Kevin Knox

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

NBA Power Rankings after wildest summer in league history

8 Comments

That. Was. Insane.

The NBA has never seen an offseason like this last one where so many elite players moved teams and shifted the balance of power around the league. While all the dust has not settled (Chris Paul, for example) we can now take a step back and put out our annual power rankings. The basic ranking criteria here is “chance to win an NBA title” which means a couple top teams from the East are ranked ahead of better teams in the West, just because their odds of getting through to the Finals are higher. Let’s go at it:

Clippers small icon 1. Clippers (Last Season 48-34). No team had a better summer than Steve Ballmer’s crew: They had stalked Kawhi Leonard for a year, and not only did he come he recruited Paul George to come with him. The Clippers should be lock-down defensively (Patrick Beverley will get more time at the point), has offensive versatility, and still brings Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell off the bench. In a deep West that makes them the team to beat.

Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (60-22). They re-signed Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez, their two biggest off-season priorities, but they could not keep Malcolm Brogdon, and that will sting. Wesley Matthews will have a lot asked of him to fill that role. Most importantly, they still have an improving Giannis Antetokounmpo. Having both Brook and Robin Lopez will make the Bucks entertaining off the court.

Sixers small icon 3. 76ers (51-31). They lost Jimmy Butler, the guy who was their end-of-game playmaker in the postseason, but adding the underrated Josh Richardson and glue guy Al Horford will help a lot to ease that blow. This should be an elite defensive team that will be right in the middle of it all in the East, but with one big question: Is Ben Simmons ready to be the team’s crunch time, halfcourt ball handler and shot creator?

Jazz small icon 4. Jazz (50-32). Utah had as good an offseason as anyone (except maybe the Clippers). They upgraded at point guard with Mike Conley, who gives them a second shot creator next to Donovan Mitchell. Then they poached Bogdan Bogdanovic out of Indiana, adding more shooting and a guy who can do a little shot creation himself to the mix. This is still one of the league’s best defenses built around Rudy Gobert, but now the Jazz can score a lot, too.

Lakers small icon 5. Lakers (37-45). In Anthony Davis, at his peak at age 26, LeBron James has the single-best teammate he has ever had, one that almost perfectly complements his game. In an NBA filled with powerful duos, the Lakers have the best one. The question becomes: is the rest of the roster good enough to win? The Lakers have talented but flawed players in Danny Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyle Kuzma, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and the rest. The Lakers may not be a great regular season team (four seed?) but watch out come the playoffs.

Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (53-29). Whatever you think of the fit, Russell Westbrook is a talent upgrade over Chris Paul at this point in their respective (and Hall of Fame) careers. James Harden is still there, as are Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, and Eric Gordon (despite trade rumors). This was (for my money) the second best team in the West playoffs each of the last two years, they got a little bit better (if Harden and Westbrook can share the ball), and they remain a real threat to win the West.

Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (54-28). Denver poked around the free agent market, but in the end got the band back together, including bringing back Paul Millsap. The Nuggets were one of the youngest teams in the NBA last season and are counting on internal improvement from Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic, and company — plus the addition of Michael Porter Jr. to the rotation (not seeing Porter Jr. in Summer League due to an injury was a disappointment) — to take them to the next level. Denver remains an outstanding team, the question is will they have grown and learned enough to take the next step in the playoffs come spring?

Warriors small icon 8. Warriors (57-24). Write off Golden State at your own peril. They are not the juggernaut team of the past three years, Kevin Durant will rehab in Brooklyn and Klay Thompson is not expected back from his ACL tear until after the All-Star break (if he comes back next season at all). However, they still have Stephen Curry, they have Draymond Green in a contract year, and D’Angelo Russell is an All-Star added to the roster. The Warriors will take a step back in wins (less than 50 probably) but will be a dangerous playoff team.

Blazers small icon 9. Trail Blazers (53-29). There were no bold moves (don’t be shocked if they try to make another play for Kevin Love, but his price is high), but they landed Hassan Whiteside to play the five until Jusuf Nurkic returns from injury, and they made a nice wing signing with Kent Bazemore (plus bringing back Rodney Hood). Portland got marginally better this summer, but will that be enough to take the next step in a West filled with teams making big, bold moves?

Celtics small icon 10. Celtics (49-33). Kyrie Irving headed to Brooklyn, but replacing him with Kemba Walker means Boston didn’t lose a lot on the court (casual fans don’t get just how Walker carried the Hornets) and they get a better leader for their culture. Expect big step from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Losing Al Horford will sting more, they didn’t really replace him. Boston will be fun, they will score a lot of points but not stop much of anyone.

Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (48-34). Indiana paid big to steal Malcolm Brogdon out of Milwaukee, giving them another shot creator and someone on Victor Oladipo’s timeline. The Pacers made nice pickups at a good price in Jeremy Lamb and T.J. Warren, but this team is going to miss Bogdanovic a lot (he’s in Utah now). The Pacers need to keep their heads above water until Oladipo returns from injury (Christmas or a little after).

Raptors small icon 12. Raptors (58-24). They did everything right but could not compete with the lure of home for Leonard (and they won a title with that gamble), but now they are without their alpha. This is still a talented team with Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and others. When the trade deadline nears will the Raptors move some of those older players, all in the last year of their contracts, to jumpstart the rebuilding process?

Nets small icon 13. Nets (42-40). Brooklyn was one of the biggest winners in free agency landing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. However, with Durant out likely most or all of next season (and not fully his old self yet if he does return), the Nets are not yet a threat to win the East. Irving, however, is an upgrade over D’Angelo Russell on the court. Irving struggled to lead a young, talented team in Boston, can he do better in Brooklyn with a team that made the playoffs with a gritty, team-focused style a year ago?

Spurs small icon 14. Spurs (48-34). No big moves this summer, although they picked up DeMarre Carroll on a nice contract. The biggest improvement will be getting Dejonte Murray back at point guard, an All-Defensive team level point guard (with rumors that his shot has come a long way). Paired with Derrick White that’s a strong defensive backcourt. Don’t forget, they still have DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge on the roster. The Spurs are going to be tough to play against every night and make the playoffs.

Mavericks small icon 15. Mavericks (33-49). Now we get to see what the Luka Doncic/Kristaps Porzingis pairing looks like — can this be one of the elite super duos in the West? Dallas is betting yes, but the rest of us need to see it work on the court before buying in. I like the Seth Curry and Delon Wright signings, Boban Marjanovic is always fun, and re-signing Maxi Kleber was smart. This team should be in the mix for a playoff spot in the West, but there is no margin for error.

16. Timberwolves (36-46). They struck out landing D’Angelo Russell or any other star on Karl-Anthony Towns’ timeline, but this team should be improved next season by not having Jimmy Butler torpedo them to start the season (then switching coaches midway through the campaign). Getting Robert Covington back from injury will help a lot, too, this was a much better defensive team with him out there. I expect more from this team than many others, but Andrew Wiggins remains the anchor on how high they can climb.

Kings small icon 17. Kings (39-43). Everyone’s favorite League Pass team from last season is not sneaking up on anyone this time around. They have a good new coach in Luke Walton and made a nice signing with Cory Joseph, and I like the Dewayne Dedmon signing more than most, but for Sacramento it’s going to be about internal improvement if they are going to end the longest playoff draught in the NBA (13 years and counting).

Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (33-49). This may be too low a ranking for a team with a lot of potential. New Orleans will be a League Pass favorite this season — Alvin Gentry will have them playing fast and that should benefit Zion Williamson (put it bubble wrap early at Summer League) and Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram can just get buckets, and Jrue Holiday is a good leader. This team could live up to that potential and be a playoff threat in the West. Either way, they will be must watch.

Heat small icon 19. Heat (39-43). They landed Jimmy Butler in an impressive sign-and-trade and then maxed him out, but he is surrounded by role players — Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic — who have to step up big if this team is going to make a splash in the East. Tyler Herro showed promise at Summer League. The most interesting thing to watch with Miami is them chasing another star to go with Butler (is Chris Paul, with that contract, a good fit?).

Magic small icon 20. Magic (42-40). This may be too low a ranking, but it’s hard to get excited about this team. Orlando re-signed Nikola Vucevic, but didn’t address their other big need at point guard. The Magic remain a decent team stuck in the middle of the East. They do have Markelle Fultz on the roster, that was a good role of the dice, but team officials said they’re not sure he’ll be ready to start the season. Not a good sign.

Pistons small icon 21. Pistons (41-41). This is a nice team led by Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, but it’s hard to see their perimeter players taking them forward much. Reggie Jackson is who he is at this point, although I like the pickup of Derrick Rose behind him as a backup. Maybe Luke Kennard can take another step forward. This is a nice team, one that will battle for a playoff spot in the East, but little more.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (22-60, LW 27). Another team that may be too low in these rankings because they have a lot of interesting young players in Zach LaVine, Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., and maybe their star in Lauri Markkanen. I like the Tomas Satoransky signing, he played well a couple seasons ago in Washington when John Wall was out. There is good talent on the roster, but who is the alpha who brings it all together?

Hawks small icon 23. Hawks (29-53). Atlanta is building a nice young team around Trae Young and John Collins, and we’ll see what De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish can add to that (the Hawks need a player on the wing and hope one of those two becomes that guy). I expect to see improvement, and for the Hawks to remain entertaining, but they may be a year or two and a player or two away from being the kind of threat they hope to become in the East.

Suns small icon 24. Suns (19-63). The Suns starting five is not bad: Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Dario Saric, Deandre Ayton. They also have Mikal Bridges on the wing, but things get thin fast for the Suns. I expect Rubio stabilizes their offense and makes them an improved team from a year ago, but there is a lot of roster building still be be done in the Valley of the Sun.

Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (32-50). It feels like the Wizards will be Bradley Beal against the world every night. This is a thin roster and John Wall is out for the season. We’ll see what guys like Rui Hachimura and Moritz Wagner can develop into for them, but it’s not moving the needle much now. The biggest storyline around the Wizards will be all the teams calling about a Bradley Beal trade, right now those calls are being shot down. Oh, and they may want to hire a formal GM for the season. Just saying’.

Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (17-65). It was a kick to the… er… punch to the guy summer for Knicks fans, who had high hopes going in of stars coming to be the franchises’ savior. The reality, the Knicks need to work to build up a base of talent, and an organizational culture, those stars want to be a part of. R.J. Barrett struggled in Summer League (15.4 points per game but on 34 percent shooting) but second-year guy Kevin Knox concerned me more when I watched him, 16.8 points per game but on just 40 percent shooting in games he should have dominated.

Grizzlies small icon 27. Grizzlies (33-49). The rebuilding is underway and the combination of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. give them a good base. Brandon Clarke has shown some promise in Summer League, 14.6 points per game but shooting 57 percent. The team will trade (or waive) Andre Iguodala at some point, but no team is giving up a first-round pick for a 35-year-old role player making $17.2 million. Clippers and Rockets are considered the frontrunners.

Thunder small icon 28. Thunder (49-33). It’s hard not to feel for Thunder fans, one year ago they had watched Paul George decide to stay and thought they had him and Russell Westbrook for years, now it’s all gone. Sam Presti pivoted as well as anyone could and stockpiled picks that will help the coming rebuild, and this is one of the league’s great scouting teams, but it will take time. Chris Paul will get traded, and they likely will listen to offers for Steven Adams, but with two-years, $53 million on his contract the market will be thin.

Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (19-63). It was a disappointment not to see Darius Garland or Kevin Porter Jr. in Summer League, but both will get plenty of run come the season as the Cavaliers continue their rebuild. Right now the Cavaliers are keeping the price for a Kevin Love trade so high nobody is interested (top young players and multiple picks), but other teams are waiting for that to change as we get into the new season. Teams are calling about him.

Hornets small icon 30. Hornets (39-43). Without Kemba Walker the Hornets are starting a major rebuilding project, but they can’t even take on other team’s bad contracts for picks/young players until they get Nicolas Batum, Bismack Biyombo, Marvin Williams and the rest off their own books. I like the idea of giving Terry Rozier the ball and a chance at the point guard spot. Beyond that, watch a lot of college ball, Hornets fans, your team needs to start nailing the draft (not exactly a franchise strength over the years).

Zion Williamson done for Summer League following knee injury

Getty Images
12 Comments

The Pelicans have the future of their franchise — No. 1 pick Zion Williamson — wrapped up in bubble wrap. As they should, this is Summer League, it matters less than what Kanye thinks about Taylor Swift.

Williamson played one half of one Summer League game on Friday night, had some knee-to-knee contact, the Pelicans sat him in the second half and are now shutting him down for the remainder of Las Vegas Summer League. Pelicans VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin made it official.

If these were games that mattered, Williamson probably could play. But they are not, it’s Summer League, no reason to take a risk.

It will come as a major disappointment for fans, who sold out the first weekend of games in Las Vegas primarily to see the phenom out of Duke play. The Pelicans will take on the Wizards tonight at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. in Las Vegas) but now without the main draw for fans.

Williamson’s entire first Summer League will now consist of 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting — all four of his makes were dunks — plus three rebounds and shooting 3-of-6 from the free throw line. He was up and down, was clearly pressing early, had three of his shots blocked by Mitchell Robinson of the Knicks, missed defensive assignments, and basically looked like a rookie in his first game. His jump shot form needs work (the release is low and too slow right now), but it’s fixable with work.

But when he got a little space Zion showed the footwork, strength, and potential that had scouts comparing him with the best players to enter the NBA in a decade. And he just embarrassed Kevin Knox.

That’s the highlight we’re going to have until training camp starts now in the fall.

Zion Williamson’s debut overshadowed after earthquake shuts down Summer League for night

2 Comments

People are going to talk about Zion Williamson‘s NBA Summer League debut for a long time.

Not just because he took Kevin Knox‘s lunch money and threw down a dunk.

But rather because an earthquake — a 7.1 quake centered in Ridgecrest, Calif., a city basically halfway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas — shook the Thomas & Mack center where the game was being played, causing the massive overhead scoreboard and speakers to sway, and pushing NBA and Summer League officials to call off the rest of the games for the night.

The Knicks/Pelicans game has 7:53 left to go in the fourth quarter was eventually declared a final with the Pelicans winning 80-74. The late game in the Thomas & Mack, the Suns vs. Nuggets, was canceled.

The games in the smaller Cox Center next door, which seats about 5,000 and feels more like a mid-major college arena, continued for a while because it does not have the same overhead scoreboard. However, those games were eventually called off as well.

Ridgecrest is a city that had a 6.4 magnitude earthquake just days before. While the town itself is relatively small (fewer than 30,000) the rolling quake could be felt from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. When the quake hit, the Thomas & Mack center largely emptied out.

However, it had already started to empty out earlier after word began to get around Williamson was not playing in the second half of the game against New York because of a knee-to-knee collision in the first half. The Pelicans chose to sit him out of an abundance of caution (as they should, this is just Summer League).

The much-hyped debut showdown between No. 1 pick Williamson and No. 3 pick R.J. Barrett had both players looking like rookies who have work to do to reach their potential. Which is exactly what we should have expected, but also not what fuels the hype machine before the game.

Williamson’s Summer League debut finished with him having 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting — all four of his makes were dunks — plus he went 3-of-6 from the free throw line and had three boards. Also, for the record, he walked into the building wearing Puma’s but played in his Duke Nikes.

There were good things and highlights from Williamson — when he got a little bit of room he exploited it and showed the potential that had scouts drooling all season. He’s strong and aggressive.

Williamson’s jump shot also is a work in progress, it’s a low and slow release that led to his first three being short and later Mitchell Robinson blocking a three, which led to a run-out dunk. On the other end, Williamson’s defensive recognition was slow at times, as is to be expected with a rookie in his first game.

You can see why Williamson needs to work on the jump shot to round out his game. When Robinson guarded him, Williamson blew by the Knicks center and got to the rim, but Robinson started to play back and dare Williamson to take jumpers. It was kind of the Giannis Antetokounmpo treatment, and it worked on Zion.

Knicks No. 3 pick R.J. Barrett struggled even more, finishing the night 4-of-18 shooting including 1-of-8 from three. Barrett struggled to create separation and get his shot off how he wanted, while on the other end Frank Jackson took it right at Barrett and scored 30 points for the game (before it was postponed).

Nobody should read much into those performances, Summer League itself just sets a baseline for the coaching staffs to understand what the players need to work on the rest of the summer. One game at Summer League means next to nothing for a player. Last Summer I was at Trae Young‘s Summer League debut in Salt Lake City and struggled mightily, but by the end of the Las Vegas Summer League Young looked much better, and by the end of the NBA season he was pushing for Rookie of the Year.

The standouts for the Knicks were their second-year players Allonzo Trier (21 points on 8-of-14 shooting), Kevin Knox (17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, including a couple of plays where he attacked Zion and scored), and Mitchell Robinson (8 points, 10 rebounds, and four blocks — three of them on Williamson). It was evident how much more slowly the game moved for them.

At least until the shaking started.

Zion Williamson rips ball out of Kevin Knox hands, throws it down hard (VIDEO)

Getty Images
2 Comments

Zion Williamson was up and down in his Summer League debut, getting his shot blocked by Mitchell Robinson three times in the first half alone. He looked like a rookie…

That’s not why you’re here — you want the highlights. Zion had those, too. But none like ripping the ball out of Kevin Knox hands and throwing it down.

That is a man’s move.

It was some payback for a Knox strip of Williamson earlier.

Williamson was putting on a show in warmups, too.

Zion had 11 points in the first half, and was sat the second half by the Pelicans in a conservative move after some knee to knee contact in the first half. (Fans may not like it, but that’s what teams should do here, this is just Sumer League.)

The Knicks with three players who got regular NBA minutes last season — Allonzo Trier, Mitchell Robinson, and Knox — controlled the game.

Concerns about Knicks organization reportedly at heart of why free agents stayed away

Getty Images
8 Comments

It’s not about the last 20 years, most NBA players don’t account for “ancient” history when choosing a free agent destination. It’s about the previous five years or so.

If you’re thinking about the last five years, what do you know of the Clippers? Went to the playoffs every year, have player-friendly and loved Doc Rivers as coach, was the fun show of Lob City, rebuilt well on the fly, have Jerry West in the front office and an owner worth about $50 billion in Steve Ballmer.

What do you know about the Nets in the last five years? Playing in Brooklyn now, and management there has built a player-friendly culture built on guys who play hard, and they have made smart rebuilding decision after smart rebuilding decision under Sean Marks. This is a playoff team already poised to take a step forward.

That’s now what players think of the Knicks, according to a story in the New York Times by David Waldstein.

Yet interviews with agents and other basketball executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing any future business with the Knicks, bear out the perception that players would rather not deal with an organization seen as dysfunctional, though there are more nuanced explanations for the radioactivity of the team, as well…

But there is also the remote location of the Knicks’ practice facility — in suburban Westchester County, nearly 30 miles from Manhattan, a long commute that complicates living arrangements — and most recently there has been the surprising success of the Nets…

Players around the league, according to the agents, have taken note of the Knicks’ instability: There have been 10 coaches since Van Gundy left in 2001 and almost as many top executives, some with impressive résumés, like Isiah Thomas, Donnie Walsh and Phil Jackson. Now [Steve] Mills and Scott Perry, the general manager, are at the helm.

James Dolan is painted as the villain, the Knicks need to overcome that perception.

Perry and Mills have done a good job this summer in this sense: After striking out with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they didn’t throw max contracts at second- and third-tier guys who would hamstring the organization going forward, as the Knicks have done in the past. They stuck with building around youth — R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson — while adding smart veteran contracts such as Julius Randle (a two-year deal). Keep improving, but keep the financial flexibility go after the next star.

Think about the struggling franchises that have made big moves. The Lakers did it by putting together enough good young players that they could make an interesting offer for Anthony Davis. The Nets had young players with talent such as D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and Joe Harris. The Clippers may or may not get Kawhi Leonard, but they also have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet, Montrezl Harrell plus veterans such as Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley who are respected around the NBA.

The Knicks need to spend a couple of seasons getting there, getting that core talent level up, then the rest of it can come together.

And then the stories about why players are staying away will stop.