Posted: Tuesday April 12, 2011 1:21PM ; Updated: Wednesday April 13, 2011 8:29AM
Britt Robson
Britt Robson>INSIDE THE NBA
NBA Regular-Season Grades
 
The most important regular-season grades in the NBA are obviously the standings that determine playoff berths and seedings. But it is also interesting, and hopefully revealing, to consider other aspects of a team's performance when judging its success.

Beyond wins and losses, there were a few criteria I used to come up with my subjective grades. How well did teams withstand injuries and other adversity? How much did they capture the passion and imagination of their fans? How did they perform relative to general preseason expectations? How well did they achieve their own goals for the regular season, be it positioning themselves for a title run or slowly building for the future?

With those questions as a reference point, let's get into the analysis.

(All stats and records are through April 11.)

C+ Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks will not improve their regular-season record for the first time in six years. And worse than finishing at least eight wins short of last year's 53-victory season, they actually have been outscored in 2010-11 and will open the playoffs on the road. New coach Larry Drew promised to install a passing offense that would feature second-year point guard Jeff Teague and move away from isolation plays for Joe Johnson. But Teague has disappointed to the extent that Atlanta parted with Mike Bibby, Jordan Crawford and a first-round pick to acquire Kirk Hinrich to play the point, and Drew's new system has the Hawks ranked only 21st in offensive efficiency. Playoff success is required to salvage one of the most listless winning seasons in recent memory.
 
B Boston Celtics
Fatigue and injuries were primarily responsible for the Celtics' 27-27 finish last season. The causes of this year's swoon (9-11 in their last 20 games) feel more elusive. Since trading Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City in late February, the Celtics have struggled to score -- hardly the veteran center's forte -- and maintain the ruggedness he brought to the paint. Rajon Rondo has lost his swagger, his caution retarding his instincts, an issue that has a pronounced ripple effect on the offense. Because the defense was dominant without Perkins back when Shaquille O'Neal was healthy, there's a chance the 39-year-old Shaq can return after weeks of not playing and become part of the committee -- with Glen Davis, Jermaine O'Neal and Nenad Krstic -- that protects the rim. And Rondo, who was in the MVP discussion the first half of the season, can also rediscover his groove on the postseason stage, where he and his teammates have thrived the last three years. But that's two regular-season holes that need to be patched, instead of riding the momentum that was so apparent in January.
 
C Charlotte Bobcats
Seven of last year's top 10 players in minutes are no longer with the team, including such gritty competitors as Gerald Wallace, Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton. Nor was there much compensation, as management made many of the moves to cut payroll, which in turn made Larry Brown a terrible coach for those who remained. Brown's replacement, Paul Silas, did a spectacular job inspiring the likes of Gerald Henderson, D.J. Augustin, Kwame Brown and Shaun Livingston as the Bobcats doggedly pursued a playoff berth. But none of those players, or anyone else on the roster, is likely to become a star. So, if owner Michael Jordan wants us to believe that his vaunted competitiveness extends beyond his playing days, he needs to start reinvesting.
 
A+ Chicago Bulls
The regular season couldn't have been more magical. It worked out just fine that the Bulls missed out on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in free agency. Carlos Boozer proved to be an ideal match as the No. 2 scoring option between Derrick Rose and Luol Deng and a hard-nosed rebounder whose defensive lapses could be covered by Joakim Noah. General manager Gar Forman was equally prescient in his choice of role players, adding defenders Keith Bogans and Ronnie Brewer and long-range shooter Kyle Korver. But Forman's best decision was hiring coach Tom Thibodeau, who knows how to instill pride in defensive teamwork and seized control like the second coming of Gregg Popovich. Along with getting stars like Rose and Boozer to buy into a defensive identity, Thibodeau transformed Turkish rookie center Omer Asik, second-year forward Taj Gibson and swingman Brewer into secret weapons. Those unsung players not only could shut down opposing second units but also hold the fort against opposing starters if needed. Throw in 38-year-old Kurt Thomas, another Forman coup maximized by Thibodeau, and you had a team able to overcome the loss of Boozer and Noah for extended periods. This feels like the beginning of something special.
 
C- Cleveland Cavaliers
How does a team that set NBA records for consecutive losses and largest single-season decline in victories avoid a failing grade? By playing remarkably hard through most of its games despite a crippling gauntlet of injuries (most significantly to center Anderson Varejao, its only decent low-post defender, in early January) and the enduring sting of losing its homegrown two-time MVP over the summer. Coach Byron Scott, who was hired on the premise that LeBron James would be in Cleveland, retained his dedication to improvement and, under the circumstances, kept his cool, professional demeanor. Scott butted heads with J.J. Hickson early in the season, but by the end the third-year forward-center was the Cavs' most improved player. Even with two lottery picks (their own and the Clippers') in the June draft and some young talent acquired at the trade deadline (such as Semih Erden from Boston), the Cavs have a long way to go even to compete for the playoffs. But any embarrassments on the court this season were the product of insufficient talent, not effort.
 
B Dallas Mavericks
The regular season is never the problem for Dallas, which has won at least 50 games for the 11th consecutive season. For a franchise that has been beaten in the first round three of the last four years, what matters is how it has prepped for the postseason. And as Jason Terry's sideline snit last weekend demonstrated, Dallas is feeling the pressure. On the plus side, Tyson Chandler gives the Mavs a feisty inside presence and mobility they've lacked in recent years; Dirk Nowitzki has put up yet another season that should earn him MVP votes; and you still don't bet against Terry in the fourth quarter. On the downside, it's time to admit that Roddy Beaubois has never really found his rhythm after missing the first 50 games with a broken foot and then being force-fed into the starting lineup; a season-ending knee injury to Caron Butler has hurt depth; and there have been too many moments when Jason Kidd has looked 38 years old leading his slightly shaky team through the last weeks of the regular season.
 
B+ Denver Nuggets
Denver fans have cheered on two different teams this season. The first featured an offensively engaged, defensively nonchalant superstar who made it plain he wanted to get paid a maximum amount of money to play elsewhere, distracting himself and everyone else until he was finally traded. The second runs the court with equal diligence in igniting and defending the fast break, has made sharing the ball a work of art and trusts each other on defensive rotations. This latter group proudly realizes that it is making a statement about the value of teamwork, which it practices with an attitude of having something to prove and nothing to lose. Consequently, the smile on the face of coach George Karl -- who beat cancer and thus could put the Carmelo Anthony "melodrama" into proper perspective -- will be the enduring image of the 2010-11 season in Denver.
 
F Detroit Pistons
What a train wreck. The proud, respected veterans linked to the Pistons' glory years -- Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace -- besmirched their legacy by feuding with and undermining coach John Kuester. Rodney Stuckey also clashed with Kuester, ignoring his instructions and refusing to enter a game. The expensive free-agent signings from 2009, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva, failed to justify their long-term contracts for the second straight year. Kuester's player rotations too often seemed purposeless and indecisive -- what's the value of a lottery-bound team giving Tracy McGrady 23.4 minutes per game? The season would have a complete disaster if not for the exciting development of rookie center-forward Greg Monroe and the recent news that billionaire investor Tom Gores has agreed to buy the team, ending the ownership uncertainty that precluded any meaningful organizational changes.
 
C Golden State Warriors
Golden State's two biggest offseason acquisitions, starting forwards David Lee and Dorell Wright, have done little to address the defensive woes left over from the Don Nelson era. They've also added to the run-and-gun atmosphere in which the Warriors don't draw many fouls, leading to the NBA's largest differential in free-throw attempts. Together with guards Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, Lee and Wright give Golden State four players capable of scoring in bunches. Under the circumstances, coach Keith Smart has done a decent job getting this team up from 29th to 26th in defensive efficiency (from 111.7 points per 100 possessions to 110.9), especially because one of his few quality defenders, center Andris Biedrins, spent most of the year struggling with his confidence. Top draft pick Ekpe Udoh became a savior of sorts for Biedrins and the rest of the Warriors. After being sidelined the first month with a wrist injury, the 6-10 center-forward quickly emerged as the Warrior with the most positive impact on defense. Golden State, which has improved by nine games this season, will need more Udohs to balance out the roster and more discipline at both ends of the court to take the next step.
 
B Houston Rockets
A muddled beginning of the season likely cost the Rockets a playoff spot. Yao Ming's chronic foot injuries compelled the untenable situation of his 24-minute limit; meanwhile, volume shooters and ineffective defenders Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin were paired in the backcourt. Within a month, the Rockets were 3-10, Yao was shelved for the season with another injury and the more physical and defensive-oriented Kyle Lowry had displaced Brooks at the point. By the end of the season, coach Rick Adelman was rotating a trio of big men -- Chuck Hayes, rookie Patrick Patterson and Jordan Hill -- who could operate in the high or low post, Lowry was a candidate for Most Improved Player and general manager Daryl Morey had wisely pruned the roster and stockpiled draft picks at the trade deadline. If you discount the hype about how far Yao could take this franchise, Houston is much better suited heading into next season.
 
B- Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are returning to the playoffs for the first time in five years, an accomplishment that boosts fan enthusiasm and the confidence of a young roster. Pessimists will note that their record (37-44 with one game left) is just a game or two better than it was in all but one of those non-playoff seasons. But management has done a good job of sifting in young, complementary talent through trades and the draft the last two years while waiting for some onerous contracts to expire. The Pacers' starting five -- Darren Collison, Paul George, Danny Granger, Tyler Hansbrough and Roy Hibbert -- has clearly defined roles. The oldest of those players, Granger, the team's top scorer and highest-paid player, turns 28 this month. It's reasonable to expect point guard Collison and center Hibbert to become more productive and consistent with age, and the Pacers have a lot of room under the salary cap to bolster the roster.
 
C+ Los Angeles Clippers
How would an injury-free season under an elite coach turn out if this roster remained intact? The Clippers are 15-8 with a starting quartet of breakout star Blake Griffin (age 22), blossoming center DeAndre Jordan (22), sharpshooting guard Eric Gordon (22) and savvy glue guy Ryan Gomes (28) alongside either the departed Baron Davis or the more complementary and cheaper Mo Williams at point guard. Now consider that all that firepower has yielded the 22nd-ranked team in offensive efficiency (just as Derrick Rose's Bulls finished 27th last year under current Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro). And realize that the bench is well stocked with former All-Star Chris Kaman and two promising 2010 first-round picks, Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu.
 
B+ Los Angeles Lakers
By winning 17 of 18 games coming out of the All-Star break, the Lakers appeared to have flipped a switch and locked into postseason mode. But now they have ceded much of that momentum with a five-game losing streak and are left to fight for playoff position in the final two days of the regular season. Nevertheless, at various points during the season, the Lakers have demonstrated that when they are on their game, their frontcourt is too deep, long and quick for any opponent to gain an edge in the paint at either end of the court. And, of course, their backcourt features Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, who have combined for 10 championship rings.
 
A Memphis Grizzlies
At the beginning of last season, the Grizzlies were a laughingstock for taking on Zach Randolph and Allen Iverson, and even after Randolph became an All-Star, a weak bench caused them to fade down the stretch. This year, coach Lionel Hollins and the front office completed the team's masterful transformation into a deep, bruising ensemble that no one wants to face in the playoffs. Randolph and center Marc Gasol back down from no one in the paint, complementing ball-hawking wings like Tony Allen and Sam Young and emerging point guard Mike Conley. They've been without star forward Rudy Gay since the All-Star break yet forge ahead with a nine-man rotation that has propelled the team to a 32-15 record since Jan. 1. Randolph is king of the putback on the offensive glass. The defense, which has jumped from 19th to seventh in efficiency, leads the NBA in steals and points off turnovers. Don't sleep on the Grizzlies.
 
B+ Miami Heat
Coming into the season, nobody knew what to expect from what is probably the most top-heavy roster in NBA history. Miami proved it could blow out weaker teams on a regular basis and, fueled by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, was a constant threat to go on double-digit scoring runs via opportunistic defense. But, perhaps inevitably, the Heat never developed a set rotation. While James, Wade and Chris Bosh all rank among the top 22 in minutes, the Heat have had a revolving door at point guard and center. This disparity in talent and continuity necessarily erodes teamwork, which is further complicated by James and Wade figuring out their alpha and beta roles from game to game and situation to situation. It explains the Heat's poor results in close games against quality competition and extends the drama on this fascinating experiment into the postseason.
 
C- Milwaukee Bucks
It will always be a mystery how general manager John Hammond -- the reigning Executive of the Year, no less -- could have such a fundamental misunderstanding of why his team overachieved last season. Obscurities and underdogs who simply outworked opponents, scrambled for points and took pleasure in playing physical defense, the key players surrounding Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings were proud to embody the feisty style of coach Scott Skiles. When Hammond dropped high-priced acquisitions like Drew Gooden and especially Corey Maggette into their midst, he was favoring logic over chemistry. Gooden could take some of the low-post scoring burden off Bogut, and Maggette is a master at getting to the free-throw line, but neither plays defense with the commitment craved by Skiles. All that said, the Bucks still would have returned to the playoffs this season if Bogut had fully recovered from last April's injuries and Jennings hadn't broken his foot and otherwise shown more improvement in his second season.
 
D- Minnesota Timberwolves
No amount of spin can justify a mere 32 wins over a two-year period, especially when the young talent has simply collapsed down the stretch -- the Timberwolves are a combined 4-25 in March and 0-13 in April pending Wednesday's season finale against Houston. Three top-six draft picks in the last two years have yielded Ricky Rubio (still in Spain), Jonny Flynn (who has regressed from rookie starter to second-year backup at the point) and Wes Johnson (a 23-year-old rookie shooting guard who is making 39.5 percent from the field and 68.9 percent at the line). Darko Milicic, who received a four-year, $20 million contract last summer (the last year is not fully guaranteed), is posting numbers very similar to his seven-year career norms. The Wolves play at the league's fastest pace in large part because they lead the NBA in turnovers and opponents score quickly in transition. The two players raising the team above a failing grade are, of course, rebounding stud Kevin Love (acquired by former personnel boss Kevin McHale) and indefatigable glue guy Anthony Tolliver.
 
C New Jersey Nets
The Nets have doubled their win total, to 24, with one game left. But this season will be remembered for the acquisition of star point guard Deron Williams and the Nets' gamble that the potential 2012 free agent will be willing to stay long term. Aside from center Brook Lopez, a reliable scorer and subpar rebounder, the team is short on the sort of quality rotation players who can entice Williams. New Jersey might have to overpay to retain free-agent power forward Kris Humphries, who averaged a double-double in a breakout season and complements Lopez's skill set. But the most valuable building blocks -- rookie power forward Derrick Favors, 19, and two first-round picks, including a high-lottery selection in June -- were sent to Utah to obtain Williams. With the uncertainty over the new collective bargaining agreement, the construction of the team's new arena in Brooklyn, the wooing of Williams and the willingness of billionaire Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov to invest in the franchise, the situation is volatile in Jersey.
 
B+ New Orleans Hornets
This is not Chris Paul's best statistical season. The gifted point guard is shooting less frequently and less accurately than he has in four years, including just 44.1 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from three-point range since the All-Star break. But after a summer of rumors that Paul was unhappy in New Orleans, his dedication to new coach Monty Williams' deliberate, defensive-oriented style has been vital in returning the Hornets to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Orchestrating the NBA's second-slowest offense (only Williams' mentor, Portland's Nate McMillan, reduces the tempo more), Paul frequently turns down open looks early in the possession and patiently works the clock. At the defensive end, he is poised to lead the league in steals for the third time in four years. Overall, he's been phenomenally effective. Paul's adjusted plus/minus numbers -- which take into account the caliber of the other players on the court -- are way ahead of any other player's, according to Basketball Value. Not coincidentally, the Hornets have overachieved this season.
 
B New York Knicks
There are plenty of reasons to criticize the Knicks since they put Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups alongside Amar'e Stoudemire. Chief among them is a generally awful defense and the fact that the pick-and-roll style preferred by Stoudemire is incompatible with the jab-step-and-jumper approach favored by the Denver imports. But in a year when even all of the elite teams (except Chicago) have endured a five- or six-game funk, the Knicks' growing pains are something their win-starved fans should gladly accept. True, by giving the Nuggets three young starters who had New York over .500 for the first time in years, Knicks management is testing the conventional wisdom that the team that lands the best player automatically "wins" the trade. But even with a depleted roster, Stoudemire and Anthony have enough firepower to beat anyone on a given night. It remains to be seen if these two formidable scorers (and coach Mike D'Antoni) can take the next necessary step and develop more of a defensive mind-set. But at the very least, the new status quo is a force to be reckoned with.
 
A Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City, like Chicago, has assembled a roster in which the roles are clear-cut, filled by a productive blend of youthful playmakers and passionate defenders. Ironically, the Thunder's strength at the beginning of the season -- the one-two punch of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- has been complicated by Westbrook's desire and ability to score more, while the interior defense that was a weakness in the first half is now rock solid with the addition of centers Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed. Put another way, Durant and Westbrook are the dazzling showpieces that can excite fans and on their own make the Thunder competitive. But Perkins and the enhanced roles for power forward Serge Ibaka and sixth man James Harden fortify the foundation and make OKC formidable in the playoffs.
 
C Orlando Magic
Give general manager Otis Smith credit for recognizing that Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter weren't enough support for even an improved Dwight Howard to carry the Magic to the Finals. That said, Smith went too far parting with Marcin Gortat during his December trading spree, and compounded his error by not getting even a serviceable backup for Howard before the playoffs. Howard belongs in the two-man discussion with Derrick Rose for MVP; he's expanded his offense (but not his free-throw accuracy), and he and coach Stan Van Gundy somehow have this Magic roster ranked third in defensive efficiency. But Hedo Turkoglu has been mostly mediocre, Jason Richardson has been curiously inconsistent and Gilbert Arenas is shockingly inept, creating another hole, at backup point guard. Based on this regular-season performance, Orlando has to hope Howard remains loyal when he's eligible to become a free agent after next season. That would enable the Magic -- whose salary-cap situation doesn't look pretty -- to go back to square two in rebuilding around the 25-year-old center.
 
B Philadelphia 76ers
Coach Doug Collins once again has proved to be master of the quick fix. If the Sixers beat Detroit in Wednesday's season finale, they'd finish above .500 and have their best record since 2004-05, 15 games better than last year's fiasco in former coach Eddie Jordan's lone season. Collins found ways to get open mid-range jumpers for the much-maligned but finally healthy Elton Brand. The coach also enlisted Andre Iguodala as both the shutdown defender of the opponent's best wing scorer and the player best equipped to help 20-year-old point guard Jrue Holiday facilitate the offense. In another shrewd move, Collins aggressively used Thaddeus Young as a sixth man, knowing Young can be a matchup nightmare against certain personnel who are either too small or too slow to handle his hybrid skill set. Perhaps most important, when Brand's resurgence wasn't yet legitimized, Iguodala was hobbled by injuries and the team suffered a series of heartbreaking losses en route to a 3-13 start, Collins kept his cool -- and now Philadelphia is back in the playoffs.
 
C Phoenix Suns
Even if last year's trip to the conference finals was a bit of a fluke or overachievement, watching Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire stage brilliant seasons 2,500 miles apart provoked a pang of regret that they didn't reprise their partnership. Instead, one of Stoudemire's replacement, second-year center Robin Lopez, suffered through a relentless sophomore slump; December acquisition Vince Carter proved he couldn't complement Nash in Phoenix any better than he did Dwight Howard in Orlando; and coach Alvin Gentry was able to cobble together an effectively scrappy second unit for only about the month of February (as opposed to the entire second half of last season). After that, Nash's body began to fall apart and the team crumbled right along with him. Between Nash's being an All-Star snub and missing the playoffs, I don't recall a former MVP ever playing this well and having so little to show for it.
 
A- Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers remain remarkably competitive, persistent and resourceful in the face of adversity. Coach Nate McMillan compensated for center Greg Oden's season-long absence and guard Brandon Roy's long break and current part-time status by mixing and matching personnel. Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge has had a career year by concentrating his scoring in the low post, where Oden was meant to be. Free-agent signee Wesley Matthews has expanded his role as a versatile, above-average wing defender in Roy's stead. Meanwhile, for the second straight year, the front office picked up an invaluable rotation player at the trade deadline, with forward Gerald Wallace following last season's addition of center Marcus Camby. The result is a roster brimming with diverse talent, making Portland a dangerous playoff foe.
 
C- Sacramento Kings
Anytime a franchise ranks near the bottom in attendance and endures constant rumors about relocation, it is not a successful year. But wherever they end up, the Kings have showcased some potentially valuable, albeit risky, assets for the future. Rookie DeMarcus Cousins has the physical tools to be an NBA star -- and the immaturity and self-absorption to be a chronic aggravation to his coaches and teammates. Second-year guard Tyreke Evans has battled plantar fasciitis and opposing defenses dedicated to denying his dribble penetration, but it is still apparent that the Kings are a much better team when last season's Rookie of the Year is on the court. The team's third young cornerstone is second-year shooting guard Marcus Thornton, who has averaged 20.8 points since arriving in a midseason trade. He's been a better passer and ball-handler than he showed in New Orleans, but his defense remains a question a mark. For a 24-win team, these three players represent an intriguing mixture of challenges and hope.
 
A San Antonio Spurs
Whatever concerns exist about their lack of frontcourt size and depth or the advanced age of their stars, the Spurs have earned the No. 1 seed in the West while winning at least 60 games for the first time since 2005-06. Gregg Popovich deserves Coach of the Year votes for tinkering with the offense to emphasize the transition skills of a healthy Manu Ginobili (who has set a career high for minutes) and perpetually underrated Tony Parker (the NBA's best finisher at point guard over the last five seasons), along with spreading the floor for spot-up three-pointers by Ginobili, Matt Bonner, Richard Jefferson and Gary Neal before defenses could get set. The result is the NBA's second-most-efficient offense (behind Denver's). Like Boston, San Antonio knows its championship window is closing and that it will need more minutes and vintage defensive excellence from Tim Duncan in the weeks ahead. But give this team its due for an outstanding regular season.
 
C- Toronto Raptors
The Raptors will finish last in defensive efficiency for the second year in a row. And without Chris Bosh or Hedo Turkoglu, they are also scoring 5.2 fewer points per 100 possessions than a year ago and will suffer a net loss of at least 17 wins. The obvious scapegoat is Andrea Bargnani, who is not only a poor defender but also a volume shooter with below-average accuracy both inside and outside the three-point arc. Pairing him with a reluctant shooter like point guard Jose Calderon is how Toronto also ranks only 21st in offensive efficiency. The Raptors did show signs of ruggedness in the frontcourt from steadily improving rookie Ed Davis, energetic but foul-prone power forward Amir Johnson and rebounding fiend Reggie Evans, who could move on as a free agent after the season. But management needs to change the defensive culture, especially given the presence of Bargnani (who has four years and $41.5 million left on his contract) and second-year swingman DeMar DeRozan, whose dramatic development on offense ensures that he will be among the team leaders in minutes again.
 
D+ Utah Jazz
No one saw this coming, a litany of nightmarish events that spelled disaster. At the top of the list was the resignation of suddenly deflated coach Jerry Sloan after 23 years on the job. Then came the trade of Deron Williams, prompted by fears that he would leave the franchise when his contract expires at the end of next season. Beneath those sensational stories were more mundane but still damaging developments. Injuries limited center Mehmet Okur to just 168 minutes. Raja Bell couldn't regain his former effectiveness as either a rugged defender or a three-point shooter. Al Jefferson reprised his Minnesota exploits of scoring in the low post but giving up nearly as many or more at the other end. You have to go back to the 1981-82 season to find a Jazz team that yielded more points per 100 possessions than this year's model. Rookies Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward and two lottery picks in the June draft bring legitimate hope for the future. But the end of the Sloan era was quick and painful.
 
C- Washington Wizards
Talk about finishing strong: If the Wizards beat Cleveland on Wednesday, their six victories (in just eight games) in April will exceed their total from any other month. This belated rally is in stark contrast to the absence of fundamentals and preponderance of silly mistakes -- wretched shot selection, poor communication, failure to box out or set crisp screens, careless turnovers -- that characterized the team for too much of the season. Despite an assortment of nagging injuries, No. 1 pick John Wall showed he was worthy of the hype. Fellow rookie guard Jordan Crawford (obtained from Atlanta in the Kirk Hinrich deal) has been a multifaceted, late-season surprise. JaVale McGee is slowly but surely becoming an above-average center. And the team somehow managed to unload Gilbert Arenas' contract.
 

 
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