NBA Tier List: Parity still reigns as NBA approaches midway point

Toronto Raptors' Pascal Siakam tries to drive past Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo. (Morry Gash/AP)

We’re nearly at the halfway point of the season and as such we can pretty safely say that this 2019-20 campaign has come as advertised at the beginning of the season: One of great parity.

Yes, there are the elite clubs in the league, like usual, but the gap between the super powers and some of the teams just a few notches below them isn’t as astronomical as it may have been in seasons past.

As such, in this week’s NBA Tier List we have, essentially, five tiers of pretty good to excellent teams, with one bottom-feeding one.

Here’s how they shook out.

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Exclusive twosome

For a little while there, the Milwaukee Bucks stood alone at the top of this mountain, but thanks to an eight-game win streak that’s seen them get back on track after a four-game stumble, the Los Angeles Lakers are back as the Deer’s rightful dance partner.

These two clubs are the only truly dominant teams in the NBA, both of whom are the only ones on pace to reach the coveted 60-win mark and capture home-court advantage throughout the entirety of their respective conference playoffs with ease.

The target’s been on their backs pretty much from the first game of the season and that hasn’t changed even with half the season having already come and gone.

Wicked Jazz solo

The Utah Jazz stand alone in this tier because it’s hard to quantify them properly right now as they’re on a streak hotter than the sun, winning nine straight and 14 of their last 15 games.

Additionally, over their last 15, Utah boasts a ridiculous offensive rating of 118.4, a mark that would lead the league by a huge margin if it was drawn out over the entire season.

This level of excellence likely isn’t sustainable, but after a poor start to the season, this run has shot Utah right back into the conversation for one of the top two or three seeds in the Western Conference like many predicted they would be in the pre-season.

There isn’t a team playing better ball right now than the Jazz, and if they manage to keep this up at all we could be looking at an elite trio at the top soon.

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Phenomenal four

This quartet of teams, along with the Jazz, are the clubs that we would classify as being just a few notches below the likes of the Bucks and Lakers at the moment.

And as mentioned before, being just below the top of the heap isn’t in any way a knock as each of these teams have the right combination of star power and one of (or both) offensive and defensive ability to make a run at a championship if given the opportunity.

For fear of sounding like a broken record, this has been a season of great parity so far and the outstanding play of these four teams is proof of that fact because even though they don’t look as good as the top two right now, you see a scenario where that can be corrected come the spring.

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Sick six

This is a bit of double-entendre with these six teams as all of them are quite good, but for some reason or the other – be it injuries or otherwise – they haven’t been playing to their maximum potential of late and have lost a little bit of ground over some of the other teams we feel are ahead of them even as they’ve managed to plow ahead and continue to look dangerous every night.

A good example of this are the Toronto Raptors who have been tepid over their last 12 games, going 6-6 in that span as they look to get back to full strength after getting decimated by the injury bug in mid-December. Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell are back, and Marc Gasol shouldn’t be out much longer now, so things are starting to look up for the Raptors. However, right now, they look like a team that simply can’t uncork properly because they’ve been short on key personnel.

The lukewarm play of Toronto is reflective of every other team included in this level with the exception of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that’s won 11 of its last 14 contests. It might be a case here where OKC is playing a little above its head, but that doesn’t disqualify it from this tier. The Thunder have been sick in every positive sense of the word during this run they’ve been on.

Underrated eight

None of these teams are what you would call world-beaters, but that doesn’t mean they can’t threaten a little every now and then.

These are all the legitimate-looking bubble playoff teams and they all can, and will, steal a win off superior competition on occasion such as was the case with the San Antonio Spurs coming into Scotiabank Arena Sunday and emerging with a big win over the Raptors, coming back from 18-down.

On paper all eight of these teams may not look like much, but take them lightly at your own peril.

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Maligned nine

There’s still a whole other half of regular-season basketball so you never really know, but up to this point in the season, these are the worst clubs in the NBA this season.

Be it because of a lack of talent such is the case with the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Hornets, too much inexperience like seen with the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls, devastating injury luck as seen with the Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons, or just plain old organizational dysfunction from the likes of the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento Kings, these are the teams that are scraping the bottom of the barrel this season without much hope of bettering their situations.

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