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NBA Power Rankings: Preseason rankings for every team from Warriors to Bulls

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They’re back. The weekly NBA Power Rankings from NBC Sports have returned as the NBA season tips off. As always the defending champions start on top — and in the case of the Warriors, the question is will there be more than one week they are not ranked No. 1 this season? These first rankings are pure gut, with a little preseason influence thrown in (once we move 15+ games into the season we have a mathematical system to help guide us, then those figures get massaged by the eye test.

Quick note, these rankings come out on Tuesday to start the season, but starting next week and throughout the NBA season they will come out on Wednesday.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (last season 67-15). Thanks in part to Kevin Durant’s willingness to sacrifice for the team, Golden State not just brought back but also improved the best team in the NBA. They are going to spend a lot of weeks on top of these rankings. The only question to open the season is does the hangover/jet lag from the China trip still impact them the first couple weeks of the season.

 
Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (55-27). Adding Chris Paul to the James Harden show was a brilliant move, the Rockets will have one of the top three offenses in the NBA this season. However, what may really get this to the conference Finals is the additions of defenders such as Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker on the wing. They Rockets outscored teams by 21.9 points per 100 possessions in the preseason, an NBA best number (don’t read much into it, but it’s interesting).

 
Thunder small icon 3. Thunder (47-35).. I think they may be second in this ranking by the end of the season, I like their defense (which should be Top 5), but I’m going to need to see Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony do more than just talk about sacrifices to fully buy in (they looked good together in limited preseason minutes). With Westbrook committed to OKC, George will be asked about his free agency at every turn this season, how will he handle that pressure?

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (51-31). By the end of the season I think they will be the team best positioned to knock off Golden State — Isaiah Thomas will be healthy (*knocking on wood*), the Cavs still have LeBron James, and they will get to come out of a soft East while the Warriors will have to battle their way out of a deep West. That said, they are not healthy now and will be experimenting with Kevin Love at center.

 
Spurs small icon 5. Spurs (61-21). No Kawhi Leonard in the opener and the question is now much more time will he miss with a lingering quad injury. While the Spurs looked like a mess in the playoffs without Leonard that was against the Warriors, in the regular season they are 14-4 the past two seasons with him sitting. LaMarcus Aldridge is the go-to guy while Leonard is out and he can handle the role.

 
Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (53-29). It’s going to be a circus — one with lots of boos — with Kyrie Irving and company opening on the road in Cleveland. No Marcus Morris the first week of the season with a knee injury, that means rookie Jayson Tatum likely gets the starts. That could add to the one big question about the Celtics — can they get enough stops?

 
Wizards small icon 7. Wizards (49-33). The Wizards looked good and their bench improved during the preseason, which is a nice sign but now they have to do it when it matters. That bench will be tested more early with Markieff Morris missing time due to a sports hernia (the Wizards lost very little time from their starters due to injury last season, that has changed already).

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (51-31). The Raptors are trying to change who they are on offense, with less isolation and more threes — and it worked in the preseason, they scored 110.1 points per 100 possessions. Can they sustain that when the defenses get serious? And how much will they miss the depth that DeMarre Carroll, Cory Joseph, and Patrick Patterson provided?

 
timberwolves small icon 9. Timberwolves (31-51). They added Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague Taj Gibson, and Jamal Crawford to an already promising young team led by Karl-Anthony Towns — Minnesota is ready to make a leap. Well, if they can defend. They were 27th in defensive rating last season, and they need to get up to the middle of the NBA pack at least. Butler helps, but it’s Towns and Andrew Wiggins learning what to do and putting in the effort night in and night out that will make the biggest difference on that end.

 
Bucks small icon 10. Bucks (42-40). Is this too high a ranking for the Bucks? Maybe. I am betting on a lot of internal improvement with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker, Kris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon. However, the real key to the Bucks season is if Jason Kidd tweaks his gambling defensive system so the Bucks don’t get torched every time the ball swings sides, do that and this team can move into East’s top four.

 
Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (40-42). Denver looked good this preseason in the minutes that both Nicola Jokic and Paul Millsap shared the floor, but the questions are everyone around them. Gary Harris needs to live up to his lofty new contract, and Jamal Murray needs to start looking like the point guard the Nuggets thought they had at the end of last season. Also, is Denver going to defend well enough to make the playoffs?

 
Clippers small icon 12. Clippers (51-31). Talk about a changed roster, new to the Clippers are Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Willie Reed, Sam Dekker, and Montrezl Harrell. Everything still flows through Blake Griffin, and his three-point shot looks improved. The Clippers should be solid on both ends and play faster than they did in the Chris Paul era. This is a playoff team if they can stay healthy, but with this roster it’s a big if (they had their share of minor injuries in the preseason).

 
Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (41-41). It’s just the preseason, but the facts that Portland went 5-0 and Evan Turner found his shooting stroke are both good signs. C.J. Mccollum is suspended for the opener (you can’t leave the bench during an altercation, this isn’t a new rule) so look for Pat Connaughton to get the start.

 
Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (43-39). The Grizzlies are trying to change their style of play — they played at the fourth fastest pace of any team in the preseason (they were 19th overall in the NBA last season, which was up from previous years). We’ll see if the pace sticks. We’ll see how much the Grizzlies can get out of Chandler Parsons as well (he averaged 14 minutes a game and shot 33 percent in the preseason).

 
Heat small icon 15. Heat (41-41, LW 15). Erik Spoelstra will spend the first part of the season figuring out his rotations (Kelly Olynyk is starting now, James Johnson is coming off the bench), and he needs more of Goran Dragic than the two preseason games he played, but this is a deeper team that should get off to a faster start than last season (but not close the season as fast, either).

 
Jazz small icon 16. Jazz (51-31, LW 7). Utah went 5-0 in the preseason and its offense was the fifth most efficient in the NBA. That’s not going to last, but it’s a good sign that maybe the offense will be somewhat better than projected with Rodney Hood as the playmaker. The defense will be elite with DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert.

 
Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (34-48). They have their big two — DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis — plus Jrue Holiday at the point, but the supporting cast is already banged up. Rajon Rondo will miss time with a sports hernia, and Solomon Hill may miss the entire season with a torn hamstring. This team remains one of the big question marks heading into the season, but if it goes sideways things could get ugly fast.

 
Sixers small icon 18. 76ers (28-54). Joel Embiid will start the season on a minutes restriction — Brett Brown said in the teens — and the big man doesn’t like it. Expect the Sixers to be cautious with him all season, we’ll see if he even gets to 55 games. My big question is how good the defense is with him off the court? After a strong preseason, Ben Simmons has moved to the top off everyone’s Rookie of the Year award prediction list.

 
Hornets small icon 19. Hornets (36-46). The Nicolas Batum injury to start the season is a blow. First, they were already thin on the wing and needed his defense, and second the Hornets toughest stretch of the schedule is the first month, so they could get in a hole that’s tough to dig out of. No Batum means rookie Malik Monk gets more run. A lot of people will tune in to see the Dwight Howard redemption project version 3.0, but stay to watch Kemba Walker — he is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NBA.

Pistons small icon 20. Pistons (37-45. . How did the Pistons’ starting five look in the preseason? Don’t know, they didn’t play a minute together. What we do know is Reggie Jackson — the lynchpin for this team’s playoff chances this season — struggled, like he did much of last season. One thing of note, Andre Drummond was 16-of-20 on free throws in the preseason, if he is knocking those down he just got a lot more dangerous at the end of games.

 
Mavericks small icon 21. Mavericks (33-49). We need to savor having another season of Dirk Nowitzki in the NBA, he remains an all-time great. This season is about developing Dennis Smith Jr. and have him develop chemistry with Harrison Barnes (who was underrated as an isolation scorer last season but now needs to learn to be a playmaker. The Mavericks start out with a tough schedule the first couple of months that puts them in a hole they can’t dig out of.

 
Lakers small icon 22. Lakers (26-56, LW 29). It’s the Lonzo Ball show in Los Angeles, as he brings a buzz on and off the court to this team. Well, unless Kyle Kuzma steals the show again (the Lakers are overloaded at the four thanks to him). Ball will get a boost playing with Brook Lopez on offense. The bigger concern is Brandon Ingram, who shot 37.7 percent in preseason (25 percent from three) and likes to face up in isolation but doesn’t execute that well yet.

 
Kings small icon 23. Kings (32-50). So much to watch development wise with this team. How does De’Aaron Fox come along running the offense (he will come off the bench behind George Hill to start the season)? Can Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein form an impressive front line? Is Buddy Hield going to be a starting two guard in the NBA or is he a future gunner sixth man? Also, how will coach Dave Joerger balance minutes for the young players and the veterans on his roster such as Zach Randolph?

 
Magic small icon 24. Magic (29-53). This may be too low for the Magic, who have a lot of talent on paper. Aaron Gordon is back at the four, where he should be, and he looked good this preseason. Jonathon Simmons also looked good and helped the team’s defense this preseason. The pieces still are an odd fit on this team, but Frank Vogel is trying to find rotations that work.

 
Knicks small icon 25. Knicks (31-51 LW 26). Carmelo Anthony is gone but the Knicks biggest problem persists — this is going to be a bad defensive team. With the full triangle offense having been exiled with Phil Jackson, coach Jeff Hornacek wants to run, but to run well a team has to get stops. Is Kristaps Porzingis ready for the load about to be put on his shoulders?

 
Pacers small icon 26. Pacers (42-40, LW 16). This is Myles Turner’s team now, but he will miss having Glenn Robinson III’s floor spacing around him (Robinson’s ankle injury has him out until 2018). On the bright side T.J. Leaf looked better in preseason than he did in Summer League, he will get some run. This team will put the ball in Lance Stephenson’s hands, which is always entertaining.

 
Nets small icon 27. Nets (20-62). They have an interesting backcourt with Jeremy Lin — the undrafted guard who has worked hard on his game and scrapped his way to a solid NBA career — and D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 pick whose work ethic frustrated the Lakers and they were willing to move on from (he was the sweetener in dumping Timofey Mozgov’s salary). Soft start to the schedule gives them the chance at a decent start.

 
Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (43-39). It’s all about Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore creating shots and Mike Budenholzer’s team playing solid defense. This is a rebuilding team (Al Horford and Paul Millsap left in successive summers) and their string of making the playoffs 10 years in a row will end, but they should play hard and be in games, just not able to close them out. They start the season with a five-game road trip.

 
Suns small icon 29. Suns (24-58). They have some interesting young talent in Phoenix with Devin Booker and now rookie Josh Jackson (14 points per game and shot 42 percent from three in the preseason). With Eric Bledsoe running the point the Suns should be able to put up some points, but will the young team get enough stops?

 
Bulls small icon 30. Bulls (41-41, LW 13). Chicago has finally, fully embraced the rebuild. Lauri Markkanen will be the guy to watch this season, he was up-and-down during preseason (1-of-9 in debut, good game against Toronto to close it out) but how does he develop over the course of the season. Rough first week of the season with the Raptors, Spurs, and Cavaliers.

PBT Extra: Five guys who could win Rookie of the Year

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Last year’s Rookie of the Year race went an unexpected way, with Malcolm Brogdon getting it thanks to steady play on a good team, in a season that was a down year for the class.

Not this year — too many skilled rookies will have the ball in their hands and put up numbers this season. Someone is going to beat out deep competition to win the award this season.

In this PBT Extra I talk about the five guys I think most likely to win it, although honestly, I think three guys should be the betting favorites: Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, and Dennis Smith Jr. If you want a dark horse, watch Josh Jackson in Phoenix.

With no offer on table, Jusuf Nurkic expects to be restricted free agent next summer

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What is center Jusuf Nurkic‘s value on the open market?

He certainly has value to the Trail Blazers. He played 20 games for them after Portland traded for him, and he averaged 15.2 points 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2 blocks per game. More importantly, Portland was 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court and went 14-6 in that stretch.

Nurkic is eligible for a contract extension, but for Portland that’s a small sample size on which to base a big contract, even if you ignore potential health concerns. The two sides talked, but no deal appears forthcoming, and Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports Nurkic is ready to enter restricted free agency next season.

Barring a dramatic change in talks, Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic plans on entering restricted free agency next summer as no contract extension offer has been made, league sources told The Vertical.

Three comments on this:

First, this is exactly what an agent trying to push for a deal says off the record to try and push the organization (and scare the fan base a little). I don’t doubt Charnia or his sources, the sides likely are nowhere near a deal, but know that every sourced story is somebody spinning something. Here, the motive seems fairly transparent.

Second, Nurkic has looked to be, and may prove to be, a vital part of the Trail Blazers core going forward — and Portland may be willing to pay big to keep him. We mentioned the raw numbers, but more important than his ability to fit with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on offense (and he does), he made a terrible defensive team better. That’s how the Blazers take a step forward, and he can be part of it.

Third, and this may be the biggest factor as to why there is no deal, next summer is going to be a very tight free agent market, especially for big men. Only about half a dozen teams (maybe a couple more) will have max money to spend, and only a few will need a center. On that market, as unrestricted free agents will be DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan (unless he and the Clippers reach a deal over the weekend, which is unlikely), Greg Monroe, and Nerlens Noel, plus restricted free agents Nikola Jokic and Clint Capela. And those are just the big names. That’s a lot more supply than demand. Much like Noel and others found out the hard way this summer, there are bigs who will expect to bet paid and be very disappointed with the market for their services. Portland understands the market and may be making offers to Nurkic accordingly.

Report: NBA teams now staying away from Trump Hotel properties

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NBA players on the road stay in the kind of high-end hotels you don’t tell friends coming to town about because why should they spend that much? Ritz-Carltons, Four Seasons and the like are the norm. Some hotels that want to be regular NBA team stops have made adjustments for them such as taller shower head placement or ordering longer than standard beds.

In New York, and some other cities, that included a stop at Trump SoHo, a hotel both not too far from Madison Square Garden and not far from NYC nightlife.

No more. As NBA players have clashed with President Trump, NBA teams are voting with their dollars and staying elsewhere. From Tim Bontemps and David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post:

(When Trump was running for president), the Pacers stopped staying at Trump SoHo. A spokesman blamed problems with bus access. So did the Dallas Mavericks, whose owner, Mark Cuban, became one of Trump’s loudest critics in 2016. Cuban declined to comment about the team’s decision.

In 2016, after Trump had captured the GOP nomination, more NBA teams left. The Memphis Grizzlies quit Trump SoHo. No connection to politics, the coach said. So did the Thunder. The team would not comment on why.

The Milwaukee Bucks stopped being Trump customers the following year — after first trying, and failing, to pull out of a Trump Chicago reservation during the preseason, according to team officials. When the Bucks returned to Chicago in the regular season, they had a new hotel.

There is nothing wrong with this, people should vote with their pocketbooks (lord knows corporations do). Conservatives should vote with their dollars and avoid Pepsi or Oreos or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and whatever other companies don’t fit with their values. I never eat at Chick-fil-A for good reasons in my mind. NBA teams should do the same, they have options other than the Trump hotels if they don’t like his policies.

There have been other reports across the financial media that the Trump presidency has hurt his hotels and brand.

Rookie of the Year, Sixth Man, and more: Our NBA awards predictions

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Yesterday, the PBT staff gave you our MVP predictions for the upcoming NBA season. There was a lot of love for LeBron James.

Today, we turn our attention to the other end-of-season NBA awards, pull out our crystal balls, and make predictions we will look back on as foolish come April.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
This feels like a wide-open year for the award because a lot of rookies will have the ball in their hands and the opportunity to put up numbers. Lonzo Ball will be good in Los Angeles, Dennis Smith Jr. will be explosive in Dallas, but Simmons will rack up numbers (especially highlight assists) on a team that will make the playoffs (if the Sixers can get 50+ games out of Joel Embiid). That will put him over the top.

Dan Feldman: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Simmons is highly talented and will have a big role. Plus, an extra year of seasoning doesn’t hurt.

Dane Carbaugh: Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers)
Simmons is finally healthy for the Philadelphia 76ers and it seems like he is in a position best to stand out on a team that could be without some of its stars due to injury. Simmons should be a good penetrator, dribbler, and passer in transition. If guys like JJ Reddick can hit the 3-pointers after Simmons scoops them a dish, I think the LSU product grabs it.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)

Once again Draymond Green will be incredibly versatile and key to what the Warriors do. Once again Kawhi Leonard will be the best perimeter defender in the game. But with Gordon Hayward now in Boston, Utah will not take as big a step back as many people think and the reason will be their elite defense anchored by Gobert. That credit will get him this award.

Dan Feldman: Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs)
It took a pointed effort by Draymond Green and bad luck for Leonard for the Warriors forward to unseat Leonard last season. Odds are against that happening again.

Dane Carbaugh: Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz)
Gobert probably should have been the recipient of this award last season. He is the best defensive center in the NBA, and with Hayward now in Boston he is now the franchise centerpiece for the Jazz. Gobert will be a monster just like he was last season, and with added responsibility and visibility, the Utah big man should grab it this year.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER

Kurt Helin: Myles Turner (Indiana Pacers)

This is the hardest award to predict preseason because it is basically the guy who surprises us with his improvement. It often goes to a guy who was good and just got an opportunity, and that is sort of the case with the improving Turner, who averaged nearly 15 points a game last season when Paul George was on the team and is now going to have the offense run through him.

Dan Feldman: Rodney Hood (Utah Jazz)
The Jazz guard is in line for a bigger role with Gordon Hayward gone. It will also help that Hood’s season will be compared to last year’s injury-plagued campaign, not 2015-16, when he showed more of the promise I think he’ll build upon this year.

Dane Carbaugh: Karl-Anthony Towns (Utah Jazz)
It’s sort of ridiculous to say that a guy like Towns will be the most improved player given his already stellar track record. However, that is typically where is this award has gone in recent seasons. Think CJ McCollum. With a better roster around him and a playoff spot for the taking, Towns should be the head and shoulders favorite for this one.

SIXTH MAN OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Kelly Olynyk (Miami Heat)

Another award that could go a lot of different directions. Andre Iguodala has been the most important sixth man for a few seasons now. We know Jamal Crawford will put up numbers in Minnesota, same with Lou Williams in Los Angeles, and what about Rudy Gay getting into the Spurs system and running their second unit. But I’m going with an unconventional pick where the player — Olynyk — has a skill set that perfectly fits his new team. He’s going to get minutes (mid-20s), play the four and the five, and space the floor. I think he could surprise with the numbers he puts up.

Dan Feldman: Andre Iguodala (Golden State Warriors)
Iguodala has been the NBA’s best sixth man the last few years. Will the 33-year-old remain so? Will he impact the game as much as others with more to prove? There’s at least a clear path for the Warriors forward.

Dane Carbaugh: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers)
The Clippers will absolutely need a top performance this year from former six man of the year Lou Williams just to fight their way through the Western Conference. If LA makes it to the playoffs and Williams is a big piece of that, I think he should be the one to garner this award.

COACH OF THE YEAR

Kurt Helin: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
This award either goes to the coach whose team most outperforms expectations, or a sort of “lifetime achievement” award. While Tom Thibodeau’s team will make a leap in Minnesota, and while Gregg Popovich is always the man in San Antonio, it feels like Stevens turn for his work in Boston. This is a talented Celtics team I think will come together more in the second half of the season and get him the award.

Dan Feldman: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Brad Stevens is widely regarded as one of the NBA’s best coaches, but he has never finished better than fourth in Coach of the Year voting. Keeping the Celtics, who have so many new faces, humming could be his ticket.

Dane Carbaugh: Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics)
Stevens is slated for a big year in Boston after adding Gordon Hayward and Kyrene Irving. The Celtics will be a good team in the Eastern conference the season, which has been severely weakened. The team will rely on young players to help them When it comes to depth, and if they are successful that could be the tipping point for Stevens.