Despite the challenges of game postponements due to the pandemic and COVID-19 cases, the NBA has reached the midpoint of the 2020–21 regular season.
Each team has had a unique experience thus far, with squads such as the Wizards and Grizzlies having been impacted by COVID-19 more than most. Meanwhile, the Raptors have had to find their footing in their transplant home for the year in Tampa.
Though challenging, the year has been an entertaining one on the court with blockbuster trades and surprise teams emerging as contenders. Taking into consideration preseason expectations and in-season hurdles, this is a look at the grade each team has earned at the midpoint of the season.
Atlanta Hawks: D-
The Hawks have been in a recent state of disarray that culminated in the firing of coach Lloyd Pierce. An offseason highlighted by with multiple veteran signings, along with a 10–9 start to the year, provided early promise, but injuries to Kris Dunn, Bogdan Bogdanović and Danilo Gallinari have prevented the Hawks from having a consistent, healthy roster. The team will have an opportunity to revive its season under interim coach Nate McMillan, but Atlanta’s recent losing stretch has been cause for frustration as it sits in 11th in the East.
Boston Celtics: C
The Celtics have underperformed thus far after entering the season with expectations to build on their contender status in the East. Though Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are each averaging 25 points per game, the supporting cast has been lacking as veterans Kemba Walker, Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson have been inconsistent and Marcus Smart has been injured. Boston so far has been unfit to challenge the top teams in the East but will have a chance to separate itself in the second half of the season.
Brooklyn Nets: A
The Nets threw their chips on the table in trading for James Harden, but the deal has so far proven to be a steal. Not only has Harden been a high-level scorer and facilitator, but he has also helped keep Brooklyn afloat as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have missed games due to injury and health and safety protocols. The full Nets rotation has been clicking as of late, and a more consistent defensive effort will keep the team at the forefront of the NBA championship conversation.
Charlotte Hornets: B
Charlotte has been one of the top surprises of the NBA season as it has fought its way into the playoff conversation. Gordon Hayward is having his best season since being named an All-Star in 2016–17 while LaMelo Ball has added excitement at point guard in his rookie year. The Hornets will be a team to watch in the second half as they attempt to clinch their first playoff berth since 2015–16.
Chicago Bulls: B-
The Bulls are in the thick of the crowded bottom half of the East after going 8–6 in February, the team’s best month in over three years. Zach LaVine has been leading the way for Chicago in his first All-Star season and ranks seventh in the NBA in points per game (28.5). The Bulls have themselves in a good position to challenge for a playoff berth but will need improvement on the defensive end.
Cleveland Cavaliers: C-
It’s been an up-and-down season for the Cavaliers, who were involved in the four-team deal that sent Harden to Brooklyn. Cleveland was a winner in the trade after acquiring rising big man Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince while the team works to move on from Andre Drummond. The Cavaliers are not expected to contend this year, but they have shown flashes of success with the new lineup and may potentially benefit from Kevin Love’s return in the second half of the season.
Dallas Mavericks: C+
The Mavericks have recently been making up lost ground after an 8–13 start to the year. Kristaps Porzingis has missed time due to surgery recovery and other lingering injuries while Luka Dončić has kept the team grounded with his second straight All-Star season. Supporting stars like Tim Hardaway and Jalen Brunson have aided in the team’s recent boost and will need to continue their hot streaks if the Mavericks want to earn their way into playoff contention in a crowded Western Conference.
Denver Nuggets: B
Nikola Jokić’s case for MVP continues to grow as he is on the verge of averaging a triple double at the halfway point of the season. Still, the Nuggets have yet to stand out as a contender in the West as they stand at seventh with a 20–15 record. Denver has the offensive firepower and an MVP candidate on its side, but it will need to be more consistent and continue recent momentum if it wants to be considered among the elite in the West.
Detroit Pistons: D-
It has been a rough year for the Pistons, who find themselves at the bottom of the East with a 10–25 record. Though Jerami Grant is having a breakout season, Detroit’s lack of an additional volume scorer continues to be exposed as the team deals with injuries and works to trade Blake Griffin. The Pistons have a win against the Nets to hang their hats on, but not much else to celebrate at the halfway point of the regular season.
Golden State Warriors: B+
The Warriors have answered the call this season despite being shorthanded without Klay Thompson. Stephen Curry has proven he can lead a team without an All-Star supporting cast as he stands fourth in the league in points per game (29.5). The team is currently hanging onto the eighth seed in the West but may be on a path for a play-in tournament berth come May.
Houston Rockets: D-
The Rockets showed brief success following Harden’s departure, but that was short-lived as the team has dealt with injuries, particularly to Christian Wood. Now, Houston enters the All-Star break on a 13-game losing streak, the longest in the NBA. John Wall is averaging 20.4 points and 6.1 assists in his first season in Houston, but the team’s league-worst three-point shooting is not helping matters as the Rockets sink in the Western Conference standings.
Indiana Pacers: C
The Pacers find themselves outside the playoff picture at the halfway point of the season. After losing T.J. Warren to foot surgery and trading Victor Oladipo, the team has yet to pick up from its fourth-place finish in the East last year. Indiana could benefit in the second half if Caris LeVert makes his debut after undergoing kidney cancer surgery following the trade.
Los Angeles Clippers: A-
The Clippers have looked more like the Western Conference threat that they fell short of being last season. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have led one of the top offenses in the NBA while also anchoring one of the best defenses. The team has tough competition atop the Western Conference, but its chemistry has propelled it during a solid first half of the season.
Los Angeles Lakers: B+
The Lakers and Heat had the quickest turnaround from last season, and Anthony Davis’s strained Achilles headlines the list of injuries L.A. has dealt with so far. Those factors have combined to put the Lakers in a recent slump, but LeBron James’s MVP-caliber season is keeping the Lakers competitive in a strong Western Conference. It will be interesting to see if the Lakers add more pieces to help bolster their rotation in the second half of the year.
Memphis Grizzlies: B-
The Grizzlies’ young roster finds itself outside the playoff picture midway through the season. Anchored by Ja Morant and Jonas Valančiūnas, Memphis’s defense has been among the best in the league. The Grizzlies had a few games postponed due to health and safety protocol and may become dangerous come the postseason if they improve their inconsistent shooting.
Miami Heat: C+
The Heat ended the first half of their season with a bit of resurgence after a lackluster start plagued by injuries. The reigning Eastern Conference champions have especially struggled offensively as Jimmy Butler has often been sidelined. Miami has worked its way back into the playoff picture as Bam Adebayo anchors the team’s defense, but it will be challenged in fending off teams in a crowded middle of the conference.
Milwaukee Bucks: B
After establishing their place atop the Eastern Conference in the regular season over the past few years, the Bucks have found themselves with competition this year. Milwaukee trails both the 76ers and Nets at the halfway point as the team’s defense has taken a drop since last season. Giannis Antetokounmpo stepped up in the team’s recent five-game winning streak, but the Bucks have their work cut out for them atop the East this season.
Minnesota Timberwolves: F
There has not been much positive to take out of the Timberwolves’ first half of the season. Outside the league-worst record, the team was without Karl-Anthony Towns for an extended period due to COVID-19, D’Angelo Russell has missed time due to knee surgery and coach Ryan Saunders was fired in February. Minnesota can hope for Towns and Russell to spend more time together on the court to try to make some progress this season.
New Orleans Pelicans: C
The Pelicans have shown a fight in the first half of the season despite being among the worst defensive teams in the league. Particularly, Zion Williamson has been must-watch TV as he puts up averages of 25.5 points and 7.2 rebounds in his sophomore season. New Orleans has struggled on the road and currently stands out of the playoff picture, but if the Pelicans can match their defense to their offense, they have the talent to make a move.
New York Knicks: B+
The Knicks get the nod for the biggest surprise of the year thus far. They find themselves just three games away from matching their win total from last season (21) as coach Tom Thibodeau has the Knicks’ defense operating among the best in the league. Julius Randle has propelled the team during his All-Star season and has helped get the Knicks on track for a potential first playoff appearance in eight years.
Oklahoma City Thunder: C-
The bright spot of the Thunder’s first half of the season has been Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is coming into his own in his third year in the NBA. The Thunder find themselves outside the playoff picture after finishing fifth in last year’s standings, but the drop-off was to be expected without Chris Paul, Dennis Schröder and Danilo Gallinari. The team has lacked on the offensive end, but Gilgeous-Alexander has been fun to watch and has kept the team afloat.
Orlando Magic: D
Nikola Vučević is having an All-Star season in Orlando, but the Magic find themselves second-to-last in the East after a first-half full of injuries and poor offense. Besides losing Markelle Fultz for the year with a torn ACL, Orlando has also been without Aaron Gordon and Cole Anthony with separate injuries. Vučević has been a bright spot in a tough season, and perhaps the Magic’s offense will receive a boost once more players can return to the court.
Philadelphia 76ers: A
The 76ers have relied on their strong starting rotation to hold their place atop the Eastern Conference halfway through the season so far. Joel Embiid has led the way with his MVP- and Defensive Player of the Year–caliber season while Seth Curry has provided a much-needed three-point threat. Doc Rivers has found great chemistry in his squad, but the Nets are knocking on Philly’s door a half-game back, so the battle between the two in the second half of the season should be fun to watch.
Phoenix Suns: A
The Suns’ young and veteran talent have provided a great balance that have stood out in a strong Western Conference. Devin Booker and Chris Paul have led the team with All-Star seasons while Phoenix has been among the top in the league on the defensive end. No team in the West is close to matching the Jazz, but the Suns are doing their best to not only clinch their first playoff berth in 11 years but upset top competition come the postseason.
Portland Trail Blazers: B
The Blazers have maintained one of the top offenses in the league despite CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic’s extended absences due to injury. While Damian Lillard is third in the NBA in points per game (29.6), Gary Trent and Carmelo Anthony have each held key roles in the rotation to remain competitive in the West. Portland still has work to do on defense as it ranks among the worst in the league.
Sacramento Kings: D
The Kings are entering the All-Star break in yet another losing slump. Though the team has strong shooters in De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes, Sacramento has struggled mightily while sporting the worst defense in the league. Luke Walton’s job may be on the line if the team fails to improve in the second half of the season.
San Antonio Spurs: B+
The Spurs are back to their winning ways. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, DeMar DeRozan has expanded his game as the team’s top facilitator to lead the Spurs into playoff contention. San Antonio seems to be motivated after missing last year’s playoffs, and the team’s first-half performance shows promise for the rest of the year behind strong defense.
Toronto Raptors: B-
The Raptors have had the extra challenges of adjusting to their home for the season in Tampa and most recently had multiple coach and player absences due to health and safety protocols. Despite the obstacles, Toronto has picked up consistency as of late behind Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam. The team has the potential to gain more momentum in the second half of the season but currently finds itself in the last playoff spot in the East.
Utah Jazz: A
The Jazz had a red-hot start to the year but have slowed down heading into the All-Star break. Though they have lost four of their last 10 games, the Jazz have proven their balanced attack behind the hot offense of Donovan Mitchell and top defense of Rudy Gobert. Quin Snyder has so far been deserving of the Coach of the Year award, and it will be interesting to see the Jazz compete against top talent in the West during the second half of the season.
Washington Wizards: C
The Wizards have begun to turn around their season after starting the year losing 12 of their first 15 games. Though Russell Westbrook has struggled, Bradley Beal has performed among the best in the NBA while averaging a league-high 32.9 points per game. The Wizards also had to deal with multiple game postponements due to health and safety protocols but have shown renewed potential after winning seven of their last 10 games heading into the All-Star break.