NBA: Which Most Improved Team Can Keep Pace

As we near the midway point of the NBA season, it is time to gauge where teams are at.  What teams are the biggest surprises of the season and can they continue their momentum of the first half of the season through the second half?

We will look at the five teams that have made the biggest improvement from last year and that are in the playoff hunt.  Due to the shorten season last year, win percentage was used to make the list.

There is one team that has made the fourth biggest jump from last season however; they are still not in the playoff hunt.  The Charlotte Bobcats have more than doubled their win percentage from last season.  While that may sound impressive, they still only have a .250 win percentage this year.

They have already surpassed last year’s win total with nine wins.  The improved effort does earn them an honorable mention on this list.

New York Knicks

The Knicks have made the fifth-biggest jump this year.  Last season, they made the playoffs as the seventh seed.  They were six games over .500.  This season they are 24-13.  They sit on top of the Atlantic Division and are only a half-game behind the Miami Heat for the top spot in the East.

Carmelo Anthony has been a big reason for the improvement.  He has always been a scorer, but this season his 29.3 points per game average is a career best.  His is a much more efficient scorer this year as he is shooting better from the field, free-throw and 3-point line.

Beyond Anthony, Tyson Chandler and J.R. Smith are having career years.  Smith is one of the leading candidates for Sixth Man of the Year. Raymond Felton had found his old scoring touch as well before being forced out of the lineup with an injured finger. This has helped the team raise their scoring output by more than 3.5 points per game this year.  They now rank eighth in the league scoring.

Felton told the New York Post he hoped to be back by the end of this month.

As for the remainder of the season, they should be a good position to continue their strong play.  Amare Stoudemire’s effect on the team is their biggest question mark.  He recently returned from injury and has only played seven games this season.  If he can mesh with the team’s style and play then they will only get stronger.

Portland Trail Blazers

Portland finished below .500 last season and eight games out of the playoffs. This season, they are three games over .500 and holding onto the eighth place.

The main difference this season has been the addition of rookie Damian Lillard. He leads all rookies in points and assists. On the Trail Blazers, he is second in points and first in assists.

Another player who has stepped up this year is J.J. Hickson, who is averaging a double-double with 12 points and 10.9 rebounds per game.

As for their prospects of continued success, they could be in trouble.  The Utah Jazz are right behind them, but likely will not pass them.  The Minnesota Timberwolves lost Kevin Love due to injury, which greatly reduces their chances of catching them.

The biggest concern is the Los Angeles Lakers.  It is difficult to see them missing the playoffs, but who would have thought that they would be five games under .500 and sitting in 11th place in the West this far into the season.  If they ever get on a roll, they will have their sights set on Portland’s spot in the playoffs.

Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are an odd kind of surprise.  They were already a good team last year as they made the playoffs as the fifth seed.  There were many who thought that they could be even better this season.  Still, there are the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the worst-run franchises ever; it was hard to believe that they would actually build on last season’s success.

Not only have they improved but they are battling the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the league.  Chris Paul is having an MVP-caliber season.  The addition of Jamal Crawford, who is in the running for Sixth Man of the Year, has greatly improved the team.  Matt Barnes has been another good addition.

As shocking as it is to say this, the Clippers are the real deal.  With Blake Griffin and Paul, they have one of the most potent one-two scoring punches in the league.  Veterans Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill have missed most of the season.  With their return, it makes the bench even deeper and this team even more dangerous.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets have a new home and it seems to fit them well.  After a season where they finished 22 games below .500, they now sit seven games above.

They have a new-found focus on defense which has helped them lower their opponents’ points per game by five from last year.  They have matched that with an increase in their team scoring which has led to their much improved record.

They are a bit of a streaky team.  They have had three times this season where they have had at least a three-game winning streak.  They also have had two losing streaks of at least three games.  In fact, they followed up a five-game win streak with an immediate five-game losing streak.

They do have the talent to contend for a playoff spot and should safely secure one.  While they likely will not stay close the Miami Heat, Knicks or Chicago Bulls–once Derrick Rose returns–they are in that next batch of teams in the East.

Golden State Warriors

The most-improved team in the league is the Golden State Warriors. After finishing 20 games under .500 last season, they now sit 10 games over this year.

The team is getting contributions from all over their roster. Stephen Curry has stepped into the role Monta Ellis held last year.  He is having a career year and leads the team in scoring and assists. David Lee leads the league in games with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

The improvement of Klay Thomson and the addition of Harrison Barnes, Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry have greatly helped the depth of this team.

Their biggest weakness in at center.  Andrew Bogut has only played four games this season.  With few details coming from Bogut or the team, it is difficult to determine when or if he will be back this season.  It would not be a surprise to see the team make some type of trade to get some help at center.

The team sits fifth in the West.  With the Clippers in front of them in the Pacific Division, they will likely not move above the fourth seed in the West.  Still they have the tools to remain a competitive team for the remainder of the season.

With so many surprise teams in the mix this year, it should make for an interesting time as the trade deadline gets closer.

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