- Grade: C+
Chicago is currently the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference and while their offense is abysmal (ranked 28th in offensive rating per 100 possessions), their defense is fantastic, something I wasn’t expecting. Even with guys who would be considered minus-defenders, the Bulls are ranked first in the league in opponent turnover percentage and steals per game. While I’m not the biggest fan of Sergeant Boylen, he’s got these young guys playing some active defense;he offense just needs to catch up, and maybe the return of Otto Porter will help space the floor out. Also, while they do a great job of creating turnovers, they do a good job of giving them up as well, ranking 25th in turnover percentage themselves. If they can cut down on the turnovers and just shoot the ball better, the Bulls should be able to turn things around and make the playoffs.
- Grade: D+
Cleveland is currently 10-22 and probably has the bleakest situation in the league. They are currently bottom-five in both offensive (26th) and defensive (29th) rating per 100 possessions, they show very poorly in all other advanced metrics except offensive rebounding percentage, and they think they are going to get value in a Kevin Love trade, which I mean we’ll see, but I doubt it. Once they trade Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, the rebuild can really begin, but as crazy as things are, they’re only four games out of the 8th seed. Why they get a D+ is because they need to get the ball rolling on this rebuild. This team needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. I don’t even really know who they consider keepers at this point, but let’s tear this down before you end up like the Pistons.
- Grade: D-
Speaking of the Detroit Pistons who are currently 12-21, I’m not even sure what they should do. They’re in a position where they have no choice but to try and contend because they’ve invested a lot of money in players who just haven’t lived up to expectations, most notably Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin. Both Jackson and Griffin have dealt with injuries this season, but they both have also just not played well. Other than getting healthy, I’m not sure how the Pistons get better; the problem is, it’s going to be hard to tear this down because the Blake Griffin contract is borderline-untradeable with the high cost and his injury history. One good thing you can point to is that they are good at shooting threes, ranking third in the league in percentage and fifth in effective field goal percentage. If they can build on that and get healthy, maybe they can get to a C+, but unless they somehow get 50 wins, a C+ might be their ceiling.
- Grade: B
I wish I could’ve given Indy an A because I love what they’ve been doing up till now, but they do have a few issues to address before they can be considered a dark horse contender in the East. For one, they don’t take nearly enough free throws or three-pointers, ranking 29th and 30th in both, respectively. Second, even though it should work (in theory), they need to decide on whether they want to keep Domantas Sabonis or Myles Turner. It’s a difficult decision that is above my pay grade, but if they can get a high-quality wing player out of a trade, they become a much better team. They also don’t know when Victor Oladipo is coming back. But on a more positive note, even with the lack of threes and free throws, they’re only slightly below-average on offense. Also, who thought with higher volume, Malcolm Brogdon would blow up like this? Hopefully, Oladipo can come back this season; his ability to get in the paint and draw fouls should help their offense.
- Grade: A+
Even with their Christmas Day slip-up, Milwaukee seems head-and-shoulders above every other team in the East. They’re currently 29-5, ranked top-three in both offensive (3rd) and defensive (1st) rating per 100 possessions, and have the highest point differential rating in the league; basically, they lead the league in everything positive. The most impressive stat to me is this: Milwaukee leads the league in both effective field goal percentage (0.561) and opponent effective field goal percentage (0.489). The A+ could easily turn into an A++ if Giannis can get that free throw percentage to around 70% from the 59.7% he’s currently at. Other than that, there isn’t much negative to say about the Bucks that would probably be considered nitpicking.