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.

New lottery rules change tanking incentives, starting this season

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To paraphrase Jerry Tarkanian, the NBA is so mad at the 76ers, it’ll keep the Hawks losing another couple years.

The NBA finally enacted lottery reform that will take effect this season. The measures appeared designed to curb Sam Hinkie’s ambitious multi-year tank, but Philadelphia has already reaped the rewards of The Process. The 76ers, led by former high draft picks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are one of the league’s top teams and extremely unlikely to land in the lottery. It’s the next generation of losing teams, like Atlanta, that will feel the brunt of these changes.

Generally, the new rules reduce incentives to chase the league’s worst record. The very-bottom teams face greater variance and worse expected outcomes than previously. The top six seeds in the lottery became less valuable than before, the 7-14 seeds more valuable than before.

In the previous system, the three worst teams had 250, 199 and 156 of 1,000 lottery combinations. The top-three picks were drawn then the next 11 picks were slotted in reverse order of record.

Now, the three worst teams each have 140 of 1,000 lottery combinations. The top-four picks are drawn then the next 10 picks are slotted in reverse order of record.

There’s several ways to measure the changes, but here a a few based on lottery seed in the old system (orange) and new system (blue):

Odds of No. 1 pick:

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Odds of top-four pick:

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Expected pick:

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The “big” change is the bottom three teams all have the same odds of getting drawn, creating an illusion there’s no difference between finishing last or third-to-last. But the last-place team still gets slotted ahead of the second-worst and third-worst (and second-worst ahead of third-worst) if none get drawn in the lottery.

Simply, teams are still incentivized to chase the league’s very worst record. The incentives aren’t as strong as they once were, but they still exist.

And the upside remains just as high. Top draft picks are so valuable – a chance to add elite young talent on a relatively cheap contract that comes with five years of team control that, practically, extends much longer.

So, how will teams handle this changing structure?

Decisions will be fascinating among more than just the lowest of cellar-dwellers. Several teams have traded first-round picks this season that contain protections within the lottery. The Mavericks owe the Hawks a top-five protected first-rounder. The Cavaliers owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder. The Grizzlies owe the Celtics a top-eight-protected first-rounder. The Nuggets owe the Nets a top-12-protected first-rounder. Those owing teams all face a new batch of decisions of when to give up on trying to make the playoffs and aim to keep that pick.

I mostly share the view that lottery reform won’t change much, particularly on a year-to-year basis. But the cumulative effect could be larger on some teams.

Hinkie’s 76ers were an anomaly. Few teams set out to tank for that long. Many more tanked for a season, knowing that would result in a high draft pick. With a new touted prospect in hand, those teams usually attempted to ascend.

But now, far less is guaranteed. Before, the second-worst team was likely to land a top-three pick and was guaranteed a top-five pick. Now, the second-worst team is likely to pick between No. 4 and No. 6. In that lower range, the team might get stuck with a lesser prospect who leaves it stuck losing again the following year.

At minimum, lottery reform adds uncertainty to a league that had grown familiar with the previous system and how teams proceeded within it. We can all guess how teams will act in the new system, but this season will provide much more tangible clarity.

Kyrie Irving says he hasn’t talked with Jimmy Butler about joining Knicks

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If you listen to some people, they believe that NBA stars are constantly scheming to end up together on certain teams, years in advance of their pending free agency. That was partially the case for the Miami Heat when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh teamed up together. But we can’t always verify what players are talking about together, and of course they are free to have those conversations. NBA players have more agency than ever in 2018.

One rumor that has been floating around the NBA sphere as of late is the idea of disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler pairing up with current Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving on the New York Knicks next season. Butler has an option to get out of his current contract at the end of 2019, as does Irving.

Things are getting messy with Butler out in Minnesota, with the latest news being that owner Glen Taylor has decided to circumvent his front office team and offer Butler up for trade himself. Meanwhile, Irving still has not signed an extension with the Celtics, which has some fans in Boston nervous.

Of course, someone was going to have to give Irving the chance to respond to the rumors that he wants to team up with Butler, and Jackie MacMullan over at ESPN did just that in a recent feature with the Celtics star. For his part, Irving says that he has not spoken with Butler about teaming up or anything related to career decisions since 2016.

Via ESPN:

Irving said he’s aware that he’s been linked to Jimmy Butler in persistent free-agent rumors regarding a mutual desire to play together in New York, but he said he’s had no such discussions with Butler. In fact, he said, the last time he talked to Butler at length was when they were both playing with USA Basketball, and the two engaged in a spitballing session along with Durant and Cousins about what the future held for each of them.

“And that,” Irving laughed, “was in 2016.”

Players publicly denying things that could actually be true is nothing new. Readers can take Irving at his word, or continue to be suspicious. It’s your prerogative to decide, although admittedly there are few external factors that will help you confirm whether two players will actually end up on a team in this manner together.

Set aside whether actual planning has gone on: As we have seen with players like Paul George, the expanse of the NBA season can change sentiments for where players would like to play in the future. Nothing is set in stone, even if it feels that way.

At least one report has said that Butler’s interest in the Knicks has been overstated, and that he would like to win now rather than later. Certainly, adding him and Irving to the New York roster would help them move up a few rungs, but it’s unclear whether it would put the Knicks on top of major competition in the Eastern Conference.

For now, we have to sit tight and wait and see where Butler will end up. We likely won’t have to wait more than a few days.

Add Cavs, Blazers, Wizards, Bucks to list of teams calling about Jimmy Butler

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The Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota has been difficult to track the past couple of days. No doubt that’s due to the irregular nature of the potential transaction, with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor circumventing his front office to seek a trade for Butler.

It was reported Saturday that several teams were interested in Butler, including some of the teams the star shooting guard reportedly prefers to land. That list included Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, the LA Clippers, Miami and Philadelphia.

Now, you can add several more teams to the list who have at least placed phone calls to Minnesota now that they know Butler is available to be dealt.

According to multiple reports, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Washington Wizards are interested in seeing what they can do to add Butler to their roster.

Trading for Butler at this juncture is a tenuous balance for all parties. Butler can opt out of his current deal at the end of the season, and is expected to do as much. That means teams must be certain that Butler is going to re-sign with them, or be happy with his rental for whatever assets they decide to give up. It puts the Timberwolves in a tough situation as well, where they won’t to get fair exchange for Butler’s overall worth.

We don’t have many details on actual offers just yet. Things seem to be a bit hectic in Minneapolis and new information is still streaming in. Training camp for the Timberwolves starts on Tuesday, and reports say that they would like to have Butler out of town by then.

What teams are willing to give up is another factor, and that self-imposed timeframe could widen what Taylor sees as a good return for Butler.

For example, any deal for Butler with the Blazers would not include Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, or Jusuf Nurkic, according to NBC Sports Northwest’s Dwight Jaynes. That leaves some value for the Timberwolves, including Al-Farouq Aminu or perhaps Maurice Harkless. But if Portland is reportedly not willing to give up any of their most important core, you can expect other teams are heading to Taylor’s door with similar offers.

More teams being added to the potential list of Butler landing spots is not surprising. When a superstar becomes available, just about every general manager will at least place a courtesy call to the trading office. It doesn’t help that Taylor appears publicly to be in a position of little leverage, so no doubt rival general managers are licking their chops to try to snag Butler away for cheap.

Keep your eyes peeled. This one is going to happen quick.

Knicks reportedly near deal to waive, stretch Joakim Noah, making him free agent

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The Joakim Noah era with the Knicks is finally, mercifully coming to an end.

Back in the summer of 2016 — the summer when NBA GMs spent like a drunk sailor on shore leave — the Knicks’ Phil Jackson looked at Joakim Noah, who had played 29 games the season before due to injury and was showing the wear and tear of Tom Thibodeau miles on him, and thought “I should give him four years, $72.6 million because he will totally bounce back to Defensive Player of the Year form.” In the two year’s since Noah has played in 53 games total, and while he can still grab some boards when he gets on the court, he is not near the defensive force he once was, and he was never a great offensive player.

The Knicks are finally moving on and doing so in the next 48 hours, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at The Athletic.

Much like the Luol Deng move by the Lakers, this is about freeing up cap space for next summer for the Knicks. New York will pay his full $18.5 million salary for this season, then stretch his final season of $19.3 million over three seasons, which works out to about $6.43 million a season on the books. That is without any discount in the buyout Noah may give New York.

For the Knicks, that frees up about $12.9 million in extra cap space next summer, when they want to go big game hunting for free agents. (The Knicks reportedly have Kyrie Irving at the top of their list, although most sources I talk to around the league don’t expect Irving to leave Boston next summer.) It does mean the Knicks will have some of that Noah money on the books through the summer of 2023. The risk for New York is if they strike out in free agency then they still have that Noah money on the books, rather than just taking their medicine and paying the full price, although having him in the locker room and wanting minutes would be a distraction, one the Knicks would like to move past.

As for other teams having interest in Noah, maybe if he can prove he’s healthy some team might consider him for a backup center, or third center on the roster spot. Maybe. But most teams would rather have a young player they can get cheaply and develop in that spot rather than a 33-year-old veteran with an injury history. It’s something to watch, but I doubt the market is very deep. That said, it just takes one.