We are rapidly approaching the halfway mark of the 2023 NBA season, so it’s time to take stock of some teams that have been played above expectations, those that have disappointed, and a couple who could be impactful at the trade deadline.



Despite extended absences to Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and Herb Jones – three of the Pelicans’ presumptive starters – the Pelicans are 23-13 and sit just a half game back from the Nuggets for the top spot in the Western Conference. The biggest reason for their ascent is the return of Zion after a lost 2022 campaign – Zion is on the fringes of the MVP race due to his continued dominance around the rim, playmaking, and improved defense. Supporting him have been strong seasons from role players such as Trey Murphy (big leap in his sophomore season), Jose Alvarado, and Larry Nance Jr. The Pelicans are an intriguing blend of veterans and youngsters, and have a ton of depth to aid their star power. Are they truly championship contenders? Not sure. But they could certainly lead the Western Conference standings and are not a team anyone is likely to want to play.


The Pacers are certainly not a postseason threat, but have maybe hit the most above expectations this NBA season so far in 2023. They’re 20-17 after most pundits predicted them to be among the worst teams in the league, and there are no real signs that their performance to this point is a fluke. Tyrese Haliburton is no less than one of the brightest and most entertaining young stars in the NBA, averaging 21 points, a league-leading 10.2 assists (to just 2.5 turnovers), and with ridiculous 48.5/41/88 shooting splits. Bennedict Mathurin has been a revelation as a bench scorer, and seems like a lock to be a contender for both Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year Awards. Meanwhile, veterans such as Buddy Hield and Myles Turner are having bounce back seasons with more well-rounded play. Again, the Pacers are not a threat to win the East, but they are a couple years ahead of schedule, and now seem more likely to retain Turner and Hield then dump them for future assets. Great story, fun watch.

Swing Teams


The Jazz, at 19-20, are still a pretty good story for the 2023 NBA season in the vein of the Pacers, but have a couple differentiating factors that land them more in this category. First, they’ve been less consistent than the Pacers, and are in fact trending downward after a super-nova start to the season. Second, while some of their best players are in the prime of their careers, such as Lauri Markkanen, Collin Sexton, and Malik Beasley, they are giving a ton of minutes to aging veterans like Mike Conley, Kelly Olynyk, and Rudy Gay. They don’t have a young cornerstone like Haliburton, and are therefore more likely to pivot towards a rebuilding phase. If they’re able to hang around .500 for the next month they might still hang onto their vets, but if they continue to slide (they’re already down to 10th in the West), it seems likely a mini fire sale might be on the table.


This era of Bulls basketball might be looking over before it really even got started. The Bulls are 16-20, tied for 10th in the East, and are bad when their best players are on the court together. Lonzo Ball hasn’t played this season; from the scant updates, he doesn’t appear close to a return. Most of their recent draft picks are gone, while the ones that are left (Coby White, Patrick Williams) are uninspiring so far. DeMar DeRozan is having another incredible season, true. Zach LaVine has also stepped into gear recently after a rough start to the season. But there just isn’t much upside to this group, which considering the state of the reinvigorated Eastern Conference, means the Bulls have to at least consider some major adjustments. Nik Vucevic will be a free agent this summer, and DeRozan will be next summer. Do the Bulls want to truly commit to this core, or try to get assets while they still can? Depending on how the next month goes, we will probably have our answer before the deadline.


The Wizards are 16-21, just a half-game back of the Bulls, but seem more like a team that should tank expeditiously, probably because it’s something they should have done three years ago. Their young picks, even more than the Bulls, have disappointed. Rui Hachimura will be a free agent this summer and will want money that the Wizards should not give him. The same goes for Kyle Kuzma, who has developed into a very good player but will almost certainly want a starring salary and role he is ill-suited for. Both of them as well as other veterans such as Monte Morris, Will Barton, and Delon Wright could all be on the move if they are still out of the play-in come the deadline. Then again, the Wizards have been fruitlessly committed to a path of mediocrity for a half-decade, so a deal to “buy” rather than “sell” could also happen as well.



I had skepticism regarding the Timberwolves’ playoff chances with the Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony towns duo, but thought they’d be a regular season wins machine. So far, I’ve been way off. The Wolves are 16-21 after a dreadful home loss to the tanking Pistons, and the vibes are worse than their record. Gobert has taken a large step back defensively, making his trade look even worse than it did over the summer (and it was immediately a massive overpay). Anthony Edwards has failed to make any real strides in his third season, remaining an inconsistent threat rather than a reliable star. Towns has been injured, and was struggling on defense before that. D’Angelo Russell remains, to be blunt, not great, with extremely inconsistent offense and usually poor defense. There have been successes, notably the play of young reserve Naz Reid and the steadiness of veterans Kyle Anderson and Austin Rivers, but the Wolves are worse on both ends than most people would have thought. They have time to turn this around, but not much, and the vibes do not bode well.


I predicted that the Hornets would take a big step back this 2023 NBA season, but I did not foresee how awful they would be. At 10-27 and with some of the worst advanced metrics in the league, the Hornets have an honest case for “worst team in the NBA”. They’ve been plagued by injuries to LaMelo Ball, Gordon Hayward, and Terry Rozier, yes. Still, the Hornets are thoroughly incompetent on both ends, and even when healthy have no looked better than “very bad”. Hayward has one year left on his deal, while starters Kelly Oubre and Mason Plumlee are on expiring deals. All are very probable to be on the move to safeguard the Hornets’ chances at a top-four pick in the loaded 2023 NBA Draft.

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