NBA power rankings

8 Comments

James_game2.jpgOur weekly NBA rankings, where we start to see teams get ready for the playoffs. Or try to improve their lottery position. Either way.

1. Cavaliers (56-15) Seven game win streak, best record in the NBA, and they get Big Z back this week. The only intrigue left for the last few weeks of the season is to see what team they get to destroy in the first round.

2. Magic (49-21) Rashard Lewis gets called out for not living up to his $18.5 million, he goes out and drops 24 and 11 on the Heat. And that’s the team’s big problem?

3. Lakers (52-18) LA has to get prepared for the playoffs without Andrew Bynum (he’ll be back next month). Had to do that the last two years, and they went to the Finals.

4. Nuggets (47-23) Injury questions about along the front line (not to mention the coach), and Denver’s next five games include Boston, Orlando and Dallas. Rockies-like mountains for this team to climb.

5. Mavericks (46-23) If Rodrigue Beaubois were a rookie on a lesser team, where he got a lot of burn, his name would pop up in Rookie of the Year conversations.

6. Hawks (45-24) Monday night game against the streaking Bucks, then on Wednesday they face Orlando. Atlanta has big playoff aspirations, these are the types of teams they need to beat in the playoffs.

7. Bucks (38-30) They are 14-2 since they traded for John Salmons. How much will they pay to keep him around this summer?  

8. Suns (44-26) Four wins in a row, and the last one against Portland was the kind of ground it out win the Suns will need in the playoffs.

9. Celtics (45-24) Four wins in a row and those old legs have looked fresh the last week. Can that really last into the playoffs? Boston fans gave a little extra in the church offering plate yesterday hoping to make it so.

10. Thunder (42-26) They dropped a game to the Pacers? Ugh. The mistake of a young team. Which we forget these Thunder are.

11. Jazz (45-25) The last five has seen wins against the bottom feeders — Washington, Minnesota and a CP3less New Orleans — but losses to Oklahoma City and Phoenix. They need to beat some good teams before the playoffs.

12. Spurs (41-27) Loss to Hawks Sunday, next four games are Thunder, Lakers, Cavaliers and Celtics. Tough road for a team trying to stay out of the eight seed.

13. Blazers (42-29) Go ahead and say they are only beating teams below .500 lately — I will because they are — but the fact is they are still beating them.

14. Heat (36-34) Teams at the top of the East all want to avoid Dwyane Wade in the first round — they know they can win the series, but he will make it harder than it has to be.

15. Rockets (36-32) The Aaron Brooks/Kevin Martin backcourt is already one of the most dynamic in the NBA. All they need is a powerhouse center and… oh yea. Yao.

16. Grizzlies (37-33) Heavy stretch of road games to end the season, but with this team that may be the best thing.

17. Bobcats (35-34) Don’t look at the team on the court the last week, look at that shiny new owner we’ve got.

18. Raptors (34-34) I’d say they were desperately holding on to the final playoff spot in the East, except everybody below them is crumbling.

19. Hornets (33-38) This week the Chris Paul and Darren Collison share the ball experiment begins. That should be interesting.

20. Kings (24-46) Big sigh of relief that Tyreke Evans will not miss the rest of the season. He’s the only thing making this team watchable (of course, they beat the Clippers without him).

21. Bulls (32-37) On paper, an enticing team for free agents. If said free agents watched them play this week, not so much.

22. Pacers (24-46) The Pacers with a couple of wins this week. It helps when Danny Granger drops 29. Still does not make this team watchable.

23. Sixers (24-46) Playing out the string, and having to do it against playoff teams. The next few weeks will be ugly.

24. Knicks (25-45) They are .500 in their last four games. Take the small victories, Knicks fans.

25. Clippers (26-44) I bought a cool San Diego Clippers throwback T-shirt this week. That’s about the only interesting news I have on this team.

26. Warriors (19-50) Warriors fans don’t care about these rankings, the team is for sale. That is the only ray of hope this franchise had.

27. Pistons (23-47) At least Stuckey is healthy because this team is not.

28. Wizards (21-47) Eleven losses in a row now, time to get to the end of the season and hit the reset button.

29. Timberwolves (14-56) Saw them in person against LA… they are that bad. But they are still trying for Kurt Rambis, most of the time.

30. Nets (7-62) I want to move you out of last, I really do. Just give me a win to do it with.

Jimmy Butler still begging Fred Hoiberg to coach him harder

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20: Head coach Fred Hoiberg of the Chicago Bulls talks with Jimmy Butler during a game against the Golden State Warriors
at the United Center on January 20, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Bulls reportedly has chemistry issues last season stemming from the Jimmy Butler-Fred Hoiberg relationship. Butler’s most public critique of Hoiberg came in December, when the wing said, “We probably have to be coached a lot harder at times.”

A reasonable criticism for the mild-mannered Hoiberg? Perhaps, especially for a team that responded so well to the hard-driving Tom Thibodeau for the better part of five years.

The best delivery? Probably not, considering Hoiberg was still trying to find his way in his first NBA season.

But Butler hasn’t changed his message.

Butler, via CSN Chicago:

“I told Fred, ‘As much as you can, use me as an example. I want you to really get on my tail about every little thing.’,” Butler said. “Because if Doug or Tony or whoever it may be is watching coach talk to me like that, it’s going to be like, ‘If he can talk to Jimmy like that, I know he’s going to come at me a certain way.’ That’s what I try to remind him every day. I think he’s ready for that. I’m a player. I’m coachable like everybody else. I want that. I need that.”

Tim Duncan was celebrated for years for taking the brunt of Gregg Popovich’s criticism in San Antonio, setting an example for younger Spurs. So much of what Butler has done lately has been spun into a negative, but it seems he’s really trying to sacrifice his pride to help teammates like Doug McDermott and Tony Snell.

If Hoiberg goes along, this could quiet complaints about Butler’s leadership and preferential treatment.

With Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in New York, the Bulls are Butler’s team now. Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have said as much.

It seems Butler is doing what he can to lead the Bulls – his way. The question: Does Hoiberg also think that’s the best way?

Jeremy Lin: My race made Linsanity bigger

Dallas Mavericks v New York Knicks
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jeremy Lin might want to move past Linsanity, but  he’ll always be linked to that period in 2012. It was so enthralling for numerous reasons, including:

  • Lin played unsustainably great basketball, leading the Knicks to a 7-1 record while starting with Carmelo Anthony injured and averaging 25.0 points and 9.5 assists per game in that span.
  • Lin was excelling in New York, America’s biggest media market.
  • The Knicks were desperate for success, having not won a single playoff game in the last decade.
  • Lin was undrafted and relatively unknown before breaking out.
  • Lin played at Harvard, which is universally known for academics and barely known for basketball.
  • Lin is Asian-American, a rarity in high-level basketball.

Yes, that last factor mattered.

Lin, via Peter Botte of the New York Daily News:

“In some ways, Linsanity wouldn’t have been Linsanity if I was a different skin color, most likely, it wouldn’t have been as big of a deal, and that went to my advantage, too, but if you look prior to that, a lot of the obstacles to even get to that point where I could get to a position of getting on the floor, those were definitely obstacles that were very much stereotypes that I had to fight along the way. So I’ve always understood that there’s good and there’s bad and you have to take them together and just be thankful for it all.”

Linsanity was a culmination of all the elements listed above. Maybe it would’ve happened without one or two, but THE essential factor was Lin’s on-court production. Without that, he never would’ve become a national phenomenon.

Lin’s heritage – he was born in California to Taiwanese-born parents – accentuated his basketball skills, but the basketball skills were the base for his popularity.

And as Lin said, his race was a double-edged sword. It made him less likely to get the benefit of the doubt when rising through the basketball ranks. I believe that coaches, scouts and other players were less inclined to believe in his basketball ability because of his race.

But Lin overcame that and eventually reaped the awards of being an outlier.

Lin has long seemed to possess a keen understanding of himself and a willingness to discuss it. I think he’s spot-on here, and it leads to a better understanding of one of the biggest NBA stories in recent years.

51Q: Will we see what the Trail Blazers saw in Evan Turner?

CAMBRIDGE, MA - JULY 27:  NBA player Evan Turner of the Portland Trail Blazers speaks to members of AS Roma during a friendly match against the Boston Bolts at Ohiri Field on July 27, 2016 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

Last season, Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey received the most Executive of the Year first-place votes.

This offseason, he signed Evan Turner to a four-year, $70 million contract.

How could someone who engineered such a smart 2015 offseason – nailing move after move – give Turner so much money? He earned the benefit of the doubt by rebuilding on the fly without LaMarcus Aldridge, but Olshey spent a lot of his capital (and Paul Allen’s money) on a mid-level, seemingly ill-fitting small forward.

Is this another example of Olshey outfoxing us, or did he finally get tripped up?

I expected brilliance from Portland this summer given Olshey’s successful retool around Damian Lillard last year, when Aldridge bolted. Olshey traded Nicolas Batum for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson, signed Al-Farouq Aminu (four years, $30 million) and Ed Davis (three years, $20 million) to team-friendly contracts, traded a late first-rounder for Mason Plumlee, practically got Maurice Harkless for free and carved out bigger roles for C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard by letting Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo walk. The Batum trade is the only move that’s not a clear victory, but Batum was headed into unrestricted free agency and might have left Portland empty-handed, and the 21-year-old Vonleh could still develop.

Not only did the younger Trail Blazers come together far more quickly than expected, winning 44 games and a playoff series, they did so under budget. Portland had enough cap space at the trade deadline to extract a first-rounder for eating Anderson Varejao‘s contract – the type of move usually reserved for tankers like the 76ers.

The 2016 offseason brought even more possibilities. Thanks to low cap holds for Crabbe, Leonard and Harkless, the Blazers were flush with cap space.

And they spent a big chunk of it on… Evan Turner.

Turner is an alright player, but I don’t think he’s worth $17.5 million per year in a vacuum – and Portland presents a tough fit.

His strengths – passing for his position, mid-range shot creation – matter less on team where the ball is frequently in Lillard’s or McCollum’s hands. Portland shouldn’t take the ball from Lillard and McCollum to give Turner more touches, either.

When off the ball, Turner’s poor outside shooting is a liability to efficient scoring and floor spacing. He made 24% of his 3-pointers last season and 30% for his career. Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts believes Turner will shoot better in Portland, but that optimism is usually wishful thinking. For his part, Turner sounds more focused on the mid-range, where he’s not efficient enough to take shots from the typical looks generated by Stotts’ space-strong scheme.

Portland could use defensive help, and Turner is fine at that end. But he’s not the stopper his 6-foot-7 frame would suggest. He’s just not quick or bouncy enough to stay with many opponents.

It just doesn’t add up – unless Olshey knows what he’s doing, which he might. After impressing so much in his other dealings, Olshey has put the spotlight on Turner this season – with the rest of us watching to see just how Turner will add $70 million of value to the Trail Blazers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo tells terrible joke at Bucks media day (video)

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 16:  Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts to his foul during a 103-90 Los Angeles Clippers win at Staples Center on December 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Thankfully, Giannis Antetokounmpo has a lucrative career and doesn’t need  to make ends meet through stand-up comedy: