THE BOSTON CELTICS
Ah, midterm grades. If you're doing well, you're happy, but you know there's a long way to go. If you're not doing well, at least there's time to improve. It applies to school and it applies to... the NBA.
With roughly half of the season down, we've handed out grades for every team as well as individual awards. Let's start with the team side, where eight different teams earned a grade in the "A" range. But for my money, of those eight, no team has been as impressive as the Boston Celtics. Here's what Michael Kaskey-Blomain says:Kaskey-Blomain: "The Celtics have been the top team in the league record-wise for much of the first half of the season, and for good reason. They have the NBA's best net rating, a top-two offense in the league and a bonafide MVP candidate in Jayson Tatum, who has taken his game to another level this season. There was potential for this Celtics campaign to go sideways after the team suspended head coach Ime Udoka for a year and replaced him with the inexperienced Joe Mazzulla prior to the start of the season, but that hasn't been the case at all."
Keep in mind that all of this has come with several Boston regulars, including Robert Williams III, Al Horford and, most recently, Jaylen Brown, missing significant time. The Celtics' most popular starting lineup from last season -- those three plus Tatum and Marcus Smart -- has not played a single minute together this season.
Michael mentioned Tatum as an MVP candidate, but he'll need to catch the current favorite -- and our midseason pick -- Nikola Jokic. The two-time defending MVP is somehow taking his game to an even higher level, on pace for career-highs in shooting percentage, assists per game and offensive rating. While our MVP pick wasn't unanimous, three major awards were. You can see all of our experts' picks here.
Matt Weiss has only been the Michigan co-offensive coordinator for one season, and this certainly isn't a good early impression. The 39-year-old Weiss was placed on leave amid an ongoing university police investigation of a "report of computer access crimes."
Details are sparse:A Jan. 5 report from Michigan's Daily Crime & Fire Log mentions "fraudulent activity involving someone accessing university email accounts without authorization," but Weiss is not specifically mentioned.Weiss has not been involved with the team or with recruiting since then, and he has not been allowed in team facilities. He did coach in Michigan's College Football Playoff semifinal loss to TCU on New Year's Eve.Weiss released a statement saying: "I am aware of the ongoing investigation by the University of Michigan Police Department and fully cooperating with investigators. I look forward to the matter being resolved. Out of respect for the integrity of the investigation, I will not have any further comment."
Man, the NFL field shrinks quickly, doesn't it? Two weeks ago, we had 32 teams playing. Last weekend there were still 14. And now we've cut roughly in half again, down to eight.
To me, this is the best round of the playoffs: top seeds making their playoff debut, strong contenders looking to prove themselves and Cinderellas hoping to keep dancing. Every team is three games away from becoming a Super Bowl champion, but all of them also have questions to answer.
Yes, even the No. 1 seeds aren't exempt, especially when it comes to one quarterback in particular, writes Cody Benjamin.Benjamin: "What exactly is Jalen Hurts' status? -- We've not seen the MVP-level breakout at full strength since mid-December, when Hurts hurt his shoulder. ... Hurts was the catalyst when healthy, threatening opponents as both a punishing runner and vastly improved downfield passer. The weapons are there in A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, as is Nick Sirianni's aggressiveness. But how much can Hurts, the heartbeat of the team, reasonably give, and for how long?
If Hurts is healthy, expect a ton of quarterback runs in this one by both Hurts and his opposing quarterback, Daniel Jones. Hurts and Jones ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in rushing yards among quarterbacks this season, and Jones ran 17 times for 78 yards in the Giants' Wild Card win over the Vikings.
You can see the biggest question for all eight teams left here.
We've talked plenty about Tom Brady's future in this newsletter this week, but there's another former MVP quarterback -- this one nearly 20 years younger -- whose future is very much a mystery: Lamar Jackson.
The path we've taken to get here is a long and winding one.
Still, plenty of quarterbacks have had lukewarm-at-best relationships with their franchises (Kyler Murray) or significant injuries (Dak Prescott) prior to signing a massive extension. Plus, Baltimore has plenty of options in negotiating with him, as former sports agent Joel Corry notes.
But the possibility of Jackson playing elsewhere is hanging around like a dark cloud. Where could he go if that happens? Cody Benjamin has 15(!!!) potential landing spots for Jackson. Yes, that's nearly half of the NFL. Yes, Jackson would be worth it. Cody makes a compelling case for each.
Look at the ACC standings and you'll see an unfamiliar name at the top: No. 19 Clemson. The Tigers have one ACC regular-season title ever, back in 1989-90. But under the leadership of Brad Brownell, they're off to a great start this season.
Brownell opened this season on the hot seat, and he spoke with our Matt Norlander in this week's Court Report. It's an awesome interview with a ton of great insights. Oh, and Matt delivered even more of the goods with his midseason Coach of the Year and Player of the Year picks. As for the latter, Purdue's Zach Edey is running away with it.Norlander: "Edey had a career-best 32 points and sank the winner on Monday to push No. 3 Purdue past Michigan State. It's not just his NPOY to lose, it's his to toss out the car window and refuse to drive back and pick up."
🏀 No. 23 Rutgers at Michigan State, 6:30 p.m. on FS1
🏀 Warriors at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
🏒 Lightning at Oilers, 9 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Nets at Suns, 10 p.m. on TNT
🏀 No. 5 UCLA at Arizona State, 10:30 p.m. on FS1