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NBA Power Rankings: Warriors still on top

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The NBA season is back, and with it, so are the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, which are put together each week throughout the season.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (Last season 58-24). If a team is the two-time defending champs and made four straight Finals appearances, they start on top. The only question is how motivated the Warriors are during the regular season — which may be less of an issue this time around, listening to the buzz around the team. Keeping Golden State healthy and not letting it build a bunch of bad habits while waiting for the games to really matter again has to be Steve Kerr’s focus. Don’t expect to see DeMarcus Cousins until after you’ve opened your Christmas presents.

Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (55-27). Don’t read too much into the preseason struggles — that was exactly what coach Brad Stevens needed to get this team’s attention and get them focused on the process. It turns out bringing two superstar players — Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — back into the fold is not simply a matter of plug-and-play, it’s going to take some work. Plus, Hayward is not all the way back yet. Still, with all this depth, the Celtics should own the East.

Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (65-17). Carmelo Anthony has blended fairly smoothly in the preseason, accepting his role coming off the bench and as more as a shooter working off the ball, now we will see if that continues when opposing defenses start to care. A lot of lineup shuffling in the preseason, which leads to a question: Who will close games for Houston? Chris Paul and James Harden for sure, but after that which two of Anthony, P.J. Tucker, Eric Gordon, James Ennis, and Clint Capela will sit?

Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (59-23). Understandably a lot of the preseason focus has been on Kawhi Leonard, but there is another big question for this team (both early and for the full season): What kind of difference does new coach Nick Nurse make? He’s a rookie coach and he’s doing things like talking about changing the starting five based on opponent, but the hope was he would bring a less predictable offense (especially for the postseason). Nurse said he is going to be “fluid” with rotations — read: experimenting — for the start of the season, but this is a deep team that had the best bench in the NBA last season, and it could be better this year.

Sixers small icon 5. 76ers (52-30). Replacing J.J. Redick with Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup to start the season is an interesting tactic by Brett Brown (the Sixers starting lineup with Redick was +21 points per 100 possessions last season), but it should do one thing for sure: The Sixers’ defense should be better. And it was top five last season. The question becomes floor spacing on the other end: Ben Simmons is not a jump shooter, Joel Embiid can hit threes but needs to be around the basket, and Fultz doesn’t have the jumper of an NBA two-guard yet (he attempted just five shots from three in the preseason). Defenses will pack the paint on Philly. Also, teams that make the China trip in preseason tend to start slowly the next season.

Jazz small icon 6. Jazz (48-34). There are a lot of people on the Jazz bandwagon, some even suggesting they are better than the Rockets. What Utah has going for it is an elite defense (if Rudy Gobert can stay healthy) and continuity from the team that was so good the second half of last season. But after Donovan Mitchell, who is the other shot creator? Ricky Rubio can set guys up, but is he a secondary go-to guy? The Jazz bet big on Dante Exum this summer, he is a guy to watch.

Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (48-34).. Russell Westbrook is banged up to start the season (he had his knee scoped a month ago and will miss at least the opener), and Andre Roberson is out until December — that second part is a bigger blow than some fans realize. The injuries could lead to a slow start for the Thunder, which is dangerous in the very deep West. Can Terrance Ferguson step up on the wing and give them something?

Nuggets small icon 8. Nuggets (46-36).. Everyone is high on the Nikola Jokic/Jamal Murray/Gary Harris starting lineup, and with good reason, especially with Will Barton added to it. The Nuggets will have an elite offense. Two big questions loom for this team: Can their defense (bottom five last season) improve, even up to league average? And, with Isaiah Thomas out who will lead the bench unit? Can Trey Lyles step into that role and thrive?

Lakers small icon 9. Lakers (35-47). The Lakers are going to run this season (they likely will have one of the fastest paces in the league) and that combined with LeBron James distributing from the elbow should lead to an impressive offense, although the lack of true shooters could hold them back a little. The question is at the other end of the court, will the Lakers get enough stops to win? They were sloppy defensively in the preseason. Portland and Houston this week start off a brutal schedule to start the season.

Bucks small icon 10. Bucks (44-38 LW 18). This may be too low a ranking for a team I am high on. While we should take the preseason with a grain of salt, the Bucks looked like a modern offense under Mike Budenholzer, leaning on three pointers and getting to the rim, avoiding midrange jumpers — and they had an impressive offense because of it. Giannis Antetokounmpo was a flat out beast, showing more confidence in his jumper but also finding a lot more room to drive on a team with genuine floor spacing. We’ll see if it carries over, but the Bucks looked more like a threat to the 76ers/Raptors in the preseason.

Pacers small icon 11. Pacers (48-34). Preseason wasn’t kind to the new players who are expected to push this team forward, Tyreke Evans and Doug McDermott, nor did the man with the new contract Myles Turner impress. We’re going to overlook all that for now, this is a team on the tier behind the big three in the East (some think they can push Philly/Toronto) and they should be a tough out every night. Interesting first week game Friday night in Milwaukee.

Pelicans small icon 12. Pelicans (48-34). I am high on this team coming into the season — I predicted Anthony Davis to win MVP — but the preseason defensive performance gave me pause. It’s just preseason, but Elfrid Payton is a turnstile (that’s not new) and they were getting torched in the paint to the tune of 65 points a game. We’ll see if that continues when the games matter, but a tough opener against Houston doesn’t help.

Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (49-33). The entire NBA, and particularly the Blazers community, is mourning the passing of one of the best and classiest owners in the league in Paul Allen. Making the playoffs 23 times in 30 seasons, doing things the right way, he’s a model owner. The road forward will be interesting (the league would not allow this team to be moved, and the lease runs through 2025 anyway). The Trail Blazers open the season on national television Thursday night against LeBron James and the Lakers and can make a statement then.

Spurs small icon 14. Spurs (47-35). Injuries have decimated the guard rotation: Dejounte Murray out for the season with a torn ACL, his backup Derrick White tore his plantar fascia, and Lonnie Walker IV tore the meniscus in his right knee (the latter two are 6-8 weeks, maybe a little more. In a West with little margin for error, is that enough to keep the Spurs out of the playoffs for the first time since 1997? DeMar DeRozan is going to have to be the primary playmaker for this team now.

Wizards small icon 15. Wizards (43-39). Dwight Howard missed all of preseason (with an injured butt, insert your own joke here), but is now practicing with the team and could play in the opener, just in a more limited role. Once again we enter the season saying we like the Wizards players individually — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter — but as a team how do they really take a step forward from good to great?

Heat small icon 16. Heat (44-38). The Jimmy Butler trade saga hangs over this team a little (nobody likes hearing their name in trade talks), but this is a solid team and it’s Dwyane Wade’s “One Last Dance” so its worth tuning in to watch him put on a show. Get wins against Orlando and Charlotte the first week of the season and it will be easier to tune out all the trade chatter (which has died down a little of late anyway).

Clippers small icon 17. Clippers (42-40). Their starting five has potential — Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, and Marcin Gortat — if they can stay healthy. Off the bench is the Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, plus Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who impressed at Summer League and through the preseason. Healthy, this could be a playoff team, but the Clippers are littered with players prone to injury and not living up to their potential. Brutal first few weeks of the schedule for Los Angeles, including the Nuggets, Thunder, and Rockets this week.

Grizzlies small icon 18. Grizzlies (22-60). One of a few teams in the West (along with the Clippers and Mavericks) where I can envision a scenario where they make the playoffs, but everything has to go right for them. That means Marc Gasol and Mike Conley stay healthy, Jaren Jackson Jr. plays like a rookie of the year, and Chandler Parsons gives them something (he’s looked passable in the preseason). That’s a lot of “ifs” in a conference with no margin for error.

Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (39-43). They have been penciled in to the final playoff spot in the East by a lot of pundits (myself included) based on the potential of Blake Griffin, Reggie Jackson, and Andre Drummond together (especially with Dwane Casey as coach). It’s also a work in progress that didn’t look very smooth in the preseason. Depth questions also are out there for the Pistons. Still, if they can be solid defensively, they should make the postseason.

20. Timberwolves (47-35, LW 13). Is this too low a ranking, much of it based on the Jimmy Butler trade drama? Maybe. With Butler in the lineup last season the Timberwolves looked like a 3/4 seed kind of squad. On the flip side, chemistry matters in the NBA and good luck finding a team with a worse locker room right now. Also, Butler is going to get booed and it’s going to get ugly Friday night in Minnesota’s first home game (vs. Cleveland). Without Butler in the preseason the Timberwolves defense was a disaster, it’s just preseason but that’s not a good sign.

Hornets small icon 21. Hornets (36-46). What will new coach James Borego bring to the table? If was can read much into the preseason it’s more three point attempts (and less long twos) and better ball movement and tempo. Rookie Miles Bridges showed some preseason promise and could play his way into the starting lineup eventually. Relatively soft schedule the first month of the season, get off to a fast start and it will keep the “will they trade Kemba Walker?” questions at bay.

Mavericks small icon 22. Mavericks (24-58). Fun start to the season Wednesday: Rookie of the Year favorites Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton face off (although the matchup to watch in that game is how Ayton handles the strength and athleticism of DeAndre Jordan). Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. started to show some chemistry in the preseason, but lets see what happens when the games matter and the defenses start to care.

Cavaliers small icon 23. Cavaliers (50-32). Kevin Love says he is ready to return to the role of a No. 1 option — and the Cavaliers are certainly paying him like one — but the game has evolved and Love has gotten older since he last time that burden fell on his shoulders. There is still potential on this roster in terms of good shooting, at least until Cavs management starts trading them for young players and picks. After opening in Toronto, pretty soft schedule to start the season.

Bulls small icon 24. Bulls (27-55).. No Lauri Markkanen to start the season (elbow, out at least a few weeks) but there is promise on this roster: Zach LaVine showed some athleticism and looked healthy and efficient in the preseason, and Wendell Carter Jr. continues to impress and is now the starting center for this team (although rough “welcome to the NBA” start in Game 1 against Joel Embiid). How will Jabari Parker look in a Sixth Man role?

Suns small icon 25. Suns (21-61). Firing GM Ryan McDonough nine days before the season started — after letting him make all the off-season moves for the team, including hiring the new coach — is a “the emperor has no clothes” moment for owner Robert Sarver. Deandre Ayton has put up numbers and impressed in the preseason, and Devin Booker will return from hand surgery and be ready for the opener. Jamal Crawford is not a point guard but may end up playing one anyway.

Nets small icon 26. Nets (28-54). Coach Kenny Atkinson has done in Brooklyn what the new coach across the bridge in Manhattan needs to do this season — develop a culture where the players go hard for him within the system. Now the question in Brooklyn is about the talent. How good is D’Angelo Russell really, is he worth a big new contract next summer (he’s a restricted free agent)? Where does Spencer Dinwiddie fit in that mix? Jarrett Allen is expected to make a leap at center, but will he. Where do Caris LeVert and Ronde Hollis-Jefferson fit in? Some potential there, but a lot of questions, too.

Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (29-53, LW 22). For new coach David Fizdale, this is a season about building the culture and getting players who will play his way and play hard. Rookie Kevin Knox needs to be part of that and will be thrown into the deep end to sink or swim for the Knicks. Frank Ntilikina has yet to impress me, but then again Emmanuel Mudiay does not look like the answer at the point guard spot either. Just my guess, we see Kristaps Porzingis return this season for the last dozen games or so, not to make a playoff push (the Knicks won’t be that good) but to hit the ground running for his summer work, and to show free agents he will be ready to go next season.

Magic small icon 28. Magic (25-57). As discussed on the PBT Podcast on teams to watch, I think Orlando will be an interesting team this season — not good, but worth watching. Specifically, when the big and athletic front line of Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and rookie Mo Bamba are paired. Can those three play together and make it work (it pushes Gordon to the three when he is better as a four)? The Orlando defense should be pretty good this season, the question is where the points are going to come from?

Kings small icon 29. Kings (27-55). Harry Giles impressed in both Summer League and preseason and could be a sneaky candidate to make All-Rookie teams at the end of the season. Marvin Bagley III showed the potential to go get buckets during the preseason, and I like using Buddy Hield more as a floor-spacing three (at least on offense, nothing worked for the Kings on defense). Rough way to start the season: Jazz, Pelicans, Thunder.

Hawks small icon 30. Hawks (24-58). It’s going to be all Trae Young all the time in Atlanta as they let him be the man and take all the shots — and that worked for a game winner against the Spurs in the preseason. It’s also going to mean some growing pains when the real games begin. Rough to have John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon out to start the season with injuries.

NBA GMs pick LeBron to win MVP, Luka Doncic to win Rookie of Year, Warriors to win title

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LeBron James came West and that is going to end his streak of having gone to eight straight NBA Finals — but it will win him his fifth MVP award.

According to NBA general managers, at least.

The annual NBA survey of GMs was released Wednesday and there were plenty of things we expected and a few surprises. Here are the highlights of the list, starting with something not a surprise to anyone:

• 87 percent predict the Golden State Warriors will win the NBA title. There were a few contrarian votes, with both Boston and Houston each getting 7 percent.

• GMs predicted the top four teams in the East would be (in order) Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Milwaukee. Yes, that means the GMs liked the Raptors adding Kawhi Leonard more than the Sixers, who lost a couple of shooters. The Bucks were in a virtual dead heat for fourth with the Pacers.

• GMs predicted the top four teams in the West would be (in order) Golden State, Houston, Oklahoma City, Utah.

• The MVP race is going to be wide open, although LeBron came out on top it was close: LeBron James 30 percent, Kevin Durant 27 percent, Anthony Davis 17 percent, James Harden 10 percent, and another five players got at least one vote.

Luka Doncic will win the Rookie of the Year, according to 47 percent of the GMs. Marvin Bagley III and Wendel Carter Jr. tied for second at 17 percent, followed by No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton at 13 percent. (Before you get indignant Suns fans, remember last season 62 percent of GMs thought Lonzo Ball would win ROY.)

• Which player will be the best out of this rookie class in five years? Ayton and Jaren Jackson Jr. tied for the top spot with 27 percent of the vote. Doncic came in third at 17 percent.

• If GMs could sign one player to start a franchise right now, it would be Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks’ forward got 30 percent of the vote. Second place went to Anthony Davis at 23 percent, followed by Kevin Durant at 20 percent. Interestingly, Karl-Anthony Towns won this category a year ago but this season did not receive one vote.

• LeBron is the player that makes opposing coaches make the most adjustments according to 60 percent of GMs.

Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard tied for the best defensive player in the NBA with 37 percent of the vote each (impressive for Leonard after a season off). Draymond Green was third with 17 percent, followed by Anthony Davis.

• Brad Stevens of Boston is the best coach in the NBA according to the GMs, winning what had been the annual Gregg Popovich award for a long time (Popovich was second with 30 percent of the vote).

• Once again, Chris Paul was voted as the player who would make the best head coach someday. (This will prompt the annual ritual of some reporter asking CP3 about it and Paul laughing in disgust at the idea.)

Kings, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks team up to ‘Rally the Vote’ to push voter registration

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Voter participation numbers in the United States can be depressing. In 2016, during the last presidential election, an estimated 61.4 percent of eligible voters went to the polls, and in non-presidential election cycles that number can fall way, way off. Voter apathy in the USA is a real issue, one that hurts our democracy.

To help counter that a number of NBA teams — Kings, Bulls, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks — as well as teams from other sports are teaming up to “Rally the Vote,” a new drive to push voter registration among sports fans. The goal is to get the message out before the deadline to register for the upcoming November elections (in most states that is in October).

It is an effort from teams that falls in line with what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has encouraged players to do — speak out on social issues, be involved, try to make the world a better place. The idea is a simple one: to make sure everyone’s voice is heard through the ballot box, where it can make a real impact on our country.

“If we can make buying a ticket to a sporting event accessible in a few clicks, there is no reason why registering to vote shouldn’t be the same,” said Vivek Ranadivé, Owner and Chairman of the Sacramento Kings, who spearheaded this project. “Voting is one of the most important things we do as Americans and is central to our democracy, yet tens of millions of people are not registered to vote. Sports teams have a responsibility to enact positive change in their communities, and I’m proud to see so many of us coming together to help fans register to vote so that they can have a voice in elections.”

The teams are partnering with Democracy Works, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that uses technology to make voting easier. Teams involved in Rally the Vote — which also includes the MLB’s White Sox, Giants, and A’s, plus the NFL’s 49ers — will encourage fans to register to vote this election season. Through team mobile apps, websites and social media platforms, fans will be directed to TurboVote, a Democracy Works tool that allows voters to register, file for an absentee ballot and receive election reminders. 

Kings’ rookie Marvin Bagley III recorded a PSA for the project. Fans attending games for these teams in the coming weeks will see that PSA and hear about it though arena announcements, plus the teams will make pushes on other platforms to get people involved.

It’s an important cause, and good on Ranadivé and the Kings for spearheading this push. More people voting, more people taking advantage of their rights and expressing their voice, the better. Like at a sporting event, it’s just more fun with more people involved.

 

 

Report: Knicks rookie Kevin Knox signs deal with Puma

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New York Knicks rookie Kevin Knox was the darling of the 2018 NBA Las Vegas Summer League. And while Knox and the Knicks didn’t win the championship — that honor went to the Portland Trail Blazers — the performance of the former Kentucky Wildcat perhaps gave some hope to New York fans for a brighter future.

It also appears that some companies have taken note of Knox as well. According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Knox is the latest target of Puma brand.

The long-dormant shoe company has made a return to basketball for the upcoming NBA season, notably signing Deandre Ayton, Terry Rozier, Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr., and Zhaire Smith. Knox was seen wearing a Puma shirt this week.

Via Twitter:

Puma has seen a bit of a sea change in 2018, with its parent company divesting itself of a large portion of its controlling interest as of this June. The move is supposed to give Puma more direct control, and moving forward with a basketball division seems in line with that strategy.

Under Armour and Adidas have been battling for market share against Nike over the past couple of years, and perhaps Puma sees a chance to grab some of that pie. Betting on some of these young players is a reasonable strategy for Puma, as rookies will no doubt be cheaper for the company than established veterans. At the same time, mid-level rookies will receive more money than they would from Puma than the more recognizable basketball apparel stalwarts.

Now we just need to wait and see how Puma develops lines for their basketball side of business.

Kings make neither friends nor progress

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The good news for the Kings this offseason: They could do nearly no wrong (with one big exception). The bad news for the Kings this offseason: They could do nearly no right (with one big exception).

Yet, even in that stuck position, they still found ways to agitate a lot of people this summer.

Sacramento has been cripplingly impatient during its 12-year playoff drought, repeatedly falling for get-good-quick schemes that fell flat and left the team even less prepared to build up later. Among the worst was a 2015 salary-dump trade with the 76ers that cost the Kings their unprotected 2019 first-rounder (and forced Sacramento to swap the No. 3 pick with Philadelphia’s No. 5 pick last year).

But that mismanagement was also liberating this summer. The Kings will almost certainly be lousy again next year, but they can aim to be as good as possible without negative consequences. Signing hamstringing veterans like they did last offseason would have been far more reasonable this year. So would prioritizing youth despite not receiving the bonus tanking benefit. It’s all whatever.

Sacramento didn’t have a quiet offseason, though – at least not to those crossing paths with the combustible franchise.

The most consequential move was draft Marvin Bagley III No. 2 over Luka Doncic, seemingly the preferred choice among Kings fans. I would have picked Doncic, and I definitely wouldn’t have picked Bagley. Sacramento’s understood rationale – Bagley wanting to be there – is especially discouraging.

Maybe Bagley will turn out better than Doncic. Even picks made for poor reasons sometimes turn out. But I’m not a believer, and I sure don’t envy Kings fans trying to talk themselves into Bagley after getting their hopes up for Doncic.

Sacramento also signed Zach LaVine to a four-year, $78 million offer sheet that – fortunately for the Kings – Chicago matched. The deal will likely be a thorn in the Bulls’ side, but they probably weren’t eager to lose a key piece of their Jimmy Butler-trade return for nothing.

From there, Sacramento moved onto players who already agreed to terms with other teams, poaching Nemanja Bjelica from the 76ers and Yogi Ferrell from the Mavericks. Those defections reflect worse on the players, but this sure wasn’t a way for the Kings to endear themselves around the league.

Guaranteeing a 30-year-old Bjelica $13,325,000 over the next two years with a third season unguaranteed at $7.15 million seems about fair. It’s not certain he’ll hold positive trade value, but he might, and Sacramento didn’t necessarily have a better use for that money.

I like the Ferrell signing more. The Kings had plenty of room to get value while out-bidding the absurdly team-friendly contract he agreed to with Dallas. Sacramento will pay him $3 million next season and got an unguaranteed season tacked on.

Between all their incitement, the Kings provided comic relief by trading for Ben McLemore – whom they once drafted No. 7, never significantly developed, never traded then let leave in free agency without even a qualifying offer extended. It was actually part of a larger trade that worked well for Sacramento, netting a 2021 Grizzlies second-rounder for Garett Temple, an overpaid but still productive 32-year-old. Temple, McLemore and the other involved player – Deyonta Davis – are all are on expiring contracts. The second-rounder helps the Kings far more than Temple would’ve. McLemore returning to Sacramento is just a humorous side effect.

Even funnier: Vlade Divac declaring the Kings are a “super team, just young.” It’s hard to see a super team – present or future – in Bagley, De'Aaron FoxBogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry GilesSkal Labissiere and Justin Jackson.

But that won’t be judged yet, and Bagley was the only core player added this summer. It’s especially too soon to evaluate him fully. In these grades, I’m reluctant to assign much credit or blame for draft picks who’ve yet to play in the NBA.

They took an adventurous route, but in an offseason where the Kings had the No. 2 pick and little else to change their fortunes, the Kings used essentially only the No. 2 pick to change their fortunes. We don’t yet what that’ll mean, but this grade reflects at least a little bit of my Bagley skepticism.

Offseason grade: C-