Getty Images

NBA Power Rankings Week 5: Warriors climb to top, Mavericks fall to bottom

1 Comment

We all knew that Golden State would have the top spot in the rankings at points this season (seven wins in a row will do that) but did anyone see Dallas on the bottom? That caught me off guard.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (11-2, Last Week No. 3). They have won seven in a row, and have done it with a dominant offense and a pedestrian defense. The Warriors are moving the ball — they have 30+ assists in their last nine games — and they are scoring 119.5 points per 100 possessions with a True Shooting Percentage of 62.4 in the last seven. Against Toronto last week, almost 74 percent of the Warriors’ shots were either at the rim or a three pointer, and 45 percent of their shots were uncontested (according to NBA.com players tracking). That is covering up a defense giving up 106.6 per 100.

 
Clippers small icon 2. Clippers (12-2, LW 1). You can’t underestimate how great Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have been defensively this season, propelling this team — but don’t sleep on how great the Clippers’ offense has been of late. In the Clippers’ last five games they have scored 118.9 points per 100 possessions (second only to ridiculous Warriors offense). They are scoring efficiently in every possible way — transition, pick-and-roll, spot-up jumpers, whatever they run now it works.

 
Cavaliers small icon 3. Cavaliers (10-2, LW 2). What’s the primary place the Cavaliers are getting shots? Catch-and-shoots. They account for 30 percent of their looks, and the Cavs are shooting 55.4% eFG% on those (stats via Synergy Sports). The one loss last week was when LeBron James rested. They enter a fairly soft stretch of the schedule, with the only challenge being Portland in the next week.

 
Spurs small icon 4. Spurs (10-3, LW 6). They have won five in a row and remain undefeated on the road at 7-0. San Antonio’s offense is 3.8 per 100 better when Tony Parker is on the court. “Tony knows the offense better than anybody, and he gets us organized in a lot of situations, so he has been really important since he came back from his injury,” said Gregg Popovich.

 
Hawks small icon 5. Hawks (9-4 LW 5). Part of Atlanta’s success has been it’s bench — it has the most efficient scoring bench in the NBA so far this season (using points per possession). Well, at least until the entire team sleepwalked through a day game Sunday in New York. At the heart of that bench has been the play of Thabo Sefalosha, who is having his best season in the NBA, efficient on offense and playing fantastic defense.

 
Bulls small icon 6. Bulls (9-5, LW 9). Dwyane Wade sat out the second game of a back-to-back in Los Angeles, which signaled the start of Chicago’s knee maintenance program for him. Chicago won anyway with Jimmy Butler dropping 40, and with that have won five-of-six (with the lone loss being the Clippers). When Butler and Dwyane Wade are on the court but no Rajon Rondo, the Bulls outscore opponents by 24.7 points per 100. They finish up their road trip vs. Denver and Philly this week.

 
Hornets small icon 7. Hornets (8-4, LW 8). Kemba Walker has been a flat out beast this season, especially running the pick-and-roll. He’s got a 53.9 percent eFG% on those shots, and as a team the Hornets score at a very good 1.03 points per possession on those plays. Teams are trying to take the ball out of his hands on those plays, but when he has to pass out Hornets still at a good 0.91 points per possession (stats via Synergy Sports). Tough start to the week with Memphis and San Antonio, then an interesting home-and-home with New York.

 
Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (8-5, LW 4). We didn’t want to penalize them too much for losses to the Cavaliers and Warriors last week, and while the referees followed the letter of the law in the end in Sacramento that rule needs to be changed. The Raptors have been all offense, no defense of late: in the last five games they are scoring 111.6 points per 100 possessions, but giving up 108.8. Also, your weekly reminder that DeMar DeRozan is a beast even if Anthony Davis passed him in the scoring leader chase.

 
Rockets small icon 9. Rockets (8-5, LW 15). The Rockets looked every bit a playoff team this week beating Portland and Utah, while playing Oklahoma City to the wire in a two-point loss. It’s just two games, but to the eye the Rockets’ defense looks much improved with Patrick Beverley back. (Can he pull it out of the bottom 10? They are 22nd right now.) After Thanksgiving Houston heads out on a five-game West Coast road trip that will be a real test.

 
Grizzlies small icon 10. Grizzlies (8-5, LW 17). Winners of four in a row, and that includes beating the Clippers and Jazz on nights David Fiddle’s spread the floor offense clicked. The bad news is they will need to continue this streak without Chandler Parsons for a couple weeks (bone bruise in his left knee), and their spacing and shooting is not the same with him off the floor, they are 8.3 points per 100 possessions worse with him sitting.

 
Thunder small icon 11. Thunder (8-6, LW 11). This team has some ugly losses — they lost to the Pistons without Andre Drummond this week, and despite a triple-double from Russell Westbrook they lost to a Pacers team resting Paul George on Sunday. They have a mini West Coast road swing to start the week (no Warriors), then head home to take on the Pistons with a chance to get a little revenge for that loss.

 
Celtics small icon 12. Celtics (7-6, LW 12). Both Al Horford and Jae Crowder returned on Saturday night — and Horford celebrated by hitting the game winner, then getting the game sealing block. Isaiah Thomas’ offense has struggled recently, the return of Horford as a pick-and-roll partner and guy to space the floor should help. Look for them to climb the rankings the next few weeks now that they are healthy again.

 
Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (8-7, LW 10). They have the worst defense in the NBA this season, giving up 108.5 points per 100 possessions this season (the loss of Al-Farouq Aminu is part of the problem). All of that is why there will be more of things like the recent three-game losing streak, it’s hard to get consistent wins without defense — the offense can only bail you out so much. How many wins can they get out of a week with the improving Knicks and Pelicans, plus the Cavaliers and Rockets on the schedule?

 
Lakers small icon 14. Lakers (7-7, LW 12). The offense is there, the Lakers have scored 120+ points four times this season, which is already more than the two years under Byron Scott combined. The problem is on defense, where the Lakers cannot get stops, which did them in against a depleted Bulls team Sunday. The Lakers have allowed 116 points per 100 possessions through their last four games. Larry Nance Jr. is turning everyone’s heads, he had 18 points on 11 shots vs. the Bulls.

Jazz small icon 15. Jazz (7-8, LW 7). The Jazz have a four-game losing streak, and they have played eight games without George Hill now (out with sprained thumb) and are 3-5 in that stretch. Maybe the guy feeling Hill’s loss the most is Gordon Hayward, who has struggled with his shot because the spacing is not there. Dante Exum makes a nice backup right now but he cannot fill Hill’s shoes, which is why Utah is taking a serious look at extending Hill.

 
Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (7-7, LW 20). The Pacers beat the Cavaliers, although only because LeBron James sat, but more impressively got a win Sunday vs. Oklahoma City with Paul George out. He’s got a sprained ankle and will miss at least one more game (Warriors). Jeff Teague had 30 points and nine assists in the win over OKC, after a slow start to the season he has found his shooting groove the last couple of weeks. Tough schedule this week with the Warriors, Hawks, and Clippers (and a respite against the Nets).

 
Knicks small icon 17. Knicks (6-7 LW 25). They have won three of four and in those four games the Knicks defense has been near the league average — which is a massive improvement. We’ve only had a small sample size but the Knicks have looked great with Carmelo Anthony at the four and Kristaps Porzingis at the five, they need to run more of that. Tough tests for that defense this week vs. Portland, then a home-and-home with Charlotte.

 
Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (6-8, LW 16). They beat the Thunder on the night Andre Drummond rested, but have lost three in a row since as their defense has been terrible. There may be no team with a bigger road/home difference than the Pistons, who are 1-7 on the road but 5-1 at home. This week they are home for three but it won’t be easy against the Rockets, Heat, and Clippers.

 
timberwolves small icon 19. Timberwolves (4-8, LW 18). They continue to struggle getting production out of the point guard position — Ricky Rubio’s never-good shot has not taken a step forward, and Kris Dunn is not ready to take over that role — the rookie is shooting 32.7 percent overall and is miserable from the midrange (and 27 percent from three). The defense also remains bottom 10, which is where Tom Thibodeau is going to push for improvement.

 
Magic small icon 20. Magic (6-7 LW 22). They are getting outscored by 7 points per 100 possessions this season, which would would suggest a 3-10 team (according to basketball-reference.com), but their defense is improving and that is winning them some games. Jeff Green is starting over Aaron Gordon now at the three, which reminds us that Gordon was at his best at the four but isn’t getting used there enough. Winnable games this week: Suns, Wizards, and two against the Bucks.

 
Heat small icon 21. Heat (4-8, LW 26). Goran Dragic is back from a sprained ankle and the Heat picked up two quick wins (Bucks and Wizards). Not a coincidence. Hassan Whiteside is living up to that massive new contract — 17.7 points, 16.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots per game, with a PER of 25. He’s playing like an All-Star. This week they are on the road in Philly, Detroit, and Memphis.

 
Bucks small icon 22. Bucks (5-7, LW 14). The Bucks have lost five of six, including three in a row to quality teams (Hawks, Heat, and Warriors). What player has the lowest eFG% in the league on shots from from outside the paint? Gianni Antetokounmpo at 25.5%. They have two games against Orlando coming up, but the Cavaliers and Raptors are mixed in as well.

 
Nuggets small icon 23. Nuggets (5-8, LW 24). They won two-of-three last week and the one loss was in OT to the Raptors. Mike Malone is still searching for lineups that work well, but he seems to like a front line of Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic (it worked well against the massive Jazz front line). Tough week coming up with the Bulls, Jazz, and Thunder on the docket.

 
Kings small icon 24. Kings (5-9, LW 21). They had lost four in a row before getting a quality win over the Raptors Sunday, which happened when they moved Rudy Gay to the four to start. The story with the Kings is fairly simple: When DeMarcus Cousins is on the court the Kings get outscored by 1.7 points per 100 possessions (very close to playing teams even), when he sits they get outscored by 13.7 per 100. Also, when Cousins and Rudy Gay are on the court together the Kings are +3.4 per 100.

 
Pelicans small icon 25. Pelicans (4-10, LW 29). The return of Jrue Holiday has been huge for the Pelicans, he is hitting shots (54.8 percent) and when he is on the court the Pelicans are outscoring opponents. Anthony Davis took over the top spot in the NBA scoring race, at 31.7 points a game. Hawks, Blazers, and the Mavericks are on the schedule this week.

 
Nets small icon 26. Nets (4-9, LW 19). The Nets have lost four in a row and gone 2-6 since Jeremy Lin went down, their offense is just not the same with him sidelined. Of course, their defense has been a disaster of late as well and he’s not going to help as much on that end — the Nets try to be aggressive and pressure on the wings but they don’t have personnel to do that.

 
Wizards small icon 27. Wizards (3-9, LW 28). The John Wall/Bradley Beal combo isn’t a disaster — when they are on the court together they Wizards outscore their opponents by 2 points per 100 possessions. Overall, the Wizards’ offense is middle of the pack, the problem is their 25th-ranked defense keeps costing them games. Wall and Beal each scored 30+ on Saturday, but they couldn’t get stops and the Heat got the win. Can they pick up wins this week against the Suns and Magic (I wouldn’t count on the Spurs).

 
Sixers small icon 28. 76ers (3-10, LW 30). The Sixers have won two-of-three, beating the Wizards and Suns last week. Joel Embiid is still a force of nature inside and finding his game, but when Nik Stauskas is hitting shots the Sixers floor spacing is better and they pick up wins. Those wins will be tough to find this week against the Heat, Grizzlies, Bulls, and Cavaliers.

 
Suns small icon 29. Suns (4-10, LW 27). One of the biggest surprises of the season so far is the fact Devin Booker is shooting 41.4 percent overall and 27.9 percent from three. Not the step forward we all expected. The Suns are in the middle of a six game road trip (1-3 so far, the win against the Pacers without Paul George) and the team continues to struggle on both ends of the court.

 
Mavericks small icon 30. Mavericks (2-10, LW 23). Losers of five in a row, even with the return of Dirk Nowitzki, and they have the worst offense in the NBA. Harrison Barnes is trying to carry the offense and is doing well, but much of that is coming in isolation — 29.7 percent of his shots have come in isolation, the highest percentage of any player in the league this season, but he’s shooting a very good 52.4 percent on those (via Synergy Sports). It will be hard to find wins this week against the Spurs, Clippers, and Cavaliers.

Team USA keeps top spot in FIBA men’s world rankings, Spain No. 2

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

USA Basketball has kept its No. 1 spot in the FIBA world men’s rankings, even after a disappointing seventh-place showing in the World Cup that ended earlier this week.

It’s now nine-years-and-counting in the top spot for the U.S., which has held the No. 1 ranking since winning the 2010 world championship. World Cup champion Spain stayed No. 2, Australia leaped eight spots to No. 3, World Cup finalist Argentina rose one spot to No. 4 and World Cup bronze-medalist France fell two slots to No. 5.

FIBA’s rankings take results from the most recent eight years into account – which means the U.S. is still reaping point benefits from the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medals and the 2014 World Cup title.

“In this day and age, basketball in other countries is not a secret,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said after the Americans completed their run in the World Cup. “So it’s not like there’s an epiphany or a revelation to be made. There are wonderful teams and wonderful coaches all over the world. You go compete and the best teams win.”

It’s now expected that the U.S. will retain the No. 1 ranking going into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Several top NBA players, including Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Damian Lillard have said in recent days that they intend to play for the U.S. in Tokyo, where the Americans will try to win a fourth consecutive gold medal.

Most top U.S. players declined to be part of the World Cup team.

“I’m expecting them to be so strong next year,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said.

OLYMPIC UPDATE

The new rankings confirmed that European champion Slovenia, which didn’t earn a spot in the World Cup field after many of its top players couldn’t take part in qualifying since those games conflicted with the NBA and Euroleague schedules, will still have a chance to compete in the Olympics – as will seven other teams that found out they’re headed to playoffs next year.

Angola, Senegal, Mexico, Uruguay, China, Korea and Croatia also still have Olympic hopes. Those last eight playoff spots awarded Thursday went to the top two teams from Africa, Europe, Asia-Oceania and the Americas regions who hadn’t either already clinched Olympic berths or spots in the last-chance playoffs.

Japan is automatically qualified for the 12-team Olympic tournament as the host country. The U.S., Argentina, Nigeria, Spain, France, Iran and Australia clinched Olympic spots at the World Cup by finishing as the best teams in their respective FIBA regions – the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

That leaves four unclaimed Olympic berths, and 24 teams to compete for them in playoffs next year. There will be four six-team tournaments held from June 23-28, 2020 – winner-take-all, all in this case meaning an Olympic berth. Bidding for sites is expected to begin shortly, FIBA said.

The other 16 playoff spots were awarded based on World Cup placing. They went to Serbia, Lithuania, Greece, Russia, Brazil, Italy, Puerto Rico, Turkey, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Germany, Canada, the Czech Republic, Poland, New Zealand and Tunisia.

MOVING UP

Belize was the top mover in the new rankings, climbing 50 spots to No. 118. Kosovo rose 21 spots to No. 69, Togo went up 21 spots to No. 136, Tunisia climbed 18 spots to No. 33 and Ivory Coast went up 16 spots to No. 48.

STILL SWEEPING

FIBA has four sets of rankings – for men, women, boys and girls. The U.S. holds the No. 1 spot in all four of those rankings, though the race is tightest among the men.

The U.S. men hold a lead of 54.9 points over Spain in those rankings, while the rankings margins held by the U.S. women (310 points over No. 2 Spain), boys (291 points over No. 2 Canada) and girls (155 points over No. 2 Spain) are far more comfortable.

Report: NBA won’t allow Rockets to use Nene’s contract as $10M trade chip

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Update: Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a huge blow to Houston. The Rockets are now stuck with an over-the-hill center they can’t trade for value and can’t play much without triggering bonuses that’ll make him way overpaid.

If they had known how this would turn out, they would’ve signed Nene to a one-year minimum contract at most. At least that’d be partially subsidized by the league. Because this is is a two-year deal, Houston is on the hook for the full base salary.

 

 

The Rockets got a valuable trade chip with Nene’s contract.

At least if the deal goes through.

Bobby Marks of ESPN:

Although Nene signed with the Houston Rockets on Sept. 6, the NBA has yet to officially approve the deal. The 10-day delay is a result of the NBA discussing internally whether it should disapprove details in the contract, according to multiple sources.

Nene’s contract includes a low base salary with a massive amount of likely incentives. Houston could count Nene’s full $10 million salary (base plus likely incentives) in a trade. The acquiring team would then owe Nene his base salary plus only the bonuses he actually triggers.

It’s a workaround to the typical salary-matching rules.

The bonuses are tied to individual games played and team games won. Because Nene played 42 games for the 53-win Rockets last season, the bonuses are qualified as likely. Last year’s performance is the default way to determine whether incentives are likely or unlikely.

You can read more about the contract’s structure here.

The NBA’s apprehension is interesting. The Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies a procedure for challenging incentive classification when the league or union believes the prior season is not a fair predictor. Essentially, that side makes a case to an arbiter that the default assumption is “very likely” to be wrong.

However, in a funny quirk here, that challenge system lays out only how the NBA can challenge to turn unlikely incentives into likely incentives and how the union can challenge to turn likely incentives into unlikely incentives. There’s nothing about the NBA turning likely incentives into unlikely incentives, which the league is apparently considering here (and would make Nene’s contract invalid, as there’s a limit on unlikely incentives).

The CBA also prohibits circumventing the spirit of the rules. The league could rule Houston did that here. However, that’s a tough case considering not only does Nene’s contract meet all stated technicalities, there’s a section specifically on challenging these types of details. It just doesn’t apply.

The Heat opened the door for likely/unlikely-incentive shenanigans a couple years ago. We didn’t hear then about the NBA challenging those contracts, and that’s where the official challenge system would’ve applied.

It seems unfair to punish the Rockets’ creativity now.

Doc Rivers: I told Steve Ballmer, if Kawhi Leonard signed with Lakers, Clippers moving to Seattle

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
1 Comment

We know what happened: The Clippers traded for Paul George, signed Kawhi Leonard and became championship favorite.

But at one point, Clippers coach Doc Rivers thought the George trade with the Thunder would fall through and Leonard could sign with the Lakers.

Rivers, via Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times:

“The day of the trade at 12 noon the deal was off,” Rivers said. “I was at home in Malibu and Lawrence called me and told me, ‘It looks like he’s either going to Toronto or the Lakers.’ The Lakers part just threw me over. I told him that can’t happen. … I remember I kept telling him, ‘We cannot allow that to happen!’

“I actually told Steve jokingly that if that happens, we’re moving the team to Seattle. It was a joke, but I was actually serious about it. I really believed that.”

Kawhi Leonard cost us the SuperSonics returning!

I don’t know how serious Rivers really was. Leonard joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis on their cross-arena rival would’ve been disastrous for the Clippers.

I’m convinced Ballmer will keep the franchise in Los Angeles. Ballmer’s ties to Seattle through Microsoft are well-established, and he previously tried to buy the Kings to move them to Seattle. But I can’t see him moving the Clippers from such a prime market, especially after going so far to get a new arena built in L.A. At every turn, he has maintained he’ll keep the team in Los Angeles.

Then again, Ballmer also phrased that guarantee as, “I will die owning the L.A. Clippers.” Now, he’s open to changing the nickname. Hmmm…

To be clearer than Rivers: That’s a joke I’m not actually serious about don’t really believe.

Stephen Curry responds to Kevin Durant: We all want to iso, but I’d rather win titles

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

After the Warriors lost to the Jazz in December, Steve Kerr said his team didn’t move the ball enough. Kevin Durant said Golden State passed too much.

That public disagreement sure looks more significant now. Not only did Durant leave for the Warriors, he cited offensive style as a reason.

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“The motion offense we run in Golden State, it only works to a certain point,” he says. “We can totally rely on only our system for maybe the first two rounds. Then the next two rounds we’re going to have to mix in individual play. We’ve got to throw teams off, because they’re smarter in that round of playoffs. So now I had to dive into my bag, deep, to create stuff on my own, off the dribble, isos, pick-and-rolls, more so than let the offense create my points for me.” He wanted to go someplace where he’d be free to hone that sort of improvisational game throughout the regular season.

Stephen Curry clearly viewed things differently.

Curry, via ESPN:

“Well, I don’t really care what plays we ran,” Curry said. “We won two championships. And at the end of the day, we had a lotta talent and there was an expectation of us figuring out how to balance all that. And we talked a lot about it throughout the three-year run. It wasn’t always perfect, but I think in terms of, you know, the results and what we were able to do on the floor, that kinda speaks for itself. We all wanna play iso-ball at the end of the day in some way, shape or form. But I’d rather have some championships, too.”

There’s truth to what Durant said. Defenses tighten deep in the playoffs, both because good defensive teams are more likely to advance and scouting committed to a single opponent tends to favor the defense. At that level, elite isolation scorers like Durant are particularly valuable. They can render schemes moot.

The Warriors learned that the hard way in the 2016 NBA Finals. They lost to the Cavaliers, who turned up their defense that postseason. Golden State scored fewer points per possession in its series against Cleveland than the Pistons did in the first round against the Cavs.

Adding Durant made the Warriors’ offense nearly unstoppable in every round. They leaned on their movement-heavy system when possible then turned to Durant isolations in moments of need.

Assessing playoff output is tricky because of varying opponents. But in three years with Durant, Golden State faced nine teams that played multiple postseason series. Eight of those teams had their worst defensive series against the Warriors, each by at least 2.6 points per 100 possessions. Only the 2019 Trail Blazers fared worse defensively against another team. They allowed just 0.2 more points per 100 possessions against the Nuggets than against Golden State.

Of course, Durant missed last season’s Western Conference finals against Portland. His absence was a big reason the Warriors’ didn’t meet their usual offensive standards.

Still, Golden State’s base offense was elite. Infallible? No. But it won multiple big playoff series before Durant arrived. He just took the Warriors to an even higher level.

Though he sometimes chafed at how the Warriors played, Durant also did his part to fit with them. He played his part in running Kerr’s preferred style.

It just seems Durant no longer wanted that safety-valve role. He holds immense respect for individual scoring as a skill. He’ll have a better chance to spread his wings in Brooklyn.

Durant will have a harder time winning a title without the incredible supporting cast he left behind. Curry might have wanted to point that out.

But everyone did their part in Golden State the last few years. That’s why they won those championships.