, they can’t make any shots and they eventually give up enough points to the other team to lose. Here’s an interesting question: has Ben Simmons regressed offensively? Can he be the best or second-best player on a championship contender? Only time will tell, but if you’re Philly and you’re all-in salary cap-wise when do you consider trading for a player that better fits with Joel? Or if you like Ben more, a player that fits better with Ben? Even though they are currently 12 games over .500 and rank in the top half of the league in both offensive (12th) and defensive (6th) rating per 100 possessions, I have to give them a B because there are still so many questions about them that need to be answered and your team can only go so far if Furkan Korkmaz is your best three-point shooter.
- Grade: A
I’ll repeat what I said in the previous Progress Report about the Raptors: go play with them on 2K. It will open your eyes. They’ve had a lot of injuries: the only player to play in all thirty games this season is Terence Davis. Their offense is pretty pedestrian as well; advanced metrics show that they are in-between average and above average. What makes me give Toronto an A up until now is their defense. They hold teams to a 49% effective field goal percentage, ranked second in the league. They also do a good job at creating turnovers, forcing 16.4 per game, which ranks fourth in the league. Those turnovers result in the Raptors averaging 19.3 fast break points per game, first in the league. Defensive prowess like that makes it so that even if guys miss games, Toronto is always in it. We’ll see going forward if they decide to become sellers before the trade deadline, but right now, Toronto deserves an A and should be looked to, along with Boston, as dark horse candidates to make it to the NBA Finals.