DGS NBA Power Rankings: Trade Deadline Review
With the trade deadline officially passed, we can now look at where things stand in the NBA. Did the Cavs do enough to stay in the championship picture? Will one of the top teams regret not doing more? While the top-two stay the same, there is some big movement all around this week’s NBA power rankings. Read on!
- Golden State Warriors (44-13) (Last week’s ranking: 1) – The Warriors stood pat at the trade deadline, deciding that their current roster is good enough to win another NBA championship. Personally, I believe Joe Johnson would have been a perfect fit for their team (more on that below), but they had no reason to mess with their current team chemistry. Their bench has picked them up in recent games, with David West looking like he’s 27-years-old again. Up next is All-Star weekend, where Dubs fans get to see Kevin Durant face off against Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green in the main event on Sunday night. After the break, the team will go back on regular-season cruise control. With the way both the Warriors and Rockets are playing, can’t we just fast forward to the Western Conference finals, already?
- Houston Rockets (42-13) (Last week’s ranking: 2) – Houston has won eight games in a row heading into Tuesday’s clash with the Timberwolves. The most important part of their recent winning streak is that they’ve pulled even with the Warriors in the loss column. The Rockets are looking like the only team in the Western Conference capable of dethroning the Warriors in a seven-game playoff series. Their rotation will only get stronger with the additions of Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright, who were bought out of their contracts by the Jazz and Grizzlies, respectively. I love the addition of Johnson, who needs to hit 39 more three-pointers to become the ninth player in NBA history with 2,000. He gives the Rockets another scoring punch off the bench as well as a clutch shooter late in games. Johnson has hit many big shots in his career. Here’s to hoping he has a few more left in him this season.
- Toronto Raptors (39-16) (Last week’s ranking: 4) – The Raptors crack the top-three after winning five straight and seven of their last eight. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are still the leaders but their unselfishness has helped craft a system where everyone is playing their best basketball. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer talked about how DeRozan has had one of the most improved situations but DeRozan has the elusive ability to improve his teammates. DeRozan helps create for them and the ball movement that starts with Lowry and DeRozan has extended to the reserves. That depth has made the Raptors the top challenger to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference until further notice.
- Boston Celtics (40-18) (Last week’s ranking: 3) – The last few games must scare even the most confident Celtics fan. Sunday’s loss to Cleveland was indicative of Cleveland’s improvement but it also highlights how far Boston has fallen. The stars have held up their end of the bargain while Terry Rozier has been electrifying. Looking for a culprit? The easiest things to point to are the declines of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Tatum has hit the rookie wall while Brown had his worst month of the season in January. Meanwhile, the Celtics have been without Marcus Smart for a few weeks now. Smart’s absence is manageable but not with Brown and Tatum playing like this. Kyrie Irving also missed some time so everyone should probably take a breath and think back to the beginning of the season when the Celtics were an unstoppable juggernaut. Their defense is still playing well and Coach Brad Stevens is a known offensive wizard. The Celtics will be fine.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (33-22) (Last week’s ranking: 6) – How excited is LeBron James after seeing the way his new teammates played against the best defense in the NBA? Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. could have mini star turns next to LeBron. Hood has the shooting touch and just enough playmaking to fit nicely next to James or take a bigger role when James is on the bench. Meanwhile, Larry Nance might be the best pick and roll partner for LeBron since he left Chris Bosh in Miami. Nance is a nasty rim runner who can finish anything LeBron puts around the rim. Nance is already a better passer than Tristan Thompson and he might be a better rebounder with the way Thompson has played this season. Thompson’s days in Cleveland may be numbered. Jordan Clarkson should be a nice sixth man while George Hill is close to the perfect point guard to play with LeBron since he can defend and can threes. Good luck to Coach Tyronn Lue who gets to integrate these four new guys, plus any buyout candidates, and then reintegrating Kevin Love when he returns. The Love, Nance, and James troika will be hard to play together, without including any minutes for Thompson. It will be very interesting to see how Lue carves out minutes for everyone.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (35-24) (Last week’s ranking: 5) – If you’re wondering just how good the top teams in the West are, just remember that the Timberwolves are 35-24 and currently entrenched in the fourth seed, but are four games ahead of being out of the playoff picture altogether. They struggle way too much on the road (12-18) to be considered an elite team, but their 13-game winning streak at home cannot be ignored. The streak will be put to the test when the Wolves welcome the Rockets into Target Center on Tuesday night. It’s no secret that they will be involved in the buyout market. Could Derrick Rose be an option for the Timberwolves? He cleared waivers and has ties to the coaching staff, as well as Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson from their days in Chicago. Rose would be a nice addition for Minnesota if they do not play him more than 10-12 minutes per game.
- San Antonio Spurs (35-23) (Last week’s ranking: 7) – The Spurs haven’t looked like themselves much this season, thanks in large part to injuries. They were completely overmatched by the Warriors during Sunday’s blowout loss and have ensured that the competition for the top seed in the Western Conference will be a two-team race. However, the Spurs are still good enough to snag a top-four seed and have homecourt advantage for at least the first round of the playoffs. Even when Kawhi Leonard expected to return at some point this season, you have to wonder if his best days in San Antonio are behind him. Many teams with cap space are looking ahead to the Summer of 2019 when Leonard will be a free agent. If the Spurs are headed towards a full rebuild like many expect, then Leonard could be as good as gone by then.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (32-25) (Last week’s ranking: 9) – As time goes on, it’s becoming increasingly likely that Paul George re-ups with the Thunder. He scored 38 points in last week’s win over the Warriors in Oakland and had fans chanting “we love Paul” during Sunday’s win over the Lakers at home. This came after Laker fans were chanting “we want Paul” while the Thunder were in Los Angeles last week. George is really feeling the love in OKC, and he knows that playing alongside Russell Westbrook has been tremendous for his career. With a few more pieces around them, they could be lethal for years to come. The Thunder are 3-0 against the Rockets and Warriors this season, but it’s not hard to tell how much they miss Andre Roberson’s defense. They would have a much better record if he did not get injured, but I am interested to see how far a healthy Westbrook and George can take the Thunder once the playoffs start.
- Washington Wizards (32-24) (Last week’s ranking: 8) – Washington has played well but find themselves in a precarious spot with only 2.5 games between them and the 76ers. Tomas Satoransky was playing incredibly well in John Wall’s absence until Bobby Portis knocked him out of the air and onto the disabled list on Sunday. The Wizards are poking around some buyout candidates, including Derrick Rose but it is unclear if they can add anyone who will move the needle. Meanwhile, they have a tough schedule down the stretch after having the easiest schedule in the league so far. The injuries mean even more pressure on Bradley Beal and Otto Porter. Porter has expanded his role since Wall went down but his efficiency has gone the other way as a result. Can the duo of Beal and Porter keep the Wizards in the playoffs?
- Milwaukee Bucks (31-24) (Last week’s ranking: 10) – The Bucks are the forgotten team in the Eastern Conference and could be peaking at the right time. Unfortunately, the coaching change has not had great results yet. Fortunately, the bar was already set low so Coach Joe Prunty cannot be much of a downgrade. Meanwhile, Jabari Parker is working his way back and the team has wisely taken their time in getting him back into action. Somehow it took four sentences to bring up Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is the team’s franchise cornerstone and makes them a legitimate threat to beat anyone else in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks could find themselves significantly higher on this list in a week or two if they keep this level of play up and move into the mix for the third or fourth seed. The Cavaliers are the only team in the Eastern Conference who could claim the best player in a series against Milwaukee and even that margin is narrowing.
- Indiana Pacers (32-25) (Last week’s ranking: 12) – The Pacers have become the Victor Oladipo show. Oladipo deserves the recognition as the linchpin of his team. Ironically, the Pacers seem to resemble last year’s Thunder at times. Oladipo is the sole source of reliable offensive creation although Darren Collison has also been a revelation. Can Oladipo continue to elevate his game in a way that lets the Pacers build around him? Last week, Jason and I discussed this as a potential Kemba Walker destination but Indiana is a long way from true contention. Myles Turner is not where many expected him to be in his third season while Domantas Sabonis is not a good enough defender to be a major building block. That leaves a lot of role players around Oladipo. He could get them into the dangerous zone of too good to get top tier prospects in the drafts but not good enough to compete for the championship. That said, those decisions are down the road and for now the Pacers and their fans should celebrate the success of Oladipo and the team as a whole.
- Denver Nuggets (30-26) (Last week’s ranking: 11) – Devin Harris is a solid addition for the Nuggets as they look to contend for a postseason spot, but I still think they gave up a bit too early on Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay is only 21-years-old, but it became clear that he wore out his welcome in Denver. The Nuggets made a move that could help them win now, and Harris now gives them an anchor for their second unit. Will Barton, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic have all stepped up their games as they wait for Paul Millsap to return from a wrist injury. If Millsap can return before April, the Nuggets have a real chance to make some noise come playoff time.
- Portland Trail Blazers (31-26) (Last week’s ranking: 13) – Damian Lillard torched the Sacramento Kings for 50 points last Friday night. The Trail Blazers don’t usually generate many national headlines, but Lillard just turned in one of the best performances we’ll see in the NBA this season. The team is hoping that Lillard’s performance will help spark an offense that has struggled over their last five games. At 31-26, Portland is right in the thick of the playoff race. They face the Warriors on Wednesday night before heading into the All-Star break, which will be a huge test for them.
- Miami Heat (30-26) (Last week’s ranking: 14) – Welcome back, Dwyane Wade! Wade County is back and there is a new best jersey in the NBA. The Miami Vice jerseys were already the best buy in the league but getting a jersey of the greatest player in franchise history in those sleek threads is a home run. On the court, the Heat gave up nothing to get him but Wade is running on fumes. He will help their depth but anyway expecting more is probably a fool’s errand. Then again, he did seal away a win in his first game back with a huge block. All in all, this is a win for a Heat team that was not going to win the championship. Wade will help improve jersey sales, attendance, and might even help get the Heat out of the first round.
- Philadelphia 76ers (29-25) (Last week’s ranking: 16) – The 76ers officially added Marco Belinelli on Monday. He should help space the floor and be a JJ Redick light option when the real version sits. When he plays next to Redick it will make the Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid pick and rolls all the more deadly. It was a nice low-risk move for a team building towards the future. Belinelli could also help the 76ers make some noise in the first round. They are a scary first round opponent for anyone in the Eastern Conference if Embiid is healthy. This move only further strengthens that position. No news if Markelle Fultz is allowed to shoot outside of the paint yet.
- Utah Jazz (29-28) (Last week’s ranking: 19) – Break up the Jazz! The team currently has an NBA-best 10-game winning streak, including four victories against the top teams in the NBA. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are looking like a dominant duo once again, and the team will benefit defensively with the addition of Jae Crowder at the trade deadline. I believe they would have found a way to use Derrick Rose, who was traded to the Jazz from Cleveland along with Crowder. Instead, they opted to release the former NBA MVP, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. The Jazz will look to head into the All-Star break on an 11-game winning streak after they face the Suns at home on Wednesday night.
- Los Angeles Clippers (29-26) (Last week’s ranking: 17) – The Clippers did the exact opposite of what everyone was expecting them to do at the trade deadline. They held on to DeAndre Jordan and rewarded Lou Williams with a contract extension. The Clippers know they are not far off from being a contender in the Western Conference, so I believe they made the right decision from a basketball standpoint. The Blake Griffin trade is also beginning to tip in their favor. After a hot start, the Pistons are struggling to win games, while Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris have given the Clippers a bit of a spark. They are currently only three games over .500 but only sit two games back of the Thunder for the fifth seed. It’s going to be a wild playoff race out West, but the Clippers stood pat after trading Griffin and still have a chance to make the postseason.
- New Orleans Pelicans (30-26) (Last week’s ranking: 15) – DeMarcus Cousins may be out for the season, but that doesn’t mean the Pelicans are going to just lie down. Anthony Davis is playing like a man possessed, helping New Orleans win its last two games. The Pelicans nearly coughed up a 28-point lead to the Nets over the weekend before Davis took over the game in double overtime. He finished with 44 points, 17 rebounds, six steals and three blocks. Add in the point guard play of Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo along with the perimeter shooting of Nikola Mirotic and the Pelicans might be onto something here. They currently lead the Clippers by one-half game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
- Detroit Pistons (27-29) (Last week’s ranking: 18) – Blake Griffin continues to thrive in Detroit where the Pistons are hanging around the playoff race. Unfortunately, after winning five in a row, Detroit has now lost their last three games. Griffin has played well, although his percentages are down. The culprit has largely been a leaky defense that has allowed over 114 points per game in each of their last three games. The Pistons do not have the horses to play in those types of games and will need to clamp down defensively if they want to make a playoff push. One of their top defensive players in Reggie Bullock has been absolutely lights out. He shot over 50 percent from three in January and has been well over 45 percent since it became 2018. Bullock has been able to take advantage of his opportunity in Detroit and looks like a bargain at $2.5 million for next season. His 3-and-D skills will be a nice complement to the team, particularly when Reggie Jackson returns and he can space the floor around pick and rolls.
- Charlotte Hornets (23-33) (Last week’s ranking: 20) – The Hornets have lost four in a row to playoff teams, which likely seals their fate. There are a number of teams ahead of them in the playoff race and they have fallen too far behind with less than 30 games left. The trade for Willy Hernangomez was probably an overpay with them giving up multiple draft picks but Hernangomez could be a future building block. Dwight Howard and Cody Zeller are both under contract for next season but Howard is on an expiring deal and seems like a prime candidate for a trade if anyone will take on his contract. Unfortunately for Charlotte, the worst deals on their books are also the longest. Batum is signed until 2021 if he opts into his player option, which he almost certainly will. Meanwhile, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are signed through 2020, although MKG could opt out after the 2018-2019 season. The aforementioned Zeller is under contract until 2021 and has had trouble staying on the floor. The Hornets have a lot of money on the books and it has not helped them compete for the playoffs. It is time for a teardown in Charlotte and hopefully, Hernangomez can be part of the eventual rebuild.
- Los Angeles Lakers (23-32) (Last week’s ranking: 22) – The Lakers pulled off a great trade on the day of the deadline, shipping Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavaliers in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and a first-round pick. Thomas looks to be energized after getting out of Cleveland, where he was miserable playing alongside LeBron James and company. He now has a chance to salvage his season while playing alongside Lonzo Ball in L.A. Getting Clarkson and Nance off the books now gives them enough cap space to go after two max free agents either this Summer or next. Magic Johnson has done a great job in getting the Lakers set to go after players such as James and Paul George in 2018 or Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson in 2019. Laker fans are definitely excited to see what the future brings.
- New York Knicks (23-35) (Last week’s ranking: 21) – Ready for any interesting thought experiment? How far could the Knicks fall if they fully commit to tanking? They have lost seven in a row and it mostly coincides with Kristaps Porzingis’ season-ending injury. If the Knicks shut down Tim Hardaway Jr. as well, could they win less than five games down the stretch? If they go 4-20 to finish the season they would finish with 27 wins. That stretch would amount to a 20 percent winning percentage, which is well below Sacramento’s league-worst 30.9 percent number now. That could help them pass the Bulls on the way down depending on how Chicago treats the end of the season. Maybe they could also slide below Brooklyn since the Nets have no reason to tank. There is a clear path to somewhere in the six to eight range but it will depend on how blatantly the Knicks give up on the season. Meanwhile, they just traded Willy Hernangomez who was one of their most talented young players and their coach is likely coaching for his job. It should be a very interesting conclusion to the season for the Knickerbockers.
- Chicago Bulls (20-36) (Last week’s ranking: 26) – The Bulls pulled out a huge win on Monday thanks to the heroics of Zach LaVine. The Bulls are clearly committed to their young players but it does not hurt for those young players to win some games. Coach Fred Hoiberg has turned things around this season and the locker room chemistry seems to have improved dramatically. Kris Dunn is still out and Robin Lopez is probably playing too many minutes for a lottery-bound team but give the Bulls credit for rebounding after a brutal start. LaVine is averaging over 25 points a game in February and might not command as large a deal as expected given the relative shortage of cap space around the league. He will be a restricted free agent and the Bulls would likely be wise to hold onto him even if they just flip him later on. While Nick Friedell’s tanking plan does have some logical appeal, the Bulls should focus on building a winning culture as well. This is not a situation where the future of the roster is outside the building. The future Bulls will be relying heavily on internal development from the players on the roster now. That said, Friedell makes some very prescient points. Lopez needs to see fewer minutes and that needs to happen immediately. Younger players like Cristiano Felicio, Noah Vonleh, Bobby Portis, and Lauri Markkanen should be playing the majority (if not the entirety) of the frontcourt minutes going forward. The Bulls also need to be very careful with LaVine and ensure he recovers. Cameron Payne is a mystery. It is unclear if he has a future in the NBA. The Bulls can afford to give him a tryout down the stretch, though. The other question facing the front office is the fate of Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg has been significantly better this season and his ATO plays have shown marked improvement from a season ago. However, with top candidates on the market, including David Fizdale, the Bulls will have to make a tough decision.
- Brooklyn Nets (19-39) (Last week’s ranking: 23) – The Nets seemed primed to start racking up wins as other teams went into the tank. That has not happened yet. The Nets are in the midst of a 4-16 slog as they approach the all-star break. The Nets have faced the 10th hardest schedule in the league and still have three games against Chicago, three against Charlotte, games against Sacramento and Orlando, and finish their season in Boston where the Celtics are likely going to be resting up for a playoff push. It is not crazy to think the Nets could make it to 30 wins this year, particularly with D’Angelo Russell back in the fold. Russell is still not back to 100 percent but he has played much more confidently in February. Unfortunately, Spencer Dinwiddie’s shooting percentages have fallen off a cliff and he is now shooting under 40 percent from the field. Add that to the injuries of Russell, Caris LeVert, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and it is easy to see why the Nets have struggled. That said, it has to be encouraging to have seen young players embody the next man up philosophy. Allen Crabbe is having his best month of the season with a 34 and a 28 point game. Joe Harris continues to light it up from outside, shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. However, the most encouraging player on the Nets has been Jarrett Allen. He has shown that he can be the rim running center that helps generate open threes in a spread pick and roll offense. More importantly, he has flashed the skills to be more than that. Against the Pistons, he played over 30 minutes for the first time all season and ripped down 14 boards to go with six assists. He has flashed solid instincts passing the ball and his rebounding and defense will only improve as he learns the pro game. The Nets may have found a steal with the 22nd pick.
- Memphis Grizzlies (18-37) (Last week’s ranking: 24) – The slumping Grizzlies did not deal Marc Gasol or Tyreke Evans at the trade deadline. It’s a bit surprising that they didn’t move Evans, considering they sat him earlier in the week in anticipation of a deal getting done. Now, he is back playing and starting for the team, even though they are currently incapable of scoring more than one point per possession. Losers of six-straight games, things are only beginning to get worse for the Grizzlies. Mike Conley is lost for the season and the team doesn’t have much to play for other than a top draft pick. All eyes will be on the front office during the offseason. Will it be time to finally move Gasol and start from scratch? Stay tuned.
- Orlando Magic (18-38) (Last week’s ranking: 30) –.A brutal loss to the Bulls added a sour taste to what had been a nice week for the Magic. Orlando had been playing well in February with three wins and a narrow loss to Milwaukee after starting the month with a big loss in Washington. On the plus side, Mario Hezonja looks like he is finally starting to figure things out. His shot selection can leave something to be desired but he has the shooting touch to make fans and coaches forgive him. He scored 24 against the Bulls before attempting a very deep three to try to take the lead late in the game. Unfortunately, the Magic declined his option so Super Mario may be leaving Orlando just as he starts to figure things out. That pattern has repeated itself over the past few seasons and the Magic need to seriously evaluate their front office and coaching staff.
- Dallas Mavericks (18-39) (Last week’s ranking: 25) – One of the most exciting things about the Mavericks right now has been the play of Dirk Nowitzki. He has turned back the clock as of late, shooting 50 percent from 3-point range over his last 11 games and looking like the old Dirk. However, the Mavericks are a mess and they traded one of their veteran players (Devin Harris) for a shooter who may or may not be a part of the team’s future (Doug McDermott). I am intrigued by what McDermott looks like playing next to rookie Dennis Smith Jr. That will be something to look for over the team’s final 25 games of the regular season.
- Phoenix Suns (18-40) (Last week’s ranking: 27) – The Suns may be one of the worst teams in the NBA, but they pulled off an absolute stunner of a trade when they acquired Elfrid Payton from the Magic minutes before the trade deadline expired. Payton had 19 points and nine assists in his team debut last Saturday, and it will be interesting to see how he meshes with Devin Booker in the backcourt. Payton looked like he was in need of a change of scenery, so this might be the trade that will help Phoenix during its slow crawl out of the NBA cellar. It’s not all peaches and cream lately for Phoenix, though. They have lost six-straight games and trailed by as many as 53 points in a game against the Spurs last week.
- Atlanta Hawks (18-39) (Last week’s ranking: 28) – Look at the frisky Hawks! Atlanta has won three of their last five and one of the two losses was by a mere two points. Meanwhile, Dewayne Dedmon, who is only 28 by the way, has been playing exceptionally well. Some questioned his judgment in leaving the Spurs but Dedmon has proved his doubters wrong. He is averaging over 10 points a game on over 55 percent shooting and has added a three-point shot to his arsenal. He is knocking them down, too. His per-36 minute numbers tell the story. He is averaging 15.5 points, 2.3 assists, and 11.5 rebounds a game on those stellar shooting splits. It has been a pretty amazing transformation for a player who came into the league so raw. It is also a major testament to Demon’s work ethic and the efforts of the Atlanta coaching staff. Both of those things bode well for the future of this Atlanta franchise as they attempt a rebuild.
- Sacramento Kings (17-38) (Last week’s ranking: 29) – George Hill’s stint in Sacramento has come to a painful end. He was traded to the Cavaliers, where he will help LeBron James chase his fourth championship ring. In return, they received Iman Shumpert, who will be a nice athletic wing for them as they continue their rebuild. The Kings also acquired Joe Johnson from Utah as part of the deal, but they bought him out of his contract so that he could go play for a contender. They should do the same thing for Vince Carter, who is running out of chances to win that elusive ring. Carter may not want to leave Sacramento, but it’s up to the Kings to do the right thing and acquire more young talent to build around.
Biggest Mover: Orlando Magic (4)
Biggest Flop: New Orleans Pelicans (3)