Pre All-Star Break Power Rankings 11-30

Posted: 02/12/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

Part II of Power Rankings now:

11. Memphis Grizzlies, 28-23 (11): I wrote an article about the Grizzlies, so I won’t go in depth, but since then the Grizzlies are 2-2, and the signs haven’t been great. They lost that pivotal game against the Mavericks that I spoke of by 14 and also in Cleveland, which is one of the worst losses a team can have right now. They barely edged out Washington and Atlanta, both in the middle of the East. The Grizzlies are still just two games out of the playoffs, and from now on they’ll have to win the easy ones against the East. They can’t afford another loss to the Cavaliers, as the margin between the playoffs and the lottery will likely be very small.

— Competitors for 3rd seed—-

12. Chicago Bulls, 26-25 (13): The Bulls just keep on churning out wins, and I expect that’s to the chagrin of the management group who thought the trade of Luol Deng would send them into the lottery. In that sense, the trade hasn’t worked for either team, as the Cavaliers are in shambles and the Bulls keep on winning. This year, more than others, is a testament to Tom Thibodeau. He was upset when Deng, one of his all-time favorite players, was traded, but he didn’t sulk or complain to the media, and the Bulls have hit their stride again. They are defending well (second in the NBA), and, as long as Thibs is the coach, it doesn’t really matter who he puts on the court. When the playoffs come around, this team will be in the mix, no matter who they have. In fairness, they still do have a few good players, headlined by Joakim Noah and aided by the breakout of Taj Gibson. The development of some young players has stalled, which is a problem, but the current team is playing way above their heads.

13. Toronto Raptors, 27-24 (14): More status quo from the Raptors, who have been the most surprising team (in a good way) in the East. For weeks, people have been talking about the imminent demise of the Raptors. The Nets will catch them, they say, and if they don’t then the Knicks will! Well, guess what: it hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t think it will. Something about this team really works, and the Raptors are 4-1 against those two teams. Kyle Lowry, all-star snub aside, has been the best point guard in the East this year. Lowry has been criticized for having a temper and being a bad teammate before, but from just watching him play, all I see is a player who gives it his all every game, and plays not for his own stats but for the win. In that way, he can be compared to another player who has been in the news a lot recently, Marcus Smart. The chief concern when it comes to Lowry has always been health, but he’s started every game this year. He has been getting some help, as DeMar DeRozar has taken over primary shot taking duties with the departure of Rudy Gay and is now averaging over 22 a game. Jonas Valanciunas is a great pick and roll player who has started every game and is averaging a steady 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. The biggest benefactor of that Gay trade has been Terrence Ross. Ross, the defending slam dunk champion, is playing a lot more (19.9 minutes per game in November, 31.3 in January), and scoring a lot more (6.4 to 13). Everyone is contributing, and as a result this is a good team.

14. Washington Wizards, 25-26 (17): I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with the Wizards. They aren’t performing well, but they are still in a pretty good position and have a lot of talent. John Wall is a terrific player, and he has help, with five other players averaging double figures. This team has a good mix between youth and experience, and I still think thye have a good shot at the #3 seed. Talk to me in a month.

15. Atlanta Hawks, 25-25 (16): They just keep. Hanging. In. It really is a shame that the best player on the team, Al Horford, is out, because I think that if he were healthy they would be running away with the #3 seed. Either way, they have been hanging in there, and their 25-25 record is impressive even in the East. More talented teams (see: Knicks, Pistons, Nets, Wizards, Cavs) haven’t had the success that this team of not-quite-haves (Paul Millsap is their best player. He is having a great year, by far his best, but still…). I know I’m rooting for this team, because they seem like a really likable bunch, unlike some of the players they had before like Josh Smith.

16. Brooklyn Nets, 23-26 (15): Among the five teams that have a real shot at the #3 seed, the Nets are bringing up the rear right now, and while I think they’ll probably pass one or two of the teams above them, I think the Raptors are going to end the season atop the Atlantic Division. That doesn’t mean much, but it says a lot about how much of a disappointment this team has been. Yes, they’ve been better recently, playing .667 ball since they fell to 9-19, but remember; I, and most other people, picked this team to win more than 50 games. They are just three losses away from matching the 53-29 prediction I gave them before the season, and I was on the pessimistic side.

— Stuck —

17. Denver Nuggets, 24-26 (18): The Nuggets are just that.. Stuck. What do they do? The team they put together last year was everyone’s darling; they were the team that could win it all without a star. It worked in the regular season, when they went 57-25, but not in the playoffs, when they were knocked out by the hot Warriors. A team with no star has very little wiggle room, and the Nuggets lost their defensive stopper, Andre Iguodala (free agency), their best scorer, Danilo Gallinari (injury), and their starting center, Kosta Koufos. The new-look Nuggets, who are just a worse version of last year’s, just haven’t worked.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves, 24-28 (12): Yeah, that grace period I’ve talked about for the T-Wolves? That’s all gone. The Timberwolves continue to tailspin, and while they can blame it on injuries, they weren’t doing so great before those injuries. Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic are now injured, and Kevin Love has also missed a few games. But those excuses aren’t valid anymore. The Timberwolves are now 6.5 games off the playoffs, and they won’t make off that difference. They also will likely make Kevin Love mad enough to request a trade and hightail it out of Minnesota like Kevin Garnett did years ago. It’s too bad, because this team has talent.

19. Charlotte Bobcats, 23-29 (21): The Bobcats just hang in there, much like the Hawks. They clearly don’t yet have the talent to compete (and that’s an indictment, because Charlotte gets high picks year after year and close to wastes them- see Cody Zeller this year), but they are competing (if you can call it that) for a playoff spot. Their new coach, Steve Clifford, looks like a keeper, although you never know given that Michael Jordan is the owner. The defense has been good, while the offense hasn’t. Give them a few more high draft picks, and they could be an up and comer in the East.. or Michael Jordan could make a few more bad picks. I would feel for Bobcats fans, and kind of do, but they haven’t been that bad this year.

20. Detroit Pistons, 22-29 (22): Out goes Maurice Cheeks, in comes interim coach John Loyer. Cheeks didn’t work because he was stubborn with his lineup. He kept Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond in the lineup together, and they have been just plain bad together. These three were never supposed to be on the same team. After Smith was signed, the sensible thing to do would have been to trade Monroe. But that didn’t happen, and the team suffered. When any two of those players are together, the team improves exponentially. So maybe a Monroe trade and a resurgence is still in order. But as long as those three are in the lineup together, I don’t think this team will be making a run. Could we see it if Monroe gets traded? Absolutely, which is why I’m keeping them this high.

— Bad, Non Tanking Teams —

21. New Orleans Pelicans, 22-29 (24): And I thought they were tanking. Well, since my last writing, the Pelicans have played a lot better. The problem is that they still aren’t going to make the playoffs, and now they will certainly have to give up their first round pick to the 76ers. Unlike the teams below, this team is a good team. Injuries have just absolutely decimated them, with the bad injuries to point guard Jrue Holiday and power forward Ryan Anderson just destroying the chemistry, spacing, and playoff plans. Even with those two guys down, they still have talent, with Anthony Davis leading the team and Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans helping out (although Evans is injured again). Although they won’t have their first round pick next year, this is almost better; instead of losing, they are proving that they are a good team. Tanking is all well and good with the rules of today’s NBA, but it’s still tough for the fans and players to handle.

22. New York Knicks, 20-31 (19)
23. Cleveland Cavaliers, 19-33 (20)
These two teams are in the same boat. Each has a star player- Carmelo Anthony for the Knicks and Kyrie Irving for the Cavaliers, and those two players are very similar. Each may or may not be on their way out depending on who you ask. Each are tremendous offensive players but not good defensively. There have been questions raised of whether either can be the best player on a great team. But first and foremost, each are surrounded by players who just aren’t very good. I wouldn’t blame the big scorers here. They can’t do everything. Dion Waiters, Luol Deng, Tristan Thompson, and Anderson Varejao is Kyrie’s supporting cast. Melo’s is even worse: Raymond Felton, Iman Shumpert, a declining Tyson Chandler, and a locker room cancer in J.R. Smith. These guys have no chance, and neither do their teams.

— Tanking and Too Depressing To Talk About But I’m Doing It Anyway

24. Boston Celtics, 19-34 (26): The Celtics are on a mini run, winning four of their last five games. The only problem is this: they have beaten perhaps the four worst teams in basketball (definitely the worst two in Milwaukee and Philadelphia, with Sacramento and Orlando not far behind). If nothing else, the Celtics have proven that they are the best of the tankers. Which, when you think about it, is probably a bad thing. This is why I don’t like writing about the tankers. Oh well.

25. Utah Jazz, 18-33 (25): 17-21. That’s the record the Jazz have posted since rookie point guard Trey Burke returned from injury. That’s not good, per se, but it’s interesting and good for Jazz fans, because 17-21 is a lot better than the 1-12 they were with Burke out. Burke hasn’t posted great stats, and his shooting has been absolutely horrific of late, but he has had a stabilizing influence in the lineup, even in his rookie year. That’s a good thing, and the Jazz have some promising young pieces. Could they be one or two draft picks away?

26. Orlando Magic, 16-37 (29): Just when they seemingly had a strong hold on the second worst spot, the Magic shocked the world twice in a row. On Friday, they edged the Thunder by a point, and on Sunday they beat the Pacers by the same margin. So one of the worst teams in the league beat the two best in consecutive games. Basketball makes sense.

27. Los Angeles Lakers, 18-34 (27): The Lakers are not a good team. Luckily, they have intelligent fans who are willing to tank for a high pick, because they are just not exciting to watch. Except when Robert Sacre has to play with six fouls because there are only five healthy players on the team.

28. Sacramento Kings, 17-35 (23): Since my last post, they’ve gone 3-10, which is why they fell so far in the rankings (when you are this low down, a team can easily fall five spots if other teams win a game or two). My theory that they were suffering from playing harder teams than the Eastern Conference teams has been dented, if not disproved; the Kings have lost three in a row to the Celtics, Wizards, and Cavaliers.

29. Philadelphia 76ers, 15-38 (28): Only the Bucks can prevent a team that has lost the last two games by a combined 98 points from going to the bottom of the power rankings.

30. Milwaukee Bucks, 9-42 (30): They still have single digit wins!

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