It is already the quarter season mark for the league and NBA rankings are becoming more and more discussed. Here are the NBA quarterly grades for each team! For some teams, the season’s goal is a championship. For others, a high draft pick would make the team very happy. Some fans would just be proud of their team for making the playoffs, while others expect a conference finals appearance.
In a season full of injuries and missing players, it is hard to rank these teams based on their healthy output. For that, some of these rankings may seem harsh, purely due to the team having a lot of injuries or COVID-related absences.
My NBA rankings are based on teams that are simply performing exceptionally, teams over or under performing their expectations, teams that are doing about as expected and teams that have simply been poor. While power rankings measure how good the teams are compared to their competitors, here’s how the teams are graded based on their own expectations.
The 76ers currently sit at the top of the East and atop our NBA rankings. Joel Embiid looks like an MVP.
That’s a tough + one from @JoelEmbiid.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 5, 2021
Despite a recent loss to the Blazers, General Manager Daryl Morey and Head Coach Doc Rivers’ new look 76ers is a team to fear in the East. The 76ers currently are the fourth best team in the league record wise and boast a top five defense. If they can manage to stay healthy, the 76ers could potentially have a deep playoff run.
Utah Jazz: A+
The Jazz seem to have finally figured it out this season. The Jazz currently sit at the top of the league with a record of 17-5 and have done it on the back of rebounding and shooting. The Jazz also have the most three point specialists in the league. Coach Quin Snyder has been incredible as well this season and the Jazz will look to ride this hot start to a good seeding in the West, to hopefully avoid yet another early exit in the playoffs.
The Clippers are first in three point percentage and second in offensive rating. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard both are having 50/40/90 seasons and Nic Batum has looked like a steal so far this season. If the Clippers can keep it going, they will likely be the team to beat out West.
The Lakers will have a problem with what I just said about the Clippers. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have been just as good as ever before this season, with James being an MVP candidate, as he inevitably always is.
The Lakers have the best defense in the league, and are the best in the league at keeping opponents away from the free throw line. Their stifling defense will likely be enough for another title run.
Memphis is currently 9-8 and sitting at the 9th seed in the West, but considering their injuries they have been phenomenal. Missing Jaren Jackson Jr, Justise Winslow and Jonas Valanciunas has stunted the teams depth recently; However, big play from Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks has kept them afloat.
The Grizzlies are now 2-2 since their week long hiatus due to COVID protocols, and will look to either move back up into a playoff spot or remain in their play-in position for the remainder of the season.
Brooklyn Nets: A-
The Nets entered the season with new and improved expectations and have been living up to them. After the addition of James Harden, the Nets are now 7-3 and have only had their big three of Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant for five of those games (4-1). The Nets will now look to fix their defense, which currently ranks last in the league since the trade, but so far have been proving that sometimes its as simple as outscoring your opponent.
The Thunder have been amazing this season. Luguentz Dort has turned into a sniper and new head coach Mark Daigneault has taken the reins on this young team. The Thunder remain competitive in almost every game I have seen them play and can only go up from here. The Thunder have shown the ability to win close games, something that troubles many young teams. The fire shown by OKC this season can give Thunder fans hope for the years to come.
Houston Rockets: B+
Kicking off this section of the NBA rankings is the new and improved (?) Houston Rockets. Give Houston credit. They turned a horrible situation to a manageable one. General Manager Rafael Stone has had some amazing deals, finding Jae’Sean Tate and dealing big name players while maintaining solid return back.
Now with Christian Wood likely being out for an extended time, the Rockets will look to find out how to remain competitive, as they sit in the 10th seed at 11-10.
In what is likely Coach Gregg Popovich’s final season as a head coach, the Spurs have bounced back from what was an unusual year last season in San Antonio. The Spurs currently have six players averaging double figures in points. Three of these players are under 24 years old.
With Becky Hammon likely taking over for Coach Pop, the youth movement in San Antonio should pick up right where Pop’s era will leave off. For now though, the Spurs look to make one last run with their legendary head coach and will be pushing for a playoff spot all season long.
New York Knicks: B+
The Knicks are back, sort of. The Tom Thibodeau led team is back in the playoff hunt for the first time in a long time. With plenty of youth in the team, Thibodeau has managed to drill a defensive mindset into his players, leading them to a top 10 defense so far this season.
With Julius Randle becoming an all-star caliber player and the rise of Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks have plenty of talent for the long haul. A playoff run may just help their case with big name free agents, as the Knicks have enough cap space next season for two max contracts.
The “Sexland” duo of Darius Garland and Collin Sexton has combined for 40 ppg this season, and has helped carry the Cavaliers to a playoff spot so far; however, the Cavs still have a logjam at the center position, especially after acquiring Jarrett Allen from Brooklyn.
The quick start has been nice, but the Cavs will have to round out their roster in order to maintain their successful season.
The Hornets have been relatively average at just about everything. And honestly, for Charlotte that is a step up from previous seasons. The additions of LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward has added a flair to the Hornets roster, forcing eyes to be on Charlotte for the first time since Kemba Walker first took his stake there as a Bobcat. As of now, the Hornets are tied with the Cavaliers for the sixth seed and could likely have an all-star and a ROY by the end of the season.
Welcome back Steph Curry. After a slow start to the season, Curry silenced his critics, pouring on 62 points in a career performance against Portland. The Warriors are currently 6-3 in games where Curry scores 30+ points, but only 2-5 when he scores less than 24. Although the dynasty days may be over in the Bay, Curry has at least seemed to prove that he can carry a team on his own. Now the only question that remains is for how long?
Andrew Wiggins has also stepped up this season, shooting career high percentages from two and from three. He also has the best DRTG of his career and is averaging over a block a game.
I’ve considered the Hawks overachievers for the sake of my NBA rankings, because despite Trae Young having a poor start to his season, the Hawks have done quite well for their standards.
Unfortunately for Atlanta, the Hawks could potentially be missing five rotational players for an extended period. It will take a lot to keep the Hawks in the playoff race, as many teams that did not start too hot look to pick up their form at this point of the season.
The Celtics started their season without Kemba Walker and missed Jayson Tatum for five games. Even then however, losses to San Antonio, Detroit and Sacramento have not helped the Celtics case this season.
With a 30 million dollar TPE, the Celtics have the ability to “freely” upgrade their roster this season, and with Jaylen Brown being an MIP candidate, they have no reason not to. The slow start is probably nothing more than a slow start for Boston, but in a shortened season, they will need to move fast if they want to separate themselves from the pack.
This may be harsh on the Bucks, but Bucks fans tend to be pretty down on their own season as well. The Bucks are in the top five in the league in pace, FG%, 3P%, assists, rebounds and points and have the league’s best offense; however, this is not translating to wins as expected, as they currently sit at 13-8.
For a team that was on pace for 60+ wins the last two seasons, the expectations are obviously higher than this. However, I am optimistic about the Bucks season and think it is only a matter of time that their performances become fruitful.
Toronto Raptors: C+
The Raptors started their season 2-8, but have since picked it up. Currently 9-12, the Raptors are 10th in the East and looking to push their way into the playoffs. Pascal Siakam has not been as impressive as many have hoped, but the Raptors did get an amazing performance out of Fred VanVleet on February 2nd when he scored 54 points on the Magic. The Raptors are in a unique position this season as they are the only team playing out of market. As the season continues, hopefully they can keep their newfound momentum.
I truthfully do not understand what is going on in New Orleans, but they still have two all-star caliber players and you would expect them to be better. The Pelicans were pinned by many media members as a team on the rise this season. Unfortunately, this pelican has yet to take flight.
Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have definitely been impressive, but the lack of shooting and spacing on the roster has been a detriment all season and is a large part of why the Pelicans are 13th in the West.
The “Right Where You Expected Them to Be”:
Denver Nuggets: B+
Many people’s MVP choice Nikola Jokic has turned into a monster. Averaging 26 ppg, 12 rpg and 8 apg, he has led the Nuggets to be tied for the fourth seed in the West. Having only lost two games this season by more than ten points – to each LA team once – the Nuggets have fared well against most competition in the NBA, and have a lot to build on after last years’ playoffs (being down 3-1 in back to back series’, and making the Western Conference Finals).
The Blazers are doing what they seem to always do. They currently also rank 4th in the West, but have a top 10 offense and a bottom 3 defense. Despite injuries to Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum, the Blazers have managed to scrape by some close wins.
Damian Lillard will look to continue to build off his Bubble MVP award and hopefully make a run for the real trophy this season by carrying an undermanned Portland team.
Indiana Pacers: B+
The Pacers are yet another team who have been dealing with injuries all season. They were also part of a major trade, sending former all-defensive team player Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert, who is out indefinitely; however, they are in the top five of the East, as they always seem to be.
Indiana does a great job of quietly being a competitive team in the East year in and year out. Led by DPOY candidate Myles Turner, former ROY Malcolm Brogdon and All-Star Domantas Sabonis, the Pacers have an incredibly talented team and can make a lot of noise in the East.
Phoenix Suns: B
The Suns acquired Chris Paul in the offseason for Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre. Although Chris Paul has seemed to regress a bit since last season, Devin Booker has carried on with his incredible bubble performance, averaging 23 points per game.
Mikal Bridges has been a most improved player candidate this season, and the Suns are the sixth seed in the West despite missing Dario Saric and Cameron Payne; however, the Suns were expected to be a back end playoff team anyway, and unless Deandre Ayton and Paul manage to step up, this is likely around the same position Phoenix will end up in when the season ends.
Chicago is right where you would expect them to be; however there is some hope, Bulls fans. The Bulls have lost seven games this season by less than five points, and with some defensive additions at the trade deadline, these games could surely swing the Bulls way.
The Orlando Magic are another case here where injuries just took over. The Magic started their season 6-2, but have since gone 2-12. This coincides with the loss of Markelle Fultz, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. With Aaron Gordon also out for an extended period, the Magic will now look at Nikola Vucevic and Cole Anthony to dig them out of the hole they have fallen into, and hopefully reach a play-in spot for the playoffs.
Luckily for the Magic, this is exactly where you would expect them to be record wise, fighting for a 7-10 seed. Hopefully they will be healthier as the season goes on.
Sacramento Kings: D–
Sacramento sits in the 11th seed as of writing this and only three games back in the loss column of the four seed. So why are they being given a D-? This is more of a testament to the organization itself than the players. Luke Walton has been a suspect coach in his second season, and the record of the team does not tell the whole story.
Six of the Kings wins are within five points, meaning they are often getting themselves into close games; however, they have also lost six games by 15+ points, including two by thirty.
The Kings could be in the “Overachievers” area due to great play by rookie Tyrese Haliburton, but until the team can figure out how to not be blown out on a regular basis, I will leave them here, as this is exactly what I would expect from the Kings overall.
The Very Bad:
The Wizards have barely played and have been killed by covid protocols and injuries. Because of this it may be unfair to have them so low in the NBA rankings. Russell Westbrook has been nursing injuries and Bradley Beal seems upset with what is happening in Washington.
With Scott Brooks as the head coach, there seems to be little hope for the Wizards this season, but with Westbrook and Beal, their goals are still to be a playoff team. For now though, the Wizards record is 5-14, good for 14th in the Eastern Conference.
Free Luka Doncic! Not really, but wow have the Mavericks been poor this season. After losing Assistant Coach Stephen Silas, the offense of the mavericks has gone from best in the league in 2020, to the 19th best this season.
Luka has been great as usual, but the rest of the team has fallen flat, as the Mavs rank last in 3PT%, 28th in rebounding, and have declined in ever single statistic from last season other than two-point accuracy and frequency. The Mavericks have now lost 9 of their last 12 games but will look to fix their form at home in a two game slate against the Golden State Warriors.
Miami Heat: D–
Miami is 7-14 and 13th in the East. The Heat, who made the Finals last year, have not been able to establish themselves this season. They have lost seven of their last eight games. Even with Jimmy Butler having been out for over half the games so far, Miami does not seem to be able to get it going. The Heat may be desperate to make moves this season, as the team that was a cinderella story last season do not seem to be able to keep the dream going.
Again another case of injuries, but this time I don’t know how much a healthy Karl Anthony-Towns would actually help here. KAT has been out for the majority of the season due to COVID-19, but elsewhere the team is not doing too great. D’Angelo Russell is having his worst season since his first season in Brooklyn, and first overall pick Anthony Edwards has not played like a first overall pick for the majority of the season.
The Timberwolves will hope to improve as the season goes on, but the grueling Western Conference may force Minnesota back into a bottom five seed for the third season in a row.
Detroit Pistons: F+
The worst of the worst in our NBA rankings. The Pistons get a “+” next to their F ranking for landing Jerami Grant. That is about all. The Pistons have had me think, “what are they thinking?” about twice per game this season. Blake Griffin has been a shadow of himself this season and injury to rookie Killian Hayes definitely does not help their season.
Grant may look like an all-star this season, but the Pistons still are the worst team in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully Coach Dwane Casey will start leaning on his younger players more, as they continue to lose.
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