The Benchwarmer Report Card: November Grades for every NBA Team

november reportcard

One month in and its time to give out the first set of grades to each team. The grade is not based just on the team record, stand­ings and advanced met­rics, but many other fac­tors such as watch­a­bil­ity, inter­est value, expec­ta­tions and poten­tial for the remain­der of the sea­son. The teams are arranged alpha­bet­i­cally and not in any order of pref­er­ence or sig­nif­i­cance. The Bench­warmer Report card grades are not com­pa­ra­ble into any sort of nec­es­sary ‘power rank­ing’, but rather just in terms of what we could call ‘fan value’ – how rel­e­vant and inter­est­ing we find the team to the over­all NBA watch­ing experience.

 

1. Philadel­phia 76ers

Record: 6–12 | Grade: B+

For a team most experts pre­dicted would in singe digit games over an 82 game sea­son, start­ing 3–0 and win­ning 6 games in Novem­ber is a def­i­nite case of exceed­ing expec­ta­tions. What they lack in tal­ent and expe­ri­ence, they’re mak­ing up for by play­ing hard and fast, using thier youth and ath­leti­cism to their advan­tage. But one wor­ries if this early sea­son feel good story, in the larger his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive of the team, would be some­thing we look back upon with regret.  Specif­i­cally in term of its impact on the lot­tery posi­tion they secure in what looks to be a draft we could com­pare to 2003 and 96.

Player to watch: Evan Turner is finally start­ing to play like a no. 2 over­all pick. But is he look­ing good just bea­cause of the rel­a­tive lack of tal­ent  around him or is he finally devel­op­ing into a qual­ity player?

What we’d like to see: More of Spence just being Spence… dunk­ing on Dwight, hit­ting off-balance threes at crunch time and bring­ing the mul­let back again.

 

2. Char­lotte Bobcats

Record: 8–10 | Grade: C+

Save for a heart­break­ing loss to Miami, the lowly Bob­cats could have been sit­ting at a .500 record one month in. Even with Big Al, their pro­jected offen­sive cen­ter­piece, miss­ing most of the month. The defense is much improved and the East is so putrid that they could even make a run at the play­offs. But after so many sea­sons of utter mis­ery, is this really the time for them to move towards being  close to aver­age?  Spe­cially when that could come at the cost of los­ing out on the chance at acquir­ing fran­chise alter­ing tal­ent in next June’s draft.

Player to watch: Al Jef­fer­son brings a nice old school post-presence to this team oth­er­wise full of streaky shoot­ers. He could put up some nice num­bers if he stays healthy, and treat us to a nice col­lec­tion of drop steps, up and unders and baby hooks.

What we’d like to see: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist develop a jump­shot. Some one hire a shoot­ing coach! Now! Please!

 

3. Mil­wau­kee Bucks

Record: 3–13 | Grade: F

There’s just noth­ing worse than watch­ing a Bucks game this sea­son. OJ Mayo is prov­ing each night that he peaked in high school and can­not be an NBA level minor star. Larry Sanders is yet to play. With all the injuries and chang­ing rota­tions, it’s really hard to even care to fol­low this team right now. ‘Fear the Deer’ has a very dif­fer­ent mean­ing this sea­son. A high lot­tery pick may make up for all this mis­ery, but who really wants the league’s next super­star to end up in Milwaukee!

Player to watch: Bran­don Knight has the green light  and start­ing role. And though his back­court part­ner (Mayo) has dis­ap­pointed time and again, maybe we might see Knight develop into a qual­ity point guard.

What we’d like to see: Ersan Illyasova get on his usual hot streak where he spends a few weeks in a sea­son putting up ridicu­lous stat-sheet-stuffing num­bers that make every­one jump to the waiver wire to pick him up for their fan­tasy teams.

 

4. Chicago Bulls

Record: 7–9 | Grade: D

This was sup­posed to be their long awaited cham­pi­onship con­tention sea­son. And then they lost Der­rick Rose. Again. Sucks to be a Chicago fan right now. No amount watch­ing this under­manned team scrap for wins with Deng play­ing 49 min­utes a night can make it bet­ter. There are no more moral victories.

Player to watch: Luol Deng’s expir­ing con­tract. A key for Chicago, for the years going for­ward, is what they can do with Deng before the summer’s free agency, where they risk either let­ting him walk for noth­ing or over­pay­ing him and trap­ping valu­able cap space.

What we’d like to see: Chicago blow­ing the whole thing up. Rest­ing Noah and let­ting him start next year pain free. Amnesty­ing Boozer and let­ting Taj play major min­utes and develop a con­sis­tent offen­sive game by sheer trial and error. Trad­ing Deng for some more future pieces. And los­ing enough games to land a poten­tial star in the June Lot­tery to pair with what­ever ver­sion of Rose that comes back. Doubt Thibbs will let it hap­pen though.

 

5. Cleve­land Cavaliers

Record: 5–12 | Grade: C

Three things brought the Cavs up to a C from the D grade that hey truly deserve: 1. Kyrie’s flashes of bril­liance, even in what so far has been a down year. 2. Watch­ing Anthony Ben­nett work dil­li­gently towards steal­ing the crown of worst #1 pick ever from Kwame Brown. 3. Watch­ing Andrew Bynum sud­denly go for 20, 10 & 5 blocks against the Bulls. If Bynum can slowly grow back into a reli­able post pres­ence for this team, and that’s a huge IF, this team could finally be interesting.

Player to watch: Anthony Ben­nett. Its just com­i­cal how much he’s strug­gling right now. Will he finally break through or is he per­ma­nently scarred by this?

What we’d like to see: Andrew Bynum get­ting fully healthy and an upgrade at the wings.

 

6. Boston Celtics

Record: 7–12 | Grade: D

The Celtics, save for the Jeff Green’s game win­ner against the Heat, really haven’t done any­thing note­wor­thy this sea­son. They haven’t been good, they haven’t been hor­ri­ble. They’ve just gone about being the pro­toyp­i­cal los­ing team, incon­sis­tent on most nights, lay­ing out an unevent­ful sea­son. Rondo’s return could be inter­est­ing, specif­i­cally see­ing how he han­dles sud­denly being on a rebuild­ing team.

Player to watch: Jared Sullinger showed some flashes of poten­tial last year before he got hurt, and this year seems to have added a bit of three point range to his game as well. His devel­op­ment could be an inter­est­ing  part of in the Celtics’ rebuild­ing storyline.

What we’d like to see: Jeff Green play­ing two good games in a row.

 

7. Los Ange­les Clippers

Record: 12–6 | Grade: B+

The Clips have been good. Great offen­sively before Red­dick went down. Pretty hor­ri­ble defen­sively, let­ting teams like Mem­phis put on offes­nive clin­ics against them. Doc Rivers insists the defense will catch up with the O but they do not look like con­tenders right now. Too much of the offense is pred­i­cated on Chris Paul’s play­mak­ing. Blake still doesn’t have a go to offen­sive move he can use in crunch time. And DeAn­dre just doesn’t look like the start­ing cen­ter on a cham­pi­onship team. A few minor per­son­nel addi­tions and they could be dan­ger­ous come play­off time, but right now, they’re just more style than sub­stance. The style does make for some pretty enter­tain­ing bas­ket­ball though.

Player to watch: Chris Paul. Who else? (oh, and Jamal when he heats up)

What we’d like to see: Kevin Love play­ing here instead of Blake griffin.

 

8. Mem­phis Grizzlies

Record: 8–8 | Grade: C–

It’s sad to see the Griz­zlies on the decline so soon. It might sound pre­ma­ture, but this team, in its cur­rent con­struc­tion, peaked last year, mak­ing and get­ting swept in the Con­fer­ence Finals. Marc is great but he’s hurt. Z-Bo too. And aside from Franken-mike Miller, whose body could fall apart at any given moment, they really haven’t addressed their glar­ing weak­ness: three point shoot­ing. A lit­tle shot cre­ation from the wing would have been nice too, because (to para­phrase Ras Kass) if Jer­ryd Bay­less is the answer, then it was a stu­pid question.

Player to watch: Kosta Koufos could really develop while play­ing big min­utes till Marc returns. And that devel­op­ment could be pretty crit­i­cal down the stretch.

What we’d like to see: Some shoot­ing and floor spac­ing. Please!

 

9. Atlanta Hawks

Record: 9 – 10 | Grade: C

Is there any team in the NBA in the last few years that has been a bet­ter exam­ple of the per­pet­u­ally ‘aver­age’ team. They’re still mired in medi­oc­rity but Coach Budenholzer’s attempt to make them ‘Spurs East’ has the ball mov­ing and the offense look­ing a bit bet­ter than the Iso-Joe and Josh ‘settles-for-bad-shots’ Smith days.

Player to watch: Al Hor­ford has the chance to estab­lish this as his fran­chise, but not sure if he’s up to the task.

What we’d like to see: Paul Mill­sap get­ting moved to a con­tend­ing team where his blue col­lar do-everything game could really put some team over the top.

 

10. Miami Heat

Record: 14–3 | Grade: A–

Miami has looked great at times, and incon­sis­tent and dis­in­ter­ested at oth­ers. But they have dis­played their abil­ity to shift gears when needed, and when they do, they have looked like defend­ing 2 time champs. The weak­nesses in the inte­rior are still there, but Lebron looks more com­fort­able in his own skin than he’s ever been, and the old debate about wether this is Lebron’s or Wade’s team seems laugh­able at this point. Wade though, fresh of some seri­ous off­sea­son train­ing, is play­ing a per­fect Robin to James’ Bat­man. Guess that makes Bosh Alfred then. The Beasley pickup also has been a sneaky good move, and if being in an elite win­ning cul­ture can change his approach to the game (it seems like it might), he could be a huge con­trib­u­tor down the stretch, given his still untapped potential.

Player to watch: Michael Beasley’s devel­op­ment (finally!) could make this team even more intim­i­dat­ing, maybe even unbeat­able, come play­off time. But then again he could lose his head in a cru­cial moment and cost them a game or maybe even a series. Either way makes for riv­et­ing viewing.

What we’d like to see: Greg Oden actu­ally get­ting healthy and play­ing mean­ing­ful min­utes for the Heat this sea­son. If that hap­pens, we may as well hand them a third title. (It’s a long­shot and almost impos­si­ble, but can you imag­ine if it hap­pened. All the teams that thought going big was going to work against Miami would just have to waive the white flag and start again)

 

11. Utah Jazz

Record: 4–15 | Grade: D–

The return of Trey Burke has them play­ing a lit­tle bet­ter and even win­ning a few games.  They’ll still be heavy favorites for a L on any given night, but at least it makes them a lit­tle more watch­able… only a lit­tle. They still are among the two worst (and least watch­able) teams in the league. The evo­lu­tion of Der­rick Favors and Gor­don Hay­ward is not really worth the tor­ture of actu­ally watch­ing a Jazz Game. Spe­cially with a ros­ter fea­tur­ing the truly unin­spir­ing Mar­vin Williams and Richard Jef­fer­son. Maybe we can just tune in next year.

Player to watch: Just try not to watch… but if you really have to, Der­rick Favors hasn’t really bro­ken out yet, but it may hap­pen some­time this season.

What we’d like to see: The Jazz being demoted to the D-League for this season.

 

12. Sacra­mento Kings

Record: 4 – 11 | Grade: B–

Yes the Kings are strug­gling… again! But for the first time in years, it looks like the team is try­ing to work towards some­thing, there’s a sem­blance of an iden­tity emerg­ing. They’ve gone all-in on Boo­gie as the future of their fran­chise, and he’s been their undis­puted go-to guy in late game sit­u­a­tions. The Der­rick Williams acqui­si­tion could also end up being a steal. They’re man­ag­ing to com­pete in games, but lack the matu­rity and dis­ci­pline to win close ones yet. That will come with time, but after years of dys­func­tion, its promis­ing to see them have a direc­tion for all the poten­tial on their roster.

Player to watch: Der­rick Williams finally has the chance to get min­utes and touches and to jus­tify his no. 2 selec­tion. Still think he should be start­ing at the 4 though.

What we’d like to see: Jim­mer Fre­dette get­ting some con­sis­tent min­utes and get­ting the green light to come off the bench and just fire away. Free Jim­mer! Seri­ously. What do they have to lose?

 

13. New York Knicks

Record: 3 – 13 | Grade: D+

Knicks games have been unbear­able. They show flashes of what they could look like for a few min­utes when the ball moves and they chhoose to try on D. And then it’s more of the same. Bad body lan­guage. Lack of inter­est on D. Stag­nant Offense. Amar’e. But they do get some points for being one of those teams that keeps you watch­ing in dis­be­lief as they fall fur­ther and fur­ther. But real­is­ti­cally, it’s all chem­istry and a lack of iden­tity. The same pieces and healthy chan­dler could actu­ally be a pretty good team. Con­tenders maybe not, but a top 5 team in the east – def­i­nitely (maybe even now, despite the hole they’ve dug for themselves).

Player to watch: Amar’e Stoudemire. There is some­thing strangely per­verse in find­ing amuse­ment in watch­ing a once dom­i­nant player try to play the same way, obliv­i­ous of the fact that his body has com­pletely bro­ken down and skills have aban­doned him. Its truly comic. Tragic too though.

What we’d like to see: The Knicks finally play­ing hard, play­ing together, play­ing D and play­ing up to their poten­tial. Fat chance.

 

14. Los Ange­les Lakers

Record: 9 – 9 | Grade: A–

Hon­estly, who saw this com­ing. Truly the feel good story of the sea­son so far. A col­lec­tion of rag-tag mis­fits com­ing together and play­ing tremen­dous fast paced, high energy, team ball, for a coach whose sys­tem seemed more than bro­ken for the last few years. With Kobe out, Nash injured and Pau look­ing sev­eral steps too slow, who would have thought the rest of them would llok like this! Steve Blake look­ing like the other Steve, Wes­ley John­son show­ing the ath­leti­cism for peo­ple to say Mar­ion 2.o, Xavier finally jus­ti­fy­ing his high school hype, Far­mar look­ing much improved after his stint abroad & Swaggy P play­ing the per­fect ulti­mate irra­tional con­fi­dence fan favorite role. Play­ing at a reck­less pace, jack­ing 3s and run­ning at every oppor­tu­nity, this team seems to come into each game like per­pet­ual under­dogs with noth­ing to lose. Fun. Fast. Fran­tic. Must watch Basketball.

Player to watch: Kobe Bryant. There are so many ques­tions about his return. What will he have left? How will he fit in? What hap­pens to the care-free style when expec­ta­tions of win­ning come in?

What we’d like to see: Nash, Pau & Kobe finally healthy and buy­ing into this sys­tem and look­ing like a shock­ing dark horse come play­off time.

 

15. Orlando Magic

Record: 6–11 | Grade: B–

Loaded with young tal­ent and with the chance of adding more next year, the Orlando rebuild­ing project, or life Post-Dwight seems to going quite well. They’re bad but com­pet­i­tive. Their young tal­ent is grow­ing together. Afflalo is mak­ing a sur­pris­ing mid-career jump to bor­der­line all-star. And things can only get bet­ter, as soon they’ll have Tobias Har­ris back.

Player to watch: Vic­tor Oladipo is com­ing into his own quickly and emerg­ing as a legit ROY candidate.

What we’d like to see: Tobias Har­ris back from injury, play­ing like he was last year, con­tin­u­ing his break­out campaign.

 

16. Dal­las Mavericks

Record: 10–8 | Grade: B–

Dal­las has been ok. Bet­ter than expected, but noth­ing more than a com­pet­i­tive good team. Monta has been really good for them, play­ing the most effi­cient ball of his career, and Drik is hav­ing a nice bounce back year of his own, but this team really doesn’t look like it has the tal­ent to make any real noise in the play­offs. Given the stage in his career that Dirk is in, it’s sad to see years get­ting wasted not contending.

Player to watch: Dirk Now­itzki. He’s finally healthy and it would be inter­est­ing to see him round into his world beat­ing form from 2011.

What we’d like to see: Another star to push them into con­tender status.

 

17. Brook­lyn Nets

Record: 5–12 | Grade: D–

NO team had more hype com­ing into the sea­son, and no one has dis­ap­pointed more. It was the pre­fect sto­ry­line: The first time Coach back with his main fran­chise. 2 cham­pi­onship tested hall of famers.  An elite cen­ter and point guard. The AK47 coup. Joe John­son. A Deep bench. A win-at-all-costs bil­lion­aire owner. And  noth­ing has under­whelmed more. They’ve looked old, out of sync and com­pletely unspec­tac­u­lar. In all fair­ness, they’ve really not been healthy, but the depth should have counted for some­thing. It’s a long sea­son, and there’s time to still flip the script, but so far things look grim.

Player to watch: Deron Williams is play­ing for his legacy once he gets back. He hasn’t looked any­thing like the top-2 point guard he was in Utah, and if he can’t win with the tal­ent he’s been sur­rounded with now, then he never deserved to have been men­tioned in the same con­ver­sa­tion as Chris Paul… even if that was 5 years ago.

What we’d like to see: What this team would look like play­ing fully healthy and engaged. Given the state of the east, it’s still not too late for them to make an impact… maybe (just maybe) even contend.

 

18. Den­ver Nuggets

Record: 10–6 | Grade: B

After a slow start, the new Nuggets are start­ing to look just like the old Nuggets. Tremen­dous ros­ter depth. Uber-Athletic. Super­fast. But with a bit more half court depth and some new pieces. They aren’t as good as last year with Karl & Iggy, but law­son is still the motor that runs this show, and the speedy point guard is still run­ning fast as ever.

Player to watch: Pro­fes­sor Andre Miller. Because in the midst of the chaotic whirl­wind that is the Den­ver Offense, it’s amaz­ing to watch the age­less Miller use his delib­er­ate and crafty old-man game to school oppos­ing play­ers over and over.

What we’d like to see: Anthony Ran­dolph finally get­ting some min­utes and devel­op­ing into the player his effi­ciency rat­ing and advanced stats once sug­gested he could be. And what bet­ter sys­tem for a player like that than the Nuggets’.

 

19. Indi­ana Pacers

Record: 16–2 | Grade: A+

The best record in the league has the Pac­ers poised for an impres­sive sea­son. They have strength­ened their weak­nesses by adding key pieces to their bench. The return of Danny Granger is intrigu­ing. He could fit into a bench scor­ing role (it seems unlikely that he’ll dis­rupt team chem­istry) and add even more to an already elite team, or be used as a trade piece for  some more qual­ity tal­ent. Either way, they’re good and poten­tially will be get­ting even bet­ter. A dom­i­nant reg­u­lar sea­son fol­low­ing play­off dis­ap­point­ment isn’t unusual. Detroit won 64 games in 05–06 after los­ing in the 05 Finals. Dal­las won 67 games in 06–07 after their Finals melt­down against Miami in 06. Unfor­tu­nately both these teams flamed out in the play­offs. That’s the one con­cern with this team. Are they peak­ing too soon?

Player to watch: Paul George mak­ing the leap to cer­ti­fied super­star and poten­tial MVP can­di­date with­out even seem­ingly break­ing a sweat.

What we’d like to see: This team stay­ing healthy and not run­ning out of steam by the play­offs. This team was built to beat Miami, and it would be really tragic if health or luck played a fac­tor in not giv­ing them a fair chance to face them at full strength when it really matters.

 

20. New Orleans Pelicans

Record: 9–8 | Grade: B

The Pel­i­cans were worth the price of admis­sion sim­ply for Anthony Davis alone. But his injury just as they were finally find­ing a rhythm has been huge. Luck­ily hav­ing Ryan Ander­son back and play­ing the best ball of his career so far (he even drew a Larry Bird com­par­i­son the other day!) has soft­ened the blow. At full strength they could be a play­off team (it’s tough mak­ing the play­offs out West, even for good teams), but they will def­i­nitely be League Pass favorites.

Player to watch: Eric Gor­don still hasn’t played like the bud­ding star he was with the Clip­pers. Maybe now that he’s finally healthy, he can regain some of that dom­i­nant form.

What we’d like to see: The return of the Brow! & Tyreke finally devel­op­ing a jump shot. Aminu too.

 

21. Detroit Pistons

Record: 7–10 | Grade: B+

The super big front line exper­i­ment hasn’t really worked out the way Dumars thought it would. But there’s still time. And it’s a really intrigu­ing look, going com­pletely against the league wide trend of teams going small. They still have spac­ing issues, and some­one needs to tell Josh Smith that he’s not going to be the one to solve them, but just watch­ing them try­ing to make this over­sized mon­stros­ity of a front court work is rea­son enough to tune in. Spe­cially with Drum­mond already draw­ing com­par­isons to a young Dwight, com­plete with the hor­rid free throw shooting.

Player to watch: Bran­don Jen­nings has oppor­tu­nity and sup­port­ing tal­ent to estab­lish him­self as the team lead­ing point guard he always believed he was.

What we’d like to see: This team man­ag­ing to fig­ure out how to make the Drummond-Monroe-Smith front­line pun­ish teams inside con­sis­tently. And Josh Smith finally com­ing to terms with the fact that he really can’t shoot from 3 (but that will never happen).

 

22. Toronto Raptors

Record: 6–10 | Grade: D

Yes, they’re lead­ing the Atlantic Divi­sion right now,  have  the high­fly­ing attack of Gay, Derozan and Ross, but they still are impos­si­ble to watch and to really be inter­ested in. They are mind-numbingly aver­age and that’s the worst way to be for a bas­ket­ball team.

Player to watch: Jonas Valan­ci­u­nas showed seri­ous signs of growth in the sum­mer league, but hasn’t really man­aged to trans­late that into the sea­son. If the big Lithuan­ian man­ages to start dom­i­nat­ing inside, this team could war­rant the occa­sional view.

What we’d like to see: Rudy Gay finally lift­ing the locker room ban on stat sheets and accept­ing that his game so inef­fi­cient and anti­thet­i­cal to win­ning that the Griz­zlies actu­ally became bet­ter with­out him.

 

23. Hous­ton Rockets

Record: 13–6 | Grade: A

This team is loaded with tal­ent and (mostly) com­pli­men­tary pieces. Elite three point shoot­ing from mul­ti­ple play­ers and posi­tions and a tor­rid scor­ing pace make them dan­ger­ous and immensely watch­able. Dwight has looked only ok so far, but he has a long sea­son ahead to find his groove. A few more steps towards a more con­sis­tent defense and some minor per­son­nel changes and they could be look­ing like con­tenders by play­off time.

Player to watch: Chan­dler Par­sons is really the do-everything guy that keeps this team run­ning. It’s absurd to believe he was picked 38th in the 2011 draft – 38th! The Hous­ton scouts deserve a raise.

What we’d like to see: The stupid-obvious-inevitable Omer Asik for Ryan Ander­son trade.

 

24. San Antoino Spurs

Record: 15–3 | Grade: A+

No one has won more games against teams that are .500 or bet­ter. But the real story has been the con­ti­nu­ity. It’s like they never missed a beat despite the heart­break­ing finals loss, and they’re back with no lay­off to dom­i­nat­ing the league at an elite level. Even the games they’ve lost have been there for the tak­ing. The ball move­ment has been poetic & the Marco Bellinelli addi­tion was a great move, with the Marco & Manu con­nec­tion becom­ing some­thing to watch for in games.

Player to watch: Tim Dun­can. He’s strug­gled to start the sea­son, but he’s start­ing to find his groove, with the 20–20 game (includ­ing game win­ner) he pulled out against the Hawks. And hon­estly, we should enjoy as many more sea­sons of the big fun­da­men­tal as we are lucky to get.

What we’d like to see: This team stay­ing healthy and finally win­ning the title that could have eas­ily been theirs either of the last two years as well.

 

25. Phoenix Suns

Record: 9–8 | Grade: B+

Phoenix was sup­posed to hor­ri­ble this year. And sud­denly coach Hor­nacek has them play­ing defense in desert, com­pet­ing to end in almost every game and sur­pris­ing the whole league. The Dragic / Beld­soe 2-point-guard back­court has been strong (even though they’ve both been injured at dif­fer­ent times so haven’t played all that much together). Plum­lee has been a pleas­ant sur­prise at cen­ter. & Chan­ning Frye is play­ing like it’s 2010.

Player to watch: Eric Bled­soe aka Baby Lebron aka the Tas­man­ian Devil has finally been let off the leash and has his own team to run.

What we’d like to see:  More 2 point guard line­ups across the league.

 

26. Okla­homa City Thunder

Record: 12–3 | Grade: A

The early return of Rus­sell West­brook has the Thun­der look­ing like con­tenders again. The loss of James Harden and then Kevin Mar­tin has been com­pen­sated by the emer­gence of an intrigu­ing young bench which should only get bet­ter as the sea­son pro­gresses. And Durant seems to be embrac­ing his role as team leader and game changer using all aspects of the game, not just his elite scor­ing abil­ity. I still feel that flip­ping Perkins for an upgrade (Omer Asik any­one?) is still essen­tial for them to be legit­i­mate title threats.

Player to watch: Steven Adams has showed flashes of poten­tial at the 5 and if he can give them con­sis­tent min­utes, he could play a huge role in their suc­cess come play­off time.

What we’d like to see:  The Thun­der play­ing Golden State every night.

 

27. Min­nesota Timberwolves

Record: 9–10 | Grade: A–

They’ve played a lot bet­ter than their record indi­cates and this team looks like it was built for Adelman’s offense. Kevin Mar­tin is back to his super effi­cient high scor­ing ways. Pekovic is using his expe­ri­ence in bat­tling Super­man to mus­cle his way in the paint. Rubio is tak­ing offenses apart his sub­lime pass­ing skills. And Mr. Love is back to putting up video game num­bers and the Love-Brewer out­let pass fast­break is already becom­ing a thing of legend.

Player to watch: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute could give them the ver­sa­tile defen­sive stop­per they need to become an elite team.

What we’d like to see:  Rubio learn­ing to shoot and score a bit more.

 

28. Port­land Trailblazers

Record: 15–3 | Grade: A+

The Blaz­ers have been the most sur­pris­ing team so far. They’ve jumped straight from lot­tery team with poten­tial to near-contender in one off-season. The young tal­ent is mesh­ing beau­ti­fully, they’ve added great pieces to their bench, and they have the ver­sa­til­ity to play inside and out, big and small. The ana­lyt­ics obsessed coach­ing staff even has them play­ing qual­ity D, which looked truly elite in their win against Indiana.

Player to watch: LaMar­cus Aldrige is play­ing like the best power for­ward in the League, steady, con­sis­tent, and unstop­pable inside and from mid-range.

What we’d like to see:  Wes­ley Matthews keep­ing up his career best level of play for the entire season.

 

29. Golden State Warriors

Record: 10–8 | Grade: A–

The War­riors have been really good but the sched­ule has been tough and the loss of Iggy has hurt them. But they’ve improved from the team that put a scare into San Anto­nio in last year’s play­offs, and with the best shoot­ing back­court in the league, they can put points on the board in a hurry. And with the rapid devel­op­ment of Har­ri­son Barnes, the offen­sive fire­power on this team is just unfair.

Player to watch: Steph Curry for three! ‘Nuff said!

What we’d like to see:  Curry’s ankle issues being a thing of the dis­tant past.

 

30. Wash­ing­ton Wizards

Record: 9–9 | Grade: B

The Wiz­ards are finally play­ing like a play­off team, not a dom­i­nant team, but at least a play­off team.  Nene has been bril­liant in flashes. Wall looks like he may finally be ‘mak­ing the leap’ and till before his injury, Bradley Beal looked like he was about to do it too. Its been a long time since DC had a mean­ing­ful bas­ket­ball team, but this team is finally giv­ing them some­thing to cheer for.

Player to watch: John Wall try­ing to play up to his self pro­claimed ‘best point-guard in the league’ title.

What we’d like to see:  Bradley Beal return­ing to his break­out form when he comes back from injury.

Dev Kabir Malik has a clinically alarming dependence on basketball and spends most of his time watching, analyzing, writing and even playing a little pickup (and some 2K too). In the little time he has left, he dabbles with design, art & music.