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Ten best players not taken in 2019 NBA Draft

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Fred VanVleet hounded Stephen Curry in the NBA Finals, hit big shots, and played an important role in the Toronto Raptors winning their first ever NBA title.

VanVleet was undrafted.

So was his teammate Jeremy Lin. And the Warriors’ Quinn Cook. Then there’s Seth Curry, Robert Covington, Kent Bazemore, Joe Ingles, Yogi Ferrell, Allonzo Trier, Jonathon Simmons, Langston Galloway, Matthew Dellavedova, Royce O'Neale, Maxi Kleber… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg of undrafted players making an impact in the NBA.

Who are the guys overlooked in the 2019 NBA Draft that teams may regret not snapping up? Here are our top 10:

Luguentz Dort, 6’4” shooting guard, Arizona State. He was the Pac 12 Freshman of the Year and his value at the next level is as a defender, he was tenacious as an on-ball guy (although not every scout is so sure about that). Some people thought he was a late first-round pick. What scared teams off? He’s a shooting guard who shot 30.7 percent from three last year. That has to improve (and reportedly has in workouts). OKC quickly locked him up after the draft.

He also has to become a better finisher at the rim, he was inconsistent there. But with his potential, it’s a surprise to see him go undrafted.

Naz Reid, 6’10” center, LSU. He has a world of potential, and while he’s a project big man, there were a lot of project bigs taken in this draft. Minnesota locked him up after the draft.

Reid can put the ball on the floor, shot better than 35 percent from three, has a good touch, and is the kind of big who could grab the board and bring the ball up himself. However, he seemed disinterested in defense (and occasionally offense) this season. Does he love basketball? That may have been the biggest reason he fell, but he has a chance to prove guys wrong.

Brian Bowen, 6’7″ wing, Sydney Kings. It didn’t take long after the draft for the Indiana Pacers to lock Bowen up.

Rather than play in college, Bowen went to Australia and played against men (and alongside Andrew Bogut). He’s got an NBA shooting touch, more confidence now, and knows how to play a physical game. It’s a surprise a team didn’t give him a shot before the Pacers.

Shamorie Ponds, 6’1” point guard, St. Johns. He’s got a lot of playground in his game, both for good and bad. He’s got impressive handles and uses that and some hesitation moves to get space and get to the rim or pull up for a jumper. After that, he’s got work to do. He has to get stronger, he has to be better at setting up teammates, his shot needs to be more consistent, and his defense needs to improve. A project, but if he puts in the work he could be a rotation guard in a few years.

DaQuan Jeffries, 6’5” wing, Tulsa. He has the raw tools to be a 3&D role player in the NBA — he’s very athletic, shooting range, he has a 7-foot wingspan — but it’s going to take a lot of development to get him there. Orlando is going to give him that chance.

Jeffries’ ball handling has to improve, and he has to be far more consistent. He had a good showing at the Portsmouth Invitational, which helped boost his draft stock, but just not enough.

Jontay Porter, 6’11” center, Missouri. The concern here is obvious — he has two ACL tears. He wasn’t the most athletic prospect to begin with, but the medical reports are the reason he fell out of the draft. Porter has skills as a shooter out to the arc and he plays a high IQ game, plus he fights hard for rebounds and tries on defense. Some team should bring him in this summer and give him a chance.

Terence Davis, 6’5” shooting guard, Mississippi. A guy who has moved up draft boards as the day got closer, but apparently not enough. He a good athlete he has been a decent shooter, if a bit streaky, but if he can become a more consistent shooter and add a little playmaking to his game, Davis can be a role player in the NBA. He’s got to improve his defense and accept a role, but if he can do that he can develop into a scorer off the bench in the league.

Louis King, 6’8” forward, Oregon. Teams see the potential for a stretch four in him, he shot 38.6% from three last season, but he’s just got to get stronger. He’s not quick enough to be a very switchable defender. That said, he can become a role player if he puts in the work — and that’s the big question. Reports have teams concerned about his work ethic and love of the game, and that likely doomed his chances. He has to repair that this summer.

Jalen Lecque, 6’4” guard, Brewster Academy. This is all about the potential. Lecque played last season at a prep school, not in college, he’s a top-shelf athlete with NBA wingspan (6’8.5”) who could be an impressive NBA defender. That’s why the Suns gave him a non-guaranteed contract.

Lecque is very, very raw, his shot isn’t there yet, the game seemed to move too fast for him at the Draft Combine, and there is a lot of development to do here. Still, gambling on a guy with athletic upside is a smart play.

Zach Norvell Jr., 6’5″ shooting guard, Gonzaga. In a league that needs shooting, Norvell can get red-hot and has ridiculous range. Yes, there were questions about his athleticism, and with that who he could defend, but considering who was taken it’s surprising to see a good shooter left on the sidelines.

• One Bonus note: Teams were not nearly as high on Tacko Falls as fans. Maybe he proves everybody wrong and pans out, but he has no range to his game. He’s an old-school style center in a league getting away from those kinds of players, and teams were concerned he cannot keep up with the pace of the NBA. This isn’t college where he can just be planted near the rim, plus he needs to get a lot stronger to compete inside in the NBA. He’ll get a Summer League invite, no doubt, but he has a lot of work to do to get where he wants to be.

Report: Bucks trading Tony Snell, No. 30 pick to Pistons

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For a team only lukewarm on paying the luxury tax, the Bucks are in a payroll crunch. Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic will be free agents this summer.

That’s why Milwaukee was trying to unload Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova.

But if they re-sign their key free agents to multi-year deals, the Bucks could face more payroll/tax concerns in 2020-21.

That’s why Milwaukee is willing to deal Snell and its first-round pick for Jon Leuer‘s burdensome contract – which carries a slightly lower salary than Snell’s next season ($9,508,043 vs. $11,592,857) and, more importantly, ends one year before Snell’s ($12,378,571 player option for 2020-21),

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This trade lowers Milwaukee’s team salary by about $4 million next season and $14 million the following season.

The Bucks could stretch Leuer and reduce team salary by an extra $6,338,695 next season. But that’d also lock in a cap hit of $3,169,348 each of the next three years.

Milwaukee can make that decision later in the summer. It’ll depend what other free agents – especially Lopez, who has only Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights – command. Clearing extra money this offseason could be useful in multiple scenarios.

If Lopez signs for the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to start at about $9 million), the Bucks could maintain Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic then exceed the cap to re-sign those three. But Milwaukee would be hard-capped at a projected $138 million. Stretching Leuer could help the Bucks stay under that line.

If re-signing Lopez requires more than the mid-level exception, Milwaukee could open about $14 million in cap space by waiving George Hill and renouncing all its free agents besides Middleton and Brogdon. Stretching Leuer would open even more cap room to spend on Lopez.

If Lopez leaves, the same math applies to an outside free agent who could get the mid-level exception or cap room.

This extra maneuverability comes at a cost, though a reasonable one.

Snell, who fell from the Bucks’ rotation, could be the Pistons’ starting small forward next season. Detroit was desperate for wing depth. Though Snell isn’t the biggest wing, he adds size to a group comprised of Luke Kennard, Bruce Brown and Langston Galloway.

The No. 30 pick is a helpful piece to the Pistons, who also have the No. 15 pick in tomorrow’s draft. But this is a weak-looking draft that thins considerably before the end of the first round.

Milwaukee also had to take Leuer, who has been ineffective for years.

Detroit gets helps now with Snell and potentially later with the No. 30 pick. In between, that extra year of Snell’s contract looks burdensome.

The Bucks are just happy to have it not be theirs.

Rumor: Pistons among teams considering Markelle Fultz trade

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Markelle Fultz remains away from the 76ers, getting treatment for his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome while the rest of his teammates try to adjust to playing with Jimmy Butler (which is going better for some than others).

The sense around the league is the Sixers still plan to trade Fultz, they’re just waiting for better offers to come in, the first round was very lowball.

A few teams are kicking the tires on a trade, and among them are the Pistons, reports Rod Beard of the Detroit News.

Let’s be clear, nothing is close on any Sixers trade of Fultz right now. Teams are just testing the waters.

It’s an interesting idea for Detroit, the chance to add a player who was a high draft pick —  but only if they think he’s healthy and can get over his mental hurdles (his agent said there aren’t any, it’s all physical, and most of the league laughed at that). Also, the sides need to find a trade that works. Fultz, as a No. 1 pick, is not cheap, he makes $8.3 million this season and is guaranteed $9.7 next season, then $12.3 million the season after that (unless whatever team has his rights and just cuts bait on that last season).

The Pistons are flirting with the luxury tax line right now, their $123.3 million payroll is just about $500,000 below the tax line, so Detroit will not be taking on any salary in any potential trade. They also sent out last year’s first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade, so they can’t trade this year’s, and likely would not include a pick anyway. A deal centered around Ish Smith or Langston Galloway plus Zaza Pachulia works (after Dec. 15 when Pachulia becomes available to trade). Both provide guard depth and Galloway offers Philly some shooting (34.9 percent taking 65 percent of his shots from three this season). Reggie Bullock also could be part of a trade.

There are options. Right now the Pistons are among the teams kicking the tires on a trade, but we are a long way from it actually happening.

Grade-school phenom Allonzo Trier took winding road to success with Knicks

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Allonzo Trier appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as a sixth grader. By then, the Seattle native was already spending his weekends jetting around the country for basketball games. In high school, he moved to Oklahoma then Maryland then Nevada to join teams.

“It’s become normal for the top high school, premier athletes,” Trier said.

Should it be normal?

“We’re not normal people,” Trier said. “You know what I mean? Who’s to say for the normal tech person, the normal other people that are at the top of what they do in their lives and their careers? So, I don’t really think there’s a limit you can put on somebody.”

The top-rated player nationally in his class in elementary school, Trier’s potential seemed limitless, and he worked tirelessly to fulfill it. But spending an up-and-down three years at University of Arizona and going undrafted left doubt about his NBA career as of just a few months ago.

Yet, Trier – who signed with the Knicks – is already proving he belongs.

He’s averaging 11.3 points per game. That’s one of the highest scoring averages ever for an undrafted rookie in his first professional season (minimum: 10 games):

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*Don Barksdale finished at UCLA in 1947, but he spent a couple years playing AAU in Oakland while waiting for the NBA to integrate.

Trier just gets buckets. The 6-foot-5 guard is a methodical dribbler, capable of pulling up or slashing. His crafty moves draw plenty of fouls, especially for a rookie, and he’s a solid shooter.

Trier has a good chance to become just the 13th undrafted player to make an All-Rookie team, joining Yogi Ferrell, Langston Galloway, Gary Neal, Jamario Moon, Walter Herrmann, Jorge Garbajosa, Marquis Daniels, Udonis Haslem, J.R. Bremer, Chucky Atkins, Matt Maloney and Larry Stewart. Only Ferrell, Galloway, Daniels, Bremer, Stewart did it in their first professional season.

In some respects, the biggest surprise is how long it took Trier to reach this point. 247 ranked him No. 6 in his high school class, and everyone ahead of him – Ben Simmons (76ers), Skal Labissiere (Kings), Brandon Ingram (Lakers), Cheick Diallo (Pelicans) and Jaylen Brown (Celtics) – went one-and-done in college.

“We thought I was going to be out in one year,” Trier said.

But Trier broke his hand during his freshman year, wasn’t quite as sharp upon his return and stayed for his sophomore season. That came with expectations from Arizona coach Sean Miller.

“Coach Miller told me that was going to be my last year,” Trier said.

Then, Trier got into a car crash before the season. He failed a drug test, but won his appeal, the NCAA agreeing he unknowingly took Ostarine while recovering from the crash. Still, the NCAA ruled he couldn’t play until the drug completely left his body. “It was really dumb,” Trier said. “It was really tedious.” He missed most the season and again forewent the draft.

In his junior year, Trier got suspended yet again for trace amounts of Ostarine. “A joke,” Trier said. “C’mon now. You guys know what the deal was.” He appealed, and this time, the NCAA allowed him to return to the court within a week.

Trier finally turned pro this year, but he went undrafted.

That “undrafted” label is harsher than it sounds. The Knicks called him during the draft and offered to sign him if he went undrafted. Trier said “a few” teams would have drafted him contingent on him accepting a certain contract, but he turned them down in order to get to New York.

Still, more teams could have called. Someone could have liked him enough to draft him despite his unwillingness to pledge to contract terms beforehand.

“I’m angry. I was upset,” Trier said. “I thought it was like a joke that I didn’t get picked.”

He signed a two-way contract with the Knicks – importantly, for only one season. He earns $4,737 every day he’s on New York’s active list for a game or works out/practices with a teammate at the team’s discretion. On other days, he gets paid $544.

Between the start of G League training camp and the end of the G League season, Trier can spend 45 days with the NBA club. Today marks 45 days since G League training camps opened. Surely, the Knicks have had enough travel days and days off to extend Trier’s deadline at least another week. But it’s looming.

By then, the Knicks have three options:

  • Convert Trier’s contract to a standard contract. He’d get paid $4,737 daily the rest of the season and be eligible to play all New York’s remaining games. But next summer, he’d become a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer $200,000 above the league minimum – meaning his qualifying offer would project to be about $1.6 million.
  • Leave Trier on a two-way contract. He couldn’t play for New York until the G League season ends, but his qualifying offer next summer would be cheaper – a two-way contract with just $50,000 guaranteed.
  • Negotiate a new, longer contract with Trier. The Knicks have enough of their mid-level exception left to offer Trier a minimum salary on a contract that could last up to four years. New York also has the bi-annual exception, which could give Trier a starting salary up to $3,382,000 – but on a deal lasting only two years.

Whether he hits restricted free agency with a minimum+$200k or a two-way qualifying offer, Trier appears likely to command standard-contract offer sheets. So, the second option is likely off the table unless the Knicks are trying to scare Trier into accepting a more team-friendly multi-year deal.

But how could New York not reward an undrafted player who has shown so much determination, even outplaying teammates No. 9 pick Kevin Knox and No. 36 pick Mitchell Robinson?

“He basically just came into training camp and said, ‘I’m going to make this team.’ And then, once he made the team, he said, ‘I’m going to get in the rotation,'” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s a super competitor.”

Two-way contracts give teams immense control, but Trier’s play has given him unusual leverage. He has scored more than triple the points of any other two-way player this season. His ability to become a free agent this summer presses the Knicks to pay him more now.

But Trier, who turns 23 next month, is older than everyone drafted this year besides George King, Devonte' Graham, Devon Hall, Jevon Carter and Grayson Allen. Maybe Trier should be better than his rookie peers.

Trier’s all-around game is also lacking at this point. And his scoring often comes in isolation after taking his time with his moves. So, when he gets stifled, the shot clock has run down considerably before the Knicks can try another plan of attack. Trier must main very efficient as a scorer to justify continuing to play this way. Even as a two-way rookie, Trier plays with a star’s style.

Probably because he has spent so long as a star.

The New York Times Magazine featured him as an example of the trappings and pressures of high-level grass-roots basketball. The most telling quote in the story came from his mother, Marcie: “They’re doing nice things for my son, things that he needs and I can’t afford. So how can I say no?”

Trier was such a big deal as a kid, it was arranged for him to meet Kevin Durant during a media event Durant’s rookie year in Seattle. Durant and Trier had a mutual friend in Oklahoma, and then Trier transferred to Durant’s former high school in Maryland (Montrose Christian). Through those connections, Durant and Trier developed a friendship.

“I think he just dove into basketball, and it was therapeutic for him,” Durant said. “You can tell.

“He’s one of those kids that really, really, really loves basketball. He’s not doing it for money. He’s not doing it for fame. He’s not doing it for attention. Or to get girls. Or to buy s—. He’s actually a hooper. It’s rare in this league to have guys like that.”

That’s clearly why Trier has persevered through the bright lights , dark days and everything in between. That New York Times Magazine article took Trier to a wider audience, and he just kept plugging away.

“I was young, so I don’t think I understood it fully,” Trier said. “But now that I – I’m still young, so I still don’t understand it. But, one day, I think I’ll get a chance to look back and see the journey I went through and see, man, started at a young age, and it was a hell of a journey.”

NBA Power Rankings: Toronto is for real, maybe the Clippers are, too

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Klay Thompson called the upcoming Thursday night matchup between Toronto and Golden State a potential Finals preview… and he’s right. Nobody doubts the Warriors will figure it out in the West (and they may have Curry back for that game) and so far, Toronto has been the class of the East. And they sit atop these rankings.

 
Raptors small icon 1. Raptors (18-4, last week No. 2). Toronto has won 6 in a row, but the knock on them had been they had the fourth easiest schedule in the league. Tuesday night they went into Memphis and beat the Grizzlies — that’s a quality win. A good game in that one from Fred VanVleet, who has struggled this season, was promising. The tests will keep coming over the next few weeks, so it’s a good thing C.J. Miles is back, they could use the depth. Now Golden State, Denver, and Philly make up three of the next four (and the tough run continues like that through much of December).

 
Clippers small icon 2. Clippers (13-6, LW 3). With the caveat it’s too early to have a serious postseason awards conversation yet, if I were voting for Sixth Man of the Year right now the Clippers would have two guys in the top three. First is the defending holder of that crown Lou Williams, who again leads the league in fourth quarter scoring. Then there’s Montrezl Harrell, who might be more important to the team off the bench. His energy, defense, and rebounding are eye-popping.

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (14-6, LW 1). The Bucks are for real — they have the best net rating in the NBA, the best offense, a top-10 defense, and a serious MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo — but when you live by the three like they do, you can die by it, too. When Brook Lopez goes 0-of-12 from three against the Suns, you lose. When you shoot 22.9% from three over the final three quarters against Charlotte, you lose. Not that they can or should stop shooting threes, it’s working, but it can lead to some ugly losses now and again (and a little slide down the rankings when it happens).

 
Thunder small icon 4. Thunder (12-7, LW 4).. Russell Westbrook had his first triple-double of the season last week, he’s not racking up the raw numbers like he used to, but what he’s done is be more efficient and that’s leading the Thunder to wins. Last season, Westbrook averaged 19.3 drives per game (leading the league) but shot 49.9% when he shot on those. This season the volume of drives is down, 15.5 per game, but he’s shooting 57.7% when he does drive and shoot. Those kinds of little things — and impressive OKC defense — has them as one of the best teams in the NBA over the last 15 games.

 
Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (14-7, LW 10).. Jamal Murray is struggling with his shot. The point guard Denver sees as part of its core is shooting 42.9% overall, 31% from three (down from 37.8% last season) and his 51.8 true shooting percentage is below the league average. His assists are up and the offense is still 2.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (largely because he’s often paired with Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris), but the Nuggets need more out of him to stop having the hot-than-cold streaks. Right now they are hot, having won four in a row but now head out for five straight on the road.

 
Sixers small icon 6. 76ers (14-8, LW 7). Philadelphia is 5-2 since the Jimmy Butler trade. Butler is the closer they needed, he’s already got two game-winners, but that masks a +0.1 net rating in those seven games — basically that of a .500 team. The Sixers have a top five offense (it came together more quickly than expected) but a bottom five defense since they made the big trade. While the Sixers have some elite defenders, they don’t have great depth and teams are targeting the weak links on that end. It’s not a big concern, yet, especially as long as Butler keeps doing this:

 
Warriors small icon 7. Warriors (15-7, LW 11). About those Warriors’ struggles… they have won three in a row, Kevin Durant has been taking over (he dropped 49 on the Magic), and they may have Stephen Curry back as soon as Thursday in Toronto (and certainly during the upcoming five-game road trip). Golden State’s “rough patch” has dropped them all the way to the No. 2 seed percentage points behind the Clippers. Still a few interesting tests coming up on the road in Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee.

 
Pacers small icon 8. Pacers (13-8, LW 6). Indiana is 3-2 so far with Victor Oladipo out due to a knee issue, including a win over the Jazz (Indy was 0-7 last season, so it’s a huge improvement). The Pacers also keep winning while bucking the trend of shooting threes — they are 27th in the league in percentage of shots taken from three, but they are fifth in the NBA in three-point percentage, shooting 37.3 from deep. It helps make up for that when Darren Collison can do this with his crossover.

Pistons small icon 9. Pistons (11-7, 15). The Pistons are 7-2 in their last nine, Blake Griffin is still beasting, and the wing combo of Glenn Robinson III and Reggie Bullock settled in right as the winning streak started. All good things, but it’s not those starters that is to thank for this run — it’s the Detroit bench. Pistons fans should thank Ish Smith, Langston Galloway, and Bruce Brown are leading the way and it’s working, Detroit is solidly in playoff position in the East.

 
Grizzlies small icon 10. Grizzlies (12-8, LW 8). Memphis has zigged when the league zagged — pace is up everywhere, but the Grizzlies are throwing teams off by slowing it down (the slowest pace of play in the league) and playing a smart, grind-it-out game that takes teams out of their rhythm. Combine that with their length and Marc Gasol playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level in the paint and you have a defensive rating of 104.9, fifth best in the league. One troubling trend while losing three in a row is blowing leads (including 17 to Toronto Tuesday), this team doesn’t have the firepower to come from behind well.

 
Lakers small icon 11. Lakers (11-9, LW 13). Tuesday night, the Lakers were 5-of-35 from three. That’s not terribly out of character, ] Lakers normally don’t shoot a lot of threes (29.7 a game, 20th in the league), and they are shooting 34.7%. Laker coach Luke Walton is okay with some threes. “It is as long as we keep taking good ones…. Other teams scout to let us shoot threes, so when they are open, we’ll make open threes. Our guys are good… We don’t want to run to the three-point line in transition, we want to attack the rim. We don’t want to swing, swing, jack up a three, we want to penetrate the defense and then shoot a three. So as long as we take the right kinds of threes our percentage will stay up. We want to be a team that attacks the rim.”

 
Blazers small icon 12. Trail Blazers (12-8, LW 5). Losers of three in a row and 5-of-7, and that includes in the last week a 43-point thrashing by the Bucks and 28 by the Warriors (without Steph and Draymond). It’s been a rough patch, but they had a few days off, the schedule softens some (although Orlando tonight is no pushover) and the best news is Jusuf Nurkic should be ready to go after a shoulder contusion. They need him in the one lineup that is firing for this team (Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, Nurkic).

 
Celtics small icon 13. Celtics (11-10, LW 14). What is wrong with Boston’s offense is everyone’s new favorite parlor game around the NBA (that and Bradley Beal trade scenarios). I don’t think it’s one simple thing, but to me the Celtics have to start driving more (their 34.8 per game is third fewest in the league), getting to the rim more (24.6 shots per game in the restricted area is third fewest per game in the NBA), draw some fouls (second lowest free throw rate in the league), and stop settling for long pull-up twos, nothing will change. The Celtics need to get playing downhill, that will open up the jump shooters more.

 
Rockets small icon 14. Rockets (9-10, LW 12). Just when you think they’ve turned the corner, the Rockets drop three straight, including games to the Cavaliers and Wizards (and despite James Harden dropping 54 in Washington). Those last two were without Chris Paul, who now is battling a left hamstring injury (that’s not the one that cost him games earlier this season), which means he could miss more time. Houston’s net rating is -1.1 this season. We keep thinking they will get healthy, go on a big run and look like the threat to Golden State we expected, but at what point is it time to start really worrying about this roster?

 
Pelicans small icon 15. Pelicans (10-11, LW 9). Losers of four in a row, although the first three were without Anthony Davis. He remains the key to everything in New Orleans, they are 10-7 when he plays and 0-4 when he doesn’t, no need to overthink that stat. The Pelicans are 17.4 points per 100 possessions worse when Davis sits. On the bright side, Julius Randle’s strong play has him in early consideration for Sixth Man of the Year (although that’s a crowded field and he’s got a lot of work to do).

 
Mavericks small icon 16. Mavericks (9-9, LW 20). They have won 6-of-7 with a +11 net rating during that stretch (third best in the NBA). That one loss in the last seven not coincidentally was the one J.J. Barea had to miss — Dallas is 17.6 points per 100 possessions better offensively when he is on the court this season, and he drives that second unit. They’ll need him with a rough week ahead: at Rockets, at Lakers, Clippers, Trail Blazers.

 
Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (10-10, LW 17). If we were picking emojis to go with teams Charlotte would get the ¯_(ツ)_/¯. They have the seventh best net rating in the league, which should mean a 13-7 record, but here we are. They have beaten the Buck and the Celtics in the past two weeks, but lost to the Hawks. What they have that’s working is Kemba Walker, who is playing at a “you better include me in your MVP talk” level. However, when he is not playing at that level this team lacks shot creation and just looks pedestrian. Hawks, Jazz, and Pelicans at home this week.

 
Spurs small icon 18. Spurs (10-10, LW 19). The Spurs are 2-5 on a string of 7-of-9 away from San Antonio, a run that ends tonight in Minnesota. Following a theme in these rankings, the Spurs can shoot the three (38.5% from beyond the arc this season, third best in the league) but take the second fewest shots from there of any team. Only 25.9% of their points come from threes, fourth fewest in the league. That’s to be expected on a team where DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge are the stars, but a few more three pointers could help the cause.

 
Magic small icon 19. Magic (10-11, LW 16). Nikola Vucevic is having the best season of his career (in a contract year… shocking) and he credits coach Steve Clifford for a lot of that. ““The way we play now, it helps me playing inside-out, it gets me going and makes me more comfortable… [it] makes it much more difficult for the other team and gives them a different look. It works great for me because I get some easy ones in the paint and am able to step out. The way coach wants me, wants us, to play fits my skill set.” That’s true, but now Vucevic is confident — so confident he’s posting up and spinning by LeBron James.

 
Kings small icon 20. Kings (10-10, LW 18). This ranking feels too low for a team in the playoff mix in the West (but that brutal conference makes the middle of these rankings a bit of a crap shoot). They have lost 4-of-6 and over the last 10 games have a -4.6 net rating, maybe the fast start was a bit of a mirage. On the flip side, they have played the sixth toughest schedule in the NBA so far, as things soften up a little they may be able to rack up a few easy wins. Fun game Thursday night against the Clippers, two of the NBA’s most surprising teams through the first quarter of the season.

 
21. Timberwolves (10-11, LW 22). Is the turnaround in Minnesota real? This team has won three in a row and 6-of-8 since trading away Butler, and they have a +5.5 net rating in those eight games with the best defense in the NBA at 101 points allowed per 100 possessions. Robert Covington is quarterbacking that defense from the wing (and putting himself in the early Defensive Player of the Year conversation). The next three on the schedule are the Spurs, Celtics, and Rockets — San Antonio and Houston are the kind of games that count double in a tight Western Conference.

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (8-12, LW 24). Don’t look now, but the Wizards have won 3-of-4 since Scott Brooks moved Thomas Bryant and Kelly Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup, pushing Markieff Morris to the bench where he has solidified the second unit. While the vultures have circled and fans/media members come up with trades, the Wizards have won 6-of-9 and may not be quite so ready to push the eject button when they are the nine seed, just 1.5 games out of the playoffs. Washington has 6-of-7 coming on the road, starting tonight in New Orleans.

 
Jazz small icon 23. Jazz (9-12, LW 21). One of the most confounding teams in the NBA. Their defense remains middle-of-the-pack overall, and even when Rudy Gobert is on the court they are a top-five defense but not elite like a season ago. On the other end, Joe Ingles is knocking down threes (38.9 percent on six attempts per game) but the rest of the team combined is shooting 30.2 percent from deep. Donovan Mitchell is taking 6.6 a game and hitting 29.2 percent, Jae Crowder is 6.4 per game and is knocking down 28.9 percent, and even Grayson Allen is at 28.6 percent. While there are flashes, this team does not look like the three seed we expected.

 
Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (7-15, LW 26). One of the biggest surprises of the young season to me is Noah Vonleh not sucking (that’s what I get for writing off a 23-year-old). He’s knocking down threes (42.1% on the season and he’s been hotter of late) and now has become a solid part of the Knicks’ rotation. Along with Tim Hardaway, Allonzo Trier and others, you can see some guys who could be role players on a roster as things turn around. The Knicks had won three in a row through a tough part of the schedule (Celtics, Pelicans, Grizzlies) until they ran into Detroit Tuesday. Still, David Fizdale’s team is flashing signs of promise.

 
Nets small icon 25. Nets (8-13, LW 23). The “Brooklyn can make the playoffs” talk has slowed as the team dropped three in a row and 7-of-9 (although they are just two games out of the 8 seed right now). They miss Caris LeVert’s playmaking and the one game Spencer Dinwiddie and D'Angelo Russell combined for 69 points Jimmy Butler does them wrong in the end. Jarrett Allen continues to show growth and promise, not just in the raw numbers but in taking on more of the offense while still being efficient.

 
Heat small icon 26. Heat (7-13, LW 25). Miami misses Goran Dragic (knee issue), they are 1-4 without him in this stretch and 2-6 without him on the season, with a -4.3 net rating when he is off the court. Also at issue is Miami’s penchant for turnovers — 15.6 percent of their possessions end in a turnover, fifth worst in the NBA. On the bright side, Bam Adebayo is playing better of late — he’s had some nice double-doubles — and looks like the future for the Heat. Of course, that leads to some tough Hassan Whiteside questions.

 
Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (4-15, LW 28). Cleveland had a couple of nice wins in the past week, knocking off Philadelphia and Houston (although that will move them up only so much in these rankings). Collin Sexton is showing flashes and getting buckets, and through those wins Tristan Thompson was a beast on the boards. Trade rumors — about Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith, primarily — continue to swirl, but it may take an injury or some pressure on another team to get the job done. Great job by Cleveland handling the LeBron James return tribute last week.

 
Hawks small icon 28. Hawks (5-16, LW 30). The Hawks have won two in a row and it’s not a coincidence that has happened with John Collins back and starting to get his legs under him again. Through six games he has averaged 15.2 points per game shooting 62.7%, with a PER of 18.9, and on defense he had the game-winning block against Charlotte. He provides some of what the Hawks lacked inside. Trae Young continues to struggle with his shot, hitting 34.8% overall and 26.9% from three in his last five games (which isn’t good but better than the previous five games).

 
Bulls small icon 29. Bulls (5-16, LW 27). Losers of 7-of-8 (the lone win came against Phoenix, the only thing keeping Chicago out of the bottom of these rankings). If you’re looking for a silver lining, Jabari Parker is averaging 20 points a game over his last five, and is shooting 35% from three overall in that stretch. It’s not efficient enough to make up for his defense (and someone has to get the points on this team), but he looks like a guy who maybe can find a bench role in the league going forward.

 
Suns small icon 30. Suns (4-16, LW 29). Just one win in their last six but you can see the potential — Devin Booker is a scorer, rookie Deandre Ayton is giving them 17 and 10 a night, T.J. Warren has improved — but this team lacks the kind of game-managing quality point guard that can be the glue, who can bring all these parts together and make it all work. Jamal Crawford has given them a couple of nice recent games, expect his name (along with Trevor Ariza) to come up in trade rumors soon).