PBT NBA Power Rankings: San Antonio slides into top slot

20 Comments

Another season, another year of the Spurs just making teams pay with their execution. Portland is flying up the rankings, on the other end Utah continues to anchor the bottom.

 
source:  1. Spurs (9-1, Last Week No. 2). The winners of seven in a row, they move into the top spot as they appear the machine-like Spurs we’ve come to know and love. However, there is one thing of concern out there — Tim Duncan is averaging 12 points a game on 39.4 percent shooting.

 
source:  2. Pacers (9-1, LW 1). The hot start this season — the Bulls ended their undefeated run Saturday night — will be put to the test as 8 of their next 11 games are on the road. Plus, when the calendar turns to Dec. 1 things get very difficult.

 
source:  3. Heat (7-3, LW 6). LeBron James is shooting 62 percent from three this season. Because he wasn’t already a nearly impossible cover. Miami has won three in a row and have a pretty easy week (Atlanta then a home-and-home with Orlando) so if they are focused they could extend that streak. But that’s a big “if” with this team right now.

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (8-2, LW 9). Winners of six in a row, they are doing it with the third best offense in the NBA — they are hitting their shots and being a force on the offensive glass. But they may be leaning a little too heavily on their starters right now.

 
source:  5. Warriors (7-3, LW 5). There are no statement games in November, but you had to like the way Golden State played Oklahoma City last week — with Andre Iguodala they have a guy who can make life more difficult for Kevin Durant (5-of-13 in that game). Interesting tests this week against Memphis and Portland, but both are at home where Golden State is 5-0.

 
source:  6. Clippers (7-3, LW 7). The defense is showing signs of improvement — in their last five games they have allowed 103.8 points per 100 possessions (its 106.1 on the season). Chris Paul has been a stud with double-digit points and assists in every game — think he likes having shooter

 
source:  7. Thunder (6-3, LW 3). As we said with the GSW, there are no statement games in November, but losses last week to the Clippers and Warriors are a reminder this team has some work to do if it plans on winning the West. They get the Clippers at home this Thursday night, we’ll see if the Clippers size is an issue again.

 
source:  8. Timberwolves (7-4, LW 4). Minnesota’s defense and Kevin Love rightfully are getting a lot of credit early, but Kevin Martin has been key — 24.4 points per game, creates his own shot and is hitting 47.4 percent from three to space the floor. Minny came back to earth a little with a .500 week (2-2) but this is still a great start.

 
source:  9. Rockets (7-4, LW 10). With Greg Smith out for at least this week — which is fortunate, when his sprained knee happened it looked worse — the Rockets need Asik to be a professional, suck it up and play hard off the bench. That helps his trade value, too.

 
source:  10. Bulls (5-3, LW 14). Here is a hopeful sign for Chicago — they are +13.3 points per 100 possessions in their last five games. That’s a good indicator that both the defense is clicking and the offense is starting to figure itself out. Friday night Damian Lillard faces the Derrick Rose for the first time, that should be fun.

 
source:  11. Mavericks (6-4, LW 11). Odds Mark Cuban keeps his mouth shut and doesn’t take a backhanded dig at Dwight Howard before the Rockets come to town Friday? I’d say about 1 in 10.

 
source:  12. Hawks (6-4, LW 16). They got Lou Williams back last week, which should bring some scoring spark to what was already the seventh best offense in the NBA. He and Jeff Teague (averaging 19 and 9 this season) form a good point guard duo.

 
source:  13. Grizzlies (5-5, LW 13). They have won a couple in a row over the Lakers and Kings, looking like a team that got its defense back and was finding a groove. We’ll see. Big tests this week against the Clippers, Warriors and Spurs.

 
source:  14. Suns (5-4, LW 8). They keep playing close games — every one of their games has been within five points in the final five minutes. That’s fun to watch, and while that’s not how you win sustainably it’s better than we expected from them preseason.

 
source:  15. Bobcats (5-5, LW 17). Steve Clifford has them playing solid defense — if they could keep Al Jefferson in the lineup for more than a couple games without an injury they could win a few more. Another team that has issues but is better than expected and can sustain solid play.

 
source:  16. 76ers (5-6, LW 12). They have lost six of eight and are fading back to the pack — except there is nobody in the Atlantic playing well enough to catch them, so they are still in first. The bigger concern being Michael Carter Williams having missed three games with a foot injury.

 
source:  17. Pelicans (4-6, LW 15). Ryan Anderson returned from his toe injury Saturday night and put up a quick 26 points. It’s easy to see why Rockets fans covet him but this outing showed why New Orleans needs him to space the floor, too.

 
source:  18. Lakers (5-7, LW 26). Yes, yes, Kobe Bryant is back practicing with the team. We heard. The more surprising news is that the Lakers defense has been average (17th in NBA in points per possession), which is better than expected.

 
source:  19. Nuggets (4-5, LW 29). After a slow start to the season they went 3-1 last week — coincidence it happened with JaVale McGee sidelined? Tough week ahead with Oklahoma City then a Chicago/Dallas back-to-back.

 
source:  20. Nets (3-6, LW 18). We said before the season injuries would matter a lot to this team, so the fact that Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez were all out against the Clippers Saturday is not a good sign. This team needs time on the court with its stars to figure out some chemistry issues.

 
source:  21. Magic (4-6, LW 20). Arron Afflalo is off to a fast start this season is averaging 21.7 points per game and hitting 50 percent of his threes — which in Orlando means he is trade bait. Tough home-and-home with Miami this week.

 
source:  22. Pistons (3-6, LW 19). After seeing them in person Sunday night, it’s really stunning just how bad the Josh Smith/Andre Drummond/Greg Monroe combo is on defense. Our man DJ Foster broke it down well. As teams go small and space the floor around the league, how long will Detroit go with this big experiment if it doesn’t work?

 
source:  23. Cavaliers (4-7, LW 21). Lots of drama with a team meeting last week and some questions about how sick Dion Waiters really is, the only thing that got them a win was Kyrie Irving going off against Washington. This team feels like it could spiral down from here.

 
source:  24. Celtics (4-7, LW 22). With no Rajon Rondo to stabilize things this is what you get — four losses in a row, then four wins, then three losses. Very inconsistent. Like Jeff Green. They also are giving up a league high 17.3 points a game on opponent second chance points.

 
source:  25. Knicks (3-6, LW 13). Normally you’d say a team that is about to play five of their next six on the road is facing a challenge, but as the Knicks are 1-5 at Madison Square Garden maybe what this squad needs is a road trip. Words can’t express how much they miss Tyson Chandler.

 
source:  26. Raptors (1-3, LW 24). Rudy Gay missed 26 shots in a game last week and is still shooting 38 percent on the season. However, if you’re thinking, “they should trade him” realize they replace him with DeMar DeRozan, who is shooting just 40 percent on the year.

 
source:  27. Wizards (2-7, LW 25). They have lost four in a row and the offense is struggling, which is why Randy Wittman watch is still going on. That said, they have faced one of the toughest schedules in the NBA this season, which doesn’t help.

 
source:  28. Kings (2-7, LW 28). The Kings’ starters have been so bad that Sunday coach Mike Malone benched the lot of them 4:22 into the third quarter and went with his bench the rest of the way against Portland — and it almost worked. Lots of big issues to solve here.

 
source:  29. Bucks (2-7, LW 27). They have lost five in a row, but to be fair Milwaukee has been injury ravaged — four of their five starters are banged up right now, leaving O.J. Mayo to carry the load.

 
source:  30. Jazz (1-10, LW 30). Hey, they got a win last week with a nice comeback against New Orleans. Derrick Favors had 18 rebounds in a game. So there’s that. The Jazz have the worst offense and the 26th ranked defense in the NBA so far this season.

Kevin Knox won over Knicks and now expects to win over their fans

Getty Images
Leave a comment

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) — Kevin Knox took a call from someone who knew exactly what he experienced on draft night.

New Yorkers didn’t welcome Kristaps Porzingis with open arms, either.

“He asked me how the fans reacted and I told him I got the same amount of boos as he got,” Knox said Friday. “He just laughed and he said it’s all motivation and fuel to the fire, and he said just work and he said sooner or later they’ll be cheering for you.”

That’s what happened with Porzingis, who quickly won over those who loudly booed his selection in 2015 with his talent, competitiveness and work ethic.

The Knicks see the same traits in Knox, convincing them that the Kentucky freshman was not only the player to take with the No. 9 pick but that he’s ready to start and match up with the NBA’s best small forwards next season.

That’s why they decided a day before the draft they were taking Knox if he was available and didn’t waver from that even when Michael Porter Jr. was still on the board – disappointing some at Barclays Center who chanted for Porter and then booed Knox.

“I love the fact that he wanted to be at Kentucky, that he wanted to be a Knick,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “Says a lot about that kid that he wants challenges and so I think he’s going to fit exactly the way we want to build our culture.”

Beyond the 15.6 points he averaged last season while sharing SEC Freshman of the Year honors with Collin Sexton – drafted one pick earlier by Cleveland – Knox impressed the Knicks with his confidence. He chose to play at Kentucky out of Tampa Catholic in Florida and compete for playing time with the other talented players in Lexington, then agreed to play 3-on-3 in workouts when many top prospects prefer to do them individually.

And the annual outsized expectations faced by John Calipari’s teams should help Knox prepare for the pressure of New York, perhaps giving him a quicker adjustment period than Frank Ntilikina, the Knicks’ lottery pick last season, had after coming to the U.S. from France.

“That actually is going to be up to Kevin, what the learning curve is and how long the adjustment takes,” team president Steve Mills said. “But what I will say is that while all college basketball programs prepare guys to play in the NBA, the sort of pressure and the limelight and the spotlight you’re under when you make a decision to play at Kentucky I think does prepare you in a different way to play in a place like New York. So I think some of the things that are tougher for rookies to make adjustments to are some things that he’s already been through.”

The adjustment is likely much longer for 7-footer Mitchell Robinson, who the Knicks took with the No. 36 pick. A high school All-American in 2016-17, he enrolled at Western Kentucky but never played, instead leaving school and opting to train for the draft. He said he worked out daily, but hasn’t played competitively in a year so it’s unknown how soon he could contribute.

But Fizdale sounds ready to put Knox on the court right away on a team that used Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee as undersized small forwards last season.

“They’re both 6-5 and he’s got to guard LeBron and (Kevin) Durant and those are the 3s in our league,” Fizdale said. “So I feel like it’s a very good opportunity to have a chance to start.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

As expected, Denver’s Wilson Chandler to opt into $12.8 million next season

Getty Images
1 Comment

Wilson Chandler played a workmanlike role for the Nuggets last season — more than 30 minutes a game (in 74 games), 10 points a night, shot 35.8 percent from three. His efficiency and value slipped from previous seasons but he still played a role for the team.

Not the kind of role that’s going to earn him a big payday as a free agent, so he will opt into the $12.8 million for next season, a story broken by Chris Haynes of ESPN.

Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler will exercise his player option for the 2018-19 season, league sources tell ESPN.

Chandler, 31, is opting into a $12.8 million salary instead of entering free agency this summer. Denver was notified of his decision on Friday.

Chandler’s name has come up in trade discussions in recent years, and no doubt the Nuggets would be happy to move his salary now, too. However, in a tight financial market it’s unlikely that’s happening without Denver throwing in a sweetener, and that’s not likely either. So it will be another season of Chandler in Denver.

Deandre Ayton arrives as symbol that Suns are on the rise

Getty Images
3 Comments

PHOENIX (AP) — Since the heady days of Steve Nash came to an end, there have been few signs of joy from a dwindling fan base that watched the Phoenix Suns tumble to the bottom of the NBA standings and miss the playoffs for the eighth year in a row.

Then came the announcement that Deandre Ayton would go to the Suns with the first overall pick. A huge cheer went up from the several thousand fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Thursday night for the draft party. General manager Ryan McDonough, owner Robert Sarver and coach Igor Kokoskov came out of their meeting room to watch and bask in that rare moment of sheer joy from the fans.

“It was a pretty special moment for our franchise,” McDonough said.

Not only that, but McDonough engineered a last-minute trade for swingman Mikal Bridges of Villanova, the 10th pick. It was a spendy move because Philadelphia demanded and got Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. But the Suns are weary of stockpiling assets. It’s time to cash in, they figured, and did it with that trade.

“We weighed the pros and cons of trading it heavily and carefully,” McDonough said. “We were only going to put it in play if we had a chance to get a special player and that’s how we feel about McKell.”

All four of the Suns’ picks showed up on a crowded dais in Phoenix on Friday – Ayton, Bridges, French point guard Elie Okobo (chosen 31st) and forward George King of Colorado (the 59th selection).

The 7-foot-1 Ayton towered over the others, in a white unbuttoned collared shirt and a sharp blue suit, but he looked and sounded a bit weary from the whirlwind of being the No. 1 draft pick. His only sleep lately, he said, was a couple of hours on the plane ride from New York on Tuesday.

“I’m just excited to finally get a jersey on and be able to play five-on-five again,” Ayton said.

Ayton had been the frontrunner for the No. 1 pick ever since the draft lottery and any doubts were erased when he went through an individual workout with the Suns, the only team which he did so.

McDonough said that Ayton’s workout “in and of itself was as impressive as I’ve ever seen in my 16 drafts in the NBA.”

Ayton is seen as strictly a center, so how does he fit in the modern style of the NBA, when center plays is diminished and players are essentially interchangeable, is a question. Ayton replied that he’s no ordinary center.

“I don’t like it when people think I’m just a guy down low,” he said. “They haven’t watched me shoot the basketball.”

Ayton and Bridges say they got to know each other well at the college awards ceremony in Los Angeles but never figured they’d be on the same team.

“It’s like I’ve known him my whole life,” Bridges said.

Now comes the hard work, molding a team with Ayton, Devin Booker and Josh Jackson. A billboard of those three already has been erected downtown.

The Suns, so bad for so long, seem on the brink of being relevant.

“We’re very hungry,” Ayton said. “I think the great team chemistry and the work ethic that we have, especially us guys coming in, we’re going to bring it to the next level. We’ve got young lets. We can run all day. … We can really start a winning legacy.”

And Ayton is the reason for the sudden leap in optimism, even though he won’t turn 20 until next month.

“I embrace it a lot,” he said of the expectations placed upon him. “Through my career I’ve always had that on my shoulder, the expectations. I represent a whole nation (Bahamas) I just do that the best that I can and just help this community start over and be the best player I can possibly be. I just want to be the best great player.”

Kokoskov says Ayton possesses “a unique talent for the decades.”

Ayton said he wants “to be the best person on and off the court.”

Now the Suns move on to the next phase. Free agency starts July 1 and McDonough wants some veteran players to add to this very young core. He said the team should have $15 million to $20 million to spend.

“We were aggressive last night with the picks and the trade up to get Mikal,” McDonough said. “We’re going to continue to be aggressive for the next couple of weeks in free agency. We’ve got some money to spend and we’re looking to spend it on the best players we can get.”

Hornets GM Kupchak: Kemba Walker focal point of franchise going forward

Getty Images
3 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — General manager Mitch Kupchak wants point guard Kemba Walker to end his NBA career right where it started — with the Charlotte Hornets.

Kupchak said Friday that Walker is “revered” in the Charlotte community, and that he and owner Michael Jordan look at the two-time All-Star as “the focal point of this franchise going forward.”

The 28-year-old Walker has been the subject of possible NBA trade talks as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract with the Hornets. That speculation has amped up recently because it is a practical impossibility for Charlotte to sign Walker to an extension before he becomes a free agent in July of 2019 since the Hornets are so tight under the salary cap.

“I think everybody is aware of the situation, if you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said.

At $12 million per year, Walker well underpaid when compared to the other top point guards in the league.

But that doesn’t mean Kupchak is giving up hope the team can keep Walker in Charlotte.

“I don’t think it is anybody’s goal to lose him in free agency,” Kupchak said. “But going forward, in the community, in the franchise, this is a player that we hope is with us – not only for the next couple of years, but ends his career here.”

The Hornets don’t have much experience behind Walker at point guard.

They have last year’s first-round draft pick Malik Monk and drafted Devonte Graham from Kansas in the second round on Thursday night.

Graham said he is excited to pick Walker’s brain when it comes to basketball.

“I have never met him, but I remember watching him play when he was at UConn though,” Graham said. “I’m just excited man to learn from someone like that and just be around someone like that who is winner, and knows how to win and compete. I am looking forward to being able to learn from him.”