We are now officially past the halfway point of the season for each team.
In this week’s Power Rankings we’ll look at important players on teams that need a certain je ne sais quoi if they intend to reach their maximum potential and refrain from falling off when things get serious. We’ll examine a mixture of key role players as well as primary ball handlers and key scoring options as we try to determine franchises that could either boom or bust as the season progresses.
So now it’s time to see which teams are feeling good two weeks into 2019 and which clubs are thinking about hitting reset on the new year.
30. Knicks | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 10-33 | Previous Ranking: 29
Which excited Knicks fans more this week: Watching Kevin Knox show improvement from game-to-game against four playoff teams or going winless? I mean, you can’t imagine life with Knox and Zion Williamson if the team wins games, so it might be a push.
29. Cavaliers | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 9-35 | Previous Ranking: 30
This possession where Rodney Hood is matched up one-on-one with James Harden feels like a metaphor for the Cavaliers’ entire season.
I’m not saying that trying is overrated or that it’s useless and stupid to put forth maximum effort just to lose. But sometimes, you know what’s about to happen. So why tire yourself out just to see the negative result you already expected?
But they did beat the Lakers on Sunday, and that has to count for something. They didn’t beat LeBron, but they beat those dudes who really need him to come back and help them out.
28. Bulls | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 10-33 | Previous Ranking: 27
There’s a good chance Chicago’s current seven-game losing streak stretches out to 10 by the end of this week. But hey, at least Jim Boylen is here to stay. The prractices in Chicago might be too long for some, but there is a bit of stability now for a team that fired its coach in the middle of the season.
27. Hawks | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 13-30 | Previous Ranking: 26
Kevin Huerter’s last seven games have been pretty impressive: 15.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists and four games with at least two threes. If Trae Young ever gets his three-point shooting in order, these two could become a deadly duo from distance going forward.
26. Suns | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 11-33 | Previous Ranking: 28
Kelly Oubre Jr. really enjoyed life without Devin Booker, going for a team-high 26 points in each of Phoenix’s two wins last week. Hopefully Greta Rogers was at one of the games to see the Suns put together their second home winning streak of the season. Sure, they haven’t won more than two consecutive contests at home this season, but they have to start somewhere.
25. Grizzlies | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 19-23 | Previous Ranking: 24
Wednesday’s 10-point win over the Spurs could have been the start of a turnaround for the Grizzlies as they snapped a six-game losing streak. Then Justise Winslow happened on Saturday and now only the Suns look up at the Grizzlies in the Western Conference standings. That’s worst-case scenario for 14 of the 15 teams out West.
24. Hornets | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 19-23 | Previous Ranking: 20
The Hornets are finally on a five-game stretch that isn’t 3-2 or 2-3. Unfortunately for them, it’s a 1-4 run that opened a six-game West Coast swing. Now they get to go to San Antonio looking to snap a three-game skid.
23. Pistons | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 18-23 | Previous Ranking: 21
If you didn’t love seeing Blake Griffin dominate the Clippers in Staples Center, you don’t love a good revenge story and that’s pretty lame. The only thing better than Blake surpassing his season scoring average (25.1 points) in the first half (26 points) en route to a 44-point outing was seeing all the fans wearing his old Clipper gear.
22. Lakers | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 23-21 | Previous Ranking: 19
This whole not playing with LeBron James thing can’t go on for too much longer or the Lakers will find themselves out of the West’s top eight very soon. Kyle Kuzma went for 41 in one game, but he shot a combined 8-for-38 in the games before and after that effort. Fairweather fans did not dust off all their old Laker gear just to watch young players struggle.
21. Magic | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 19-24 | Previous Ranking: 25
After a putrid 1-5 road trip that featured a four-game losing streak, back-to-back wins over the Celtics and Rockets are nothing to ignore as the Magic try to jostle for playoff positioning. And holding on the way they did for those two victories could spark something for a team that has a favorable schedule coming up.
20. Wizards | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 18-26 | Previous Ranking: 23
Bradley Beal has been unreal without John Wall in the lineup this season. And his triple double Sunday (43 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds), despite coming in a loss, was simply magnificent. How much more can he do as he tries to get this team back into the playoff picture? Is he just boosting his trade stock?
19. Pelicans | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 20-23 | Previous Ranking: 22
A win over the Timberwolves would have been huge for the Pelicans, who were winners of four of their last five and on a three-game winning streak going into Saturday’s contest. If this upcoming week also consists of three 30 and 10 games from Anthony Davis though, they should have a bit more success as they enter the heart of a five-game road trip. Or, maybe the loss in Minnesota was a precursor for what awaits against the Clippers, Warriors and Trail Blazers over the next five days.
18. Nets | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 21-23 | Previous Ranking: 13
The Nets have no chance to win a game where D’Angelo Russell has more turnovers (six) than points (five) like he did Monday against the Celtics. He gets his shot at redemption to open this week in Brooklyn.
17. Mavericks | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 20-23 | Previous Ranking: 17
When Luka Doncic is doing things like this, it’s easy for people to forget about his teammates.
However, there needs to be a bigger effort to make sure opposing defenses don’t take that approach. With J.J. Barea done for the season, there’s more pressure on everybody to create more off the dribble, and Harrison Barnes is the player who could make the biggest and most helpful jump in this area. In addition to putting up a career-low 1.1 assists this season, Barnes is also shooting his worst career percentage on twos. His career-high 41.3% from three makes up for a lot of this, but he needs to make defenses more concerned about him when he’s inside the arc. He’s never been a guy who just dished out dimes at will or made a living by driving to the rack, but we have reason to believe he can provide more in those areas than he currently is.
And if he’s not really in position to attack the basket more and get others their shots, he could at least help close out more possessions on defense. His 3.4 defensive rebounds per game is the worst of his career and his 4.2 total rebounds is his lowest mark since his second season.
It’s not that Barnes needs to stuff the stat sheet and suddenly turn into Russell Westbrook, but he does need to make more of an imprint on the game in areas outside of just scoring.
16. Clippers | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 24-18 | Previous Ranking: 14
Danilo Gallinari has been putting together a career year with the Clippers this season.
After playing just 21 games last season, Gallinari has already appeared in 41 games this season, meaning he’s missed just one contest so far.
While knocking on every piece of wood within a five-mile radius, I’ll say it’s been rather pleasant seeing The Rooster healthy for a change. Now it’s time to see if he can help stabilize the Clippers as they continue to slowly slide down the standings.
Since closing out November by winning nine of its last 10, Los Angeles has gone just 9-12.
Gallinari has been pretty consistent throughout the season, but his usage rate has seen a noticeable increase since November ended and the losing started to increase. It would be foolish to attribute the losses to Gallinari being more involved on offense. His scoring and true shooting percentage and scoring are both solid. But his three-point shooting is down, particularly in January, which is a bit of an issue since his team averages the fifth-fewest made threes in the league. And on the other end of the court, Gallinari’s defensive rating has dropped from November.
If the Clippers are going to reverse sail to stay on the right side of the playoff shuffle, Gallinari will need to be an even bigger help from deep and make sure he isn’t a complete liability on defense. When the team is 22nd in defensive rating as a whole, it wouldn’t make too much sense to put blame one person, so he’ll get less pressure on that end. Just a moderate increase on the three-point shooting could make a world of difference. He’s already shooting a career-best 44.4% so it isn’t that fair to put more pressure on him, but he can’t keep shooting 35.7% like he has to start this month. He has to set the pace from three, and in this case, that means being even better than what we thought to be his best.
15. Timberwolves | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 21-22 | Previous Ranking: 18
Something about Oklahoma City really brings out the best in Andrew Wiggins (40 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in Tuesday’s win). Maybe Robert Covington and Dario Saric will have similar comfort on the road when they return to Philadelphia Tuesday for the first since getting traded in November. The Timberwolves are going to need somebody to step up and fill the void Karl-Anthony Towns (25.7 points, 15.7 rebounds, 2.7 blocks last week) will leave once Jimmy Butler decides to stick him all game.
14. Heat | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 21-20 | Previous Ranking: 16
Justise Winslow has continued to shine as Miami’s newest point guard this season.
When the Celtics came to town Thursday, he dished out a career-high 11 assists. That was just one week after he had a career-high 10 assists in a win over the Wizards.
Outside of the 18 games he played in his second season, this is by far the most distribution Winslow has done in his career, and it appears to be paying off.
Miami is 9-5 in the 14 games Winslow has at least five assists and 5-1 in games he has at least seven. And the one loss was to the Hawks, so the Heat were going to lose that game no matter what cause they just can’t beat Atlanta this season.
Now back to Justise, who followed up his career-best passing night by going for 18 of his 26 points in the first half of a win over the Grizzlies. He shot 4-of-4 from three that night as he continued to show that his sudden jump in shooting last season wasn’t a fluke. Winslow is still far from an efficient scorer, shooting just 42.6% on the season, but showing he has another element to his game that leads to others getting good shots should open up some more opportunities for him to exploit defenses for his own buckets. It also means the Heat have a player who can play all three perimeter spots when asked to help create some unique lineup matchups.
13. Kings | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 22-21 | Previous Ranking: 15
Marvin Bagley III returning from injury was a nice boost for the Kings, who had been floundering a bit of late. It’s probably mostly coincidence that Sacramento’s lone loss of last week was without Bagley against the Suns, but when you’re the guy who didn’t play against the Suns and the team lost, I would make sure to remind everyone about it for a least a few days. Give the coaches something to think about as they try to figure out the minutes distribution in the frontcourt.
12. Spurs | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 25-19 | Previous Ranking: 10
Thank goodness for LaMarcus Aldridge exploding for a career-high 56 points against the Thunder on Thursday. Without that this would have been a sour week in San Antonio. Now is not a good time to lose games to the Grizzlies, especially when you go into the contest on a five-game winning streak.
11. Thunder | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 26-16 | Previous Ranking: 7
The Thunder’s season and postseason seeding will likely come down to just how much they can get from guys like Abdel Nader on the wing. If the 15 points he scored against the Spurs on Saturday are a sign of things to come from him, Oklahoma City might just be the real deal when April and May come around.
10. Celtics | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 25-17 | Previous Ranking: 6
While Kyrie Irving continues to let the young guys know they don’t know what it takes to become a championship team, Marcus Morris keeps playing some of the best basketball out of anybody on this team.
In this, his career year, Morris has proven to be one of the best, if not the best, three-and-D big man in the NBA. If his touch from deep stays true (45.2%) in the second half of the season, he will shatter his previous career-best mark from distance (38.1% in 2013-14). But it seems like being another leader and veteran presence might be more important than his shooting.
The season is certainly a disappointment in some ways in Boston, but it’s also going just fine in others. Nobody wants to be fifth in a five-team race like the Celtics currently are in the East, but they’re only five games behind the Raptors in the loss column and are 5-3 against the top-four teams with seven more games against those squads. Against Indiana on Wednesday, Morris led the team with 22 points and eight rebounds, showing he certainly can be the guy to step up in big games. And in the two losses, he was far from the problem.
But at the same time, this doesn’t look like much of a solution.
You can’t have Kyrie talking spicy to the media and sitting at his locker for way too long after losses while Morris is ready to fight in the huddle. Only one of those things can be going on if this is a Finals team.
9. Jazz | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 23-21 | Previous Ranking: 12
I see why that boy Spida got his own shoe.
This past week Donovan Mitchell was particularly in his bag, putting up 31.5 points (48.4% shooting overall and 48.6% from three), 5.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game while also getting at least one block or steal in each contest. And he did all of this to help push the Jazz to the cusp of the eight seed.
A win in Milwaukee could have been a bit of a tone setter for a team that’s been on the verge of a breakthrough, but that wasn’t in Utah’s cards. Instead the Jazz settled for beating the hapless Lakers, which while less glamorous, is more helpful for a tiebreaker scenario.
After having his scoring drop from month-to-month in 2018, Mitchell came out scorching hot in the new year, in which the Jazz are 5-2. And those two losses were in Toronto and Milwaukee.
If January is going to be a fruitful month in Utah, it will come down to how much Mitchell can do while basically every other guard on this roster is hurt. So far, he’s been amazing.
His five consecutive games of 20+ points is his best stretch this season and the seven assists he had against Orlando on Wednesday tied his season high. The nine assists he had Friday against the Lakers matched a career high.
When the team gets back healthy, he won’t need to be this good to keep up the recent winning ways (Their three-game winning streak tied the longest of the season and their five wins over the last six is the best stretch of the season). But if he can stay close to this level of production, that could be the difference in the Jazz being closer to competing for home court and the four seed instead of trying to avoid the lottery fighting for the eight seed.
8. 76ers | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 28-16 | Previous Ranking: 8
Ben Simmons put on a show at Madison Square Garden.
Not sure if that was enough for him to get over the 76ers playing “too soft” during their two-game losing streak earlier in the week, though.
7. Rockets | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 24-18 | Previous Ranking: 5
Why do you continue to be so rude to your defenders, James?
I get that he’s trying to stop you from scoring, but dawg. You almost broke Jamal Murray’s kneecap he fell so hard there.
Maybe his 1-of-17 showing from three against the Magic was late karma for that move.
6. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 26-18 | Previous Ranking: 11
Portland was on a four-game winning streak going into Sunday’s matchup with the Nuggets, and one more defensive rebound after Jamal Murray’s late miss might have turned that into a five-game winning streak. For now, the Trail Blazers have to settle for their 1-5 record against the top three seeds in the West.
5. Pacers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 28-14 | Previous Ranking: 4
There weren’t any positives to take from Wednesday’s blowout loss to the Celtics. Still, a 3-2 road trip isn’t too bad. The losses came against the good teams the Pacers played during that stretch.
4. Nuggets | Last Week: 3-2 | Overall: 29-13 | Previous Ranking: 1
Gary Harris’s hamstring might still be an issue in Denver, but Will Barton is back on the court finally. Additionally, Nikola Jokic’s passing will make you forget about all things that could potentially be bad in the world, like the Nuggets’ constant injury issues.
However, this pass can’t make me forget that loss to the Suns. You can’t forget that and never should.
3. Warriors | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 29-14 | Previous Ranking: 9
Boogie is supposed to be back on the court Friday against the Clippers and that’s all that matters. Yeah, Wardell made 11 threes as he put up 48 points on the road and Klay seems to have hushed all talk about a possible shooting slump after back-to-back 40-point showings, but I only care about the guy coming back from a torn Achilles. We already know how good the Splash Bros. are; I want to see what Cousins can add to this team.
2. Bucks | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 30-12 | Previous Ranking: 3
The Bucks Twitter account went a little overboard in its attempts to acknowledge that the team was playing in Atlanta on Sunday.
But when Giannis averages 30 in the three games he plays during the week and the team goes 3-0 in those contests (including a win in Houston), I guess we can look past it.
1. Raptors | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 33-12 | Previous Ranking: 2
It wasn’t the most daunting competition for the Raptors last week, but they got the job done. Sure, they needed two overtimes to get past the Wizards, but Kawhi Leonard also averaged 30.7 points over the three wins.