About a week or two into the start of each NBA season, fans freak out when their team isn’t playing well or they haven’t lived up to expectations.
This is just way too early to give up a season, as we’ve seen teams like the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers shift into higher gear and, after their slow starts, are back among the best teams in the league.
About halfway through a season you can start to really gauge a team’s chances of success, and right now the NBA is very tight across the board.
Aside from the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs, it seems like the other 26 teams in the NBA have legitimate reason to make the playoffs, but some teams are in a better position than others.
It’s time to check out the NBA Panic Meter and see if fans of the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns should be concerned given their teams’ recent struggles and lack of overall success .
Miami Heat Panic rating: 5
The Miami Heat is the epitome of an inconsistent franchise this season, but a big reason they’re currently 21-20 and in a play-in tournament position isn’t just because of their Eastern Conference talent this season, it’s to the overall health of this team.
Jimmy Butler missed 14 games, Duncan Robinson missed 13 games, Tyler Herro missed 9 games and Victor Oladipo is still working his way back to full strength. Not to mention that Gabe Vincent has been struggling with a knee injury all season and both Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry are now battered.
If you look at Miami’s roster as a whole, they’re definitely a very talented team, especially defensively, but they just weren’t healthy.
That’s a slight concern as you move into the back half of the 2022-23 season, but overall there’s really no reason to worry about the Miami Heat.
They’re an experienced team that knows what it takes to win the playoffs, and a season ago they were one win away from making the NBA Finals for the second time since 2020.
Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the league and assuming they are healthy at the end of the season the Heat will be a team to be reckoned with.
It will be interesting to see what Pat Riley and the Miami front office do before the close of trading. Duncan Robinson’s future remains in doubt and with Kyle Lowry struggling to gain a foothold over the past year, it’s possible The Heat will ask for some stars like Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal.
However, it’s unlikely the Miami Heat will pull off a blockbuster streak at this point, so we should expect the group they currently have will be the roster battling for a playoff spot late in the season competes.
We’ve seen what the Heat are capable of late in the season over the past few years, and for that reason alone we should be wary of their panic gauge.
Atlanta Hawks Panic Rating: 7th
If you look at the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks are in trouble simply because they have a lot of internal problems to solve.
Not only have they had to deal with the drama of Cam Reddish being unhappy with the organization last season, but John Collins expressed his frustration a season ago and once again he remains a player the Hawks care about like to talk in trade rumors.
How do you think Collins feels about this information being public? Obviously, he’d be open to a change of scenery, but sentiment around the Hawks just doesn’t seem positive at the moment, and it seems like many players in this roster have their own agenda simply because they don’t have a real leader and voice their sanity in her dressing room.
Trae Young is a sensational talent and an All-Star in his own right, as is Dejounte Murray, but they are both young guards in this league who have both somehow been forced to be the leaders of their teams, a role neither player has really known for.
Atlanta doesn’t really have seasoned veterans, they have the fifth-worst point differential in the Eastern Conference and they’re only 9-12 against teams that have had .500 or better records so far this season.
Again, nothing really stands out about how this Hawks roster stands right now, and it really does seem like the trade they made for Dejounte Murray last offseason was a desperate attempt to mend the cracks in that organization mend
If you ask me, it seems like the Hawks are on a downward path and leaning toward some sort of rebuild, but who knows, anything is possible before the close!
Toronto Raptors Panic Rating: 8th
Another team in the Eastern Conference that has really struggled to gain a foothold is the Toronto Raptors.
After winning their only championship in 2019, the Raptors took a step back as a franchise, and that’s to be expected when a player like Kawhi Leonard leaves. Not to mention the Raptors have had all sorts of injury problems with Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry this season.
This organization hasn’t won a playoff series since 2020 and right now they really don’t have production outside of their core of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr.
Many teams in the league are watching the Raptors closely as the likelihood of them moving parts before the trade deadline is very high right now.
Cutting their entire payroll and acquiring a few instant draft picks seems like an idea that’s high in value for many of Toronto’s front office, and it could get players like Anunoby and Trent Jr. on the move. Not to mention, the Raptors will need some available space during the offseason to negotiate new contracts with Fred VanVleet and Scottie Barnes down the line.
At this rate, Toronto is fortunate to get into the Play-In tournament and earn an actual playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
Their starting five can rival any other team in this league, but they can’t play every single game every 48 minutes, and therefore the Raptors’ chances of winning a playoff series are extremely slim.
A change is on the horizon in Toronto and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them miss the playoffs entirely this season.
Minnesota Timberwolves Panic Rating: 8th
The move to act for Rudy Gobert during the offseason and set him up with Karl-Anthony Towns was viewed by the Minnesota Timberwolves as both an idiotic and a brilliant move.
Looking back on that 40-game Year 1 trade with Gobert in Minnesota, it’s hard to see where the brilliance lies for the Timberwolves.
Rudy Gobert hasn’t played at the level the Timberwolves expected of him, Karl-Anthony Towns has been out since November 28 with a calf injury and Minnesota have been very average across the board this season.
Of course things will change when Towns returns sometime in the next few weeks, but will it be too late by then and will it really make a difference to Gobert’s impact?
If you ask me, giving up four first-round picks, a pick swap and key players like Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt for a player who’s a great shot blocker who’s really struggling offensively wasn’t a good move at all.
Who knows, maybe I’m wrong on the whole and a few seasons later this trade will look amazing for the Timberwolves, but right now they’re struggling, they don’t have draft capital and Minnesota might need to have assets like D’Angelo Russell and Kyle Sell Anderson at the close to make up for some of the lost future value.
There’s definitely reason to panic if you’re a Timberwolves fan, especially considering how bright the future looked a season ago.
Phoenix Suns Panic rating: 9
What do we think of the Phoenix Suns?
Obviously, it’s hard to judge their recent struggles as they’ve been without Devin Booker, Cameron Johnson, Cameron Payne and others, but the Suns’ identity is really just Devin Booker.
Without him, they’re nothing more than a competitive play-in tournament team, and even with him, they’ve struggled to hold their own against some of the league’s best teams this season.
They’re only 3-5 against teams currently in the top-3 in both the Eastern and Western Conference standings, and with Jae Crowder remaining out, the Suns have a huge hole on the wing to fill.
It still seems like there are some internal struggles with the Suns as well, particularly with Deandre Ayton and himself wanting to stay in Phoenix long-term.
If Booker returns, the Suns will obviously be better than their current 20-21 record, but the trade deadline will be crucial for this organization.
Crowder needs to be moved for immediate value, and maybe it’s not too crazy to move other assets like Dario Saric and Cam Johnson to add another high-ranking talent that will immediately impact the Suns’ chances of a return to the NBA Finals can.
Their championship window is small and closing fast, so the Suns need to take their chances while they can.
These next five weeks will set the stage for what the future holds for Phoenix.
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