NBA Power Rankings: Will There Be Any Fireworks Before the Trade Deadline?

There is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the deadline. Who will make a big move?
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We’re just over 48 hours away from Thursday’s trade deadline, and there isn’t exactly a flood of star options available on the market. James Harden was dealt to Brooklyn two months ago. Bradley Beal isn’t going anywhere, at least this season. But if you look past the league’s crop of leading men, there are some nice pieces potentially available.

Kyle Lowry stands as the best player to potentially be dealt, bringing a championship pedigree and a flair for late-game dramatics to a potential contender. Victor Oladipo could be jettisoned from Houston sooner than later. Then there’s the potential frontcourt additions. Boston could chase Aaron Gordon or Harrison Barnes. Andre Drummond could be traded before he hits the buyout market. There’s likely at least one surprise name on the move, perhaps one that could swing the championship chase more than any of the names noted above. As the NBA rolls through yet another unconventional season, we could see a similar situation unfold on the trade market.

With plenty of uncertainty surrounding the deadline, let’s dive into this week’s power rankings with notes on all 30 teams.

30. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Karl-Anthony Towns-D’Angelo Russell pairing hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in Minnesota’s future thus far, but what about Towns and Anthony Edwards? The rookie’s emergence has paid dividends for Towns of late, with Minnesota’s center posting a vintage 41-point effort in a win against the Suns on March 18. Edwards’s ability to get to the rim in a flash has loosened opponents’ ability to smother Towns in pick-and-pop situations, a welcome change compared to Russell’s plodding tendencies.

Russell doesn’t exactly drive downhill in a hurry. He’s not collapsing defenses as much as mining for cracks, allowing teams to stick home on Towns even as Russell snakes his way into a jumper. Towns and Edwards still sport a negative rating when they share the floor, yet creativity from Chris Finch and Edwards’s emergence has helped brighten the picture to a degree. Perhaps Edwards can become the Towns partner Russell was supposed to be in the coming seasons.

29. Detroit Pistons

I’d be suspicious of any buzz regarding a potential Jerami Grant deal before the deadline. Detroit’s free-agency addition has been better-than-advertised since leaving Denver, and any combination of non-lottery picks isn’t exactly a haul for a potential franchise cornerstone in the prime of his career. The Pistons selected a pair of quality contributors in last year’s draft with Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, and there’s still hope for French point guard Killian Hayes. A top-five pick is likely on the way this summer. There’s no real need for Detroit to ditch Grant in exchange for a few more chances in the draft.

28. Houston Rockets

The Rockets snapped a 20-game losing streak in Monday’s win over Toronto, ending one of the most difficult stretches in franchise history. Head coach Stephen Silas was relatively despondent after a one-point defeat against the Thunder on Sunday, and Christian Wood made sure to note his frustration in the postgame press conference. Houston’s record this season is largely immaterial at this point. But the Rockets need to keep the ship steady. They’ve proven over the last decade that winning games is simply the best way to maintain a quality culture. The hard part comes as the losses mount. Keeping Wood and (to a lesser degree) John Wall engaged and productive is necessary for a functional rebuild. Monday’s win was a much-needed step in the right direction

27. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers have signaled they’ll match nearly any offer sheet on Jarrett Allen this offseason, potentially keeping him in Cleveland on a nine-figure contract. That’s quite a scary proposition. Allen is a talented interior defender and rim runner, and he’s shown flashes of both intriguing defensive mobility and offensive spacing. Yet he’s not exactly a high-volume scorer, and he hasn’t exactly stabilized a poor Cavaliers defense thus far. Cleveland has plenty of cap space and limited talent. Keeping Allen in-house is likely a worthwhile proposition for a small-market team. But ultimately, the success of Allen’s contract will really depend on the Cavaliers’ backcourt. Without growth from their young guards, Allen will likely become an expensive piece on a team struggling for direction.

26. Orlando Magic

Aaron Gordon is likely on his way out of Orlando after what felt like a decade of trade chatter. So where could the 25-year-old land? The Magic face an interesting market. The Celtics could use a boost to their frontcourt rotation, and Gordon could fit Boston’s financial timeline considering the contract extensions of Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum. If the Celtics opt for Harrison Barnes or another wing, Barnes could end up trying to help accelerate a rebuild in Houston or Minnesota. Gordon is a nice player, but he hasn’t necessarily been the greatest floor raiser in his career. Expecting a lottery team to forfeit pick capital seems less likely than a contender paying to acquire Orlando’s forward.

25. Sacramento Kings

A contender should be eager to chase Harrison Barnes before the trade deadline. The former Warriors’ forward is as steady a piece as they come in the frontcourt, adding a dose of off-the-bounce verve to the traditional 3-and-D template. Barnes is shooting 38.6% from three since 2018-19. He’s still just 28 and on a manageable cap number through 2022-23. The Barnes-to-Boston chatter makes sense on a number of fronts.

24. Washington Wizards

Russell Westbrook seems to be mimicking his 2019-20 season to a degree in his first year with the Wizards. Westbrook limped out of the gate this season as he struggled to find his jumper, but he’s been downright dynamic of late. Westbrook is averaging 25.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 11.1 assists in his last 15 contests, shooting a respectable 48% from the field and 35% from three in the process. Perhaps Westbrook isn’t exactly a quality leading man at this point in his career, but he can still be quite the effective player for significant chunks of the season. I’m not ready to declare Washington out of the play-in chase just yet despite a difficult stretch.

23. Toronto Raptors

I’ll still bet on Kyle Lowry remaining in Toronto, though if he is dealt before the deadline, Philadelphia would be a delightful landing spot. Lowry would provide crucial late-game playmaking considering Ben Simmons’s shortcomings, and he’d give Harden and Kyrie Irving fits in a potential Eastern Conference finals. A long-time Daryl Morey favorite could be the missing piece in Philadelphia.

22. Oklahoma City Thunder

Lu Dort remains a delight to watch in his second season, and he turned in another career highlight on Sunday afternoon. Dort recovered on a John Wall drive in the final seconds of Oklahoma City’s one-point win, using his massive wingspan to swat Wall’s potential go-ahead layup in the final seconds. Dort added 23 points in the Thunder’s narrow victory, displaying further growth as he continues to improve as a shooter and secondary playmaker. Dort is already an All-Defense contender. His offensive improvement makes him a tantalizing young piece.

21. Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have an interesting decision to make on Lauri Markkanen in the coming days. Markkanen is a restricted free agent at season’s end, and while he’s engaged in extension talks with the Bulls in previous months, there seems to be a limit as to just far they’d go if a massive offer sheet is thrown Markkanen’s way. Markkanen is an impressive shooter, though he’s not exactly a physical presence on either end. Chicago is minus-4.5 points per possession with him on the floor this season. If the Bulls are offered a solid package before Thursday’s deadline, avoiding the free-agency conundrum could be the smartest option.

20. New Orleans Pelicans

I understand Lonzo Ball will be a costly piece to retain in free agency, yet it’s hard to believe New Orleans would be so eager to jettison its young point guard. Ball’s jumper has legitimately stabilized over the last two seasons, and he’s an ideal offensive complement to Zion Williamson. Whomever acquires the No. 2 pick either at the deadline or in free agency could be getting a steal as he rounds into his prime.

19. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are stuck to a degree as they eye any route to contention in the Eastern Conference, and it’s hard to see them as buyers of any sort as the deadline approaches. The Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis pairing will likely get one more shot next year, and perhaps when healthy, pairing the Twin Towers with Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren and Malcolm Brogdon could create a competitive starting five in 2021-22. As for this season, we could see a few bench pieces (likely including Doug McDermott) on the move.

18. New York Knicks

The Knicks are remaining competitive in the Eastern Conference as they hover around .500, though let’s hope that doesn’t signal any sort of spending spree from New York at the deadline. Tom Thibodeau’s squad is seriously overachieving thus far, and there’s no potential addition that will truly alter New York’s outlook for the rest of the season. Knicks management of yesteryear would have already sent a valuable pick or two out the door in exchange for Victor Oladipo. Let’s hope the current regime can show some more restraint.

17. Charlotte Hornets

LaMelo Ball’s rookie year is likely over after just 41 games, with a wrist injury marking the end of a dominant rookie season. Ball trailed only Anthony Edwards in points among rookies, and he led his class in assists, rebounds, steals and win shares. Ball’s elite vision was evident from his first week in the league. His burst to the rim was underrated entering the NBA, and his jumper has been better than advertised. Even after just 41 games, it’s fair to say the Hornets landed a likely franchise changer in the 2020 draft.

16. Memphis Grizzlies

Small markets like Memphis need some obvious lottery luck to contend, but even then, there needs to be additional winning moves made outside the top of the lottery. The Grizzlies are doing just that in the second year of the Ja Morant era. Rookies Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman sport two of Memphis’s top three net ratings among rotation players, making notable impacts despite entering the league as a pair of picks in the 30s. Morant is Memphis’s franchise anchor, yet he’s anything but the lone promising youngster on the roster. Head coach Taylor Jenkins has plenty of talent to play with as the Grizzlies look to kickstart another era of success.

15. Golden State Warriors

Let’s hope to see more minutes for James Wiseman when he returns to the Warriors’ lineup after a COVID-19 absence. Wiseman has been treated with relatively kid gloves in his rookie season, averaging just 20.6 minutes per game in his last 10 contests. Wiseman sports an ugly minus-6.4 net rating, though it’s not as though he’s marked downgrade from Eric Paschall or Kevon Looney. The Warriors took a dice roll on Wiseman’s talents last summer, and they owe it to the organization to give this experiment a full effort. Letting Wiseman loose for the season’s final months will ultimately be the most useful thing for his development.

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14. Atlanta Hawks

Atlanta is in a similar position with John Collins as New Orleans is with Lonzo Ball, and it seems less likely the Hawks’ big man will actually be traded. Collins is a truly prodigious offensive force, and Atlanta is rolling with eight wins in their last nine contests. Ownership set clear playoff expectations entering 2020-21 following an offseason spending spree. Reversing course now doesn’t seem to be in line with their recent thinking.

13. Boston Celtics

Danny Ainge and the Celtics are all-but-guaranteed to cash in on their massive trade exception before Thursday’s trade deadline. Who exactly will they spend it on? Aaron Gordon appears to be the best bet. He’s not a perfect piece, though both his secondary playmaking and his ability to play above the rim should pay dividends for a Boston offense too often stuck in the mud. Perhaps a Gordon trade could bring the Celtics back into the pool of Eastern Conference contenders.

12. San Antonio Spurs

There aren’t many rumors emanating out of San Antonio at the moment, but the Spurs’ roster roster is ripe for a deadline surprise before Thursday. San Antonio has a pair of pricey expiring contracts in Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge, plus a deep crop of young players with multiple years of team control. Perhaps combining a few assets in a potential Ball or Markkanen deal could help the Spurs climb another level in the Western Conference hierarchy.

11. Miami Heat

Will Duncan Robinson be moved before Thursday’s trade deadline? Such a proposition was highly unlikely when 2020-21 began, though with Robinson’s restricted free agency looming, perhaps dealing him isn’t the most debilitating move. Miami needs a dose of playmaking punch alongside Jimmy Butler to truly be back in the Finals hunt. Losing Robinson’s shooting could be a worthwhile sacrifice if the right guard is available before Thursday afternoon.

10. Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard’s clutch prowess isn’t exactly a secret, but it’s jarring just how dominant Portland’s star has been down the stretch this season. Lillard leads the league in points and threes in clutch situations, trailing only Zach LaVine in clutch free throws. He sports 59/48/100 shooting splits in crunch time, and the Blazers are a whopping plus-74 in 87 clutch minutes with Lillard on the floor. In an imperfect MVP field, perhaps Lillard’s late-game excellence could place him over the top.

9. Dallas Mavericks

It’s safe to say Luka Dončić has found his groove after a slow start to the season. Dončić has combined for 117 points in his last three games, and he sports 50/43/74 shooting splits since Feb. 1. Dončić’s early-season three-point drought is a thing of the past. He has his step-back dialed in at the moment, and a more complete Dallas roster is thriving on a flood of open triples. Dončić and Dallas will make for a dangerous round-one opponent against any one of the numerous Finals contenders in the West.

8. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets could be the right fit for a potential Victor Oladipo trade as the deadline approaches. Gary Harris could serve as the central piece coming back to Houston for salary purposes, and young guard R.J. Hampton is exactly the kind of intriguing young talent that could appeal to Rafael Stone and the Rockets’ front office. Oladipo could slide in easily into the two-guard spot alongside Jamal Murray, and it’s not as though Oladipo would be relegated to simple spacer status. Denver’s egalitarian attack could help Oladipo find his Indiana form once again before he hits free agency.

7. Los Angeles Clippers

It’s hard to see the Clippers pulling off a deal for Kyle Lowry before the deadline, but what about Ricky Rubio? The Timberwolves point guard could add some much-needed tempo and rhythm to Los Angeles’s late-game attack, which often consists of a stream of isolations and mid-range jumpers. Both Rubio and George Hill have been rumored as potential additions for the Clippers. Either could make a legitimate difference in a stacked Western Conference.

6. Los Angeles Lakers

There’s certainly at least some reason for concern in Los Angeles at the moment. A high ankle sprain will keep LeBron James out of the lineup for at least a couple of weeks, and such an injury could hamper him throughout 2020-21. We haven’t seen Anthony Davis take the floor since Valentine’s Day, and in a deep Western Conference, missing both stars for a semi-extended stretch could send the Lakers tumbling down the standings. A healthy LeBron and healthy Davis will make the Lakers the West favorite regardless of their seeding, but Los Angeles’s regular-season finish isn’t exactly immaterial. Three straight rounds without home court cost the Lakers their chance at a repeat.

5. Phoenix Suns

Life has to be pretty good for Cameron Johnson right now. Phoenix’s second year forward is earning significant minutes for a fringe Finals contender after being a late lottery selection in 2019, and he has a pretty plum gig in the context of the Suns’ roster. While Mikal Bridges spends nights chasing opponents’ best wings for significant stretches, Johnson is a simple spacer, getting hidden defensively as he bombs open threes on the other end. Johnson has made the 12th most threes defined as “wide open” per NBA data, hitting those triples at a solid 41.8 percent clip. Playing alongside Chris Paul and Devin Booker certainly has its benefits, especially for a player of Johnson’s skill-set.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

Daryl Morey may have gotten a little too precious with his assets in pursuit of a James Harden trade, though that’s unlikely to happen again if Lowry or another impact piece is indeed available before Thursday’s deadline. Perhaps Philadelphia wouldn’t deal both Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle in a Lowry trade, but is one of the young guards plus salary filler a worthwhile move? With the Sixers in the heart of Joel Embiid’s prime, now is not the time for a conservative deadline strategy.

3. Milwaukee Bucks

There’s little chance Giannis Antetokounmpo wins his third straight MVP this season, though from a pure statistical standpoint, he has an increasingly impressive case. Antetokounmpo is averaging 29 points, 11.7 rebounds and a career-high 6.4 assists per game this season, sporting similar shooting numbers to his previous two seasons. The Greek Freak ranks third in PER. He trails only Nikola Jokic in win shares and he ranks seventh in defensive rating. As the MVP field thins out, perhaps we can’t count out Antetokounmpo quite yet.

2. Utah Jazz

Not enough attention is being paid to Rudy Gobert’s dominant stretch of late. Utah’s star center averaged 15.3 points, 14.2 rebounds and three blocks per game in his last 13 contests, including a 24-point, 28-rebound effort against the Warriors on March 14. Gobert continued to shine on Monday night. He tallied 21 points and 10 rebounds in a blowout win over the Bulls, swatting nine shots in the process. Gobert is the Defensive Player of the Year co-favorite alongside Ben Simmons. He’s a likely All-NBA selection. Utah’s big man deserves any and all recognition sent his way amid a truly dominant center season.

1. Brooklyn Nets

It’s hard for Kyrie Irving to compete for MVP as the third best player on his team, though he should merit some serious All-NBA consideration. Irving is in the midst of a truly masterful offensive season, averaging 28.1 points per game on 52/40/89 shooting splits. Irving is scoring an outrageous 1.19 points per possession on isolation attempts. Brooklyn is generating 1.07 points when Irving initiates a pick-and-roll. The Nets’ offense is cruising on all cylinders right now, even without Kevin Durant out of the lineup. It’s hard to see this team losing an Eastern Conference series if all three stars are healthy come playoff time.