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Sports Spiel: Grading Three NBA Teams at the Halfway Point

Courtesy of Boixoesnoir on flickr

Courtesy of Boixoesnoir on flickr




We have finally reached the halfway mark of the NBA season. Every team has had the opportunity to showcase their offseason progress: some have come out with a bang while others are falling short of expectations. This is the point right before teams and individual players muster additional seriousness and conviction for a slot in the playoffs. Before All-star weekend gets here, I, Professor Traore, have some grades to pass out.

The OKC Thunder

Sitting on a 32-8 record, the Thunder have not forgotten what slipped out of their hands last postseason and are playing better than anyone could have imagined. 

Kevin Durant has elevated his game to a new level, so much so that the league is now calling him “nasty”. There is no smile on his face once that whistle has blown. Averaging 28.7 PPG, he mans plays like few have been able to, sitting in what looks to be the 50-40-90 club (FG %, 3 point FG %,  FT %)—meaning he would be in the company of Reggie Miller and Larry Bird. 

Even Russell Westbrook, who some dislike as point guard, is playing better this season. He now looks for his teammates as often as he can before putting up a shot. Westbrook sits at No. 5 in the league with 8.3 assists per game. 

The team receives an A from me, without a doubt. I cannot see them being stopped this season anytime soon—Durant and Westbrook are arguably the best duo in the game right now—and will go on the record to say this may be the year for an Oklahoma City championship.

The New York Knicks 

The Knicks have been a surprising team in the league this season. Ranked No. 2 in the Eastern Conference, the Knickerbockers are looking better than ever under new head coach Mike Woodson. He has the team play something I like to call “real” team ball. In every game, the ball is always moving, everyone on the team trusts each other and any spectator can see it. 

Carmelo Anthony isn’t palming the ball anymore, trying to create his own shot, but looks instead for second options on the court. He has improved his output this season, scoring 29.3 points per game, up from 22.6 from last year. The team ball they are playing requires defenses to focus on everyone on the floor rather than just Carmelo, allowing him to get better looks. 

hey also have one of the best sixth men in the league: J.R. Smith. Anyone can see the maturity in his game this season and how beneficial it’s been for the Knicks. This team also has great three-point shooting. Just about all its players can make a shot from outside the perimeter, which helps put away any competition in fashion. 

The Knicks get a B+ for their play so far. They have been slipping in their last few games and slowing down their efforts on the court. I expect that to change soon.

The LA Lakers 

The Lakers were, of course, expected to be the “Heat 2.0” this season. Many spoke about how they were allegedly cheating their way to the championship and had basically already won it—how quickly those tunes have changed. 

The team is currently sitting below .500. Some call the team a fluke, saying the Lakers won’t make the playoffs. No one could ever have imagined the Lakers not making the post-season until now. 

Dwight Howard and Steve Nash were expected to make the Lakers “perfect”. Anytime things go south, especially for a good team, one feels naturally inclined to point the finger at someone—however, one player you can’t blame for the team’s downward spiral is the Black Mamba, Kobe Bean Bryant.

Every night Bryant plays his face off doing what he can to stay in a matchup and bring a W to the Lake Show; he averages a league-leading 29.9 points per game. Unfortunately, his efforts usually culminate in losses.

Dwight Howard, No. 1 in the league for rebounds (12.6 per game), No. 5 in blocks (2.63 per game) and No. 3 in field goal percentage (.586) clearly can’t be blamed either. The type of game he plays requires him to have the ball often, which sadly is not possible with the immortal Mike D’antoni’s offensive game plan. His system is horrible and he shouldn’t be the coach of this club. 

Before I go into a rant, I will give the Lakers a C-. They have disappointed fans, the league and themselves. Hopefully they can turn it all around sooner rather than later.

As we move on to the next chapter of the season, let’s see which teams stay serious and which ones get serious. There is no more playing around, or trying to see what works and what doesn’t—the point where a team decides if it is truly ready to contend for a championship begins now.