NBA Power Rankings

Posted: 01/07/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

There have been some big changes since my last power rankings, and I think that means it’s time for another rankings. First, a little review of the big Luol Deng trade. The Cavaliers traded disgruntled Andrew Bynum, a top-12 protected first rounder from the Kings, the right to swap picks in 2015 (lottery protected), and the Blazers’ second round picks in 2015 and 2016. In return, they got back-to-back all-star Luol Deng. For the Cavs, this makes the fact that they are still trying to contend painfully obvious. Deng has led the league in minutes for the last two seasons, and is averaging north of 37 minutes per game this year. He is a very good small forward, and will quickly make the Cavs a lot better. They’ll now start a lineup that looks like this: Kyrie Irving, C.J. Miles, Deng, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao, who has played a lot better without Bynum (15 rebounds per game in his last 5, compared to under 10 for the season). Dion Waiters will continue to be the 6th man. While that won’t be a championship winning team, it will almost certainly be enough to make the playoffs in the East, although Irving, Deng, and Varejao all have extensive injury histories.

The Bulls are trying to rebuild, and they are really just doing this trade to clear space. Sure, they got three picks, but all will almost certainly be second rounders. They get to waive Bynum’s contract and now will be in the running for a top-10, if not top-5, pick. I think they could have gotten more for Deng, but at least what they did made some sense.

Last rankings in parentheses.

1. Miami Heat, 26-8 (5): Frankly, the Heat could be as low as fifth. But with the top five so close together record-wise, I think the Heat should get the benefit of the doubt. Dwyane Wade just played his first full back-to-back of the season, and he looks like he is rounding into form. Really, there isn’t much to say about the Heat that hasn’t been said. They are the #2 seed in the East right now, and they are eight and a half games ahead of the 3rd seeded Hawks. They will likely cruise to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they will, in all likelihood, face the Indiana Pacers. All they need to worry about is getting the big-3 healthy and at peak form heading into the playoffs, because, unlike last year, they’ll need everyone playing their best if they expect to beat the Pacers.

2. Golden State Warriors, 23-13 (12): The Warriors have forced themselves into the elite group of teams. When Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut, and Andre Iguodala all play, they are 18-3. 18-3! Over a full season, that would be a seventy win team. That doesn’t happen very often. They have won nine straight, and right now are simply the best team in the Western Conference, even though they are fifth in the standings. Add in David Lee (Western Conference player of the week last week with 24.5 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game, 67% field goal shooting) and Klay Thompson, and the Warriors are a top-5 team both offensively and defensively. Add in Harrison Barnes at full strength coming off the bench, and this could be a title contender.

3. Indiana Pacers, 27-6 (1): The Pacers allow 88.6 points per game. Second ranked Chicago allow 92.2. Third ranked Charlotte allow 95.8. So the Pacers are seven points better defensively than the third best team, and 23 points better than last ranked Philadelphia. Their defense isn’t just good; it’s suffocating.

4. San Antonio Spurs, 26-8 (4): The Spurs are just an inch ahead of the Thunder, and that’s only because of Russell Westbrook’s re-injury. It’s that close, and both of these teams will be near the top of the West at the end of the season. Yes, they lost to the Knicks at home, but that loss is sandwiched by a 21 point win over the Nets and a 24 point win over the Clippers. None of the big three is averaging more than 31 minutes per game, which is incredible. And they are still 26-8. Which means watch out in the playoffs.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder, 27-7 (3): Remember all that about the Thunder being dominant at home? Yeah, well after they started 12-0 at home, they’ve lost three of their past five home games, including terrible losses to the Raptors and Nets. But still, they are best in the west, and they have Kevin Durant. Westbrook is a super quick healer, and while he isn’t supposed to be back until after the all-star break, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was back before.

6. Portland Trailblazers, 26-8 (2): The Trailblazers have won just five of their past nine games. That’s not exactly a slump, but they had only lost four games total before that stretch. I think their win percentage will continue to drift slowly downwards. But as I’ve said before, their start is somewhat sustainable, and I think that they’ll end in the top four or five in the West.

7. Los Angeles Clippers, 24-13 (7): The Clippers devastatingly lost Chris Paul to injury for about six weeks. They’ve won two of their three games without Paul, and their loss was against the Spurs. But that’s just it; without Paul, they’ll be able to win most of their games against mediocre teams, but they’ll struggle against the elite. Luckily, Darren Collison was one of the best backup point guards in the NBA and is now succeeding as the starter. He’s no Chris Paul, but he’ll be fine for six weeks.

8. Phoenix Suns, 20-12 (8): The Suns have now gone 11-3 in their last 14 games, and it’s time to stop doubting them. The backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe is absolutely electrifying, although Bledsoe is injured again now for the time being. I think that the Suns should be buyers, rather than sellers, at the deadline. They have four first rounders in next year’s draft, and they can get a valuable contributor with any one of those picks. One player could be the difference between a one and done and a playoff series victory.

9. Houston Rockets, 22-13 (6):  Houston has played just once in the New Year, while some teams have played four or five times, because of a stretch when they played nine games in 14 days to close out December. They went 5-4 in that nine game stretch, and beat the Knicks (barely) on Friday. Let’s be honest: the Rockets need to make a trade if they want to go deep into the playoffs. They will likely trade Omer Asik, and they need to make the Asik trade count.

10. Dallas Mavericks, 19-15 (9): 5-5 since my last power rankings, nothing much has changed for the Mavericks, who will be in a dogfight with the other candidates for the 8th seed by the time the end of the season rolls around.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves, 17-17 (11): The Timberwolves continue to have an elite +/- (tied for 7th in the NBA), but their record is the definition of mediocrity. Three players (Kevin Love, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic) are averaging a combined 62.1 points per game, which is nearly 58% if their total scoring. So as I said last time, they need another perimeter shooter, or Ricky Rubio can somehow figure out to make some baskets in the paint, which should be the easiest shots you can find. Rubio’s shooting problem is almost as much mental as it is physical, and, to take the next step in his career, he needs to shoot a lot better. As a poor shooter, he messes up spacing, as the paint gets too clogged and teams are able to help on Love and Martin.

12. New Orleans Pelicans, 15-17 (13): Right when Anthony Davis gets back, Ryan Anderson goes down with a serious neck injury. That’s the kind of luck the Pelicans have had this year.

13. Denver Nuggets, 16-17 (10): The Nuggets have really slumped of late, and, while I’ll continue to put them in the 10-15 range, this is the team I’ve had the most trouble placing from ranking to ranking. It really is a curious team, as it hasn’t really been able to take advantage of it’s historically great home court advantage in the high altitude. It’s a team full of Ty Lawson and role players, and my guess is that’s not enough to put them in the playoffs.

14. Atlanta Hawks, 18-17 (15): The loss of Al Horford really hurt. While I still think the Hawks will be the #3 seed in the East, the loss drastically hurt their chances of winning a playoff series or even possibly upsetting the Heat or Pacers. Their chances of that are now miniscule, although Horford could be back for the playoffs.

15. Toronto Raptors, 16-16 (20): The Raptors are 9-4 since they traded Rudy Gay. That’s amazing, especially since they were trying to get worse with the trade of Gay. It sounds like point guard Kyle Lowry is among the players still on the block, but their recent success makes me think that they should be buyers, and not sellers, at the deadline. Really, what’s the point of trading Lowry when you won’t get full value? At best (or worst), they’ll have a top 8 or 10 pick, as a .500 record this late in the season would make it tough to get back in the Wiggins sweepstakes. Instead, they should try to win the Atlantic, win a playoff series, and perform well against Miami or Indiana. Sometimes, winning is actually better than losing, believe it or not.

16. Memphis Grizzlies, 15-18 (18): The Grizzlies have been playing better of late, but are still three and a half games off a playoff spot with three teams to jump. Marc Gasol will make a huge difference when he comes back, but will it be enough? There is definitely hope, because the Grizz haven’t been that bad, but they’ll need to go on a winning streak or two.

17. Washington Wizards, 14-17 (23): The Wizards really should have a better record than they have right now. In a terrible conference with a decent amount of talent, they should be the third best team in the conference. Instead, they are floundering. Sometimes, bad organizations are just bad organizations.

18. Brooklyn Nets, 13-21 (19): The Nets devastatingly lost Brook Lopez to a fractured foot, but I think that, if Deron Williams really picks up his game, the Nets might not only make the playoffs, but win the Atlantic division. They should, anyway, because Williams when healthy and motivated can be a top 10 player in the NBA. He really needs to play his best.

19. Charlotte Bobcats, 15-20 (25): If nothing else, it seems like the Bobcats have finally hired a good coach. Steve Clifford has his Bobcats playing at an outstanding level defensively, which at least keeps them in most games. They still need some pieces, but they are on the right track.

20. Chicago Bulls, 14-18 (21): I went over the Luol Deng trade earlier. That trade should definitely push the Bulls down in these rankings, although Tom Thibodeau is a tremendous coach. By the way, I wonder how Thibs feels about the Deng trade. I seem to remember that Deng was maybe his favorite player. Could he be looking for a new job as early as next season? Could he be the kind of coach who is very good but too intense to stay in one place for too long (like Doug Collins)? We shall see.

21. New York Knicks, 11-22 (26): The Knicks are, if nothing else, showing some signs of life. In their tough three game Texas road swing against teams that are a combined 67-36, they almost won all three, with a two point loss to Houston as the only blemish in a stretch that saw them beat San Antonio by four and Dallas by 12. Iman Shumpret has been shooting well, and finally the Knicks are finally starting to move the ball around.

22. Detroit Pistons, 14-20 (16): I pity Detroit fans. This was going to be their year. They are in a weak conference, just signed Josh Smith and traded for Brandon Jennings, and had a roster flowing with talent. The result: a 14-20 team. Yes, they have talent, but coach Mo Cheeks has done a poor job. They don’t have a lineup that plays well together, which is why I think it would be good to trade Greg Monroe so Smith could play his more natural power forward position.

The Depressing Club:
23. Sacramento Kings, 10-22 (22)
24. Boston Celtics, 13-21 (17)
25. Los Angeles Lakers, 14-20 (14)
26. Cleveland Cavaliers, 11-23 (24)
27. Orlando Magic, 10-24 (27)
28. Utah Jazz, 11-25 (28)
29. Philadelphia 76ers, 12-22 (29)
30. Milwaukee Bucks, 7-26 (30)


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