PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Picking No. 1, No. 30 very easy, after that….

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The top three in the rankings remain the same teams, although two and three switched spots, but after them there is still a lot of volatility in the rankings, and a lot of surprises. The Clippers fell fast after an ugly week, while Dallas is on the rise. And right now, the East is the stronger conference top to bottom.

 
source:  1. Warriors (15-0, last week No. 1). They have tied the record for fastest start ever by an NBA team. The Warriors’ small-ball lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green — has played 56 minutes this season and is outscoring opponents by 70.8 points per 100 possessions. They are scoring 160.9 per 100.

 
source:  2. Spurs (10-3, LW 3). They have been the clear second best team in the NBA this young season (based on net point differential), and after a slow first handful of games to the season the Spurs’ starting five has found it’s groove of late (+33 per 100 last three games).

 
source:  3. Cavaliers (10-3, LW 2). LeBron James struggled from the outside to start the season, but in his last four games is shooting 47.5 percent on them. So that’s back. Kyrie Irving is doing more and more in practice, but there is still no timetable for his return (think Christmas present for Cavs fans).

 
source:  4. Heat (8-4, LW 6). They have strung together wins during a homestead (5-1), but games such as the need for a furious fourth quarter rally to beat the Sixers make me question how good this team really is. That said, the defense is still carrying the Heat and keeping them in games (the offense has been a bit flat).

 
source:  5. Thunder (8-6 LW 5). They have gone 3-3 without Kevin Durant, who is expected to return this week. Russell Westbrook is putting up crazy numbers, including 31 and 11 on Dallas Sunday in a big win for OKC. Reggie Jackson returns to OKC this week with the Pistons, for whom he is playing very well.

 
source:  6. Mavericks (9-5, LW 12). They were on a six-game winning streak until Sunday’s loss. Deron Williams is having a bounce-back season in Dallas, not all the way back to All-Star form but back to quality point guard form. His shooting has improved and the key reason is he’s finishing better inside 10 feet than a year ago.

 
source:  7. Raptors (8-6, LW 7). Losing center Jonas Valanciunas for the next six weeks is really going to hurt: while there is a lot of noise in the numbers, Toronto has outscored opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions when he plays, but gets outscored by 4.8 per 100 when he sits. Their offense and defense are worse without him, but especially the offense.

 
source:  8. Bulls (8-4, LW 9). Winners of four in a row, which included a dramatic win over the Pacers with Jimmy Butler blocking Paul George on the final shot. That was big in a crowded East. Fred Hoiberg still struggling to find lineups that can give him both offense and defense (for example, Tony Snell helps the defense and kills the offense).

 
source:  9. Pacers (8-5, LW 10). They have gone 8-2 in their last 10 and have been playing great defense, but that will be put to the test as they have five of their next eight on the road. Indiana faces Chicago and Washington this week, the kinds of teams they need to beat to climb up the conference standings.

 
source:  10. Hawks (9-6, LW 8). The Hawks were in a soft part of the schedule and still found a way to go 5-5 in their last 10, including a loss to Brooklyn. It’s about to get tougher with Boston then a swing through the West including Minnesota and San Antonio.

 
source:  11. Celtics (7-6, LW 11). Avery Bradley has been a defensive beast off the bench, with a personal defensive rating of 85.7 (points allowed per 100 possessions), which is good because he moves into the starting lineup the next few weeks with Marcus Smart out injured.

 
source:  12. Knicks (8-6, LW 20). Kristaps Porzingis mania in New York is not at Linsanity levels, but it’s climbing fast. With good reason. KP6 has become first player in NBA history with more than 180 points, 120 rebounds, 20 blocks and 10 hit threes through his first 14 games.

 
source:  13. Wizards (6-4, LW 15). There is a real clump in the middle of the East, but we may start to see where the Wizards fit in that group with this week’s schedule: Pacers, at Hornets, at Celtics, Raptors. The Wizards starters need to play better if Washington is going to climb that ladder, the small ball lineup has not impressed.

 
source:  14. Pistons (7-6, LW 14). Quality win over the Cavaliers last week helps their cause. Andre Drummond may be putting up ridiculous numbers, and Reggie Jackson may have a great pick-and-roll chemistry with him, but the Pistons are still 25th in the NBA in offense. Stan Van Gundy has them eighth in defense and that is what keeps this team afloat.

 
<source:  15. Suns (7-6, LW 16). They had a softer schedule last week and they could not bank enough wins, now things get tougher with the Spurs, Warriors and Raptors on the docket this week.

 
source:  16. Hornets (7-6, LW 18). They have been strong at home and have their next five games in the Hornets’ nest (although Washington, Cleveland, and Milwaukee will not be easy wins). Kemba Walker as the starter and Jeremy Lin off the bench have pushed the Hornets to the fourth best offense in the NBA this young season.

 
source:  17. Clippers (6-7, LW 4). Thursday’s loss to Golden State summed up the Clippers ability to showcase their talent and challenge anyone (that big early lead), and their struggles to maintain that level of play consistently (blowing that lead and losing). The Raptors’ is another example of that inconsistency, they were horrible in the first half, especially on defense. Lance Stephenson was benched for the entire Warriors game, started the next night in Portland, played just five minutes Sunday vs. Toronto. What’s going on there, Doc?

 
source:  18. Jazz (6-6, LW 13). Derrick Favors has come into his own for this team, becoming the fulcrum for their offense and averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game. Still, it’s the Utah defense that keeps this team in every game. Fun test Monday against Oklahoma City, then they get the Clippers later in the week.

 
source:  19. Grizzlies (7-7, LW 21). Unleashed Mario Chalmers has been great for Memphis, getting them to play faster and knocking down threes (7-of-15 since the trade). If the Grizzlies have gotten things turned around we’ll see against Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta this week.

 
source:  20. Magic (6-7, LW 23). Scott Skiles is sending messages about effort and playing his way — Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic were benched for the second half of a game last week. The lack of shooting on the roster kills this team’s spacing and has it 28th in offensive ranking.

source:  21. Timberwolves (5-8,LW 22). Kevin Martin will start and Tayshaun Prince is moving to the bench, to which I say “about time.” However, Martin has struggled with his shot this season and if he isn’t back on track this will backfire quickly. Mine should get their first home win Monday against Philly.

 
source:  22. Bucks (5-8, LW 17). If you had asked me before the season which team would have the worst defense in the league almost a month into real games, the Bucks would have been about my last guess. But at 109 points allowed per 100, and after a rough week, they are behind the Pelicans and Lakers on that end of the floor. Jabari Parker missed some time with a sprained foot, and the Bucks have lost three in a row.

 
source:  23. Nuggets (6-8, LW 19). I think Mike Malone is establishing a culture in Denver they can build on, but it’s not without its challenges on the defensive end. On the bright side, Emmanuel Mudiay is looking improved and his turnovers are dropping.

 
source:  24. Trail Blazers (6-9, LW 25). They had lost seven in a row until they got some help from Los Angeles, beating both the slumping Clippers and the just bad Lakers. More interesting test against Chicago this week, but the Blazers may have found their footing again on defense, so it’s not just the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum show.

 
source:  25. Kings (5-9, LW 24). This pretty much sums up the Kings this season: They are 5-4 when DeMarcus Cousins plays, 0-5 when he sits. Rajon Rondo is putting up numbers, but the big key is he’s shooting 36.4 percent from three this season, some spacing the Kings need on offense.

 
source:  26. Rockets (5-9, LW 26). Since J.B. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets they have one overtime win and two losses — but they are losing by less, so that’s improvement, right? We knew the coaching wasn’t the problem, but the change has not part of the solution so far. Could they actually lose to Philly this week? Probably not.

 
source:  27. Pelicans (3-11, LW 28). Ryan Anderson has found his shooting groove and that has sparked some big offensive games for the Pelicans, who have looked improved the past week or so. Tough stretch though on the road this week at the Suns, Clippers, and Jazz.

 
source:  28. Nets (3-11, LW 29). Don’t look now, but the Nets have been playing better (that includes a win over the Hawks on Tuesday). So maybe they start racking up some wins? Probably not this week playing at Oklahoma City, at Cleveland, then hosting Detroit.

 
source:  29. Lakers (2-11, LW 27). Byron Scott said he wants to get the ball in Kobe Bryant’s hands more to help the team’s ball movement. That pretty much sums up the Lakers right now — take the ball out of the hands of the developing young point guard D’Angelo Russell so that Kobe can preach ball movement. And up is down.

 
source:  30. 76ers (0-14, LW 30). When Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are on the court together, the Sixers have an offensive rating of just 80.7 points per 100 possessions, and they are getting outscored by 25.7 per 100. And that’s the Sixers’ two best players, it only goes downhill as you move into the backcourt.

Report: Knicks to interview former Knicks coach Mike Woodson

Former Knicks coach Mike Woodson
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The Knicks appear set on both hiring Tom Thibodeau and conducting a coaching search.

Mike Woodson, who coached New York from 2012-2014, will be part of the process.

Ian Begley of SNY:

New York also interviewed Woodson in 2018 before hiring David Fizdale. I understand why the Knicks can’t make up their mind on whether they want him as their coach.

Woodson won 58% of his games with New York, the third-best mark in franchise history (behind Pat Riley and Jeff Van Gundy). In 2012-13, Woodson did some really creative things with Carmelo Anthony at power forward and two-point guard lineups.

But by the end of that season, Woodson went away from what worked. His views became increasingly suspect the next season. When the Knicks fired him, it appeared to be time to move one.

Will New York return to Woodson? Probably not. The expectation remains Thibodeau will get this job. But Woodson will at least have an opportunity to make his case for a very-strange return.

When Charles Barkley tried to recruit Dirk Nowitzki to Auburn

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Dirk Nowitzki was not headed to an American college before the NBA. Like most of the best European players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, even going back to Tony Kukoc and others — he was taking a straight trip from his European team to the NBA.

That didn’t stop Charles Barkley from trying to get him to go to Auburn.

It wasn’t meant to be, but Saad Yousuf at the Athletic tells the story of Barkley trying.

The Auburn alum reflected on his first meeting with Nowitzki, in 1997 at a Nike exhibition game in Germany, in which the Big German put on an offensive clinic against a team featuring Barkley, Pippen, Michael Jordan and other NBA talents…

Barkley called Nike and made a strong push to get to Nowitzki through any channel, legal or not. “Just tell him, anything he wants, we’ll get it done,” Barkley recalled in 2012. “Just give him anything he wants; he’s got to go to Auburn.”

Barkley didn’t stop there, though. Nowitzki left such an impression on Auburn’s greatest hoops export that Barkley even talked to Cliff Ellis, Auburn’s coach at the time, to encourage the program to make a run at this relatively unknown teenager in Europe.

Ellis notes that in 1997 he couldn’t just jump on YouTube and find clips of a player, there wasn’t much film of European players. Still, the coach was willing to go on Barkley’s word and reached out.

Turns out Kentucky, Stanford and other colleges did as well, but to no avail. Nowitzki went straight into the 1988 NBA Draft, where the Bucks took him ninth overall then executed a draft-night trade sending the big German to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor. The rest is Hall of Fame history.

For Barkley, Ellis, and Auburn fans, it’s quite the “what if.” That was a 29-4 Auburn team in 1997-98 that was an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed led by a couple of future NBA players (Mamadou N’Diaye and Chris Porter). Add Nowitzki into that mix and… we will never know. But it could have been glorius.

 

How will, should player salaries be allocated as only some NBA teams resume?

Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns and Mavericks star Luka Doncic
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The Timberwolves will play 64 games this season. The Mavericks will play 75-77 games before the traditional playoffs.

Should Dallas players get paid a higher percentage of their salaries than Minnesota players?

That’s one of the thorny questions as the NBA resumes its season.

Though players have individual contracts with defined salaries, there’s an overriding factor in determining actual wages. The Collective Bargaining Agreement calls for players and owners to split revenue approximately 50-50. Salaries are adjusted to reach that 50-50 split.

Each year, the salary cap is set to a number designed to get total player salaries to about 50% of league-wide revenue. Obviously, that’s a difficult target to hit precisely. So, there are mechanisms to adjust the distribution of money if necessary. If their total slated salaries are higher than 50% of revenue, players don’t receive their full salaries. If their total salaries are lower than 50% of revenue, players get a shortfall check from owners.

Coronavirus has disrupted that well-oiled system

The league is missing a major chunk of revenue. Players’ slated salaries would call for them to earn WAY more than 50% of revenue. That’s why the NBA has been withholding a portion of players’ salaries. Force majeure allows teams to reduce players salaries for games canceled due to an epidemic.

The NBA’s reported plan reveals the number of lost games. There were 259 regular-season games remaining when the season was suspended. The continued season includes 88 regular-season games (eight each for the 22 continuing teams) plus 0-4 play-in games.* No playoff games are being canceled.

*I’m counting play-in games as regular-season games. It’s a gray area. Perhaps, owners and players will agree to count them as postseason games. It probably doesn’t matter here, anyway. In terms of force majeure, regular-season and playoff games count equally. So, it’s simple enough to count them as regular-season games.

That’s 167-171 canceled games.

Except not every team will have the same number of games canceled.

There’s a four-game spread in the number of games each team has played so far. The Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Knicks, Bulls and Hornets are done now. Every other team will play at least eight more games. The Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic, Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, Suns and Wizards could play up to two play-in games.

Based strictly on games played, here’s how much players on each team stand to lose in salary:

  • Timberwolves: 19%
  • Hornets: 18%
  • Bulls: 18%
  • Cavaliers: 18%
  • Warriors: 18%
  • Pistons: 17%
  • Knicks: 17%
  • Hawks: 16%
  • Lakers: 12%
  • Spurs: 10%-12%
  • Celtics: 11%
  • Rockets: 11%
  • Clippers: 11%
  • Thunder: 11%
  • Raptors: 11%
  • Jazz: 11%
  • Nets: 9%-11%
  • Pelicans: 9%-11%
  • Kings: 9%-11%
  • Wizards: 9%-11%
  • Nuggets: 10%
  • Pacers: 10%
  • Heat: 10%
  • Bucks: 10%
  • 76ers: 10%
  • Grizzlies: 8%-10%
  • Magic: 8%-10%
  • Suns: 8%-10%
  • Trail Blazers: 6%-9%
  • Mavericks: 5%-8%

Is that fair to players on the eight done teams? They didn’t ask for their season to end prematurely.

On the other hand, they don’t have to do any more work. Other players must travel to Orlando, live under restrictions, play games with heightened injury concerns and risk contracting coronavirus just so the league can increase its revenue. Should eliminated players reap the rewards while sitting home?

This tension also exists in normal times. Players across 16 playoff teams divvied up just $20 million total for competing in the 2018 playoffs, and the amount was similar last year. Player income is largely earned on the regular season, even though the players playing in the playoffs disproportionately draw the revenue that funds everyone.

But the disparity feels sharper now – with the worst teams not even finishing the regular season and playoff teams facing a far larger burden just to keep playing.

To a certain degree, this is a player problem. Owners are going to pay approximately 50% of league revenue to players. The CBA dictates how players on each team should have their salaries cut through force majeure. If players want to share the losses more evenly among each other, owners should accommodate.

Consider this similar to cap smoothing, which the union infamously rejected. Except in that case, it was more just luck which players were in the favored class. Now, the players who could earn more will actually be the ones putting in the additional work. Then again, there could be a push for everyone to share the losses more equally.

Like many things disrupted by coronavirus, there are no good answers.

Report: NBA planning to start next season on Christmas

NBA Christmas
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The current NBA season – interrupted by coronavirus – could extend as late as Oct. 12. That means the league must delay next season. How long past the normal mid-October start? December was the popular notion, but that’s still a wide timeframe.

Now, we can pinpoint it.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

If the N.B.A. can successfully complete the 2019-20 season under this structure, it is expected that the 2020 N.B.A. draft would be moved to October, with free agency to follow shortly thereafter and a tentative plan to establish Dec. 25 as opening day for the 2020-21 season.

Coronavirus can ruin the best-laid plans. Though NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said play would continue around a positive test, it’s unclear whether that would delay this season’s schedule – then the offseason then next season. It’s also unknown how the country will be handling coronavirus in December. The cold weather, pushing people indoors, could increase cases.

But it’s still interesting to know the plan, even if it’s tentative.

People fondly recall the NBA season starting on Christmas in 2011. Many have pointed to Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin’s idea of permanently opening in December to avoid overlap with the NFL, though he suggested mid-December – not Christmas.

That’s quite late.

This year, coronavirus has forced radical changes. A Christmas start might be totally reasonable for the 2020-21 season.

What about beyond?

If the NBA wants to begin each season on Christmas, this is the simplest time to shift. A different start date for future seasons would require altering the calendar to get on track.

There are plenty of issues with opening on Christmas in normal times, though:

  • Historically, TV viewership is down during the summer. That might be changing, but people might find other activities while it’s warm rather than attending or watching an indoor NBA game.
  • Would people really watch more NBA games just because fewer of them would compete with the highly popular NFL? The NBA regular season might just be too long to capture attention, no matter when it’s held.
  • By starting on Christmas, the NBA would reduce two marquee regular-season dates – opening day and Christmas – to one.
  • Many regional TV networks that carry NBA games also carry MLB games. Many of those networks already carry NHL games. But with baseball teams playing more games, there would be more conflicts.
  • With schools out, the American system is built on summer being more of a vacation time. People within the league – including players, especially those with children – might object to working during that time.