The Hawks are a middling East team for a second straight season and should win 35-40 games and be somewhere seventh to 10th in the conference. Trae Young is playing quite poor despite his lofty stats. He has some big-time assist numbers – second in the NBA -, but his efficiency in terms of scoring the ball is pathetic, basically replacement level.
Dejounte Murray has been excellent, averaging 22 points on very efficient shooting, while providing solid playmaking numbers. He’s taken the role as the star of the team.
Regardless, De’Andre Hunter, Clint Capela, Saddiq Bey, Bojan Bogdanovic and Onyeka Okongwu are playing very similarly to their normal selves, but young forward Jalen Johnson has taken a big jump. The Hawks can’t win with Young being so inefficient.
The Celtics are the class of the East, and right now it’s not very close. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday can be all-stars, and Derrick White has been excellent at guard.
Boston’s starting five is incredible, but has some issues on the bench, although things are looking brighter there than they were in the beginning of the season. Losing Grant Williams, Robert Williams and Malcolm Brogdon ruined Boston’s depth, but Sam Hauser, Al Horford and Payton Pritchard are gelling, although the club needs a pure scorer off the bench.
The Nets just cannot stay healthy. Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton missed games early, then No. 1 scorer Cam Thomas got hurt, and next was Ben Simmons. Brooklyn has a lot of interesting pieces, and the team has several young potential stars to build around: Mikal Bridges, Cam Thomas, Ben Simmons, Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton. If healthy, the Nets are capable of winning 50 games, but they aren’t capable of that.
The Hornets started this season with an obvious tone of developing their potential all-star duo of LaMelo Ball and Brandon Miller. Ball should be an all-star this season, and Miller is third among rookies in points and is developing. Mark Williams, meanwhile, has turned into a franchise center, which is excellent, and there are a number of veterans having big seasons.
The wins may not be there for Charlotte, but with Williams, Ball, Miller and P.J. Washington, the team has proven to have quite a strong foundation.
The Bulls are a mess and very likely about to have a fire-sale, including franchise anchors Zach Lavine and DeMar DeRozan alongside ace role player Alex Caruso. On the court, Chicago is pathetic, although point guard Coby White has been excellent and is likely a 20-point scorer.
As for the rest of the team’s young talent, Patrick Williams looked lost, but has improved, and it’s too soon to say very much about Dalen Terry and Julian Phillips.
The Bulls should trade DeRozan to the Knicks for R.J. Barrett, Lavine to the Lakers for Austin Reaves and pieces, and Caruso to whatever team that will give them the most draft selections.
Scoring more than 27 points a game, franchise player Donovan Mitchell is giving the Cavaliers what they wanted when they traded for him, but the rest of the team has to help him. Darius Garland is averaging fewer points and assists this season, and the all-star point guard has to improve. Third-year big man Evan Mobley is an excellent defender, and he has taken a jump, but as I have said many times, he needs to be a 20-10 big for the Cavaliers to thrive. They are the same team they just were.
The Pistons’ record is poor, but Monty Williams has been a massive plus to this young team. Cade Cunningham is playing like an all-star; Jalen Duren is looking like a franchise center; Ausar Thompson and Marcus Sasser have made their mark – more so Thompson – as rookies.
Williams has obviously helped in player development already, and Detroit has a special roster of young talent, but right now, the team is not impressive.
The Pacers are scoring an incredible 128 points a game and averaging a ridiculous 27-12. All-star point guard Tyrese Haliburton is currently in the MVP race as well. Indiana really is lacking a true second guy, and although Bennedict Mathurin was assumed to be that guy, he has struggled in his second season. The Pacers’ two starting forwards, Obi Toppin and Bruce Brown, have played well as have veteran trade chips Myles Turner and Buddy Hield; their depth is special.
The Pacers have the pieces to make the playoffs now, the talent to continue development, and the assets to make some big-time trades to improve.
After a slow start to the season, the Heat are once again a strong second-tier playoff team. Tyler Herro was a star to start the season, but again is hurt. However, the Heat are thriving while missing him. Bam Adebayo is playing like an All-NBA big man and having his biggest season to date. Jimmy Butler is his normal two-way superstar self, but the secondary help has been pretty ridiculous. Miami’s role players are elite, and rookie Jamie Jacquez is having one of the bigger rookie seasons. The Heat way and culture is that of the Tim Duncan Spurs.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is still the No. 1 player in the world – defense matters people -, and the Bucks have the NBA’s No. 1 duo, but the Bucks still are working on gelling as a roster, and obviously losing Jrue Holiday hurt their defense. The Malik Beasley signing has been excellent and was an incredible value signing, but after Boston, Milwaukee is the East’s biggest threat to Denver.
New York Knicks
So, the Knicks are again mired in mediocrity. It makes sense considering they made no moves to actually improve the team apart from spending $100 million on two former Villanova Wildcats, Josh Hart and Donte DiVincenzo. Those guys are solid, but they won’t move the needle. There are several fine players on the team, but again it’s about the formerly called Big Three. Jalen Brunson is an all-star, but R.J. Barrett has peaked as a third option, and Julius Randle is a big who is shooting 41% from the floor. Yeah, the Knicks will probably make the playoffs, but meh.
The Magic are the hottest team in the NBA, winning nine straight games, and have been the biggest surprise thus far, standing second in the Easter Conference. Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero are both averaging around 20 points per game; Cole Anthony has greatly improved his shooting from beyond the arc; Jalen Suggs has grown into a relentless defender with offensive skills; and their big man duo of Goga Bitadze and Jonathan Isaac has filled in for the injured Wendell Carter Jr. incredibly well, with both averaging over a block and a half per game. The development Orlando’s young talent has shown is beyond all expectations and is a great compliment to coach Jamahl Mosley.
The 76ers will receive the only A+ in the West or East, as they traded James Harden for scraps, but are a superior team. Tyrese Maxey has become special and is a 30-point scorer, and last season’s MVP, Joel Embiid, might be second to Nikola Jokic this season. Maxey’s jump means Embiid will likely be happy in Philadelphia long-term, which is also huge. That alone gives the 76ers an A, but what makes this season special is a deep veteran team that realistically looks like a title contender.
Obviously, you want Tobias Harris to be a 20-point scorer, but he is what he is at this point and, although overpaid, is a string starter. De’Anthony Melton has taken a nice jump as well and is an elite shooter and simply an ace role player. With Marcus Morris, Patrick Beverley, Nicolas Batum and more, the 76ers appear to be a potential East contender.
The Raptors started slowly but are playing well and are basically a .500 team. Scottie Barnes has had an excellent start and might just be their No. 1 player, although Pascal Siakam is still excellent himself.
Dennis Schroder is having a big season after his international MVP play, and O.G. Anunoby is continuing the play that has him wanted by most of the NBA. Toronto has some nice role players, but you really want more from rookie Gradey Dick, who seemed poised for a solid rookie season. The team’s young talent is solid, but they are not playoff contenders.
Well, we thought the Wizards wouldn’t be much, and it seems that’s the truth; they are pathetic. Kyle Kuzma has been excellent as the first option, although there is literally zero reasons why an expensive, in his prime, 25-point scorer should be on a team like Washington. The second “star” Jordan Poole was thought to average around 25 points a game, but it’s a lot less than that; he’s been pathetic.
As for players not Poole or rookie Bilal Coulibaly, they should mostly be for sale, although you can possibly hold onto Corey Kispert and Deni Avdija. Kispert is a big-time shooter and Avdija has improved in a huge way, becoming a versatile, strong starter. Poole is young and very talented, so trading him for little would be a mistake. Coulibaly is a massive talent, so he should stay as well.
The Wizards are almost having a waste of a season, but if they can properly develop their young guys, it will at least have mattered.