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.
Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.
There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.
Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.
Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.
That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.
Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.
Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.
“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.
“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”
In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.
What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.
From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.
There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.
So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.
Instead, he did the opposite.
“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.
“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”
Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.
Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.
Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.
Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.
I think not.
Death, taxes and the Spurs.
So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.
Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.
But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.
NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly
Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.
It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.
The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.
“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”
Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.
At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.
“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.
Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.
“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”
Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.
His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.
“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”
“Yep,” Bazemore replied.
“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”
Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.
“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”
With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.
Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.
Covington’s Contract Extension Adds Value On and Off the Court
Robert Covington cashed in for himself while also allowing the Sixers to potentially cash in this summer.
The Philadelphia 76ers are keeping their X-factor in town for the foreseeable future.
Wednesday night, hours before the Sixers were set to tip off against the Los Angeles Lakers, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Covington and Philadelphia were finalizing a contract extension for four-years and $62 million.
But what the Sixers did to preserve their financial flexibility for the future, while still rewarding Covington, was potentially what makes this deal so valuable. In addition to his current $1.57 million salary this season, the Sixers will renegotiate an additional $15 million into Covington’s salary for this year.
As Wojnarowski reported, that chunk of change the Sixers coughed up this season allows them to still have $25 million in salary-cap space next summer. Along with paying a large portion of the deal upfront, the four-year extension Covington will wind up agreeing to pays him around $45 million over the duration, as reported by The Athletic’s Derek Bodner.
For Covington, coming from his undrafted status out of Tennessee State, to being sent down to the D-League after a short stint with the Houston Rockets, to a team-friendly Sam Hinkie special four-year contract with the Sixers back in 2014, now finally culminating in a big payday as one of the NBA’s premier 3-and-D players, is nothing short of an amazing story.
It’s duly noted what Covington brings to the table for the Sixers on the court. After leading the league in deflections last season, along with his ability to guard 1-4 spots on the court, Covington secured votes in the Defensive Player of the Year race. This season, without sacrificing any of his defense (registering the same 105 defensive rating as last season), Covington is experiencing a renaissance on the offensive end.
Along with averaging a career-high 16.5 points per game, Covington is shooting an absurd 49.5 percent from deep on 7.2 attempts per game. Believe it or not, he has made more threes than Stephen Curry and is shooting a higher percentage from beyond the arc—Covington is 50-of-101 from three-point range, while Curry is 47-of-121.
It’s only the second week of November, but that is nonetheless impressive, and a testament to how on-fire Covington has been this season.
Playing along Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and another sharpshooter like J.J. Redick gets Covington open looks. He’s learned to maximize those opportunities.
Now, with his new extension, Covington is just as big of an impact off the court, as well.
By renegotiating his salary for this season, the Sixers are left with enough money to be serious players next summer when some marquee free agents will hit the open market. It was a stroke of genius for the front office, and also a rare occurrence, as ESPN’s Bobby Marks pointed out that a move similar to this has occurred just seven times since 1998.
As reported last season, the Sixers made a significant push to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers at the trade deadline. Part of that package included Covington. Although they love Covington in Philadelphia, they believed giving him up for George would have been worth it. Obviously, that didn’t pan out, but the good news now is that the Sixers will have the cap space to pursue George should he opt for free agency this summer.
It’s been no secret that George would like to test the open waters and find the best fit for himself. Although George is playing alongside the most talented players he’s ever had by his side with Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony, he is just one of many impact free agents on the market.
Covington’s brilliant extension gives Philadelphia the option to meet with a player like George, and not only offer him the promise of playing with budding stars like Embiid and Simmons, but with quality starters like Covington. And if George isn’t amenable to the possibility, someone else might be.
On a personal level, Covington embodies “the process” in Philadelphia. From his humble beginnings to now being a multi-millionaire whose efforts are being handsomely rewarded, his story is a good one.
Not only for him, but for the Sixers, too.
Yes, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hold the keys to the Sixers’ championship hopes, but once again, Covington is proving to be the X-factor.
This time, he’s extending his intangibles off the court as well.