The 2015-2016 NBA Report Card

So, here we are. Another season in the books.  We said goodbye to Kobe, we read the Hinkie manifesto, we marveled at Steph’s 400 and the Warriors 73, we laughed at Houston, and a whole lot in between.  Looking back, how did each team’s overall season play out?

In reverse win-totals order, pre-season over/under = O/U

Philadelphia 76ers (10-72; 21.5 O/U): F.  Jerry Colangelo might have been watching too many episodes of House of Cards when he decided to take the job to take over the 76ers with his master-plan in mind.  Just a few short months after his arrival, his son is now the leader of the team with Sam Hinkie resigning in a startling public execution of The Process.  In terms of the on-court basketball, this team somehow regressed: finishing as at 30th in Offensive Rating and 6th worst Defensive Rating.  There’s no real discernible “star” to be seen, and it seems unlikely that Noel and Okafor can play together long term – forget Embiid and Saric waiting in the wings.  It’s not all bleak – Bryan Colangelo has a remarkable treasure trove of assets in terms of young players and specifically great draft picks that he can turn this thing around quickly.  But this season? An unfortunate waste.

Los Angeles Lakers (17-65; 29.5 O/U): D. As a Laker fan I’m more worried right now about the summer than what occurred during a season that was destined to be lost as the Lakers honored Kobe’s last season under Byron Scott’s “direction”.  The young core of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr, and Tarik Black showed signs of growth but due to inconsistent coaching and minutes never really showed themselves taking the next step consistently.  Flashes? Sure.  If in fact the Lakers stunningly decide to keep Byron Scott, we can only hope that Kobe’s departure opens up enough to allow the players to play loose and to their potential.

Brooklyn Nets (21-61; 28.5 O/U): C. For as terrible a season as this was appearing to be, the Nets emerge with some semblance of hope.  Their asset cupboard remains bare as a result of the Pierce/KG trade, but for the first time in a few seasons they have a sense of true direction.  Sean Marks should prove to be an excellent hire for the Nets, Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young are two solid assets, and Brooklyn with the right infrastructure can one day be a free agent destination.  Not bad for what appeared to be the worst situation in the NBA.

Phoenix Suns (23-59; 36.5 O/U): D-. Nobody can blame Ryan McDonough for his pursuit of LaMarcus Aldridge and his “do whatever it takes” approach this summer to make that happen, it was a smart decision and the Suns could’ve become an interesting player in the Western Conference.  The aftermath, however, is something I can blame management for. Knowing the deal the Morris twins signed with the impression that they would stay together and then splitting them up simply hoping the situation would fix itself was naive at best, incompetent at worse.  The rift that move caused in the locker room cost them a good coach in Jeff Hornacek, who was fired in less-than-classy fashion two weeks after they fired his assistants.  This “breaking of the players trust” situation has come up a few times now and McDonough can learn from Sam Hinkie’s failures in Philadelphia in valuing the human component a little more than he perhaps currently does.

Minnesota Timberwolves (29-53; 25.5 O/U): A. Due to Flip Saunders’ tragic death, he was unable to see the fruit of his planning and smart trading begin to blossom this season.  While Sam Mitchell wasn’t perfect, given the circumstances he was good enough to hold the position this season as the Timberwolves look for a new coach.  Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach Lavine and the entire core as a whole progressed this season – and that is all this team could’ve hoped for.  On many nights they played above their ability, and they have set themselves up as a prime head coaching destination, an achievement on it’s own.

New Orleans Pelicans (30-52; 47.5 O/U): F. What an outright disaster.  A team that went from 8 seed to the bottom of the conference after hiring an “upgrade” at head coach in Alvin Gentry, this season has been a complete disaster.  Anthony Davis is a franchise superstar, but simply can’t stay healthy – in his first 4 seasons he has played an average of 65 games, never topping 68 in any season.  They continue to be hamstrung from their front office’s short-sighted moves upon drafting Anthony Davis in order to rush their path to the playoffs and will continue to pay for it.

New York Knicks (32-50; 31.5 O/U): C-. Drafting Kristaps Porzingis alone makes this grade at minimum a C-, which makes sense considering the rest of the team has been disappointing.  From firing Derek Fisher mid-season, which appeared justified, they never got going like I’m sure Phil Jackson intended.  The troubling stickiness to which Phil Jackson holds onto the Triangle offense is beyond worrisome and looks like it will result in another year of Kurt Rambis, who simply has never shown the ability to be a head coach in this league.  The fact that Carmelo Anthony remains on this team is surprising, and I can see a situation where that changes soon, simply because while Melo loves NYC – you can only take so much.

Milwaukee Bucks (33-49; 43.5 O/U): C. Every time I believe in the Bucks they let me down in some way.  Most of the time, I believe it’s just because I set too high expectations for them because I love their players so much individually.  They’re still not good enough on offense, but that strangely wasn’t their Achilles heel – this year they were 21st in Defense.  Point Guard Giannis is fun, Jabari Parker looked good, and the team (stop me if I’m repeating this) heads into the summer with some momentum….except: Jason Kidd just can’t stop being self-destructive.  There’s enough out there to show that the front office and Kidd are clashing behind the scenes, and if I’m Milwaukee – I might consider a coaching change sooner rather than later because while Kidd is a good coach, he might not be worth the hassle.

Denver Nuggets (33-49; 26.5 O/U): B+. The Nuggets are fascinating simply because they keep drafting well and accumulating assets yet are relatively ignored in the NBA world (and, let’s be honest – in Denver as well).  Under-the-radar as they are, they’ve really done a great job letting their young guys play through their mistakes to kick-start their development.  The most notable? Emmanuel Mudiay, who has had a terrible year, yet played consistent minutes.  His numbers 12.8 points on 36.4% shooting, 5.5 assists, and 3.2 turnovers.  What’s a little troubling is that he didn’t really have any “breakout” moments, but he sure as hell will have his chances.

Sacramento Kings (33-49; 30.5 O/U): F.  Boogie was the same Boogie we have known – an absolute monster on the court, but sometimes a monster off the court.  He hasn’t had a coach other than Mike Malone that he’s really trusted – and some of that is on him, but mostly it’s on the front office’s weak “support” of him during the season where at one point they basically fired him but decided to wait until the season was over.  It’s sad that a franchise that does have some talent keeps having lost seasons, and the “new arena” syndrome combined with the “new owner” syndrome have really created a mess in Sacramento.  This team was no fun.

Orlando Magic (35-47; 32.5 O/U): C. I hated the Tobias Harris move. He’s only 23, and was a bright spot on offense, even if he wasn’t *great*.  The cost certainty for a player like him at a time that the cap is about to shoot up is invaluable and I think they made a bad decision.  I never really liked the Skiles hire, and although the Magic started off better than I expected, most of what I suspected about Skiles is true. I don’t think their backcourt can play well together with Payton and Oladipo – I would’ve rather the Magic traded one of those two instead of Harris.  This team certainly grew in some ways, but their front office regressed. Meh.

Utah Jazz (40-42; 40.5 O/U): B-. While I do think there’s a little bit of fool’s gold with this team having a great young core – their bad luck with injuries has really hurt their plans to rebuild.  Win totals since 2010-11: 39, 36, 43, 25, 38, 40 – a little bit of no man’s land with them.  At the same time, Gordon Hayward is fantastic, Gobert can still be effective even as the league goes smaller and Exum is at least an interesting player who will be joining them.  They play hard, they play together, and Quin Snyder has done a good job while also needing to improve his work on the offensive end.  This team would’ve been graded higher if they made it to the 8 seed – which they really should have.

Washington Wizards (41-41; 45.5 O/U): D. What a let-down from a team that looked like it was headed to be a potential Kevin Durant destination.  Bradley Beal’s health remains a long term concern, and they’ll have to re-sign him at a large number. John Wall was otherworldly just to get them to .500 and they never put together a string of games that showed any momentum from their effort last season.  Randy Wittman was not responsible for their demise alone, but replacing him was still the right move – now what about the front office?

Houston Rockets (41-41; 54.5 O/U): D. The only reason this isn’t an F is that it’s more than likely that last year was the highest possible potential for this particular assembly of talent and to bring back the same roster was destined for a mediocre season like this.  James Harden came into the last season in unbelievable shape and Dwight Howard was only around half the season so his toxicity couldn’t destroy the locker room like it contributed to this year. Kevin McHale didn’t deserve to be fired, but he also coached much higher than his potential last year and everything kind of came crashing down to earth this season.  Still, their lackadaisical effort, their early coaching change, and the fact that they have Dwight Howard made this year pretty miserable for the Rockets.

Chicago Bulls (42-40; 49.6 O/U): D. It’s remarkable how obvious it was that benching Joakim Noah would kill this team’s chemistry was and that was the first move that new Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg made. A similar mistake was made by then newly hired Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni when he admonished Pau in one of his first games as coach, not realizing how important he was to the locker room and the city.  In addition, Jimmy Butler’s ascent wasn’t well received by the locker room, at times including public back and forth’s between the star player and his coach.  It’s possible to look back on this season as the awkward transition from Thibs to Hoiberg but the for the time being, this team not making the playoffs is a real shame.

Memphis Grizzlies (42-40; 50.5 O/U): B. What else could they have done? They lost their best players at a time when they were clicking and the season went to hell quickly.  All credit to Dave Joerger, the Grit and Grind culture, and the remaining healthy players who somehow finished down the stretch in a shockingly competent and competitive manner.  While the year was lost, they can put their heads up high knowing they did the best with what they had.

Dallas Mavericks (42-40; 38.5 O/U): B+. They resurrected the dead careers of Deron Williams and Zaza Pachulia, Chandler Parsons came on pretty strongly after dealing with a lot of injury concerns, and the max contract to Wes Matthews isn’t looking too bad (although still possibly a little bad).  That all coming on the heels of a startling free agency situation regarding DeAndre Jordan isn’t bad at all.  Dirk continues to be Dirk, although with more dud games than usual – which can be expected at his age – but Dallas will take it.  An overall positive season for a team that was looking like a lottery team to begin the season.

Detroit Pistons (44-38; 33.5 O/U): B+. love the Tobias Harris move, I think while this team isn’t quite as explosive as the 09 Magic, SVG is molding this team to fit his vision much faster than we expected.  Reggie Jackson is justifying his deal, the core of the Pistons looks strong, and this team has a clear identity and a purpose.  The elephant in the room – can Andre Drummond get his free throws to a level where he’s not a detriment to the team in late game situations? Either way – a damn solid season in Detroit.

Portland Trail Blazers (44-38; 26.5 O/U): A. I love the Lillard-McCollum duo, Neil Olshey continues his impressive run as one of the league’s top executives and this young team wildly outperformed expectations.  I liked the idea behind the Vonleh-Batum trade, but I simply don’t believe in the long-term value of Vonleh, another guy here would’ve made a lot of sense.  Damian Lillard seems to love it in Portland, he had another amazing year – Portland is a damn fun team.  Nothing to dislike, really.

Indiana Pacers (45-37; 42.5 O/U): B. Paul George came back down to earth, which is to be expected, but still is a uniquely talented two-way player that can absolutely be a pillar of the franchise.  This season was a little bit of a transition year, Myles Turner emerged as a real player, and this team is poised if it decides to wade into free agency to build another damn good team.  The steady hands of Larry Bird and Coach Vogel will continue to guide the franchise forward.  My only worry – how long will Paul George be patient before he gets the itch to either be in a better basketball situation or a bigger city?

Charlotte Hornets (48-34; 32.5 O/U): A. How toxic was Lance Stephenson? Jokes aside, the transformation of the offense from last year to this by Steve Clifford and his staff was absolutely remarkable.  Kemba Walker is a legitimate star in this league, the offseason moves they made (with the exception of not getting those picks from Boston) were solid and this team just played to the best of their abilities.  Any team finishing in the top 9 in both offensive and defensive efficiency is worth the price of admission, especially a team that had little to no expectations.

Boston Celtics (48-34; 42.5 O/U): B+. The real score is probably an A- but I had to deduct a point because they are the Celtics, after all.  This team is consistently one of the best coached teams in the league, Jae Crowder has elevated his game to probably be the best player on this team, Isaiah Thomas had an all-star season and the Celtics have had a remarkably accelerated rebuild with a treasure trove of draft picks and assets.  Danny Ainge’s draft performance continues to be spotty – thanks again for Julius Randle, Danny!

Atlanta Hawks (48-34; 49.5 O/U): B. At the beginning of the year it looked like they could be headed for a Houston Rockets-like decline but they really turned it around. Paul Millsap continues to be an entirely underrated player, especially as the NBA heads towards smaller lineups, and the team as a whole regained their offensive powers.  Where they’ve really impressed is on the defensive end, finishing 2nd in efficiency behind the Spurs.  Based on contracts and age, this team sadly appears destined for a breakup, but it can still enjoy the past couple of seasons without any shame.

Miami Heat (48-34; 45.5 O/U): B+. You can never count a Pat Riley-led team out.  Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow, and Josh Richardson supported the formidable veterans Wade, Deng, Bosh, Stoudemire, Dragic and more in a fantastic way the 2nd half of the season.  The team plays together, plays with energy – the only thing they lack is true consistency.  While I credit Spoelstra for adjusting and bringing along the young guys late – I wonder how much better they would be right now if their early sluggish offense was abandoned earlier.  Still, a very solid season in South Beach.

LA Clippers (53-29; 56.5 O/U): B-. What a weird year. Starting from the DeAndre offseason to Blake punching a team employee, it is remarkable that the Clippers ended up in the 4 seed in the West. Chris Paul (who has an MVP case) and JJ Redick had nights where they were the best backcourt in the league, DeAndre Jordan had a monster season, but the same problems plagued this team all along.  GM Roc Divers couldn’t assemble a competent bench even though it seemed like he had, and it simply appears to be the case that Blake Griffin and DJ simply don’t fit that well together in tight situations.  Due to Blake’s injury, he looked rusty down the stretch and one wonders if these are the last few games he is playing as a Clipper.

OKC Thunder (55-27; 57.5 O/U): B. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are having other-worldly elite seasons yet this team still doesn’t feel ready to be a true title contender.  It took coach Billy Donovan perplexingly long to figure out how to stagger KD and Russ’ minutes to ensure that one of both stay on the floor at all times, and in addition his refusal to integrate Cam Payne into the rotation to give Dion Waiters minutes is alarming.  Kanter has been a really good weapon off the bench, and the Thunder are set at 4 positions – they’ve never quite figured out the 3 and D specialist, and will pay the price for it at the end.  Overall, I’m personally waiting for KD and Russ to get the hell out of OKC and stop rewarding their overrated management and crappy ownership.  Oh, sorry, that’s not what this was about.  I think they had a solid season, just not a great one where they showed they have what it takes to hit that next level.  I still don’t rule out an upset of the Spurs in the 2nd round by them.

Toronto Raptors (56-26; 45.5 O/U): A. The Raptors looked like the best team in the conference at times, skinny Kyle Lowry elevated his game to another level, and contract year DeMar DeRozan is about to get paid due to a great performance.  Masai Ujiri has done a great job building up this roster that can make some noise in the playoffs while also getting as much young talent as possible.  Bismack Biyombo might end up being one of the steals of the offseason and Dwayne Casey certainly has his team playing hard every night.  Not much to dislike about their season at all – their reliance on getting to the line (Hi, DeMar) scares me in the playoffs but it’s looking like they’ll be getting past the first round – FINALLY.

Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25; 56.5 O/U): B. Here are the things I remember from this season: Kyrie Irving rumored to be unhappy, LeBron James rumored to be unhappy, David Blatt being fired while in 1st place, Ty Lue having a worse record post-hiring, Kevin Love rumored to be unhappy, LeBron unfollowing the team on Twitter, LeBron saying he’d love to play with <insert name of every non-Cavalier>, LeBron taking pictures with Wade in a Miami gym during the season without his teammates.  There may have been some impressive wins here and there but any time the drama is the most memorable thing about your season, it’s never good.  At the same time, they end as the #1 seed in the East, and LeBron is playing the best basketball of the season.  They should still make the Finals, an unbelievable 6th straight time for LBJ.

San Antonio Spurs (67-15; 58.5 O/U): A+. Any other year we’re talking about how dominant this Spurs team was, possibly the best and deepest team that Popovich has ever coached.  LaMarcus Aldridge fit in beautifully, although not from the beginning, and Kawhi Leonard took the next step as an offensive weapon.  Nothing more to say other than it’s been an absolute pleasure to watch them play basketball this season and it’s going to suck that either this team or the next team in this list won’t win the championship this season.

Golden State Warriors (73-9!!!!!; 60.5 O/U): A++. Best regular season team of all time. /Mic Drop.

 

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