Offseason Power Rankings

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Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Mix together equal parts of ego and cap space to throw around, and you get one wild off-season. Everybody was making moves. There were decisions and The Decision.

And at the end of it all, the Lakers are on top.

Since most of the moves have shaken out, we’ve decided to do an NBA off-season power rankings. This is a ranking of NBA teams as we see them lined up for the next NBA title. The teams are accompanied by the betting odds for them to win the next NBA title (from Bodog Sports).

1. Lakers (odds to win next title 11/4)
They are the two-time defending NBA champions and good luck prying that trophy out of Kobe Bryant’s fingers no matter what kind of shape they are in. Scarier yet for the league, these Lakers should be better. Steve Blake is a better triangle point guard than the departed Jordan Farmar. Matt Barnes brings more toughness. If Andrew Bynum’s surgically-repaired knees can hold up for a season, the Lakers will head into next playoffs better than the last two years. They are still the king of the mountain.

2. Heat (7/4) Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh make the most talented trio the NBA has seen since the 1980s. Those three made a financial sacrifice to play together and will do the same on the court — their fantasy value goes down but their winning will go up. Pat Riley did a fantastic job with the rest of the roster — Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller being the keys. Erik Spoelstra will be under a lot of pressure, but he is a coach who can handle it. Still, there are questions. How long will it take for the group to gel? (Not long.) Who defends the paint on defense? (This is a bigger issue — Joel Anthony has fight but is undersized, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Jamaal Magloire will try but are not young.) With those big men, can the Heat match up with Orlando and Dwight Howard, Boston and it’s long front line or the Lakers with Bynum and Gasol? They’ll be good, maybe very good in the regular season, but the title will have to be earned.

3. Magic (11/1) They didn’t do much this off-season, other than be involved in Chris Paul rumors. Oh, and they got Chris Duhon, let us never forget that. But as much as they get overlooked, the Magic did not have to do much. This team has been to the NBA finals and the Eastern Conference finals the last two years. They kept JJ Redick and you’ll see more of him and less of Vince Carter. They will stick with their system of Dwight Howard and guys who can shoot the three, because it works. Jameer Nelson is still good and will have a chip on his shoulder. They still play defense. Overlook Orlando at your own peril, they are contenders.

4. Celtics (12/1) I picture Danny Ainge like John Belushi in the Blues Brothers, running around saying “we’re getting the band back together.” Then doing whatever it takes to make that happen, including pissing off Aretha Franklin. One smart move was picking up Jermaine O’Neal, who gives them some front line depth until Kendrick Perkins returns, and a lot more offense down low than Perk ever could. But it all comes down to health around the playoffs — fully healthy they are a serious contender, if not they are gone early. And while that is true of every team, with the age of the Celtics it is more of a risk than most places.

5. Thunder (18/1) For OKC, it’s about growth, not additions. They locked up Kevin Durant for five years. They got a little size to help combat the Lakers by drafting Cole Aldrich. They got Daequan Cook to spell Westbrook some, plus added guard depth with Mo Peterson. But if the Thunder just improve along the trajectory they already are on, they are about to make a big leap next season.

6. Bulls (15/1) If it wasn’t for the Miami Miracle, everybody would be talking about what a great offseason the Bulls had. They needed scoring inside, they got Carlos Boozer. They needed better play at the two, they got Ronnie Brewer. They needed better outside shooting, they got Kyle Korver. They got a coach who will preach defense first again in Tom Thibodeau. Add that to the core of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng and you have a good team. With a new coach and new systems, it may take a while to gel, but come the playoffs this team should be scaring opponents.  

7. Spurs (28/1) I know, you’ve been hearing this for years and you’re done buying, but I really mean it this time — the Spurs have one more dangerous run in them. This season or next, the one year all the core guys can stay healthy, they are going to make one last big run in the Tim Duncan era. The key reason is Tiago Splitter, the best center for the last several years in Europe who the Spurs finally convinced to come to the states. He may not start, but you can bet he finishes games. And he will be the best big man Duncan has had next to him since the Admiral retired. Add in Tony Parker, George Hill and Manu Ginobili with a solid supporting cast and smart coaching and… it’s going to happen. Trust me.

8. Mavericks (18/1) It wasn’t for lack of effort. Mark Cuban busted it, Donnie Nelson tried everything, but the Mavericks go into the next season with the same roster that finished the last one. Which is not a bad roster. They kept Dirk Nowitzki and Brendan Haywood, look for Rod Beaubois to get more burn (he should have in the playoffs last year, but we’re letting that go and moving on now). They are on that tier one step back of the Lakers, but if for whatever reason the Lakers stumble Dallas is near the top of the West. And you can bet Cuban isn’t done trying.

9. Blazers (35/1) Their one big offseason move — essentially trading Kevin Pritchard for Rich Cho as general manager — is not going to have a big impact on the court. They added some good young talent with Wesley Mathews and draft pick Luke Babbit. The real key here is healthy — remember the Blazers were the up-and-coming young team two years ago, then injuries descended on them last season like they offended the basketball gods. If they can stay healthy — especially at center with Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla — they could surprise a lot of teams.

10. Rockets (35/1) It’s really simple: If Yao Ming is healthy, this ranking is too low. If not, it is too high. This summer the Rockets picked up some people to help keep Yao’s minutes down — Brad Miller and rookie Fredrick Paterson. They’re nice, but it is all about Yao. They have the backcourt (Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin), they have the role players (they kept Luis Scola) but Yao is the key.

11. Jazz (30/1) They lost Carlos Boozer, they replaced him with Al Jefferson. They lost Wesley Mathews and replaced him with Raja Bell. Goodbye Kyle Korver, hello Gordon Hayward. This was really a fantastic offseason by the Jazz — it could have been a disaster but they replaced key losses and may have even upgraded a little. The Jazz remain in that tough middle ground of good (52 wins last season, probably just a few less this season) but not good enough to challenge the elite. Still, fantastic offseason to replace those that bolted.

12. Bucks (40/1) The senator/owner opened up his wallet and now the team nobody in the East wanted to play in the first round (until Andrew Bogut went down) is going to be better. Brandon Jennings will not be a rookie anymore, and the Bucks have paid to keep John Salmons. They added solid depth along the front line with Drew Gooden and draftee Larry Sanders. They got Keyon Dooling and Chris Douglas-Roberts to solidify the backcourt. This is a good team that can get a top four seed in the East and advance to the second round. Not sure they can beat the elite, but this is a very good team.

13. Hawks (28/1) Meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks. They kept Joe Johnson (at a steep price) but did not add any size around him. New coach Larry Drew may be able to get more out of this squad — maybe get them to
play better defense and conv
ert that to offense going the other way. Maybe Jeff Teague can give them a boost at the point. Even still, this is a good team – maybe a 50 win team again — that can’t beat the East elite. They are what we thought they were.

14. Nuggets (18/1) Kenyon Martin is going to miss much of next season, and they need him to come back right for the playoffs to have any chance. They tried hard to get more size but missed on all their attempts. They did land Al Harrington and Sheldon Williams, but that’s not the answer. They have Carmelo Anthony, they have Chauncey Billups. This is a good team. But they do not have the talent to beat the Lakers or the top of the West. Right now, they are what they are, good but not great.

15. Suns (35/1) They lost Amare Stoudemire, and the window for Steve Nash and his back will not be open that much longer, so the Suns took some risks. They had to. They traded for Hedo Turkoglu, who when motivated is a good fit in the Suns system. He can also take on some of the ball-handling duties for the team. I love the Josh Childress signing and having him back in the league. Hakim Warrick was a quality pick up. However, it’s hard to see how the Suns really got better, while teams around them did. It’s hard to see them back in the Western Conference finals with this roster.

16. Grizzlies (50/1) They didn’t make big moves this summer — Tony Allen is a nice signing for depth, and Xavier Henry can be a boost if they stop messing around and sign him. But mostly they are counting on what worked last year working better this year. A better O.J.Mayo, a better Zach Randolph, a better Marc Gasol. And new max-deal man Rudy Gay stepping up to really lead. Seems like the kind of thing that could fall apart, plus the Grizzlies will not be sneaking up on anyone this year.

17. Hornets (40/1) Trade rumors swirl and ownership is in transition, or isn’t, we can’t tell. Two things that usually spell trouble for a team. But this team still has Chris Paul, back fully healthy, plus David West. Draftees Craig Brackins and Quincy Pondexter can provide something their first year. Emeka Okafor gives you more than his reputation would suggest. Basically, this team isn’t that bad. It isn’t good, not nearly as good as Chris Paul wants, but it isn’t a train wreck either. And they have some big contracts coming off the books to give them some flexibility for the future.

18. Warriors (75/1) The biggest off-season move in the Bay Area was not the signing of David Lee, it was Joe Lacob and Peter Guber buying the team. This team desperately needed new ownership, and now with that will come some big changes on the basketball operations side (once the owners get full control). Gone will be Don Nelson, which means draftee Ekpe Udoh might actually get to play. They traded a way a lot of talent this summer, however still have Stephen Curry and Lee. It’s hard to predict how good or bad they will be exactly. But now there is hope for the future in the Bay Area, and that alone is a huge boost for the fans.

19. Sixers (100/1) The biggest thing that will speed the Sixers turnaround — players will buy into what new coach Doug Collins is selling in a way they never did with Eddie Jordan. They have some players, too. Philly drafted Evan Turner No. 2 and will pair him with Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. Turner looked a little lost at Summer League, but he is still figuring out how to fit his game into the NBA. They still have Andre Iguodala. They lost Samuel Dalembert but picked up Spencer Hawes and Andres Nocioni. If Collins can get something out of Elton Brand, this ranking will be too low.

20. Kings (150/1) This team is going to be very entertaining. Draft pick DeMarcus Cousins and Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans will play very well off each other. Samuel Dalembert is a good fit along the front line. The Kings got bigger and better and are building a nice foundation. Not sure how far it will take them this year, but they are building.

21. Knicks (35/1) Amare Stoudemire up front and Raymond Felton running the show make this team a lot better. Anthony Randolph could have a breakout year. New York is building a roster that fits with the Mike D’Antoni system. Things are looking up. But they won 29 games last year, there was a lot of room for improvement. They still need one more big piece like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Paul before New York will be all the way back.

22. Bobcats (50/1) They won 44 games last season then this summer they lost Raymond Felton and traded away Tyson Chandler. They got Erick Dampier in a trade, but will cut him to get under the luxury tax threshold. Sounds like they got worse, which means no return trip to the playoffs, unless Tyrus Thomas and D.J. Augustine really step up their games. We will be rooting for Shaun Livingston to do well also. But it’s hard to be very optimistic here.

23. Clippers (100/1) It’s like they get two first-round picks this season — Blake Griffin can finally play, plus Al-Faroqu Aminu. The Clippers also made some nice pickups by drafting Eric Bledsoe and bringing in Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye. All that with the core that includes Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon. Still, everything comes down to this: Can new coach Vinny Del Negro get Baron Davis to play well with others, and to care for 82 games? Or even 75 games would be good. On paper the Clippers have playoff talent, even in the West. But Davis has to be on board. And how much do you want to bet on that?

24. Wizards (50/1) They got the building block in John Wall. He is potentially that good and flashed it at Summer League. He is a blur end-to-end. Pair him with Gilbert Arenas in the starting backcourt, with Kirk Hinrich and Josh Howard coming in off the bench and you have a good guard rotation. Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee should get a lot of spectacular dunks in transition with feeds from Wall, who is a blur end-to-end. But that is the key — the Wizards have to run. They have to get Wall in the open court. Assistant coach Sam Cassell said that was the plan, we’ll see if the team follows through.

25. Nets (150/1) They swung for the fences this summer and struck out. Still, they should be better this year. Drafting Derrick Favors was smart, he has potential but like a lot of this team he still needs to grow. They made a great signing with Anthony Morrow plus picked up a solid backup PG in Jordan Farmar. Avery Johnson will have them playing hard. Still a lot left to do for Mikhail Prokhorov before they are in Brooklyn in two years.

26. Pacers (100/1) They want to run, they don’t have a point guard who is comfortable in that offense, and they didn’t get one. Second round draft pick Lance Stephenson is nice and could become the guy who can run the show at the point, and first-round draft pick Paul George has potential. But the Pacers stood pat. So for now, this team remains the Danny Granger show. They won 32 games last year, hard to see them improving on that now.

27. Pistons (100/1) They won 27 games last year, and they drafted a big man who needs some work in Greg Monroe. That’s basically it. They are bringing the same team back. Maybe they can’t make any big moves until the for-sale team has a new owner, but it is about time to blow this thing up and rebuild.

28. Timberwolves (150/1) They have Darko Milicic for four more years. They have the chance to rehabilitate Michael Beasley. We could spend all day mocking David Kahn and the Wolves because they seem to have no plan, at least not one that blends with the triangle offense Kurt Rambis wants to run. But there is some talent on the roster. They did draft Wesley Johnson to play the three, and they do have Kevin Love, a quality four. Luke Ridnour is an upgrade at the point. Martell Webster can shoot the rock. I have no idea what the master plan is, but the roster has a few nice pieces.

29. Raptors (150/1) They lost Chris Bosh. They have
put together a roster that looks like it’s in the EuroLeague. Things are going to get worse before they get better. Toronto fans are happy to see Hedo Turkoglu gone, but that is another offensive option now playing elsewhere. Look for DeMar DeRozan to have a big year, for Amir Johnson to get his chance, for draftees Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi to play well, but this team is about to take a step back.

30. Cleveland Cavaliers (60/1) Do we really need to go into what a bad offseason this was in Cleveland? Byron Scott is at the helm now of a major rebuilding project that is going to see some tough years until some good young pieces can be put in place.

Scouts’ take: Jimmy Butler will help Philadelphia most at end of games

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Jimmy Butler will be in the starting lineup for the Sixers Wednesday night in Orlando.

Butler is an elite two-way player, a top 10 NBA talent. Where will his game help the Sixers most? Defense is the first thing that comes to mind: Having Butler and Ben Simmons assigned to the two-best perimeter players of the opposition, with Joel Embiid backing them up, has the potential to be lock-down. Philadelphia already has a top-10 defense this season and this trade could make them exponentially better.

But scouts Brian Windhorst of ESPN spoke with had another interesting opinion: Butler helps Philly at the end of games because he wants the ball.

The 76ers have struggled to score late in close games at times, a function of their primary ball handler, Ben Simmons, being a suspect shooter. They were out-executed by the Boston Celtics in crunch time during the playoffs last season. Joel Embiid is off to a fantastic start to the season, but he’s shooting just 35 percent in clutch time this season because it can be hard for the big man to create a shot when the defense is set up to deny him.

Butler leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring this season and has a long history of shot-making in winning time.

“He brings something to Philly that they just don’t have, which is an experienced playmaker who can demand the ball and demand attention. That probably will make it easier on the rest of their guys,” one scout said. “JJ Redick can do that a bit, but he can’t create like Jimmy. It’s one of the rarest things in the NBA. From that standpoint, they hit a home run in this deal. There just aren’t many players like that available.”

That theory likely will not be put to the test by the Magic on Wednesday night.

It makes sense on paper, though. Embiid is not going to create his own shot without a play design to help out (and he’d be doubled quickly in the post), and with Simmons the defense is going to lay back and cut off driving lanes. Butler changes the late game dynamic.

It’s going to be interesting to watch this new big three in Philly meld, and to see if they’re willing to make the sacrifices needed to fulfill the potential of this roster.

Minnesota owner: “I think we saw Jimmy had an agenda and we had to work around that”

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Coach and team president Tom Thibodeau rightfully deserves a lot of the blame for how the Jimmy Butler situation played out — and dragged out — in Minnesota. Thibs believed he could win with this core, as they had done the season before, and that winning would cure a lot of ills. Instead, the Timberwolves are 4-9 to start the season.

However, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has to take some of the blame here, too. He didn’t come in and force Thibodeau to make a decision — when he could have had a better deal (in my opinion) with Miami for Josh Richardson, the Heat’s 2019 No. 1 pick and Dion Waiters as cap filler — but dragged it out and had to settle with the Sixers. After another few weeks of drama.

Taylor sat down with Chris Hine of the Star-Tribune to talk about how it all went down.

“It just appeared that they weren’t working together as a team or as a unit the way that they should’ve. I can’t exactly answer why,” Taylor said. “The only thing that was different that we had was Jimmy’s position of leaving the team. Maybe that was affecting guys more than they even knew themselves.”

Taylor was non-committal on Thibodeau’s status, saying he would be evaluated as things went along. Around the league, few believe Thibodeau will keep his job long after this season ends.

In the deep West, that 4-9 start is going to make getting into the playoffs difficult. One thing to watch for the rest of this season: with Butler gone does Karl-Anthony Towns get back to playing like an All-NBA player and take control of this team? They heed him to.

Jimmy Butler in starting lineup, Markelle Fultz out Wednesday for Philadelphia

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Already the presence of Jimmy Butler is shaking up the Sixers rotations.

The starting lineup for Philadelphia in Orlando Wednesday night was confirmed by coach Brett Brown at shootaround: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Wilson Chandler, Joel Embiid.

The change bumps Markelle Fultz out of the starting lineup for the first time this season. And that’s a good thing. He’s looked better — or, at least, less bad — for stretches the ball in his hands creating off the pick-and-roll, but when starting with Simmons and Embiid he had to work off the ball a lot more. Leading a second unit is just a better fit for him, and he can attack downhill getting to the rim. It’s a fit as much as anything is a fit with Fultz right now.

The new starting five should be lock-down defensively (especially with the soft first game against Orlando, the third worst offense in the NBA this season). With two strong on-ball perimeter defenders in Simmons and Butler, with Embiid backing them up protecting the rim, the Sixers should be able to slow down any team’s wing/guard production (and in a playoff series that defense can be a matchup nightmare for opponents).

Offensively, the Sixers really need Chandler to step up and knock down threes and space the floor, because the Sixers do not have enough shooting. They also lack depth. General manager Elton Brand has some work to do to round out this roster, and he knows it.

There is a real excitement in the air around the Sixers now. And there should be.

NBA Power Rankings: Do we really believe in Toronto and Portland?

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The top of the rankings this week are filled with the “do we really believe in them?” teams. Toronto and Portland are 1/2 and both have had a reputation of folding in the postseason… but we’re not there yet. Not even close. So they take over the top spots, while the Suns are the new cellar dwellers.

 
Raptors small icon 1. Raptors (12-2, last week No. 2). These Raptors want to run — 19% of their possessions and 17% of their points come in transition. Toronto’s raw pace isn’t extreme (102.1 possessions per game, 12th in the league) but when they do they are efficient. The Raptors had won six in a row, including crushing everyone on a West Coast road swing, until they ran into a hot Anthony Davis Monday. Friday against Boston is a fun test and starts another four-game road swing (you know they wish the schedule maker would put more road trips to warm place in January/February and not the fall).

 
Blazers small icon 2. Trail Blazers (10-3, LW 4). What’s different about these Blazers? Evan Turner struggled to be the third scoring option as a starter, but with the ball in his hands on the second unit, paired with Zach Collins, and he is thriving. Plus continuity matters, especially early in the regular season, and the Blazers have a lot of that. Portland is 6-1 against teams over .500 this season but will be tested on a six-game road trip that criss-crosses the nation and starts Wednesday against the Lakers.

Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (10-3, LW 5). There’s been a lot of talk about the Bucks’ improved defense, and it is vastly improved, now third best in the NBA so far this season. However, it has a flaw. The defense is built around protecting the paint — Brook Lopez and other bigs drop back off the pick-and-roll — but that allows other teams to shoot threes. A lot of threes — 37.2 attempts per game, highest allowed in the league (also the Bucks allow the highest in percentage of opponent shots from three). They are still aggressive going for steals and that can be exposed by good passing to open guys at the arc, just something to watch.

 
Warriors small icon 4. Warriors (12-3, LW 1). Draymond Green took the thing lurking in the shadows of the Warriors season — Kevin Durant’s looming free agency — and shoved it in the spotlight in the middle of the locker room. This is a veteran team that can get past that… probably. But it’s something to watch. Health concerns caught up with the Warriors — Green missed time, Stephen Curry continues to miss time with his groin issue — and it led to two losses in the past week to good teams (the Bucks and Clippers). The Warriors are two games into a 3-games-in-5-days stretch (1-1 so far).

 
Clippers small icon 5. Clippers (8-5, LW 9). It’s time to take the Clippers seriously — they have a top-10 offense and defense and just racked up back-to-back overtime wins against the Bucks and Warriors. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been impressive as a starter with Avery Bradley out a few games (it won’t be easy to send him back to the bench). The Clippers can be even better — they are the second-best three-point shooting team in the league at 38.7 percent, but they take just 25.2 a game, 27th in the league. Doc needs to loosen the reins and get this team firing away more from deep. Monday in Brooklyn starts a stretch of 11-of-15 on the road.

 
Thunder small icon 6. Thunder (8-5, LW 10).. Russell Westbrook is still out with his sprained left ankle and likely will miss another game or two, at least. The Thunder have gone 3-1 without Westbrook through this stretch against a soft patch of the schedule (they are 3-3 on the season). Dennis Schroder has done an admirable job stepping into the primary ball handler role (the bench unit misses having Schroder). Westbrook being out is a reminder just how important Steven Adams is to this team on both ends of the floor, a guy willing to do the dirty work needed for the flashy guys to thrive.

 
Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (9-5, LW 3).. Denver has lost four in a row, and the defense that was so good to start the season has been the worst in the NBA in the last four (114 points allowed per 100). Denver switched up its starting five and it was the right move. Denver had started Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Paul Millsap, and Jokic but was outscored by 4.7 points per 100 possessions, but sub Juancho Hernangomez in for Craig and it gets 9.1 per 100 better. Against Houston, Juancho got the start and the lineup was -2 in 17 minutes.

 
Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (9-6, LW 14). Philadelphia is all-in — Jimmy Butler is a Sixer now and will start Wednesday vs. Orlando. Butler changes the team dynamic, and not just because of Butler’s alpha personality, it puts the Sixers on the clock to win now. No more hand-holding for Markelle Fultz (not by his trainer, either), it’s sink-or-swim time on this roster. Philly will re-sign Butler and be a title threat… but the clock is ticking because Butler turns 30 and has off-roading Thibodeau miles on his legs. The Sixers front office needs to add shooting and depth to this roster to compete with the elite in the East, the team’s new big three alone are not enough.

 
Pacers small icon 9. Pacers (8-6, LW 6). A long break this week (Sunday to Friday) comes a good time to right the ship after losing three of four. The real issue has been the offense, which is scoring 7 points per 100 possessions fewer in those four games. Victor Oladipo and Tyreke Evans need to pick up the scoring starting against Miami Friday, and would help if Domantas Sabonis can do more of this.

 
Spurs small icon 10. Spurs (7-5, LW 7). None of this should come as a surprise I guess, but somehow it does — after Dejonte Murray went down in the preseason I was convinced the Spurs defense would suffer. And it did at first. But in the past nine games they are third in the NBA in defense, which is keeping them in games and allowing the Spurs to execute like they do and win down the stretch. The Spurs are bucking an NBA trend again, starting the lowest percent of their possessions in transition this season (9.7, via Cleaning the Glass).

 
Celtics small icon 11. Celtics (7-6, LW 8). Boston has lost 4-of-5, and surprisingly the biggest problems are on the defense — they are bottom five in the league defensively over that stretch. The Celtics also have problems on offense, specifically Jayson Tatum’s newfound love of a midrange shot, especially long twos early in the shot clock. Last season 35% of Tatum’s shots were from the midrange, this season that is up to 42%. He is taking 12% fewer shots at the rim (but is shooting more from three). Brad Stevens has a lot on his plate right now, but Tatum’s shot selection has to be on that list.

 
Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (7-5, LW 12). Dillon Brooks being out 6-8 weeks (MCL sprain) is a blow, they need to get JaMychal Green and Omri Casspi healthy to bring back some depth to the roster. Memphis likes their home cooking: They are 5-1 at home where they score 107.3 points per game, and are 2-4 on the road where the point total falls to 96.3 with a slower pace. The Grizzlies are on the road for 4-of-6.

 
Kings small icon 13. Kings (8-6, LW 13). What is De’Aaron Fox doing better this season? Scoring. The quickness was always there, decision making at pace improved as last season went on, but he didn’t finish plays and had a true shooting percentage of 47.8 (well below the league average). This season it’s up to 59.7, which is a big leap and well above the league average. Fox is shooting 75% at the rim and 44.2% from three. His making buckets and playing fast is opening up everything in the Kings’ offense.

 
Jazz small icon 14. Jazz (7-6, LW 17). After more than a year, the Jazz fans had built up plenty of venom for Gordon Hayward and let him hear it when Boston came to town. I get that, but Jazz fans need to move on because their new crush, Donovan Mitchell, is working out pretty well. His ability to go get buckets has been on display again this season, but his passing has improved this season and that’s giving the Jazz offense a little more diversity.

 
Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (7-7, LW 11). New coach James Borego came in with a fresh slate and a plan to give Malik Monk a real chance. The results so far? Meh. He’s scoring 12.5 points per game, shooting 33.3 percent from three, a true shooting percentage of 50.3 and a PER of 12.3 (both of those last two below the league average). For a player expected to be an athletic shooter and finisher out of college, it’s disappointing. That was an ugly loss for the Hornets on Tuesday to Cleveland, and now comes a rough stretch of games: Philadelphia, Boston, Indiana, OKC.

 
Lakers small icon 16. Lakers (7-6, LW 19). In their last five games, the Lakers have the fourth-ranked defense in the NBA, allowing 101.7 points per 100 possessions. Tyson Chandler certainly helps with that, but the improvement had already started. The troubling long-term thing in Los Angeles: In back-to-back games Lonzo Ball was pulled for the clutch minutes of a game because he was getting torched defensively. First by Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox. Sunday night it was rookie Trae Young. In a “sink-or-swim” season for the Lakers, that is not a good sign and something to watch going forward.

 
Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (7-6, LW 20). Win four in a row, lose six in a row, win three in a row again including a statement victory at Toronto. It’s a little hard to get a good read on the streaky Pelicans this season, although we have to note the team is 7-3 when Anthony Davis plays. The Pelicans are +11.1 per 100 possessions when Davis is on the court, -11.6 when he sits. Maybe that’s the only read about the Pelicans that matters.

 
Rockets small icon 18. Rockets (6-7, LW 15). Carmelo Anthony is away from the team, but don’t be shocked if the saga drags out for a while because finding a landing spot for him is not going to be easy for his agent. Houston has looked better in recent games, although one thing to watch: Teams are now not switching the pick-and-rolls with James Harden as often as they used to, they are now trapping and double-teaming him more, essentially getting the ball out of his hands and daring other players to beat them. How the Rockets adapt and if those other players step up to the challenge will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks, but they looked good doing it against Denver Tuesday.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (6-6, 18). Dwane Casey gets his homecoming Wednesday night in Toronto, where he was Coach of the Year last year, and he should get a warm welcome Raptors’ fans. He did a lot for that franchise. Blake Griffin still leads the NBA in touches per game at 92.5, but he does a good job keeping the ball moving — just 1.7 dribbles and 3.3 seconds per touch. (Compare that to James Harden, who averages 5 dribbles over 6.2 seconds every time he touches the rock.)

 
Nets small icon 20. Nets (6-8, LW 21). The Caris LeVert injury, while not as serious as it looked, is still a setback for a guy having a potential Most Improved Player season early. On the bright side for Nets fans, second-year man Jarrett Allen has stepped up his game across the board this season: 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game, a very efficient 62.6 true shooting percentage and a PER of 21.2. He is playing more, taking on more of the offense than his rookie season, and still upped his efficiency. All great signs for the future.

 
Heat small icon 21. Heat (5-8, LW 16). A few weeks ago Miami had a better offer on the table for Jimmy Butler than the Sixers — I’d take Josh Richardson/Dion Waiters/2019 first round pick over what the Timberwolves got every day. However, after Richardson’s strong start to the season, when Thibodeau called last week Richardson was off the table. In Miami that leaves the question: What does Pat Riley and company do now to spark this team? Miami will not have cap space until 2020, so it’s going to have to be a trade. Expect to hear a lot of Heat rumors.

 
Magic small icon 22. Magic (6-8, LW 23). The point guard spot remains this team’s Achilles heel, they were convinced things would be better without Elfrid Payton and they’re not. D.J. Augustin is a solid backup forced into a starter’s role, and when backup Jerian Grant is on the court Orlando is outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions.. Expect the Magic to look at any point guards who become available on the trade market, although the move expected by sources around the league is them to go hard at a point guard as a free agent next summer.

 
Mavericks small icon 23. Mavericks (5-8, LW 25). Luka Doncic is averaging 19.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, is shooting 38.6 percent from three, has a PER of 15.7 — and you have to figure this is about as bad as he will ever be as an NBA player. He’s a 19-year-old rookie with a lot of room to get better (and he has, his defense has looked better the last few games). Dallas players reportedly have tired of DeAndre Jordan’s act — he was at his best when Doc Rivers was building him up, and Chris Paul was both pushing him and setting him up. Without CP3 Jordan is a far less consistent actor.

 
24. Timberwolves (5-9, LW 22). They went 0-5 on a West Coast road swing, losing whether Jimmy Butler played or not, which finally was enough to get it through Tom Thibodeau’s skull that he was not going to win with Butler on the roster this season and he needed to make a change. If he had come to that conclusion a few weeks earlier, he would have taken the better trade package from the Heat. That said, Robert Covington in particular, and maybe Dario Saric long term, should fit with the young Timberwolves core. Karl-Anthony Towns, this is your team now — act like it and take over. Every night.

 
Bulls small icon 25. Bulls (4-10, LW 27).. There was an interesting side note out of all the Jimmy Butler trade talk: Tom Thibodeau is considered a dead coach walking in Minnesota, very likely gone at the end of the season, and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor is a big Fred Holberg fan. Could this lead to a coaching change in Chicago? We’re a long way from that, right now Zach LaVine has to be Mr. Everything to get the Bulls wins, and he had to try and do too much, as was evident in a loss to Dallas.

 
Wizards small icon 26. Wizards (4-9, LW 28). There’s a lot of trade speculation around the Wizards but little actual traction — other teams are interested in Bradley Beal but Washington wants to keep their best player and move the almost untradable contracts of John Wall or Otto Porter. Reality is likely nothing happens. Washington is in a soft part of the schedule, seven games in a row against teams below .500, and they are 3-2 so far after Monday’s win against Orlando. Everything changes on Sunday when Portland comes to town, starting a stretch of seven games in a row against teams over .500.

 
Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (4-10, LW 24). Allonzo Trier, the undrafted rookie out of Arizona who is averaging 11.4 points a night and is closing games for the Knicks now, remains one of the best stories of the young season. It makes up for the uninspired play from Frank Ntilikina, who didn’t impress me at Summer League in Las Vegas (and second-year Summer League guys who got a lot of run as rookies should blow you away in Summer League). New York is 2-5 on the road this season (they’re 2-5 at home, too) and have 7-of-9 coming up away from Madison Square Garden.

 
Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (3-11, LW 26). Vince Carter on Trae Young: “I think teams, if he is scoring or distributing the ball, they are going to beat him up a little bit. I tell you what, he has done a great job of staying the course, trying to make the right read and play, he has done that these first couple of games. [Sunday night against the Lakers] wasn’t anything different.” Young had an up-and-down game against the Lakers but when it mattered in the fourth he was making plays, including a good shot attempt for the game winner (Tyson Chandler just made a better play).

 
Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (2-11, LW 30). Where did that come from — the Cavaliers thrashed the Hornets on Tuesday night by 24 (to be fair, Charlotte’s horrible shooting from three helped with that). That win moved this team out of the bottom of the rankings. Kyle Korver’s name is coming up in trade buzz around the Sixers, a team now desperately in need of shooting, but it’s not going to be easy to get a deal done because they Cavs will want building blocks for the future back and the Sixers have used up a lot of those assets.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (2-11, LW 29). If the future is Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker, how are they playing when together? Well, not good — the Suns are getting outscored by 9.2 points per 100 when they are on the court together. However, the team’s offense ticks up 5.3 points per 100 when they are paired and as Ayton’s defense improves (that’s going to take time) those numbers should improve. The Suns are losers of four in a row and 10-of-11, they are doing it with the worst offense in the NBA and the third-worst defense overall.