NBA: Who's Good?

by Will Rogers

NBA: Who’s Good?

This has been a weird NBA season so far. Outside of Boston, there’s no obvious “dominant” team in the league. Also, the East now seems to be the stronger conference.

Just about every team has played 50 games. So let’s see if we can make “heads or tails” of the chaos that is the 2022-23 NBA campaign.

Eastern Conference

There are what I would call five “really good” teams here. One is great (Boston). The others are: Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Cleveland. Interestingly, the Bucks fall well short in both net efficiency and point differential when compared to the other top East teams. Their net rating is more in line with the Knicks and Heat, who are vying to be the sixth team in the Conference that gets to avoid the dreaded “play-in tournament.” The Bucks are just 23rd in the league in offensive efficiency!

Cleveland started very strong, but a word of caution: the Cavaliers are 6-0 in overtime games, which I view as being quite “lucky.” Just for the sake of comparison, the Celtics have played seven OT games this season and won only three. The same can be said for the Knicks.

But a mark in the Cavs’ favor is that they have the most double digit wins in the league (21). That’s nine more than Brooklyn, who has benefited from a 6-1 SU record in games decided by three points or less. Milwaukee is 4-0 SU in games decided by three points or less.  

My view at the present moment is that Cleveland will end up being the “odd team out” when it’s time for the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Cavs, moreso than the other four “top” teams that I’ve discussed, would really benefit from finishing top three. They do have the league’s second best defensive rating as of press time.

Of the top seven in the East, only the Knicks (14th) are outside the league’s top 10 in defensive rating. Miami has the most wins by three points or less in the entire NBA (with 10). 
Everyone else in the East ranges from “subpar” to “terrible.” The only two I’d give the latter designation to are Charlotte and Detroit. Teams I think are most likely to make the play-in tournament are Atlanta, Toronto and Chicago. The Bulls have four overtime losses and the Raptors are 2-9 SU in games decided by three points or less. Their respective luck should start to improve. But you must monitor how each team behaves at the trade deadline. 

I’d sell both Washington and Indiana. The Wizards have won five in a row entering Monday and have a good chance at making it six in a row when they visit San Antonio. But it doesn’t impress me that they are 3-8 ATS as a home favorite this season and getting outscored by an average of 2.2 points in those games. Indiana is only 7-14 SU in games decided by 10 or more points. They’ve already exceeded their preseason win total, an achievement unto itself, but don’t expect much more from them moving forward.

Western Conference

I can’t remember the last time I saw the West this wide open. While not as strong as the East at the top, the West remains deeper. 

The Clippers came into the year as the odds on favorite to win the NBA title. But they’ve allowed more points than they’ve scored this season. Same for Golden State, who won the NBA Finals last June.

“Load management” and injuries are the respective culprits for the Clips and Dubs’ underwhelming records. But the rest of the West should be a little frightened that both have now worked their way back into the top six. 

Denver and Memphis have been the top two in the West so far. The former has the league’s top offensive rating while the latter is #1 in defensive rating.

It’s highly probable that these four aforementioned teams (Clippers, Warriors, Nuggets, Grizzlies) end up being the conference semifinalists. 

Sacramento came into the season hellbent on ending the longest postseason drought in the four “major” North American professional sports leagues. They will do that, as they currently sit third in the West, a real shocker. But a losing record (11-16 SU) vs. teams .500 or above is a little concerning. Then again, the Clippers are 8-21 SU in such games. The Kings are neck and neck with the Nuggets for the top offensive rating in the league. The Clippers are just 22nd in that regard! 

Dallas is the only team in the West - besides Denver and Memphis - with a winning record against .500 or better competition. The Mavericks are 15-14 SU in such games. You may have noticed that Luka Doncic is "pretty good." 

The number of double digit wins on the resumes of the Pelicans and Suns is impressive. But both have been hit hard by injuries over the last month. New Orleans is mired in a massive slump right now. Sunday’s loss to the Bucks was their eighth in a row. 

Three straight wins have Minnesota up into fifth place entering Monday. This team was being written off not long ago. That’s how razor thin the margin in the West is right now as only five games separate third from 13th position. Only the Spurs and Rockets, the two worst teams in the whole NBA, are out of it. 

Sell on Utah even making the play-in tournament. One or more of the three teams directly below them at the moment (OKC, Portland and the Lakers) will pass the Jazz, who have the league’s sixth worst defensive rating. New Orleans, Phoenix and OKC are the only three Western Conference teams besides Memphis with a top 10 defensive rating in the league. 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2023 Al McMordie's All Rights Reserved.