Which teams exceeded expectations?
As we approach the halfway point of the 2016 NBA season, it’s time to take a look at how teams are doing compared to last season. Going into the season we expected some teams, like Philadelphia, to have poor records because they are still in the ”rebuilding stage.” Others, like the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors, are in ”win now” mode, and we have set high expectations for them to perform throughout the year.
But, there are a handful of teams that most of us predicted incorrectly. These teams either were expected to perform poorly, and have done just the opposite in the first half of the season, or were expected to compete and have stalled.
We are going to compare the percentage of games won so far this season to the percentage of games won last season to figure out what teams have improved or taken steps back.
We’ll start in the Eastern Conference:
New York Knicks: After setting a franchise record for number of losses in a year, the Knicks have rebounded nicely and sit only a half game out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The emergence of the young Latvian rookie Kristaps Porzingis, who is averaging 14 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, has been quite the surprise. Carmelo Anthony, averaging eight assists over the last seven games, has trusted his teammates, helping the Knicks offense flourish. Additions of Aaron Afflalo and Robin Lopez have improved the depth of the roster, making New York the league’s most improved team halfway into the season.
Orlando Magic: The Orlando Magic started off slowly, but changes to the starting lineup inspired this roster. Orlando is 13-7 when Victor Oladipo comes off the bench, but just 6-11 when he starts. Oladipo has provided a spark to the second unit, and emerging stars Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, and Elfrid Payton have kept Orlando in the playoff hunt throughout the first part of the season.
Detroit Pistons: Aside from Andre Drummond‘s NBA record 23 free throw misses a few days ago, the Pistons have been a pleasant surprise. Reggie Jackson has led the way, averaging 19.1 points per game and putting himself in the conversation as a top three point guard in the Eastern Conference. Drummond has rebounded at a historic rate this season, averaging 15.5 rebounds per game. If he continues at this pace he will be the first player since Dennis Rodman to rebound at such a high rate. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has emerged as a premier defender in the league, and has helped guide Detroit to a winning record as they currently sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Not So Good
Brooklyn Nets: After proud owner Mikhail Prokhorov failed to capitalize on the acquisitions of Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Deron Williams just a few years ago, the Nets have fallen apart. At 34 years old, Joe Johnson may no longer be the answer. The Nets will most likely rebuild following the season, a tough reality for Prokhorov to swallow. The sole bright spot in this organization has to be the health of Brook Lopez, who has managed to play every game this season. But, it looks like the Nets will not be contending in the East for many years to come.
Atlanta Hawks: Although Atlanta sits comfortably at 3rd in the Eastern Conference, they do not compare to last year’s roster. The loss of DeMarre Carroll hurts, and it is difficult to imagine a scenario where Atlanta gets out of the East, the ultimate goal for an organization that is in “win now mode.” Paul Millsap continues to be one of the most underrated stars in the league, but it won’t be enough to get out of the East come playoff time.
Now, let’s look at the Western Conference:
Minnesota Timberwolves: Although Minnesota sits second-to-last in the West, they have almost matched last year’s win total in the first portion of the season. Minnesota has a young core featuring Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Ricky Rubio, and are beginning to develop chemistry. It would not be surprising to see this team in playoff contention three or four years down the road, as Wiggins and Towns are blossoming into superstars.
San Antonio Spurs: After last year’s disappointing first round loss to the Clippers, the Spurs are hungry. The continued emergence of Kawhi Leonard and addition of LaMarcus Aldridge has propelled the Spurs to new heights. Leonard is averaging a career high 20.1 points per game while enhancing his reputation as the games best defender, and has been voted as a starter in this year’s All-Star Game in Toronto. Tim Duncan, 39, continues to defy father time and is first in the league in defensive real plus minus, one metric used to determine the value of defenders.
Oklahoma City Thunder: There is nothing scarier for opponents than a healthy Kevin Durant. The four-time scoring champion has stayed healthy this year, averaging a modest 26.5 points per game (by his standards) and shooting 39.5% from three, 50.8% from the field, and 88.8 % from the free throw line. He and Russell Westbrook are arguably still the best power duo in the league, and the play of Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter have put the Thunder 20 games above .500. Although the hype has surrounded Golden State and San Antonio this season, the Thunder have emerged as a dark-horse candidate to come out of the Western Conference.
The Not So Good
Portland Trail Blazers: This one wasn’t a surprise. The loss of Aldridge and Wes Matthews has proven detrimental for a Portland team who had hopes of a title run just a year ago. Portland still technically has a shot at the last couple of spots in the West, but they are in no position to compete for a title this season. The bright spot in Portland has to be C.J. McCollum‘s leap from averaging 6.8 points per game last season to 20.7 this season, and Damian Lillard has remained elite in Portland. If Portland can go after a good forward or big man in the offseason or draft, expect them to be right back in contention. But for now, they pose no threat in the Western Conference.
New Orleans Pelicans: Arguably the most surprising poor start in this year’s NBA, the Pelicans have turned a season filled with hopes into a forgettable one. Anthony Davis, thought to be the “future of the NBA,” has been overshadowed by the play of Stephen Curry. Although Davis is averaging a monstrous 23.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, his leadership skills have come into question as the Pelicans seem to be distraught late in games. In a roster filled with high profile names, like Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Ryan Anderson, 15-27 just doesn’t cut it as the Pelicans were expected to do much better than last year’s 8th place finish and first round loss. They have been a huge disappointment, and look to make some changes in the offseason.
Houston Rockets: Scoring is definitely not the issue here. James Harden once again is leading this team with 27.6 points per game, and Houston has put up 104.5 points per game, good for 5th in the league. But Houston is surrendering 105.7 points per game, only better than the last place Lakers. Houston needs to ramp up their defensive intensity to make any serious postseason threat, but in the end it is unlikely that Houston will make any playoff noise.
So, as we look at the percent change in record from this year compared to last, here’s how all NBA teams stack up.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com/stats and Basketball-reference.com
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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- Chicago Bulls
- San Antonio Spurs
- Houston Rockets
- New York Knicks