OK, Now What: The Orlando Magic have done the improbable. After amassing 14 wins in 51 tries, in the span of the weekend the Magic have taken down the top two teams in the NBA, overcoming 17-point deficits against both the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and the Indiana Pacers last night.
After the game last night in Orlando, one media member leaned into a Magic player and asked jokingly “Isn’t this a rebuilding team? This isn’t the plan.” The player looked up from his locker and smiled coyly.
Two games does not a season make, but what these two wins have done is prove to the players inside the Magic locker room that they can win when they apply themselves defensively, and they can play with anyone in the NBA, even the top two teams in the game.
After both games, the opposing teams gave credit to the Magic’s second unit – a defensive dynamo that’s been holding team’s best players to single digits in the fourth quarter, in this case the high scoring Kevin Durant and the super potent Paul George.
Shockingly the Magic are only seven games behind the eighth seeded Charlotte Bobcats, which was a running joke in the Magic locker room after the game. Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn pleaded mockingly with his teammate Glen “Big Baby” Davis to “take me to the playoffs, baby… please. I wanna taste the playoffs too.”
While clearly all in jest, the Magic have not lost sight of who they really are after a handful of wins on their home court. What has surfaced is a confidence in each other and trust among the younger guys that continues to grow with each new conquest.
»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects in 2014.
The Magic have been taking about the “steps in the process” and that as much as individuals may want to short-cut that process, it is a learning curve that each player and the roster as a unit must endure to get to the point where they can compete. As much as some players in the locker room would love to see the winning continue, they understand how much home court has helped them and how badly they have played on the road.
Confidence for a young team is huge, and there is no doubt that there is a little swagger and positive energy around the Magic after two highly improbable wins, but there is a reality that two wins isn’t going to change the overall course of the season. The plan in place is to let the young guys learn and grow and given the talent level of those young guys, wins are going to come from that as they learn to trust each other. Equally, because of their inexperience losses are going to come with that too.
It’s been a fun weekend for the Magic players. You can see it in their eyes, you can see it in the bounce they have after games. There is a reality that this isn’t how the season is going to play out, but it is OK for young players to dream a little even if making the playoffs is not part of the plan.
IN RELATED: With the NBA trade deadline just 10 days away things around the Magic are heating up on the trade front. Not necessarily because the Magic are making a ton of outgoing calls, but because there are several would-be suitors for Magic guard Arron Afflalo. The problem for the Magic, or the teams trying to extract Afflalo from the team, is that Orlando really does not seem overly interested in trading Afflalo. Several teams that have made passes at Orlando classify them as listening to offers, engaging in the normal due diligence that teams engage in to understand what’s possible and available at the deadline, but that serious offers are not being considered and that real trade scenarios are not taking place. This could be a case of the Magic playing a little poker in the days leading up to the deadline or it genuinely could be that the Magic are not going to make a trade involving their best player. A lot of conversations will take place over the next ten days, so things can and often do take a different tone after the All-Star break, but if the Magic’s stance today is any indicator do not be surprised if the Magic hold the line and finish the season with what they have on the roster and explore trades and real moves in the off-season.
Taking It Slow With Bynum: An informal survey of the players in the Indiana Pacers locker room yielded pretty much the same response with regards to new Pacer big man Andrew Bynum. Shoulder shrugs.
The Pacers inked Bynum to a one-year deal last week worth a reported $1 million for the balance of the season. As one Pacer insider put it, “its low risk, high reward”.
Bynum has spent one day with the Pacers and has been allowed to deal with some personal issues that sources close to the situation say involve an ailing family member. The Pacers are taking a very slow and deliberate approach with Bynum, looking to work with him on physical therapy and strength and conditioning with one goal in mind – have him ready for the postseason.
»In Related: The Indiana Pacers Team Salary Page.
The Pacers are not expecting much from Bynum and it’s clear that the players in the locker room want to see him put in the work before they buy into him being anything to the team.
The one thing that was clear in talking to Pacer players is that there hasn’t been much of a need to police behavior inside the locker room. Each guy on the team understands what’s at stake and what needs to be done. Pacers big man David West said that there hasn’t been anything notable all year and that everyone has sold out to the cause and bought into the program.
Before Bynum gets a seat at their table, he is going to have to prove that he’ll do the work to be part of the unit.
One Pacer insider said that there would be a low tolerance for Bynum, that if he does not come in and work hard that he could just as easily be gone as he was brought in and that nothing was promised to Bynum other than the chance to come in and work and earn a chance to be part of team trying to win something.
The first step for Bynum is strength training and rehab. There is a belief that that’s going to happen soon, from there is will be about how hard he works to get into condition and from there the coaching staff will decide if he gets minutes and when.
The Pacers plan from the beginning is to have him ready for the postseason. They are not overly interested in trying to fast track or accelerate that. The view Bynum as an all-upside project, but it will be on him to earn the trust of a team that’s been together for a while and to get his body and mind behind what Indiana is trying to do.
The Pacers’ players were extremely complimentary of him, but cautioned he’d spent one day around the team, so they want to see what he does to prepare before they create a seat at the table for him.
The Tough Road For Cleveland: Making the playoffs matters. As much as fans may love the idea of landing top tier draft picks or may understand all too well that being the eighth seed usually means an early exit, but there are real non-basketball benefits to making the postseason that even marginal teams covet.
Season ticket sales go up when a team makes the playoffs. TV and radio rights deals go up when a team makes the playoffs. Advertising and corporate sales go up when teams make the playoffs and most importantly it is a lot easier to get an existing roster to buy into the plan when the playoffs are the result. The same is true of free agency. Free agents tend to look at playoff bound teams a little more attractively than lottery bound teams.
»In Related: Should The Cavs Trade Kyrie Irving?
‘A rising tide will lift all boats’, is an expression about mutual benefits and the playoffs for almost every team in sports is exactly that. Everything gets better when you make the postseason.
So as the Cleveland Cavaliers parted ways with general manager Chris Grant last week and appointed former assistant GM David Griffin to the post of interim GM, there is a singular goal at play: Make the playoffs.
As Griffin addressed the media about his mindset it was clear that Cleveland is not throwing in the towel and that fire sale in Cleveland is not coming, unless the outgoing players return better talent.
“I don’t see how you get better and win more games selling,” Griffin said to reporters. “We’re going to buy to the extent that it makes us better for the long haul. I don’t think we’re going to do anything that’s an act of desperation. I think we’re going to be willing to buy the right asset at the right price. We are dedicated 100 percent from top to bottom to getting better and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Griffin said he still believed in the roster he helped assemble as the assistant general manager, but acknowledged that some things needed to change.
“We lost our mojo somewhere,” Griffin said. “We lost our way somehow. We have compelling talent.
“I want to see us smile more. I want to see us enjoy this. I want to see us remember this is a game. I want to see us remember that there’s passion involved in this. We’re not robots. Nobody is flawless. We’ve all made mistakes.”
Griffin is expected to finish out the season as the general manager and will get a chance to keep the job long-term as the team embarks on a search for a new permanent leader this summer.
“I want to do that which puts us in the best position to be successful,” Griffin said. “We’ll analyze every opportunity and we’ll look for every opportunity that does that for us.
“I’m here right now. Dan (Gilbert) has shown faith in me. He’s put me in a position to be very successful right now. I have full latitude to do this job.”
There has already been a mountain of speculation about who the Cavs will contact in the offseason, however Cavs sources said that dealing with the immediate problems is what’s most pressing and that while Griffin will lead the way on many fronts a lot of the decisions that will be made, especially regarding trades, will be made in a collective effort that will include Gilbert.
The Cavaliers are 18-33 on the season which puts them three games out of the playoff picture in the East. The Cavs have won two straight, but just three of their last ten games.
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NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – May 6
With the regular season winding down, Tristan Tucker offers his latest Rookie of the Year ladder, with three outstanding freshman performances leading the pack.
With the NBA season winding down, there is limited left time for rookies to make their cases for the Rookie of the Year award. In all, three rookies are leading the charge and will likely be named the top three rookies of the season. Without further ado, let’s take a look at how the race has changed over the last few weeks.
1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous: 1)
Rookies shouldn’t be able to do what Anthony Edwards can do. Edwards is still just a teenager, but he possesses some of the best natural talent the NBA has seen. Furthermore, there aren’t many rookies that have quite seen the game-by-game improvement that Edwards has shown.
On the year, Edwards is averaging 18.9 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent from three. But to take a look at his improvement, Edwards’ numbers before and after the All-Star break paint the picture.
Before the All-Star break, Edwards averaged 14.9 points and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 37.1 percent from the floor and 30.2 percent from deep in 36 games. In the 30 games since then, Edwards is shooting a much better line of 44.7/35.2/75.2 and is averaging 23.7 points and 3.2 assists per game.
In his most recent 42-point outburst, which tied his career-high, Edwards broke the franchise record for most threes made in a game by a rookie. There’s a consensus in Minnesota that this won’t be the last record the rookie breaks.
Anthony Edwards tonight:
42 PTS (franchise record)
8 3PT (franchise record)
He is the first rookie in NBA history with 40+ points, 8+ threes on 75%+ shooting in a game. pic.twitter.com/NidZhAppNo
— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 6, 2021
2. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Previous: Not Ranked)
Ball’s previous “not ranked” placement wasn’t a dig at him but instead an unfortunate testament to when the league thought he was out for the season with an injury. And then, miraculously, Ball returned just in time for a likely Charlotte postseason appearance. Because of his return and ensuing excellent play, Ball is penciled into one of the top two slots to end the year.
LaMelo Ball, friends. pic.twitter.com/OqNtaxwus6
— Nuh-KY-us Duncan (@NekiasNBA) May 1, 2021
Although he likely missed too much time to be named Rookie of the Year, Ball’s first season is something to behold. On the year, Ball is averaging 15.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals and is a team leader for an exciting Hornets squad. Furthermore, Ball proved to be a much better three-point shooter than most thought he would be, connecting at 37.3 percent.
Ball is still over 100 days from turning 20-years-old and he’s already one of Charlotte’s best players.
3. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings (Previous: 2)
The timing of Haliburton’s injury is unfortunate, as it quickly followed the loss of De’Aaron Fox that all but sealed Sacramento’s postseason hopes. However, Haliburton showed that the franchise has much to look forward to with his explosive and competent play.
While Haliburton had some up-and-down moments and didn’t get the starting opportunities of Ball and Edwards, he still had a fantastic year. Since his injury will likely take him out for the remainder of the regular season, Haliburton finished the year averaging 13 points per game. To go along with his fantastic scoring, Haliburton blossomed as a polished playmaker, averaging 5.3 assists per night.
In the five games he started at point guard without Fox in the rotation, Haliburton averaged a fantastic 17 points, 8.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Once they reach their respective peaks, Fox and Haliburton have the talent to hang with the best of the backcourts in the NBA.
If that wasn’t impressive enough, Haliburton showed a great shooting form with fantastic results. The guard out of Iowa State shot 47.2 percent from the floor to go along with a 40.9 percent clip from three on over five attempts per game. While Haliburton isn’t likely to come away with the award, he certainly showed that several teams made mistakes in passing on him.
4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (Previous: 3)
Bey won’t end up in the top three of voting for the Rookie of the Year award, but he still set his name in the record books. Bey’s been a historically good three-point shooter, currently connecting at a 37.9 percent clip from deep on 6.4 attempts per game.
The rookie out Villanova currently sits at 11th all-time for three-pointers made as a rookie, tied with Edwards, with 155. However, Bey needs just 14 more threes to jump all the way up to third all-time. With six games remaining in Detroit’s schedule, there’s even more opportunity for Bey to make history.
5. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (Previous: 4)
While there weren’t many bright spots for a Rockets season filled with turmoil, the team’s rookies and sophomores looked impressive. From Kevin Porter Jr. to Kenyon Martin Jr. to Tate, this team boasts some of the most underrated young talent in the league.
Tate in particular had an outstanding rookie season that is now likely over due to his entry into the health and safety protocols. If this truly is the end of the year for Tate, he wrapped up the year averaging 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field.
Tate is the ultimate hustle player and is a glue guy that championship contenders need to take it to the next level. Look for the Rockets to be much more competitive next season under a good coach in Stephen Silas and a potential top pick to join a talented young corps.
6. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks (Previous: NR)
Like Bey, Quickley quickly became one of the best shooters in the draft class, but also offered promising guard play for a competitive Knicks squad. Because of stellar performances up and down the roster, the Knicks look likely to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012-13.
While Quickley stagnated a bit toward the middle and end of his rookie season, he still held down the backup guard spot for New York. On the year, Quickley is averaging 11.7 points and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 39.7 percent from downtown.
Ultimately, the Rookie of the Year race is going to come down to the wire between Edwards and Ball. For a 2020 rookie class that originally looked bleak, these rookies have vastly altered that perspective. Even though much is left to be determined for the eventual award winner, one thing is certain: the league is in good hands.
NBA Daily: Torrey Craig Relishing Role in Phoenix
The NBA trade deadline was busy as a number of high-profile players were moved. One name that went under the radar was Torrey Craig, who is making a major impact in his new home as the Phoenix Suns battle for the best record in the league.
The last time the Phoenix Suns played in a playoff game, Deandre Ayton was 11 years old. Not only is Phoenix back in the postseason, but they will also be one of the top seeds in the loaded Western Conference.
The emergence of the Suns as a championship contender may have started in the Orlando bubble last season. Chris Paul saw something he liked and has mentioned that numerous times as to why he wanted to play in Phoenix. His arrival solidified their aspirations, but this team is much more than just the future Hall-of-Fame point guard.
The pieces in Phoenix fit like a puzzle. Devin Booker is still the key player that opposing teams have at the top of their scouting report. Ayton has continued his development, which has been aided by Paul’s tutelage. Mikal Bridges has exploded onto the scene as one of the best young, two-way players in the league. Like every championship-contending team, there are valuable role players that fill out the roster.
Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky have been excellent additions throughout the season. Cameron Johnson continues to play a solid role and reclamation projects like Cameron Payne and Jevon Carter have given this team a much-needed boost of energy off the bench. They have made it difficult for Monty Williams to even find minutes for solid veterans such as E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway.
Jae Crowder has been one of the best offseason acquisitions in the league. He has missed the last eight games with a sprained right ankle, which has opened the door of opportunity for others. Torrey Craig has taken this opportunity and flourished.
Crowder has always played for winning teams over the course of his career, and Craig appears to be following suit. After going undrafted out of USC Upstate, he signed a two-way contract with the Denver Nuggets in the summer of 2017. That turned into a multi-year contract before he joined the Milwaukee Bucks as a free agent this past offseason. On March 18, the Bucks traded Craig to the Suns in exchange for cash and a trade exception.
James Jones trading cash for Torrey Craig has to be one of the most underrated midseason acquisitions this season.
An instant impact player from day one in Suns uniform. His hustle and energy allow him to play alongside anyone on the court, fits the way this Suns team plays.
— Cody Cunningham (@Cody_Cunningham) May 3, 2021
Denver’s defense suffered when Craig left and for whatever reason, he did not see the floor much in Milwaukee. Given ample opportunity, he seemed like he would be a perfect fit in their system. Even after battling through a groin injury and a broken nose, it just didn’t work out in Milwaukee.
Since joining the Suns, Craig is getting plenty of minutes and making the most of them. In April, he averaged more than 18 minutes per game and shot the ball with high efficiency. Not known as a great shooter, he hit 39 percent of his three-pointers and shot 51 percent overall from the floor. Against the Brooklyn Nets, he scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. On Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Craig poured in 18 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in a starting role where he went 8-10 from the floor.
Craig’s greatest strength is his defense, and he is well aware of that. One thing Phoenix has been lacking is the wing player that can defend the premier players in the league. It takes a special skill set to defend the likes of LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Luka Doncic, etc. He has the size, athleticism and the little things that can’t be taught. With Crowder out and Bridges still needing to add more muscle, Craig’s role is crystal clear.
Torrey Craig’s value: Only big wing on Suns who can size up Julius Randle. Then he switches and covers Jordan Clarkson for about 10 straight seconds.
— Kevin Zimmerman (@KZimmermanAZ) May 1, 2021
It often takes players time to get acclimated to new situations. They have new teammates and learning the ins and outs of the system can be a tough task. Meeting the demands of leaders like Paul can be tantalizing as well. To his credit, Craig has fit like a glove, doing everything asked of him and doing it well. This seemingly small transaction at the trade deadline could pay major dividends for the Suns.
Six regular-season games remain for Phoenix, who will have one of the top two seeds in the Western Conference. Playoff basketball is much different than the regular season, as the defensive temperature goes up a few notches. Game planning and defensive schemes play a large role in the outcome of playoff games, which makes Craig even more valuable.
While the Suns are capable of scoring with anyone, it is their defense that makes them elite. They currently have the second-best net rating in the league, the sixth-best defensive rating and are seventh in opponents scoring. Their team defense is incredible but individually, they have sensational defenders at every position. Phoenix currently has four players in the top 30 of Defensive RPM with Ayton and Paul both inside the top ten.
Another thing this Suns team lacks is playoff experience. Aside from Paul and Crowder, none of the players on this roster have many postseason games under their belt. Craig has played in 33 postseason games in his career and brings valuable experience to this young team. With his improved shooting, he is another weapon that Monty Williams can use in these high-pressure games.
Craig wasn’t drafted when he finished his college career. He played overseas for three years, waiting on his next opportunity. He joined the G-League and finally got called up to help the Nuggets. In his first career game, Denver put him on Jrue Holiday in the closing seconds of the game. Craig blocked his potential game-winning shot and Denver won the game in overtime.
Sometimes it takes people more time to notice the blessings they have been given. Phoenix is fully cognizant of the player they have in Craig. Monty knows, Paul and Booker know and, soon, the rest of the league will realize just how good he is.
It’s been a long journey for Craig, but he could reach the top of the mountain very soon. The Suns have some big plans, and he is a key part of them.
NBA AM: Defensive Player Of The Year Watch
Rudy Gobert would appear to be the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year. But should he be? A few players have made it quite the interesting race — and Dylan Thayer lays out exactly who.
The postseason is almost here as the NBA regular season winds down to its last couple of weeks. At this point, it is obvious to tell whether a team is going to make the playoffs or head for an appearance in the NBA draft lottery. What hasn’t been obvious thus far though is who is going to win the MVP award, but it looks to be between Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard and Joel Embiid. The DPotY award has been one that most could agree belongs to Rudy Gobert for the season he is having. The official site of the NBA however does not agree with this notion. Anyways, let’s jump right into our eighth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Watch for Basketball Insiders!
1. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Previous: 1)
It’s too late to displace Rudy Gobert from this position in these rankings because his season has been that good. While the Utah Jazz are destined to finish amongst the top of the Western Conference, Gobert will also finish at the top of this award’s final tally, even if he somehow isn’t the winner. Without the center from France, the Jazz defense would be out of sorts, as just his presence around the rim is enough to ward off the opposing offense. Just ask the Spurs.
This is why Rudy Gobert is the DPOY. pic.twitter.com/5A6omPhAwV
— Slam Studios (@SlamStudios) May 4, 2021
And while he did get completely crossed out of his shoes by Devin Booker recently, it is a season-long award, so don’t hold that against him. For the majority of the season, he has held firm in key defensive stats such as defensive rating, defensive win shares and blocks per game. He ranks second in all three categories, per NBA Advanced Stats 𑁋 101.4 defensive rating, 0.181 defensive win shares and 2.8 blocks per game. These are key indicators that he has been having a monster season, along with the Jazz being one of the best teams in the league. As things continue to unfold, expect Gobert to come out of the season as the DPotY.
2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 2)
The seven-foot-three center for the Philadelphia 76ers has had a memorable season under Doc Rivers. The hiring of the new coach made a big impact on the Sixers’ future and helped Embiid take his game to even higher levels. The Sixers have looked like a title contender throughout the season, thanks to great defense from their two stars. Embiid holding down the paint and Simmons being a pest on and off the ball around the perimeter. His defensive rating is fifth among qualified starters with a rating of 105.6, to go along with 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. Averaging more than a block and steal per game puts Embiid in elite company defensively, as P.J. Washington and Bam Adebayo are the only other centers putting up similar numbers. Embiid should be a finalist for this award for the impact and effect he leaves on the defensive end of the floor for the Sixers every game.
3. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: N/A)
Simmons has been severely disrespected on this list many times, so now is the time to give him the recognition he deserves. As the number two offensive option for the Sixers, the defensive end is a different story, as Simmons brings a lot of energy to the defensive unit. Statistics aside, he has been a complete machine on defense wreaking havoc on his opponents. Whether it’s sending a Charlie Brown three flying into the stands or picking off an inbound pass intended for Coby White and taking it to the basket to ice the game, he has been having one of the best defensive seasons across the NBA. The advanced stats back up the claim as he ranks fifth in defensive win shares with 0.142. He’s also third in the league in steals per game with 1.7 per game to go along with 0.6 blocks per game. His play on defense has raised eyebrows everywhere, and he should be in the running for the DPotY award.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 27, 2021
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Previous: 5)
The Greek Freak has been having another historical season, even though he hasn’t gotten the credit he truly deserves. This happens when you have insane statistical seasons the past few years though, some people stop paying attention. Antetokounmpo should be recognized for the impact he has on winning for the Milwaukee Bucks, especially on the defensive end. Antetokounmpo averages 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game at the power forward position and is always someone opposing players have to think about when they’re on offense. He also ranks seventh in defensive win shares (0.139) and eighth in defensive rating (106.3), so the advanced metrics also show just how valuable he is to have. While he may not win the award this year, even though he is the reigning DPotY, he should still be in the conversation as one of the game’s elite defenders.
5. Jimmy Butler, Miami HEAT (Previous: Honorable Mention)
The leader of the Miami HEAT has been having another phenomenal season on defense as the HEAT gear up for the playoff run. He has been a thief on defense as he leads the league in steals with 2.1 per game. Butler is so quick to display his elite defensive IQ as he is always there to jump the passing lane or attack a ballhandler at his vulnerable dribbling moments. Butler also ranks in the top 10 in defensive win shares with 0.138. It is clear that with him, Bam Adebayo, and the newly-acquired Victor Oladipo, that the HEAT are going to be a defensive nightmare for opposing teams this postseason.
Honorable Mention: Mike Conley, Utah Jazz (Previous: 4)
The game tape doesn’t jump off the screen to represent Conley’s case for the award, but as the season comes to an end, it is clear that Conley has played a huge role on the Jazz defense. Opposing teams not only have to worry about the Stifle Tower in the middle of the Jazz defense, but they also have to worry about the pesky point guard looking to steal the ball at any moment. Conley’s season has been remarkable as his improved play has been a catalyst of the improved play out of Utah. The advanced statistics give Conley a big lift and vaulted him into these rankings, as they are just too hard to ignore when he’s been at the top all season. Conley leads the league in both defensive rating (99.9) and defensive win shares (0.181), as well as the 1.4 steals per game he posts for the season.
The running for the DPotY is coming to an end. It looks like the center for the Utah Jazz, Gobert, is going to be the winner, but anything is possible. The Simmons for DPotY movement has begun to make waves on Twitter, so maybe he comes up and wins the award. It is the NBA and nothing is completely assured, so don’t be surprised if the winner isn’t who you thought it would be. Here’s to another great NBA regular season despite all of the obstacles that were faced during the pandemic. Stay tuned for the next edition of the rankings!