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

10 Comments

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.

This Day in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes NBA’s all-time scoring leader

Leave a comment

It was fitting he did it with a skyhook.

On April 5, 1984, in a game against the Utah Jazz (played in a sold-out Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took a pass from Magic Johnson, swung left, and drained a hook shot that gave him career point No. 31,420, moving him past Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

The game stopped as the celebration ensued as Kareem’s teammates swarmed the captain. He was taken out of the game at that point, done for the night.

Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t done scoring, however. H retired five seasons later with 38,387 points, a record that stands to this day.

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t have home court, players forced to workout with what they have

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo is spending much of his time during the coronavirus-imposed hiatus working out, helping care for his newborn son and playing occasional video games.

What the reigning MVP isn’t doing very often is shooting baskets since the NBA has closed team practice facilities.

“I don’t have access to a hoop,” the Milwaukee Bucks forward said Friday during a conference call. “A lot of NBA players might have a court in their house or something, I don’t know, but now I just get my home workouts, (go) on the bike, treadmill, lift weights, stay sharp that way.”

The hiatus is forcing thousands of athletes, pro and otherwise, to work out from home as they try to keep in shape. Equipment varies from player to player, too.

“It all comes down to what they have and what they’re capable of doing,” Atlanta Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “We can do a lot of body weight stuff. That’s how they stay ready. That’s the most I can offer as a coach for them to stay ready. I can’t say ‘Hey, can you find access to a gym?’ That would be bad management on my part.”

For instance, Pierce said Hawks guard Kevin Huerter has access to a gym in New York and guard Jeff Teague owns a gym in Indiana.

Other players face different situations.

“I’ve seen LeBron’s Instagram,” Pierce said of Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James. “LeBron has a house with a full weight room and he has an outdoor court. He’s got a different reality right now that gives him a little more access to continue the normal. (Hawks rookie) Cam Reddish lives in an apartment and it’s probably a two-bedroom apartment. He can’t go in the apartment weight room because it’s a public facility. So he’s limited in all things.”

Bucks coach Mike Budenhlolzer said he wanted his players to focus on keeping their bodies in shape and conceded that logistics surrounding the pandemic would make it tougher for them to do any basketball-specific activities.

The Bucks are still finding ways to stay sharp.

Bucks players said team officials have made sure they all have the necessary exercise equipment. Antetokounmpo noted the Bucks also had a catering company bring food to make sure they maintain a proper diet. Center Brook Lopez said workout plans have been sent to them via a phone app.

“They’ve done a really good job of getting everything taken care of and still having tailored workouts for each individual player despite the situation,” Lopez said.

But it’s difficult for them to work on their shooting without access to a court.

“Since the practice facility is closed down, I don’t have any access to a basketball goal unless I go to one of my neighbors’ houses and shoot outside,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said. “There’s really no basketball for me. It’s basically like Giannis said. Treadmill, jump rope, some weights and that’s it. I have a couple of basketballs I can dribble in my house or outside, but no actual goal to shoot on.”

Pierce noted that Huerter recently asked him when players would be able to get back into the Hawks’ practice facility.

“I told him, ‘I’ll tell you when we won’t,” Pierce said. “We won’t in April.”

Rumor: If there aren’t big changes to Chicago’s plan, Lauri Markkanen ready to move on

Steven Ryan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

NBC Sports Chicago recently reached out to members of the media — myself included — as well as doing a fan poll asking a simple question: Which young Bull has the highest upside?

My answer fell in with the majority (of both media and fans) in picking Coby White, but it was difficult not to select Lauri Markkanen. Seven-footers who move well and can shoot the three like Markkanen are incredibly valuable and hard to find, but this past season he often seemed a combination of lost and passive in Jim Boylen’s offense. Markkanen has regressed under Boylen.

Markkanen apparently felt the same way. If there are not significant changes and a better use of his skills, Markkanen would be happier somewhere else, reports Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Make no mistake about it, third-year big man Lauri Markkanen was one unhappy camper before the coronavirus put the NBA on hiatus. Unhappy enough that if the direction of the organization was going to stay unchanged, he’d rather be elsewhere.

Change is coming to the windy city, the question is will that be enough change, or at least enough to find a better way to use Markkanen? Chicago just started its search for a new person to head up their basketball operations, with several deserving executives expected to be interviewed. The questions become: Will the person hired have the power to make real changes to the Bulls culture? Is Boylen safe or will there be a new coach? Change is coming to Chicago, but how much change?

The Bulls still control Markkanen’s rights. This was Markkanen’s third season with the Bulls, he is technically eligible for a contract extension this summer but that seems unlikely. More likely is he plays one more year with the Bulls before going to restricted free agency. Or, the new head of basketball operations thinks he can trade Markkanen and get back players that fit whatever style the team is going to play.

There are more questions than answers about what is next in Chicago, including if Markkanen will be part of that future.

ESPN plans televised H-O-R-S-E competition between isolated NBA players

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Friday night started ESPN’s broadcast of an NBA 2K tournament between NBA players. The network also has bumped up the release date of its much-anticipated Michael Jordan documentary.

Next up on its quest to find content in a locked-down sports world:

A televised H-O-R-S-E competition, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Discussions have been ongoing among the NBA, NBPA and ESPN about a competition among several players in isolation — presumably using home gyms — that would include them competing shot for shot in the traditional playground game, sources said.

Details — including a schedule and specific player involvement — are still being finalized.

What else have we got to do, re-watch Tiger King? Let’s make this happen, people.

There have been some rumblings about trying to spice up All-Star Saturday night with a H-O-R-S-E competition to go with the Dunk Contest and the rest, but it has not become a reality. With no other sports programming to put on its multiple channels, this seems like a good gamble by ESPN.