PBT NBA Power Rankings: Thunder stay on top, Bucks stay on bottom

11 Comments

More and more I think Adam Silver’s first NBA Finals as commissioner will feature Indiana and Oklahoma City — which would be good basketball but not exactly Super Bowl ratings. Things can change, but those are the two best teams right now.

 
source:  1 Thunder (41-12, Last Week No. 1). We gave been praising Kevin Durant for his play with Russell Westbrook out, but lets not ignore Serge Ibaka — he is averaging 19.3 points a game on 65.7 percent shooting, plus pulling down 8 boards a game in his last 10. Really fun showdown Tuesday at Portland.

 
source:  2. Pacers (39-11, LW 2). They were winners of five in a row including an OT victory over the Trail Blazers before they decided to take the second half off Sunday against Orlando. Lance Stephenson will use his All-Star snub (I would have picked him, but he was a bubble guy) as fuel the rest of the season, but he has to keep playing within himself and not try to do too much.

 
source:  3. Heat (35-14, LW 3). They feel pretty locked into the second seed in the East — 3.5 back of the Pacers, 9.5 games ahead of the three seed Raptors. With that lack of motivation they still seem to coast and do things like drop games to the Jazz. Last season they snapped out of it and won 27 in a row, this team doesn’t look like a team with that kind of run in them.

 
source:  4. Rockets (34-17, LW 9). Winners of five in a row, and that includes victories over the Spurs and Suns. The real fuel of the run is an offense scoring 112.1 points per 100 possessions (third best in the NBA for that stretch) thanks to Dwight Howard and James Harden going on scoring streaks.

 
source:  5. Spurs (37-14, LW No. 10). Tim Duncan is not playing in the All-Star Game this year, and that is the league’s coaches gift to him — he certainly deserved a spot but it is known he wanted the weekend off. He got it. By the way, injuries or not the Spurs are 3-1 on the rodeo road trip so far.

 
source:  6. Clippers (36-18, LW 5). They got Chris Paul back Sunday night and the offense exploded (thanks in large part to the Sixers “defense”). Now come the two big questions: Can they build on the impressive play of Blake Griffin and the offense while CP3 was out? Can they improve their defensive consistency to a level that has them challenging the Thunder?

 
source:  7. Trail Blazers (36-15, LW 8). They are 5-5 in their last 10 and that includes losses to the Thunder, Warriors, Grizzlies and Pacers (although they did go to OT with Indy on the road). Read into that what you wish. The tough schedule continues this week with the Thunder then the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back.

 
source:  8. Suns (30-20, LW 7). Goran Dragic is the biggest All-Star snub in the West, no doubt, and he showed it with a 34 points, 10 assists game against the Warriors. But in the end the NBA is about marketing and Kobe’s spot went to New Orleans’ Anthony Davis (the game is in New Orleans).

 
source:  9. Mavericks (31-21, LW 11). Winners of five in a row, they have moved up to a tie for the sixth seed in the deep West (tied with Phoenix). This race down the stretch for the final spots in the West will be one to watch — three games separate the six and nine seeds in the conference

 
source:  10. Grizzlies (27-23, LW 6). They simply did not look good in their last few games (a 1-3 week), Saturday night they set a record earning only one free throw all game. Which is really all about how much they miss Mike Conley.

 
source:  11. Warriors (30-21, LW 4). You think they are an offensive force, but they score 103.7 points per 100 possessions, which is 15th in the NBA. Middle of the pack. Average. In their last 10 games its 103 per 100. The defense and some spot shooting carries this team but they need to get more easy baskets and rely less on the jumper.

 
source:  12. Raptors (26-24, LW 12). In an ideal world, Kyle Lowry would have been an All-Star for Toronto. It’s not an ideal world. The Raptors went 2-3 on a tough road swing through the Western Conference but now are home for 8-of-10.

 
source:  13. Wizards (25-25, LW 14). How does the team that beat the Thunder and Blazers let Cleveland do whatever they want to them on offense? Tough couple games before the All-Star break, at Memphis and at hot Houston.

 
source:  14. Nets (23-26, LW 16). They have won 3-of-4 thanks to their radically improved defense (allowing just 97 points per 100 possessions in their last five games) but the real test for this team comes after the All-Star break when they head out on a seven-game road trip. They can win or lose the Atlantic Division in that stretch.

 
source:  15. Hawks (25-24, LW 13). They have lost three in a row and 10 of their next 13 are on the road (including the Bulls and Raptors this week). The Hawks continue to play solid defense but their offense in the post Al Horford era is a mess.

 
source:  16. Bulls (25-25, LW 15). The NBA’s grittiest team continues to do its thing — they are 11-7 since the Luol Deng trade. They just grind you down with defense and Joakim Noah is at the heart of that, he deserves headlines for things other than cursing at officials.

 
source:  17. Pelicans (22-28, LW 21). While others were deserving also make no mistake — Anthony Davis deserves to be an All-Star. He is putting up numbers, but the Pelicans offense can only go so far with Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson sidelined.

 
source:  18. Timberwolves (24-27, LW 17). They have dropped five of six and the reason is injuries — Nikola Pekovic is out, Kevin Martin is out and the Wolves are just banged up. The All-Star break couldn’t come at a better time for them.

 
source:  19. Nuggets (24-25, LW 18). The defense really misses JaVale McGee (he’s not perfect but he’s better than J.J. Hickson on that end) and now the offense is going to miss Ty Lawson for at least a few games with a broken rib. For his sake, let’s hope Andre Miller gets traded at the deadline.

 
source:  20. Bobcats (22-29, LW 20). Steve Clifford drew up a simple defensive system, one that could use the slower-footed Al Jefferson in the paint, and everyone has bought in, making Charlotte the sixth best defense in the league. That is how you build a foundation for a franchise going forward.

 
source:  21. Pistons (21-29, LW 22). Mo cheeks is out but there is no coach that was going to win as much as Joe Dumars expected with this roster — the big three of Andre Drummond, Josh Smith and Greg Monroe don’t mess well together and Brandon Jennings at the point is, well, Brandon Jennings. Keep an eye on Monroe at the trade deadline.

 
source:  22. Knicks (20-31, LW 19). Carmelo Anthony’s shooting percentage by quarter: 1st 51 percent, 2nd 46.4 percent, third 44.8 percent, fourth 37.3 percent. What this shows me is the load the Knicks are asking Anthony to carry offensively every game is just wearing him down.

 
source:  23. Celtics (18-34, LW 25). If you were going to bet on one team to make a move at the trade deadline, smart money would go on Boston or Orlando. Teams are interested in guys like Brandon Bass, a veteran that can be pugged in at the four or five, start or play off the bench, and be solid.

 
source:  24. Kings (17-34, LW 27). They remain the one team in the NBA most capable of beating anyone or losing to anyone on a given night. Nice wins last week over Chicago and Toronto, then they fell to Washington and Boston.

 
source:  25. Magic (16-37, LW 28). They have won three in a row, the last of those an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Pacers Sunday. Rookie Victor Oladipo sparked it with a hot fourth quarter — his relentless aggressive, hard play is a good piece of the future for this franchise.

 
source:  26. Lakers (18-32, LW 29). Kendall Marshall is averaging 21.3 points per game created by assists since he joined the Lakers, that would be second best in the NBA for the season (trailing only Chris Paul). Even with all the other point guards healthy Mike D’Antoni needs to play this kid.

 
source:  27. Jazz (17-33, LW 23). Another team that could be selling at the deadline — Richard Jefferson has played well of late and could be caching the eye or teams looking for veteran with help. Marvin Williams has been solid, too.

 
source:  28. Cavaliers (17-33, LW 26). Chris Grant got fired and you have the feeling if Mike Brown hadn’t just gotten a five-year deal he might have been gone, too. This is an organization in need of a culture change and that takes time and a GM with a real plan.

 
source:  29. 76ers (15-37, LW 24). That loss to the Clippers Sunday night — by 45 points and it wasn’t that close — almost dropped Philly into the bottom slot in the power rankings. All this losing just has to wear on coach Brett Brown.

 
source:  30. Bucks (9-41, LW 30). The future in Milwaukee is Giannis Antetokounmpo and he will be in the Skills Challenge All-Star Saturday night. Focus on that and not the fact the Bucks haven’t won back-to-back games all season.

Markelle Fultz says last season was about injury, he’s back now with confidence

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Philadelphia went big game hunting in free agency and came up empty. If they are going to seriously challenge Boston this season for the top of the East, it’s going to be because of internal improvement — Joel Embiid needs to get better, Ben Simmons needs to get better…

And Markelle Fultz needs to be on the court and look like a No. 1 pick.

We’ve seen glimpses that his shot looks better after spending the summer with the shot guru Drew Hanlen, and at Sixers media day he sounded confident. Courtesy Matt Haughton at NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“I think it was a mis-term in words, but me and Drew have talked (after Hanlen said Fults had the yips),” he said. “What happened last year was an injury. Let me get that straight. It was an injury that happened that didn’t allow me to go through the certain paths that I needed to, to shoot the ball.

“Just like any normal person, when you’re used to doing something the same way each and every day and something happens, of course, you’re going to start thinking about it. It’s just normal….

“Everybody knows what happened last year, so this summer was really just me working to get my mechanics back, my confidence back, my swagger back. It was a very productive summer,” Fultz said. “I’m happy with the work I put in with Drew (Hanlen). We put up a lot of shots, a lot of hours in the gym. I’m happy with where I’m at right now going into training camp.”

Fultz is saying all the right things. That and $4 will get you a pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks (although why you’d want it is beyond me).

 

The proof starts Saturday in training camp and runs through the season. It’s about results now. Expectations for Fultz are high, but welcome to the life of a No. 1 pick. His bolstered swagger will be tested, we’ll see how he handles it.

Joel Embiid on DeAndre Ayton: ‘He’s about to get his ass kicked this year’

Getty Images
2 Comments

At some point in the future — maybe not as far in the future as he thinks — a lot of NBA fans are going to turn on Joel Embiid and his unfiltered trash talk and social media presence. (Which, oddly, is very different from how teammates describe him, this seems to be more of a public persona.) It’s the nature of fame, we love the rogues and rebels until we don’t.

For now, Embiid is a lot of fun.

He went on the set of ESPN’s “The Jump” with Rachel Nichols on Friday (at Sixers media day) and when the picture of Deandre Ayton came up, well…

“He’s about to get his ass kicked this year.”

Embiid isn’t wrong.

Ayton is going to have a good rookie year, maybe very good (although the lack of a quality point guard to feed him the rock in spots he can do damage will hurt him), and at Summer League Ayton was a bit of a man-child against other rookies and young players. However, he showed flaws — his hands, for one, need to get better — and nightly in the NBA teams will roll out men who can match him and push back on him. It’s going to be harder than he realizes, and not just with Embiid or Rudy Gobert or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or Marcin Gortat and the other guys who can match up physically with him, but with the skill guys as well. Ayton isn’t going to push around Draymond Green easily. Al Horford is going to school him with skills.

Ayton is going to be on a learning curve this season, a steep one at times. All rookies get that. What matters is how he responds and how he develops. Expectations are rightfully high, but he’s got some learning to do.

Report: Jimmy Butler may not report to camp; Minnesota owner handling trade talks

Getty Images
7 Comments

Hot mess doesn’t do the Minnesota Timberwolves situation justice. Trainwreck? Epic fail? Cluster%*#$?

Personally, I am going to go with:

Call it what you want, within the span of a week the Timberwolves have devolved into a situation where the team’s best player is demanding a trade and now, reportedly, may just skip training camp if he’s not moved. Meanwhile, the GM is adamant in saying he will not trade said player — one Jimmy Butler — so the owner is reportedly taking this over directly and telling teams to contact him.

Here is where things stand heading into Friday night.

Butler and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau met Tuesday in Los Angeles (a meeting that was initially in Minneapolis but that got moved in Los Angeles and pushed back a day), where Thibodeau laid out his plans for the season, but before he left Butler asked for a tradespecifically to the Clippers/Nets/Knicks. This set off all sorts of social media drama with Andrew Wiggins and rumors about Towns’ girlfriend that we’re not going to dive into now, but is giving the Timberwolves organization headaches. Towns has a $158 million contract extension sitting on the table, but told management he can’t coexist with Butler and reportedly will not sign the new deal until the Butler situation is resolved.

Thibodeau has adamantly rejected teams that have called and even tried to start a trade discussion, and would rather quit than move him for a rebuilding package of picks. The offers for a Butler trade and possible rental, even from teams that could re-sign him as a free agent next summer, are not going to be that good.

Since Thibodeau wants no part of trading Butler, owner Glen Taylor — who has a rocky relationship with Thibodeau — is telling the other owners he will make the trade and to reach out to him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves front office tells inquiring rivals that the franchise has no plans to trade All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, owner Glen Taylor had a different message for owners and executives at the NBA’s Board of Governors meetings: Butler is available, and prospective suitors should contact Taylor himself should they struggle to make progress with GM Scott Layden, sources told ESPN….

“The owner’s trading him,” one Board of Governors attendee told ESPN on Friday. “That was made clear. It’s just a matter of when.”

“He basically said, ‘If you don’t get anywhere with [Layden], and you’ve got something good, bring it to me,” another high-ranking league official told ESPN.

This points to a showdown between Thibodeau and Taylor potentially looming. Want to guess who wins showdowns between owners and GMs? Every time?

Meanwhile, a frustrated Butler — who left the Timberwolves in a terrible spot with the timing of his request a week before training camp, rather than earlier in the summer — could decide to sit out training camp, reports Jon Krawczynski in a must-read breakdown of how everything went wrong over at The Athletic.

This is Jimmy Butler. Thibs’ hand-picked pride and joy. The one who pledged to have his back through thick and thin and drag this woebegone franchise out of the dank cellar and into the spotlight.

Now he wants out. And there remains a real possibility that he will not report to training camp next week if a trade has not been consummated, sources said.

There is a whole lot to sort out here. If Taylor makes a trade, is he thinking more win-now guys, or younger players more on the Towns/Wiggins timeline? Will Thibodeau still be the coach/GM come opening night? How will Minnesota fans react to the inevitable step back that would come with a Butler trade (they are not getting equal value, and he was key to their playoff push last season)? And all of that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Dumpster fire seems just about right.

In wake of Mavericks’ scandal, Adam Silver warns other teams to eliminate harassment

Getty Images
1 Comment

The sexual harassment and workplace environment scandal that engulfed the Dallas Mavericks shook other NBA teams and forced some internal reassessment long before the league and an independent investigator released their report on Dallas this week. As part of the deal, Mark Cuban is donating $10 million to “organizations that are committed to supporting the leadership and development of women in the sports industry and combating domestic violence,” and the team must subscribe to a number of new reporting procedures.

Just to hammer the importance of the issue home, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sent a memo to all 30 teams saying they need to think about diversity in management and have a focus on preventing workplace harassment.

While the money from the $10 million goes to good causes and is four times what the NBA could have fined Cuban itself under the current league bylaws, it is not going to hurt a man worth an estimated $3.9 billion. Cuban appeared both repentant and bothered by what was happening under his roof, but the punishment handed down came off as light, even though Cuban did quickly make changes within the organization — long before the report came out, starting at the top with the hiring of Cynthia Marshall as CEO — and was not personally involved nor did he have knowledge of the situation, according to the investigation. There is no right answer here. What would have really sent a message to teams was taking away draft picks, however, Dallas’ basketball side of the operations — players, coaches, etc. — were not implicated in the investigation, and it was instead the opposite, the basketball side was seen as a safe haven. Taking away draft picks felt like punishing the wrong people for the crimes, sort of like the NCAA. There were other options, but all seemed flawed.

Having it happen once can be spun as an outlier by the league, a one-off situation. If it happens again, the conversation changes. Silver does not want that to happen, hence the memo and reminder.