PBT NBA Power Rankings: Let the season begin!

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To celebrate a new season, we bring you a new set of NBA Power Rankings from PBT. Let the kvetching about your ranking begin! Just remember that this is an exercise in fun — these are meaningless as the NBA has a playoff system to decide who is best. What sport would rely on journalist’s rankings to help decide a title… oh, forgot. Sorry college football, no offense.

(The number in parenthesis is last year’s record.)

source:  1. Heat (66-16). When you are the two-time defending NBA champions, when you have the best player on the planet, when you won 66 games last season, including 27 in a row at one point, you start the season on top of the rankings. The road to a title still goes through Miami.

 

source:  2. Spurs (58-24). They came within a defensive rebound of winning the NBA title last season and the only real question about them contending again is if Tim Duncan can continue his renaissance? Also, in the preseason Marco Belinelli has looked like another classic good Spurs pickup.

 

source:  3. Bulls (45-37). Derrick Rose looks like his old self and Joakim Noah says he is ready and healthy for the start of the season. The Bulls went 8-0 in the preseason and while you don’t want to read too much into that, understand they are going to win a lot of games this season.

 

source:  4. Clippers (56-26). DeAndre Jordan has been vocal on defense all preseason, barking out commands. If he can keep this up, if takes control of this defense and plays anywhere near his potential the Clippers are serious contenders. They are my pick to come out of the West.

 

source:  5. Pacers (49-32). Their deeper bench with C.J. Watson, Luis Scola and Chris Copeland will help them win more regular season games (as will getting Danny Granger back in a few weeks). Still, this is a team whose style and personnel is better suited for the playoffs than the regular season.

 

source:  6. Thunder (60-22). Without Russell Westbrook out the first month of the season (don’t be shocked if he’s back sooner than predicted) this is still a very good, very dangerous team. Kevin Durant can pick up a lot of scoring slack. That said, even a couple extra losses can really hurt their playoff seeding.

 

source:  7. Rockets (45-37). Dwight Howard has played with a real energy on defense this preseason — he’s looked healthy. I still think it is going to take time for this team to meld; it will take time for Kevin McHale to find the lineups that work best. They are a year away to me.

 

source:  8. Grizzlies (56-26). An unfair amount of criticism/praise is going to fall on new head coach Dave Joerger. The bigger issue from where I sit is they didn’t really address their need for shooting (Mike Miller is not the answer anymore).

 

 

source:  9. Nets (49-33). Deron Williams wasn’t around for most of the preseason but should be back for the games that matter. Still they went 5-2 in the preseason and if they can stay healthy they are going to win a lot of games, I just am not fully on board with them as contenders yet.

 

source:  10. Warriors (47-35). They signed Andrew Bogut to an extension, which means they are making a big bet on his long-term health. I think they will miss Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry coming off the bench this season more than people realize.

 

source:  11. Knicks (54-28). What is the date the entire Knicks nation turns on Andrea Bargnani? I’d give an under/over of Dec. 1. Remember they are without J.R. Smith for the first five games.

 

source:  12. Timberwolves (31-51). With Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio healthy — plus the addition of Kevin Martin — this should be a playoff team in the West (even after the Chase Budinger injury). But their defense could be what holds them back.

 

source:  13. Mavericks (41-41). Can Monta Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki be a playoff pairing? Maybe. Jose Calderon distributing the shots efficiently could be the key.

 

 

source:  14. Nuggets (57-25). They were 2-5 in the preseason. With Andre Iguodala gone, Danilo Gallinari out until December due to his knee injury, this is a team poised to take a big step back.

 

source:  15. Pistons (29-53). They could be a poor man’s Grizzlies — a fantastic front line with Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, but do they have enough outside shooting? Brandon Jennings will be their key but he is out to start the season with a jaw issue.

 

source:  16. Cavaliers (24-58). Kyrie Irving can lift the Cavaliers to the playoffs, but unless their gamble on Andrew Bynum (who is not expected in the opener) pays off he can’t lift them much farther.

 

source:  17. Trail Blazers (33-49). LaMarcus Aldridge promised Portland would get the 7 seed in the West, then went out and led the team to a 5-2 record in the preseason. Maybe this is going to work.

 

source:  18. Pelicans (27-55). Anthony Davis has had a strong preseason — 19.9 points a game on 55.2 percent shooting, he is attacking the rim off the dribble — and the Pelicans were 7-1 in the preseason. This ranking may be too low for them.

 

source:  19. Lakers (45-37). Kobe Bryant hasn’t practiced yet and now it looks like Steve Nash may sit out the second nights of back-to-backs. This could be a tough season in Los Angeles, but look for a good year from Pau Gasol.

 

source:  20. Hawks (44-38). They were 1-6 in the preseason, which is a disturbing sign. If things go poorly in Atlanta Al Horford is going to get a lot of the blame (fair or not). I am pumped about the potential of Dennis Schroeder.

 

source:  21. Wizards (29-53). They want to make the playoffs this year, enough to reach out and trade for Marcin Gortat. One guy who had a good preseason is Bradley Beal, who averaged 20.7 points on 51.9% shooting and 47.2% from three.

 

source:  22. Raptors (34-48). They were 6-1 in the preseason, we’ll see if they can carry some of that over to games that matter. Still think it’s going to be a breakout year for Jonas Valanciunas.

 

source:  23. Kings (28-51). I’m not reading a lot into it, but the Kings were 5-2 in the preseason. We’ll all talk about DeMarcus Cousins, but the Greivis Vasquez and Ben McLemore backcourt could be a lot of fun.

 

source:  24. Bucks (38-44). They are not tanking, but if they want a return trip to the playoffs there is no margin for error. Which is why having Ersan Ilyasova (ankle), Ekpe Udoh (knee) and Carlos Delfino (foot) injured to start the season is not good.

 

source:  25. Bobcats (21-61). I like the Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller front court, they are going to be fun to watch. This team may not be terrible, which is an improvement.

 

source:
26. Celtics (41-40). It’s going to be a long fall and winter in Boston. At least the city can be focused on the Red Sox/Patriots for a while. The Celtics do have nine first round picks in the next five seasons, which is good for a rebuild.

 

source:  27. Magic (20-62). Tobias Harris will not play Tuesday in the season opener. What will be the most interesting part of the Orlando season: Victor Oladipo adjusting to the NBA or the Jameer Nelson/Glen Davis trade watch?

 

source:  28. Jazz (43-39). Trey Burke was my rookie of the year pick until he got injured. Still will be watching to see how the Derrick Favors/Enes Kanter front line works out.

 

source:  29. Suns (24-56). Trading Marcin Gortat for a pick (and the bad neck of Emeka Okafor) tells you where this team is headed.

 

 

source:  30. 76ers (34-48). I think they will win more than 8 or 9 games this season. Not many more, but more. The question is can Brett Brown build the foundation of a winning culture amid all that losing?

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.

Report: Momentum building toward ending one-and-done rule

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“My sense is it’s not working for anyone. It’s not working certainly from the college coaches and athletic directors I hear from. They’re not happy with the current system. And I know our teams aren’t happy either in part because they don’t necessarily think that the players are coming into the league are getting the kind of training that they would expect to see among top draft picks in the league.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that during the NBA Finals last year about the one-and-done rule for players trying to enter the NBA — they can’t be drafted by NBA teams for one season after their high school class graduates, so the best players go to college for one season (and most go to classes for less than that). As Silver said, nobody really likes the system, but it was the compromise struck between the owners (who would like to raise the draft age to 20 or higher) and the players’ union (who want the draft age at 18, as soon as guys come out of high school).

However, momentum is building to change the rule, something we have written about before and now is gaining more traction, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With momentum gathering to reshape the one-and-done draft entry rule, NBA commissioner Adam Silver and NBPA executive director Michele Roberts met with the new Commission on College Basketball in Washington on Thursday, league sources told ESPN….

Nevertheless, there’s a growing belief within the league that Silver’s desire to end the one-and-done — the ability of college basketball players to enter the NBA draft after playing one year in college — could be pushing the sport closer to high school players having the opportunity to directly enter the league again. For that change to happen, though, the union would probably need to cede the one-and-done rule and agree to a mandate that players entering college must stay two years before declaring for the draft.

While the NBA and players’ union will talk to the NCAA about their plans, ultimately the college body has no say in what the NBA draft and eligibility rules are.

The best players of their generations came straight to the NBA out of high school — Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, and others —  however, what bothered owners were the misses in the draft. There were busts, and owners/GMs want to reduce as much risk as they can in the draft (even though there are busts on guys who they saw plenty of in college, hello Michael Olowokandi).

NBA teams are now better suited to develop players than they were a couple of decades ago — every team has an assistant coach focused on just that. The best teams in the NBA right now — Golden State, Boston, San Antonio — are the best at developing players. That’s not a coincidence, and it has teams copying (or attempting to) what the successful ones do. Combine that with the growth of the G-League and teams growing their understanding how to use it, and they are better positioned to draft a player out of high school and develop him over time than they ever have been.

 

There are still a lot of questions and hurdles. If a player declares for the draft and has an agent, but isn’t drafted (or even isn’t drafted in the first round, so no guaranteed contract) will he have the option to come to college for two (or three) years anyway? Will the NCAA allow that? And Silver has talked before about the changes in the draft needing to reflect changes in how we develop players down to the AAU level, which is its own complex set of problems.

It’s not moving quickly, but these are steps in the right direction. One-and-done doesn’t work well for anyone. The college baseball style rule (go straight to the pros or spend three years in college in that sport’s case) isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the system in place. There seems to be momentum toward change. Finally.

Watch James Harden, Rockets drop 90 on Suns — in first half

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This game had all the drama of The Last Airbender. Which is to say none. It was essentially over when the Rockets went on a 21-6 first-quarter run — unlike Boston in the earlier Thursday game, Phoenix isn’t built to come back against elite teams.

When the 15-1 Rockets run came at the end of the first quarter, it was clear Houston could do what it wanted on offense, and by half the Rockets put up 90 points. The Rockets were putting on a show (and eventually won 142-116).

James Harden had 33 points on 12 shots in the first half (he finished with 48 points for the night). Ryan Anderson hit four threes on his way to 18 before the break. Eric Gordon had 10. As a team, Houston shot 62.2 percent, and 60 percent from three in the first half. They got to the line 25 times. I could go on, but you get the picture.

If you want more highlights, here is Harden’s 48 for the night. Enjoy.

 

Paul George getting comfortable with new Thunder teammates

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George couldn’t find a rhythm on offense his first few weeks with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The four-time All-Star struggled to fit in with fellow All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony after he was traded from the Indiana Pacers. He settled for jumpers too often, shot too quickly at times and didn’t get to the free throw line as often as usual. As he adjusted, the Thunder started the season with a 4-7 record.

Once George broke out, the Thunder turned their fortunes. George erupted for 42 points in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers last Friday, then scored 37 points in a victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday. He scored just 13 points in a win over Chicago on Monday, but his shots were higher quality and flowed with the offense better.

The Thunder take a three-game win streak into Friday’s game with San Antonio.

“I’m just staying in attack mode, playing downhill, being aggressive when I have the ball, being aggressive off the ball,” George said.

George leads the Thunder with 21.9 points per game. It’s quite a feat to be the top scorer on a team with Westbrook, a two-time scoring champion and the reigning league MVP, and Anthony, the No. 24 scorer in NBA history. But George has that kind of talent, and he gets to play off the other two stars.

“It’s hard because they have so many options,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “A lot of times you have the one-two option, but they have the one-two-three option. It’s tough.”

George said during the preseason that he was adjusting to how fast Westbrook moves in transition. Now, he’s in better position to attack because he is prepared. That has led to easy baskets and more free throws. He has shot 26 free throws the past three games after shooting just 27 in the previous 11 games.

“I think just trying to get out ahead of him as much as possible, I think, is key,” George said. “That way, when he’s making plays in full court, I’m already in position ready to receive the ball instead of catching up, getting my feet ready, trying to decide what to do. I’m ready to shoot or attack at that point.”

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said George is starting to figure out how to use his shot selection to keep defenses guessing.

“I think he’s just been balanced,” Donovan said. “He’s an elite scorer. He can do it a lot of different ways. He’s done it off the dribble, he’s done it off of catch and shoot, he’s done it off the drive. I think it’s just his balance of getting more comfortable with what we’re doing offensively and trying to figure out spots where he can be aggressive.”

Donovan said the best part of George’s performances against the Clippers and Mavericks was his efficiency – he only took 22 shots in each contest.

Even when George doesn’t shoot well, he’s effective as both an on-ball and off-ball defender. He leads the league with 2.4 steals per game.

“Honestly, defense is the part that I lock in at,” George said. “Offensively it is going to come, defensively is where I like to leave a mark and really try to be special on that end. It’s just sticking to the game plan personally in matchups, sticking to the gifts that God has given me.”