NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Suns continue to set the bar

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The Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns switched places at No. 1 and 2 in the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, but those two continue to set the bar and everyone else is trying to get to their level.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (20-4, Last Week No. 2). Stephen Curry is just 15 made 3-pointers away from passing Ray Allen to own the NBA record for most made 3-pointers in his career — and Curry will do it in more than 500 fewer games. For all the praised heaped on him — and he continues to play at an MVP-level this season — I don’t think we stop and appreciate what an amazing player he is often enough. Starting Saturday in Philadelphia, the Warriors go on a five-game road swing through the East.

 
Suns small icon 2. Suns (20-4, LW 1). It will be interesting to see if and how the Warriors and Suns make roster tweaks for this potential playoff matchup specifically. In those matchups, the Warriors didn’t have a counter for Deandre Ayton, but they may think they have one coming in James Wiseman. The Suns may look for a backup, floor-spacing five to play behind Ayton to better handle small-ball lineups. The Suns remain without Devin Booker (hamstring) but have reached a quiet part of the schedule, with plenty of days off, to minimize the loss.

 
Jazz small icon 3. Jazz (16-7, LW 4). Rudy Gobert has been playing the best basketball of his career to start the season — 14.9 points a game but on 73.1% shooting, plus a career-high 14.7 rebounds a night (the man has a 25.1 rebound rate, he is grabbing a quarter of the available rebounds when he is on the court). Against the Pelicans this past week, Gobert had 20 rebounds and five blocks. He has been a force this season and shouldn’t be flying under the radar like he has. The Jazz have won four in a row.

 
Nets small icon 4. Nets (17-7, LW 3). Kevin Durant is dismissive of the topic, but it’s a legitimate concern: He is sixth in the NBA in minutes played per game (36.2), has played at least 37 minutes in each of his last eight games, and on track to play the most minutes since he was in Oklahoma City. Durant is a hooper who loves the game and would play 48 minutes a night if he could, but Steve Nash needs to think bigger picture having guys healthy come May. Easier said than done. Nash was honest recently about the dilemma he faces: “It’s not ideal to have him have such a burden, but I don’t know what options we have other than to play him less and lose more.”

 
Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (16-9, LW 5). Bad news on the injury front: Brook Lopez underwent back surgery this week and may be done for the season (he played opening night and has been out since with this back issue). Lopez anchors the drop-back defense that helped the Bucks win the title last season, and he can space the floor on offense. Bobby Portis and Giannis Antetokounmpo have filled in at the five, but don’t be shocked if the Bucks make a move/trade to bring in some depth. Good news on the injury front: Donte DiVincenzo has been working out in the G-League and could return soon.

 
Bulls small icon 6. Bulls (17-8, LW 7). In the East, 1.5 games separate the No. 4 seed and home court in the first round of the playoffs, from the No. 11 seed and missing the play-in all together. Chicago’s four-game winning streak — with wins over the Nets, Hornets, and Knicks — has helped the Bulls create a little space and look like a playoff lock. One key reason for the wins: DeMar DeRozan leads the NBA in fourth quarter points scored, with Zach LaVine third, and both of them are shooting 50% or better in the fourth. When the Bulls can close games like that, they are hard to beat.

 
Hornets small icon 7. Hornets (14-12, LW 10). This ranking feels high for a team with the 29th ranked defense in the NBA, but the Hornets’ No. 4 offense has been able to largely cover up the issue. This ranking also feels high for a team decimated by the coronavirus right now, with LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee and Jalen McDaniels all missing time. But this team did beat Atlanta last weekend behind 32 points from Miles Bridges, and this team will get healthy. Once that happens, Charlotte needs to find some wins and break out a crowded middle of the East.

 
Hawks small icon 8. Hawks (13-12 LW 11). Trae Young has stepped up his game this season. While he gets to the foul line less often (down 2.7 a game) he has made up for it with more efficient shooting, including 39.2% from 3, and while he’s taking more long twos he’s hitting 48.5% of them. Young is playing at an All-NBA level and leading the second-best offense in the league, but the Hawks can’t win consistently because of their bottom-five defense. After facing the Nets Friday, the Hawks schedule lightens up a bit and they may be able to string together wins.

 
Sixers small icon 9. 76ers (13-11, LW 13). The Indiana Pacers being willing to trade players such as Caris LeVert and Domantas Sabonis could revive some dormant Ben Simmons talks (that would likely become a three-team deal at least using OKC’s cap space, maybe involving Sacramento, but it’s a start). Joel Embiid dropped 43 on the Hornets and said he’s still not close to 100% after COVID, a reminder both of just how great a player he is and how the 76ers need to maximize his prime, not waste a year playing around trying to get the perfect deal.

 
Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (13-12, LW 8). Boston’s defense, which remains top 10 in the league for the season, has fallen to 20th in the league over the past seven games. Tuesday night the defense regressed more, letting the Lakers parade to the rim with little resistance. While coach Ime Udoka is frustrated, it ultimately will fall to Brad Stevens to change this roster around — the Celtics need more shooting desperately, plus some better defenders. Jaylen Brown isn’t 100% from his hamstring issue, but that alone will not fix the Celtics’ problems.

 
Heat small icon 11. Heat (14-11, LW 6). With Jimmy Butler (tailbone, again) and Bam Adebayo (thumb surgery) both missing time, more is falling on the shoulders of Tyler Herro, who has already been critical for the Heat this season. He averages 21.4 points a game off the bench, shooting 39.6% from 3, but more importantly, handles key playmaking duties and closing games for Miami. He will be in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year. Due to injuries, the Heat have dropped 4-of-5 and have the Bucks and Bulls as their next two.

 
Clippers small icon12. Clippers (13-12, LW 12). The offensive paradox of the Clippers is they have he 26th ranked offense in the NBA for the season, but get them into the clutch (within five points in the final five minutes) and they have the second best offense in the league (nearly 27 points per 100 possessions better in those minutes). Is it because more of the offense goes through Paul George and he is in attack mode more, or is it something else? The Clippers have dropped 4-of-6, with their top-10 defense looking very average through that stretch.

 
Cavaliers small icon 13. Cavaliers (13-12, LW 16). With Darius Garland stepping up and looking like a future cornerstone, Cleveland has been solid since losing Collin Sexton for the season. The Cavaliers are 6-8 without Sexton, but have a +2.9 net rating in those games (they should be 8-6 with a little better luck), and they are a tough out nightly. After wining four in a row — including over the Heat and Wizards — the Cavaliers ran smack into reality against two of the league’s best, the Bucks and Jazz.

 
Wizards small icon 14. Wizards (14-11, LW 9). The top-10 defense that carried Washington off to a fast start this season has been a mess, 27th in the league (117.2 rating) over the past eight games. Spencer Dinwiddie also started the season strong but has looked more like a guy trying to figure out how to play with Bradley Beal and the rest of his new teammates. The Wizards are 0-2 on this road trip and have 8 of their next 10 away from home.

 
Grizzlies small icon 15. Grizzlies (14-10, LW 21). Not only is Memphis on a five-game winning streak, they haven’t trailed in any of those games. The Grizzlies are doing it without Ja Morant (now also in COVID protocols) thanks to their defense, which is allowing less than a point per possession in this streak. Jaren Jackson Jr. is developing into a strong rim protector. Meanwhile, can we talk about the shirt Kyle Anderson wore to Monday night’s game? Does shop exclusively from the Guy Fieri line?

 
Lakers small icon 16. Lakers (13-12, LW 18). When it’s time to close the game (and on the seemingly rare occasion nobody is injured), Frank Vogel has largely settled on Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, and Malik Monk as his closing lineup. That group has been dynamic offensively and has a +2.1 net rating so far. The Lakers have been in a league-leading 16 clutch games (within five points in the final five minutes) and are 9-6 but with a -0.9 net rating (meaning they have been a little lucky).

 
Knicks small icon 17. Knicks (12-12, LW 14). Tom Thibodeau made the big move, but since Alec Burks was inserted into the starting lineup, New York is 3-2 with a -1.3 net rating (RJ Barrett did miss some time in that stretch). The offense has been top 10 in the league in those five games, but the defense is 24th – the Knicks slide on that end is how they slid down the standings this season compared to last. Is it time for more changes? Evan Fournier has been okay but not what they hoped for, and RJ Barrett is inconsistent. Would Thibodeau switch out one of them? The Derrick Rose bench continues to save this team, but that’s not the long-term solution.

 
18. Timberwolves (11-13, LW 15). Karl-Anthony Towns leads the Timberwolves with 24.3 points and 9.3 assists a game, but he told NBC Sports his favorite part of the game is being a facilitator. “It’s probably my favorite part of the offense, getting my teammate involved, making those great passes and getting assists… It’s the reason why I where 32, because I loved watching Magic Johnson getting his teammates involved.”

 
Mavericks small icon 19. Mavericks (11-12, LW 20). Dallas is 2-8 in their last 10 games with a bottom-10 offense in the league in that stretch, a streak that started when Luka Doncic sprained his knee and ankle and missed some time. Doncic’s conditioning and complaining to the referees are drawing the headlines, but the injury and the lack of a second high quality shot creator in the Mavericks’ starting five are the bigger problems short term. It doesn’t help that Kristaps Porzingis has missed time because of a bruised knee.

 
Nuggets small icon 20. Nuggets (11-12, LW 19). We can talk about injuries, roster construction, Reggie Bullock‘s surprisingly horrific shooting this season, bad luck or anything else you want, but it still comes down to this with Denver: They outscore opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions when Nikola Jokic is on the court and get outscored by 15.3 per 100 when he sits. The Nuggets have lost 5-of-6 and now head out on the road for three.

 
Raptors small icon 21. Raptors (11-13, LW 23). A quarter of the way into the season, the Raptors still feel like a team trying to find their groove. Pascal Siakam missed the start of the season, returned, and suddenly settles for a lot more long twos. As soon as Siakam got back, OG Anunoby went out. Scottie Barnes has been everything the Raptors could hope for in a rookie, but he’s still a rookie and is inconsistent. The Raptors are home for 10-of-11, a chance to find that groove, but are 2-2 to start that stretch.

 
Pacers small icon 22. Pacers (10-16, LW 22). The most interesting note out of the news that the Pacers are open to trading Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Caris LeVert, or basically anyone else on the roster is that owner Herb Simon, at age 87, is finally leaning into a rebuild. In the past, the mandate was not to bottom out, to spend as needed to avoid that, and the result was a lot of mid-pack finishes, first-round exits, and a stable but not thrilling product. We’ll see what ultimately comes of a rebuild in Indiana, but better than them just jogging along on the treadmill, not going anywhere.

 
Blazers small icon 23. Trail Blazers (11-14, LW 17). It’s tough to make the call: Is Portland more of a dumpster fire or tire fire right now? Either way, it’s not good. Injuries have sidelined Damian Lillard (abdominal issue, they have dropped 3 in a row without him) and CJ McCollum (collapsed lung), the team has lost 6-of-7 and has the worst defense in the NBA. Off the court, they need to find a new GM, then pick a direction: Extend Lillard next summer and build around him — what Lillard says he wants, he has not asked out — or trade him and let the new GM rebuild.

 
Spurs small icon 24. Spurs (8-15, LW 24). The Spurs are playing better than this ranking (and better than their record) the past two weeks, with a 4-3 record and a +2.5 point differential in their last seven. Dejounte Murray averaged 22.3 points and 10 rebounds a game during the recent four-game win streak and has played well all season. It will be interesting to watch the Spurs as the trade deadline approaches, what will they ask to part with Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, or other veterans.

 
Kings small icon 25. Kings (10-14, LW 25). Sacramento is 4-3 under Alvin Gentry, including sweeping two games from the Clippers, but they’ve been a little lucky considering they have a -5.3 net rating in that stretch. Gentry is trying different things, such as taking the ball out of De'Aaron Fox‘s hands to Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, and other shot creators. There is pressure from ownership to push for the play-in, but if it gets to the trade deadline and the Kings are still on the outside looking in would they move Buddy Hield or Barnes. Sacramento as a seller is a team to watch.

 
Rockets small icon 26. Rockets (7-16, LW 27). Houston became the first team in NBA history to win six games in a row directly after losing 15 in a row. The Rockets have done with an offense playing 23-points per 100 possessions better during the win streak than the losing streak — the Rockets are moving the ball more and finding balance. They also have some veterans stepping up: Christian Wood has played well, and Eric Gordon drained the game-winner against Orlando.

 
Pelicans small icon 27. Pelicans (7-19, LW 26). There have been some legitimate bright spots the past couple of weeks as New Orleans has won 4-of-7. For example, the play of Willie Hernangomez, who has stabilized the bench unit. Or the fact Jonas Valanciunas has shot 12-of-17 from 3 against the Clippers, and the fact he is shooting 46.9% from deep for the season. Brandon Ingram dropped a 40 spot on the Rockets, it just didn’t lead to a win. There are positives around this team, even if that is not what anyone is focused on.

 
Thunder small icon 28. Thunder (7-16, LW 28). There’s bad, and then there’s that 152-79 loss in Memphis — that was just ugly. The positive news is the Thunder got three days off after that, caught up on their sleep, and came out and beat Detroit Monday to snap an eight-game losing streak. This team just needs to get healthy, we all want to see more Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey together, to see if that can develop into something.

 
Magic small icon 29. Magic (5-20, LW 30). It’s not a surprise Orlando snapped a seven-game losing streak when Cole Anthony returned to the lineup, they have been 19.6 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season. Jalen Suggs‘ fracture thumb is a setback, more of him playing next to Anthony in the backcourt has some interesting potential. Also, it will be strange at the end of the year — but possible the way things are going — if Franz Wagner makes the All-Rookie Team but Suggs doesn’t.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (4-19, LW 29). Cade Cunningham seems to be finding his footing in the NBA: In his last three games he’s averaged 24.3 points on 55.8% shooting in those games, with 5.3 rebounds a game, too. It’s a small sample size, but watch the No. 1 pick play and you can see him looking more confident and starting to put things together. Despite that the Pistons have dropped nine in a row.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

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It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo had praise for Doncic as well.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.