Believe it or not, we've reached the first quarter pole of the 2022-23 NBA season, and there's a lot to unpack. The Celtics look like the cream of the Eastern Conference, and probably the league, so far, and yet you look up and the Bucks, who've played without Khris Middleton up to this point, are just a game back in the loss column. Only three losses separate the East's Nos. 3-11 seed.
Out West, if you thought Phoenix's window had closed, better think again. The Suns are atop the conference despite Chris Paul having played just 10 games. After that, it's even tighter than the East: Three losses separate the No. 2 Nuggets from the No. 10 Mavericks.
There's still a long way to go, but we've seen enough to start making some early assessments. Below is a first-quarter grade and brief blurb of analysis for all 30 teams.
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(By Michael Kaskey-Blomain)
Boston Celtics: A
Things have been going extremely well for the Boston Celtics so far this season. It's been the polar opposite of last season when they struggled and started slowly out of the gate. At the quarter mark of the season, the Celtics have the best record in the entire NBA, they boast the league's best offense and Jayson Tatum has elevated his game to an MVP level. Their defense has slipped a bit compared to last season, but it will receive a big boost when center Robert Williams III returns later in the season. The fact that the Celtics have been as good as they have been despite entering the season with a rookie head coach is impressive. The season-long suspension of Ime Udoka, who led them to the Finals last season, had the potential to become a distraction, but it hasn't been. So far, the Celtics look like the cream of the crop in the East.
Brooklyn Nets: C
The Nets have been playing better ball as of late, but the first quarter of their season has been underwhelming, and it's been marred by drama, including the departure of head coach Steve Nash. Kevin Durant has been his usual stellar self, but the help around him has been inconsistent to say the least. Kyrie Irving missed a chunk of games due to suspension, and Ben Simmons has also missed several games due to injury issues. The team has struggled on the defensive end, as lack of size has proven to be an issue. Perhaps they'll be able to get it together for the rest of the season, but so far they've looked like an average team -- a far cry from the legitimate championship contender many expected them to be.
New York Knicks: C
New season, same Knicks. Despite spending big to add Jalen Brunson in free agency, the Knicks are hovering .500 at the quarter mark, and they haven't been particularly inspiring on either end of the floor. They're a middle-of-the-road team on the offensive end, but they have the fifth-worst defense in the league, and that's an issue. Brunson has been solid, but no one on the roster has really taken a noticeable step forward this far, and as a result the team hasn't either. There's still plenty of time to turn things around for the Knicks, but they haven't really provided too much reason to think they will do so. If they're unable to improve, we might start to hear some rumblings about Tom Thibodeau's job security.
Philadelphia 76ers: B-
After a slow start to the season, the Sixers have been playing better ball as of late, which is impressive because they've missed all three of their top scorers -- Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey -- for chunks of time. A lot of their success so far has come on the defensive end of the floor -- they had the league's best defense in the month of November. Embiid recently returned to the rotation, and has continued to play MVP-level basketball, and Harden and Maxey are supposed to follow suit in the near future. The team may have gotten some growing pains out of the way early on, and there's still plenty of time for them to reach their lofty potential.
Toronto Raptors: B
With a roster full of long, athletic players, the Raptors have established themselves as one of the better defensive teams in the league this season. They have a top-10 ranked defense, and that's a big part of the reason they've found some success so far this season. The Raptors went 11-9 through their first 20 games, and they had to play half of those games without Pascal Siakam, who returned recently after dealing with a strain in his right adductor muscle. With him back in the fold, the Raptors have a real chance to develop into one of those teams that no team in the East will want to see in the playoffs.
(By James Herbert)
Chicago Bulls: C-
Despite DeMar DeRozan being even more efficient than he was last season, the Bulls' offense is in the bottom 10. There is way more ball movement now, but they've been terrible in the clutch, they miss Lonzo Ball immensely and Zach LaVine isn't himself. Fortunately, Alex Caruso has been as sensational as a player scoring 5.8 points a game can possibly be -- he's among the league leaders in deflections despite averaging only 25.5 minutes, and Chicago has been excellent on both ends with him on the court. The Bulls have gotten unlucky with opponent 3-point shooting, but they don't generate many 3s themselves and have been outscored significantly in the minutes in which their three highest-paid players (DeRozan, LaVine and Nikola Vucevic) have shared the court. Patrick Williams has broken out of an early season shooting slump, but his usage rate is in the teens and Chicago's future is murky.
Cleveland Cavaliers: A-
Donovan Mitchell has never been more efficient -- he has made almost half of his pull-up 3s -- and Cleveland has the top bench in the NBA, in terms of aggregate net rating. This team plays at a snail's pace, turns the ball over too often and has dealt with several injuries, but it has overcome all of this by making jumpers and limiting opponents' second-chance points and transition opportunities. It's notable that the Cavs have been fantastic with one of Mitchell and Darius Garland on the floor and have been outscored when they've been together, and it's alarming that Caris LeVert's usage and efficiency have both cratered, but only Boston and Phoenix rank higher in net rating. Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen remain a devastating defensive duo.
Detroit Pistons: D+
I'd give them an "incomplete" if that were allowed -- Cade Cunningham hasn't played since Nov. 9, might need surgery on his injured shin and, while the Pistons' halfcourt offense was bad when he was on the court, the numbers have been predictably atrocious without him. (They've been a bit less awful lately, with Killian Hayes showing signs of life and Alec Burks serving as something of a stabilizer,) In the big picture, it doesn't really matter that Detroit is asking way too much of Bojan Bogdanovic and Jaden Ivey right now -- in terms of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, this season is going perfectly! — but the team would surely like to have seen more small victories. Saddiq Bey's efficiency has dipped again, Cunningham's pull-up 3 isn't there yet and I can't think of a single thing that the Pistons do well defensively. On the offensive side, at least they generate free throws and second-chance points.
Indiana Pacers: A+
We've seen the Pacers overachieve plenty of times before, but this time they're doing it a totally different way. They're extremely fast, they take a ton of 3s and they move the ball more than anybody outside of Golden State. Tyrese Haliburton leads the league in assists and is on track to make his first All-Star appearance. Bennedict Mathurin, Indiana's rookie sixth man, has the highest usage rate on the team and is making 42.6 percent of his pull-up 3s while attempting free throws at about the same per-possession rate as Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and DeRozan. The defense has been surprisingly decent, too, thanks to the rim protection of Myles Turner and Isaiah Jackson and the ball pressure of T.J. McConnell, Andrew Nembhard and Aaron Nesmith... and a relatively easy schedule and lucky opponent 3-point shooting. If they ever figure out how to avoid falling behind in the first quarter, watch out!
Milwaukee Bucks: A
When the Bucks don't have the ball, everything's awesome. They have the NBA's top defense and top defensive shot profile -- after years of surrendering 3s in order to protect the rim, they've stopped surrendering 3s and continued to protect the rim. The issue is that, when they have the ball, the game doesn't necessarily get less ugly. They're slower this season, both in terms of transition frequency and halfcourt tempo. In Year 10, Giannis Antetokounmpo's usage rate has never been higher, and his true shooting percentage is lower than it has been since his third season. Jrue Holiday has been inefficient outside of the paint, too. It is unfair to judge them too harshly, though, given their 15-5 record and the fact that Khris Middleton has been sidelined the entire time. Middleton is about to , and he'll be expected to lift Milwaukee's halfcourt offense, which currently ranks 21st, per Cleaning The Glass.
(By Colin Ward-Henninger)
Atlanta Hawks: B
A Trae Young team being 26th in halfcourt offense, per Synergy, just makes absolutely no sense – and the Hawks' lack of scoring is reflected in their mediocre record for the first quarter of the season. Overall, they've gone from second to 12th in offensive rating, and part of that can be attributed to Young's steep drop in efficiency. Dejounte Murray has impacted the defense the way Atlanta hoped, but he hasn't been the offensive band-aid they need when Young is off the floor. The offensive rating drops by about 10 points per 100 possessions when Young sits, pretty much exactly the same as last season. On the plus side, the defense has been in the middle of the pack, compared to bottom-five last season. That should give Hawks fans hope that when Bogdan Bogdanovic returns, the team gets a little more used to Murray, and Nate McMillan works out consistent rotations, the offense will skyrocket while the defense holds, creating a serious Eastern Conference contender. As of now, however, they're just not there.
Charlotte Hornets: D
The only reason the Hornets avoid an "F" is because of their significant injury issues to begin the season. But even with a healthy LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward for the entire year, they probably only win a few more games. The East got better while the Hornets remained stagnant, and the loss of Miles Bridges, coupled with the injuries, has led to a league-worst offensive rating. They're 27th in transition offense, per Synergy, which will almost certainly improve with a healthy Ball, but the halfcourt offense is dead last without much hope to climb. Steve Clifford's defense hasn't been awful, but it's still nowhere near stout enough to make up for the lack of scoring punch. Dennis Smith Jr. is a nice reclamation story, but that's been about the only bright spot for Charlotte so far this season.
Miami Heat: C+
Not many expected the Heat to repeat as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but not many expected them to be below .500 at the quarter-season mark either. A bottom-10 offense and a good-but-not-great defense have led to an up and down performance, plagued by recent injury issues that have shredded the roster to barely the minimum number of players. The good news? The healthy starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler, Caleb Martin and Bam Adebayo is a plus-6.2 for the season. The offense-first version of that lineup with Max Strus substituted for Martin is plus-11.8. So there's reason to believe that, once intact, Miami could be devastating. But with Lowry at 36 years old and Butler at 33, it's fair to question whether we can reasonably expect legitimate health for significant stretches of the season.
Orlando Magic: C
With Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero, Most Improved Player Candidate Bol Bol and a host of super-big, super-weird lineups, are the Magic more fun this season? Absolutely. Has it all translated to wins? Not quite yet, and there's nothing wrong with that. The Magic have been 29th in offense in each of the last two seasons, so, hey, 24th this time around isn't looking so bad. Wendell Carter Jr. and Franz Wagner are legitimate players and Jalen Suggs has shown some flashes, while Cole Anthony, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac (hey, remember him!) have made essentially zero impact due to injuries. Orlando isn't getting out of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes any time soon, but the team has some solid young talent on the roster.
Washington Wizards: B
The Wizards sit at a respectable .500 just over a quarter of the way into the season, with their two-man wrecking crew doing all sorts of damage. No, we're not talking about Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, but rather Kyle Kuzma and Monte Morris, who have helped the Wizards to a plus-10.4 net rating while on the court together. For what it's worth, pretty much every unit involving Kuzma has crushed opponents this season, as Washington improves by 16.8 (!) points per 100 possessions with the sixth-year forward on the floor. Beal's efficiency has been off the charts to start the year, while Porzingis has also delivered in pretty much every area (including health), and Deni Avdija has emerged as a viable fifth starter. The Wizards don't exactly knock your socks off, but they profile as a team perfectly capable of making a run to one of the play-in spots, provided health from their stars – a label which now includes Kuzma, who's averaging career highs in both points per game and field goal percentage.
(By Brad Botkin)
Denver Nuggets: B
Zoomed out, the Nuggets look a lot like the Kings on paper: great offense (great offense, terrible defense). That is not a recipe for a title contender, nor is Denver's 28th-ranked bench (everything still goes in the tank when Nikola Jokic sits), and yet the Nuggets are 14-7 as of this writing -- No. 2 in the West -- and Jamal Murray has only recently started looking closer to his old self. You can only grade those results so harshly, even if they have come courtesy of one of the league's softest schedules and an almost certainly unsustainable reliance on having the No. 1 rated defense in the clutch, which screams small-sample luck. The good news is Denver shoots the lights out. The shot profile isn't ideal, but when you're hitting over 40 percent of your 3s as a team, frequency aside, that makes up for a lot. Michael Porter Jr. looks good and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope basically never misses. Aaron Gordon was born to play alongside Jokic. For Denver, the top-end talent and continuity is there. The starting lineup kills. All things considered, good start. But certainly some things to iron out.
Minnesota Timberwolves: D
The good vibes of Rudy Gobert's dominant opening night quickly turned toxic, and now everyone is back to wondering what in the world the Wolves were thinking when they went all in to get him. That's not really a knock on Gobert, who's pretty much been his normal self -- it's just increasingly evident that this chemistry set doesn't mix so well, which might have been a lot more predictable than I thought when I deemed the Wolves an offseason winner for pulling off the Gobert deal and declared them an almost surefire 50-win team (oops). Gobert's presence pushes Karl-Anthony Towns -- -- to the four, where he isn't quite the same matchup nightmare, while also mucking up driving lanes for Anthony Edwards that were wide open when KAT was the spacing five last season. Losing Jarred Vanderbilt has hurt; now it's Kyle Anderson, literally a guy better known as "Slow-Mo," rotating out to shooters when Towns comes to the level of screens, which was a pretty successful strategy last season. Jaden McDaniels has been good, but he can only do so much without Vanderbilt and Patrick Beverley pulling the same perimeter rope. The Wolves bet that Gobert alone would negate all these losses, and the bottom line is they are losing Gobert's minutes by almost four points per 100 possessions with a worse defense than last season and what would rank as the worst offense in the league, per CTG. They have a negative point differential, a .500 record (as of this writing) and some of the most depressing energy imaginable. Hovering around .500 is not a total fail in a Western Conference that is tightly packed and thus wide open for a team that has started slow to figure things out. But it sure doesn't feel like this is going to end well.
Oklahoma City Thunder: B+
The Thunder are consistently competitive and have an absolute star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is playing like an honest-to-god MVP. Factor nothing else in, and that's already a big win through the first quarter of the season for a team still almost entirely focused on the future. Jalen Williams looks super promising. Josh Giddey has played well. Lu Dort is still a defensive stud, though his shooting is not good and his shot selection can be worse (these determined drives to the basket were fun when it was all part of his development, but he could stand to chill a little). With Chet Holmgren sitting in storage alongside a slew of draft picks, the Thunder are growing ever closer to making their big move. In the meantime, they're on pace to blow away last season's 24-win total.
Portland Trail Blazers: B-
The Blazers came out looking like we should all be ashamed for doubting their ability to contend among the West's higher ups, but they've recently revealed themselves as what looks like a middle-of-the-pack team with a bottom-10 defense and point differential that is being propped up by clutch ownership. That's a familiar theme for a Damian Lillard team, only it's not Lillard who's killing in the final five minutes so far; it's Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant, both of whom have been a bright spot (especially Grant, who should get strong All-Star consideration if this keeps up). This is a team with a razor-thin margin for error, as evidenced by its slightly negative overall and starting-lineup net ratings. To be fair, Lillard hasn't played in almost two weeks and Gary Payton II hasn't played at all. Lillard is not shooting well, and you know that will change. All told, at 11-11 as of this writing, Portland will take this start. But you can see the leaks.
Utah Jazz: A-
This couldn't be going any better for the Jazz, who have spent most of the early season at or near the top of the Western Conference only to start their seemingly inevitable and probably advisable decline of late. The Jazz are littered with good-to-competent NBA players, and a bunch of them (Kelly Olynyk, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Walker Kessler, Colin Sexton) have probably raised their value from where it started the season if Danny Ainge eventually goes into sell mode. Meanwhile, Lauri Markkanen has been a revelation. He's either a future building block or a massive trade asset. Either way, the Jazz are winning. They have established a foundation of consistent, accountable basketball, developed young talent, and still kept the tank in order if they want to go that route, though it feels like that ship is pretty close to sailing. That's the only reason for the minus next to "A" -- I'm still not sure a 40-win season serves that better than a 20-win season.
(By Sam Quinn)
Golden State Warriors: C
Amid all of the doom and gloom, Warriors fans still have one certainty to hold onto. In 230 minutes of play, the five-man starting lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green and Kevon Looney has outscored opponents by 125 points. That's so far ahead of the rest of the league that, as of this writing, only Denver's starting lineup (plus-66) and Milwaukee's (plus-63) are even halfway there. The young players have disappointed. The team falls apart on the road. The defense has been a mess, especially in the clutch. These are all entirely valid criticisms that have contributed to a disappointing start. But when the Warriors stop pretending to nurture a second timeline and just put their best players on the court, they actually play like... well... the Warriors. They may be costing themselves seeding right now, but until someone figures out how to beat their best five, they are still very much at the center of the championship conversation.
Los Angeles Clippers: B-
So... who wants to put the ball in the basket for the Clippers? Remaining above .500 and atop the league defensively considering Kawhi Leonard's absence has been quite impressive, but the offense has fallen behind even the lowly Lakers amid a borderline disastrous start. Mediocre jump-shooting has been a surprise out of the normally lethal Clippers, but the real problems here stem from a complete inability to get to the basket. Only the Warriors average fewer shots in the restricted area, and they make up for it by leading the lead in passes per game. The Clippers currently rank 27th in passing, instead opting for the sort of stale, isolation-heavy fare that makes sense only when Leonard is at full strength. Until he gets there, this offense just can't put enough points on the board to adequately support its stellar defense.
Los Angeles Lakers: C-
The front office gets an F for its incoherent roster design and steadfast refusal to commit the assets necessary to improve the team. The players and coaches get a C- for making the best of a bad situation. Much was made of the historic struggles this offense endured through its first five games... yet since then, the Lakers rank 11th in offensive efficiency and 17th in 3-point percentage despite some missed games from LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Darvin Ham may not have elite talent at his disposal, but the players he does have are playing hard for him. The Lakers rank eighth in defense, third in contested shots per game and 10th in deflections. This group of players was too poorly conceived to contend meaningfully, but the nightmare scenarios envisioned after the first two weeks of play no longer appear likely. So long as this team remains relatively healthy, it will remain relatively competitive. Any ambitions beyond that will come down to whether or not Rob Pelinka will live up to his promise to trade his two available first-round picks to give LeBron James a fighting chance at one last championship ring.
Sacramento Kings: A-
Come on folks, say it with me. LIGHT. THE. BEAM. The lowly Sacramento Kings have been the NBA's best offense west of Boston this season, and in keeping with Vivek Ranadive's infatuation with the Warriors, they run one of the NBA's most egalitarian systems. Sacramento ranks fifth in the NBA in assist rate and passes per game as of this writing, but no single King is averaging even seven assists per night, and the players are moving as much as the ball, as the Kings have the league's third-highest average speed among players on the court, according to NBA.com tracking data. The result is a whirring, dizzying offense that plays fast, plays selflessly and feasts off of the open shots it creates for everyone on the floor. The only thing holding Sacramento back from an "A" is its 27th-ranked defense. That'll keep them from contending seriously, but nothing will stop this offense from at least earning a play-in berth, if not a playoff spot outright.
Phoenix Suns: A
A year ago, the Phoenix Suns earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Since then, one of their starters, DeAndre Ayton has tried to leave through restricted free agency while another, Jae Crowder, is still sitting out as he awaits the trade requested this offseason. Crowder's replacement, Cam Johnson, has played only eight games due to a torn meniscus, and Chris Paul has played only 10 because of a hamstring injury. Even when Paul has been on the floor, he's averaging below 10 points per game for the first time in his career and shooting south of 37 percent. Oh, and for good measure, their owner is selling the team after an investigation found years of misconduct. But if the season ended today, where would the Suns be seeded in the West? No. 1. Just save all of us the time and send Monty Williams his Coach of the Year trophy now. By modernizing Phoenix's shot diet (a jump from 26th to 15th in 3-point attempts was sorely needed) and leaning on the reliable brilliance of Devin Booker, Williams has held the Suns together with glue and scotch tape. Considering all this team has endured, its success thus far this season is nothing short of remarkable.
(By Jasmyn Wimbish)
Dallas Mavericks: C
The Mavericks' recent win over the Golden State Warriors certainly helped this grade as Luka Doncic's 41-point triple-double pulled Dallas back to .500 on the season. Doncic is performing at an MVP-level, but his teammates aren't pulling their weight on a nightly basis. The bulk of Dallas' offense is built on generating open 3s, and while they rank fifth in the league in 3s per game (39.4), they're making them at just a 34.4 percent clip, which ranks 20th in the league. Guys like Tim Hardaway Jr., Reggie Bullock and Dorian Finney-Smith will break out of their shooting slumps at some point this season, but Dallas has to hope that happens sooner rather than later in a ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff race where they currently sit 10th in the standings.
Houston Rockets: D+
Jabari Parker hasn't gotten out to a great start, and while some of that could just be chalked up to a rookie getting a feel for the game at the pro level, some of it certainly has to do with the lack of cohesiveness in Houston. The Rockets have several young, exciting players in Parker, Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Alperen Sengun, all of whom can fill up a statsheet. Despite all that though, the Rockets still rank just 26th on offense. The silver lining, though, is that Green is taking strides as a facilitator in his second year, an important aspect of his game that will need to be unlocked even further for this team to succeed.
Memphis Grizzlies: A-
The recent return of Jaren Jackson Jr. has elevated the Grizzlies to an even higher level. While it's a small sample size, the added versatility Jackson gives Memphis on offense makes them even more potent on that end, while improving their interior defense on the other. Couple that with Ja Morant making a career-high 37 percent of his 3s and you have a young Grizzlies team that is improving and developing past just being an electrifying team to watch.
New Orleans Pelicans: A
Zion Williamson became the first player in NBA history to average 25 points a game and shoot 60 percent from the floor in his first 100 games, a milestone he just reached this week. He looks like the dominant force many expected him to be on offense, and when the Pelicans are healthy they have the league's fourth-best net rating. Even with players like Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Herbert Jones in and out of the lineup due to various injuries, New Orleans has remained consistent. That speaks to the depth of this roster led by the veteran leadership of CJ McCollum, making the Pelicans a potentially dangerous team if they can keep this up.
San Antonio Spurs: D
In reality, the Spurs are doing everything you'd expect from a team that is rebuilding and hoping that the ping pong balls fall in their favor to land Victor Wembanyama. They're losing games, but it's also been an opportunity for young guys like Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson to develop. Vassell has taken a big step forward in his progress now that he's a full-time starter, jumping from averaging just 12 points a game last season, to over 20 points a night now. Still, even in a rebuilding year, you'd expect a Gregg Popovich-led team to be a bit more competitive. The Spurs are losing by an average of 10.4 points a night, and are in the midst of an nine-game losing streak.