PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Thunder teams to chase early

7 Comments

It’s small sample size theater — the first few weeks of PBT’s NBA power rankings always see a lot of volatility as teams we over/under rated climb and fall. We try to see through it, but expect more shakeups in the coming weeks. That said, the top and the bottom of the list remain solid.

 
source:  1. Warriors (3-0, last week No. 1). Stephen Curry looks more explosive and is finishing better when he gets in the paint. Which is scary. This week he averaged 39.3 points per game on 58.8 percent shooting. Although he did that going against Nate Robinson, Toney Douglas and Ish Smith for two games (vs. Pelicans), he and the Warriors face better tests this week with the Grizzlies and Clippers.

 
source:  2. Thunder (3-0 LW 2). Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook look in mid-season form and with those two you know their offense is elite. The Thunder defense did not look tight for the first couple games, although it looked better against Denver Sunday. Dion Waiters has looked decent, didn’t see that coming.

 
source:  3. Clippers (3-0, LW 5). Blake Griffin has been a beast through three games, averaging 32 points per game on 64 percent shooting, although he was not matched up vs. the toughest competition. That changes when they travel to Golden State Wednesday. Personally, I’m not sold on Lance Stephenson as a starter.

 
source:  4. Cavaliers (2-1, LW 4). It’s just three games, but the Cavaliers have the third best defense in the NBA the first week, allowing just 90.3 points per 100 possessions. If that continues, watch out. They are beating teams by an average of 13.4 points per 100 possessions (despite the opening night loss in Chicago).

 
source:  5. Spurs (2-1, LW 3). Their defense has looked good (allowing just 90 points per 100 possessions) and LaMarcus Aldridge has been a big part of that. The offense is coming around with more Kawhi Leonard — who has looked like a beast — and Aldridge (24 points on Sunday).

 
source:  6. Raptors (3-0, LW 11). DeMarre Carroll has looked been worth the big contract so far, bringing the Raptors defense into the top 10 and shooting 8-of-19 from three. They beat up on middle of the pack teams in the East last week, this week Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Miami provide better tests.

 
source:  7. Pistons (3-0, LW 18). I picked them to make the playoffs, but their defense has been better than anyone expected (92.8 points per 100 possessions, sixth best in the young season). Andre Drummond looks like a franchise cornerstone in the paint. Losing Jodie Meeks for 3-4 months hurts, he is the kind of reliable veteran shooter they need on the roster.

 
source:  8. Grizzlies (2-1, LW 7). Their only loss was to the Cavaliers, you can forgive that.It’s worth noting their defense wasn’t that great the first week, but this is likely more sample size than anything else. Outside shooting still an issue in Memphis, same as it ever was.

 
source:  9. Bulls (2-1, LW 9). Through three games they are fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency but 20th in offense. Sounds familiar. Fred Holberg is still playing with lineups and while some work — not playing Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah is good, more Mitotic is good — some of his defensive lineups can’t score enough.

 
source:  10. Wizards (2-1, LW 10). They are playing smaller and faster, John Wall and Bradley Beal have looked pretty good. However, the small ball has not translated to better defense — 99.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, 18th in the league.

 
source:  11. Hawks (3-1, LW 12). Kent Bazemore doesn’t do everything DeMarre Carroll did on defense, but he is scoring for them — 19.5 points a game in the last two and shooting 53.8 percent from three for the season — plus using his length on defense. Rebounding remains an issue in Atlanta.

 
source:  12. Heat (2-1, LW 8). That comeback against Houston had to feel good, as did seeing Hassan Whiteside put up big offensive numbers. Justise Winslow showed his potential guarding a (slumping) James Harden as well. Their offense is top five in the NBA already, and Goran Dragic has yet to look comfortable.

 
source:  13. Jazz (2-1, LW 14). Rudy Gobert is living up to the hype early on — through three games opponents are shooting 29.7 percent against him at the rim. The Jazz have the best defense in the NBA early are playing like a good traditional defensive team, keeping the pace at the slowest in the NBA.

 
<source:  14. Suns (2-1, LW 16). Phoenix has a couple wins but that has something to do with playing Portland twice in the first week, I’m hesitant to read much into it. The Clippers, Kings, Pistons and Thunder are up this week and that will provide us a better gauge for where this team is in the pecking order.

 
source:  15. Mavericks (2-1, LW 17). Wesley Matthews is back and moving fairly well, hitting threes, and now Chandler Parsons is back on the wing in a limited role. Coach Rick Carlisle said he was pleased with the first week (all the games were on the road) and he likes them if they can just stay healthy. If they do keep out of the training room they will be in contention for a playoff spot in the West.

source:  16. Timberwolves (2-0,LW 24). Great stat from Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders: Karl-Anthony Towns had 46 points and 26 rebounds total through two games, the only other players to do that in their first two games in the lat 40 years are Artis Gilmore, David Robinson, and Dikembe Mutombo. Nice company to keep.

 
source:  17. Knicks (2-1, LW 27). The triangle has some form this young season as the Knicks offense is averaging 107 points per 100 possessions (third best in the league). Carmelo Anthony had the Wizards’ circled on the schedule (remember Jared Dudley said he was overrated) but is shooing just 41 percent this season. Kristaps Porzingis has been decent.

 
source:  18. Kings (1-2, LW 20). The Kings have started big but have played a lot of smaller ball with Rudy Gay at the four — and Rajon Rondo has seemed comfortable with that. They looked pretty good — both their losses were to the Clippers and they hung around in those games.

 
source:  19. Rockets (0-3, LW 6). This ranking may be too high — that was a terrible week of basketball, all three losses by more than 20. They can’t continue like this, can they? James Harden isn’t going to continue to shoot 22 percent, is he? The defense isn’t going to just keep taking quarters off, is it? Not an easy week to turn things around with Oklahoma City and the Clippers both on the docket.

 
source:  20. Celtics (1-2, LW 21). You could see the limitations of their star-less offense against the Spurs Sunday — they kept it close late, but while LaMarcus Aldridge abused Jared Sullinger on the block, the Celtics had no way to get easy buckets of their own. Their defense is good but the offense is struggling (24th in the NBA the first week).

 
source:  21. Nuggets (1-2, LW 26). Watch a little Denver and the biggest issue becomes clear — they need more outside shooting. They have decent playmakers with Emmanuel Mudiay and Danilo Gallinari, but you don’t need to fear anyone else on this team from the outside and that messes with their spacing.

 
source:  22. Trail Blazers (1-2, LW 29). They got a win because C.J. McCollum went off against a struggling Pelicans team on the second night of a back-to-back, and that’s what it’s going to take for this team to get wins — someone has to have a monster offensive night. Damian Lillard may lead the league in usage rate this season.

 
source:  23. Magic (0-3, LW 22). They are the best 0-3 team in the league, all three losses were close and the team is showing promised. They played Oklahoma City tight in overtime and matched big shots with them for a while. Expect the wins to start coming this week.

 
source:  24. Pelicans (0-3, LW 13). Already Nate Robinson is gone and Toney Douglas is in as the Pelicans scramble to find any help at the point. So far it has not been near enough. More concerning than their defense looking scrambled (playing the Warriors twice already doesn’t help) is that Anthony Davis has looked lost at times on both ends and is not taking the superstar step forward we expected.

 
source:  25. Hornets (0-3, LW 23). To their credit they have battled back to make two of their three losses close, with Kemba Walker getting a shot to tie (and missing them). Going to be difficult to get their first win this week with the Bulls, Mavericks, and Spurs on the docket.

 
source:  26. Pacers (0-3, LW 19). Their offense has struggled as both Monta Ellis (PER of 4.4) and Paul George have not been efficient at all. Their defense hasn’t been good whether they played small or big. They have come apart in the second halves of games. There’s just a lot of reasons for concern for Pacers’ fans, who were dreaming playoffs.

 
source:  27. Bucks (0-2, LW 15). What happened to the Bucks’ defense? Last season they got to the playoffs on the back of their length and ball pressure, this season they are giving up a league-worst 117.1 points per 100 possessions. The defensive rotations seem slow out on the perimeter and opponents are shooting 46.4 percent from three against them. This team misses Jabari Parker.

 
source:  28. Lakers (0-3, LW 25). The headlines are Kobe Bryant’s harsh assessment of his own game, but having watched the Lakers in person now is the bigger problem is their defense is terrible — and it’s equally as bad with Roy Hibbert on or off the court. Their transition, and their pick-and-roll defense was terrible. If you want a bright spot, Dirk Nowitzki said this about Julius Randle, “He puts the ball on the floor like no other power forward in the league.”

 
source:  29. Nets (0-3, LW 28). The three-point revolution is not coming to Brooklyn. At least not yet. They are averaging a league-low 12.7 three point attempts per game, and they are shooting just 21.1 percent on those.

 
source:  30. 76ers (0-0, LW 30). Jahlil Okafor has been fine (he needs to attack more, take fewer jumpers), but as you would expect the rookie is struggling some with double-teams — and he’s going to see a lot of them because who else do you fear on this roster. The defense that was close to league average last year is off to a slow start this season as well.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
0 Comments

Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
0 Comments

In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
Matteo Marchi/Getty Images
0 Comments

“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.

New coach, new attitude, but will that fix Lakers defense, Westbrook fit?

Los Angeles Lakers Media Day 2022
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Darvin Ham was the new face at the front of the room, and since the day he walked in the door he has been about looking forward and a clean slate. The Lakers own tabula rasa.

“This year, we’ve turned the page, you know, we’re looking out the windshield, not so much through the rearview mirror,” coach Ham said.

However, at Lakers’ media day everyone kept looking backward — to the team’s poor defense and questionable fit of Russell Westbrook last season.

Can a new face at the front of the room, a new focus, and some better luck with injuries wipe away that past and make the Lakers a threat in the West again?

“I think everyone here has a chip [on their shoulder], and in every right, obviously, [after last] season, last year,” another newcomer, Patrick Beverley, said. “Everyone wants a little bit of oomph, a little bit of you know, more of whatever it is.”

For Ham, “whatever it is” means defense. On Monday, Ham was preaching defense again. Like he has incessantly since the day the Lakers hired him — he is hanging his hat, his rotations, and the Lakers’ chances on an intense defense.

Of course, Frank Vogel preached defense, too. He is a defensive coach. When the Lakers won the title in 2020 they had the third-best defense in the NBA, the following season it was the best defense in the league. Vogel’s message and the team’s focus on that end got lost last season for various reasons. The Lakers fell to the bottom 10 in the league on that end of the floor. It cost Vogel his job.

Ham tied last season’s defensive concerns and Westbrook’s fit in the rotation together — if you don’t defend, you don’t play. That includes the $47 million former MVP guard.

“We got to have a defensive mindset,” Ham said. “Those are the guys that’s going to get the minutes, guys going out there to get stops. And… [Westbrook has] told me personally, he’s going to commit to that side of the ball.

“And that’s what camp is for. We’ll see.”

Ham would not commit to Westbrook as a starter. That comes after the Lakers spent the summer trying to find a trade for Westbrook, to move on from last season’s frustrations, but any deal had to bring value back to the Lakers. That really never came close to happening (there wasn’t a great market for Westbrook’s services at his current price tag). So Westbrook is back.

“Whether they want me here or not doesn’t really matter,” Westbrook said. “Honestly, my job is to be professional, show up to work like I’ve always done thus far, do my job the best way I know how to, and that’s it. We’ve all had jobs that sometimes people at our jobs don’t like us or don’t want us there, as you guys can probably attest to, and any other job across the world. As a professional and as a working man I have to do my job and do it the best way I know how to be able to support and take of my family, and that’s what I’ll do.”

The awkwardness of Westbrook’s fit was a structural one — he has been a ball-dominant scorer his entire NBA career, and the Lakers are asking him to play a role now. He’s not their best shot creator, he will be standing in the corners at times. That’s not in the nature of the aggressive, confident Westbrook, and Vogel could never strike a balance.

“We’re telling Russ be yourself like we need you to be yourself. I tell him that before every game, like be yourself,” Anthony Davis said. “Because I didn’t want him thinking too much like, ‘Oh, I gotta get the ball LeBron or AD’ and now he’s being passive and not being aggressive, which is who he has been in his league to be Russell Westbrook. And I think the more he does that, we can adjust.”

Ham, however, has talked about running the offense more through Davis — this is a critical year in his time with the Lakers — and, of course, nobody is taking the ball out of LeBron’s hands.

“My thing is offensively, we want to play fast, want to be physical and play free. And fast meaning our running habits, getting AD on that left block, getting Bron around the elbow area,” Ham said. “There’s a variety of sets that we have planned to install that’s going to highlight their strengths, get Russ in post more.”

Westbrook said all the right things about fitting in. Again.

“I’ll continue doing what’s best for the team doing whatever that is asked of me,” Westbrook said. “I’ll continue doing that. And in those parameters I’ll be the best person I could possibly be.”

Westbrook said all the right things a year ago to LeBron and Davis, then his fit with the Lakers was never smooth last season. Will it really change this season? To quote Ham, “we’ll see.”

Each of the Lakers big three talked about just needing more time together healthy (for the record, the Lakers had a -3 net rating last season when all three shared the court). They jumpstarted the process this summer with conversations, but they all said it was just a matter of time.

“With all of us you know our time on the floor together was very limited because of injuries for myself and Bron but I think that was that was really it,” Davis said. “We just didn’t have enough reps.”

Injuries have been an issue. Davis spent the summer getting healthy and stronger, trying to be on the court more and carry a larger load. LeBron echoed that idea.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham’s media day message was not a new one, it’s what he’s been saying — defense, accountability, a team mindset. The question, looking back to last season, is fit. Ham has talked to Westbrook about those things and has been the guard’s most vocal supporter. Russ is going to get his chance.

“Everything has been about you know, being selfless, being team-oriented, having a defensive mindset and holding [Westbrook] to that — words that came out of his own mouth,” Ham said.

Roster changes could come in Los Angeles. They didn’t this summer — at least with the core players — because GM Rob Pelinka would not send out both picks the Lakers can trade (2027 and 2029) for any deal that didn’t make Los Angeles a contender. Asked bout that, Pelinka noted he gets one swing at this and it has to be a home run.

“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Pelinka said. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

In the short term, that improvement falls to Ham and the Lakers roster. They are saying all the right things about looking forward.

But will the ghosts of seasons past haunt them again? We’ll see.