NBA Midterm Grades: the league’s biggest underachievers and overachievers

They say pressure makes diamonds, but not for some of the NBA teams who haven’t lived up to their lofty expectations this season.

The NBA season has reached its halfway point, with All-Star Weekend right around the corner, and in usual, dramatic NBA fashion, there are plenty of teams who have shocked the league for better or for worse.

Here is a look at the NBA’s biggest underperformers and overperformers of the season thus far.

 

Underperformers:

Minnesota Timberwolves (15-32, 14th in the Western Conference)

Despite career-best seasons from Karl-Anthony Towns (right) and Andrew Wiggins (middle), the Minnesota Timberwolves still find themselves near the bottom of the Western Conference ladder. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

The Timberwolves are no stranger to being a horrendous disappointment, but this year, they’ve somehow outdone themselves.

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Out of the 47 games they’ve played, the Wolves find themselves the second-worst team in the Western Conference.

Sure, they’ve parted ways with guards Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose, but they still have Andrew Wiggins and generational talent in Karl-Anthony Towns — both of whom are having the best statistical seasons of their careers, with Towns putting up a monstrous 27 points and 10.8 rebounds per contest and Wiggins posting nearly 23 points per game. Complimentary wings like Robert Covington and Josh Okogie are definitely worth mentioning as well.

The Wolves by no means have a star-studded roster destined for playoff success, but they have been absolutely disgusting recently — losing their last 10 games. The Wolves are also among the league’s worst in offensive rating, tied for the 28th worst field-goal percentage (43%), and are boasting the league’s worst 3-point shooting percentage (32%). Big changes need to happen in the organization — whether it be the team or the front office.

 

Philadelphia 76ers (31-17, sixth in the Eastern Conference)

At the beginning of the season, expectations for Philadelphia were lofty to say the least. Boasting an absolute juggernaut of a starting lineup, whose average height is 6-feet-9-inches, many expected Philadelphia to be the clear-cut contender in the East with the departure of Kawhi Leonard to Los Angeles.

Since then, however, the 76ers find themselves with similar problems they’ve always had: a lack of perimeter shooting, a lack of bench depth and a poor fit between their two best players Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

This is apparent in Philly being ranked 23rd in the league in made and attempted 3-pointers and 20th in offensive rating. The 76ers are simply struggling to string together an efficient offense and it doesn’t help that Embiid has only played in 32 of 48 games this season due to injuries. Philly is a team that would benefit greatly from a trade before the Feb. 6 trade deadline — perhaps for some perimeter scoring in Derrick Rose, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari or Robert Covington.

 

Overperformers:

Dallas Mavericks (29-18, fifth in the Western Conference)

Two words: Luka. Don?i?.

Nobody could have expected the Wunderkind Luka to explode into a bonafide superstar this year. Even with frontcourt partner-in-crime Kristaps Porzi??is missing 11 games this year due to injury, Luka has not only led the Mavericks to wins, but the best offensive rating in the league this season. With only three or four games separating the third seed from the seventh seed in the powerhouse West, it’s not a stretch to say that the Mavs could end up finishing the season among the top of the Western Conference ladder.

The Mavericks are poised to be a force to be reckoned with in the foreseeable future.

 

Oklahoma City Thunder (29-20, seventh in the Western Conference)

The Oklahoma City Thunder thrived behind their three-guard lineup of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (left), Chris Paul (right) and Dennis Schröder. Photo courtesy of Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press.

Remember how Oklahoma City was the laughing stock of last year’s off-season? Remember Damian Lillard’s heartbreaking 3-pointer that booted OKC out of the playoffs? Remember Paul George and Russell Westbrook leaving for greener pastures?

The Thunder sure doesn’t.

Since the end of the Westbrook-era Thunder, Chris Paul and friends have quietly shocked the entire NBA as one of the better teams in the loaded West.

There were several question marks surrounding Chris Paul as to whether he would be healthy or even remain on the team past the trade deadline, but CP3 has quickly shut up all naysayers, putting up 17.1 points and 6.5 assists per game on near-career-best efficiency. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is also enjoying a breakout year as one of the league’s brightest young point guards and players like Danilo Gallinari, Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams are contributing consistently as well.

With perhaps the largest supply of draft picks in the league and a future face-of-the-franchise in Gilgeous-Alexander, get used to the Thunder trending upward.