- D'Angelo Russell is playing some of the best basketball of his career, but injuries up and down the roster will demand even more from him. We discuss the Nets' slow week and more in this edition of power rankings.
Let’s make things a little spicy this week to start and solve this Anthony Davis situation.
My intuition is rising, and while I would love to see Magic Johnson bring AD to L.A., there's another general manager who is always down to pull the trigger and make a money move, even if there’s a giant risk attached.
Who says no?
Obviously you’re going to have to toss in some picks—Miami’s 2021 first-round pick that belongs to Philadelphia is a good place to start—but hear me out on why the players involved all make sense.
Philadelphia brings in some shooting and wing depth that is sure to help this season and also opens up cap space for this offseason. Giving up on Markelle Fultz is going to be hard to do, but getting back a 20-year-old who John Calipari recruited in Hamidou Diallo is decent compensation. No matter how bad Diallo’s three-pointer might be now, it can’t be more of a project than Fultz’s jumper.
In Steven Adams New Orleans gets a player who is better than any of the young Lakers are right now. Adams also has two more years on his deal after this season, so worst case scenario is using him as a trade piece for a longer rebuild. Assuming Fultz will at least get on a court at some point and remind us all why he was the No. 1 pick, he would fit perfectly next to Jrue Holiday. Andre Roberson is either an expiring contract to unload for more parts next season or the heart of the defense going forward.
And for Oklahoma City, it’s a huge risk. You shake up chemistry and open up the possibility that you don’t even have a center going forward when you already invested in a great one. But two postseasons with Anthony Davis is worth more than a lifetime of Steven Adams. Yes, trying to force a big three together last minute is a big reason why last year didn’t go as well as it could have for the Thunder. But Anthony Davis isn’t Carmelo Anthony. It’s not going to be an easy fit, but it’s easier than what they've already tried. And that was good enough for fourth in the West last season.
And even though we all believe Davis is a rental if he goes anywhere besides Los Angeles, is there any team you would trust more to convince somebody to stay? (See the nearly $260 million invested in two All-Stars from L.A.) And even if AD walks, you would have given yourself two legit shots at winning titles. Think about it. Sam Presti could look up four years after Kevin Durant bounced and realize Russell Westbrook has just as many rings. That’s a win if you ask me.
Ok, enough of my wild fantasies, time to rank some teams and look at key players on squads at critical junctures of their seasons.
30. Knicks | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 10-42 | Previous Ranking: 30
Knicks fans, Kristaps Porzingis may not be on the team any longer, but please heed his warning and “stay woke.”
Keep your third eye and DMs open, people of New York.
29. Suns | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 11-43 | Previous Ranking: 27
The Suns might have deserved to win in San Antonio, but they didn’t. They deserved to lose at home against the Hawks simply for how poorly they defended Trae Young in the fourth, and they did. Life is cold sometimes, especially when you get comfortable with losing.
28. Cavaliers | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 11-42 | Previous Ranking: 29
After three great quarters against the Wizards that saw the Cavaliers leading by 19 points, the entire week went down hill. They were outscored by 29 over the next five quarters and they got personally victimized by Luka Doncic.
27. Bulls | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 12-41 | Previous Ranking: 28
If it was 2013, Wednesday’s win over the Heat would have meant a lot more to Bulls fans. Instead, all it did was bust up a four-game losing streak and put Chicago in slightly worse position than the Cavaliers and Knicks in the quest for Zion Williamson.
26. Grizzlies | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 21-33 | Previous Ranking: 24
Ranking how painful the Grizzlies’ results from last week were:
4. Getting outscored 30-19 in the fourth in a 100-92 loss to the Hornets.
3. Giving up a buzzer-beating, turnaround fadeaway jumper to Karl-Anthony Towns to lose to the Timberwolves 99-97 in overtime.
2. Surrendering a 25-point lead in a 95-93 loss to the Nuggets.
1. Beating the Knicks 96-84 and letting New York increase its edge in the tanking battle.
25. Pelicans | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 23-30 | Previous Ranking: 23
At least Drew Brees doesn’t want to be traded.
24. Hawks | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 17-35 | Previous Ranking: 26
Trae Young has been on fire lately. It doesn’t matter if he is better than Luka Doncic right now or ever. All that matters is if he can consistently hit shots like this.
This, and the passing. He has to keep up the passing and his current six-game stretch with eight or more assists.
23. Heat | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 24-27 | Previous Ranking: 17
A home loss to the Bulls was just the start of a putrid week for the Heat. And after dropping one to the Pacers in Miami, the Heat get to take their three-game losing streak on the road for six consecutive contests.
22. Magic | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 22-31 | Previous Ranking: 25
It seems appropriate that the Magic’s first All-Star since Dwight Howard is the player they acquired in the Dwight Howard trade. Turns out Nikola Vucevic is also the only player from that four-team deal still on the team he was traded to. So Orlando can officially say it won that deal then, right?
21. Pistons | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 22-29 | Previous Ranking: 22
Even with the reigning Coach of the Year, the Pistons refuse to figure things out. The latest example was the 25-point blown lead at home Saturday against the Clippers.
The only thing more frustrating than watching this team regress from quarter to quarter in that contest was knowing Reggie Jackson couldn’t even change the course of the game despite putting together one of his best outings of the season. He checked out in the third quarter with the Pistons up 18 and dictating the flow of the game. When he came back, the lead was still 11, but Detroit lost all semblance of control of the tempo. This is where Jackson needs to take over going forward.
In Year Eight, Jackson is getting a smaller percentage of shots at the rim than ever before, while almost half of his field-goal attempts come from three. He’s also averaging the fewest assists since he came to Detroit, and this all adds up to a point guard isn’t having as much positive impact as he could. With the team at the bottom of the league in scoring and assists, it feels odd that Jackson isn’t doing more. His usage is similar to when he was the sixth man in Oklahoma City, except nobody on this roster is as a good as Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. Better chemistry with Blake Griffin could go a long way in maximizing Jackson’s production. Playing off each other more can open up the rest of the team on offense as defenses are forced to key in on the Pistons’ two most threatening facilitators.
But they need to attract attention in a more effective way than this.
20. Mavericks | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 24-28 | Previous Ranking: 21
How much Luka Doncic is too much Luka Doncic? It’s a trick question. There can never too much Luka Doncic.
Now all we need is for Kristaps to get healthy so we can spend countless hours yelling on the internet about whether or not it’s ridiculous to compare the duo to Dirk and Steve Nash.
19. Wizards | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 22-30 | Previous Ranking: 19
Giving up 15 threes to the Cavaliers and 17 threes to the Bucks in losses is far from ideal. Losing to Cleveland with a season-low six turnovers is just gut wrenching.
18. Wolves | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 25-27 | Previous Ranking: 18
Since getting traded to the Timberwolves, Dario Saric has had a hard time fitting in and providing as much influence in the offense as he did in Philadelphia.
He had a forgettable start to the season, but thanks to his role as a starter and the free-flowing offensive scheme with the 76ers, Saric was still able to bring some positives to the lineup even when he wasn’t shooting as effectively.
Going from the team that’s second in the league in passing to the team that’s seventh from the bottom certainly isn’t going to naturally create more opportunities. And when your minutes get cut and you no longer play with a guy like Ben Simmons who’s been top five in the NBA in assists each of his two seasons, life is certainly going to be more difficult.
But if the Timberwolves are going to get something out of this season besides the hope that Ryan Saunders is the coach of the future, Saric is going to need to take on a much bigger role. He can’t create for others when he’s nothing more than a spot-up shooter in the corner. And without a more active role in helping get the ball in motion to help the offense run smoothly, it’s too easy for Saric to just disappear in the course of a game.
Saric should be able to play off Karl-Anthony Towns similarly to how he played off Joel Embiid. But with Towns as a better floor spacer, it should set up the opportunity for those two bigs to cause even more damage since they can pull the opposition from the rim. Alas, Saric still needs to find his fit. Handling the ball more and initiating as a facilitator could be the trick in getting the 2014 lottery pick to be more helpful.
17. Pacers | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 33-19 | Previous Ranking: 13
Remember earlier in the season when the Pacers went 7-4 without Victor Oladipo? They are now 1-4 in the five games since his season-ending injury.
Yeah, things might get a little rough to close out the season.
Indiana is in a unique situation though, as it would have to seriously crater to miss out on the postseason even without Dipo, so that four-game losing streak might just be a blip in the trajectory for now. This team could come together the same way it did in those first 11 games sans its All-Star shooting guard.
This is where Domantas Sabonis comes in. As one of the top candidates for Sixth Man of the Year this season, Sabonis is now tasked with holding down the bench and holding his own as the team’s second-leading scorer. He’s been putting in work around the rim all season, but this past week was lackluster.
Indiana is going to need the third-year big to demand more touches going forward. Not just to score, but also to help create for everyone else with Oladipo gone. Whatever Indiana’s ceiling is without Oladipo, there’s no way it reaches it if Sabonis can go entire games with just one field goal or one assist. He can’t fix all the issues that come with losing an All-NBA performer, but he can keep this team steady as it pushes on to the playoffs.
16. Clippers | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 29-25 | Previous Ranking: 14
Neither Staples Center nor Canada were friendly confines for the Clippers last week. Maybe Charlotte, Indiana and Boston will treat them better.
15. Hornets | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 26-26 | Previous Ranking: 20
The schedule broke pretty favorably for the Hornets last week as they saw the Knicks, Grizzlies and Bulls. But Marvin Williams and Malik Monk stepping up like they did in the fourth quarter in Memphis wasn’t just about playing a worse team. And hopefully, it’s a precursor to how these guys will support Kemba Walker in the back half of the season.
14. Lakers | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 27-26 | Previous Ranking: 16
Just trade the whole team, Magic. Everybody not named LeBron James. Lonzo, Kuz, Ingram, Luke Walton, all of ‘em. They can’t run the risk of letting AD get away like they did with Paul George.
13. Nets | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 28-26 | Previous Ranking: 11
Life ain’t fair most of the time. So although D’Angelo Russell has been phenomenal this season, he’ll need to do even more for the Nets.
But if anybody is up for the challenge, it would have to be the man with iciest veins either side of the Mississippi.
This past week, Russell got to experience the cruel reality of showing out as an individual just to take a loss as a team. And the longer Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are on the sidelines, the higher the chances are that Russell keeps experiencing weeks like this.
That is, unless he has another gear.
And if you’ve watched Russell this season, you have every reason to think he’ll find that other gear. This isn’t just about scoring more points. That would be a great start, but it’s more than that. D-Lo is going to have to take being a leader to the next level in the lead up to the All-Star break as Brooklyn gets set to face the Bucks, Nuggets, Bulls, Raptors and Cavaliers. Knowing when and when not to take over as a scorer or defer to Shabazz Napier is critical in these next two weeks. Even if the Nets can’t keep the ball rolling like they have the past two months, they can still maintain the confidence they've built up. Winning games goes a long way in making that happen, but so does playing together as a unit.
After starting the year with three dynamic guards who could be trusted to consistently make plays, Russell is currently the only one left standing. If he can keep the entire squad engaged and active, everything will be just fine as health improves. He transitioned from Randall Weems into T.J. Detweiler right before our eyes, and now it’s time to really prove Magic Johnson wrong and show the league not only did he let go of an All-Star, but also a true leader.
12. Kings | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 27-25 | Previous Ranking: 15
Sacramento’s six-game homestand got off to a great start. A game in which Harry Giles was the team’s leading scorer off the bench and another where Buddy Hield made seven threes are will get the ball rolling ahead of a four-game week.
11. Jazz | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 30-24 | Previous Ranking: 8
I don’t care what the haters, media, fans or coaches said when they voted for All-Stars. This line right here makes Rudy Gobert an All-Star if you ask me.
This, and the 7-for-7, 25-point, 13-rebound night he had right before giving that quote.
10. Spurs | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 32-22 | Previous Ranking: 12
Like I said last week, you’re going to have to go somewhere else if you want Gregg Popovich slander. I’m just here to note that while the Suns might have been robbed, the Spurs did win. And then they won two more. However, the Nets are banged up and the Pelicans have bigger things to worry about than the results of basketball games right now. So this might be a “it’s better to be lucky than good” type of situation right now.
9. Rockets | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 30-22 | Previous Ranking: 7
Maybe the Rockets can just wait until April to bring back Chris Paul. They can save his legs for the playoffs and fully take advantage of James Harden doing this wild stuff.
Alright, that might be a bit extreme. But when you lose to the Pelicans without Anthony Davis at home with Paul, and then beat the Jazz on the road by 27 without him, you at least have to ponder some ludicrous ideas for a moment.
8. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 1-0 | Overall: 32-20 | Previous Ranking: 10
If you’re only going to play one game in the week, might as well have Dame and CJ combine for 66 on 24-for-38 shooting in a 27-point win.
7. Raptors | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 38-16 | Previous Ranking: 6
Toronto has lost three of its last five and the most recent of those defeats came by 13 at home to the Bucks. I don’t want to call the Raptors a paper tiger in February, but until they improve their 6-7 record against the other top five teams in the East, it’s going to be a bit harder to keep the same faith in the Raptors that I had back in November and December.
6. 76ers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 34-19 | Previous Ranking: 4
An amazing win in Oracle was followed up by a disappointing loss in Sacramento. The 76ers are holding their own during their toughest stretch of the season, but they can’t let games like Saturday slip away much more in the back half of the season. With the East turning into a four-team conference as the Pacers slide into oblivion, Philly can’t get leaped by Boston in the standings.
5. Thunder | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 33-19 | Previous Ranking: 3
After having the top defensive rating in the league for the first half of the season, Oklahoma City has had struggles staying as dominant on that end as of recent. The Thunder still wreak havoc in passing lanes and on the glass, but opponents have been able to rack up points against this unit at will. Sunday’s loss to Boston isn’t a reason to panic, but it is a reminder that this season could just as easily end in a third straight first-round exit instead of Russell Westbrook’s fifth Western Conference finals.
4. Nuggets | Last Week: 4-0 | Overall: 37-15 | Previous Ranking: 9
Mike Malone’s projected starting lineup going into the season has been his starting lineup just twice all year. But here he is, getting ready to coach Team LeBron in the All-Star Game. Now all we need is for LeBron to draft Jokic, because who wouldn’t want to see LeBron on the receiving end of one of these dimes?
3. Celtics | Last Week: 4-0 | Overall: 34-19 | Previous Ranking: 5
So Kyrie Irving doesn’t want to talk about how much he loves the Celtics with the same energy he had before the season started. Who cares? He’s Uncle Drew. And he’s the team’s best hope at winning the East. That is, unless they could find a way to trade him and bring in Anthony Davis.
2. Warriors | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 37-15 | Previous Ranking: 1
Unlike Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green doesn’t have any reason to be upset about not making his fourth consecutive All-Star Game.
The former Defensive Player of the Year has underwhelmed this season as he’s dealt with a lingering toe injury and a declining jump shot that teams have disrespected since October. And none of that has stopped Draymond from being Draymond. And that’s what makes him great.
Unless Green can magically return to his 2015-16 form and shoot a career-best 38.8% from three, it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be much of a floor spacer going forward. But as the team incorporates DeMarcus Cousins, another scoring threat and one of the few players in this league with a temperament that rivals Draymond, more pressure falls on Green to keep the ship moving. It’s not that he needs to take a lesser role in the offense, it’s that he’s needed even more to run the show on that end, in addition to keep the defense at an elite level.
When he gets locked in like he has been during this recent run, he can transform a game as well as anybody with his devine anticipation skills and well-placed, quick hands. And with Cousins to help hold down the paint and Durant always looking to supply weak-side help near the rim, Green’s job got easier on defense. Pay attention to how often he starts fast break opportunities going forward now that he can sell out even more on the defensive end. It’s the little hustle plays that turned him into a household name, and if he's making even more of those plays this team is unstoppable.
And if this dude is feeling this good.
Well, NFL fans are finding a way to get over Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Y’all are going to live even if you have to watch Draymond at another parade talking smack.
1. Bucks | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 38-13 | Previous Ranking: 2
If you’re not walking around your neighborhood with a flashlight and making sure to turn your high beams on when you’re driving in forested areas, you’re a stronger person than me. It’s not that I’m afraid of deer. It’s that I have this feeling that if I’m not on constant alert, Giannis Antetokounmpo will come from out of nowhere and embarrass me in front of all of my friends.