PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Hawks, Pistons impressing early

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It’s Golden State then everyone else right now, but after that we have some good teams from the East making noise — Detroit, Atlanta, and, of course, Cleveland. We’re still just a couple weeks into the season so still a lot of volatility in the standings, things likely start to stabilize going forward.

 
source:  1. Warriors (7-0, last week No. 1). One sign of Golden State’s early dominance: It is beating teams by an average of 19.1 points per 100 possessions, which is 10.3 more than the second place team (Utah). If you’re searching for flaws, they did blow double-digit leads to the Clippers and Kings and had to hang on for wins. But they did.

 
source:  2. Cavaliers (6-1, LW 4). Slow starts have not kept this team from a six-game winning streak. Kevin Love has flown a little under the radar but is averaging 17 points and 12.6 boards a game, he looks far more comfortable in their offense (at least until Kyrie Irving returns), plus his defense looks improved and more focused.

 
source:  3. Hawks (7-1, LW 11). They have won seven in a row after their opening night loss, making those of us that predicted a step back look bad. Kent Bazemore has been great, and while this team is not beating the cream of the league so far, it’s beating the teams it needs to beat in the East (Charlotte twice, for example).

 
source:  4. Pistons (5-1, LW 7). Stan Van Gundy looks smart for his $80 million bet on Reggie Jackson to go next to Andre Drummond right now. When Jackson and Drummond are on the court together the Pistons have an offensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions, and they are +18.8 points per 100. Drummond is averaging 20-20 through six games, which is ridiculous.

 
source:  5. Spurs (4-2, LW 5). The Spurs have a top 10 offense and defense (the sign of a true contender), but that offense is living in the midrange and you have to wonder if they can sustain it at this level. It’s fine if it’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan taking those shots, right now Kawhi Leonard is taking a lot of midrange jumpers knocking down 50 percent of them. Can he keep that up?

 
source:  6. Clippers (4-2, LW 3). Blake Griffin is not getting enough credit for a ridiculously good start to the season. He’s averaging 29.3 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 64.1 percent, he’s grabbing 9.7 boards a game, dishing out 4.2 assists, and has a PER of 32.8. He was amazing in the playoffs last season and has carried that over.

 
source:  7. Jazz (4-2, LW 13). They have the second best net rating in the league, a sign that this power ranking may have them too low — and that they can sustain the fast early start. Remember that this team picked up Derrick Favors in the Deron Williams trade — Favors has been fantastic for them this season, that move looks brilliant now.

 
source:  8. Raptors (5-2, LW 6). They picked up a quality win against OKC but have lost two in a row, and that come-from-ahead loss to Miami Sunday showed how much they miss DeMarre Carroll (out with plantar fasciitis, that is going to take a while to get right). Soft schedule this week should help them get back in a groove.

 
source:  9. Rockets (4-3, LW 19). James Harden is back in his groove — back-to-back 40 point games — and the Rockets have won four in a row. Harden has taken over the offense again, there is less Ty Lawson. We’ll see if there is an effort to balance out the offensive load going forward (they can do it against lesser teams, the Rockets needed these wins and this Harden after the slow start).

 
source:  10. Heat (4-3, LW 12). This is a deep team getting great production out of their bench, which includes Justise Winslow stepping right in and looking good on defense (teams will regret passing on him in the draft). Miami is in in a seven-game homestand, which Dwyane Wade’s knees appreciates.

 
source:  11. Thunder (4-3 LW 2). They have a net rating (+7.2 per 100) that suggests OKC will climb these rankings and not have three-game losing streaks often. However, this is still a team with a bottom 10 defense and that is in large part about their bench. It has to improve to challenge the elite of the West.

 
source:  12. Trail Blazers (4-3, LW 22). It’s not hard to picture how Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum could power the Trail Blazers to the league’s fourth best offense because of their ability to shoot the three off the pick-and-roll, but their defense being 11th this young season is why they are above .500 (but will teams keep missing threes against them?).

 
source:  13. Bulls (4-3, LW 9). Both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler said one of the problems in their losses this season (such as the one to Minnesota) is just a lack of consistent effort, especially on defense. This isn’t Thibodeau’s world anymore, guys are going to have to be professional and motivate themselves. They are talking about starting Joakim Noah over Nikola Mitotic, who has struggled the last three games (but I still don’t like the move).

source:  14. Timberwolves (3-2,LW 16). This team could be in the mix for a playoff spot in the West if they keep playing this way. Karl Anthony-Towns is a better defender in the paint as a rookie than expected, Ricky Rubio is underrated at that end, and their starters lock teams down. Good tests this week with the Hawks, Warriors, Pacers, and Grizzlies on the docket.

 
source:  15. Wizards (3-3, LW 10). Reports are Bradley Beals injury is not serious, which is good as he’s played at a near All-Star level and losing him would be a massive blow. This team drops off badly when John Wall sits, which is an issue. By the way, some guy named Durant comes to town this week.

 
source:  16. Pacers (3-4, LW 26). Paul George has put up impressive numbers the past three games — when he started at the small forward spot rather than as a power forward. They have won three of four, including over Miami and Detroit. This team could go on a run of wins when you look at the schedule ahead.

 
<source:  17. Suns (3-3, LW 14). A tough schedule last week (losses to the Clippers, Pistons, and Thunder) showed this team has a pretty good defense but is struggling to find spacing and put points on the board at the other end. The bench has not lived up to expectations and Jeff Hornacek is searching for rotations he likes.

 
source:  18. Mavericks (3-3, LW 15). Dirk Nowitzki seems to have found the fountain of youth, scoring 17 points a game with a ridiculous 61.7 percent true shooting percentage, plus he’s shooting 50 percent from three. Dwight Powell has been a great find, averaging 11.3 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting off the bench.

 
source:  19. Bucks (4-3, LW 27). Jabari Parker is back, and while he looks rusty it’s just good to see him back out on the court. Almost as importantly, John Henson is back and that has helped the Bucks’ defense look closer to last year’s levels.

 
source:  20. Celtics (2-3, LW 20). Isaiah Thomas has looked good as a starter for Marcus Smart, and he showed some chemistry with Jared Sullinger. Their strong defense and good net rating (+3.1, 10th best in the league) suggests this team will climb the ladder (and I have them ranked too low).

 
source:  21. Magic (3-4, LW 23). Those four losses are by a combined 14 total points, and two games have gone to overtime. Elfrid Payton’s shooting woes are still an issue dragging down the Orlando offense when he plays.

 
source:  22. Grizzlies (3-4, LW 8). This team’s record is better than they have been playing — Memphis has a bottom 10 offense and defense. The bench units (with Jeff Green at the four) have been unimpressive (to put it kindly). The GM said coach Dave Joerger is not on the hot seat, but if this team keeps falling someone will pay the price. Their schedule the next couple weeks is brutal.

 
source:  23. Hornets (2-4, LW 25). Quality win over the Bulls and they are the fourth best offense in the NBA at 104.6 points per 100 possessions. They are shooting the ball very well, particularly Kemba Walker, and as a team they are shooting 36.3 percent as three. Impressive, but can they sustain this is the question.

 
source:  24. Knicks (3-4, LW 17). Kristaps Porzingis has provided more as a rookie than most scouts expected (even Lakers’ coach Byron Scott admitted as much). And Porzingis has mastered the putback dunk. But why is Sasha Vujacic getting so much run? I know Arron Afflalo is still out injured (he could return this week) but has Fisher actually watched Vujacic? Play Langston Galloway instead.

 
source:  25. Nuggets (2-4, LW 21). They are more fun to watch and more successful going small with Danilo Gallinari at the five and Kenneth Faried at the four, but they miss Wilson Chandler in that lineup. Joffrey Lauvergne has looked good in his limited minutes per night, but they miss Jusuf Nurkic as well up front.

 
source:  26. Kings (1-6, LW 18). DeMarcus Cousins missing time with injury isn’t the only issue, the Kings’ offense is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better when Rajon Rondo sits (and the defense is 11.9 per 100 better). Rondo isn’t going to lose time to Darren Collison in the short term because Collison is battling a hamstring injury.

 
source:  27. Lakers (1-5, LW 28). They picked up a win against Brooklyn, Byron Scott has tweaked the rotation to get better defense off the bench (meaning some Metta World Peace, who played okay on D), but the defense is still second worst in the NBA. The Lakers need to focus on player development ahead of wins, which should be obvious but their rotations suggest it’s not the case. They are on the road a lot for the next few weeks.

 
source:  28. Pelicans (0-6, LW 24). Anthony Davis is certainly playing better, but the injured Pelicans can’t get a win. Their defense is a disaster. The Pelicans will get it together at one point, but the concern remains the same — will it be too early to dig out of the hole and make the playoffs?

 
source:  29. Nets (0-7, LW 29). Two things are keeping the Nets from falling to last in these rankings: They get Brook Lopez back Wednesday, plus the woeful Sixers. But the Nets have played the softest schedule in the NBA this young season and their offense is just ugly. And dull.

 
source:  30. 76ers (0-6, LW 30). If you want points, Jahlil Okafor has looked good, scoring 19.7 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting. His jumper is legit, and he can put the ball on the floor. He and Nerlens Noel are showing some real potential this young season.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.

Zion, Nash, Davis: Seven players, coaches who enter NBA season under pressure

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Every NBA season comes with pressure — the pressure to win, the pressure of fan emotions and expectations, and for players the pressure that this is their livelihood. There is real pressure to stick in the NBA and earn that handsome paycheck.

But some players and coaches enter this season under more pressure than others.

Here are seven players and coaches who are under added pressure this season.

Anthony Davis

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.”

That was new Lakers coach Darvin Ham talking about Anthony Davis — the lynchpin to everything Ham hopes to do in Los Angeles. As he said, LeBron James will be LeBron (read: elite, even at age 37), and Russell Westbrook will be Russell Westbrook (he’s saying all the right things, but…), but if the Lakers are going to be any threat in the West it starts with Davis. Ham needs the Davis from the bubble — healthy, elite defender, playmaker, solid midrange jump shot — because he plans to run the offense through AD.

More than just this season, the Lakers have to come to a decision: Is Davis the No.1 option they can turn the franchise over to after LeBron steps away? Can he physically carry that burden and not break down? Davis can be one of the game’s elites, but is he ready to carry the Lakers franchise? Their future direction depends on that answer.

Zion Williamson

The acquisition of CJ McCollum last season helped bring the Pelicans together. They made a push into the playoffs with a solid core of McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, Larry Nance, Devonte' Graham and others. Watching New Orleans you couldn’t help but think, “If Zion Williamson were healthy…”

Now we get to find out. Williamson is reportedly in the best shape of his life (take all offseason conditioning comments with a shaker of salt) and ready to resume his role as a No.1 offensive option and maybe the best interior scorer in the game. The pressure of getting paid is off Williamson — he got his max extension — but the pressure of living up to it is just starting.

Steve Nash

When your star player says “him or me” during the offseason — even if that ultimatum gets rescinded — you enter the season under a microscope. Nash would have been getting a close look even if Kevin Durant didn’t drag his name into his offseason drama — there are plenty of front office people around the league not convinced Nash is up to the task in Brooklyn. There is enormous pressure on this team to get things right — to avoid a meltdown — and if things go at all sideways in Brooklyn Nash will be the fall guy. His seat is already warm.

Kyrie Irving

While we’re in Brooklyn… Ben Simmons is the logical first name to pop into your head when thinking of players under pressure with the Nets — and with good reason. We haven’t seen him on an NBA court in over a year and his play and fit are critical to the Nets’ hopes of contending. But there is another player who faces real contract pressure in Brooklyn.

Kyrie Irving wanted a trade out of Brooklyn this summer, the Nets said “go ahead and find one,” and Irving found his market was not nearly as deep and strong as he expected (the Lakers were interested, and he reportedly was interested in them, but any trade would have involved Russell Westbrook and got too tricky). Irving is in a contract year now and there is pressure on him to remind everyone that, when focused and committed, he is an All-NBA point guard and game changer. But will he stay focused and committed this season?

Tom Thibodeau

Knicks president Leon Rose came out this week in a softball-filled interview on MSG Network and backed his coach. When asked if Thibodeau was under pressure, Rose said, “I don’t see it that way at all. The way I say it is we’re continuing with the plan.” Nothing went according to plan with the Knicks last season. While not all of that was Thibodeau’s fault — he didn’t cause Julius Randle‘s shooting regression — if things get off to another slow start after spending money on Jalen Brunson this summer, somebody is going to have to pay the price. Thibodeau’s job may not be as secure as Rose tries to paint.

James Harden

James Harden is positioned to have a monster regular season. He’s asked to be more of a playmaker, get the ball to MVP candidate Joel Embiid, put Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris in positions to thrive, and score a few points in there as well. Harden could be poised for an All-NBA level regular season — and then the playoffs start. That’s where the pressure is. Harden’s long history of playoff foibles (including some flat outings against the Heat last year) will be under a microscope this season because Daryl Morey has built a team of solid role players — this team is good enough. It’s up to Harden (and Embiid) to prove he can also be an elite player in the postseason.

Kawhi Leonard

Steve Ballmer has paid an enormous… well, it’s chump change to him, but it’s still an enormous amount of money to turn the Clippers from league laughing stock into a respected franchise (sorry, it’s true Lakers fans). These Clippers are contenders. But that title contention rests on the shoulders of Kawhi Leonard. He has to both be healthy and play like the guy who helped lift the Raptors to a title. If Leonard and Paul George are healthy and playing like their All-NBA selves come the postseason the Clippers are a massive threat — two-way wings win playoff series and the Clippers would have two of them. It’s just on Leonard (and Paul) to be that guy.