PBT NBA Power Rankings: Injuries start to shape the rankings

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The top of our rankings remain solid this week, but after a bad weekend of injuries there were a few shakeups farther down with more to come.

source:  1. Spurs (12-1, Last Week No. 1). They are the winners of 10 in a row and are doing it with great defense, good offense, not much Tim Duncan (still shooting less than 40 percent this season) and the machine-like efficiency we have all come to know and love. Fun showdown Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.

 
source:  2. Pacers (12-1, LW 2). They hold on to their spot but really didn’t impress against the Knicks, a game they could/should have lost. Things get interesting Sunday when then start on a tough West Coast road swing that includes the Clippers and Trail Blazers back-to-back.

 
source:  3. Heat (10-3, LW 3). Winners of six in a row (and it could be 10 if Jeff Green doesn’t hit a ridiculous three) lad by their defense, which has cranked up the pressure the past five games (not to postseason levels but improved).

 
source:  4. Trail Blazers (12-2, LW 4). Stan Van Gundy is impressed — he told us on the PBT podcast that he really likes the job Terry Stotts is doing in Portland, particularly with their Top 5 offense. He also isn’t sold they can sustain this pace (neither am I) but this is a nice cushion built up against future slumps.

 
source:  5. Thunder (9-3, LW 7). How long before Kendrick Perkins comes off the bench and Steven Adams starts? Of course, we’ve been asking the Perkins question for years. Tough schedule this week with the Spurs, Warriors and Timberwolves.

 
source:  6. Clippers (10-5, LW 6). Great note by Kevin Arnovitz this week over at ESPN: When the Clippers starters are on the floor, they have a top-10 NBA defense. The deeper they go into the bench the worse it gets. You know Doc Rivers is working on that, but come the playoffs he can shorten his rotation and the Clippers look more dangerous.

 
source:  7. Mavericks (9-5, LW 11). Fourth best offense in the NBA so far and Monta Ellis is the key reason — 23.6 points on 49.4 percent shooting, plus 5.6 assists per game. It was his assists to Shawn Marion that got the Mavs the win over the Rockets this week.

 
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8. Rockets (9-5, LW 9). Terrence Jones has shown he deserves to be the starting power forward on this team — he has averaged 15 points on 59 percent shooting as a starter. The Rockets the fourth best point differential in the NBA, +6.2 per 100 possessions. That’s a good sign they are for real.

 
source:  9. Warriors (8-6, LW 5). The Andre Iguodala injury hurts — the Warriors will still be good and win a lot of games without him, but they are not as good. And in a West with 13 teams at .500 or better (as of Sunday night) just losing a couple more games can cost a team several slots in the playoffs.

 
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10. Timberwolves (8-7, LW 8). They have struggled the past week (1-3) and it is their defense that has been the issue. Particularly transition defense. Things don’t get easier this week with the Pacers, Mavericks and Thunder on the docket.

 
source:  11. Hawks (8-6, LW 12). Go ahead and say “these are the same old Hawks” if you want (their defense has improved) but the fact is they are above .500 and a solid team and in the East right now that could mean a top 4 playoff seed.

 
source:  12. Grizzlies (7-6, LW 13). The Marc Gasol injury really hurts them because he is the anchor of their fantastic defense. Like with the Warriors, even if this injury just costs the Grizzlies a few games, that is going to mean a lower playoff seeding and a much tougher road back to the conference finals.

 
source:  13. Bulls (6-6, LW 10). I don’t want to drop them down the rankings too far based just on the Derrick Rose injury and a rough game against a good Clippers team. Tom Thibodeau’s squads have been resilient. I just wonder what this squad will look like after the trade deadline.

 
source:  14. Bobcats (7-7, LW 15). Charlotte is a top 5 NBA defense so far, but Stan Van Gundy had a great line about their offense and the lack of shooters — everything they do looks good until the shot goes up.

 
source:  15. Pelicans (6-6, LW 17). They have won three in a row since Ryan Anderson returned from his toe injury, that is not a coincidence. While a lot of people seem to want to trade him to Houston for Omer Asik, the Pelicans front office is not among them.

 
source:  16. Nuggets (6-6, LW 19). Their wins last week were over good Dallas and Chicago teams, the Nuggets are looking better. However that will be tested with 8-of-9 on the road including an East Coast swing.

 
source:  17. Lakers (7-7, LW 18). In their last six games, since inserting Jordan Hill into the starting lineup, the Lakers have had a Top 5 offense in the NBA. Mike D’Antoni is winning with defense. Lakers are on the road for three games in four nights this week, don’t bet on Kobe coming back during that stretch.

 
source:  18. Suns (6-6, LW 14). Just like for Jerry Seinfeld in “The Opposite” things just even out for Phoenix. First Markieff Morris is hot and Marcus Morris is cold, then when Markieff goes cold Marcus gets hot. “Even Steven.” They have the Heat and Blazers this week, but then a home-and-home with Utah.

 
source:  19. Raptors (6-7, LW 26). That would be your Atlantic Division leading Toronto Raptors, thank you very much. Somebody is going to win this division and get the No. 4 seed, and it could be Toronto.

 
source:  20. Pistons (5-8, LW 22). Still not sold that Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe can play together, but when Smith came off the bench he was a mess (although Kyle Singler got hot). Bit home stand coming up, a chance to pick up a few wins against iffy competition.

 
source:  21. 76ers (6-9, LW 16). Spencer Hawes is playing very well, which makes you think that as we slowly start to crawl toward the trade season what will the Sixers do when teams call about him? They are rebuilding, they will move him at the right price, but much will they want back?

 
source:  22. Wizards (5-8, LW 27). It’s fair to say that as John Wall goes, so goes the Wizards, so when he got hot over the weekend with two 30 point games (both on efficient shooting) they suddenly won. Can he keep it up is the question.

 
source:  23. Celtics (5-10, LW 24). The schedule lightens up for the Celtics, which is the good news. The bad news is Kelly Olynyk will be out a couple weeks with a sprained ankle and when he is out they really miss him.

 
source:  24. Magic (4-9, LW 21). Big Baby Glen Davis was back on court this weekend and looked pretty good — he will provide a nice boost for Orlando. Until they trade him.

 
source:  25. Kings (4-9, LW 28). Sunday night the Lakers threw waves of bodies at DeMarcus Cousins, trying to get the ball out his hands. Cousins had 7 assists because of it but the plan worked, it disrupted the Kings offense. DMC needs some consistent help.

 
source:  26. Knicks (3-9, LW 25). Mike Woodson thinks the Knicks just need to get healthy, and that certainly is part of it. Their defense is a mess without Chandler and the offense isn’t good enough to overcome it. Tough week on the road against the Blazers and Clippers.

 
source:  27. Nets (3-10, LW 20). The Nets actually play their opponents almost even in the first half (-0.4 per game) but get thumped by -5.2 in the third quarter. It’s been an issue all season.

 
source:  28. Cavaliers (4-10, LW 23). They land here in part because they have the third worst point differential per 100 possessions in the league, -8.3. Mostly because their offense is so bad. The only bright spot is Matthew Dellavedova.

 
source:  29. Bucks (2-10, LW 29). Congratulations, you have the worst offense in the NBA so far. Still, a few more healthy bodies and a softer schedule and they maybe can pick up a win or two the next couple weeks.

 
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30. Jazz (1-14, LW 30). This team is worse than I imagined. At least Trey Burke is back even if he’s on a minute restriction.

Rudy Gobert says lack of Team USA stars in World Cup will continue

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The 2019 FIBA World Cup is over, and the United States did not medal. It was a disappointing showing for Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who led the U.S. national team in a year in which several stars did not want to participate.

Instead it looks as though players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will play next year in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Meanwhile, what can FIBA do to entice stars to play in their tournament?

There are lots of issues with how the World Cup works, including the wonky qualifying windows and the fact that the Olympics come in short succession. That’s not to say that folks back in the States don’t want the World Cup to be a big deal — USA basketball head Jerry Colangelo has said that he wants the FIBA contest to be a premier event.

But some, like Utah Jazz and French national team big man Rudy Gobert, don’t ever see that happening. Speaking to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, Gobert said that he doesn’t believe players will join in on the FIBA games thanks to how the modern NBA works.

Via NY Times:

“I wish all the best players would come, but it’s never going to happen,” Gobert said of the modern N.B.A. player’s approach in the Load Management Era. “They think about themselves more than anything — and it’s understandable. It’s a business. We all have families to take care of.”

Although FIBA has been around since 1932, it’s not a part of American culture yet and thus the Olympics seem to be what both players and fans care about in comparison. That the U.S. men’s team didn’t come away with the gold doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal, culturally.

Gobert has the right idea in terms of the reality of the situation. Until respective national team organizations can entice their own players to join in, it’s not clear what the World Cup will mean for basketball fans in North America moving forward. As such, we are unlikely to see a star-studded World Cup Team USA in the near future.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

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The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

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James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.