NBA End-of-Season Grades: Part 2

Even since last week’s Part 1 of our end-of-season grades, there have been rumblings that a second bubble will take place (in Chicago) for the NBA’s worst eight teams. With details yet to emerge, it only seems appropriate to continue reviewing the performance of those franchises.  

Sure, not even receiving an invite to Orlando suggests that these teams’ end-of-season grades will be low, but for some, there is light at the end of an admittedly cloudy tunnel.

Let’s take a look at the final four of eight and where things went (mostly) wrong.

Atlanta Hawks C

Unhappy with the way things were going, point guard Trae Young requested help earlier in the season. The Atlanta Hawks acquired Houston Rockets center Clint Capela via cheap trade. The price was more than right for one of the league’s better shot-blocking, rebounding play-finishing bigs, but the conundrum is how he does a lot of the same things (and in the same spaces) that Hawks forward John Collins already does.

Could this lessen Collins’ role going forward, despite the fact he returned from his early-season suspension and averaged 20 and 10

This year wound up being messy like that.

Young clearly has high expectations for his team—which is great since you want your star to lead the way—but while a team’s best player usually has the front office’s ear, that is usually after the player has led them to some success.

Before Young was drafted, the Hawks finished with a .293 winning percentage. A slight improvement during his rookie year laid foundations, but that dipped again this season before it was cut short. It was also Collins’ team in 2018-19—he led the team in scoring—but Young averaged 29.3 ppg and 9.3 apg this season to take charge.

Young and Collins would arguably work better together going forward than Young and Capella. But we just haven’t had a chance to see how they work together, much less how young pieces like Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and DeAndre Hunter fit with the new arrival either.

There aren’t any major signs of a power struggle, but Young and Collins’ chemistry will be key to the team’s success. They are both great talents, which is why this year isn’t a complete write-off, but Atlanta has some big decisions to make rather quickly on this core.

New York Knicks D

Honestly, what is this franchise doing? Why are people still supporting it?

I get the arguments from the New York Knicks faithful: The roster is currently in a more solid place than the narrative suggests. It has a load of youngsters taken on fliers, supported by veterans who are eager to prove something on short contracts. By the time the latter come off the books, there will be lots of space to go after a big free agent like Giannis Antetokounmpo.

That doesn’t stop them from trying to be competitive, but they just haven’t been. And they are once again in no shape to appeal to any superstar free agent in the near future.

RJ Barrett has been a solid rookie, but not significantly better than Kevin Knox during his rookie campaign last season. Part of it is to do with the fact that, at various points this season, those two youngsters had to contend with Julius Randle, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris and Bobby Portis for minutes at the forward position.

This hasn’t exactly been great for their development, but at least Barrett finished the season second in scoring and showed even more promise than Knox did during his rookie year.

What happens in the future? Randle, Barrett, Knox, fellow forward Ignas Brazdeikis and center Mitchell Robinson are the only ones owed money until the end of 2022. This gives the Knicks some flexibility at the end of next season.

But we have heard this time after time, only for them to be left with failed prospects and/or chasing a has-been star. 

Detroit Pistons C-

The Detroit Pistons got a raw deal this year, though that’s not to say they fielded a great (or even, cohesive) roster, either.

Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin never recreated the chemistry and fit that the latter had with DeAndre Jordan on the LA Clippers, but there were at least a few positive signs before Griffin’s health issues caught up to him again.

Drummond has since been moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Griffin’s injury absences allowed some younger players to develop. Rookie Sekou Doumbouya started out the year averaging around 3 minutes per game in November and December but started 19 games in 2020. He averaged 9.3 ppg and 4.3 rpg during January in 26.6 minutes.

Trading away Reggie Jackson freed up second-year guard Bruce Bowen, who managed a well rounded 8.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 4 apg in 28 minutes this year. Luke Kennard also stepped up in a big way, increasing his scoring output by more than 5 points compared to last year (15.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 4.1 apg) before going down with an injury.

Forward Christian Wood caught a lot of attention late in the season as well but now hits free agency and might be looking for greener pastures.

While these guys aren’t ready to be stars, there is the development and accidental hope for a Pistons team that went all-in and came close to hitting rock bottom when they brought Griffin to Detroit.

This year might not have been great, but the future looks like there’s a path forward.

Golden State Warriors C+

You can’t make five straight Finals appearances without running out of gas and the wheels eventually falling off. For that reason, the Golden State Warriors should probably get more of a pass than the other franchises on this list.

After Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala left, and Klay Thompson was ruled out, a playoff appearance was overly ambitious, if not out of the question. But when Stephen Curry went down and Draymond Green stepped in and out of the lineup, breaking 20 wins was going to be an achievement. 

Bringing in D’Angelo Russell (so as to salvage something from Durant’s departure) was a solid idea. Golden State was able to turn last year’s All-Star into a flier on talented wing Andrew Wiggins, who will have no leadership expectations with Golden State’s core set to return. 

Steve Kerr is still one of the best head coaches in the league, and he has been able to spend plenty of time with some of his squads’ younger talent, who will be needed to support Thompson, Curry and Kevon Looney’s returns next season.

Nobody scored more points than Eric Paschall for the Warriors this year, and as a 6’6″ power forward, the 23-year-old could fit in well on the small units alongside or backing up Green. 

The Warriors’ core is now locked up long-term, and the franchise has a few opportunities to improve the roster. European NBA fans were also pleased to see Dragan Bender perform well on a 10-day contract that could be renewed next year, and Marquese Chriss will be an expiring contract in the 2020-21 season who may be worth keeping around. 

The Dubs managed just 15 wins before the season stopped, and unless they return for a second bubble, next year could see one of the biggest single-season improvements simply because of better health.