DGS NBA Power Rankings – Getting you set for the trade deadline
The NBA trade deadline is this Thursday. Which NBA teams will be buyers? Which will be selling off assets and looking towards the draft? Sit back and relax as Ben and Jason take you through the pre-trade deadline edition of the Double G Sports NBA power rankings!
- Golden State Warriors (41-12) (Last week’s ranking: 1) – Steve Kerr says his team is “mentally fried” and it certainly seems that way with the way they have been playing defense. The Warriors have long been admired for their offense but it has been their defense that has been elite for years. Ron Adams has had them humming along on that end since he joined them in 2014. In fact, under Mark Jackson, the team was consistently better on defense than on offense. Defense is typically more correlated with effort than offense and the Warriors have given up at least 100 points in each of their last 10 games. The Warriors are clear title favorites and only more so with Cleveland struggling. Their main obstacle may be themselves and their ability to stay focused.
- Houston Rockets (38-13) (Last week’s ranking: 2) – The other potential obstacle for the Warriors could be these Houston Rockets. Houston officially leads the league in point-differential, which is good because the notoriously trigger happy Rockets look to be standing pat at this year’s trade deadline. They could be players in the buyout market but for the most part, GM Daryl Morey looks content to go into the playoffs with the hand he has. It is hard to blame him with James Harden playing like an MVP (again) and Chris Paul acclimating so well to his new role. They have a cadre of veteran and switchable wing players who they will deploy to slow down opposing scorers and their three-point shooting keeps them in any game. Meanwhile, the defense has been the story of the season since it puts them in a new stratosphere. The Rockets are eighth in defensive rating and just two spots below the normally stout Golden State Warriors. That could be the number to watch if H-town wants to add another set of rings to their collection.
- Boston Celtics (39-15) (Last week’s ranking: 3) – Adding Greg Monroe was a fantastic pickup for the Celtics, who could use his size and strength down low as they get ready to make a deep postseason run. Is General Manager Danny Ainge done dealing? I don’t believe there is a player out there who is good enough to force Ainge to surrender his plethora of valuable assets in order to execute a trade. Tyreke Evans and Lou Williams are both excellent players, but neither is worth the price of what it would cost to acquire them. Time will tell, but the Celtics are loaded and are definitely the team to beat in the East at this current juncture. Sure, the Raptors are hot on their heels, but they do not have the roster balance that the Celtics currently possess. If Gordon Hayward is able to make a miraculous return this season, all signs point to the Celtics playing meaningful basketball in June.
- Toronto Raptors (36-16) (Last week’s ranking: 4) – The Raptors are the model of consistency in today’s NBA. They currently sit only two games back of the Celtics for first place in the East. What’s even more impressive is that they are only one game back in the loss column. They could make up some ground on Tuesday night when they host the Celtics in what will be a highly-touted game. The issue with the Raptors is, how do they improve at the trade deadline? They already surrendered their 2018 first and second-round draft picks when they unloaded DeMarre Carroll’s contract over the Summer, so they don’t have much to offer teams in that department. Keep an eye on the free agent market after the deadline, though. The Raptors could be a potential landing spot if any other rotation players are bought out from their current NBA contracts, similar to Greg Monroe signing with Boston.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (34-22) (Last week’s ranking: 6) – It took the absence of Jimmy Butler but Andrew Wiggins is finally looking like himself again. His February bounce back should help talk Timberwolves fans off the edge. Questions about his fit next to other ball-dominant stars remain but he has at least shown that he can add something to the team. With the NBA equivalent of the stock market crash coming, Minnesota might still need to move on from Wiggins in order to salvage a reasonable tax bill. However, a team with legitimate championship aspirations can afford a big tax bill and the Wolves could get there if Wiggins re-emerges as a solid number two option. If he regresses, expect to see a lot of trade rumors in the offseason, particularly if the Wolves underachieve in the playoffs.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (30-21) (Last week’s ranking: 5) – Big decisions are looming for the Cavaliers’ front office this week. Do they acquire talent in hopes of making one last NBA Finals run with LeBron James? Or do they hang on to their assets and look toward rebuilding in the near future? After they were embarrassed by the Rockets over the weekend, James went as far as saying the team should have the rest of their games taken off of National TV this season. The Cavaliers have still not found a way to get out of their funk, and they will already be without Kevin Love for the next six weeks or so. I don’t believe the threat of James leaving is that real. He does not have many places he can go and be able to win right away. I think Cleveland does make a move this week, but it will be a minor one to acquire another big. Don’t purchase those DeAndre Jordan jerseys just yet, Cavs fans.
- San Antonio Spurs (34-21) (Last week’s ranking: 7) – Yes, the Spurs are the Jason Voorhees of the NBA. They. Do. Not. Die. That said, the loss of Kawhi Leonard and the potential that he is not playing again this season has got to affect them eventually. LaMarcus Aldridge has been phenomenal but the Spurs are now 5-5 in their last 10 games. Could San Antonio finally be hitting a wall? The teams all around them are younger and more talented. Coach Gregg Popovich is a genius but the Timberwolves and Thunder can simply overwhelm them with talent and athleticism. Can Popovich right the ship yet again?
- Washington Wizards (31-22) (Last week’s ranking: 9) – How about those Wizards? They have won all five of their games since losing John Wall to a knee injury and are showing no signs of slowing down. They seem like a much sharper team with Wall out. Bradley Beal has stepped up in a big way, validating his status as a first-time All-Star. However, their schedule leading into the All-Star break is quite difficult. They finish up with games against the Sixers, Celtics, Bulls and Knicks. If they can win at least two of those games, they will head into the break on a high note. Even with Wall out, they have a pretty good chance of winning their division and finishing the regular season in fourth place in the East. Scott Brooks is doing an admirable job down in D.C., and should be in the Coach of the Year debate.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (30-24) (Last week’s ranking: 8) – The Thunder have to consider this season a major victory if they can keep Paul George onboard. They have lost their last four games after winning eight in a row but the bigger picture looks good. George looks more comfortable every month and his partnership with Westbrook should pay dividends. That does not mean everything is rosy in OKC. Depth is still an issue. The Thunder might not have a real five man unit without Andre Roberson and Terrance Ferguson is not ready yet. That means Jerami Grant is playing more than he should be. Meanwhile, Carmelo Anthony continues to be a trainwreck on both ends of the floor. He is hijacking fewer possessions but the Thunder need more from him offensively when he is such a negative defensively. GM Sam Presti has to be happy with the long-term outlook for his team but any dreams of the NBA finals this season are probably out the window.
- Milwaukee Bucks (29-23) (Last week’s ranking: 11) – There are not many teams in today’s NBA who dramatically improve after firing their head coach in midseason. The Bucks are one of them. Ever since showing Jason Kidd the door last month, they have looked like an entirely different team. Interim head coach Joe Prunty has them fighting each and every night, and the early returns are off the charts. I don’t see them acquiring any major players before the trade deadline, but I really like the Tyler Zeller trade. It didn’t cost them much, and he is a serviceable center who will come in and spell Thon Maker when the budding star needs it. The 28-year-old Zeller worked on his three-point shot during his time with Brooklyn and is an excellent finisher around the basket.
- Denver Nuggets (29-25) (Last week’s ranking: 16) – About a year ago, I was in New Orleans watching Jamal Murray take over the rising stars challenge with his elite three-point shot. Since the calendar flipped to 2018, Murray has been on fire. He is shooting well above 40 percent from deep and giving the Nuggets a primary scorer. While Murray is never going to be a true point guard, his shooting creates space on the floor. If he continues to shoot so well from beyond the arc, teams will begin to pay him respect the way they do other elite shooters. That warps the defense and creates lanes for everyone else, which will only improve Denver’s already lethal offense. The next step for Murray will be to increase his attempts. He is only 32nd in the league in attempts and by increasing those shots, the Nuggets can weaponize him the same way Steve Kerr weaponized the splash brothers or Erik Spolestra has maximized Wayne Ellington in Miami.
- Indiana Pacers (30-25) (Last week’s ranking: 12) – The Pacers have been a really nice story this year, but even the best tales come to an end eventually. Indiana had an inside track to finish toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings, but injuries and mediocre play are causing them to drop a bit as the All-Star break approaches. Darren Collison injured his left knee and will miss 2-3 weeks. Victor Oladipo is still playing at a high level, but he cannot do it alone. Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Young combined for 46 points during Monday night’s loss to the Wizards. If both players are able to continue scoring at will, the Pacers could tread water in the standings until Collison is able to return. With the Pistons suddenly playing well and the Sixers looking strong, Indiana’s playoff spot could be in jeopardy if they can’t.
- Portland Trail Blazers (29-25) (Last week’s ranking: 13) – We are now some time removed from Damian Lillard’s sit down with owner Paul Allen and things have been up-and-down since then. The Blazers had a mini run but now have dropped down to seventh in the standings after losing their last three. The Blazers are in the luxury tax, which means it is likely they will trade someone to get some financial relief. They are walking a fine line, though. If Lillard decides he wants out, the Blazers have to go into full rebuild mode, which has not been a palatable outcome for Allen and ownership. Trading CJ McCollum is one of the most obvious and talked about ways for them to improve but splitting up the McCollum/Lillard pairing could do as much harm as good. Expect the Blazers to make a cost-saving move at the deadline and not much more.
- Miami Heat (29-25) (Last week’s ranking: 10) – Goran Dragic is going to the All-Star game. Let that sink in for a second. After Kevin Love went down with an injury in Cleveland, Dragic got the call to replace him on team LeBron James in next weekend’s festivities. It is a deserving honor for Dragic, who has morphed into the player Miami thought he could be when they acquired him. However, the team itself isn’t looking so hot recently, no pun intended. They are currently on a season-long four-game losing streak and look to be out of sync. Like the Pacers, the Heat are another team in danger of losing their playoff spot to a surging Pistons team if they do not start to play better. I expect the Heat to make a move prior to Thursday’s trade deadline in order to acquire more talent on the wings. Justise Winslow is a prime candidate to be moved in any deal, but I am not sure the Heat should be willing to give up on the 21-year-old just yet.
- New Orleans Pelicans (28-25) (Last week’s ranking: 14) – Nikola Mirotic is coming to the Big Easy! Mirotic should be a beautiful fit next to Anthony Davis and the more I think about this trade, the more I like it for the Pelicans. Mirotic is a useful player who can fill all the backup big man minutes for New Orleans if they bring back Cousins. He should help keep the minutes for the stars a bit lower. If Mirotic eats up about 28-30 minutes a game, that means 14-15 minutes each of the star big men can be resting. That should help Coach Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans both short and long-term. Meanwhile, Mirotic’s passing and shooting should help him fit next to either Cousins or Davis. He is a more natural fit next to Davis since Mirotic does not offer any rim protection. However, Cousins’ rebounding advantage means he is also a fairly good fit. In the short-term, Mirotic is a major upgrade over newly-acquired Emeka Okafor or anyone else the Pelicans can throw out there. Mirotic’s deal expires after next year so that should also give the Pelicans a bevy options depending on how things play out this summer.
- Philadelphia 76ers (25-25) (Last week’s ranking: 15) – Now that the Philadelphia Eagles have won the Super Bowl, championship fever is spreading throughout the City of Brotherly Love. Could the Sixers be the next team to raise a banner in Philly? It is certainly possible, but definitely not this year. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in the fold, the Sixers are set up to be successful for years to come, but the front office has to surround them with more talent. The Sixers are primed to make a trip to the playoffs this season, but rookie point guard Markelle Fultz has to come back healthy in order for them to have a real shot in a seven-game series. According to several reports, the Sixers are expected to be buyers entering the trade deadline. It will be interesting to see if Bryan Colangelo can acquire additional pieces that would help speed up the organization’s timeline.
- Los Angeles Clippers (27-25) (Last week’s ranking: 17) – I said it last week on the podcast but Jerry West did it again with the Blake Griffin trade. He avoided a big risk and kept his team flexible. Flexibility is the name of the game for modern NBA front offices. It is hard to predict the future so the ability to pivot is vital for survival. The Blake Griffin trade was less about players and more about long-term flexibility. Removing Griffin’s contract gives the Clippers the best chance to adjust to changing times. Cap room is about to become a lot more valuable as it becomes a scarce resource. The Clippers have positioned themselves in a way that they could have more than almost anyone in a couple of years. In the meantime, the team remains in the playoff hunt even without Griffin. Another low-risk high-reward move by a man who has made them his specialty.
- Detroit Pistons (26-26) (Last week’s ranking: 19) – The Pistons look like a completely different team with Blake Griffin in the lineup. Since acquiring the former All-Star from the Clippers last week, the team has won four games in a row and the players look like they are having fun again. Despite initial doubts about whether or not Griffin and Andre Drummond would play well together, the All-Star duo is filling up the stat sheet on a nightly basis. During Monday night’s win over the Trail Blazers, Griffin finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists while Drummond chipped in 17 points and 17 rebounds. Time will tell if the Pistons are able to keep this up, but right now they are surging their way back into the playoff picture. Once Reggie Jackson returns in March, this team could really take off.
- Utah Jazz (25-28) (Last week’s ranking: 18) – The Jazz are on a mission. They have about the same point differential as the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets and sit just three games out of the final playoff spot. Coach Quin Snyder has kept Utah together despite numerous injuries and the obvious departure of Gordon Hayward in the offseason. He would deserve some serious Coach of the Year consideration if he can get them back to the playoffs. Rudy Gobert has been the other difference-maker. He has been an absolute monster on both ends of the floor for Utah and it shows in their 7-2 record with him back in the lineup.
- Charlotte Hornets (23-30) (Last week’s ranking: 21) – This is the week that Michael Jordan finally makes his move. Will he trade Kemba Walker before Friday’s trade deadline? Smart money says that Walker will stay put in Charlotte, barring any unforeseen offers that would blow the front office away. However, the team’s recent play has indicated that a full rebuild would be the most realistic scenario for the organization. They are not good enough to contend for a playoff spot, but they aren’t terrible enough to tank for a top draft pick. If I were Jordan (and trust me I wish I was), I would trade Walker and start from scratch. There’s no point in delaying the inevitable.
- New York Knicks (23-31) (Last week’s ranking: 20) – The Knicks are in a strange spot. They have lost three in a row and are not helping the front office decide on what direction the team should take this week. Should they be buyers at the trade deadline? Should they trade off players like Courtney Lee and Kyle O’Quinn and accumulate assets? Then, there’s the situations with Joakim Noah and Willy Hernangomez. Both players are unhappy with their current roles, especially Noah, but Hernangomez is the more tradeable player without question. The Knicks would be better off trading off any players they can and acquiring additional draft compensation in the process. There’s no point in fighting for the eighth spot only to be swept by the Celtics in the first round of the playoff come April.
- Los Angeles Lakers (21-31) (Last week’s ranking: 24) – The Lakers have become an NBA curiosity. They are actively shopping their best players in hopes of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that the goal is now the 2019 NBA free agent class. It appears free agents from this year’s class were not impressed by the play of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart. It is hard to impress prospective free agents when young talent seems to rotate in and out so quickly. The Lakers need stability and the decision to look further in the future should help. The Lakers have taken a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. Now, it is time to make a change and get things back on track.
- Brooklyn Nets (19-35) (Last week’s ranking: 22) – The good news for the Nets is that D’Angelo Russell is slowly returning to his old self. He combined with Spencer Dinwiddie to score 49 points in a win over the Sixers last week, prompting head coach Kenny Atkinson to play the two point guards together for longer stretches. Sean Marks pulled off another shrewd trade on Monday, flipping Tyler Zeller for Rashad Vaughn and a future second-round pick. The fact that the Nets turned Zeller into a second-round draft pick is astounding. He was signed off the street in September after the Celtics cut him to make room for Kyrie Irving’s contract. What’s even more impressive is that Jarrett Allen is already starting for the Nets at 19-years-old. He has gotten better in every game he’s played and should be in consideration for one of the All-Rookie teams. It’s only February, but the Nets are just one victory shy of matching their entire win total last season. It’s a long rebuilding process in Brooklyn, but the team is making fairly decent strides this year.
- Memphis Grizzlies (18-34) (Last week’s ranking: 25) – It appears Marc Gasol is staying put. Tyreke Evans has been considered a goner since the new year began. Yet, Evans still finds himself in Memphis as of this writing. With the deadline approaching, will he end up moving? Evans would be a nice fit on a lot of teams. However, numerous outlets have reported the coolness around the trade deadline. It stems from teams looking at themselves and realizing they are more than one move from competing with the Rockets and Warriors. That splash of cold water has made this deal a tougher sell for Memphis who would likely want a first-round pick in exchange. It only takes one team but the Grizzlies might find themselves waiting until the last minute in order to get that done.
- Dallas Mavericks (17-37) (Last week’s ranking: 26) – The Mavericks have fallen to 2-8 in their last 10 games and are in range of topping the lottery list. Dirk Nowitzki hit another milestone. However, the jersey did not quite hit the mark. The Mavericks will probably double down on younger players as the season progresses but there are not many moves left to make. They could decide to call up some G-League talent but it will mostly be some Dirk and Dennis Smith Jr. highlights and a lot of losses the rest of the way.
- Chicago Bulls (18-35) (Last week’s ranking: 23) – After showing some promise for a brief period of time, the Bulls are back to their losing ways. Monday’s loss to the Kings was their seventh in a row, and frustrations are beginning to mount throughout the locker room. Robin Lopez was ejected on Monday night after receiving his second technical foul. On his way off the court, he grabbed a chair in the tunnel and tossed it. That type of behavior is out of character for Lopez, who seems like a nice guy off the court. As for the trade deadline, the Bulls already traded Nikola Mirotic to the Pelicans. I think they will unload one or two more contracts from their books, but it will be interesting to see who will be moved before Thursday.
- Phoenix Suns (18-36) (Last week’s ranking: 27) – The Suns are one of the teams that could profit the most from the lack of teams with cap space this summer. On the one hand, they can use that space to get good players on cheap deals. On the other, they could rent that cap space to a desperate team in exchange for draft picks. Either way, the Suns have improbably found themselves in a great position going into the offseason. They have a young star, cap room, their own draft pick, and a potentially bright future. The top of the Western Conference seems fairly set in stone for the next couple of years so a team like the Suns can take their time as they position themselves to make a run once the Warriors break up and Chris Paul ages out of superstardom.
- Atlanta Hawks (16-37) (Last week’s ranking: 28) – Congratulations to the Hawks, who are back in the Eastern Conference cellar for now. They are battling the Magic for that prestigious honor. The Hawks, however, will be serious players at the trade deadline. They probably will not be looking to make any direct deals, but they would be a perfect third team that could help complete trades by using their cap space to ingest bad contacts. This way, the Hawks could acquire additional draft choices that would expedite their rebuild. They head into the All-Star break with games against the Grizzlies, Magic, Cavaliers, Pistons, Bucks and Pistons, so I would expect them to have well over 40 losses by the time the festivities begin in Los Angeles.
- Sacramento Kings (17-36) (Last week’s ranking: 29) – What happened to the one-yard line? Supposedly, the George Hill trade was a done deal. Now rumors are swirling about numerous other point guards heading to Cleveland. The Kings need to get this deal done so they can carve out minutes for their young players. Moreover, imagine how unhappy Hill will be for the rest of the season if he sticks around? Given the salary and roster construction implications, it is vital that the Kings get this done, particularly given that Hill’s contract extends into 2020. The Kings will want to have all the money they can by then to build around what they hope will be a promising young core. Let’s get this deal done, Vlade!
- Orlando Magic (16-36) (Last week’s ranking: 30) – Aaron Gordon has withdrawn from the dunk contest due to a hip injury. What is the point of even having All-Star weekend, anymore? Gordon was set to participate in the dunk contest largely because it is taking place in his home state of California. It’s now looking like Gordon will be out of game action until after the break, which is tough news for a Magic team that has been besieged by injuries this season after a hot start. The Magic have only one two games this season when Gordon is out of the lineup, so expect them to struggle until he is healthy enough to return.
Biggest Mover: Denver Nuggets (5)
Biggest Flop: Miami Heat (4)
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