- After a flawless week, the Thunder are on a run that can only be reached with Russell Westbrook at the peak of his powers. And, of course, the OKC star sprinkled in a few petty moments for good measure.
Before we start talking about these power rankings, I want to acknowledge a college basketball moment that included the top NBA prospects for this year's draft and really hit my soul hard.
That was when Pittsburgh coach and former Duke assistant Jeff Capel got this technical foul.
I need you to put yourself in Jeff’s shoes to really understand why you should also be calling BS on everything the refs called in Duke's favor during that game.
You’re at home playing your former employer led by the legendary Coach K. It’s a team ranked No. 2 in the country and comprised of lottery picks you played a large role in recruiting. The most talked about prospect of the group—Zion Williamson—is 9-for-9 from the field and adding clips to his highlight reel as the Blue Devils add a 79–64 win to their resume. And Jay-Z is sitting courtside for the only Pittsburgh he'll see this season.
You’d want to get tossed and sent home early too.
So over here at The Crossover, we feel for you Jeff. And can’t wait for the day you get to run one of Krzyzewski’s squads out of Cameron Indoor.
Now that we've covered the players who will be picked in the upcoming draft, let’s discuss the guys who actually get paid to entertain us while also functioning as walking advertisement campaigns. It’s time for Power Rankings and more talk about burgeoning young players around the league.
30. Knicks | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 10-38 | Previous Ranking: 28
On a better team, Mitchell Robinson’s active hands on defense, athleticism and strong shooting percentage could be valuable attributes. For the Knicks, they are simply help brighten the dreams of the future.
With everybody not named Enes Kanter getting minutes in New York, Robinson only gets so much time to show out. But when he is out on the court, he makes an impact. His 134 offensive rating and 109 defensive rating are the best marks on the team. But his 540 minutes are 11th on the squad while his 32 games played rank 10th.
He missed about a month due to an ankle injury, and in his five games since returning, Sunday’s loss to the Heat was the first time he eclipsed 20 minutes played. Despite so few minutes, Robinson still provides a poignant presence. In the four losses last week, he combined for at least three blocks and steals in each game while shooting 15-for-19 from the field.
If one of the other big men, most notably Noah Vonleh, get moved before the trade deadline, Robinson could see a serious uptick in minutes. And for a player who is going to carve out a place in the NBA with his defense, playing more and more against NBA offenses will go a long way, especially when you consider that Robinson missed out on playing college ball last season after leaving Western Kentucky. The Knicks may be taking the year off from winning, but Robinson needs all the minutes he can get after being without a team for a full season. Plus, it’s not like more time for a defensive-minded big whose never shot more than six shots in a game is going to lead to many wins.
29. Cavaliers | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 10-41 | Previous Ranking: 29
Coming off what was the best week of his NBA career, Cedi Osman is in position to carve out a much larger role for himself with the Cavaliers going forward.
Throughout the season Osman has proven to be one of the most consistent and reliable members of the Cavaliers, but that only means so much. This week however, he showed just what he can become in Cleveland as he posted and then topped his career-high in scoring in back-to-back games.
First was the 20-point loss in Boston in which Osman went for 25 points and eight rebounds while going 6-of-7 on threes. The six triples are still a career high and marked just the third time this season he connected on more than three shots from distance. It’s only year two, but Osman likely won’t become a three-point marksman anytime soon barring a revamp to his stroke in the offseason. However, after shooting 36.8% from deep his rookie year, Osman is down to just 32.3% this year while taking three times as many triples per game. Playing with better teammates will probably lead to more makes on its own, but you still want to see this percentage raise closer to the league average of 35.4% before the season ends.
Friday’s 29-point showing against the Heat was less about Osman getting hot from deep, and more about him showing how much damage he can do running the wing on the break and finding open space in the offense. Streaking down the court during fast breaks and making smart cuts can change a game. And if he can be at least a league-average shooter from deep, those other offensive skills and traits suddenly become even more lethal.
28. Bulls | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 11-39 | Previous Ranking: 30
The Bulls beat the Cavaliers on the road to start last week and end a 10-game losing streak. Then they lost to the Cavaliers at home to extend their new losing streak to three. The upcoming three-game road trip that starts with a back-to-back probably isn’t going to help matters much.
27. Suns | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 11-41 | Previous Ranking: 26
It was at this point last season when Josh Jackson started playing his best basketball. We can’t go back and give him a better start to his sophomore season, but maybe he can continue to increase his play.
His scoring has ramped up from month-to-month and January will be the first time this season he averages more than 10 points per game. With all the injuries piling up for the Suns, one of the potential positives is that Jackson will get a shot to take on a bigger workload as he tries to become the type of player you hope to land with the No. 4 pick.
Against the Timberwolves to open up the week, Jackson went for a season-high 27 points. He shot 10-of-18 in the 27-point loss and made two threes. It was just the ninth time all season he made multiple triples in a game.
With so much of Phoenix’s offense rooted in Devin Booker dominating the ball and Deandre Ayton controlling the paint, Jackson is going to need to turn into at least a respectable three-point shooter if he wants to have a prominent role in the rotation going forward. With Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges also vying for time on the wing and adding more of a threat from distance, Jackson needs to become a more dynamic three-and-D guy. Or maybe just a better defensive player who can get out on the break for more easy buckets.
Whatever it is, now is the time for Jackson to step up to make people forget his dreadful first-half of the season. Over these final 30 games, Jackson needs fewer long showers and more 20-point outings.
26. Hawks | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 15-33 | Previous Ranking: 25
The loss to the Magic stings because of how lackluster the second half was, but Atlanta’s seven-game road trip got off to a stupendous start as John Collins went 14-for-16 for 35 points against the Bulls. Outside of free throws, the Hawks played the Trail Blazers virtually dead even. With the Clippers, Kings, Jazz, Suns and Wizards left to face, there’s a legit shot the Hawks go 4-3 on this trip. They’re 3-4 in their last seven games already.
25. Magic | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 20-30 | Previous Ranking: 24
The veterans on the Magic might understand that this team is on the verge of being blown up if it doesn’t reach the postseason, but a fair amount of this franchise’s success going forward rests on the shoulders of its second-youngest player, Jonathan Isaac.
After playing in just a third of the games his rookie season, Isaac has been a regular in the starting lineup under coach Steve Clifford now that his ankle is no longer nagging him.
There was plenty to improve on from last season, but Isaac’s ability to get shots near the rim was a critical skill that needed to see development and it did. He’s taking about 29% of his shots from within three feet after only getting 18.6% of his attempts off from that close last season. Isaac isn’t going to get but so many shots at handling the ball in the offense, but he can look for more chances to run when coming out of defense to help out Orlando’s poor fast break offense that is ranked second-to-last in the league.
Orlando has tried to keep Isaac involved in the offense by getting him a fair amount of looks from three, but his shot hasn’t progressed like it seemed it could after he shot 34.8% from deep in his 27 games. The crowded paint in Orland played a part in that. Unless the shots come in transition, off back cuts or through offensive rebounding, Isaac is going to be looked at as somebody who needs to help stretch the floor.
If he doesn’t start knocking down shots from deep or finding more points in other places, the trade deadline might bring about some significant changes for a squad that’s lost six of its last seven.
24. Grizzlies | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 20-30 | Previous Ranking: 27
The Grizzlies announced they were listening to trade offers on Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and then the very next day a fire broke out in the locker room.
This is fine.
23. Pelicans | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 22-28 | Previous Ranking: 23
In the absence of Anthony Davis, Jahlil Okafor has put together some impressive offensive performances. However, even though he’s averaged 19.8 points, 10.8 boards and 2.8 blocks in his last four games, the Pelicans were minus-41 in his 127 minutes on the court. And in the three consecutive losses, that plus-minus is only looking worse.
22. Pistons | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 21-27 | Previous Ranking: 20
When your one win on the week turns into a viral moment for all of the wrong reasons, you just got to pack it in and hope that brighter moments await in the next seven days.
21. Mavericks | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 22-27 | Previous Ranking: 22
Luka Doncic's two triple doubles in one week were exactly what the internet needed right now, as we wait to see if he can become the first rookie since Blake Griffin in 2011 to make the All-Star Game. While that’s all well and good, I’m more concerned about whether he will gain on-court chemistry with Dennis Smith Jr. Because as long as DSJ can make exciting plays like these, I’ll be pulling for him and Doncic to be Dallas’s duo for the future.
Also, shoutout to Dirk competing in the Three-Point Contest. If this season ends up being the last for Nowitzki, let’s make sure we give the NBA’s seventh all-time leading scorer all of his flowers.
20. Hornets | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 23-25 | Previous Ranking: 18
If Kemba Walker goes 3-for-12 while Jeremy Lamb goes 5-for-18, it’s basically a lock the Hornets are going to lose. If they have a 12-point fourth quarter, it’s practically a guarantee they’re going to lose. If they have all of these things happen on the road against the team with the best record in the NBA, it’s a certainty they’re going to lose. Not even holding the Bucks to 14 bench points and 6-for-31 shooting from three can change that.
19. Wizards | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 21-28 | Previous Ranking: 19
Dwight Howard going down has opened the door for Thomas Bryant, who has walked right through it.
Bryant couldn’t find his way onto the court during his rookie year with the Lakers but he’s already started 33 games this season, in large part due to circumstance. However, Bryant has done the most with his time and has really taken off since late December. In Washington’s last 18 games, Bryant has posted double figures in scoring 15 times. He’s averaged 13.4 points and posted six double doubles. All seven of Bryant’s career games with double-digit rebounds have come since December, and as he gets more comfortable and confident against NBA competition, the number seems bound to skyrocket.
A big piece of Bryant’s offensive arsenal that’s sure to grow as his spends more time on the court is his shooting. During two years at Indiana, Bryant proved to be a convincing shooter at the college level, connecting on 38.3% of his three-pointers his final season. However, Bryant was selective with his shots, a trend he continues in Washington.
He’s shooting 38.2% from deep this season but he’s taking less than one per game. Over these last 18 contests, he’s shooting 10-for-15 from three, but he’s only attempted a three in 10 of those tilts.
With the playoffs still in reach, Bryant will be a major cog in helping the Wizards crack the the top eight in the East. If he continues with this current trajectory, it seems likely he’ll get at least one round in the postseason.
18. Wolves | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 24-26 | Previous Ranking: 21
I really, really want to believe Gorgui Dieng wanted to swap jerseys with Devin Booker, not just fight him.
I also want to believe the Timberwolves would agree that Karl-Anthony Towns should touch the ball if you're down one on the road gets and he has a smaller defender switched on him. Which is exactly what happened Friday in Utah. Maybe there’s an alternate reality where both of these things happened and we all got to enjoy watching them.
17. Heat | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 24-24 | Previous Ranking: 15
Miami needs to do more than just play the good teams close. The Heat are 16-10 against teams below .500 and 8-14 against those above, and this week was a perfect depiction of that as they lost to the Celtics and Clippers before beating the Cavaliers and Knicks. Next they go against the Bulls, Thunder and Pacers in a four-day span. So if the schedule doesn’t trip them up, simply playing against teams with winning records probably will. Doesn’t help that it’s on a back-to-back either.
16. Lakers | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 26-24 | Previous Ranking: 17
LeBron might not be back yet and Kyle Kuzma might have a lingering hip injury, but at least Rajon Rondo is back on the court.
Outside of Ivica Zubac coming on, there haven’t been many positives for the Lakers during James’s absence. But maybe Brandon Ingram getting his first consecutive 20-point games of the season in Los Angeles’s last two is something that can be built upon as this team looks to climb from ninth in the West.
15. Kings | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 25-25 | Previous Ranking: 13
The Kings’ two wins during their six-game road trip were a two-point triumph over the Pistons and a three-point victory over the Grizzlies. They get two days off before the Hawks come to Sacramento to start a two-week, six-game homestand that will likely have major implications on where this team goes post-All-Star Break.
14. Clippers | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 28-22 | Previous Ranking: 16
The Clippers went 3-1 on their four-game road trip and then came home to get a crucial win over the Kings. Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams held down the bench as they have all season and played catalyst in the last two victories. Williams posted a 31-point triple double then had 12 points and 10 assists against Sacramento as Harrell went for a game-high 25 on 11-for-13 shooting.
13. Pacers | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 32-16 | Previous Ranking: 7
Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn.
As the win over the Raptors showed, it’s not going to be the end of the world without Victor Oladipo on the court. But as the loss to the Grizzlies showed, it’s going to be a struggle going forward without Oladipo on the court. Let’s see just what the Ewing Effect will be with this squad, that is likely still headed for the playoffs.
12. Spurs | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 29-22 | Previous Ranking: 14
I want to judge Gregg Popovich for taking DeMar DeRozan out for the last play in Philadelphia, but the logic behind “we didn’t want to go to overtime” so DeRozan stays on the bench when the team is trying to shoot a three is foolproof. Sure, maybe DeRozan could have been a really good decoy to set up one of the other guys for a three. But the Spurs just won two straight with DeRozan missing both so I’m just going to keep my mouth shut and avoid second-guessing Pop.
11. Nets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 27-23 | Previous Ranking: 11
Over his last four games, D’Angelo Russell has averaged 10.5 three-point attempts per game and just 1.2 free throw attempts while posting 27 points per game. If he can keep up the scoring production but start putting more pressure on the defense by getting to the line, this team will have enough to stay afloat and remain in a fine place in the East standings as it awaits Spencer Dinwiddie’s return from his thumb surgery.
10. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 31-20 | Previous Ranking: 10
It’s not that it’s been a down year for CJ McCollum, but it’s the second straight season his scoring and three-point field goal percentage have declined and third consecutive season his assists have dwindled.
However, this past week he had a 21-point quarter and then chipped in 28 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds as he earned his first career triple double with Damian Lillard sitting out. With so many questions about the bench in Portland, getting even more out of CJ could be the difference in determining where this team finishes in the standings.
9. Nuggets | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 33-15 | Previous Ranking: 9
Nikola Jokic wants more mention in all of your MVP conversations. Obviously the Nuggets winning by 37 in the one game he’s missed all season isn’t going to help his case. But going for 28-21-6 and then 32-18-10 will certainly get him some recognition.
8. Jazz | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 28-22 | Previous Ranking: 4
Donovan Mitchell went off to help take down the Nuggets for a big bounce-back win.
Yet I still can’t stop thinking about how impeccable Kyle Korver’s timing had to be in order to create this turnover.
7. Rockets | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 29-20 | Previous Ranking: 8
Let’s play, “What in the world was P.J. Tucker thinking when this ball was inbounded to him?”
- “Is Chris Paul going to be healthy soon?”
- “Is Carmelo Anthony still technically on our team?”
- “Am I allowed to touch the ball during the fourth quarter while James Harden is in the game?”
- All of the above
The correct answer is D. And to clear things up for Tucker: yes, CP3 returned to the court Sunday; no, Melo was finally traded to the Bulls who plan to release him; and yes, you can touch the ball late in games even if James isn’t the one giving it to you.
6. Raptors | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 37-15 | Previous Ranking: 3
After consecutive losses to open up a three-game road trip, the Raptors got a much-needed win over the Mavericks to close out the week. You never want to lose three close games in a row, even if they are away from home. And now Toronto gets to rest up before a meeting with the Bucks Thursday.
5. Celtics | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 30-19 | Previous Ranking: 6
The Warriors didn’t win in Boston because they were “pretty lucky” like Kyrie Irving said after Saturday’s game. However, the idea that Gordon Hayward is a “liability” on both ends of the floor might have a little more credence to it.
4. 76ers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 32-18 | Previous Ranking: 5
There is never a good time to deal with injuries, but the 76ers did a respectable job navigating theirs as they settle into the toughest part of their schedule. The victory over Houston without Jimmy Butler was a big one. But getting Buckets back is going to be key if they want to take care of business in these next three games in California.
3. Thunder | Last Week: 4-0 | Overall: 31-18 | Previous Ranking: 12
Blocking Giannis seven times in one game is a sign of Oklahoma City's defense turning a corner and getting back where it was for most of the season. And Russell Westbrook putting together a vintage performance featuring peak petty is also key for this squad going forward.
As is this game-sealing jam from Paul George.
2. Bucks | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 35-13 | Previous Ranking: 2
Giannis Antetokounmpo says he is all about love and is going to try to bring the peace between Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid if given the chance as an All-Star Game captain. That sounds all well and good, but how am I supposed to believe Giannis is a lover and not a fighter when he opened his week by breaking Luka Doncic’s face with this dunk?
1. Warriors | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 35-14 | Previous Ranking: 1
DeMarcus Cousins got Stephen Curry open by setting screens, found him in the corner while running the break and set up shop on the wing and waited for uncontested threes. I'm not sure which play was more enthralling.
Sure, if Boogie comes into form and cuts down on the fouls, the Warriors might actually be an indestructible unit that will torment basketball fans outside of the Bay Area.
But maybe, just maybe, with the game on the line, this is the Stephen Curry that will appear.
We can all dream, can’t we?