Power Rankings and Panic Meters at the Halfway Point of the 2021-22 NBA Season

January 14th, 2022

By Alan Lu

We have basically reached the middle of the season, and I decided it would be fun for me to assess the panic meters of all 30 NBA teams at this point of the year.  For some teams, they don’t need to worry, especially those that have far outpaced and exceeded expectations and those that are in title contention.  For others, some of the teams do need to worry, especially the teams that have really disappointing this year.  

My panic meter scale for each of the teams is on a 1 to 10 scale.  Anything below a 5 on the panic meter means that team basically has nothing major to worry about.  Anything that is 5 to 7 is fairly alarming, and an 8-9 means they should panic and their coach or general manager may be on the hot seat.   Also, if a team gets a 10 on the panic meter, that team should definitely panic, and their coach or general manager should probably be fired.  How does your favorite NBA team rate on the panic meter scale?  Read below to find out.

The Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors played yesterday on TNT, and that could be an NBA Finals preview for the 2022 NBA playoffs.
(Photo:
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images, via SB Nation’s Golden State of Mind)

My Power Rankings of All 30 NBA Teams

1. Milwaukee Bucks (27-17)

The defending champions got off to a slow start, but they have played well ever since.  They’ve dealt with a few injuries, and currently Jrue Holiday is dealing with an ankle injury.  They have a superb player in Giannis, and when healthy, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday will help them form another strong postseason run in 2022.

Panic Meter: 1

2. Brooklyn Nets (26-15)

The Nets have looked really good at times, and other times, they play worse than expected.  Superstar Kevin Durant has played really well, and James Harden also is back to playing close to his top form.  Kyrie Irving was activated during the middle of the season, and the Nets have looked like the primary team to beat at times when they had their full squad healthy.  They’ll need to stay healthy, and it would help if Kyrie Irving got vaccinated and was cleared to play home games, but the Nets are still strong contenders regardless.

Panic Meter: 1

3. Golden State Warriors (30-11)

The Warriors got off to a tremendous start, and Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have played great basketball.  Head coach Steve Kerr led them to a 21-4 start, and their role players, have really outperformed expectations.  On top of that, Klay Thompson is now healthy, and the Warriors are now title contenders for the first time in three years. 

On the other hand, Klay Thompson hasn’t quite returned to top form yet, and despite throwing down a tremendous dunk in his first game back, he appears to be rusty and hasn’t shot the ball very well this season.  The Warriors need to stay healthy, and while they’ll get Draymond back, James Wiseman hasn’t returned yet.   Still, the Warriors are off to a great start this year. If the Warriors can play like how they’re expected to, especially with the start they had early this year, they could be a bonafide contender for the 2022 title.

Panic Meter: 2

4. Phoenix Suns (31-9)

The Phoenix Suns are playing really good basketball right now.  They currently have the best record in the NBA, and they have one of the best backcourt tandems in Chris Paul and Devin Booker.  They still haven’t given their starting center DeAndre Ayton an extension, which may be a cause for concern for the Suns in the future, though it hasn’t negatively impacted them on the basketball court this year.

Panic Meter: 2

5. Chicago Bulls (27-12)

They made a great signing in getting DeMar DeRozan, whose helped them rattle off many wins so far this season, and he’s paired well with their other two stars, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.  Lonzo Ball has excelled as a facilitator in a supporting role for them.

On the downside, they got blown out by the Brooklyn Nets when they were at full strength, and the Bulls still don’t have much experience together. The few veterans that they have don’t have an extensive playoff track record, aside from Alex Caruso.  Still, the Bulls are playing much better than most people imagined they’d play so far, which is very good news for them.

Panic Meter: 3

6. Miami Heat (26-15)

The Heat were the surprise team that reached the 2020 NBA Finals, and they received strong performances from their stars, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.  Tyler Herro is a sharpshooter that has excelled as a scorer, and Duncan Robinson is another player that can really shoot the basketball.  They added star point guard, Kyle Lowry this year, who is another grizzled veteran that has won before and he adds shooting, playmaking, defense, and toughness to the table.  With head coach Erik Spoelstra to lead them, the Heat are in a pretty good position right now.

On the downside, they haven’t been healthy very much this year, and both Butler and Adebayo have missed a handful of games this season.  Markieff Morris hasn’t recovered from being in a fight with Nikola Jokic, and they don’t have a lot of depth on their bench.  A lot of their main guys are older players, so they don’t have much of a window to try to win a title.  Right now though, things are looking good in Miami, because they do have a consistent track record of finding unheralded contributors, and this season, Max Strus and Caleb Martin have emerged as solid rotation players.

Panic Meter: 3

7. Memphis Grizzlies (30-14)

The Memphis Grizzlies have had a really good season this year, and superstar point guard, Ja Morant has turned himself into being one of the best players in the NBA.  He’s an explosive, scoring point guard that has always been able to really score and distribute the basketball, but he’s added a consistent jump shot to really strengthen his overall game.  Second-year guard, Desmond Bane is a sharpshooter that has turned out to be one of the best finds and picks in the 2020 draft, and he has really helped his team this year.  Jaren Jackson Jr. has bounced back in a major way, and the Grizzlies are a deep, young team that could make a lot of noise in the postseason.

On the other hand, they are still a young team, so their inexperience could hurt them in the playoffs when teams throw different schemes, lineups, and matchups at them that could force them out of their comfort zone.  They have a good group of players, they don’t really have another elite player outside of Ja Morant, so better teams may be able to exploit and expose that potential weakness.  Taylor Jenkins is still rather inexperienced as a coach, and he may be untested at making in-game or in-series adjustments.  That said, the Grizzlies are good now, as they are ahead of schedule, and they have a very bright future ahead of them.

Panic Meter: 1

8. Utah Jazz (28-14)

The Utah Jazz are a solid defensive team that has continually made the playoffs, and they feature a trio of solid players in Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley.  They play solid team basketball, and they are routinely a very good team in the regular season.

On the other hand, they’ve continually disappointed in the playoffs.  On top of that, opponents have exposed some crucial flaws in Rudy Gobert’s game, as he’s not very skilled offensively, and he struggled to defend out on the perimeter against quicker players. Specifically, the Jazz can tend to struggle defensively when opponents go small on them.  When Gobert is out on the perimeter, he doesn’t provide that extra layer of help, so opposing perimeter players can have their way with all of the other perimeter players on the Utah Jazz, because the Jazz are dependent on Gobert for his defense.  They may need more perimeter stoppers.  They way they are built now, the Jazz may top out as a regular season team that folds early in the playoffs, which is fairly alarming.

Panic Meter: 6

9. Dallas Mavericks (22-19)

The Dallas Mavericks have enjoying themselves more under new head coach Jason Kidd, and they’ve managed to keep their superstars, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis happy.  Luka Doncic is one of the best players in the game, and he is their franchise player that will keep them going for a long time.  On the downside, they are a little too dependent on Doncic for his offense, and other players are pretty one-dimensional.  They may not have enough firepower to go far in the playoffs, and that they haven’t been able to get past the Clippers despite getting off to good series starts is pretty concerning.

Panic Meter: 4

10. Philadelphia 76ers (23-17)

Ben Simmons has reiterated time and time again after last season’s playoff debacle that he wouldn’t play for the 76ers this year, and it looks like he won’t.  However, other teams have not made their trade offers salivating enough for the 76ers’ brass to seriously entertain the idea of actually trading Simmons, even though he hasn’t played for them this season.  That Ben Simmons won’t play is sort of a built-in excuse that could allow the 76ers to be able to keep most of their team intact without getting much blame this year.

This year, the 76ers have done okay in his absence, though they’ve had their fair share of struggles. Joel Embiid has still played very good basketball, and second-year guard Tyrese Maxey has really stepped up to provide ample shooting and scoring for his team.  Also, reserve forward, Georges Niang has been a bright spot in his role off the bench.

On the downside, they really underachieved in the playoffs last year, and that was when they had Ben Simmons.  This year, they’ll be without him, and they haven’t showed that they will be able to complete a trade for him.  They don’t have enough talent around Embiid on either side of the ball, and they’ll need to make serious upgrades to be able to go far in the postseason.  They are also very dependent on Embiid, and the concerns of Doc Rivers not being able to make adjustments in the playoffs has become even greater, because he’s blown a lot of 3-1 and 3-2 leads in recent years.

Panic Meter: 7

11. Denver Nuggets (21-19)

Superstar point center, Nikola Jokic has been one of the best players in the NBA, and he’s been an absolute joy to watch.  He is a terrific passer that really makes his team’s offense better all-around.  Unfortunately though, the Nuggets have been plagued by injuries, as Michael Porter Jr. had a major back injury shortly after receiving a large extension, and Jamal Murray will probably miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury.

Right now, they are a good regular season team that is trying to figure out how to consistently make deep playoff runs.  They were able to sneak up and surprise teams in 2020, when they defeated Kawhi’s Clippers to get to the 2020 Western Conference Finals, but they fell short in 2021.  We won’t really know how they will take the next step until they get healthy, but given Michael Porter Jr.’s multiple back surgeries, it’s uncertain if the Nuggets will be able to do so, which could be especially unfortunate, since he played so well for them last season.

Panic Meter: 6

12. Los Angeles Lakers (21-21)

They had two big-time superstars already in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and the Lakers had swung a blockbuster trade in the offseason with the Washington Wizards to go get another in Russell Westbrook.  They also added some veterans in the offseason, as they were also able to acquire Carmelo Anthony.

Unfortunately for them, the Lakers have been off to a rather slow start, and while maybe we were sort of expecting this, Lakers’ fans have really been frustrated by their team’s inconsistent play.  The Lakers don’t have enough shooting, and Davis and Westbrook don’t seem to complement each other very well, because neither player shoots the ball very well from the outside.  They may have to trade either Davis or Westbrook to maximize what they have around LeBron James, but if the Lakers can figure out a way to make everything work, they could make another deep run in the playoffs this year.

Panic Meter: 7

13. Cleveland Cavaliers (24-18)

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been a feel good story this year, and they have quietly made a slew of smart moves in the offseason.  General manager, Koby Altman and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff should pat themselves on the back for a job well done so far, as they both are leading the Cavaliers to much greater heights than expected.  Altman made good offseason moves by signing Ricky Rubio and getting Lauri Markkanen in a sign-and-trade, and rookie center Evan Mobley is a strong contender for the rookie of the year award.

On the other hand, the Cavaliers have been plagued by injuries.  Both guards, Collin Sexton and Ricky Rubio are out for the season, and they had to swing a trade to acquire Rajon Rondo to recoup some of the lost depth that stemmed from their injuries.  On top of that, they are still a young, inexperienced team, and so they may not be equipped to be able to make adjustments in the playoffs this year.  That said, the Cavaliers have far exceeded most people’s expectations of them, and they have done well for themselves this year.

Panic Meter: 2

14. Los Angeles Clippers (21-22)

The Clippers have been hit pretty hard by injuries, as Kawhi Leonard hasn’t played for them and will likely miss the rest of this season, and Paul George is now out for the season.  They have lost two of their best players, but head coach Tyronn Lue has guided them to a better than expected start to this year, all things considered.

The Clippers don’t have enough talent to make a deep playoff run without Kawhi or Paul George, and it’s uncertain if they’ll get there, they are a well-coached team that has a slew of players that can score the basketball.  Luckily for them, both Kawhi and Paul George re-signed, so they don’t have the concern of possibly losing them in free agency at the end of the season, which is a major relief for both the Clippers and their fan base.

Panic Meter: 4

15. Washington Wizards (22-20)

The Wizards got off to a great start early on, but they have slowed down considerably ever since.  Bradley Beal is a superstar scorer that can distribute the basketball, but he hasn’t shot the ball as well as expected, and has been injury prone at times. 

The Wizards have plenty of depth, and they were able to accumulate talented players through making a blockbuster trade with the Lakers, so that won’t be much of an issue for them.  On the other hand, they don’t have an elite secondary player nor are a good defensive team, so it could be difficult for them to stave off other teams if they want to make it to the playoffs or make a deep postseason run this year.  That said, the Wizards have made good moves that could allow them more room to operate next season.

Panic Meter: 4

16. Toronto Raptors (20-18)

After the Raptors had a pretty miserable season last year, they let their beloved, superstar point guard Kyle Lowry go in the offseason, and they were expected to have a rebuilding year this season.

But with head coach Nick Nurse at the helm, the Raptors have overachieved, and they have won more games than expected.  They have a slew of veteran starters in Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby that have helped stabilize the course for them, and their trio has played well for them.  Gary Trent Jr. has excelled as a shooter for them, and they’ve gotten strong play out of rookie forward Scottie Barnes, who is a contender for the Rookie of the Year award.

While the Raptors don’t have enough talent or depth to make a deep postseason run and it’s questionable if they’ll even get there, they came in with no expectations, and they have overachieved by winning more games than expected.  They’ve gotten a lot of production from unexpected sources, and head coach Nick Nurse has proven why he is one of the best coaches in the NBA.

Panic Meter: 2

17. Charlotte Hornets (23-19)

Like the Cavaliers and Raptors, the Hornets are winning more games than expected, and they have exceeded expectations right now.  They are getting strong performances from LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, as well as from their newly acquired swingman Kelly Oubre, and the Hornets are an exciting, young team that can shoot and score the basketball.

On the other hand, they are still a young, inexperienced team that doesn’t have much playoff experience, and they are not a particularly good defensive team.  In the future, they’ll have to figure out a way to get more stops to become a more well-rounded, playoff-style team.  That said, the Hornets are basically playing with house money as they are winning more than expected.  They’ve been healthy, and they have a bright future ahead of them.

Panic Meter: 3

18. Atlanta Hawks (17-23)

I really don’t know what’s going on with the Atlanta Hawks right now.  They were a surprise feel good story last year that made it all the way to the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals, but now they look to be even worse than where they were the last time I wrote about them, which was when they were 14-15.  They are a team that I don’t have any feel for predicting, and to me, they are sort of like the Blazers of the East.  The Hawks are like a bettor’s worst nightmare.  When you don’t pick them, they blow up and rattle off wins.  When you do pick them, they underperform, and  then you regret why you picked them in the first place.

The Hawks have won just 3 games in the last 11, and they basically dumped former first round pick, Cam Reddish for Kevin Knox, who hasn’t played much for the Knicks this year, and a protected first round pick from Charlotte that could end up being a pick in the late teens this year.  At this point, Atlanta may be slated to miss the playoffs, which is concerning because they have few scoring options outside of Trae Young, and they don’t have an elite secondary player on their team.

Panic Meter: 8

Person Most Likely On the Hot Seat: Nate McMillan, Head Coach

19. Boston Celtics (21-21)

When Brad Stevens was upgraded to an executive role while stepping down from being the Celtics’ head coach, some Celtics’ fans may have thought that their team could be ready to take the next step to be legitimate title contenders, especially since they have superstar forwards, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.  Unfortunately, with new head coach Ime Udoka, they have struggled to consistently get wins, and the Celtics have been largely disappointing this year. Moreover, Udoka has struggled with new general manager Brad Stevens’ roster, and he hasn’t exactly inspired his team to get wins this year. By the end of this season, Celtics’ fans may wish they had Stevens back as their head coach.

The Celtics don’t have enough playmaking on their team, or talent around Tatum and Brown.  Their role players have struggled to adapt to Udoka’s coaching schemes, and some of them were much better under previous head coach, Brad Stevens.  Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith have been particularly disappointing this year after having good rookie seasons.  On the other hand, Robert Williams has played well this year, and so has Grant Williams.  However, the Celtics will need more consistent play from their role players, and they may need to acquire a third star in order to increase their chances to make it to the playoffs.

Panic Meter: 8

Person Most Likely On the Hot Seat: Ime Udoka, Head Coach

20. New York Knicks (21-21)

The Knicks were another surprise, feel-good team last year, and head coach Tom Thibodeau ended being crowned the Head Coach of the Year.  When they acquired star point guard Kemba Walker and veteran forward, Evan Fournier in the offseason following their first-round playoff series loss, combined with that center Mitchell Robinson would be healthy this year, it was thought that the Knicks were taking the next step to become a legitimate contender to come out of the East.  Instead, right now, they are a middling team that is looking to make the playoffs, and they have been largely disappointing this season.

Star forward, Julius Randle has not shot the ball nearly as well this year, and Kemba Walker has been in the coach’s doghouse due to his highly streaky play.  There is a concern that head coach Tom Thibodeau may be too hands on to let his players get into a groove offensively, and his team has really struggled to shoot or score this year.

They recently acquired Cam Reddish to pair him with Randle and R.J. Barrett, so it seems that the Knicks are still looking to try to make a push for the playoffs.  However, Randle really struggled in the 2021 NBA playoffs, as he didn’t shoot well at all against Atlanta last year, and he hasn’t looked to be the star player that his team can count on in the postseason.  Therefore, there is a significant concern that the Knicks may be a smoke and mirrors team that may not have what it takes to succeed in the playoffs.

Panic Meter: 7

21. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-22)

After years and years of waiting for the Timberwolves to finally turn the corner and emerge out of the post-Jimmy Butler era, it seems that the Minnesota Timberwolves might be well on their way to finally making a bid for the play-in tournament this year.  It’s about time, especially since they have superstar center Karl-Anthony Towns, and with him around, the Timberwolves are supposed to be able to at least contend for the playoffs.  Still, the Timberwolves have previously underachieved for years, so they came in with almost no expectations prior to the start of the season.

It’s a relief that they have competent coaching this time around, and head coach Chris Finch should pat himself on the back.  Second year guard, Anthony Edwards has taken the next step in his development to star as a shooter and scorer on this team, and the T-Wolves have also received scoring from D’Angelo Russell.  The Timberwolves are still a young, inexperienced team, and they are not a great defensive team, but they have improved, as they made some solid moves to get veterans such as Patrick Beverley in the offseason.  That combined with internal growth has allowed the Timberwolves to finally realize some of their potential this year.

Panic Meter: 3

22. San Antonio Spurs (15-26)

The Spurs came in with virtually no expectations, after they had let DeMar DeRozan go in the offseason, and they were expected to have a rebuilding year.  The Spurs made some shrewd offseason moves by acquiring Thaddeus Young and Doug McDermott, and rookie guard Josh Primo has played much better than expected this year.  Also, Keldon Johnson received some much needed experience with Team USA to help them win the gold in the 2020 Olympics, and he’s become a grizzled veteran that has provided strong all-around play for this year’s Spurs team.  The Spurs have a slew of talented guards that have helped their team to be able to shoot and score on offense. 

On the other hand, the Spurs are a young team this year, and they haven’t defended particularly well.  It was expected that they would go through growing pains, as they are without an elite player, but they have played better than expected, and with head coach Gregg Popovich around, he’s helped them to be a consistently competitive team this year, and the Spurs’ young players are showing the internal growth needed that could allow their fans to be optimistic about their team’s future.

Panic Meter: 2

23. Sacramento Kings (17-27)

The Kings have hit the panic button already once this year, as they had fired Luke Walton already after 17 uninspired games this season.  The Kings have a slew of talented guards in De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Davion Mitchell, but they haven’t gotten nearly as much shooting or playmaking out of them, and their team hasn’t defended very well this year.  The Kings are a little too guard heavy, and they don’t seem to have enough versatility to matchup to different teams.

The Kings had internal strife after Walton said he was not going to make Bagley a rotation player, and while things were patched up since then, Marvin Bagley still hasn’t quite played at the level he’s capable of.  He hasn’t shot the ball very well, and while he’s excelled as a rebounder, he hasn’t added much in terms of playmaking or defending. 

The Kings have played slightly better under new interim head coach Alvin Gentry, but they seem to be a directionless team that lacks both an elite star player and a clear direction on how they should build their team.  De’Aaron Fox hasn’t been able to get his team to the playoffs, and maybe the Kings should swing a different path to try to trade for Ben Simmons instead in order to shake things up.

Panic Meter: 8

Person(s) Most Likely On The Hot Seat: Monte McNair, General Manager and President of Basketball Operations, and Alvin Gentry, Interim Head Coach

24. Portland Trail Blazers (16-25)

The Blazers also have already hit the panic button once already, as they have fired their former executive, Neil Olshey, after a slew of allegations were made about him creating a toxic work environment.  They also have been having issues with their team building, and while they have superstar point guard Damian Lillard, they don’t have much else around him, as they don’t have an elite secondary player, and now both he and star guard C.J. McCollum are out due to injuries.

The Blazers largely refused to make major changes, even after having one of the smallest and worst defenses in the NBA last year, and Neil Olshey largely placed the blame on their previous head coach, Terry Stotts.  However, their new coach, Chauncey Billups hasn’t really made things any better, and it has become clear that their turmoil is a roster issue.  Damian Lillard has struggled to shoot as well, and he’s now out for the season.  The Blazers are still struggling to defend, and they don’t have enough versatility to match up to different teams.  On the other hand, Anfernee Simons has been a bright spot on their team. 

Still, the Blazers are an aging basketball team that has a lot of contracts tied up, and they haven’t proven that they can be legitimate contenders in the playoffs.  The Blazers have continued their yo-yo act of being a surprise team in the playoffs, and then also have been very disappointing in other years.  This year, they are very disappointing and they are a poorly constructed team that doesn’t have a lot of high end talent outside of Lillard.  It’s come to a point where they may be past the idea of trading for Ben Simmons, and the Blazers may have to break up their team altogether.

Panic Meter: 9

Person(s) Most Likely On The Hot Seat: Joe Cronin, Interim General Manager, and Chauncey Billups, Head Coach

25. Indiana Pacers (15-27)

Frankly, the Indiana Pacers are a mess right now.  They’re not anywhere close to making the playoffs, T.J. Warren still hasn’t come back, and they haven’t been willing to trade either Myles Turner or Domantas Sabonis at all, and their insistence to play both of them at the same time hasn’t made things any better. 

They gave Malcolm Brogdon a large extension, but Indiana has lost a lot of games under new head coach Rick Carlisle, much more than expected, and they have seemed to take themselves out of the running if they were to try to trade for Ben Simmons.  It’s surprising that the Pacers are this bad this year.  On the upside, rookie swingman Chris Duarte has played very well this year, and he’s looking to be a very good selection for them that they acquired in the 2021 draft.

Panic Meter: 9

Person(s) Most Likely On the Hot Seat: Kevin Pritchard, President of Basketball Operations, and Rick Carlisle, Head Coach

26. New Orleans Pelicans (16-26)

The Pelicans have continually underachieved over the years, but this year, they have the built-in excuse of Zion Williamson conveniently being out with a foot injury as a major reason for their struggles this year, along with that he’s been rumored to be out of shape.  That said, they have been quite disappointing this year.  They swung a trade to land Jonas Valanciunas to pair him with Brandon Ingram, but they let Lonzo Ball go in the offseason, and some of their rotation players have really struggled this year.  Also, more has come out about their executive, David Griffin that has been rather alarming, and his actions and comments may have created more chemistry issues than anticipated. Moreover, the Pelicans are on their third head coach in the three seasons that Zion has been with them.

On the plus side, rookie forward, Herb Jones has been stellar for them, and he has been a pleasant surprise, as the very athletic, high-motor player has excelled in a defensive role for them.  On the downside, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis have seemed to stall in their developments, as neither of them are shooting the ball nearly as well as expected, Trey Murphy hasn’t quite played as well as hoped, and Jaxson Hayes hasn’t seen nearly as much playing time. 

Moreover, there are also concerns that Zion may want out, as he may want to join his buddies and former Duke teammates, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish in New York.  On top of that, New Orleans has been bad, but they still might not be bad enough to get a top 5 pick in the 2022 draft.  Zion just hasn’t played many games over the years, even though he’s made an NBA All-Star team, but the better Ja Morant gets, the more the Pelicans may worry about having made the wrong pick in the 2019 draft.  And right now, Morant has entered the elite stratosphere as an NBA player.  Considering all factors, the New Orleans Pelicans’ fans have a right to be worried about the direction and future of their team.

Panic Meter: 10

Person Most Likely On the Hot Seat: David Griffin, Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations

27. Oklahoma City Thunder (14-27)

Unlike the other teams towards the bottom of this list, the Thunder and their fans should not panic right now.  They have good upper management, and their general manager Sam Presti has continually made shrewd moves to position their team to have a better future.  Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a rising star that can score and distribute the basketball, and Lu Dort is one of the best defenders in the league. 

They also made very good draft selections in selecting Josh Giddey and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl in the 2021 draft, and Giddey could follow Gilgeous-Alexander’s footsteps in being another young, rising star in the future.  On top of that, the Thunder have accumulated a treasure chest of draft picks by making smart trades across multiple offseasons.  Their record may look bad on the surface, but the Thunder can afford to be patient.  Although Aleksej Pokusevski hasn’t played nearly as well as expected, they have a slew of other promising young players, along with having a lot of draft picks that give their team a bright future ahead of them.

Panic Meter: 2

28. Houston Rockets (12-31)

Given their vast struggles last year, it’s expected that Houston would be a bad team under second-year head coach, Stephen Silas.  They’ve started to build a core group of players, as they have rookie guard Jalen Green, veteran center Christian Wood, and swingman Kevin Porter Jr.  They’ve added a stable of talented, promising young players that could help them in the future.

On the downside, there were some severe chemistry issues, as both Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood had temper tantrums during the middle of a game and both were suspended as a result of that.  Not only has Houston been a very bad team, but it looks as though Silas was losing control of the locker room in that game.  That looks pretty bad for them, and they’ll need to keep things under control in the future.  They took some chances in acquiring talented, character-optional players such as Kevin Porter Jr., and then they have essentially catered to them by giving them a handful of shots and minutes, but if those moves blow up in their face, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

Panic Meter: 8

Person Most Likely On the Hot Seat: Rafael Stone, General Manager, and Stephen Silas, Head Coach

29. Detroit Pistons (9-31)

It was expected that the Pistons would be one of the worst teams in the league, and so far, they are one of the worst teams in the NBA.  They do have some intriguing players on their roster, as star forward Jerami Grant provides them with athleticism and versatility.  Cade Cunningham was the first pick in the 2021 draft, and although he got off to a very slow start, he has since rebounded to show some solid all-around skills and he could be a rising star in the future. 

On the other hand, others such as Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes, Saben Lee, and Isaiah Stewart have seemed to stall in their developments, and Bey has not shot the ball nearly as well as he did last year.  Among them, Stewart has seemed to play the best among the players that haven’t developed as much as expected this year.  They also have a couple of players that have yet to play, and rookies Isaiah Livers and two-way contract player Chris Smith have yet to get into a game due to injuries.  The Pistons have a few good pieces on their team, but they still have a long way to go.

Panic Meter: 5

30. Orlando Magic (7-35)

They appeared to make good draft selections at the time of the 2021 draft.  Acquiring Jalen Suggs at 5 appeared to be a steal, especially considering he is an athletic, high-wire combo guard that can really attack the hoop and defend on the court.  They also selected Franz Wagner at 8, a solid, all-around forward that can do a little bit of everything. The Magic were also poised to get Jonathan Isaac at some point this year.

So far, the bright spots have been Cole Anthony, Mo Bamba, and Franz Wagner.  Cole Antony has taken the next step in his development by being able to be the team’s lead scorer, and he’s also thrived as a rebounder and lead ball handler.  Mo Bamba is finally starting to show that he can be a solid starting center in this league, and Franz Wagner has played much better than expected, as he may be a dark horse contender for the Rookie of the Year award.

However, Jalen Suggs really struggled to shoot the basketball this year prior to getting hurt, and he’s missed a handful of games, which has been a setback for his development.  Chuma Okeke hasn’t played nearly as well as expected, and he also hasn’t shot the ball very well.  Jonathan Isaac still hasn’t played, and he’s still recovering from a knee injury.  The Magic have a lot of talented pieces, but it’s unclear if they have an elite piece for the future.  They still have time to figure out where they want to go, and one thing is clear, which is this season is a rebuilding year for them.

Panic Meter: 6

With Zion Williamson not having played this season or much over the years, and with a lot of inner turmoil that’s stemmed within the New Orleans Pelicans, the Pelicans will need to worry if their star Zion Williamson can both stay healthy, and if he really wants to play for them in the future, especially as the Pelicans have continued to flounder and underperform out in the West.
(Photo:
Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Conclusion:

In totality, I have come to the conclusion that out of 30 NBA teams, there are 7 NBA teams that need to hit the panic button either this season or at the end of the season, and those teams would be the New Orleans Pelicans, Portland Trail Blazers, Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets, Sacramento Kings, Atlanta Hawks, and the Boston Celtics. Among the teams that need to panic, I think the Boston Celtics have the best chance of coming out alright among them, but those teams need to be concerned about where their team is right now and where they may be headed for reasons I listed above in their team write-ups.

Well, those are my assessments of each of the 30 NBA teams right now, and whether or not if they should hit the panic button this season or at the end of this season.  This was fun for me to evaluate each of their performances up to this point of the season, and it will be interesting to see how this season will play out.  Thanks for reading.

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