2017-18 End of Season Report Cards: NBA Eastern Conference

With the regular season in the rear vision mirror, it’s time to hand out some grades for the teams in the East. Some are still alive in the playoffs and with a handful of injuries impacting the seedings, the conference is still wide open.

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Atlanta Hawks

My Predicted Record: 23-59
Actual Record: 24-58

What Went Right?
ATLANTA’S last two first-round picks look like they could become future stars. Taurean Prince in year two out of Baylor has evolved into a lethal scorer, averaging close to 20+ in his last 15 games. All while highlight machine John Collins averaged solid rookie numbers to show promise for the future. A big tick for Travis Schlenk.

What Went Wrong?
EVERYONE is good, no one is great. It sounds harsh, but the Hawks really lack a decent go-to guy. Kent Bazemore has shown tendencies and Dennis Schroder is a fine point guard, but in reality, Atlanta sucks on offense. In the fast-paced modern NBA, they need to fix that if they want to climb the standings.

Final Grade: C+
2017-18 wasn’t a huge failure for the Hawks, they knew they were going to suck and they embraced the tank. They may have unearthed a few other solid pieces in their rebuild throughout, with Dewayne Dedmon, Damion Lee and Mike Muscala all looking like keepers. Adding a top-5 pick to the fray means this year panned out fine.

Boston Celtics

My Predicted Record: 54-26
Actual Record: 55-27

What Went Right?
THE J-Team looks set to wreak havoc across the frontcourt for the next decade. Of course, the return of Gordon Hayward (more on him soon) will eat into the minutes for both rookie sensation Jayson Tatum and second-year stud Jaylen Brown. Both of them are so good they will force Brad Stevens to find time on the court for them though.

Jayson TatumImage from thesportsdaily.com

What Went Wrong?
INJURIES man, they are the worst. Boston fans found this out the hard way this season after cruelly losing Gordon Hayward on opening night and losing Kyrie Irving just last week on the eve of the playoffs. Throw in the fact that they also lost Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis, things didn’t work out for the Celtics on the injury front.

Final Grade: B
MAKE no mistake, the Boston Celtics are set for the future and this grade isn’t a true reflection of their season. This B grade is based on how I expect the playoffs to unfold and it would shock me if the Celtics made it to the conference finals. With Brad Stevens steering the ship and their boys healthy, they will be better than ever next year.

Brooklyn Nets

My Predicted Record: 29-53
Actual Record: 28-54

What Went Right?
WHEN one player goes down, some teams like to implore the ‘next man up’ mantra and no-one epitomized that more than Spencer Dinwiddie this year. When D’Angelo Russell went down Dinwiddie assumed the role as the starting floor general, finding his teammates with ease and scoring in bunches when he was called upon. Often late in games with the result in the balance he took over to swing the outcome in Brooklyn’s favour. Take a bow Spencer Dinwiddie.

What Went Wrong?
DEFENSE was clearly the Achilles heel for the Nets last season. Allowing the 3rd most points per game (110.3) they often found themselves copping blowout losses and a handful of big losing streaks can be found throughout their schedule. Their offense is fine, but they really need to slow down their opponents next year.

2017-18 End of Season Report Cards- NBA Eastern Conference 2Image from elitesportsny.com

Final Grade: C
CONSIDERING they haven’t had a first-round pick for 173 years they did ok this season. The injury to Russell probably hampered them slightly, but they still went 11-24 to close the year out when he was back up and running. There will need to be some signs of growth next year, or the Nets will be in trouble.

Charlotte Hornets

My Predicted Record: 45-37
Actual Record: 36-46

What Went Right?
DWIGHT Howard deserves a ton more credit
for the way he played this season. At the age of 34, Howard averaged over 16 points, 12 rebounds and a block and a half in the 81 games he played. Highlighted by his 32 point, 30 rebound game against the Nets, there is clearly still something left in the tank.

What Went Wrong?
OUTSIDE of Dwight and Kemba, there weren’t many positives for Hornets fans. Malik Monk was a bit of a flop, albeit, in his first season and the contracts from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Nic Batum and Cody Zeller continue to haunt the front office.

Final Grade: D
I really thought that the Hornets could be a playoff team this year, and while a D might seem harsh, they failed this year. Bad contracts make the foreseeable future just as tough for Charlotte as they are stuck in no man’s land, not bad enough to be at the bottom of the lottery and get a game changer and not good enough to contend for the playoffs. Kemba could be moved before long.

Chicago Bulls

My Predicted Record: 21-61
Actual Record: 27-55

What Went Right?
EVEN if a lot of their youth couldn’t get on the court for a whole season, the ones that did looked great in flashes. Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen have given Chicago a solid platform to build their team back up from and adding another top-10 to that mix bodes well for their future.

What Went Wrong?
AS I mentioned above they struggled to get a full 82 games out of anyone. While trading Nikola Mirotic was important to guarantee a top pick this year, they could really use him for their rebuild. That being said if they hit on the first-round pick they traded him for it might not matter.

Final Grade: C
AFTER the dust settled from the Jimmy Butler trade it seems like both the Bulls and the Timberwolves emerged winners. It’s rare that something like this happens and there’s no doubt that Chicago’s rebuild has been fast forwarded as a result. Look for them to make a playoff push next year if they play their cards right this offseason.

Cleveland Cavaliers

My Predicted Record: 54-28
Actual Record: 50-32

What Went Right?
LEBRON freaking James
. In season 15 ‘The King’ had one of his finest seasons, putting up career highs in a handful of categories and playing all 82 games for the first time in his career. Amid all the chaos in Ohio, LeBron continued to chalk up triple-doubles and steer his team to 50 wins. We are not worthy.

What Went Wrong?
EVERYTHING else. The move to trade Kyrie Irving, the whole IT situation, key injuries to Kevin Love/Tristan Thompson and of course, trading their entire team at the deadline meant that there was no shortage of headlines in Cleveland this year. Will it all pay off? time will tell, but their woeful defense doesn’t give us a ton of hope.

Final Grade: B-
IT’S a championship or bust for the Cavs this year and they find themselves in an interesting place entering round one of the postseason. We have seen them flirt with danger for as long as we can remember only to refind their mojo and make a run at the title. Things are different this time around and they are going to have to have a virtually perfect run to claim their second title in three seasons.

Detroit Pistons

My Predicted Record: 37-45
Actual Record: 39-43

What Went Right?
BEFORE the season started I mentioned that Andre Drummond was facing a big year and he had to deliver. Not only did the big man do so, he kept Detroit alive for much longer than we expected, leading the entire league in rebounds (at 16 a night) and averaging 15 PPG. Stanley Johnson seemed to piece things together and looms as an important cog in the Pistons lineup.

What Went Wrong?
TRADING for Blake Griffin was meant to be the final piece in Detroit’s playoff push. It wasn’t. Instead, the Pistons went a measly 16-17 since acquiring Grif and found themselves on the outside of the East playoff race looking in. It wasn’t exactly what the front office had in mind when they traded for the 5x All-Star.

2017-18 End of Season Report Cards- NBA Eastern Conference 3Image from thecollegiatelive.com

Final Grade: D
SURELY this is the end of the Stan Van Gundy era right? The head coach/president of basketball operations is likely to lose at least one of his roles after a failure of a season from the Pistons. If they can stay healthy they should be a playoff team in the East next year. That’s a big ‘if’ though.

Indiana Pacers

My Predicted Record: 30-52
Actual Record: 48-34

What Went Right?
I was flat out wrong about the Pacers. Somehow Nate McMillan got the squad to come together and push for homecourt advantage, a spot they weren’t projected to be in. A huge part of that was because of the way Victor Oladipo played, with the former Magic and Thunder guard transforming into an All-Star and an awesome two-way player.

What Went Wrong?
AS good as Oladipo was, Myles Turner was a bit of a flop this season. Without Paul George in the mix we all expected Turner to take a leap in his development, but with the interruption of a few injuries he didn’t live up to the hype. In Turner’s defense he is still only 22 and will likely bounce back next year.

Final Grade: A-
HATS off to McMillan for what he managed to get out of Indiana this year. An uninspiring offseason quickly became a solidified unit, led by Victor Oladipo. There is plenty of room for growth as well and with smart investments over the next few seasons, the Pacers could build a contender.

2017-18 End of Season Report Cards- NBA Eastern Conference 4Image from clutchpoints.com

Miami Heat

My Predicted Record: 43-39
Actual Record: 44-38

What Went Right?
ERIK Spoelstra isn’t getting enough credit as the coach of the year. It’s hard to generate a ton of buzz when you are only half a dozen games over .500, but Spo has got the Heat to overachieve in my eyes. Even though he has useful pieces like James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Kelly Olynyk and All-Star guard Goran Dragic, this roster is still pretty mediocre, so to be sitting in the playoffs at the 6th spot is a credit to the Heat head coach.

What Went Wrong?
I am baffled by the whole Hassan Whiteside saga. He looked like one of the premier bigs in today’s league not that long ago. Now his role with the Heat has been reduced to a 20-25 minute player, gathering splinters on the bench while Olynyk and Johnson take over. A change of scenery could be beneficial for both sides.

Final Grade: B-
MIAMI find themselves in a very similar position to last year. They are a few pieces away from truly contending, but are pretty set as a playoff team in the miserable Eastern Conference. How they perform in the first-round against the Sixers will tell us a lot about their team.

Milwaukee Bucks

My Predicted Record: 45-37
Actual Record: 44-38

What Went Right?
I don’t think we can call Giannis Antetokounmpo a future star of the league anymore. He has arrived. The ‘Greek Freak’ took his game to new heights this year and as a result, he has been firmly in the MVP discussion for the entire season. Milwaukee needs to keep him happy so he stays in a Bucks uniform because this guy is a generational talent.

What Went Wrong?
WITH the exception of Antetokounmpo the rest of Milwaukee’s roster can be defined as ‘meh’. Guys like Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker are fine, but the Bucks need another All-Star calibre guy if they want to take the next step. Could one of those three become that guy? Maybe, but it seems unlikely.

Final Grade: C-
QUESTIONABLE defense and the firing of Jason Kidd leaves the franchise at a bit of a crossroad. They need support for Giannis and have some assets to facilitate a move and after ranking in the middle of the road for most major statistical categories, they don’t really have any supreme strengths. Get him help and get him a decent head coach, or he could jump ship.

New York Knicks

My Predicted Record: 28-54
Actual Record: 29-53

What Went Right?
I actually liked the moves that the Knicks made at the trade deadline this year. They dealt Willy Hernangomez away, which is a smart move if they weren’t planning on playing him and they also added Emmanuel Mudiay for virtually nothing. Surely, either Mudiay or rookie guard Frank Ntilikina can develop into a future starter and help the long climb back up the standings.

What Went Wrong?
A lot of people are saying that Porzingis’ ACL injury was a bit more of a blessing as it allowed them to drop down and get a higher draft pick. All reports indicate that he will be fully healthy for opening night next season, but if there is even any shred of doubt they should keep him on ice. Either way of if he plays game one of season 2018-19 or not, an ACL injury isn’t a good thing for a young star.

Final Grade: D
HARSH, but fair. New York was terrible this year and they stayed in the worst possible place, middle ground. They didn’t bottom out, they didn’t climb up the standings and they still lack a sense of direction and purpose and at the end of the day, it cost Jeff Hornacek his job. They need to their first-round pick, currently slotted at No. 9. If they do, things will look up, if not, well…

Orlando Magic

My Predicted Record: 33-49
Actual Record: 25-57

What Went Right?
ORLANDO haven’t really made progress over the last few seasons, so I applaud them for trading Elfrid Payton and avoiding the complications around his contract. Granted a second-round pick isn’t an amazing return for the guy they took 10th overall in 2014.

What Went Wrong?
IT seems like Aaron Gordon can’t be a No. 1 guy after struggling through patches this season. Stuck between playing a stretch four and an undersized five, Gordon did show some improvement and his supporting cast didn’t pick up the slack. He seems like a perfect second option, but until Orlando strike gold he will still shoulder a massive brunt of the workload.

Final Grade: C-
WE are in Year 62 of the Magic rebuild and we still have no idea what the hell they are doing. No word of a lie I typed this sentence ‘Frank Vogel’s seat continues to heat up’ only to then check my phone and see that Orlando fired him. Whoever takes over the head coaching role needs to instil some direction and purpose to save their depressed fans.

Charlotte Hornets v Indiana PacersImage from si.com

Philadelphia 76ers

My Predicted Record: 40-42
Actual Record: 52-30

What Went Right?
IS their a better young duo in the league than Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid? The short answer is no, these Philly guys are the real deal. Not only did they deliver, but the likes of Robert Covington, J.J. Redick, Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric provided them with an awesome supporting cast. We expected them to be good in time, but not this soon. Wow.

What Went Wrong?
EVEN though he returned in the last dozen games, the whole Markelle Fultz mystery wasn’t a fun experience for the No. 1 overall pick. With questions circulating about his jump shot and if he was already a bust, his confidence would have definitely taken a hit.

Final Grade: A+
THERE is a real possibility that the 76ers aren’t finished developing and they can become a powerhouse of the league if they can keep their core together. No matt what happens in these playoffs, they can’t let this year go to waste. Expect them to come back next year with the confidence and experience to challenge their conference foes for the top seed.

Toronto Raptors

My Predicted Record: 48-34
Actual Record: 59-23

What Went Right?
REVOLUTIONISING their offense has helped Toronto claim the No. 1 overall seed for the East playoffs and has them poised to make a serious run at a Finals berth. DeMar DeRozan looked like an MVP candidate at times canning 3’s with confidence and their bench unit might be the best in the league. Dwane Casey definitely has some Coach of the Year votes coming his way.

What Went Wrong?
TORONTO was riding an 11-game winning streak into their March 18th match against the Thunder. Instead of surging towards the postseason they went 7-6 to close the year, including a 2-5 record against playoff teams. It’s not the best preparation for their ‘hopefully’ deep postseason run.

Final Grade: A
A ton of credit needs to go to the Raptors for winning their first ever one seed in their conference. However, it will mean nothing if they don’t capitalise in the playoffs, with an East Finals appearance and in an ideal world a trip to the NBA Finals. If they can pull that off this grade quickly becomes an A+.

Washington Wizards

My Predicted Record: 48-34
Actual Record: 43-39

What Went Right?
THE teams MVP was undeniably Bradley Beal, who thrived as the only All-Star on the court for a lengthy part of the season. As Washington continues to struggle for productive players outside of their big two, both Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre have shown flashes of potential and will be solid long-term building blocks.

What Went Wrong?
IN summary, everyone caught up and they didn’t get better. I thought that the Wiz could push for a conference finals appearance and instead, they face an uphill battle to survive round one. Marcin Gortat looked like a 34-year old unathletic center would usually look and the bench unit still needs work.

Final Grade: D
WASHINGTON definitely came up short in 2018, even when John Wall was healthy and on the court. Locker room feuds and an inability to back up their mouths saw the Wizards preyed upon nightly and exposed as just a middle of the road team. They could return to form next year, but I can’t see it happening and I think another similar season is coming.

Peace ✌

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