NBA Summer Power Rankings: Free agency moves Lakers up

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Summer NBA power rankings are about as meaningful and accurate as preseason college football rankings. At least the NBA isn’t silly enough to have something like this matter in determining a champion. That would be stupid.

The top and the bottom of the poll are what you’d expect, but the Lakers and Celtics moved up while the Magic have fallen hard. You probably expected that, too. (Teams are listed with their record from last season.)

1. Heat (46-20) When you are the defending NBA champions you get to start on top (unless someone were to dismantle the team, Mr. Cuban). Miami got better this summer — and it is not just adding Ray Allen. More important is that the Heat have figured out who they are now and what they want to do. They have their identity. They are more dangerous.

2. Lakers (41-25) I think spots two and three — the Lakers and Thunder — are a toss-up. I could go either way and who is better may very well be decided in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. But while there are questions about the Lakers — Steve Nash’s back, Dwight Howard’s back, Kobe Bryant’s knees, how all these stars mesh — on paper Howard and his defense are key and may make L.A. a little better than OKC. But they have to prove it now.

3. Thunder (47-19) While the Lakers have the potential, the Thunder are reality. We know OKC will come back a little better than they were last year, a little more experienced. And they already were very, very good. The Thunder have done this, they know how to do this, and they will be hungry. They are the bar the Lakers are shooting for, not the other way around.

4. Clippers (40-26) They will be better, because Blake Griffin will grow and improve, because Jamal Crawford is an upgrade over Mo Williams, and because I expect a bounce-back season from Lamar Odom. Besides, bad thumb or not Chris Paul is still the best pure point guard on the planet. But the level the Clippers reach in the playoffs will be determined by what kind of steps DeAndre Jordan makes.

5. Nuggets (38-28) I love the Andre Iguodala signing for them, I think he addresses their defensive needs on the perimeter and he fits what they do on offense. This is going to be a fun, fast team to watch. But the ultimate key will be the play of JaVale McGee for Denver and what George Karl can get out of him.

6. Celtics (39-27) Boston got better this summer — Jason Terry is an upgrade over Ray Allen, they will get Avery Bradley and Jeff Green back, and they figured out how well they play with Kevin Garnett at the five spot. It was a good offseason, Danny Ainge did himself proud. But they still need Miami to come back to them if Boston wants to make the finals. Also, they are not a regular season juggernaut.

7. Spurs (50-16) This is probably too low for them. We always tend to overlook the Spurs. Their stars will get a year older the question is can their young role players step up and help them out again? Probably.

8. Pacers (42-24) They should be better next season, mostly because they found their rotations and identity in the playoffs, with George Hill at the point. They could pass Boston for the No. 2 seed. Smart move to retain Roy Hibbert

9. Bulls (50-16) Derrick Rose is out for half the season (at least) and the Bulls have decimated their bench. And yet Tom Thibodeau will get them to defend like few others and that will win a lot of games. Regular season games. We’ll see come the playoffs.

10. Grizzlies (41-25) They lost O.J. Mayo but this is still a good team with real size up front (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph). They still need shooters and someone to really organize the offense besides Mike Conley.

11. Knicks (36-30) Knicks fans will be convinced this is too low, that they should be up with Boston as teams to challenge Miami. I’m not sold. They should be a solid defensive team again (thank you Tyson Chandler) but I need to see Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire figure out how to co-exist on the court before I see New York getting out of the first round.

12. Nets (22-44) Well, they got a team they can take into Brooklyn. Who cares if they have a lot of large, long-term contracts they will hate in a few years (Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez). This team will be fun to watch and will put up points, but it’s going to take years off Avery Johnson’s life as he tries to get them to defend.

13. 76ers (35-31) Andrew Bynum gives the Sixers a new direction and I like the moves they made — if the East’s powers are going small (Miami, Boston) then counter by going big. Start Bynum and Spencer Hawes. I think they will be a good defensive team but the offense is going to be a work in progress.

14. Timberwolves (26-40) I think they are a playoff team in the West this year. Sure, the seven seed that gets the Lakers or Thunder in the first round, but it’s a start. I think they make a big move up, Kevin Love will be better and adding guys like Brandon Roy, Andrei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger gives Rick Adelman good depth to work with. They will miss Ricky Rubio for the first half of the season. How Roy plays could move them higher.

15. Jazz (36-30) This is a solid NBA team with good size up front — Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors and Paul Millsap. They will not be anybody’s pushovers, but in a deep West even good teams have to fight for a playoff spot.

16. Mavericks (36-29) They could make the playoffs if O.J. Mayo gets his groove back, Elton Brand stays healthy and productive, Chris Kaman has a career year… exactly. Well, they still have Dirk Nowitzki. And this is a placeholder roster as they keep cap space for next summer.

17. Hawks (40-26) Joe Johnson and the iso-Joe offense is gone to Brooklyn, but if that means more up-tempo offense, if it means more Jeff Teague/Josh Smith pick-and-roll it could be a good thing. I just don’t think they are as consistent, I think they are closer to a .500 side.

18. Bucks (31-35) The question isn’t will the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis backcourt score a lot, they will. And they will be entertaining. But who are they going to be able to stop? Defense is key in Milwaukee.

19. Warriors (23-43) On paper it’s a nice roster, but it needs Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut to be healthy and productive like their old selves for it to work. I’m just not convinced they get that for the 70+ games they need from both of them.

20. Blazers (28-38) They have a couple quality young pieces — LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum — and Damian Lillard is my guy for Rookie of the Year (Anthony Davis probably wins but he is too obvious). But it’s a rebuilding process and it will take some time.

21. Wizards (17-46) Where you rank them says what you think about John Wall and his ability to make the leap to elite point guard. Yes, they added Nene and Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor (all should help the defense), but this team is all about how Wall gets the offense going.

22. Raptors (23-43) They are a good dark-horse playoff team in the East, mostly because Kyle Lowry could help generate offense, and they have scorers like DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani. But what they really need is rookie Jonas Valanciunas to look a lot better than he did in the Olympics.

23. Pistons (25-41) I like their young core — Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Greg Monroe (who should have gotten a USA Select Team invite). And if rookie Andre Drummond comes along, they could finish up these rankings. There are reasons for hope.

24. Kings (22-44) They have an interesting frontcourt with DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Thomas Robinson. But this season in Sacramento is the “what do we really have with Tyreke Evans?” season. Well, that and when do the Maloofs do something else stupid.

25. Cavaliers (21-45) We all love Kyrie Irving. People outside of Cleveland are less sold on Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson. And is this the year Anderson Varejao gets traded?

26. Magic (37-29) The post Dwight Howard rebuilding begins, but the roster having Arron Afflalo and Jameer Nelson may keep the Magic from sucking as much as the front office hopes (they want high draft picks).

27. Hornets (21-45) They have a young core to watch — Anthony Davis in the paint, Eric Gordon at the two, Ryan Anderson as a stretch four, Austin Rivers at the point — and Monty Williams will get them to play defense. It’s a rebuilding process, it’s going to take time. But they will be much better in March than they will be in November.

28. Rockets (34-32) They have Jeremy Lin and Kevin Martin. But I like what they did this summer even without getting Dwight Howard — don’t be middle of the pack, that’s just a rut you stay in. Be bad, get a high draft pick, and have trade flexibility. The Rockets have all that. They are ready for a good rebuild.

29. Suns (33-33) The post Steve Nash era rebuilding starts this year with the Suns being bad and getting a high draft pick. We’ll watch how Kendall Marshall pans out and we’ll watch Michael Beasley take a lot of shots. A lot of shots.

30. Bobcats (7-59) They are going to be better than last year. Thing is, they were the worst team in NBA history last year so even if they are better they could still be the worst team in the league.

Report: NBA minimum draft age will not change in new CBA, one-and-done remains

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While the NBA — representing the owners — and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) continue last-minute negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) before an opt-out deadline Friday night at midnight, one point of contention is off the table:

The NBA draft age will not change in the new CBA, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The NBA one-and-done rule will remain in place.

The NBA one-and-done rule is unpopular with fans and college coaches (and, of course, players coming up). NBA Commissioner Adam Silver had worked to eliminate that restriction saying it was unfair, but he could not get it done.

There wasn’t much motivation from either side to make a move. From the players’ union perspective, lowering the draft eligibility age to 18 would bring more young players in to develop in the league and take away roster spots from veterans (and the union is made up of those veterans, not undrafted players). The union has suggested ways to keep veterans on the roster (possibly a roster expansion) as mentors, but a deal could not be reached. As for the teams, plenty of GMs would prefer an extra year to evaluate players, especially with them going up against better competition in college/G-League/Overtime Elite/overseas.

There are other impediments to a CBA deal, such as the details around a mid-season NBA tournament, the configuration of the luxury tax, veteran contract extension language, a games-played minimum to qualify for the league’s end-of-season awards.

If the sides do not reach a deal by midnight, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league would likely opt out of the current CBA, meaning it would end on June 30. The two sides would have until then to reach a deal on a new CBA to avoid a lockout (although they could go into September before it starts to mess with the NBA regular season calendar and not just Summer League).

 

Timberwolves big man Naz Reid out indefinitely with fractured wrist

Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
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This sucks for a Timberwolves team finding its groove.

Part of that groove was the offensive spark of big man Naz Ried off the bench, but now he will be out indefinitely with a fractured wrist, the Timberwolves announced. From the official release:

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) taken yesterday at Mayo Clinic Square by Dr. Kelechi Okoroha on Reid revealed a left scaphoid fracture. He will be out indefinitely and further updates on his progress will be provided when available.

A scaphoid fracture involves one of the small bones at the base of the hand that connects the wrist and fingers. Reid injured his hand on this dunk attempt against the Suns, he instinctively used his left hand to help break the fall and it took the weight of the landing.

Impressively, and despite being in pain, Reid played through the injury.

Reid developed into the sixth man, spark plug roll for the Timberwolves behind starters Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns. In his last five games, Reid averaged 18.8 points on 59.1% shooting (including 45% from 3 on four attempts a night) and grabbed 5.2 rebounds in his 22 minutes.

Reid is a free agent this offseason. The Timberwolves want to keep him and have had talks with him, but he will have plenty of suitors.

His loss will be a blow to Minnesota, especially heading into crucial games down the stretch — starting with the Lakers Friday night (a team Reid had some big games against) — and into the postseason. Expect coach Chris Finch to stagger Towns and Gobert a little more, and he can turn to Nate Knight or Luka Garza off the bench, but their role would be limited (especially come the playoffs).

Three things to Know: Do the Celtics have the Bucks number?

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Do the Boston Celtics have the Milwaukee Bucks number?

I am often the Drum Major leading the “don’t read too much into the regular season game” parade. The marathon grind of 82 games and the circumstances surrounding any single night makes it very difficult to draw conclusions that apply to a playoff series.

Take last night’s showdown of the top two teams in the East, which saw the Celtics blow out the Bucks 140-99. Jayson Tatum scored 40 while Jaylen Brown added 30. Both Celtics’ stars sat the fourth quarter because this one was decided.

There are reasons for the Bucks’ off night. Milwaukee was on the second night of a back-to-back (they dominated the Pacers on Wednesday) and this was the first game back from a four-game road trip (those first games home are notorious letdowns). In the Celtics’ previous game, they got crushed by a struggling Wizards team.

Yet, it isn’t just this one 41-point game that has me thinking Boston is just a bad matchup and better than Milwaukee.

The two teams faced off in a Christmas Day showcase game and the Celtics won handily, 139-118. The Bucks won the rematch on Valentine’s Day in overtime (131-125), but the Celtics sat Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford — four starters — for that game.

None of those games matter if these teams meet in the second half of May, when the Eastern Conference Finals tip-off. The No. 2 seed Celtics are lined up for a harder road through the playoffs (they could face the Heat and then the 76ers). Could that take a toll on them physically before matching up with the Bucks?

Maybe it doesn’t matter. It looks like Boston has Milwaukee’s number this year.

2) Julius Randle out until start of playoffs. At least.

The No.5 seed New York Knicks appear headed for a first-round showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Knicks have a puncher’s chance to win that series.

But only if Julius Randle plays.

The Knicks’ All-Star forward and leading scorer will be re-evaluated in two weeks due to a sprained ankle, the team announced. That timeline has him being re-evaluated just a couple of days before the Knicks tip-off in the playoffs (either April 15 or 16).

Randle rolled his ankle going for a rebound and landing on Bam Adebayo‘s foot in the second quarter Wednesday night, and he left the game not to return. Tonight’s game against the aforementioned Cavaliers (in Cleveland) will be the first game Randle has missed all season.

Randle is playing at an All-NBA level again this season, averaging 25.1 points and 10 rebounds a game.

3) Cancel your plans: Must-watch NBA schedule Friday night

We’re approaching the season’s end and the schedule makers lined up some games with some weight for Friday night. It’s not like you had plans you can’t cancel. Here are the games worth watching (times Eastern).

• Knicks at Cavaliers (7:30, League Pass).
This a first-round playoff matchup preview, except the Knicks will be without Julius Randle (hopefully he will be back in a couple of weeks for the games between these teams that really matter).

• Clippers at Grizzlies (8, League Pass). Russell Westbrook vs. Dillon Brooks, round two. These also are two of the top five teams in the West, and maybe the two teams in the conference playing the best ball recently (Memphis is 8-2 in their last 10, the Clippers 7-3). While Paul George is out with a sprained knee and Kawhi Leonard is questionable (personal reasons), both of them sat out for the first game in this two-game set Wednesday night and the Clippers won anyway behind a big Westbrook outing. The Grizzlies were without Jaren Jackson Jr., Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones in that first game, all are expected back tonight (the Grizzlies’ defense without Jackson was awful).

• Lakers at Timberwolves (8, NBA TV). Game of the night. Two teams in the middle of that moras at the bottom of the West (both teams are 39-38, but Minnesota has the tiebreaker coming in so is the eighth seed over the Lakers ninth), and both teams desperately need wins. The Timberwolves have been playing their best basketball of late (at least until the loss to the Suns), but will they have an answer for slowing LeBron James, and especially Anthony Davis (who remains the lynchpin to any Lakers’ success)? Matchup within the game to watch: Jarred Vanderbilt trying to slow Anthony Edwards is going to be fun.

• Nuggets at Suns (10:30, NBA TV). This lines up to be a second-round playoff preview (if both teams advance, which in this West is no lock). Does Denver have any answer for Kevin Durant? (Does anyone?) The Nuggets are on the second night of a back-to-back, but Nikola Jokić sat out the first game (a loss to the Pelicans) and is expected to play in this one. Can Deandre Ayton slow the two-time MVP?

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Brandon Ingram went off for a triple-double to lead the Pelicans past the Nuggets last night, scoring 31.

As expected, Alabama’s Brandon Miller says he will enter NBA Draft

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 24 Div I Men's Championship - San Diego State vs Alabama
Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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This is far from a surprise, but it’s now official.

Brandon Miller, the Alabama wing projected as likely top-three pick, told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski he would enter this June’s NBA Draft.

Miller, a 6’9″ sharpshooting wing, has climbed draft boards over the course of this season as he has shown off more aspects of this game. He has good size, impressive athleticism and projects as a three or four in the NBA (two high-value positions). His skill set starts with being an elite shooter (39.9% on 3-pointers this season) who has the size to shoot over the top of many defenders, but this season showed off improved finishing at the rim and playmaking off the bounce.

The development and growth of Miller’s game (while Scoot Henderson played well but missed a lot of 3s in the G-League) put Miller in the mix for the No.2 pick (Victor Wembanyama remains the clear No.1). Most teams likely still lean toward Henderson and his otherworldly athleticism, but whoever the basketball lottery gods gift the No.2 pick will have a conversation.

Miller made more headlines this season for his off-the-court troubles than his play on it. Tuscaloosa police say he brought a gun to former Alabama teammate Darius Miles, who allegedly used it to shoot and kill Jamea Jonae Harris. Miller was never charged with a crime and multiple front office sources told NBC Sports that unless something changes and he is, this will not impact his draft status.