The Sportz Nutt Hands Out Grades To NBA Teams That Made Splashes In The Off-Season

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During the NBA off-season, a lot of teams made a splash in order to get better. Most of the top teams stacked their rosters with some of the league’s best players in an attempt to imitate the success of the Warriors. After all, having 4 of the league’s top 20 players, like the Warriors do, makes it very easy to pass the ball, have defenders leave someone wide open, and give open looks to some of the best in the game today. Let’s see how things have worked out thus far as I give interim reports cards to certain teams with NBA Championship aspirations.

Boston Celtics: A-

They got Kyrie Irving in the off-season, alongside Gordon Hayward. Unfortunately for them, the duo last ed about 5 minutes before Hayward went down with a potential season ending injury. Still, this challenge only showed how good Irving is, and how much better Brad Stevens is than most coaches, as the Celtics began the season winning 16 in a row after losing the first 2; this was with a ton of youth on the team. They have since cooled off a bit, but still find themselves atop the Eastern Conference. I think as the season progresses, the energy of the youth will wear off a bit and they will finish 2nd in the East, but this takes nothing away from their chances at representing the Eastern Conference.

Cleveland Cavaliers: B+

A few weeks ago, this team would have a failing grade, but a 16-1 run has put them only a handful of games back of the Celtics. It’s awful to say, but the disappearance of Derrick Rose has resulted in this resurgence. I think his career is done and I wish him the best in life. That said, it’s not just his vanishing act: Kevin Love has stepped up big time, Dwayne Wade has accepted his role off the bench with class, JR Smith remembered how to shoot, and LeBron James, at age 32-33 is having a career year, and that’s saying something. I believe that they will finish atop the Eastern Conference and play in the Finals, as the return of Isaiah Thomas AND Tristan Thompson will undoubtedly help the Cavs.

Houston Rockets: A++

I thought they would be good, but I didn’t think they’d be this good. James Harden, again, seems trapped in a season where he is playing out of this world basketball, but may not win an MVP (my vote goes to LeBron right now). That said, looking at Harden’s stats, hes clearly in the conversation. He and Paul have worked magically together, playing unselfish basketball and buying into Mike D’Antoni’s system. They are taking small ball to the next level, as they align it with some isolation around the court. This works beautifully as the rest of the team spread themselves around the 3 point line and let Harden or Paul work isolation. If a defender decides to help the player guarding Harden or Paul, that leaves someone wide open for an uncontested 3. It’s beautiful to watch. Until someone stops this, I’m picking Houston to finish first in the West, but they won’t represent the West.

Oklahoma City: C+

This one is baffling to me, because I thought otherwise. I really thought that these three players could work together and coincide in peace. I can’t pinpoint exactly what is happening though. Carmelo is not making shots, Paul George seems reluctant to be 2nd fiddle, and Russell Westbrook is still playing Russell Westbrook basketball. Nobody is making any adjustments, and the results are evident. That being said, the potential is there. If I were to fix it, I would continue to have Westbrook and George together, much like the Rockets with their best players, but have Carmelo off the bench. Westbrook and George can combine their efforts like the old days with Durant, and play make off each other. When coming off the bench, Carmelo is still better than 80% of the league, and he’ll be the best player by far when playing against every team’s backups. He should get open looks and be able to slow the pace down to where he’s comfortable. That’s just my guess, I’m no Billy Donovan, but if things don’t change, I may be the only one employed come the summer.

Minnesota Timberwolves: B-

The disappointment from last year regrouped in the off-season and brought on the talents of some play makers (Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague) and depth (Jamal Crawford, Taj Gibson) to join alongside the promising youth of the team. The results have been mixed. Their longest win streak this year has been 5 games (once) and they never really seem to get themselves in a groove, losing randomly to teams after mini runs. Is it a sign of immaturity? Could be, but guys like the aforementioned Crawford and Teague were to have helped that. In my opinion, Jimmy Butler is not a superstar. He’s good, no, great, but he’s not elite. I didn’t believe in him in Chicago and I don’t now. There may be too many stars on this team for him to succeed too. Wiggins needs the ball, as he’s a scorer by default. Karl Anthony Towns is a scorer who can stretch the floor up front, but he’s by no means your typical big man. Ultimately, it’ll be another year of waiting in Minnesota, since, while they’re good, they’re not great….yet.

And there you have it.