PBT Power Rankings: Heat start season on top, Bobcats in cellar

31 Comments

It’s that time of year — the PBT’s NBA Power Rankings are back.

Power Rankings before a single game is played are admittedly a bit silly, but then again the NBA has playoffs to determine which team is best so really all power rankings are silly and just for the entertainment value. It would take a ridiculous system that would take writer’s votes before the season and have those influence who gets to compete for a championship… oh, sorry college football.

We start the season with the Heat on top and the Bobcats on the bottom, just as we ended last season. The records next to the teams are from last season.

source:  1. Heat (46-20). They are the defending champs, Dwyane Wade seems to be healthy again, they added Ray Allen (who found his stroke the last couple preseason games) and most importantly they have their identity now. Preseason was sloppy for them at times, but does anyone really care?

 

source:  2. Lakers (41-25). It may take them a couple of months into the season to really hit their stride with a new offense and new players in it, but by the first of the year they should be an offensive juggernaut. If they stay healthy. A lack of depth could hurt them some during the regular season (unless you’re a huge Jordan Hill fan).

 

source:  3. Thunder (47-19). Even with James Harden seven hours south (by car) in Houston, Oklahoma City is a threat. Exactly how big a threat this year will be determined in part by if Kevin Martin can bounce back to his form from before last season. Eric Maynor has to do more with the second team.

 

source:  4. Clippers (40-26). If you are looking for an MVP candidate to pull for outside the obvious of LeBron and KD, might I recommend Chris Paul. Look for him to have a monster year, even if it is a contract year. Also, much deeper Clippers team this year.

 

source:  5. Celtics (39-27). Jeff Green has looked great in the preseason, we’ll see if he can carry it over to the regular season. The added depth in Boston this season (Jason Terry leads the way) is going to help them during the regular season.

 

 

source:

6. Nuggets (38-28). My pick for the most fun team to watch this regular season, they are going to run and Ty Lawson is perfect for what they are trying to do (so extend him, would ya). Also, look for Andre Iguodala to have a monster year.

 

source:  7. Spurs (50-16). Every year we sleep on them, every year they are better than we thought. They slip a little for us to start the season because Manu Ginobili is out for at least the season opener.

 

source:  8. Pacers (42-24). Darren Collison is gone and George Hill is the guy at the point for a team that sees itself as a threat to Miami… except that Hill is banged up with a hip injury. And Danny Granger has been having knee issues. The Pacers were very healthy last season, which helped their cause.

 

source:  9. Grizzlies (41-25). Great news that new owner Robert Pera has been approved and is taking over the team. Not sure how that will trickle down to the court.

 

 

source:  10. Nets (22-44). Preseason didn’t make us think they were going to play any defense, which was the concern looking at the roster They play their official first game at their new home the Barclays’ Center in Brooklyn on Thursday. Against the budding rival New York Knicks. And the question is how many people there will be Knicks fans.

 

source:  11. Knicks (36-30). No Amare Stoudemire and probably no Marcus Camby to start the season due to injuries is not ideal, except that it moves Carmelo Anthony to the four spot and that is a good thing. I think as the season moves on you’ll see a lot of ‘Melo at the four with Tyson Chandler at the five. I think that could be a good lineup.

 

source:  12. 76ers (35-31). Andrew Bynum remains a question mark for the season opener, and maybe a little longer. The Sixers overcame that in the preseason and looked great, but things will be more difficult now.

 

 

source:  13. Bulls (50-16). The Bulls are going to defend, and a pretty soft schedule to open the season means they may be able to score enough to win. They will get off to a solid start.

 

 

source:  14. Jazz (36-30). Utah starts off the season with eight of their first 11 on the road and a gauntlet of Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers and Nuggets. Still, the injuries in Minnesota and Dallas help their playoff chances.

 

source:  15. Hawks (40-26). This team is still better than people think — Josh Smith and Al Horford are one of the best front lines in the league. At least until trades start happening midseason. Their backcourt is another story, that could be a running experiment.

 

source:  16. Mavericks (36-29). No Dirk Nowitzki to start the season. No Chris Kaman. No Delonte West off the bench. So, a whole lot of O.J. Mayo, with Eddy Curry starting at center. It’s as bad as it sounds.

 

 

source:  17. Bucks (31-35). Welcome to the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis experiment. Likely with Scott Skiles job hanging in the balance.

 

 

source:  18. Warriors (23-43). There’s a lot to like here when they are healthy, but Andrew Bogut hasn’t stepped on the court yet and when Stephen Curry did he tweaked his ankle again. I like Harrison Barnes though, if you are looking for a dark horse ROY candidate.

 

 

source:  19. Timberwolves (26-40). They played really good defense in the preseason… which is the preseason. If they can carry it over to games that matter and keep their head above water until Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio return, the playoffs are within reach.

 

source:  20. Blazers (28-38). Hey Damian Lillard, welcome to the NBA. Your first three games: Steve Nash and the Lakers, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder, Jeremy Lin and the Rockets. Have fun storming the castle.

 

source:  21. Rockets (34-32). Royce White’s beard and James Harden’s beard on the same team? New League Pass favorite. Now let’s see if they can run the pick-and-roll well with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik.

 

source:  22. Raptors (23-43). They looked strong in the preseason, but now they start with 15 of their first 22 on the road. We’ll get a sense if they can contend for a playoff spot in the East in the first few weeks.

 

source:  23. Pistons (25-41). Andre Drummond has been fantastic in the preseason paired with Greg Monroe. Add Detroit to the “teams that could be better than we thought” list.

 

source:  24. Cavaliers (21-45). I like Kyrie Irving. We all like Kyrie Irving. But once we get down the roster into Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters we’re all hesitant. Seems another rough year ahead in Cleveland with not a lot of offense.

 

source:  25. Kings (22-44). DeMarcus Cousins looked good in the preseason, except when he was launching threes. Still, the big question here is where does Tyreke Evans fit in? Or does he?

 

 

source:  26. Wizards (17-46). No John Wall, no Nene to start the season. That means no wins. At least not many with A.J. Price at the point and a lot of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. We’ll see how Bradley Beal develops. I answer more Wizards questions here from friend of this blog Ben Standig.

 

source:  27. Hornets (21-45). Anthony Davis looked good in the preseason, as did the Hornets defense. Play like that now that the games matter and they will move up this list fast.

 

source:  28. Suns (33-33). Steve who? Michael Beasley has the green light and his coach thinks he may be passing too much. Going to be a long year in the Valley of the Sun.

 

source:  29. Magic (37-29). Jameer Nelson is solid and Glen Davis is… well, Big Baby. He’ll make some plays. But the Magic are about the future and that means Andrew Nicholson is the guy to watch.

 

source:  30. Bobcats (7-59). They are not going to be as bad as last season, if for no other reason then Michael Kidd-Gillchrist will hustle for 82 games. Think of them as just average bad now, not historically bad. Hey, it’s something.

As Summer League ends, what are teams taking away from Las Vegas?

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS — Knicks fans were lined up out the door, literally overflowing the Cox Arena on the UNLV campus to get a glimpse of Kevin Knox, who averaged 21.3 points per game at Summer League and suddenly was seen as the newest star on Broadway — the perfect pairing for Kristaps Porzingis.

Top pick Deandre Ayton filled the building and had Suns’ fans dreaming of rings with his star power. Memphis’ fans were saying they saw the future of the franchise with Jaren Jackson’s combination of shooting and shot blocking. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s looked like a steal and his play gave Clippers’ fans hope. Atlanta’s Trae Young went from “bust” to “future franchise cornerstone” over the course of two weeks as his play improved through July.

As Summer League has grown over the years — all 30 NBA teams were represented in Las Vegas, every game was televised nationally — so has the importance of these July exhibitions in the minds of fans.

But what do teams — their coaches, scouts, and GMs — take away from Las Vegas?

A baseline.

“It’s just benchmarks for the guys,” new Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce told NBC Sports in Las Vegas. “I got bear cubs right now. I saw Omari (Spellman) at Villanova, but I hadn’t touched him. I saw Trae (Young) at Oklahoma, but I hadn’t touched him. Kevin (Huerter) I still haven’t touched (hand surgery).

“So we have a couple areas with Trae, and we have a couple areas with John Collins and a couple areas with Tyler Dorsey where we say, ‘you know what, I know what we need to work on.’ More will come, but at least I have a starting point, and we can have a conversation now.”

That conversation is about how much more work needs to be done.

Summer League has become big business for the NBA, it’s marketed and put on a bigger stage, and with that it’s natural that Summer League games have grown in importance in the eyes of fans (and media). But for teams, the purpose hasn’t changed since the games were an almost forgotten part of the NBA season at the Pyramid on the Long Beach State campus.

Multiple NBA coaches and executives told NBC Sports is just the first post-draft step in evaluation, and where a player is on the scale right now is not nearly as important as where he goes from here. Those decision makers know that 90 percent of the players in Las Vegas will not even be invited to an NBA training camp, then combine that with limited practices and there is only so much big-picture evaluation that can take place.

“I don’t get wrapped up into the rookies, as far as being discouraged with what you see here,” said Bobby Marks, former assistant general manager with the Brooklyn Nets and current ESPN analyst. “I think I’m more discouraged if I have a second- or third-year player who does not play well here…

“You take gradual steps. You look at where you were when you first get to Vegas, where they were at the end of June or early July, then you see where they are in the middle of July.”

A lot of the evaluation from teams is not in those televised Las Vegas games, but rather on the practice court.

“The first thing is you evaluate how coachable they are, because you don’t have a lot of time, but there’s a few things you emphasize just to see if they do it,” said Utah Jazz Summer League coach Alex Jensen. “Summer League is one of those things where they are always trying to showcase themselves, so sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to do, but we want to see how coachable they are.”

For those first-round and high second-round picks, it’s also a chance to put players in NBA situations. For example, Portland Summer League coach Jim Moran said they run a lot of the same sets in Las Vegas they will run come the fall, with the goal of getting guys like Gary Trent Jr. or Anfernee Simmons shots they will see come the games that matter.

“We’re trying to put them in situations they’ll be put in the regular season,” Moran said. “So whether it be defensively having our bigs switch out on smaller guys, or learning how to move and keep smaller guys in front of them, or offensively just getting them a feel for where their shots are going to come from in certain plays, we want to see it.”

For a first-round pick such as Portland’s Simmons or the Knicks’ Knox or Atlanta’s Young, Summer League is a showcase. Every first-round pick has a guaranteed NBA contract — they are going to get paid come the fall. That’s not to say they don’t play hard or take it seriously, but no matter what happens in Las Vegas they will be on a roster come October.

The real business of Summer League is second-round picks, undrafted players, and guys coming back from playing overseas trying to get noticed — by NBA teams, ideally, but at least by European scouts who can land them good paying gigs playing basketball. It’s an on-court job application for almost everyone in uniform. NBA staffs are taking notes on these guys, as well.

“Second-rounders, undrafted guys, guys you might sign to two-ways, guys you might need to call up on a two way, because you don’t really know,” ESPN’s Marks said of who he watched closely at Summer League in his executive days. “There could be guys who were playing in Europe last year, or maybe from lower level schools and you didn’t bring them in for a workout, there’s a newness to this. So I think it benefits them more than your first round picks.”

Put in a good showing and guys can find their way onto a roster — Trevon Bluiett out of Xavier averaged 18.3 points per game for the Pelicans, and they signed him to a two-way contract. A handful of other guys did the same, or will get training camp invites out of Las Vegas.

Because of that those guys are hustling — say what you want about the glorified pick-up game nature of Summer League play, guys go hard because paychecks are on the line.

However, for bigger name, higher drafted players, performance in Las Vegas matters more to fans than it does the franchise.

“There are takeaways, it gives you a baseline for the rest of the summer,” Marks said.

And that’s just the first step. By Halloween, all these games will be a distant memory.

Report: LeBron James to skip USA Basketball mini-camp next week

Getty Images
1 Comment

Next week in Las Vegas, many of the best basketball players walking the face of the earth — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, just to name a few — will get together under the guidance of Gregg Popovich for the USA Basketball mini-camp.

It is the first workout of the pool of 35 players — which will ultimately be narrowed down to a dozen — who will represent the United States at the 2019 World Cup in China and 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. It also will be the first workouts for the team under new coach Gregg Popovich. It’s a who’s who of NBA talent.

Except new Laker LeBron James will not be there, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

LeBron James will not participate in USA Basketball’s minicamp in Las Vegas next week, multiple sources familiar with James’ plans told ESPN.

LeBron, who already has two Olympic golds and has competed in three Olympics, may choose to sit out a World Cup at age 34 and an Olympics at 35. He was not part of the 2016 gold medal team in Rio. LeBron certainly has done his service on the Team USA front, and the USA does not need him to win gold in those tournaments.

All eyes in Las Vegas will be on the dynamic between Popovich and Kawhi Leonard, who is expected to be at the workout. Most likely the dealings between them will be civil if a little cold, but it’s worth watching.

Lakers headed to second straight Summer League title game

1 Comment

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Josh Hart scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 112-109 double-overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday in the semifinals of the NBA Summer League.

Los Angeles advanced to the championship game for a second straight year after winning the 2017 title behind game MVP Kyle Kuzma and league MVP Lonzo Ball.

The Lakers will play Portland, which knocked off Memphis in the other semi-final.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes made the play of the game when he snatched a loose ball and fed Jeff Ayres with a pretty touch pass under the basket with 45 seconds left in the second overtime. Rathan-Mayes followed Ayres’ lay-in with a slashing lay-up to put the Lakers up 110-106 with 22 seconds left.

Cleveland’s Billy Preston missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 31 points for the Lakers (6-0), while Ayres added 20.

Collin Sexton led the Cavaliers with 27 points, while Jamel Artis and John Holland each scored 17.

Trailing 105-102 in the first overtime after Sexton made a short jumper, Rathan-Mayes buried a 3-pointer to tie the score. Hart made it 106-105 by hitting the second of two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining. Sexton did the same at the other end, splitting two free throws and tying it at 106 with 3.3 seconds left.

The Cavaliers (5-2) erased an early 11-point deficit and tied the score at 95, when Vladimir Brodziansky buried a 3-pointer with 2:00 left in regulation.

After Mykhailiuk made one of two free throws to give the Lakers a 96-95 lead with a little more than a minute left, Hart grabbed a defensive rebound and at the other end dished to Mykhailiuk, who hit a running jumper just above the free throw line to push the lead to 98-95.

But Sexton answered with a 3-pointer to tie the score with 26 seconds left. Hart missed a 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds left, and Sexton missed one from long range at the buzzer.

The Lakers went on an 18-2 run to take a 28-17 lead led by Mykhailiuk, who was 4-for-4 from long-range in the first quarter. Los Angeles shot 50 percent (9 of 18) in the opening period and was 5 for 9 (55 percent) from beyond the 3-point line.

Hart took over in the second quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 first-half points to help the Lakers take a 50-47 lead at halftime.

USA Basketball to host World Cup qualifier vs. Uruguay on Sept. 14 in Las Vegas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (AP) — USA Basketball’s quest to qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup will resume Sept. 14 in Las Vegas, where the Americans will face Uruguay.

That will be the first U.S. game in the second qualifying round for next year’s world championships in China.

Like the first round, the U.S. will continue being coached by Jeff Van Gundy and will have a roster made up primarily of G League players. The Americans went 5-1 in the first round.

The U.S. and Uruguay are among 12 teams from the Americas zone vying for seven World Cup spots. The others are Argentina, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States is a heavy favorite to qualify, then will send NBA players to China for the World Championships (there is a workout for some of those players coming up in Las Vegas in a week).

Second-round qualifying ends in late February. The World Cup begins in August 2019.