PBT’s NBA Power Rankings, Summer Edition: Teams line up to chase the Warriors

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There was a fear around league observers (and some in the league) that the dominance of Golden State would force teams to slow down building and aim for 2020 or so when there may be cracks in the Warriors’ armor. Nope. Instead, the West went Game of Thrones with Houston, Minnesota and other teams loading up for runs. After the draft and the majority of free agency, let’s take a look at where everyone stands in a Summer Power Rankings.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (last season 67-15). The best team in the NBA was a winner in the off-season too — Kevin Durant took $9.5 million less than his max for the year, and the Warriors retained Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, plus they made smart additions such as Omri Casspi. Rookie Jordan Bell looked good at Summer League. This remains the team to beat, and if the Warriors are healthy coming into the playoffs the postseason may be a formality.

 
Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (55-27, LW 4). They added Chris Paul, and while we all want to see how well that fits it is certainly a massive talent upgrade for one of the better regular season teams in the NBA last season. CP3 wasn’t their only smart move, Daryl Morey added good defensive depth with P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute (the kind of defenders the Cavs need to chase the Warriors but didn’t get). The Rockets have a lot to prove, but this team has the potential to be the Warriors’ biggest threat.

 
Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (61-21). San Antonio has a couple big pieces still outstanding — Pau Gasol’s deal will get done — but by and large the Spurs will bring back the pieces of a 61-win team led by an MVP candidate in Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs re-signed Patty Mills, then added Rudy Gay and Joffrey Lauvergne. As always, the Spurs remain a threat.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (51-31). LeBron James is right to be frustrated. Letting go of David Griffin still makes no sense (even though interim GM Koby Altman can do the job) and it feels like the walls could be crumbling on this powerhouse. While other teams got better, the Cavs treaded water. True, they were aggressive going after Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, but they whiffed. Instead, their moves are re-signing Kyle Korver, bringing in Jeff Green and Cedi Osman (from Turkey). How did their wing defense get better? So long as they have LeBron James, the Cavs are the best team in the East when healthy, but the gap has narrowed.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (53-29). They got their man in Gordon Hayward, who provides more shot creation, will get buckets, and puts this team in position to push the Cavaliers (Cleveland is still better if that team is healthy). Jayson Tatum showed at Summer League he can hit tough shots and will give them a real boost off the bench this coming season. Jaylen Brown looks ready to contribute more. How good a contract season will Isaiah Thomas have?

 
Thunder small icon 6. Thunder (47-35). With the addition of Paul George, the Thunder should be a top-three defensive team next season, especially after re-signing Andre Roberson. George is no Durant when it comes to scoring, but as the Thunder figure out how to have a more egalitarian offense than the Russell Westbrook show last season, this team becomes more and more dangerous. At their best, they could be a threat to Houston and Golden State because of that defense.

 
Wizards small icon 7. Wizards (49-33). John Wall may need to buy Otto Porter a steak dinner to smooth everything out between them (Wall advocated the Wizards chasing Paul George publicly, even though that was a crazy long shot). Porter is back and the Wizards remain solid, but not in a position to challenge the top two in the East without some surprise internal growth.

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (51-31). They brought back Kyle Lowry — and why shouldn’t they? These past three seasons have been the best run of Toronto Raptor basketball in franchise history, and someday Lowry will have his number retired in the rafters in the Air Canada Centre. Can the young players — Norman Powell, etc. — step up after the Raptors lost DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and Patrick Patterson this summer?

 
timberwolves small icon 9. Timberwolves (31-51). With Karl-Anthony Towns ready to make the leap to elite, Minnesota was aggressive this offseason and added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford. The slow-growth era is over. Minnesota will make a big leap up the standings this season to a near 50-win team, and should only improve in future years (and maybe be contenders in a few). Minnesota’s playoff draught will end next spring.

 
Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (40-42). Essentially sending out Danilo Gallinari to bring in Paul Millsap is a big win for Denver. This was a team on the rise the second half of last year when they started running the offense through Nikola Jokic, he should be improved, as should Jamal Murray and Juan Hernangomez. Millsap will bring needed defense inside, and with that the Nuggets should be a playoff team in the West.

 
Bucks small icon 11. Bucks (42-40). A capped out team that didn’t make big moves in the offseason, the return of Jabari Parker from injury plus the improvement of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, and Malcolm Brogdon should have this team taking another step forward. Should. There always seems to be a “one step up, one step back” thing with the Bucks, we’ll see if they can just keep their momentum forward this season.

 
Sixers small icon 12. 76ers (28-54). Every preseason story about the Sixers will include the caveat “if they are healthy…” and this ranking is no different. If Philly can get 70 or more games out of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, this ranking could be a little low. But if the injuries pile up again, maybe it’s high. I like the off-season moves of landing J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson on one-year deals that leaves them cap space next summer.

 
Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (41-41). If they can get a full season out of Jusuf Nurkic, it will help the Portland defense and have the team in the mix for a playoff slot in the bottom of a stacked West. To take a step forward they need more out of Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner. Zach Collins has potential but showed at Summer League there is a lot of development to do before he can impact an NBA game.

 
Pelicans small icon 14. Pelicans (34-48). So many gambles New Orleans needs to pay off: Can DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis mesh? Can Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo play together in the backcourt? Do they have enough shooting? There’s a sense of desperation around this team, and if those bets don’t pay off expect sweeping changes next offseason on the roster and in the front office.

 
Clippers small icon 15. Clippers (51-31). The Clippers bounced back from losing Chris Paul as well as could be hoped — they locked up Blake Griffin, they traded for Danilo Gallinari, and the haul they got from Houston — Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell — make this a potential playoff team. If Griffin and Gallinari can stay healthy.

 
Grizzlies small icon 16. Grizzlies (43-39). The “grit n’ grind” era is over, no more Tony Allen or Zach Randolph. Which makes me sad. However, they still have Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, who are good enough to keep this team in the playoff hunt. If they make it could depend on what, if anything, they get from Chandler Parsons. I like the roll of the dice on Ben McLemore.

 
Heat small icon 17. Heat (41-41, LW 15). History suggests that teams that have dramatic second halves turn around the next year don’t really carry that over, landing about where they did overall the year before. That may not be what Heat fans hope, but it would be good enough to get into the playoffs in the East next season. They get Justise Winslow back from injury, and the Heat retained Dion Waiters, but may have overpaid for the privilege. Bam Adebayo showed some promise in Summer League.

 
Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (36-46). They were better than their record showed a season ago, then they added Dwight Howard to the mix — think what you will of him, Howard is an upgrade inside for Charlotte. The Hornets will defend better and will be a playoff team in the East. Malik Monk could give them a boost as a rookie coming off the bench behind Nicolas Batum.

 
Jazz small icon 19. Jazz (51-31, LW 7). Is this ranking too far a drop for the Jazz? Maybe. With the additions of Thabo Sefolpsha, Ricky Rubio, and Donovan Mitchell the Jazz are still going to be a defensive powerhouse. The question is where do the points come from? This team lacks shot creation. Mitchell was a standout in the Las Vegas Summer League and is going to push for minutes next season.

Pistons small icon 20. Pistons (37-45. . Stan Van Gundy decided to trade for Avery Bradley rather than pay Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (they have to decide on paying Bradley next summer), a move that could pay off. Detroit took a step back last year because the offense struggled, to regain their form they will need much better seasons out of Stanley Johnson and Reggie Jackson (or whoever they have running the point).

 
Lakers small icon 21. Lakers (26-56, LW 29). Lonzo Ball has shown the “it” factor at Summer League and got the team’s pace up and the ball moving. Brandon Ingram looks ready to take a big step forward, and getting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on a one-year deal was brilliant. They also will get a boost from Brook Lopez. The Lakers will improve, but this is a young team on a learning curve in a deep West that will teach some harsh lessons.

 
Kings small icon 22. Kings (32-50). On paper the Kings are mixing a nice young core — De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield (who struggled in Summer League), Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere — with veterans such as George Hill and Vince Carter. It’s not enough to end Sacramento’s 11-year playoff drought in a deep West, but it will get them some wins. The Kings should be fairly entertaining next season, and in a very different way than they were with DeMarcus Cousins.

 
Pacers small icon 23. Pacers (42-40, LW 16).. Welcome to the rebuilding process, Pacers fans. With Paul George gone a lot will fall on the shoulders of Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo — the Pacers need the Oladipo the Magic were betting on a couple years ago. Cory Joseph is a quality addition at the point, and maybe Lance Stephenson can create some shots with the second unit.

 
Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (31-51 LW 26). It took a while for to get there, but the hiring of Scott Perry is a good one (if they give him real power). At least the Perry/Steve Mills combo is not going to try and shoehorn Kristaps Porzingis and the rest of the roster into the triangle, they will let Jeff Hornacek just coach. They need to develop Tim Hardaway Jr. and Willy Hernangomez. Is Frank Ntilikina ready to be thrown into the fire? And eventually there will be a Carmelo Anthony trade, but be patient, it’s going to take a while.

 
Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (33-49). Dennis Smith Jr. was a standout at Summer League and could pair with Seth Curry to make a young and interesting backcourt in Dallas going forward. Can Harrison Barnes take another step forward as a top two option on a team? Is Nerlens Noel ready to be a regular defensive force in the paint? Lots of questions still in Dallas, but we get to watch Dirk Nowitzki for another year and that makes tuning in worthwhile.

 
Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (43-39). Losing Al Horford then Paul Millsap in back-to-back free agencies while getting nothing in return is a major setback, and they now go deep into the rebuilding process. Taurean Prince needs to take a step forward next season and he was not impressive in Las Vegas, shooting 34.7 percent in Summer League. I like the Dewayne Dedmon pickup, and the Hawks have a deep front court. This is a roster of role players but they lack any elite talent, and that’s what they have to replace.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic (29-53). I like them getting Jonathon Simmons as a free agent. I like the draft pick of Jonathan Isaac, but he is a project that will take a couple years of development. All that said, this remains a roster of talented players that are an odd fit together and the new management team needs to spend the next year reshaping that roster into something coach Frank Vogel could win with.

 
Bulls small icon 28. Bulls (41-41, LW 13). The decision to move on from Jimmy Butler and rebuild is a legit one, but then why turn around and sell a second-round pick (Jordan Bell to the Warriors)? They need young players more than the cash. I’m not sold on Kris Dunn but he gets a chance. No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen looked like a project in Las Vegas Summer League. The question hanging over the rebuilding project in Chicago now is “when will they buy out Dwyane Wade?”

 
Suns small icon 29. Suns (24-58). Josh Jackson was a little rough around the edges (3-of-16 from three) but he played hard, is athletic, and showed defensive promise at Summer League. The bigger concern for the Suns there were second year players Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender were not the efficient, dominant players Phoenix hoped to be rebuilding around at Summer League. My guess is Eric Bledsoe gets moved by the trade deadline.

 
Nets small icon 29. Nets (20-62). Brooklyn had a good summer, but they have so far to go that they are still on the bottom for now. I like the gamble on D’Angelo Russell — the question there isn’t talent, it’s attitude and maturity, maybe a change of scenery (and a wake-up call, like Jeremy Lin taking his minutes) is what he needs. Caris LeVert will get the chance to take a step forward, and can Rondae Hollis-Jefferson outplay DeMarre Carroll? The Nets are on the right road, it’s just a long one.

Russell Westbrook dogs Warriors, Damian Lillard after Paul George misses All-Star roster

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Ah yes, let the mud-slinging begin.

Russell Westbrook is on a team with three huge stars in the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was always going to be difficult for all of them to make the 2018 NBA All-Star team out west.

But that doesn’t matter to Russ.

After Tuesday night’s win over the Brooklyn Nets (where Westbrook hit the game-winning shot, no less) the reigning NBA MVP had some thoughts about teammate Paul George missing out on the All-Star Game, calling it “outrageous”.

Westbrook wasn’t too happy with teams getting “four people” onto the team (a dig at the Golden State Warriors) and that players are, “Talking about getting snubbed until they get in.”

That last part seems to have taken aim at Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, one of the most talked about snubs in recent years who finally got another All-Star bid.

Via Twitter:

Westbrook also said that George was “Top 2 at his position” which really colors the underlying issue at hand: Russ likes PG and wants him to stay in OKC.

Nobody reasonable would say that George is a Top 2 player on the wing. Not while LeBron James and Kevin Durant are alive, at least. And Westbrook’s comments about folks being stars vs. not stars, even if the voting goes one way says a lot.

The Warriors are the best team of all time. A bunch of guys getting on All-Star teams in their heyday makes sense, even if one of those guys is Klay Thompson (sometimes). We all have Warriors fatigue, I guess.

Meanwhile, Lillard is one of adidas’ biggest athletes when it comes to basketball, the face of a franchise, and has put up numbers deserving of making the team in years past. He’s also a big personality and a rapper. Lillard’s name is in lights each and every night. The issue with him sees to be that nobody watches him consistently east of the Cascades.

But all this arguing gives legitimacy to Westbrook’s point, which is mostly personal. George’s numbers have taken a dip in some areas, particularly when it comes to things like VORP, assist percentage, and true shooting. They’ve gone up in others, like 3-point shooting. He’s still a very good player and very valuable to the Thunder.

Each year, guys get left off the All-Star team for various reasons. Sometimes it’s just their turn to be on it or be off it. Nice of Westbrook to stop by with some takes.

Here’s hoping for him that George stays in OKC.

Russell Westbrook hits game-winning shot to beat Nets (VIDEO)

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Spencer Dinwiddie hit the game-winning shot for the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night. At least, many thought he did.

But that honor actually went to Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, who had hit the real game winner with a little more than three seconds to go.

Westbrook’s bucket came on after a sideline inbounds play led to a hard drive to the right side of the bucket for the reigning MVP.

Then, Dinwiddie got the ball and had appeared to make a 3-pointer to win the game for the Nets. However, it clanged off the side of the rim, moving the net in a way that many watching on TV and in the arena thought had gone in.

Via Twitter:

OKC beat Brooklyn, 109-108.

Here’s LeBron James scoring the 30,000th point of his career (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is officially the youngest player to ever reach 30,000 points in an NBA career.

The Cleveland Cavaliers great, who preemptively congratulated himself in a weird Instagram post earlier in the day, got points 30,000 and 30,001 at the age of 33 years and 24 days, edging Kobe Bryant by a year and 80 days.

The play came with just a second to go in the first quarter while the Cavaliers played on the road against the San Antonio Spurs.

Dribbling on the left arc against Danny Green — a formidable defender — LeBron gave a hesitation dribble before stepping just inside the 3-point line for a pull-up jumper.

Via Twitter:

LeBron still has Dirk Nowitzki, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ahead of him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Where he ends up might just depend on how long Nowitzki plays.

Top five 2018 All-Star Game snubs

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We fans love to talk about who gets snubbed. There are 68 teams in the NCAA tournament and we argue about who was 69th and deserved to be there.

With the NBA All-Star game, there are always legitimate snubs — and with the Western Conference so ridiculously deep this season good players were going to get left out. Just picking my reserve choices for a podcast felt brutal.

We now know the All-Star Game starters and reserves, so who got snubbed. Here are the top five.

1) Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers. Los Angeles has been devastated by injuries this season (not to mention losing Chris Paul in the off-season) yet they are still in the playoff hunt in the West and the main reason is Lou Williams. The leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate is averaging 23.3 points per game, 5,3 assists a night, and is shooting better than 40 percent from three. He had a red-hot January so far, averaging 29.2 points per game. This may be a case where Damian Lillard got the nod from the coaches for his multi-year body of work (he’s been good a long time), but Williams is having his best season ever and has a great case.

2) Chris Paul, Houston Rockets. He likely didn’t get selected because he has missed 17 games this season — but Stephen Curry missed 15 and is a captain. When CP3 has played he’s been brilliant, averaging 19.1 points and 8.9 assists per game, he’s been crucial to improving the Rockets defense this season, and when he is on the court the Rockets outscore opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets are 23-5 when he plays. Houston is the second best team in the NBA, they should have more than one representative tonight.

3) Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons. The coaches went with four guards for the East reserves, and that left just three frontcourt spots and four deserving players. Drummond is the odd-man out. Which sucks — he is averaging 14.3 points per game on 54 percent shooting, and he remains the best rebounder in the game today pulling down 15 a night. He has improved his defensive play as well, but what everyone notices is he hitting his free throws (62.9 percent) and that means Stan Van Gundy can play him at the end of games and not sub him out.

Drummond was more than a little frustrated he didn’t make the cut.

4) Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder. George has played well on both ends this season next to Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 20.8 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from three on one end of the floor, and defensively he is averaging 4.4 deflections per game and has 93 steals — both tops in the league. George is a four-time All-Star and it feels weird to see him left out, but he came to the ridiculously deep Western Conference and good players were not going to make it. He’s the odd man out in the frontcourt.

5) Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets. Could have got a lot of directions here – Ben Simmons and Goran Dragic can make their cases on appeal — but people have been sleeping on just how well Walker has been playing this season. Walker is averaging an efficient 21.8 points per game, dishing out 5.9 assists per night, and when he is on the court the Hornets outscore teams by 5.1 points per 100 possessions (that’s better than the Celtics or Timberwolves net ratings for the season). The problem is when he sits they fall apart, and Walker pays the price for his team struggling this season. His name has popped up in trade rumors, and he is the best guy available right now (not that he gets moved in a tight market). Walker was an All-Star last season and had a very strong case to be one again.