As the sports world prepares to watch Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in another Super Bowl, we remain thankful that there’s no way the Warriors can possibly remain a title contender for another 13 years just on the basis of having Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr.
In this week’s Power Rankings, we’ll examine some younger players around the league and look at the role’s they will play going forward with their organizations and examine what they can do in the back half of this season to make a difference for their teams.
Let’s jump right in.
30. Bulls | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 10-36 | Previous Ranking: 28
Chicago’s two games against the Cavaliers this week might be its only shots to get a win this month. We’re not deep into 2019, but there hasn’t been a reason yet to think this is the Bulls’ year. And with Wendell Carter Jr. going on the shelf for thumb surgery, it makes it hard to think but too brightly about the future.
It’s bad enough that Carter is missing out on useful time on the court to get better acclimated with the NBA game as a young player, but he also is missing out on time to get more comfortable with Jim Boylen.
Carter being one of the more vocal players when the team bucked back against Boylen’s approach was a sign of a potential leader or a potential issue. It’s not that Carter is in the wrong or I think he should calm down and not be as antagonistic to his coach as a rookie, it’s just that maybe that is a sign he and Boylen aren’t really about to get along.
Case in point being Boylen benching Carter earlier in the month.
The big fella clearly has some skills and if given the chance, he might be able to form a solid duo with Lauri Markkanen. But today he’s got to worry about getting back from an injury and staying out of the coach’s doghouse. Those are horrible places for a rookie to be, especially on a bad team. But maybe this will be what sparks the brighter future.
Their season is just about done, but Carter and Boylen will likely have at least one more year together. Maybe they can get a head start on improving it when Carter gets healthy. The Bulls might even have won a game in 2019 by the time that happens.
29. Cavaliers | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 9-38 | Previous Ranking: 29
The Cavaliers might have had a bumpy close to their six-game Western Conference road trip, but at least they got a few solid games from Ante Zizic. He’s scored in double figures in five of the last seven games he’s played, including 23 against the Nuggets Saturday. This makes up for not having Kyrie Irving, right?
28. Knicks | Last Week: 0-1 | Overall: 10-34 | Previous Ranking: 30
The Knicks were on the verge of a win over in London, and then Allonzo Trier decided he would have none of that.
And that’s how you get one step closer to this.
27. Grizzlies | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 19-27 | Previous Ranking: 25
The Grizzlies are 4-18 since their 15-9 start to the season and it seems like there’s little chance of life getting better in Memphis. They’ve got one win in 2019, and it looks like it might stay that way through all of January despite a five-game homestand coming up.
As everything appears to be crumbling in Memphis, Jaren Jackson Jr. stands out as the piece to be most happy about. The heart of the Grizzlies’ future has continued to look good, even with the team as a whole folding in on itself.
Jackson’s disruptive defense has helped the Grizzlies earn the eighth-best defensive rating in the league. But he hasn’t been able to do but so much for an offense that’s third from the bottom. While he’s been a respectable floor-spacer this year, shooting 33.9% from three, he has been a bit underwhelming as a rebounder, averaging just 4.8 through 46 games. Jackson is certainly going to be needed behind the arc, but he will need to get more comfortable holding his own in the paint and making his presence felt under the basket. He is simply too big to not have more impact in that area of the game.
If Jackson can bring more energy to the offensive glass at least, maybe he can help get the Grizzlies from the bottom of the barrel in rebounding and scoring for the season. Or at least give hope that something better is coming, even if it feels like the sky has been falling for the last year and a half on this franchise.
26. Suns | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 11-37 | Previous Ranking: 26
The Suns dealt with two types of losses during their four game road trip. There were the blowouts, and there were the games wHere Mikal Bridges had to watch his man hit the game winner.
The latter variety seem like they hurt more.
25. Hawks | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 14-31 | Previous Ranking: 27
The Hawks got themselves a shooter in Kevin Huerter. The rookie from Maryland went 9-for-18 from three in two games last week as the Hawks put together two strong showings.
In the win over the Thunder, Huerter was 5-for-8 from deep, and in the loss to the Celtics, he dished out seven assists in addition to scoring 18.
Huerter’s production has seen a noticeable increase since the start of December, and that growth has continued into January. As he’s gotten to play more with the ball in his hands, Huerter has been able to help get others involved, posting 4.1 assists per game this month. Getting used to John Collins being around probably has something to do with the increase in assists, but so does shooting with confidence and keeping defenses scared.
Since their 6-23 start, the Hawks are 8-8. A playoff spot is probably too far fetched for this team no matter how bad the East is, but there is room to keep growing. With the budding core starting to gel and a solid chance some of the team’s current vets get moved, the door will be open for the younger players to keep doing more.
So far, Huerter has shown more on his plate is a good thing. And why not get more shots for your team’s best three-point shooter?
24. Magic | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 19-27 | Previous Ranking: 21
The Magic just couldn’t close out the three tight games they were in this past week. Falling to the Nets and Bucks will sting, but the loss to the Pistons is going to hang over this team. Especially if Orlando can’t win the March 28 matchup to at least get a 2-2 split in the season series.
23. Pelicans | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 21-25 | Previous Ranking: 19
It’s never a good time to lose Anthony Davis. But with Memphis, Detroit, Oklahoma City, San Antonio (twice), Houston and Denver up next on the schedule, now is a particularly horrible time to lose The Brow. This could be the beginning of the end for the Pelicans’ playoff chances.
22. Mavericks | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 20-25 | Previous Ranking: 17
If Luka Doncic shoots 3-for-14 in a game, the Mavericks will lose, like on Saturday against the Pacers. Now with Dennis Smith Jr. coming back, Dallas will either get a chance to let their guard tandem of the future get more acclimated with each other, or it will get to see if last year’s lottery pick can raise his trade value just in case the team changes its mind and decides to flip him at the deadline.
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21. Wolves | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 22-24 | Previous Ranking: 15
So Jimmy says hi. He wanted you to know that despite the headlines regarding him voicing frustration about his current offensive role, he still prefers the third stringers and he is looking right past Andrew Wiggins.
20. Pistons | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 20-25 | Previous Ranking: 23
Giving up a buzzer beater, especially the one that Detroit gave up, is a really bad way to lose a game. However, only scoring 19 points in the fourth quarter at home might have actually been more egregious than letting Buddy Hield recover after this fumble.
19. Wizards | Last Week: 1-0 | Overall: 19-26 | Previous Ranking: 20
Bradley Beal is not going to entertain the thought that the Wizards are better without John Wall. And he’s right to do so. A team isn’t really better when it gets nothing in return but loses a five-time All-Star. But the Wizards do play better despite being worse on paper. And that’s mostly thanks to Beal doing things like going for 26 points and nine boards over in London.
18. Hornets | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 22-24 | Previous Ranking: 24
Since putting up 24 points against the Clippers on Jan. 8, Malik Monk has averaged just seven points over the last six games while shooting 16-for-41.
With his minutes fluctuating as much they do, it’s gotta be a bit hard for Monk to establish a rhythm. Yet, as the team’s third-leading scorer, he needs to stay aggressive whenever he is in. So that’s how you end up with nights like Monday where Monk gets two points on five shots in five minutes. There are certainly going to be games like that one in San Antonio where Tony Parker is a better option as the main guard off the bench or they need to play with more size on the wing, but when Monk is out there, he needs to make an impact as a scoring threat.
One of the biggest issues for the Hornets all season has been figuring out who not named Kemba Walker would consistently get buckets. Jeremy Lamb is far from perfect as the second option, but he is putting together a career year, which makes it hard to ask for too much more. Now, at 20 years old, Monk also deserves some slack. He has upped his scoring from a year ago and improved his true shooting percentage. But he is also slightly worse from three than he was his rookie year. And while any sort of scoring would be a big help for Charlotte, there was hope that Monk would be a three-point threat coming out of Kentucky. As long as he’s shooting 33.2% from distance though, more is going to be desired from Monk. And there will be an easy reason to not give him too many minutes.
17. Lakers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 25-22 | Previous Ranking: 22
Winning in Oklahoma City was huge for the Lakers, and a win in Houston could have almost made all the struggles sans-LeBron mean practically nothing. But instead, after a close loss, Los Angeles also learned it’s going to be without Lonzo Ball for about a month. LeBron can’t get back soon enough.
16. Clippers | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 25-21 | Previous Ranking: 16
Getting a win Sunday in San Antonio without Lou Williams was ginormous for the Clippers. It doesn’t take back their recent five-game stumble, but it was a good start to a four-game road trip. Now Los Angeles has two upcoming games against teams below .500 (Mavericks and Bulls) and another against the 22-22 Heat. If there was ever a time for a winning streak, it would be this week.
15. Heat | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 22-22 | Previous Ranking: 14
I’m not sure which part of Dwyane Wade’s final game in Chicago was more amusing: Wade going for 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists or Dion Waiters dropping a season-high 21. The near triple double is amazing coming from a man who just turned 37. But Philly Cheese Swag going off for a big game is always a beautiful sight to see.
14. Spurs | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 27-21 | Previous Ranking: 12
DeMar DeRozan says he’s been playing like doo-doo lately. But he didn’t say doo-doo. And he’s also kind of right. He’s had one game in 2019 in which he shot better than 50% but two where he was held to single-figure scoring. He’ll likely bounce back from Sunday’s eight-point, 4-for-16 performance, but he should do it quicker rather than later to make sure people don’t keep asking if his ankle is the reason for his struggles.
13. Kings | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 24-22 | Previous Ranking: 13
January has not started off great for De’Aaron Fox. Swipa was one of the biggest stars of the start of the season, but he’s hit a bit of a slump since the calendar switched up.
This past week in particular was a dreadful example of his recent shooting woes as he went 11-for-34 from the field (32.4%) and 2-for-9 from three (22.2%) over three games. He was sufficient in setting others up (nine assists per game) and went without a turnover in Sacramento’s two wins. However, that came after two weeks of Fox averaging 4.9 assists.
After losing six of eight, the Kings have rattled off four wins in their last five. And if this is going to keep up, Fox will need to get his shot back on track.
Sure, the Kings have some other good things going on such as Buddy Hield increasing his scoring of recent and Marvin Bagley III returning from injury, but they need Fox to keep the ship moving forward.
As Sacramento looks to attack the meat of its season-long six-game road trip this week, Fox will have some big time matchups against D’Angelo Russell, Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley before taking on the division-rival Clippers.
Even if Fox can’t knock down a few more threes, he at least needs to keep up the distributing and steals.
12. Thunder | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 27-18 | Previous Ranking: 11
The Thunder’s defense has been a shell of itself recently and that led to two heinous losses to the Hawks and the Lakers at home. Thankfully Paul George has been doing his best to turn that Gatorade commercial into reality and was able to hit the game-winner in Jimmy Butler’s mit while getting fouled.
11. Nets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 24-23 | Previous Ranking: 18
What a week for Brooklyn. First, the redemption win against the Celtics on Monday after losing to them on Jan. 7. Then two straight huge road wins that featured Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell coming up clutch.
Get familiar now, because this team will be in the postseason.
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10. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 28-19 | Previous Ranking: 6
Jake Layman is coming off two of his best games of the season, and that’s great timing for the Trail Blazers. With a road back-to-back against the Jazz and Thunder to start this week, Portland will need its bench to come up big, and that means getting 15 or so points from Layman or Nik Stauskas or Zach Collins or Evan Turner or Seth Curry. All of them don’t need to step up at once, but at least one of those four needs to be holding down the second unit, especially during these next two games.
9. Nuggets | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 31-14 | Previous Ranking: 4
So Denver finally had its chance to prove to everyone that it was legit and instead the Warriors came through and beat the Nuggets like they stole something. Blowout wins over the Bulls and Cavaliers mean a lot less when the world just saw Golden State put up 51 points in one quarter en route to beating you by 31.
8. Rockets | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 26-19 | Previous Ranking: 7
If you’re waiting on James Harden to stop scoring copious amounts of points, you’re gonna have to keep waiting for a while. With Clint Capela out four-to-six weeks, Harden is either about to put on a scoring barrage that locks up his second MVP, or the Rockets are about to drift out of the playoff hunt. But when Eric Gordon is hitting shots like this, and Harden is scoring in bunches, I wouldn’t suggest betting against them just yet.
7. Pacers | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 31-15 | Previous Ranking: 5
This was a nice week for the Pacers to bolster their record, but they did lose at home to the only team above .500 they played last week. But beating who you’re supposed to is sometimes more important than the sexy wins over other top contenders. Especially when that lines up with Tyreke Evans putting together his best stretch of the season, He’s averaging 15.5 points over Indiana’s last six games. They went 4-2 during that stretch with losses to the 76ers and Celtics.
6. Celtics | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 28-18 | Previous Ranking: 10
After dropping one to the Nets that put them on a three-game losing streak, the Celtics had a big resurgence. And a lot of that comes down to No. 11 just being absurd. (27 points and a career high 18 assists against the Raptors)
Like, absurdly absurd. (20 of his 38 points in the third quarter in Memphis)
But seriously. You can’t do anything with him. (I mean, he was basically on the ground before he shot this ball)
5. 76ers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 30-17 | Previous Ranking: 8
Jimmy Butler was one more great defensive play away from having the best week of his tenure with the 76ers. The team posted a season-high 40 assists against Butler’s former squad. Then Buckets put on a show against the Pacers on the road in a matchup of two of the East’s top four seeds. And after a poor shooting night, Jimmy had a clutch steal and score that almost beat the Thunder. Then he fouled PG. At least Philadelphia has 10 more games against teams above .500 coming up for Butler to prove his worth even more.
4. Jazz | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 26-21 | Previous Ranking: 9
The Jazz have won six straight and slid into seventh in the West, next up is five consecutive divisional games, including two against the Trail Blazers, who are only two games up on Utah in the standings. If Utah wins one of those games, it wins the season series over Portland, and gets a crucial tiebreaker in the crowded West. And they say January basketball doesn’t matter.
3. Raptors | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 35-13 | Previous Ranking: 1
It’s not a big red flag for the Raptors that they’re 1-2 against the Celtics so far this season, but it certainly has to be annoying at the least. Toronto is going to keep finding ways to win games even when short handed, but it’s only 6-5 against the other top five teams in the East. It’s not bad, but you’d like a little better record considering everyone is looking for a reason to doubt the Raptors come April.
2. Bucks | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 33-12 | Previous Ranking: 2
The Bucks have played five of their last six on the road, and they went 4-1 in those contests. And the one home game they played during that stretch? They won by 38. Now they get two more home games before playing five straight (eight of their next 12 in total) away from home. If Milwaukee can keep up what it’s been doing on the road, everybody is going to have to jump on the Bucks bandwagon.
1. Warriors | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 32-14 | Previous Ranking: 3
I wanted to make this all about Boogie’s return, but he fouled out in 15 minutes, so we’ll wait before we go crazy talking about how he incredible he is stretching the floor in Golden State’s offense (3-for-4 on threes in his debut). Instead, let’s discuss the guy who steals souls by flicking his wrist from 30 feet away from the basket.
He did this.
I don’t think you get what I’m saying here.
The leader of the Kidz Bop adaptation of The Seventh Floor Crew is really the greatest shooter ever and he shows no mercy. He might not beat you in a rap battle, but he’ll likely shoot his way to a third straight championship.