We look back to decipher lessons learned from all 30 teams, including the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers.
So, uh, here we are. How does it feel? Weird, right? There are three days left in what’s been an altogether-stimulating 82-game season. There are records still to break, legends still to depart, some seeding to sort out, and before long, four rounds of playoff basketball. With all that still to come, rather than mince words and jump to conclusions up here, we’ll run through—in layman’s terms—what we learned about all 30 teams this season.
To quote Sam Hinkie, quoting Tesla’s Elon Musk: Musk describes his everyday stance as, “You should take the approach that you’re wrong. Your goal is to be less wrong.”
After months of trying to be increasingly less wrong, here are SI.com’s final regular season Power Rankings. Thanks for reading.
What have we learned about the Warriors? Check back on Wednesday. Why? Oh, no reason at all.
This might be Gregg Popovich’s best Spurs team ever, and this might be one of the best defensive teams ever, period, but in this strange world, this is clearly the second-best regular-season team in the league. Here’s hoping for seven games with Golden State.
The Cavs are who we thought they were: the best team in the East with a lot of personality quirks and hitches that may or may not sideline their title hopes. That, or still having no proper personnel answer for the Warriors. TBD.
Honestly, we were never going to learn anything about the Thunder until the playoffs. They’ve got more to prove than anybody, and the eventual outcome might mean more for the future, too. Get your popcorn ready.
L.A. probably isn’t better without Blake Griffin, but the Clippers showed their mettle in staying the course and are likely to get another crack at the Warriors. But, a 2–8 mark against the West’s top three teams doesn’t bode well.
This team is for real, at least for now, and looks ready to add the franchise’s first playoff series win since 2001. Whether a deep run is in store or not, the case for DeMar DeRozan to stick around has been made in full.
There’s stability here. After mulling breaking up the band at the deadline, Atlanta turned into the East’s best post-break team. The Hawks went 17–8 with a +7.3 net rating and a league best 96.2 defensive rating and look bound for the third seed. That said, the conference finals are a taller task this time around.
Not only is this franchise in great position for the next decade, it turns out Boston is also a dangerous playoff team, and suddenly a quite-viable destination for free agents (cough, Durant, cough). There are few fan bases that should feel better about themselves right now.
It doesn’t appear Chris Bosh will be back this season. That said, the Heat continue to extend their post-LeBron success and look dangerous entering the playoffs. And that’s exactly where they hoped they’d be, right?
A year after the hype, the Hornets are very much back, fully transformed into a well-coached, three-point happy unit. There are a lot of expiring contracts to deal with, but not before what could be a playoff run worth paying some attention. Kemba’s done it before, after all.
We actually learned a hell of a lot about the Blazers, who in fact are still a stable team led by a dominant player in Damian Lillard, and not a depleted also-ran. The playoffs are icing on the cake.
No surprise, Stan Van built a functional machine greater than the sum of its parts—it just came together a little faster than you might have thought. Relevance feels good!
Healthy Paul George returned a bankable star, and now the clock is ticking to build him the proper vehicle. Myles Turner was a steal, but there are still needs to address all over. The Pacers couldn’t close out games for the life of them. But was this season a net win? No doubt.
Dirk: still Dirk. Carlisle: still Carlisle. Mavericks? Still kicking, sort of.
It turns out the Grizzlies’ front office can grit and grind too, with a record number of players taking the court on the way to a highly improbable playoff berth. If Mike Conley returns to lead this rogues’ gallery and Marc Gasol comes back effective, why can’t Memphis stay relevant?
One of the league’s best young groups began to play like it, and the Jazz have found a style that appears to suit them. Point guard remains the big off-season question. Remember Dante Exum? Brush up.
The Rockets got complacent and never once looked the part of a contender, fooling many, myself included. The biggest question is whether new leadership can make a difference, and exactly how far the team will go to effect some change.
It’s time for a shake-up. If missing the playoffs triggers that then it won’t be a wholly lost season for the Bulls, who have lost their identity and are set to lose some talent barring unexpected free-agent savvy. The Thibs hangover was real.
If this seems a little high for a 28-win team, that’s because it is. The last two weeks have birthed an appropriately healthy Karl-Anthony Towns bandwagon, and KAT is the best thing that ever happened to Andrew Wiggins, and the Wolves don’t seem to think Zach LaVine is a shooting guard anymore, and that’s a pretty nice, neat outcome after some laborious patches of season. Think big, because why not?
After a quiet off-season that backfired and a playoff miss, the whole sign-KD thing feels far-fetched now, and this might be it for Randy Wittman. John Wall is still awesome, but the Wizards are still kind of in limbo. This could go so many different directions from here.
So this wasn’t the year it all came together, but for a couple months, Orlando was exciting. You’d think there is more, not less of that to come.
The Carmelo era has reached a breaking point, the Porzingis saga is just beginning, and Phil Jackson still hasn’t figured out social media (or exactly where this team is going). On go the Knicks.
Well, DeMarcus Cousins averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block, and is one of just seven players to ever do that. He also had 17 technical fouls (but only one ejection!) Boogie ascended as the most talented center in the NBA, but is also still a massive enigma. We are no closer to solving that mystery.
Devin Booker is a real piece, and that’s big. If Eric Bledsoe comes back strong, that’s two. Sure, Phoenix hit the skids in one sense, but it’s not a wholly unattractive destination for a coach. The crash-and-burn could have been worse, all things considered.
With certainty, we can now say this is not an optimal core to place around Anthony Davis, who should in theory make that job extremely easy. All the injuries aside, an awkward-fitting backcourt and unskilled frontcourt need shuffling. I’m willing to give Alvin Gentry a mulligan, but a one-year turnaround is wishful thinking.
The Lakers’ next phase is far from stable, and frankly, what worse scenario could you have imagined? The tank certainly succeeded, but with Byron Scott’s general mishandling of things and D’Angelo Russell learning lessons the extremely-hard way, this franchise comes away no more secure than it was a year ago. Lottery balls in a bad draft may not change that.
It was never a secret that it would be a long couple of years. Getting the new front office settled helps, and cost-effective pickups like Sean Kilpatrick suggest some savvy. Once we know who the next coach is and what’s to become of Brooklyn’s handful of veterans, the arc of the rebuild will take better shape.
If Sam Hinkie were still around, it’d be easy to make some sort of statement about the progress of the process (which would still be very much up for debate). This is kind of morbid, but until we get a look at all of the Sixers’ chips, it’s hard to say anything about their long-term prospects with assurance. Props to the Colangelos, though, for winning the game of thrones.