PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Warriors on top, Charlotte up to fifth

4 Comments

The NBA has a clear top four teams (although I would argue that the Thunder at four are sort of on their own tier a notch below the top three), but after that the next seven (you could argue 8-9) teams are in a bunch. They could be in almost any order and it would be reasonable.

source: 1. Warriors (24-1, last week No. 1). Now that we’ve been reminded the Warriors are human, we can ask: Do they take their foot off the gas a little — maybe rest guys — before Christmas and drop another game or two? They need to focus on the work of the regular season now such as staying healthy, tightening up their defensive rotations, and finding lineups that work outside starters and the small ball ones.

source: 2. Spurs (20-5, LW 2). I’m a big believer in point differential being the most telling stat about a team. Well, so far this season the Warriors are +14.8 and the Spurs +12.7, a close second, and if you look at just the last 10 games the Spurs are +3.5 per 100 better than the Warriors (stats via NBA.com). Which is to say, this team is a real threat to Golden State’s repeat chances.

source: 3. Cavaliers (15-7, LW 5). Iman Shumpert is back in the rotation (5-of-7 in his debut), and Kyrie Irving likely returns in the next week, which makes the Christmas Day Finals rematch more interesting. Before that interesting game next week the

source: 4. Thunder (16-8 LW 6). For all the questions about this team, when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are on the court together they outscore opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions.

source: 5. Hornets (14-9, LW 9). Now we are into the part of the rankings where the next seven teams could be in almost any order, they are so tightly clumped. Charlotte gets this spot because it has won of seven of 10. At +5.8 per 100 possessions, Charlotte has the best net rating in the Eastern Conference this season. Better than Cleveland, Chicago, Boston and everyone else. Al Jefferson being out won’t hurt too much, their defense is elite and 10 points per 100 possessions better when he is out.

source: 6. Raptors (16-9, LW 11). They have won four in a row (including beating the Spurs) in part due to fantastic play from DeMar DeRozan, picking up the offense while DeMarre Carroll remains out. Real tests this week on the road with Indiana, Charlotte and Miami.

source: 7. Bulls (13-8, LW 7). They are winning despite having the third worst offense in the NBA this season, scoring just 97.2 points per 100 possessions (only the Sixers and Lakers are worse). Maybe Derrick Rose ditching the mask and getting a haircut will help with that, although probably not.

source: 8. Celtics (14-10, LW 12). That loss to the Warriors showed a couple very positive things for Boston. First, it showed off how great a defender Avery Bradley can be, he denied Stephen Curry getting the ball better than anyone so far this season. Second, it shows how valuable Kelly Olynyk can be on offense in the right situation.

source: 9. Clippers (14-10, LW 13). They are 7-3 in their last 10, but it’s hard to read too much into that as they have done it against a soft part of the schedule. The big question is this: Their defense is sixth in the NBA in the last 10 games, can they sustain the play on that end against better teams? Pistons and Spurs on the docket this week.

source: 10. Pacers (13-9, LW 3). For a couple games leading up to facing the Warriors the Pacers’ defense had struggled a little, of course Golden State tore that wide open. The defense is an issue. Candace Buckner told us in the PBT Podcast that Myles Turner is at least a few weeks, maybe longer, away from returning.

source: 11. Heat (13-9, LW 4). Losers of three in a row until they ran into the struggling Grizzlies Sunday. Miami has struggled against the other teams in that middle tier (and even a little below it) in the East, which is something to watch with Atlanta and Toronto on the schedule this week.

source: 12. Hawks (14-11, LW 8). There is no silver bullet as to why this team isn’t off to the fast start we saw last season, the Hawks are just a little bit worse across the board on both ends of the floor. Their bench has struggled in recent weeks, which has been part of the reason they are 5-5 in their last 10 and are tied for the eighth spot in the West as of Monday AM.

source: 13. Pistons (14-11, LW 16). Reggie Jackson had a strong game — 21 points and 9 assists — against the Pacers and the Pistons got the win. Not a shock, he’s key to their offense. Good tests for them this week against the Clippers, Celtics, and Bulls.

source: 14. Mavericks (13-11, LW 15). This team is a gambler’s nightmare, one capable of beating or losing to anyone on any given night, and it all feels random. They lost to the Hawks and Wizards at home last week, this week it’s an interesting set of games against the Suns, Pacers, and Grizzlies.

source: 15. Magic (12-11, LW 14). They have lost three of four to quality teams (Cavs, Clippers, Suns) and the reason is their defense, which had been stout but seemed exposed last week. Orlando gets some home cooking starting the middle of this week with eight games in a row at the Amway Center.

source: 16. Rockets (12-12, LW 29). Fattening up on the soft part of the schedule the Rockets have finally climbed back to .500. We need to see it against better teams before we fully buy in, but both the bench and defense have looked improved of late.

source: 17. Grizzlies (13-12, LW 10). This record is an illusion, they have the point differential of an 8-17 team. They tried bringing Tony Allen (whose offense is dragging them down) and Zach Randolph off the bench, and starting Matt Barnes and Courtney Lee (it didn’t work, they lost to the Heat, but that lineup was +2 on the night). All this has rumors of coach Dave Joerger’s job being in real jeopardy.

source: 18. Jazz (10-12, LW 17). Despite some strong play from Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward for stretches, the Jazz are 2-6 without Rudy Gobert. They are not the same without him. The schedule softens a little with the Pelicans and Nuggets this week, but right now the Jazz can’t look past anyone.

source: 19. Wizards (10-12, LW 21). As noted on twitter by Mike Prada, back on Dec. 1 John Wall said he needed to play better for the Wizards to have a chance. Since then he’s averaged 27.3 points per game on 54.6% shooting and dished out 10.9 a night. However, the Wizards are 3-4 during that stretch and now no Bradley Beal for a couple weeks due to a leg injury.

<source: 20. Suns (11-14, LW 23). This team seems to just hang around in every game, and that led to some close losses in recent weeks but last week led to some close wins (led by Mirza Teletovic‘s game winner against the Bulls). Why does it already feel like they will finish ninth or 10th in the West again?

source: 21. Knicks (11-14, LW 18). The young Knicks are looking tired. For example, Langston Galloway is in a serious shooting slump (24.2 percent in his last 10 games), and the Knicks had looked flat losing four straight until a nice win at Portland Saturday. Kristaps Porzingis has looked tired as well, but he has both Jahlil Okafor and Karl-Anthony Towns on the schedule this week.

source: 22. Trail Blazers (10-15, LW 20). Nobody can give up a lead and a potential win like the young Trail Blazers, who did it three times last week. We’ll see if they can get and hold on to a lead on a road trip this week that includes stops in Oklahoma City, Orlando, and Miami.

source: 23. Kings (9-15, LW 26). They picked up a couple wins last week (vs. Knicks and Jazz) thanks to strong nights from DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, but Rondo is out Tuesday for what he said to referee Bill Kennedy in the game in Mexico City, and now that we know what was said he’s lucky it was just one game.

source: 24. Timberwolves (9-14,LW 22). This s a young team trying to figure out how to win, and losing six-of-seven shows how far they have to go in that regard — they led Denver by 15 points and couldn’t hang on last week. Looking forward to the Karl-Anthony Towns vs. Kristaps Porzingis showdown Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

source: 25. Bucks (10-15, LW 24). They got the win of the week knocking the Warriors from the perch of the unbeaten and it showed off how the Bucks are again playing the kind of defense that got them to the playoffs last season. Can they sustain that defense on a West Coast road swing this week is the question.

source: 26. Nets (7-16, LW 28). They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and they are playing much better of late (which is killing Celtics’ fans, Boston has the Nets first round pick this June). Thaddeus Young has looked good, it will be interesting to see how many teams make a run at getting him before the trade deadline.

source: 27. Pelicans (6-17, LW 25). New Orleans has played better of late in the Big Easy, but on the road New Orleans remains 1-11 on the season. Which is bad news when you look see that seven of their next 10 games are on the road.

source: 28. Nuggets (9-14, LW 27). Emmanuel Mudiay continues to struggle but also continues to get minutes and show signs of improvement, which is all you can ask of a rookie. The Nuggets have the third worst point differential in the NBA over the last 10 games.

source: 29. 76ers (1-24, LW 29). They did the right thing giving Brett Brown an extension, but it will be interesting to see if they hire Mike D’Antoni and what role they might give him. Of course, to run his offense you need a strong point guard and that remains an issue in Philly.

source: 30. Lakers (3-21, LW 30). Byron Scott finally let the kids finish out a game, but says it may be a month or more before he starts doing that regularly. Ugh. Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell have not thrived coming off the bench.

Report: Mavericks looking for another star at trade deadline. Good luck with that.

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Two things are true. First, the painted-over mural was right, the Dallas Mavericks desperately need a second star to go next to Luka Dončić. Second, they have backed themselves into a corner without the trade assets or cap space to easily make that happen.

It may be a longshot, but the Mavericks are open to trading anyone but Dončić to find that second star at the deadline, Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News reminds us.

It shouldn’t be a surprise Dallas is open to this, of course they are.

The challenges start with, what star is available? The best player maybe on the market right now is John Collins or Bojan Bogdanovic, and while both would help the Mavericks neither is changing the team’s fortunes the way they would hope.

If Toronto decides to become sellers things get interesting. However, as of the latest reports, they are on the fence and telling teams they are waiting to decide what they will do at the deadline (sell, stand pat, or become buyers). Fred VanVleet could be available, and would essentially be a Jalen Brunson replacement, certainly a step up from where the Mavericks are currently. However, the Clippers and others could drive up the asking price, plus the Mavericks would have to step up and pay him this summer, VanVleet is expected to opt out of his $22.8 million contract. O.G. Anunoby would be a great fit next to Dončić, but he is not a star, he is more of a high-level role player.

Pascal Siakam could be that second star next to Dončić, a 6’8″ wing who can finish at the rim, shoot 3s, and would be a great secondary shot creator. It’s a good fit. Siakam is not an elite defender — Dallas would want some 3&D guys added to the roster — but he would be the kind of addition Dallas needs.

Dallas can offer its three first-round picks starting in 2024, but is some combination of those picks and Spencer Dinwiddie, Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood and Dorian Finney-Smith going to entice the Raptors? They will look for a massive package for Siakam and likely see better offers than Dallas can construct.

It may not be easy to pull off, and likely will wait until the offseason (at the earliest), but know the Mavericks are serious about a second star.

Knicks reportedly very interested in Anunoby, if Raptors make him available

Toronto Raptors v Golden State Warriors
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
0 Comments

The Toronto Raptors are the one team that could move this trade deadline from a dud to shaking up the playoff race. There are 29 other GMs waiting to see what Massai Ujiri will do, and when they called, they’ve been told “the franchise will make a decision about being a buyer or seller – or standing pat – near deadline day,” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

If Toronto does decide to trade a player beyond the expected Gary Trent Jr., then the Knicks want to be at the front of the line for defensive wing O.G. Anunoby, Charania reports.

The Knicks and Suns are among the interested suitors in Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby, sources say. New York has shown a willingness to offer multiple first-round picks for Anunoby, according to those sources. The Suns, meanwhile, have control of all of their first-round picks — eight in total —through 2030. SNY first reported the Knicks’ interest last week.

There would be a lot of teams in line for Anunoby, but he is a very Thibodeau-style player — an All-Defensive Team level wing stopper who can finish and is averaging 16.9 points per game — so you can see where the interest comes from. Anunoby also is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million. While the demand for wings in general is lower this trade season — point guards and centers are more in demand — a lot of teams could use a player the quality of Anunoby. Including the Knicks.

Getting him won’t be cheap — two unprotected first-round picks (or lightly protected) with matching salary would be the price range.

All of that is moot if the Raptors don’t make him available, which is what everyone is waiting to see.

Report: Bucks have been given permission to talk to Jae Crowder

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Phoenix Suns v Dallas Mavericks
Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Jae Crowder may be the most likely player to be traded at the deadline. The Suns need a shake-up (and to get Devin Booker back), and they are sitting on a $10.2 million player that is not helping them on the court and has yet to bring back any trade value they want.

We may have movement on that front, based on reports from Shams Charania of The Athletic.

In a new development, the Suns have given permission to the Bucks to meet with Crowder and they met over the weekend, league sources tell The Athletic. The Bucks are believed to be the only team that has received permission to visit one-on-one with Crowder, those sources have also indicated…

Both the Suns and Bucks have engaged in serious trade talks for months, with current proposals surrounding Jordan Nwora, George Hill, Serge Ibaka and second-round draft compensation to Phoenix for Crowder, according to sources. The Bucks and Suns have searched for a third team to provide Phoenix with a forward – so what outcome will emerge between now and next Thursday?

Those talks between the Bucks and Crowder likely focused on his role on the team this season (backup four) and possibly re-signing him after this season (he will be a free agent).

Crowder has sat out the season after asking for a trade but is still a Sun because Phoenix head of basketball operations James Jones had a very specific ask in the trade — a forward with a similar skill set to Crowder. It’s tough to trade like-for-like in the league, so nothing has happened. It’s also why that offer from the Bucks doesn’t seem the fit the Suns want. Nwora is a forward but a fringe rotation player, Hill can help with some backup point guard minutes, but nothing really moves the needle for Phoenix. The problem is the Suns have waited so long to get a trade done that Crowder’s value has gone down — by the time he is traded, works his way back into game shape, then steps on the court for his new team he’ll be lucky to play 30 games in the regular season. Teams aren’t going to give up as much for a rental.

The report states the Heat also are interested, which is not a shock they want a P.J. Tucker-like player at the four and Crowder fits the bill, but putting together a trade that works for both sides is difficult (unless the Suns suddenly fell in love with Duncan Robinson, which would be a bigger trade). The Hawks come up, but there is a growing sense around the league that the new Landry Fields-led front office is less inclined to trade John Collins, and they may ride with him at the four.

It’s likely Crowder gets traded somewhere at the deadline and the Bucks maybe make the most sense, but this deal could have been done long ago if the sides wanted to.

Free agent Candace Parker announces she will sign with champion Aces

SPORTS-BKL-ACES-PARKER-SKY-1-TB
Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
0 Comments

The WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces are about to get better.

Two-time MVP and two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker announced she plans to sign with the Aces when free agency opens on Feb. 1

The WNBA champions just got better — a starting frontcourt of Parker and reigning MVP A’ja Wilson (with Kelsey Plum in the backcourt) could make Las Vegas the best defensive team in the league. While Parker may not be the scorer she once was, she can serve as a fulcrum for the offense, get the ball to the other players on the deeply talented Aces, and make them a serious threat to repeat.

Still, a cloud hangs over the Aces organization after what Dearica Hamby alleged after she was traded to the Sparks. Hamby said she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” by the Aces front office surrounding her pregnancy and contract. Those are serious allegations, and the WNBPA is looking into the matter.

On the court (if the investigation results don’t weigh them down), the Aces have to be title favorites now. However, when WNBA free agency comes on Wednesday that could shift, depending on what Breanna Stewart chooses to do (along with other key free agents). There has been speculation Stewart could head to New York to team up with Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu on a Liberty team that would instantly be the biggest threat to the Aces (if not the outright favorite).

Stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting WNBA free agency.