We are halfway through the 2022/23 season and many teams have shown significant improvement compared to last season’s statistics. Can you believe that the Indiana Pacers are just 2 wins away from matching the same amount of wins they had last year?
A lot can happen in one season. It’s not just trades for players or coaches, there could also be a lot of changes in the franchise organization, like former entrepreneur Joseph Tsai buying the Nets in 2019. You couldn’t tell they were on Brooklyn’s side. Best since then, but at least they’ve qualified for the playoffs each time.
And disappointments… well, we’re sure we’ve had a lot of them this year too. For example, the Hornets wanted to at least compete for the playoffs last season, but now they don’t even represent a challenge as they’ve lost 32 times in this championship and are in last place in the Eastern Conference standings. Or how about the Toronto Raptors, who are currently 11th in the East with a 19-23 record?
At Basketball Insiders, we decided to rank the teams that showed the most improvement this season:
7. Los Angeles Clippers
Perhaps one of the least dramatic improvements this season, but still worth noting, the Clippers missed the playoffs by the slimmest of margins last season, finishing 9th in the Western Conference last year. At this point, they’re 22-21 on the track in sixth place in contention for the postseason.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers
Also missing the playoffs last year, the Cavs were one of 2022’s biggest disappointments. Before long, they were the dominant team in the NBA, winning the 2016 championship. But since then, 2018 was the last year they qualified for the playoffs. It’s only gone downhill since then, 28th in 2019, 29th in 2020 and 27th in the entire league in 2021. Things are finally looking up this season and the sun is once again reaching the basketball courts in Cleveland. So far, they have 27 wins in 43 games and are in 4th place in the Western Conference. This might be the year we see the Cavs in the Finals again!
5. New York Knicks
I think it’s ultimately safe to say that the Knicks are improving. Although they haven’t been the same team since the Patrick Ewing era, players like Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and veteran Derrick Rose are building a new playing culture for the club. Ever since their best player RJ Barrett was injured, young Emmanuel Cloy has taken his place in the regular line-up and is proving to be a real team player. The New York side finished 11th after the last regular season, but have now moved up to 5th in the Eastern Conference (23-19).
4. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans is definitely one of the best surprises of the season. They have remained a regular and good enough team as they did last year. The Pelicans were ranked 8th after the 2021/22 regular season, but lost to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the conference finals. This year they are something else. Just last December they won 10 games! It’s no surprise that boss Willie Green won Coach of the Month. New Orleans sits third best (25-17) in the Western Conference standings.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 3, 2023
3. Denver Nuggets
How about these Denver Nuggets? The league’s second-best team so far behind the Boston Celtics looks like a title contender. The problem is, history matters, and its weight is undeniable. Historically, Denver has never won an NBA championship, but in the hands of the powerful Nikola Jokic, anything is possible. The 2-time MVP winner is shining as bright as ever, averaging 24.9 points, 11 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game, making him unstoppable. They have won their last 4 games against strong teams like the Suns, Cavs and both LA franchises. They finished sixth in the conference last year, and now rest atop the West with a 28-13 track.
2. Indiana Packers
Although Indiana has been one of the NBA’s biggest disappointments in recent years, their improvement this season is undeniable. Yes, they don’t look like the title contenders they once were, but there’s no denying that the Pars have what it takes to finally get back to the playoffs in this tournament. There’s no way around it, they’re ranked 13th in the East after the 2022 regular season, and 26th in the entire NBA. This championship is only halfway there, but inspired by their star point guard Tyrese Halliburton (20.2 points, 4 rebounds and 10.2 assists per game), they are currently 7th in the conference in playoff territory.
1. Sacramento Kings
Without a doubt, the biggest surprise yet. The Kings are definitely keeping their mouth shut this season, as no one expected much from them after their disappointing performances last season. Last regular season, they ranked 24th with just 30 total hits. Today, they are experiencing a true offensive explosion, ranked among the top 5 offenses this season, with point guard De’Aaron Fox averaging 23.8 points per game and the stats of by far the league’s best center Domantas Sabonis. 18.9 points, 12.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists per game). Sacramento is ranked 5th in the Western Conference and has 22 wins in this championship.