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NBA Power Rankings 11/11

Basketball Insiders drops our first power rankings of the 2016-17 NBA season.

Moke Hamilton

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As we approach mid-November, each NBA team has played at least seven games. From Reggie Jackson in Detroit to Khris Middleton in Milwaukee to Gordon Hayward in Utah, injuries have already become an issue in the early going. There have been some good surprises (such as the Charlotte Hornets, who clock in at 6-1 through seven games) and some not so good ones (how is it that the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards continue to struggle?).

Now that we have an idea of who the NBA teams are, Basketball Insiders drops its first weekly Power Rankings. Check back each Friday afternoon to see how your favorite team stacks up against its competitors across the league.


30. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 0-7, Last Week: N/A)

The Sixers haven’t exactly made a habit of winning games in November and December, but we are all in on Joel Embiid and have to acknowledge how competitive these guys have been.

 

29. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 1-8, Last Week: N/A)

The Pelicans got their first win of the season on Thursday night at the Bucks, but it was Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical’s Friday morning report that Jrue Holiday is returning to the team next week that is the better news.

 

28. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 2-6, Last Week: N/A)

The Harrison Barnes era in Dallas hasn’t gotten off to a fantastic start, and it’s not a good sign when your team makes more headlines for banning respected journalists as opposed to spirited play. Bright side: Dirk is on his way back.

 

27. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 2-5, Last Week: N/A)

Perhaps the T-Wolves are this season’s version of the Pelicans? Maybe they’re a team whose potential made us lose sight that becoming a winner in the league takes time? And can someone explain how they are allowing 108.5 points per 100 possessions (24th in the league)? We need help (just like they do).

 

26. Miami HEAT (Overall: 2-5, Last Week: N/A)

Dwyane Wade’s return to Miami on Thursday night was about as emotional as one would expect. The 98-95 loss to the Bulls was somewhat expected, but if there’s a silver lining it would have to be the improved play of Justise Winslow. He’s nearly doubling and tripling his scoring and assists from last season.

 

25. Washington Wizards (Overall: 2-5, Last Week: N/A)

If things don’t change in D.C. soon, the team needs to consider making a drastic change. There is simply no reason or excuse for these guys to rank in the bottom half of offensive efficiency. The lone bright spot? Their two wins have come over tough competition (Hawks, Celtics).

 

24. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 3-5, Last Week: N/A)

The Nuggets have six players averaging double figures points with another player (Nikola Jokic) at 9.9 per game. We love the strength in numbers approach, but without an alpha-scorer and a superstar, these guys will continue to pull up the rear in the Northwest.

 

23. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 3-6, Last Week: N/A)

It’s gonna be a long season out in Phoenix, but the 20-year-old Devin Booker (who was our pick for Most Improved Player) will make it enjoyable to watch.

 

22. Orlando Magic (Overall: 3-5, Last Week: N/A)

After winning three straight, the Magic have lost their last two. Word on the street is that if there’s no playoff berth this season, general manager Rob Hennigan may be shown the door. Of those two scenarios, the latter appears more likely at the moment.

 

21. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 3-5, Last Week: N/A)

With everyone in the world expecting the Nets to be a lottery team, let’s acknowledge the brilliant job Kenny Atkinson has done coaching these guys. And let’s also acknowledge that the Nets are proving that, despite the names on the back of the jersey, if you play with effort, you’ll have a chance to win in the NBA.

 

20. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 4-6, Last Week: N/A)

The only thing more suspenseful than waiting to see where the Kings trade Rudy Gay is going to be watching to see if they manage to lose all five of the games on their upcoming homestand. Beginning Wednesday, they host the Spurs, Clippers, Raptors, Thunder and Rockets.

 

19. Boston Celtics (Overall: 3-4, Last Week: N/A)

The Celtics sputtering shouldn’t come as a major surprise considering they’ve been without Al Horford, who has been absent due to a concussion. No need to panic in Boston quite yet.

 

18. New York Knicks (Overall: 3-4, Last Week: N/A)

Wednesday’s win over the Nets (playing without Jeremy Lin) was one the Knicks absolutely needed. Not because of any crosstown rivalry, but because 3-4 looks much better than 2-5. Far too often, their effort leaves something to be desired and that’s not good considering what’s at stake for the franchise.

 

17. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 4-4, Last Week: N/A)

If only the Pacers played defense as well as Paul George kicked basketballs into the stands… Indy honestly hasn’t played a difficult schedule and, on paper, should be at least 6-2. The bright spot thus far would probably be Myles Turner with his 16.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

 

16. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 4-4, Last Week: N/A)

For the Bucks to fulfill their potential, Jabari Parker will have to fulfill his. His 33-point, nine-rebound effort on Thursday night was a welcomed sight, with the only unfortunate thing being that it came in a loss to the lowly Pelicans. We are still waiting for the Bucks to turn the corner.

 

15. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 4-4, Last Week: N/A)

With just two games over the past week, the Grizz got some much-needed practice time. They still seem to be a step slow, but we’ll attribute that to head coach David Fizdale still figuring things out.

 

14. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 4-4, Last Week: N/A)

Both Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond have played about as well as you could expect, but without Reggie Jackson, there’s only so far this team can go. Jackson recently began limited on-court activities but is still weeks away from returning.

 

13. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 5-4, Last Week: N/A)

On Thursday night, Dwyane Wade made his only visit to Miami this season in what was an emotional 98-95 victory. They’ve been inconsistent thus far, have lost four of their last six and have a six-game road trip beginning on Tuesday. We’re still trying to figure them out.

 

12. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 5-4, Last Week: N/A)

Wednesday’s 31-point drubbing at the hands of the Clippers and the 23-point home loss to the Dubs on November 1 show us that the Blazers may not be ready for the top tier out West just yet. We’d also like to see a little more from Evan Turner; 6.4 points per game ain’t cutting it.

 

11. Utah Jazz (Overall: 5-4, Last Week: N/A)

Despite missing the first six games of the season, Gordon Hayward hasn’t skipped a beat – 25.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and three dimes per game comes in handy, especially when Rudy Gobert is proving himself to be the NBA version of the Eiffel Tower. The early returns are in: these guys are good.

 

10. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 5-4, Last Week: N/A)

These aren’t Kobe Bryant’s Lakers… And that might be a good thing. Luke Walton’s team is playing hard, playing together and have scored victories over the Rockets, Hawks and Warriors. No other team in the league can boast that, even if they did lose to the Jazz.

 

9. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 6-1, Last Week: N/A)

We admit that the Hornets haven’t had an incredibly difficult strength of schedule to start, but Kemba Walker has looked every bit like an All-Star and after losing Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, it’s fair to say they’ve wildly exceeded expectations (through seven games).

 

8. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 5-3, Last Week: N/A)

Kawhi Leonard’s game-tying layup didn’t drop on Wednesday night, and the Rockets took a 101-99 decision from Gregg Popovich’s team. Still, they’re holding opponents to a sixth-best 97.6 points per game and ranked eighth in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’re flirting with 60 wins. Again.

 

7. Houston Rockets (Overall: 5-3, Last Week: N/A)

We have no problem admitting when we’re wrong. And as it relates to the Rockets, we were wrong. Their defense has been better than expected and James Harden is proving quite the capable floor general. The MVP thus far, “the Beard” is giving you 30.6 points per game along with 13 assists.

 

6. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 6-2, Last Week: N/A)

Sure, they lost to the Lakers and Wizards, but when you follow that up by beating the Rockets and Tuesday night’s 110-106 victory over the Cavs, the Hawks solidified themselves as a team to watch out East. I’ll admit that I had my doubts about the partnership between Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, but these guys look phenomenal.

 

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 6-2, Last Week: N/A)

We are big believers in Team Westbrook, but their 6-2 start may be fool’s gold. Still our favorite in the Northwest, only one of their wins have come over a team that made the playoffs last season (Clippers) and in each of their two losses (Warriors and Raptors), they’ve looked outmatched.

 

4. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 5-2, Last Week: N/A)

Considering that DeMar DeRozan has a career scoring average of 18.3 points per game and that last season’s 23.5 points per game was his career-high, we are surprised to see him as the league’s leading scorer at 34.1 points per game. More importantly, the Raptors have continued to look like the second best team out East.

 

3. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 7-2, Last Week: N/A)

After looking a step slow against the Lakers in the 117-97 drubbing on Nov. 4, the Dubs have shot a combined 47-98 from three-point land in the three games since—all wins. Steph Curry’s three-point streak ended, as did Kevin Durant’s 20-point streak, but these guys have their eyes set on other history.

 

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 6-1, Last Week: N/A)

After barely squeaking out a win against the Sixers, the defending champs lost their first game of the season to the Hawks on Tuesday. Still, they’ve looked head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference.

 

1. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 7-1, Last Week: N/A)

Despite a pretty difficult strength of schedule, the Clippers own the league’s best record. Not to take anything away from the Thunder (the only team to beat them), but the win came on the third game in four nights. Team CP3 are clearly the top dogs in the league right now.

 

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

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This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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