As we enter the halfway point of the NBA season, this season has been nothing short of spectacular. For the first time in a long time, there is no true juggernaut in the NBA. Any of the top teams can make a run for the championship, but there are some surprises at the top and even more at the bottom. Here are three overachievers and three underachievers at the 41-game mark in the 2022-23 NBA season:
Overachiever: Indiana Pacers
If you asked anyone (including me) before the season started, the Indiana Pacers were expected to be first in line for the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. Besides star guard Tyrese Haliburton, no players were ‘wowing’ anyone going to the season.
However, at the 41-game mark, Indiana has a record of 23-18, sitting at the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Rookie Bennedict Mathurin has turned heads, putting up 17.1 points per game, and entering the Rookie of the Year conversation. Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, who were previously known as solid talents on not-so-good teams, have been able to contribute effectively to a playoff contender, each putting up 17+ points on quality efficiency.
We’ve seen teams start off hot after being given lottery expectations, and by now they would have fizzled out. However, Indiana has remained hot, and they’re showing that they’re more than an afterthought.
Underachiever: Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves just can’t seem to click so far. They’re in the lower-middle of the pack in terms of record (9th in the West), offensive efficiency (18th), and defensive efficiency (14th). Anthony Edwards is putting up All-Star-level numbers, but with All-NBA-talent Karl-Anthony Towns hurt for almost half the team’s games, it’s hard to maintain the expectation that this team will even make the Play-In Tournament, let alone the playoffs.
Former Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert isn’t living up to the value that Minnesota gave away for him, and with their trade partner, the Utah Jazz, although not as good, does have pieces for the future and is having a better season than we expected. Time will tell if the Timberwolves can get it together, but for now, another season of mediocrity lies ahead.
Overachiever: Sacramento Kings
Notoriously known for their 16-season playoff drought, the Sacramento Kings are turning heads, as they are currently in a position to end one of the worst droughts in professional sports. Sitting at the fifth seed with a record of 20-18, the Kings aren’t a strong team defensively, as they are 25th in defensive rating. However, this cancels out with their offensive efficiency, sitting in the top five.
Led by De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis’s combined 43.1 points per game, this team is supported by perennial role players posting some of the best numbers of their careers. Kevin Huerter came over from the Atlanta Hawks this past summer and currently averages 15.9 points, while Malik Monk is also posting a career-high 14.1 points. As the trade deadline approaches, GM Monte McNair should look to add defense to this group. Trading for a player like Robert Covington or OG Anunoby would make this team a lock for the postseason.
Underachiever: Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors are underachievers this season, not because Stephen Curry has been out for almost a month with a shoulder injury. In fact, the Warriors are 7-4 since Curry’s injury, showing that they can still win without their greatest player in franchise history. Of course, that’s not to denote how badly they want him back.
The problem with Golden State is that they’re a streaky team. The Warriors went from a five-game losing streak in late October-early November, to winning five of six games in late November-early December, to then losing five of six in December. Now we’re at a high point, with the Warriors having won five of their last seven games. Winning a handful of games but losing just as many is why Steve Kerr’s team is ninth in the West at .500.
Perhaps Kerr’s longstanding run of letting pure talent run the show is over. For years the head coach of the Warriors has had Curry and Klay Thompson (both in their primes), along with a three-year stint from all-time great Kevin Durant, followed by Jordan Poole and All-Star Andrew Wiggins. If you can’t win championships with these players, you might as well find another profession.
This isn’t to say that Kerr isn’t a good coach, because he did change the Warriors from a good team to a great one in 2014. His legacy might be slightly tainted with the talent that’s come through this franchise, and sometimes giving players too much freedom can backfire. It shows this season. I’m not sure if a trade would fix their problems, rather just let the greatest shooter ever come back from his injury, and let the team click from there.
Overachiever: New Orleans Pelicans
I can’t say enough about the New Orleans Pelicans right now. At 24-16 and third in the West, this is one of the most likable squads in the NBA. Zion Williamson was turning into the player we all knew he could be until a recent hamstring injury put him out for the next few weeks.
Despite the injury, he’s still a top-ten MVP candidate, and nobody should be worried about the rest of the Pelicans. Head coach Willie Green has done a fantastic job bringing out the best in players like CJ McCollum, Brandon Ingram, and more. This team will kill opponents on the defensive end with Herbert Jones and Jose Alvarado, and then make you pay on the other side of the floor with McCollum, Ingram, and Williamson.
The supporting cast is also exemplary, with players like Jonas Valanciunas, Trey Murphy III, and Larry Nance Jr. doing their jobs as well as anyone. Even with Williamson out, this team has all the makings to remain a top-three team in the West.
Underachiever: Toronto Raptors
Speaking of likable teams in the NBA, the Toronto Raptors fall on that list, which makes it even more disappointing that they don’t even sit at a Play-In Tournament spot right now. What the Raptors lack is offense, ranking 19th in the NBA in that category.
The defense certainly isn’t an issue, with OG Anunoby being in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation, followed by the likes of Otto Porter Jr., Christian Koloko, and Gary Trent Jr. Pascal Siakam is putting the team on his back right now, leading the Raptors in points, rebounds, and assists. The struggle is mainly due to reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes being in a bit of a sophomore slump, and Fred VanVleet having a down year.
This team trots out a lineup of good players, but aside from Siakam, not great ones. If this continues, don’t be surprised if highly-touted GM Masai Ujiri decides to shake things up before the trade deadline.