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.
A Few Good Free Agents Left
David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.
The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.
A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.
For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.
Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.
Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.
Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.
He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.
The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.
He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.
During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.
With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA Opening Night Storylines
Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.
The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.
Rejoice, hoop heads.
Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.
With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.
As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.
Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.
And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.
The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.
But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.
While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.
By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.
Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.
Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.
Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.
And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.
Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.
This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?
Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.
Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.
While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.
Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?
After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.
“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”
It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.
That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.
Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.
With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.