With Thanksgiving Day having come and gone, NBA executives around the league enjoyed the first league-wide day off to take inventory and try to figure out where their teams are.
This week’s biggest mover is the New Orleans Pelicans. With Jrue Holiday returning to the lineup, the Pelicans have seemed to rediscover their mojo in a way similar to Klay Thompson out in Oakland. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia 76ers are slowly showing signs of becoming a new team and nearly knocked off the Memphis Grizzlies this past week, and they only happen to be one of the hottest teams in the league.
Count the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics among the teams that have gotten its fans excited with their successful play over the past week while the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers have been getting headlines for sputtering.
As usual for a Friday afternoon, Basketball Insiders brings you its weekly NBA Power Rankings.
30. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 2-12, Last Week: 28)
Currently on a seven-game skid, it could easily reach double digits since the Mavs play the Cavs, Pelicans and Spurs over the course of their next three, respectively. As the trade winds begin to swirl, expect the Mavs to kick the tires on any deal that may be out there.
29. Miami HEAT (Overall: 4-10, Last Week: 25)
We’re pretty sure if we search hard enough, we can find something positive to say about the HEAT… Unfortunately, we’ve just run out of time. With five games over the next week that includes a home-and-home with the Grizzlies, all we can say is Dwyane Wade ain’t walking through that door.
28. Washington Wizards (Overall: 4-9, Last Week: 26)
At 4-9, only the HEAT, Nets and Sixers have a worse record in the Eastern Conference. Along with the Kings, the Wizards are the other team whose name is coming up most when rivals are asked who needs to make a trade. It’s actually difficult to argue at this point.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 4-10, Last Week: 23)
Perhaps we were foolish for expecting too much from the T-Wolves too soon. We also would be irresponsible for not calling out Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for the egg they laid in Wednesday’s 117-96 loss at the Pelicans. The duo combined for just 22 points on 6-for-30 shooting from the field. That can’t happen.
26. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 4-10, Last Week: 22)
Losers of five straight, it would appear that the free-fall that many had predicted for the Nets is upon us. The 23 points that Sean Kilpatrick dropped off the bench in Wednesday’s 111-92 home loss to the Celtics gives renewed hope for his potential, but energy and effort, it appears, can only take you so far.
25. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 4-11, Last Week: 30)
Believe it or not, the Sixers won back-to-back games last week, outlasting the Suns and HEAT. They had a shot to beat the Grizzlies, but Joel Embiid was forced to sit the second overtime after surpassing his minutes limit. He may be turnover prone, but he’s the real deal and these guys are turning a corner.
24. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 5-11, Last Week: 27)
We’re all in on Devin Booker (and his 30-point effort in Monday’s loss to the Wizards), but we liked what we saw in Wednesday’s 92-87 win at the Magic even more—six players on the team in double figures.
23. Orlando Magic (Overall: 6-9, Last Week: 20)
At just 6-9 and with the playoffs remaining a goal for this franchise, the Magic have emerged as a team that would be willing to make a deal. Word on the street is that general manager Rob Hennigan may be on the hot seat, as patience has worn thin down in Orlando.
22. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 6-10, Last Week: 29)
After a 2-10 start, Jrue Holiday returned to the lineup and the team is 4-0 since. Three of the wins came over the Blazers, Hornets and Hawks. Jrue’s 16.3 points and seven assists have helped in a huge way, but his addition pushes the personnel back into their natural positions. Keep an eye on the Pels.
21. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 6-9, Last Week: 24)
The Kings are the team that most rival executives expect to make a substantial move prior to the trade deadline. Sunday begins a six-game road trip and if the Kings find themselves several games outside of the playoff race, once Dec. 15 rolls around, expect them to begin taking more calls. But wins over the Raptors and Thunder make us crack a smile.
20. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 7-9, Last Week: 16)
Reggie Jackson is progressing toward returning, and the timing will be determined by the medical staff. At two games under .500 and losers of four of their last five, Stan Van Gundy can’t get Jackson back in the lineup soon enough.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 6-7, Last Week: 19)
We’ve been somewhat critical of Jabari Parker, so we should point out Saturday’s 28-point effort against the Warriors and Monday’s 22-point game against the Magic. Over his last five, he’s giving Jason Kidd 20 points, 5.6 rebounds and three assists. Now, if only those numbers could translate into a few more wins…
18. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 6-9, Last Week: 21)
Surprisingly, the Nuggets wake up the day after Thanksgiving to find themselves just 1.5 games out of the first place in the division. It has something to do with the struggles of the Blazers and Thunder, and a lot to do with the play of Danilo Gallinari and Jusuf Nurkic.
17. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 7-9, Last Week: 17)
The Pacers have only held opponents under 100 points four times this season (they’re 3-1 when doing so) and are one of the more disappointing teams out East this season. What’s most disconcerting is that a fair number of their losses have come to weaker teams. If something doesn’t change, things could get really ugly once the schedule gets tougher.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 8-9, Last Week: 14)
Will the real Blazers please stand up? Losers of five of their last six, the Blazers suddenly find themselves under .500 for the first time since they were 2-3. We’ll give them a tiny break since the losses have all come to respectable competition, but we’re still concerned. The good news is that they now begin a four-game home stand that has some very winnable games.
15. Utah Jazz (Overall: 8-8, Last Week: 13)
A four-game skid finds the Jazz at .500, which makes them one of six teams out West that are within one game the .500 mark. The good news? They’re still first in the league in points allowed and sixth in defensive efficiency. We’re still believers.
14. New York Knicks (Overall: 7-7, Last Week: 18)
Don’t look now, but the Knicks might be figuring some things out—including the fact that Kristaps Porzingis should probably be their primary offensive weapon. Winners of four of their last five, Porzingis has averaged 25 points and nine rebounds per game over that stretch. Honorable mention to Kyle O’Quinn, who has filled in for the ill Joakim Noah as well.
13. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 9-6, Last Week: 11)
Over the last 10 games, Jimmy Butler is averaging about 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. The club is 5-2 in their last seven and exceeding the expectations that many had of them. Still, we can’t easily forgive Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets.
12. Boston Celtics (Overall: 9-6, Last Week: 15)
The Celts are 3-0 since the return of Al Horford, and it’s no coincidence. In those three wins (against the Pistons, T-Wolves and Nets), they’re giving up just 92.3 points per game while Horford is contributing 18.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and six assists per. Could have been against better competition, but a win is a win.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 8-8, Last Week: 8)
The silver lining in the three straight losses the Thunder have endured were that all three were played in four nights. Still, after beginning the season at 6-1, they’ve quietly gone 2-7. They could use some more firepower (Rudy Gay would make some sense) but also haven’t held an opponent under 100 points since Nov. 7. We’re getting worried.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 8-8, Last Week: 9)
There are worse places to be if you’re the Lakers, but with D’Angelo Russell on the shelf and the next eight games against teams who entered the season with playoff expectations, things may get really ugly. For now, they stick in our Top 10 since last week’s losses came to top ranked teams.
9. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 8-6, Last Week: 7)
After losing three straight (and slipping in our power rankings), the Hornets hope to make hay over the next few weeks, as six of their next nine games will be played at home before embarking on a tough, five-game, mid-December road trip.
8. Houston Rockets (Overall: 9-6, Last Week: 10)
Wednesday’s 115-102 loss to the Raptors snapped a three-game win streak, but as long as James Harden continues to lead the league in assists (he’s averaging 12.5 per game), they’ll have a chance to knock anyone off on any given night. Quick shout to Clint Capella, whose 13.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.4 blocks over the last 10 games have been huge.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 10-5, Last Week: 12)
With six straight wins, the Grizz have done a masterful job of beating the teams they’re supposed to. With five games over the next seven nights, we expect the current win streak to end sometime soon, but the Grizz have put themselves in a good position, let’s just hope their old legs can keep pace, especially with the power move they’ve made into our top 10.
6. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 10-5, Last Week: 3)
Since beginning the season at 9-2, the Hawks are losers of three of four, including L’s to the Knicks and Pelicans. Dwight Howard’s 23-point, 20-rebound game in Wednesday’s win against the Hawks stopped the bleeding. Still, we’re wondering what’s going on in the A, as the Hawks have appeared to take a step backward.
5. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 9-6, Last Week: 6)
The Raps are finishing up a five-game road trip wherein they won two of the first four. Sunday’s 102-99 loss at the Kings may come back to haunt them, as all of a sudden, the Celts are leading the division and the improving Knicks are breathing down their necks. After torching everything, over the last five, DeMar DeRozan is shooting just 43 percent from the field for 25 points per game.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 11-2, Last Week: 5)
The champs hung 137 points on the Blazers on Wednesday night. Kevin Love scored a league-record 34 points in the first quarter, which made LeBron James’ 31-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound triple-double an afterthought. Could Thursday’s battle with the Clips be a Finals preview?
3. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 12-3, Last Week: 4)
After missing Monday’s win over the Mavs, LaMarcus Aldridge returned in Wednesday’s win over the Hornets and dropped 23 to go alongside Kawhi Leonard’s 30. The Spurs are winners of seven straight and, as we predicted, one of the top three teams out West. With the Hawks sliding out of the top five, they stay ahead of the Cavs by virtue of the longer win streak.
2. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 13-2, Last Week: 2)
Winners of nine-straight, the Dubs are looking nearly unstoppable, especially since Klay Thompson has found his mojo. Over their last five, he’s scoring 24.5 points while hitting 43 percent of his three-pointers. We wouldn’t be surprised if the current win streak hits 15, though there’s (obviously) a lot of games between now and then.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 14-2, Last Week: 1)
Considering what they’ve been through, it’s hard to not root for the Clips, even if there are a fair amount of people that think they’re just a collection of non-winners. They clock in at fourth in points allowed, second in defensive rating, second in offensive rating and second in points scored. So long as they’re healthy, these guys will be for real. Circle your calendar for Thursday night, as they’ll make their only visit to Cleveland.
The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft
College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.
Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.
It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.
However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.
A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.
Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.
There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.
This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.
But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.
With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.
Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.
Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.
But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.
College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.
NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?
Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.
The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.
But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.
The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.
So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.
Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up
The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.
The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.
Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.
Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.
Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.
Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.
NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs
The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.
Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.
Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.
“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”
Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.
“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”
Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.
“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”
That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.
“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”
In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.
“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”
That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.