Atlantic Division Mid-Season Grades Part 1: Team Grades

At this point every season, we can begin to evaluate the long term prospects of every team. Some teams look to be getting in their grove, making a case as a legitimate contender, while others falter and look headed toward a lottery pick.  For Part 1 of the mid-season grades, I will evaluate each team and give their area(s) of success and places for improvement.  Part Two, which will drop next Monday, will give grades to individual players.

New York Knicks:

Strengths: 3pt Shooting, Turnovers, Pace

The Knicks continue to lead the division due to their prolific 3 point shooting and ability to take care of the ball.  They are first in the NBA in attempts and makes per game from downtown at 28.8 and 11.2 respectively.  They are 5th in overall percentage at 38.8%.  The ability to score points in bunches thanks to Carmelo, JR Smith, Steve Novak, Jason Kidd and pretty much every player on their roster allows them to play with a looseness that I believe helps Carmelo feel comfortable in removing some of the scoring burden.

What Jason Kidd has done for this team can’t be overstated.  Having such a veteran and poised 2nd unit PG allows for the offense to run smoothly no matter which unit is on the floor. The Knicks flat out value the rock more than anyone else as they turn it over only 11 times a game.  I remember having a coach in my high school days who always used to say to us during timeouts, “The ball is F****** Golden” and no team plays into this mantra more than the Knicks.

Area to Improve: Team Shooting Percentage, Rebounding

Despite Tyson Chandler doing his best to single handely make this team’s shooting percentage look decent, having both Carmelo and JR Smith hoisting a high number of jump shots will kill any teams shooting percentage.  They need to improve ball movement in order to get better shots.  Both the aforementioned volume shooters are highly skilled yet frustrating players.  This team also needs to rebound more effectively, but I think once the front line is healthy again, we will see some improvement there.

Grade: A

Could you have asked for a better season to date for the Knicks? Well sure you could have, but that would just have been greedy.  Despite falling back down to earth somewhat, this team is the best in the division right now and is being lead by Carmelo Anthony who is having his best season yet as a pro. The Depth of this team is near the top of the league, but it looks as though they need it as they injuries have started to pile up for the older group.  If they can stay healthy, they will be there in May, if not, a first round exit seems possible.

The Brooklyn Nets:

Strengths: Offensive Rebounding, Starting Unit, Guard Play

The biggest strength of this team is their starting lineup as the big 4 on this team plus either Humphries of Bogan has plus minuses over +30. They do a great job offensive rebounding, whether it’s Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, or Humphries along the starting unit, or Reggie Evans and Andre Blatche off the bench, this team crashes the offensive boards hard, getting nearly 13 extra possessions a game.

The Nets also have the added advantage of having 2 very good guards, both of whom can handle the rock and create there own shot.  Neither Deron Williams or Joe Johnson have hit their peaks this season, and once they do this team could be very dangerous.  We have seen Deron start to turn it around since Avery Johnson was let go…the Knicks are right in front of them and they are charging fast.

Areas to Improve: Pace, 3pt shooting, Overall Defense

This team just plays the game way too slowly. They are second last in the NBA in pace with only the lowly Hornets worse.  While there overall rebounding numbers look good, it’s because there offensive rebounds save casual fans from finding out that they allow 27% of shots they defend to be offensive rebounded by their opponents.  They won’t win a lot of playoff games giving up extra possessions like that.  Lastly, and I believe this has to do with team still gelling, the Nets give up too many points per 100 possessions.  Due to their very slow pace, they don’t give up a ton of points, but per possession they are bottom half in the league.  I do think this team can be a pretty good defensive unit if they get on the same page in rotations.

Grade: B+

If you asked me two weeks ago, I’d have given this team a C-, but they really look to be turning it around and have the Knicks right in their site.  If at the beginning of the year, someone asked the Nets if they would be OK (sure they’d love 1st, but lets be honest) with being 2 games back in the division at this point I think they’d be alright with it.  I’ve been very impressed with their execution on the offensive end since PJ took over the coaching reigns.

The Boston Celtics:

Strengths: Shooting, Defense, Ball Movement

Well as long as Rajon Rondo is healthy, this team will rely on ball movement and good screens to get themselves into beneficial scoring positions.  The Celtics are 4th in the league in assists per game, but score a lot less points than those ahead of them, meaning that per bucket they have a higher assist rate than those other teams. The Team continues to hang its hat on the defensive end behind anchor Kevin Garnett.  The team is 9th in the league in defensive efficiency, but should skyrocket up that list with a healthy Avery Bradley.

Areas of Improvement: Rebounding, 3pt Defense

As has been the C’s biggest issue over the past 5 years, rebounding continues to hinder their success.  Jared Sullinger is doing all he can to help the C’s overcome this issue, but he is the only one who offensive rebounds.  The C’s do an average job on the defensive glass, but still don’t get enough defensive rebounds to make up for their lack of offensive boards.  They know they could use some front line help as this will become even more pivotal come the postseason.

The team does a great job of shutting down penetration, but doing so allows opponents who are rotating outside the three point line offensively to be open.  Currently they are 9th to last defending the three, allowing opponents to shoot almost 37% from downtown.  Doc may need to work on some closing-out drills in practice.

Grade: B

Similar to the Nets, I would have given the team a much worse grade had they not had some recent success. The team shows stretches of top-tier defense combined with highly efficient offense.  Consistency is the biggest problem, but now that players are getting healthy, I see this team making a strong second half run.

Philadelphia 76ers:

Strengths: Jrue Holiday, Turnovers

Phili is near the middle or lower in almost all statistical categories, so it’s difficult to choose a strength based on something they don’t do well statistically  but one part of the game they excel at is turnovers.  The give up the ball a mere 12.8 times a game, good for 3rd in the league. Interestingly enough, the top 3 turnover teams are in the Atlantic and every team in this division is top 10 in the league in the category.

The biggest thing the 76ers have going for the is a young man named Jrue Holiday. Holiday is averaging Nearly 19 points and 9 assists to go along with 4 boards.  His shooting has improved as he has been asked to take a greater responsibility for the offense.  Once he gets the interior presence of Bynum back, I expect him to flourish to a 20-10 type player.

Areas to Improve: No Interior Presence on either end, Offensive Efficiency, Pace, Free Throw Shooting

As mentioned above this team really has no interior presence on either end. Offensively, they shoot only 27% of their shots at the rim, which 4th to last in the league.  this team does not have the shooters to be taking long jumpers all game and expect to win.  They are also bottom half of the league in blocked shots.  The team also plays with far too slow a pace and shoots free throws at only 72%.  Lastly, due to both the lack of interior presence and the lack of an uptempo game, there offensive efficiency yields only 99.2 points per 100 possessions.  They need a healthy Bynum and they need to work on ball movement as this team settles for way too many jump shots.

Grade: C

They are slightly worse than expectations, but without Bynum (or Iggy if they never made the trade) this team has no star to lean on.  Despite both Holiday and Turner showing great promise, this team is headed for the lottery unless Bynum returns at an all-star level.

Toronto Raptors:

Strengths: Tournovers, Youth, offensive Efficiency

The Raptors are 12th in the NBA in offensive efficiency, pretty solid for a team with a not so solid record. They score 103 points per 100 possessions and only the Lakers and Jazz are ahead of them for teams outside of the top 8 seeds in their conferences. They Turn the ball over only 12.7 times a game, good for 2nd in the NBA.  This team is also very young, with  a lot of pieces to help build around in their future. They really just need that one big player and then all the other players can fill their respective roles.

Areas to Improve: Getting to the Rim, Defensive Efficency

They shoot way to many 3’s and long jumpers per game and in doing so, rarely shoot the ball near the rim.  Sure there Center, who is hurt, Andrea Bargnani is more comfortable along the 3pt Line, so i won’t kill the team for this, but they definitely need an interior offensive presence.  The Raptors also struggle defensively in almost all areas.They give up nearly 104 points per 100 possession, 10th worst in the league.  No Team worse than them, except the Blazers are playoff bound.  Defense wins championships and this team is nowhere close.

Grade: B

This team has done better than the expectations I had for them.  I certainly thought they would finish last in the division and would be near the bottom of the league, but so far they have found themselves playing pretty well, especially after the poor start to the season.  They have some nice building blocks and once they get everyone healthy again, they may overtake Philly for 4th in the division.  They will certainly be headed to the lottery too, but this team doesn’t seem quite as far away from success as it did just a year ago.

Lee me know your grades for these teams in the comments and don’t forget to JOIN ME NEXT WEEK FOR INDIVIDUAL PLAYER GRADES!

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