NBA Power Rankings, ones that will make Mark Cuban smile

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Our weekly NBA Power Rankings. Dallas, Boston and Denver all on seven-games or longer winning streaks… and the Knicks could join them this week.

1. Mavericks (16-4). Winners of nine in a row, they are getting fantastic play from Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd… which makes you wonder if they can keep it up as the season drags on. They aren’t really doing anything different during this streak, they are just hot.

2. Celtics (16-4). Winners of seven in a row and getting it done with Rajon Rondo missing games and other assorted injuries. They are the best shooting team in basketball right now — highest eFG% in the league — and if you can shoot and defend you win. A lot.

3. Spurs (17-3). They slip down two spots not because of anything they did — well, they did lose to the Clippers — so much as two hotter teams leapfrogged them. Tony Parker looked like his aggressive self again Sunday.

4. Magic (15-5). I got the flu just watching one of their games — they were down to eight healthy players on Sunday, a loss that ended a six-game win streak.

5. Jazz (15-6). Overlooked in all the “damn Chris Paul is good” talk is the fact Deron Williams is having probably his best season so far. His is getting to the line more, turning the ball over less all while taking on more of the offense. Highest PER of his career.

6. Lakers (14-6). Sometimes you just need a slump-buster. A win no matter how it looks or who it was with. The Lakers got theirs against the Kings. We’ll see if that turns them around.

7. Nuggets (13-6). Winners of seven in a row. Nene is averaging 15 and 7 shooting 62 percent in the last 10 games. Denver heads out on the road this week for what should be some good tests.

8. Heat (13-8). They have a point differential that is much better than their record, one of those will catch up with the other in the coming months. Good test against Utah on the road this week.

9. Thunder (14-7). Russell Westbrook is to be feared.

10. Hawks (13-8). The Hawks are getting along just fine without Joe Johnson so far — if that continues you have to ask again about that contract he got this summer.

11. Bulls (10-8). The next couple weeks are the Carlos Boozer adjustment period, and then we should be able to get a better picture of where this team really stands.

12. Knicks (12-9). Winners of four in a row and eight of their last nine. You can note they have played the easiest schedule in the league so far (opponents winning 41.5 percent) but the fact is they are beating the teams they are supposed to. This team is pretty good.

13. Hornets (13-7). They have lost six of their last eight. Teams undergoing an ownership change — even one that should be for the better, as George Shinn was one of the worst in the league — always give me pause. Winning comes from the top down.

14. Suns (11-9). Earl Baron is no Robin Lopez in the paint, but he’s an improvement as the Suns rattled off three wins last week. Hakeem Warrick had a good weekend off the bench as well.

15. Pacers (9-9). Great wins followed by bad losses. Pretty much what we can expect all season.

16. Blazers (9-11). Clippers win breaks the losing streak, but did the Blazers solve any of their underlying problems? That said, Nate McMillan is safe as coach for now.

17. Grizzlies (8-13). Every time I watch them play I think “shouldn’t they be better than this?”

18. Raptors (8-12). If the playoffs started today, this is your eight seed in the East. They’ve won 6 of their last 10.

19. Warriors (8-12). On tap this week is Dallas, San Antonio, Miami and Utah. Rough stretch of the schedule. David Lee didn’t look great this week upon return.

20. Rockets (7-13). Beat the Lakers this week (didn’t everyone) and have a schedule they can hold their own against for a few weeks until Aaron Brooks and Yao Ming are back.

21. Bucks (7-12). Andrew Bogut had 31 and 18 in his first game back against Orlando — who cares if Dwight Howard was playing or not. The Bucks need Bogut to be right.

22. Bobcats (7-13). Last season a very good defense made up for a lackluster offense. This season the defense has been average (13 in league in points allowed per possession) and here we are.

23. Sixers (6-14). They quietly have won three of their last four, and their defense has looked better lately. Also, their point differential (-1.6) is that of a 9-11 team. Look for them to keep winning more.

24. Pistons (7-14). Detroit heads out on a tough road trip this week with four games in five days. But that’s a lot of cities to write new “we should trade for Tayshaun Prince/Rip Hamilton” stories.

25. Cavaliers (7-13). It wasn’t the roll-over-and-die loss to Miami that cause the Cavaliers to fall down the rankings this week, it was getting crushed by the Timberwolves and Pistons.

26. Clippers (4-17). Baron Davis is back, but is that a good thing?

27. Wizards (5-10). They head out on the road this week, where they are 0-10.

28. Nets (6-15). Four straight losses and they are dead last in the East. Mikhail Prokhorov learning turning an NBA team around is not a fast process.

29. Timberwolves (5-15). Darko Milicic was +41 the other night, best single-game +/- number in the league this season. Let’s focus on that and not what the Spurs did to this team.

30. Kings (4-14). They are 1-9 in their last 10, but had a chance against the top-rated Mavericks Saturday. This team has some talent but right now they are just terrible to watch.

Pacers’ Lance Stephenson will get his chance, but coming off the bench

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Indiana is Myles Turner‘s team now. Gone from last season are Paul George, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and more. More than just Turner, everyone on the Pacers’ roster is going to get a chance to shine.

That includes Lance Stephenson.

But he will do that coming off the bench, coach Nate McMillan told the Pacers’ website.

Coach Nate McMillan said he has a starting lineup in mind heading into training camp, but wouldn’t reveal it. He did acknowledge, however, that Lance Stephenson likely will start the season as the sixth man…

“I hope he can establish (that role),” McMillan said. “A sixth man is like a starter, and he can be a guy who can do a lot of things with that second group with his ability to handle the ball, score the ball. He’s an unselfish player.”

Stephenson was only with the Pacers for a few games at the end of last season, but he was their second best player in the postseason brought an energy and toughness the team lacked. He hit threes (62 percent for the Pacers), played hard, and looked more like the guy Indiana had years ago than the guy who has bounced around the league since. But that was a very small sample size, it’s something else to do this over the course of a season.

Indiana is rebuilding but they did not bottom out and tank, they brought in guys who can handle the ball such as Victor Oladipo (the George trade), Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph. Stephenson is going to have to accept and find a role behind and with those guys. But he’s going to get a chance, and he has played his best ball in a Pacers’ uniform.

Suns’ center Alex Len expected to sign qualifying offer, head to camp

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In the free-spending summer of 2016, Bismack Biyambo got a $72 million contract. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million.

Those kinds of contracts — and there were plenty more of them — had a lot of NBA big men (and players in general) heading into this summer thinking they were going to get PAID. Instead, teams learned the lessons from their drunken spending binge and the market got tight. Especially for centers.

Which leads us to the news Suns big man Alex Len is going to bet on himself and sign his qualifying offer before coming to camp, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen change of events, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len is planning to sign the team’s $4.2 million qualifying offer before training camp, clearing the way to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, league sources told ESPN….

Phoenix wants to study’s Len’s progress in the 2017-18 season before committing to a long-term, lucrative contract extension to him. Len has started 80 games over the past two seasons, including 34 in 2016-17 when he averaged eight points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game.

Phoenix wants to leave its options open. Len is mobile, can protect the rim, and has some skills that would help him fit in a modern NBA style offense — he could play with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson — plus last season he improved his shooting around the rim and in the paint. However, he’s not consistent on either end of the court. He shows his potential in flashes, but the Suns need to see more.

Len will now be an unrestricted free agent next summer — he is playing for his next payday. If that can’t motivate him, nothing will.

Report: Lottery reform will really help teams in middle of lottery

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Tanking in the NBA is a problem more of perception than reality — Adam Silver and the league office doesn’t like that there are portions of team’s fan bases rooting for their team to lose. It doesn’t like that tanking is openly discussed on radio shows and online. Combine that with the resting of star players on the road, and in nationally televised games, and the league sees sports talk radio talking points as real problems for the league’s image.

Spreading out the NBA’s schedule is done, and with that the resting of players’ in those high-profile games will decrease (of course, if teams want to sit LeBron James or Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard in a nationally televised game, they will just say he has a sore back/ankle/shoulder that needs rest).

Lottery reform looks like it will pass as well, even though it’s putting a band-aid on a broken leg. The league’s new rules will decrease and flatten out the odds at the top of the lottery, and it will reward the teams more in the middle, according to a new report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

 The worst three teams’ odds would now have an equal chance at the No. 1 overall pick: 14 percent. Presently, the teams with the three worst records have descending chances of 25 percent, 19.9 percent and 15.6 percent. Also, the worst record can drop as far as No. 5 in the new lottery proposal, down from No. 4….

Teams in the Nos. 7-10 range will have a stronger chance to move up into the top three picks, ESPN has learned, with No. 7’s chances improving from 15 percent to 23, No. 8 from 10 percent to 19 percent, No. 9 from six percent to 15 percent and No. 10 from four percent to 10 percent.

He adds that the odds for the three teams at the top of the lottery — picks 11, 12, and 13 — increase only a couple of percentage points, which the league believes means teams will not try to tank their way out of the playoffs and into the lottery. There is extra money in terms of ticket sales and revenue — at least $5 million for a couple home games — for teams that get into the postseason, and that money can matter to teams.

That said, teams are still going to tank for picks. The league seems to be chasing the ghost of Sam Hinkie with this proposal, trying to make it less likely teams go on a multiple year deep dive, but that was never really a problem anyway — few owners would have the stomach for that, and the one that did (Joshua Harris in Philly) eventually bowed to the pressure from the league and others and canned Hinkie as GM. No GM is trying to put his job at risk with a rebuilding plan.

Tanking will continue because teams need one of the game’s franchise changing stars — of which there are maybe 10 in the league at any one given time — to compete at the highest levels, and for 24 or so markets the only way to get that player is via the draft. What’s more, land that player and thanks to the CBA, teams control that player for four years at a very affordable salary, then thanks to extensions/restricted free agency the team can keep that player for another four or five years. They have this great talent locked in for at least eight or nine years (for example, Kevin Durant spent nine years in Seattle/Oklahoma City before moving on, same with LeBron the first time he left Cleveland, and that list goes on). Now with the “designated player” designation — call it the Kevin Durant rule — teams are more likely to keep that star for another four or five years beyond that.

If you really want to end tanking, make rookie contracts two years then they become unrestricted free agents. Now the motivation to tank for a pick goes away, but of course, small and mid-market teams would rightfully complain about that because then they will have a very hard time keeping talent around.

Bottom line, if you have a truly elite player you win more basketball games, and for most teams the only way to get that player is the draft — so tanking will continue. It’s a smart strategy to rebuild.

The new lottery odds will pass, and they are not a bad thing, but it is far more about perception than reality. And you can be sure there will be unintended consequences.

Jeopardy uses “crying Jordan” meme for question

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You know a meme has jumped the shark when it appears on Jeopardy. (Also, the phrase “jump the shark” has jumped the shark.)

The “crying Jordan” meme reached that level this week when Alex Trebek asked a question about it.

This in no way means we should stop using the crying Jordan meme — even if it bothers MJ himself, and it does — because it’s still funny.