Nuggets dominant in the West; Celtics leading in the competitive East


Ari Shemesh, Reporter

This NBA season’s All-Star Break recently concluded. At the beginning of the season, the Tower gave its predictions for each division and conference winner, so today we will review those picks and see how accurate they have been up to this point. 

Atlantic Division

At the beginning of the year, we predicted that the Philadelphia 76ers would win the Atlantic Division. Although they are having a very successful year, with a record of 38-19, the Boston Celtics have yet again surprised the NBA. Many fans were worried that their coaching situation at the beginning of the year would have a big impact on their results this season, but it seems that they have picked up exactly where they left off last season. They have the best record in the NBA, at 42-17. This is all due to their well rounded and consistent roster, led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum has been having an MVP caliber season this year, averaging 30.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 4.6 apg, along with 1 steal and 1 block per game. Brown has averaged a career high 26.5 ppg, as well as 7 rpg and 3 apg. Boston’s supporting cast has also been a vital factor in the Celtics’ success this year. In his first year in Boston, Malcolm Brogdon is a 6th man of the year candidate, as he is averaging almost 15 ppg on 49% from the field. Derrick White has also started to heat up as of late. In four of the last six games before All-Star Break, White scored 23+ points, one of which was a career high 33. The Celtics’ defense has also been unbeatable, led by Robert Williams and last year’s DPOY, Marcus Smart, who has averaged 1.4 spg this season. The Celtics have shown no sign of slowing down yet this season, and as long as they keep it up, they will finish first in not only the Atlantic division, but the rest of the Eastern standings. The New York Knicks have surprised a lot of NBA fans this season. At the time of All-Star break, they held a record of 33-27, good enough to hold the six seed in the East. This is due to the efforts of Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, as well as their new player in Jalen Brunson. The Brooklyn Nets also hold the five seed in the Eastern standings, however due to their recent trades, it seems as though they may fall to the play-in, of possibly out of playoff contention. Although they are last in the division, the Toronto Raptors are the ten seed in the East, which puts them in the play-in. During the break, they held a record of 28-31.

Central Division

At the beginning of the year, we predicted that the Milwaukee Bucks would finish the season at the top of the Central division. So far, that is exactly what will happen. At the time of All-Star break, the Bucks had a record of 41-17, which placed them right behind the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings. Once again, Giannis is helping to lead this team to success, as he has been playing like an MVP, just as he has over the last five years. This year, he has averaged 31.2 ppg, 12 rpg, 5.4 apg, as well as a steal and a block per game. Jrue Holiday has also continued to improve since his trade to Milwaukee. He has averaged almost 20 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 7 apg. Not only have Antetokounmpo and Holiday led the Bucks’ offense, but they have also led the team’s defense. The remaining players in their roster have also been a major reason for the team’s success, mainly due to their accuracy and efficiency. These players include Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Pat Connaughton, and Bobby Portis. The Cleveland Cavaliers have also lived up to their expectations from the beginning of this season. They hold the four seed, with a record of 38-23. This is due to the addition of Donovan Mitchell this offseason. This year, he has averaged 27.2 ppg, 4 rpg, 4.8 apg, as well as 1.6 spg. This, in addition to the major roles of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen. The rest of the division has not been as successful. The Chicago Bulls have struggled all season, although Demar Derozan and Zach Lavine started to heat up before break. The Indiana Pacers started the year off strongly, they dropped in the standings when Haliburton got injured and just could not seem to rise back up. As for the Detroit Pistons, they hold one of the worst records this year, at 15-44. This is due to the season ending injury of Cade Cunningham early on this season. If they get another good pick this off season, they may have a better season next year. 

Southwest Division

The southwest division has not had a very successful year so far. Before the season began, we predicted that the Atlanta Hawks would lead the division. However, they may be one of the biggest disappointments this year. After the signing of Dejounte Murray, they were supposed to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Murray, along with Trae Young, have both had very good scoring seasons, but the rest of the team has struggled. At break, they were the 8 seed with a record of 29-30. At that point, the Miami Heat were leading the division again, although just barely. At the break, they were the 7 seed, with a record of 32-27. Jimmy Butler has had another good season so far, averaging 22 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5 apg, as well as 2 spg. Both Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo have averaged just over 20 ppg as well. Besides those three players, however, the rest of the team has not shown the same proficiency as last year. The Washington Wizards are the 9 seed in the East, with a record of 28-30. All three of the Wizards’ stars, Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis, and Kyle Kuzma have averaged over 20 ppg. However, just like the Heat, the rest of the roster has not shown the energy or scoring efficiency necessary to make the top 6 in the Eastern standings. The Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets have both been very unsuccessful this year. The Magic are the 13 seed, with a record of 24-35, and the Hornets are the 14 seed, with a record of 17-43. The Magic are led by this year and last year’s rookies in Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, as well as Wendell Carter. The Hornets have been led by Kelly Oubre, who has averaged just over 20 ppg, as well as the young super star in Lamelo Ball, who has averaged 23.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 8.5 apg, and 1.3 spg. However, he has had multiple problems with injuries this season, which is a major factor in the Hornets’ results this season. 

Northwest Division

At the beginning of the year, we predicted that the Denver Nuggets would lead the Northwest division this season. So far, that has been the case. In fact, they are the 1 seed in the Western Conference, with a record of 41-18 at the time of the All-Star break. This effort has been led by Nikola Jokic, who was not only named MVP the last two seasons, but is on pace to earn another MVP trophy. This season, he has averaged almost 25 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 10 apg, 1.3 spg, and almost one bpg. Although he has averaged two less points than last season, this is his first season averaging a triple double, a stat that only Russell Westbrook and Oscar Robertson have been able to accomplish. The supporting cast of the Nuggets has had a very efficient season. Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordan have both averaged 17 ppg, and Jamal Murray has averaged around 20 ppg. This success may be due to the large amount of attention that any defense is forced to give to Jokic, whose vision is one of the best in the NBA. The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a pretty disappointing season. After their acquisition of Rudy Gobert this offseason, many suspected that they could be a top team in the West. However, they have dealt with a lot of injuries, specifically from Karl-Anthony Towns, who has been injured since late November, and will most likely be out for a few more weeks. Due to this, the Timberwolves are the 8 seed, with a record of 31-30. Although they are the 10 seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder have had a better season than many may have suspected. Before the season started, the Thunder’s first round pick, Chet Holmgren, suffered an injury that would prevent him from playing for the entirety of the 2022-2023 season. Due to this, the Thunder have been playing with a roster that is very similar to last year’s. The main reason for their minor success this season is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has been playing incredibly well this year. He has averaged 31 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.7 apg, 1.6 spg, and 1 bpg. Unfortunately, the Thunder do not have many other options that can help the team win. Due to their low placement this year, however, they are likely to get another high pick in the coming draft, and may be a top team in the west next season. At the beginning of the season, many NBA fans were expecting the Jazz to tank for a high pick this year, due to the trades of all of their superstars. However, they have a young and tough team. One player in particular has had a major breakout season, Lauri Markkanen, who has averaged 25.2 ppg and 8.5 rpg. Additionally, Jordan Clarckson has averaged 21 ppg, as well as 4 rpg and 4 apg. At break, they had a record of 29-31, which landed them the 11 seed in the West. Finally, the Portland Trail Blazers have also had an unsuccessful season. Damien Lillard returned this year, and has played exceptionally well, averaging 32.3 ppg and 7.2 apg. Jerami Grant has also had a decent season, averaging just over 20 ppg. Unfortunately, the Blazers do not have much of a supporting cast. This is why they only sat at the 12 seed at the All-Star break, with a record of 28-30. 

Pacific Division

The Sacramento Kings have also been one of the biggest surprises this season. At the All-Star break, they were the 3 seed in the West, with a record of 32-25. De’Aaron Fox has been having another great season, averaging 25.4, 4.3 rpg, 6.4 apg, and 1.2 spg on 51% shooting from the field. Domantas Sabonis is also having an incredible season with the Kings this year. So far, he has averaged 18.7 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 6.9 apg, as well as 1 spg. He has been one of the league leaders in total rebounds and rebounds per game. The Kings’ supporting cast and bench has also been incredible this season. Harrison Barnes, Malink Monk, and Kevin Huerter have all averaged between 14 and 15 ppg. Additionally, the Kings’ rookie, Keegan Murray, has averaged 12 ppg and 4.6 rpg. The Kings have a very young and talented roster, which may help them make it far into the playoffs this season. The Los Angeles Clippers have also had a very good season. At the break, they were the 4 seed, with a record of 33-28. This is due to the return of Kawhi Leonard, who had missed a significant amount of time last year. This season, he has averaged 23 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4 apg, and 1.4 spg. Paul George has also had a very good season, averaging 23.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 5.2 apg, and 1.4 spg. During the break, they signed Russell Westbrook, who has played relatively well this year. So far, he has averaged 16 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 7.5 apg, and 1 spg. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have always been great defenders, but the Clippers also have Ivica Zubac, who has averaged 10 ppg, and 10 rpg this season. These three players have led the defense this season for the Clippers. Although the Phoenix Suns have not had as successful of a year as last season, by no means have they played badly this season. Their leading scorer this season is Devin Booker, who seems to keep improving every season. Right now, he is averaging 26.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.7 apg, and 1 spg. Chris Paul is also having a solid season, averaging 13.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 8.9 apg, and 1.5 spg. Although he was almost signed to the Indiana Pacers alongside rumors that he did not want to play for the Suns this past offseason, Deandre Ayton has been playing very well this season. He has averaged 18.7 ppg, 10 rpg, 2 apg, and 1 bpg. Due to these three players, as well as their strong, young supporting cast, the Suns were the 5 seed at All-Star break, with a record of 32-28. However, they recently traded for Kevin Durant, who before his injury, was having an MVP caliber season. This season, while on the Nets, Durant averaged 29.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1 spg, and 1.5 bpg on 56% shooting from the field. Although this trade involved a lot of their young players, including Mikal Bridges, who is a great defender, the Suns are expected to move up in the standings once Durant returns to the court. Although they won the championship last season, the Golden State Warriors have not had as interesting of a season. Stephen Curry injured his knee early in February, and has not made his return yet. Before his injury, however, Curry was having another spectacular season, averaging 29.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6.4 apg, and 1 spg while shooting 43% from three point range. Klay Thompson has been playing extremely well in Curry’s absence. He is averaging 22 ppg, 4 rpg, and 2.4 apg on 41% from three point range. Additionally, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins have both been having incredible seasons. Jordan Poole has averaged 21 ppg and 4.6 apg, and Wiggins has averaged 17 ppg, 5 rpg, and 1.2 spg. During the All-Star break, the Warriors were the 9 seed, with a record of 29-29. Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers have had a pretty mediocre season, mostly due to injuries. At the break, they were the 13 seed with a record of 27-32. Anthony Davis has missed a lot of games this season, but when he has played, he has averaged 25.7 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 1.1 spg, and 2 bpg. Lebron James has also played incredibly well, despite this being his 20th season in the NBA. So far, he has averaged 29.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 6.9 apg, and 1 spg. The Lakers did trade for Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell before the trade deadline ended, but it is not likely that this will have a major impact on the results of their season, especially with so many injury prone players. 

Southwest Division

At the beginning of the season, we predicted that the New Orleans Pelicans would finish the season at the top of the Southwest division. Although this was the case early on in the season, injuries began to drag them down the standings. Before these injuries, however, they were possibly the best team in the NBA. This run was led by Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and CJ McCollum. Before his injury in early January, Williamson was averaging 26 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.6 apg, and 1 spg on 60% shooting from the field. Since his injury, Ingram has averaged 22.8 ppg, 5 rpg, 4.7 apg, and almost 1 spg. McCollum has averaged 21 ppg, 6 apg, and 1 spg. The Pelicans have a strong and young supporting cast, which is why they were still the 7 seed at the break, with a record of 30-29.However, without Williamson, chances for a deep playoff run are not likely. Instead of the Pelicans, the Grizzlies, led by Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., are currently leading the division. This season, Morant has averaged 27 ppg, 6 rpg, 8 apg, and 1 spg. Jaren Jackson Jr. has not only been an offensive problem, averaging 17 ppg and 7 rpg, but has also been the leading defender, averaging 1 spg and 3 bpg. The Grizzlies have a very young and tough minded roster and supporting cast, led by Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, and Brandon Clarke. During the All-Star break, they were the 2 seed in the west, with a record of 35-22. The Dallas Mavericks are another team that is likely to climb up the standings in the final stretch this season, due to their recent acquisition of Kyrie Irving. This season, Irving has averaged 27 ppg, 5 rpg, 6 apg and 1 spg. Although Irving has been playing very well, he is still not the best player on the Mavericks. Luka Doncic has been on a tear this season. So far, he has averaged 33 ppg, 9 rpg, 8 apg, and 1.5 spg. These stats are why Luka is one of the MVP candidates this season. The Mavericks have a few players, such as Tim Hardaway and Christian Wood who can help, but the rest of the Mavericks’ roster is not very good, meaning all of the pressure is put on the stars. At the break, the Mavericks were the 6 seed, with a record of 31-29. The San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets are the two worst teams in the NBA. The Spurs traded Dejounte Murray to the Hawks at the beginning of the year, meaning they do not have any superstars. The Spurs are the 14 seed in the West, with a record of 14-45. The Rockets, unfortunately, are in the same boat as the Spurs, with a record of 13-45. Besides Jalen Green, who has averaged 22 ppg and 4 apg, the roster does not have enough talent to make a comeback this season. Both teams are looking to rebuild, and they will start this coming offseason with high picks in the draft.