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.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.