PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs clear top three

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The top two remain the same as last week (and likely will be in and around that area much of the season), but the Spurs have become a solid third in these rankings now, despite some questions they still have to answer. Still a lot of volatility in these early rankings, just ask the Rockets.

source: 1. Warriors (11-0, last week No. 1). If you want to nitpick their perfect record, they have only played one team over .500 (the Clippers). Part of racking up great regular season record is catching teams at the right time, and the Warriors have done just that with Houston and Memphis. Stephen Curry holds the record for most threes made in a season at 286 — he’s on pace for 424 this season.

source: 2. Cavaliers (8-2, LW 2). The Cavaliers have had a lot of slow starts followed by come-from-behind wins, something that has frustrated LeBron James. What may be more frustrating with LeBron are the struggles with his jumper — it’s not just the 26.2 percent from three this season, he was 6-of-12 from the free throw line in the loss to the Bucks.

source: 3. Spurs (7-2, LW 5). While their record has been fantastic and they are beating teams by more than 10 points per 100 possessions, it’s more due to great bench play and Kawhi Leonard rather than the starting five. The starting five of Tony Parker, Danny Green, Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan are -10.7 points per 100 possessions, and they are struggling with both their shots and defense.

source: 4. Clippers (6-4, LW 6). That they split a couple games without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick on the floor is a bit of a testament to their improved depth, but mostly it’s a testament to how well Blake Griffin is playing. Big showdown Thursday night against Golden State, that will be must watch.

source: 5. Thunder (6-4 LW 11). Kevin Durant says his hamstring is much improved and it sounds like he could be back sooner rather than later. Russell Westbrook threw up a couple triple-doubles without him in the lineup (of course), but this team is still 18.6 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents when those two are on the court together this season.

source: 6. Heat (6-3, LW 10). Miami has the second best defense in the NBA this season — didn’t see that coming, and it makes them the second best team in the East so far. We’ll see if they can sustain that level of D, they tweaked their system and they are trapping far less and the bigs are hanging back on the pick-and-roll. Three winnable games this week with Minnesota, Sacramento, and Philly.

source: 7. Raptors (7-4, LW 8). If you enjoy free throws, watch a Raptors game — they get to the line more than any other team in the league (which is a good way to get points, even if it’s not always thrilling to watch). Tough West Coast road trip this week with the Warriors, Jazz, and Clippers scheduled.

source: 8. Hawks (8-4, LW 3). Rough week going 1-3, but this team is still getting more out of Kent Bazemore than we expected (hopefully the sprained ankle he suffered Sunday is not serious). Our thoughts are with Mike Budenhozler’s wife, good to see him back on the bench Sunday and hear things are improving.

source: 9. Bulls (6-3, LW 13). This week we likely see a change to the Bulls starting lineup, with Joakim Noah starting and Nikola Mirotic coming off the bench (if it happens, Hoiberg is going last season’s starters of Noah and Pau Gasol up front, a lightly used combo this seson). I think their best lineup is Noah and Mitotic starting and Pau Gasol coming off the bench, but who knows if and when we might see that.

source: 10. Pacers (6-4, LW 16). Paul George may not like analytics, but the analytics love him — and he’s been in beast mode of late, hitting 41 percent from three. The Pacers will be without Myles Turner for a while due to his broken thumb (non-shooting hand, at least).

source: 11. Celtics (5-4, LW 20). They have the fourth best defense in the NBA this season, and that was key with wins over the Hawks and Thunder last week. Their offense is pedestrian but balanced, and that’s been good enough. Brad Stevens is a stud.

source: 12. Mavericks (6-4, LW 18). This is a team that lost Tyson Chandler in the offseason and has still become better on defense — they are 14th in the league in defensive rating and 3.8 points per 100 better than last season. We knew they could score (especially when they go small) but the solid defense has been the surprise.

source: 13. Jazz (5-5, LW 7). They went 0-3 without Rudy Gobert; then he was back from injury Sunday and while the Jazz defense wasn’t all the way back (the Hawks had an offensive rating of 106.1) Utah got the win on the road. Their heavy road schedule to open the season continues this week.

source: 14. Pistons (5-5, LW 4). Losers of four straight, including an ugly loss to the Lakers Sunday. Their offense can be a lot of Andre Drummond postups, and Synergy Sports tweeted out Saturday night that Detroit is getting 0.65 points per Drummond postup possession — that is not good. They need to find other offense to balance this out, not just Reggie Jackson.

source: 15. Wizards (4-4, LW 15). Well, they’re playing small more, but their offense remains middle of the pack and their defense has fallen off to bottom 10. They had three straight losses by 15 or more points, which is concerning, but they did get a nice win against Orlando.

<source: 16. Suns (5-4, LW 17). Eric Bledsoe has this team running again, with the second fastest pace in the league (which suits their talent such as Brandon Knight and T.J. Warren). Soft schedule this week, they need to bank some wins.

source: 17. Bucks (5-5, LW 19). They picked up a surprising, quality win against Cleveland, but the rest of their week was not near as impressive. They are getting healthy, we’ll see if that means they start to find their groove from last season.

source: 18. Hornets (5-5, LW 23). If you are looking ahead on your team’s schedule and think “Charlotte, that’s an easy win” you will be in for a rude awakening. They have the seventh best offense in the NBA, they don’t turn the ball over, and Jeremy Lin has been good in the sixth man roll (11.5 points per game).

source: 19. Nuggets (5-5, LW 25). They are playing over their heads a little right now, and that may well get exposed with their front line so banged up. Wilson Chandler and Jusuf Nurkic are out, while Kenneth Faried and Joffrey Lauvergne are banged up and questionable to play at the start of the week.

source: 20. Knicks (5-6, LW 24). Five wins already this season, they didn’t have that until mid-December last season — and if Kristaps Porzingis had gotten a shot off a tenth of a second earlier in Charlotte New York would be above .500. It helps to have Arron Afflalo back, but he is still shaking off the rust.

source: 21. Grizzlies (5-6, LW 22). This team has been getting outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions, which should have them at a 3-8 record. Their offense is 28th in the NBA and Marc Gasol looks a step slower this season, and he’s not making the plays he did in years past.

source: 22. Timberwolves (4-6,LW 14). How much do the Timberwolves miss the injured Ricky Rubio? It’s more than just the four straight losses while he’s been out. Minny’s regular starters with Rubio are +18.3 per 100, with Zach LaVine in his place they are -20.8. The defense with that group is 41.1 per 100 worse when LaVine is in for Rubio. The LaVine at the point experiment needs to end, he’s a two.

source: 23. Magic (5-6, LW 21). If you’re looking for an early contender for most improved player, look at Evan Fournier in Orlando — he’s averaging 18.8 points per game and shooting 35.8 percent from three. His true shooting percentage is up to 56.3 percent, but a lot of the jump from last season to this is getting nearly 10 more minutes a game on the court.

source: 24. Kings (4-7, LW 26). They have won three in a row and started to hit their stride, not coincidentally DeMarcus Cousins came back for those games and is beasting. The Kings had 9 of their first 11 games at home, now they head out on a five-game road trip.

source: 25. Trail Blazers (4-7, LW 12). They have become kind of what we expected — Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have carried the Blazers to the sixth best offense in the league, but they are 26th on defense (and Lillard/McCollum are at the heart of that, too).

source: 26. Rockets (4-6, LW 9). Losers of three straight and you can blame the defense — they are 29th in the league in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). They are getting outworked on the boards and they lack a glue guy, an effort guy (Trevor Ariza used to be that guy, and Patrick Beverley is out with a sprained ankle).

source: 27. Lakers (2-8, LW 27). While their defense isn’t good, it’s improved (now 21st in the league) and it showed Sunday against Detroit when they were able to get enough stops for a win. D’Angelo Russell has looked pretty good coming off the pick-and-roll in the half court, but he’s still looking for consistent offense. It’s going to take time (it would be nice to play him more late, though).

source: 28. Pelicans (1-9, LW 28). There rightfully is a lot of talk about the injuries (Norris Cole and Tyreke Evans are missed) and how the lack of shot creation has damaged the offense, but the bigger issue is the Pelicans have the worst defense in the NBA this season. GM Dell Demps secured Anthony Davis for years, but he has a lot of work to do to put a better team around him.

source: 29. Nets (1-9, LW 29). They almost picked up a win over Golden State over the weekend, but they didn’t execute down the stretch — and that’s why teams are 1-9. More Rondae Hollis-Jefferson please (they are much better with him on the court).

source: 30. 76ers (0-10, LW 30). When will the NBA’s only winless team pick up a victory? They host Dallas and Indiana this week (both teams playing pretty well) then head out on a six-game road trip. I expect somewhere on that road trip they catch a team on the right night, if not they host the Lakers on Dec. 1.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

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

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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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
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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
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“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.