PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: Santa brings Warriors top spot, lump of coal for Knicks

14 Comments

Welcome to the Christmas edition of ProBasketballTalk’s NBA Power Rankings. The Warriors, Trail Blazers and Grizzlies have been on the nice list and have the top three spots in the rankings this week. However of late the Knicks have racked up more lumps of coal than even the Sixers, and that is reflected.

 
source:  1. Warriors (22-3, Last Week No. 1). The good news: Steve Kerr said David Lee looked great in practice and should return soon (will he accept coming off the bench is the question). The bad news: Andrew Bogut is out for a spell after getting PRP treatment on his troublesome knee. They need him come the playoffs — they are good team without him, they are a title contender with him. Which means you rest him all you need to right now.

 
source:  2. Trail Blazers (22-6. LW 4). They passed their test last week beating the Spurs twice — once thanks to 43 points from Damian Lillard — plus beat solid Pelicans and Bucks teams. They have won five in a row. It doesn’t get easier with the Rockets and Thunder up this week, but they are one of a handful of teams that currently have a top 10 offense and defense (based on points per possession), one of the signs of a true contender.

 
source:  3. Grizzlies (21-6, LW 3) Back-to-back wins over the Warriors and Spurs were impressive, then they turned around and dropped games to the Bulls and Cavaliers. I keep getting asked in radio interviews, “Can Memphis can keep this up into the playoffs?” Of course, they’re already playing playoff-style basketball. They don’t have to change a thing.

 
source:  4. Mavericks (20-8, LW 7). You can’t read much into just one game in Dallas for Rajon Rondo — although Monta Ellis sure seemed comfortable with another ball handler on the floor — however there is a new confidence around a team that had struggled against the other top seven in the West. Good test coming Sunday against Thunder.

 
source:  5. Clippers (19-8, LW 6). Doc Rivers would love to make a move to add help from guys who come available like Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, but after giving Spencer Hawes the MLE the hard cap kicks in, making it difficult to get quality. LA stumbled going 3-3 in the last six games of the soft part of the schedule, now things get serious: At San Antonio, at hot Atlanta, Golden State on Christmas Day, then Toronto.

 
source:  6. Raptors (22-6, LW 9). Give the Raptors credit, there were questions about what would happen when DeMar DeRozan went down but Toronto has gone 9-3 without him. We’ll see how they do this week on the road against the Bulls, Clippers and Nuggets.

 
source:  7. Hawks (19-7, LW 12). We wanted to see quality wins from them, so they went out last week and beat Cleveland, Houston and Chicago. Al Horford was a beast, averaging 18.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.7 blocks a game in those three. He remains the most underrated star player in the NBA.

 
source:  8. Rockets (19-7, LW 2). Back-to-back losses to Pelicans and Hawks at home and now things get serious: Blazers, Grizzlies, Spurs up this week, then Wizards to start next week. They’ve got James Harden still playing well but the Rockets have been a turnover machine of late.

 
source:  9. Spurs (17-11, LW 5). After two triple-overtime games in one week, you can expect Gregg Popovich to give Tim Duncan January off to rest. The Spurs lost both those 3OT games and now have dropped four in a row, then when you add in the news Kawhi Leonard has a hand injury, well, it’s been a really rough week in San Antonio.

 
source:  10. Bulls (17-9, LW 10). That was a quality road win in Memphis last week, with rookie Nikola Mirotic going off for 27 points. The Bulls have 12 road wins already. They will play on the Christmas Day stage at home against the Lakers. I don’t think the NBA booked this game thinking about a Carlos Boozer returns to Chicago storyline.

 
source:  11. Cavaliers (16-10 LW 8). Still hard to get a read on this team because of the inconsistent play — are they the team that easily handled Memphis last week or the one that was just throttled by Atlanta? Mike Miller is in the starting lineup for now at the two spot.

 
source:  12. Suns (15-14, LW 17).

 
source:  13. Wizards (19-7, LW 11). They had won six in a row until they ran into Phoenix and John Wall got completely outplayed by the Suns backcourt. Still, the Wizards are 6-2 against the West, which is impressive considering the conference as a whole has a 35.6 percent winning percentage against the West.

 
source:  14. Pelicans (14-13, LW 14). They hang on to the eight seed in the West by beating Oklahoma City (the team that will eventually track them down and pass them) and Houston. They are doing it behind Anthony Davis, who is putting up MVP level numbers in his third season in the league.

 
source:  15. Thunder (13-15, LW 13). Kevin Durant has been out again with a sprained ankle but this time it really showed as the Thunder were passive against a soft Laker defense, then they lost to the Pelicans thanks to an unimpressive defense. Good news is Durant’s injury is minor.

 
source:  16. Bucks (14-14, LW 14). While the team has played well in his absence, the loss of Jabari Parker for the season to an ACL injury is just a loss for basketball fans everywhere. He was playing well. This is a setback for his development.

 
source:  17. Nuggets (12-15, LW 18). They are going to be without Danilo Gallinari for at least three weeks for another knee surgery. While this one is relatively minor, it’s not a good sign. Meanwhile the Nuggets keep slogging along.

 
source:  18. Heat (13-15, LW 20). Chris Bosh is still out and Dwyane Wade is in and out of the lineup, which is why the Heat are 1-3 on their current home stand. The bigger question is just how loud the boos will be — or should be — when LeBron James returns to Miami on Christmas Day.

 
source:  19. Kings (11-15, LW 16). They snapped a five-game losing streak against the hapless Lakers. In that game Lakers radio broadcaster (and former No. 1 pick) Mychal Thompson compared DeMarcus Cousins with Moses Malone — that’s some high praise. But Cousins has earned it this season.

 
source:  20. Celtics (10-15, LW 23). I know a lot of Celtics fans don’t think they got enough, but fans tend to overvalue their own assets — there just wasn’t that much trade demand for Rajon Rondo and what they got for Dallas was likely about as good as it gets. I bet Boston asked for all the restrictions on that first round pick, hoping to stagger their picks out and move it to next season.

 
source:  21. Nets (11-15, LW 19). The rumors of the Deron Williams to Sacramento trade sum things up well — the Kings only will take on Williams and his contract if they can get the coveted Mason Plumlee as well. Not much demand for the Nets stars out there.

 
source:  22. Hornets (8-19, LW 25). Hey, don’t know if you heard, Lance Stephenson is available in a trade. The problem with moving him is evidenced in the report the Pacers players were polled about the idea of bringing him back and they shot the idea down.

 
source:  23. Magic (10-20, LW 21). There are moments you see the potential, you can see how Victor Oladipo is developing into a quality player. Then they go lose to the Sixers.

 
source:  24. Pacers (9-19, LW 24). They had lost eight in a row but have split their last four. Even with the second worst offense in the NBA and the need to add shot creation, their players rejected the idea of bringing back Lance Stephenson.

 
source:  25. Lakers (8-18, LW 22). After Kobe is 11-of-45 (24.4 percent) shooting over his last two games and 33-of-113 (29.2 percent) in his last five games. He’s clearly exhausted. Yet after going 3-of-14 against the Thunder, the Lakers needed a game-winning shot so coach Byron Scott called up an isolation play for Bryant. It shows who really has the power in that organization.

 
source:  26. Jazz (8-20, LW 27). Derrick Favors talking to PBT: ““I spent a lot of time this off-season working on my jump shot and my whole offensive game. When Quin (Snyder) got hired we talked, he told me how he was going to use me in the offense, the things he wanted me to work on, the things to keep improving on and so far it seems to be paying off.” Check back to PBT Tuesday for more.

 
source:  27. Pistons (5-23, LW 28). It was a bold stroke by Stan Van Gundy to cut Josh Smith loose, that signing was Joe Dumars desperately grasping at straws to save his job. The most amazing part of this is SVG not only had the balls to suggest to owners Tom Gores to eat $27 million after this season, he was able to get the owner to sign off on it.

 
source:  28. 76ers (3-23, LW 30). Through all the losses and occasional skirmishes on the bench, there are signs of development in Philadelphia. Count me in the group that thinks one or two veterans on this team — just role paying real pros — could help speed that development along by modeling professionalism, but there is development.

source:  27. Timberwolves (5-21, LW 26). Losers of five in a row and they have shipped Corey Brewer out of town, likely not the last veteran moved off this roster before the deadline. Maybe Troy Daniels can find a home and his shooting stroke in Minny, that guy was lights out in the D-League from beyond the arc.

 
source:  29. Knicks (5-25, LW 29). They have lost five in a row and are just hard to watch right now (and that’s with Carmelo Anthony in the lineup). The temptation is to say Phil Jackson inherited this roster, but he chose to re-sign Carmelo, went out and got guys like Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, plus much of the bench were his guys. He didn’t put together much of a triangle team.

Timberwolves head into offseason in need of healing, with big decisions looming

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Another season of setback and tumult has mercifully ended for the Minnesota Timberwolves, this time in the strangest of ways after the NBA’s decision to resume virus-halted play with 22 teams.

The revelation of the makeshift plan immediately put the Timberwolves, who finished 19-45 for the third-worst record in the league, in offseason mode after nearly three months in limbo while the world wrestled with the COVID-19 pandemic and all NBA arenas went dark.

There was no arguing from Minnesota, where the 18 games remaining on the original schedule before the shutdown would have had little benefit as long as star center Karl-Anthony Towns was sidelined with a wrist injury.

“While we are disappointed for our team and our fans that our season is coming to an end, we understand and accept the league’s plan to move forward with 22 teams. It is important that we be a good teammate not only to the NBA, but to the other 29 teams to support the efforts to complete this season and prepare for next season in a healthy and safe manner,” president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said on Thursday after the league’s announcement.

Whether due to injuries or trades, the repeated disruptions during the season made the assessment of 34-year-old head coach Ryan Saunders difficult. First-timers aren’t typically hired without at least some commitment from the franchise to patience, but the Wolves are 36-70 under Saunders since he replaced the fired Tom Thibodeau halfway through the 2018-19 season. No NBA jobs are ever guaranteed.

Rosas, in his season-ending statement distributed by the team, appeared to apply some pressure on what will be for the Timberwolves a critical summer – and fall, since the draft has been pushed back to Oct. 15. Rosas promised an “intensive and thorough” program to help make up for the time lost to the shutdown. He also said Saunders and the rest of the staff would be “creative, aggressive and proactive” in approaching team building and player development in the meantime.

Here are some other key angles to follow as the offseason unfolds:

HEALING FIRST: Before the Timberwolves embark on the free agency and trading period, and enter the draft with two first-round selections, they could use some time simply for healing.

The city of Minneapolis became the epicenter for a nationwide wave of protest, anger and destruction after the death on May 25 of George Floyd, the black man who was handcuffed and pinned to the street by a white police officer who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck until and after he stopped breathing. Since then, Saunders and guard Josh Okogie have been particularly outspoken on the issue of racial justice, and they joined on Friday a group spearheaded by Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph to distribute essential goods to community members in need in front of a grocery store that was vandalized, looted and burned last week during the worst of the violence.

All this came after the organization was mourning the loss Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, the mother of Towns who died of complications from COVID-19 on April 13.

WHEELING AND DEALING: Rosas proved in his first year on the job that he could swiftly and thoroughly change the roster, making four trades in the span of less than a month that fetched nine new players and dealt nine others elsewhere, not to mention the draft picks that swapped hands. That was more than half of the roster. The linchpin of the early February activity was D’Angelo Russell, who was acquired in a deal with Golden State that sent former cornerstone Andrew Wiggins packing.

BETTER WITH BEASLEY?: The pairing of Towns and Russell gave Rosas the potential star duo he sought. Shooting guard Malik Beasley was another key acquisition during the flurry of activity, should the Timberwolves decide to keep him. The 23-year-old averaged 20.7 points in 14 games.

“We’re big fans of Malik. We tried hard. We paid a very, very strong premium to get him here in Minnesota, but we’re excited,” Rosas said.

WHAT’S NEXT: There are six players on the roster whose contracts are set to expire, with Beasley, power forward Juancho Hernangomez and power forward James Johnson the most notable.

Johnson, who at 33 is the oldest on the team, had a productive 14-game stretch after arriving from Miami during the trading spree. He has a player option he can exercise for about $16 million next season. Hernangomez, who is only 24, will be an unrestricted free agent. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound native of Spain averaged 12.9 points in 14 games with the Wolves, after coming with Beasley in the deal with Denver.

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

Leave a comment

Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.

Eight teams not headed to Orlando considering mini-camps, summer games to help players

Todd Kirkland/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nine months is a long time to go without playing a basketball game.

That’s what the eight teams not going to the NBA season restart in Orlando — Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Golden State, Minnesota, and New York — face. And for all of those teams except the Warriors, developing young players to be the future core of the franchise is their goal, and no games from March to December will set that effort back.

Which is why the teams are talking about “mini-camps” — think college spring football — with two teams at least playing each other during those camps, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Among the front-office ideas presented to the NBA, sources said:

• A combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts for two weeks in July.
• Regional minicamps in August that include joint practices for a period of days and approximately three televised games.

Those teams also want other “voluntary” team workouts and to start their training camps for next season earlier than the teams headed to Orlando.

The NBA isn’t going to grant teams everything on their wish list, but there should be some allowance for organized mini-camps and scrimmages/exhibitions. This would be particularly important to New York (and maybe Chicago), where a new coach will be installing a new system and trying to start a new culture.

Those eight teams missed out on 17 or so “meaningless” games with their season put on hold, games that would have meant something in terms of developing young players and giving guys key minutes. The league should — and almost certainly will — take steps to allow those off-season camps and scrimmages, helping teams get their player development programs back on track.