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NBA Power Rankings 11/18

Moke Hamilton releases his second power rankings of the 2016-17 NBA season.

Moke Hamilton

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With the Memphis Grizzlies scoring a major win over the L.A. Clippers this past week and a few teams, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, enduring an early-season losing streak, the top half of this week’s NBA Power Rankings have a fair amount of movement.

Every Friday afternoon, Basketball Insiders drops our weekly power rankings. How is your favorite team stacking up against the competition?

 

30. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 2-10, Last Week: 30)

Judging by the way the Timberwolves pummeled the Sixers on Thursday night, we’ll go ahead and guess that TNT is going to opt out of putting Philly on national TV. In all fairness, though, these guys scored a nice win over the Wizards on Wednesday, even without Joel Embiid.


29. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 2-10, Last Week: 29)

It certainly didn’t take long for Anthony Davis to miss a game. We’re hopeful that he’ll quickly recover from the ailing back and quad contusion that caused him to miss Wednesday’s 89-82 loss at the Magic. And we sure hope he manages to play at least 70 games this season.


28. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 2-8, Last Week: 28)

The Mavs got Deron Williams back for Wednesday’s contest at the Celtics, but it wasn’t enough. After losing to the Knicks on Monday night, they’re just 1-3 on their five-game trip and can’t wait for Dirk Nowitzki to return. The bright side? Harrison Barnes and the 27.6 points per game he’s averaging over the last five.


27. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 3-9, Last Week: 23)

Brandon Knight dropped 32 off the bench on Wednesday night in Denver, but it wasn’t enough for a win. Meanwhile, the biggest bright spot for Phoenix these days is Devin Booker. The 20-year-old is averaging 20.4 points per game and remains our favorite for the Most Improved Player award.


26. Washington Wizards (Overall: 3-8, Last Week: 25)

The 119-112 win that the Wizards scored over the Knicks stopped a three-game skid that included a Wednesday night loss to the lowly Sixers. The good news is that Otto Porter is coming into his own, but until Bradley Beal can stay on the floor, this team will remain a cellar-dweller.


25. Miami Heat (Overall: 3-8, Last Week: 26)

The six-game losing streak ended with Thursday’s 96-73 win over the Bucks, but it was Hassan Whiteside’s 19-point, 25-rebound line against Dwight Howard’s Hawks that caught our attention this past week. The Heat lost, 90-93, but certainly not because of Whiteside.


24. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 4-8, Last Week: 20)

The good news is that the Kings have four more games left on their five-game home stand. The bad news? They’re hosting the Clippers, Raptors, Thunder and Rockets. The current three-game skid could easily reach seven.

 

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 27)

It’s safe to say that Karl-Anthony Towns got the best of Joel Embiid in their head-to-head matchup on Thursday night. Towns had 25 and 10 and also gave us this. Meanwhile, Andrew Wiggins scored 33.3 points per game over the past week.

 

22. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 21)

The five-game road trip concludes with Friday’s visit to the Thunder and they’re 1-3. Sean Kilpatrick and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson have each had their fair share of high moments, but without Jeremy Lin, the Nets will be hard-pressed to win consistently.


21. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 4-7, Last Week: 24)

We said something similar last week, but it merits mention: the Nuggets have nine players averaging at least 8.5 points per game, and they are being led by the capable Danilo Gallinari (17.1 points).


20. Orlando Magic (Overall: 5-7, Last Week: 22)

You couldn’t help but to feel good for Serge Ibaka, who sank the game winner to score a W at the Thunder on Sunday. Wednesday’s win followed Monday’s loss to the Pacers, so we’ll look at the glass as half-full and say the Magic won two of their last three (even if the Pelicans didn’t have Anthony Davis).


19. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 5-6, Last Week: 16)

After beginning the season 4-2, the Bucks have since gone just 1-4. We thought they had a legitimate shot of returning at the playoffs, but they’re still inconsistent. Khris Middleton looks pretty irreplaceable at the moment, though his absence isn’t the cause of all their problems.


18. New York Knicks (Overall: 5-7, Last Week: 18)

Just when the Knicks seem to turn a corner (as they did in Wednesday night’s fiery win over the Pistons), they play down to the competition. Derrick Rose was the lone bright spot in Thursday’s 119-112 loss to the Wizards, but the Knicks trailed by 25 and never seriously threatened.


17. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 6-6, Last Week: 17)

We were expecting the Pacers to be much better than a .500 team after 12 games, but we can’t be surprised considering they’re giving up about 107 points per game. The worst part? We can’t even feel too good about Wednesday’s win over the Cavs considering LeBron James didn’t play. But we do like that four starters scored double-figures.


16. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 6-6, Last Week: 14)

A four-game home stand begins on Saturday, and the Pistons hope that they can make as much good noise as their head coach has since the presidential election. We admire Stan Van Gundy’s courage and candor. It’s part of what makes him an effective head coach.


15. Boston Celtics (Overall: 6-5, Last Week: 19)

The Celts have underwhelmed thus far, but until Al Horford is good to go, they’ll probably struggle to beat some of the better teams. As long as Isaiah Thomas is playing brilliantly, though (he’s averaging 27.2 points per game), all hope isn’t lost.


14. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 7-6, Last Week: 12)

Thursday night’s 126-109 loss at the Rockets began a five-game road trip for the Blazers. Just one game over .500, they need to go 3-2, but what’ll make it tough is that all five games occur in seven nights. The saving grace? They’ll see the Pelicans, Nets and Knicks before finishing at the Cavs on Wednesday.


13. Utah Jazz (Overall: 7-6, Last Week: 11)

Despite back-to-back losses to the Grizz and Bulls, the Jazz have most of the league talking—in a good way. Aside from their impressive depth and Trey Lyles appearing to figure things out, their 93.2 points allowed per game is tops in the league. They are tied with the Blazers for the eighth-best record out West.


12. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 6-5, Last Week: 15)

The only thing better than the Grizz rolling into Staples Center and handing the Clips just their second loss of the season on Wednesday night was the fact that Marc Gasol hit four three-pointers, including the game-clincher. Mike Conley pulled his weight, too. Maybe there’s still juice left in the old legs, after all.


11. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 8-4, Last Week: 13)

The only thing better than a four-game win streak and winning the first two games of a six-game road trip would be that the Bulls will get to spend a few nights in Los Angeles, as they’ll battle the Clips and Lakers before heading to Denver. Thursday night’s 85-77 win over the Jazz showed they can grind out a tough W. Our faith is temporarily restored.


10. Houston Rockets (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 07)

James Harden turned in his third triple-double of the season in Thursday’s 126-109 win over the Blazers. His 26, 12 and 14 were miraculous, but the Rockets have also been getting good production from Eric Gordon, who’s averaging 16 points per game. After going 2-2 the past week, things could be better, but could also be worse.


9. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 10)

The Lakers haven’t been two games over .500 since March 2013! D’Angelo Russell looks like a stud, Julius Randle is playing efficiently and Nick Young is playing solid man defense. Is Luke Walton our Coach of the Year so far? Maybe. And it’ll become “definitely” if they can win two of their four games over the next week. They’ve got the Spurs, Bulls, Thunder and Warriors.


8. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 7-5, Last Week: 05)

The four-game losing streak ended in glorious fashion, as the Thunder toppled the visiting Rockets on Wednesday. Westbrook’s 30, seven and nine was great, but Victor Oladipo’s 29, 10 and five (on just 18 shot attempts) was more noteworthy. If he can produce like that, they’ll remain our favorites to win the division.


7. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 7-3, Last Week: 09)

The back-to-back losses they endured over the past week are forgivable considering they came at the hands of the Raptors and Cavs. Even still, these guys are 4-1 on the road and rank fifth in defensive efficiency – hallmarks of a good team.


6. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 7-4, Last Week: 04)

We can’t be too mad about back-to-back losses when they come at the hands of the Cavs and Warriors, but if the Raptors come back after their upcoming five-game road trip with less than three wins, the Celtics and Knicks (yes, the Knicks!) may be breathing down their necks.


5. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 02)

Wednesday’s game at the Pacers was the third game in four nights, so we can understand LeBron taking the night off. The Cavs are head and shoulders above every other team in the East, so the only concern we have is whether King James can continue to play about 77 games per season, even as he turns 32 years old next month.


4. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 9-3, Last Week: 08)

In Wednesday’s 110-105 win over the Kings (their fourth straight), Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol combined for 65 points. Even better? These guys are allowing just about 97 points per game, which is third-best in the league. With three very winnable games over the next week, we’re expecting a few more Ws.


3. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 06)

Winners of six straight, the Hawks had to make do without Dwight Howard on Wednesday night, but they managed to outlast the Bucks, anyway. The quad contusion doesn’t sound serious, but his 15 points, 12 rebounds and 23.54 PER will be sorely missed if he’s out long. Pun intended. The Clips and Cavs lost while the Hawks continue to surge.


2. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 9-2, Last Week: 03)

Klay Thompson has scored 15 points or less in five of their first 11 games and is only hitting 31 percent of his shots from distance, but the Dubs seem to be figuring things out. The four-game trip got off to a good start with Wednesday’s 127-121 win at the Raptors. Winners of five straight, they are somehow flying under the radar.


1. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 10-2, Last Week: 01)

The Clips might be the top defensive team in the league, but they had major trouble guarding the three in Wednesday night’s home loss to the Grizz, who shot 15-for-26 from distance. They showed poise down the stretch, even if they still complain too much about the officiating. The Hawks are nipping at their heels, but the top defense and best record help them retain their status as the Association’s top dog.

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

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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