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NBA Power Rankings – 11/25/16

Moke Hamilton delivers his weekly power rankings. Where does your favorite team rank?

Moke Hamilton

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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.

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New Orleans Pelicans and Cliff Alexander Agree To Deal

Michael Scotto

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The New Orleans Pelicans and free agent forward Cliff Alexander have agreed to a one-year, non-guaranteed deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

The addition of Alexander will give New Orleans 20 players heading into training camp.

Alexander spent last season playing 40 combined games with the Erie Bayhawks and Long Island Nets in the G-League, where he averaged 15.8 points and 8.9 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per game. Alexander also shot 52 percent from the field and blocked one shot per game.

The 21-year-old forward was a McDonald’s All-American and won MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic in 2014 before attending Kansas University. Alexander played 28 games as a Jayhawk and averaged 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 17.6 minutes per game before declaring for the draft.

After going undrafted, Alexander played in eight games for Portland during the 2015-16 season and received a 10-day contract from the Brooklyn Nets in April.

For more information on the salary cap and roster situation for the New Orleans Pelicans, click here.

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Atlanta Hawks and John Jenkins Agree To Deal

Michael Scotto

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The Atlanta Hawks and free agent guard John Jenkins have agreed to a training camp deal, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

The addition of Jenkins will give Atlanta 20 players heading into training camp.

Jenkins drew interest from several other teams, including the Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks.

The 26-year-old guard began his career in Atlanta after the Hawks selected him 23rd overall out of Vanderbilt in the 2012 draft. For his career, Jenkins has averaged 5.1 points in 12.8 minutes per game while shooting 45 percent from the field overall and 36 percent from beyond the arc.

For more information on Atlanta’s salary cap and roster situation, click here.

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Golden State Warriors 2017-18 Season Preview

The Golden State Warriors remain the cream of the NBA crop, even after several franchises went all in this offseason. Can anyone really beat the Warriors in a seven-game series? We look at the Warriors in this final NBA season preview.

Basketball Insiders

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After losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015-16 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors were highly favored to win the 2016-17 championship with the offseason addition of Kevin Durant. In the Warriors’ third straight Finals match up with Cavaliers, Golden State, with plenty of help from Durant, over-matched Cleveland in last season’s NBA Finals. This year, with Durant taking a pay cut, the team did a masterful job of bringing back just about all of the key players from last year’s championship run. Now the team is primed to wreak havoc on the league once again.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

It’s almost comical at this point how the best team in basketball keeps getting better.

After adding Kevin Durant last summer, and then completely decimating the entire NBA, including LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, all the Golden State Warriors did was go out and add two players in Omri Casspi and Nick Young who almost perfectly fit their brand of “you’re not out-shooting us” basketball.

The powers of the NBA all shuffled around their rosters this season in hopes of trying to assemble some type of “anti-Warriors” remedy, and when it’s all said and done, those moves will be all for naught. Expect Golden State to ride their legendary roster to another NBA title.

1st place – Pacific Division

– Dennis Chambers

What do you need me to say about the Warriors that you don’t already know? Two of the best five players in the league are on the roster, as well as arguably the top defensive player in the league and a cast of reserves that fit perfectly with the superstars running the show. Even JaVale McGee is shooting three pointers now. The Warriors are unstoppable and in some ways even better than the team that won a championship a few months ago. It’s going to be a long season for every other team in the league. They’re all playing for second place.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Joel Brigham

The road to the NBA Finals obviously goes through Oakland, especially after the club managed to re-sign JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Nick Young will give the team some additional firepower, but they probably don’t even need it.

So long as these guys stay healthy, they’ll probably find their way to their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, and with the Clippers having lost Chris Paul, the Warriors should have a relatively easy time winning the Pacific Division for the fourth straight year.

I’m usually longer-winded than that, but I’m not sure much else needs to be said about the Warriors.

1st place – Pacific Division

– Moke Hamilton

At this point, what’s really left to say? The Warriors had arguably the best basketball team ever assembled last season, and that was while dealing with minor role concerns and dealing with Kevin Durant’s midseason injury. Then they went out and improved this offseason, adding the likes of Omri Casspi and Nick Young as perfect end-of-roster pieces. Combine that with what most would expect will be even better fit and chemistry across the roster this season, and the Warriors stand head and shoulders above the rest of the league even with several squads making big power moves to try and bridge the gap. Anything but a third title in four years will fail to do justice to the incredible, historical talent on this roster.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Ben Dowsett

The best team in the NBA went out and retained key players and signed Omri Casspi and Nick Young to round out the roster. As has been the case for several years now, the Warriors enter the upcoming season with the most overall talent, improved chemistry, good health and every ingredient necessary to win an NBA championship. Several other contenders pulled off some impressive moves to try and bridge the gap between themselves and the Warriors, but Golden State still holds the advantage against every other team in the league. So long as the Warriors are playing up to their potential, or anywhere near it, the other contenders are out of luck. Unless the Warriors face some serious injuries this upcoming season or some internal discord, we should expect them to win their third championship in four seasons.

1st Place – Pacific Division

– Jesse Blancarte

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant

Don’t knock me for not clearly choosing a single player here. The individual excellence of both Stephen Curry and Durant cannot be stated enough. While Curry’s statistics did take a bit of a step back from the year prior, he still led the way for the Warriors last season. Last year, Curry led the team in points per game (by a slim margin), three-pointers made, assists and usage percentage. Keep in mind, Durant was excellent but Curry still commanded the offense for the most part. However, Durant was right on Curry’s heels and in the playoffs actually slightly surpassed Curry in points per game. In addition, Durant remains as tough to cover one-on-one as anyone in the league. Regardless, both players are unbelievable individual talents and would easily be the top offensive player on just about any other team.

Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green

For the foreseeable future, Draymond Green has this category on lockdown for the Warriors. Green uses a combination of length, strength, timing and sneaky athleticism to smother his opponents. Green’s versatility allows him to guard a range of positions in the post and switch to guard guards and forwards on the wing effectively as well. His versatility is the lynchpin of the Warrior’s vaunted death line up that uses Green at center and brings Iguodala off the bench to close games. Last year’s Defensive Player of the Year race came down to Green and Utah center Rudy Gobert. In the end, Green’s versatility as well as his ability to guard the rim effectively made him the top choice in voters’ minds. Expect Green to be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year this upcoming season as well.

Top Playmaker: Stephen Curry

When the Warriors added Durant to the roster, many wondered, even for a team as unselfish as the Warriors, how would Stephen Curry and Durant manage to share the ball? That question was answered when Curry took a step back and allowed Durant’s individual offensive brilliance to shine. Curry’s points per game dropped (30.1 to 25.3) as did his usage percentage (32.0 to 29.2). Curry’s individual excellence continued regardless as he remained the Warriors’ top distributor (followed closely by Draymond Green). In addition, Curry garners so much attention that his simple presence on the court creates more room for teammates to operate. Curry’s ability to pull up from virtually anywhere on the court and willingness to make the extra pass to teammates makes him a nightmare to cover and the Warriors’ top playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: Kevin Durant/Stephen Curry

Once again, you could give this award to either of the Warrior’s two best offensive players. Curry dominates most of the advanced statistics when breaking down clutch play, defined as the last minutes of a game within 5 point or less, per nba.com. However, based on Durant’s size, length and ability to get off a shot in isolation, he makes for an excellent clutch player in just about any situation. Either is an extraordinary option and their play in crunch time continues to be critical to their championship fortunes.

The Unheralded Player: Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson is a phenomenal talent who does a number of things well. He’s an unbelievable three-point shooter and defends elite point guards to alleviate the pressure on Curry. For a team with two elite offensive players, having Thompson as your third option on offense is just unfair to the rest of the league. Thompson lights up the league with his ability to hit outside shots without needing to dominate the ball. Don’t just count on Thompson to score as he takes pride in his defense and his ability to lockdown on defense.

Best New Addition: Omri Casspi

Overall, the Warriors have had an unbelievable stretch of luck when it comes to injuries, which will hopefully rub off on Omri Casspi this season. With his length, versatility and the ability to stretch the floor, he can slide into either forward spot. His addition strengthens the team’s ability to survive the grind of the regular season and lessen the minutes of the starters. Casspi fills a lot of needs for several teams that are looking to challenge the Warriors, so simply keeping him away from those teams is an added benefit to his signing.

– James Blancarte

WHO WE LIKE

1. Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr continues to be the perfect coach for this team. He helps to keep the players focused on their individual roles within the larger team structure and has so far prevented major dissension and discord. Kerr took the team that Mark Jackson previously coached and helped to transform the team into champions. Credit is deserved for his part in successfully orchestrating the move of former All-Star Iguodala to a bench role and meshing Durant’s individual brilliance with the Warriors’ pre-existing, pass-happy offense. Kerr has missed significant time due to his botched spinal surgery, but if he can manage his health, count on Kerr to keep the Warriors a well-oiled machine.

2. Nick Young

Nick Young is a player that has had an up-and-down career. Credit Young for carving out a relatively successful career as a journeyman three-point shooting wing. Keeping Young focused and unlocking his full range of talents has been difficult for many organizations. The Warriors are up next and will give the 11th year pro an opportunity to do what he does best — knocking down three-pointers. As a career 37.6 percentage three-point shooter, Young will have a chance to get more open looks from distance than he has previously in his career. Like JaVale McGee, Young will also have a chance to transform his reputation if he proves to be a disciplined, effective contributor to a championship team.

3. Jordan Bell

What’s the perfect piece for a rebuilding team in need of young talent to build around? Jordan Bell, selected with the 38th pick in this year’s draft), is just that sort of player. The Warriors acquired the pick from the Chicago Bulls for cash consideration. The Bulls loss is the Warriors gain as hopes are high for the young talent from the University of Oregon. The Warriors will take their time with the 6-foot-9 forward and hope that he will build on and develop his defensive talents and one day be a reliable contributor for Golden State.

4. Shaun Livingston

Shaun Livingston is many years removed from the knee injury that nearly ended his professional career. While Livingston has played for nine teams in his career, he continues to be loyal to the Warriors, the team with which he has experienced the most success post-injury. Livingston continues to do whatever the team requires as he slides into either guard slot when needed and provides reliable production from the bench. Opposing backup point guards often get caught being posted up by the lengthy 6-foot-7 guard. Count Livingston as another essential cog who will do whatever it takes to help the Warriors win at all costs.

– James Blancarte

SALARY CAP 101

The Warriors are a major spender at $135.4 million in guaranteed salary, resulting in at least $32 million in luxury taxes. Golden State used its Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception to sign Nick Young at $5.2 million for a season. Having re-signed on one-year deals, Zaza Pachulia, David West and JaVale McGee can block any trades.

Before November, the Warriors need to decide on 2018-19 team options for Kevon Looney and Damian Jones. Next summer, Kevin Durant can opt out again but now the team has his Early Bird Rights and the ability to give him a raise in the $35 million range. The Warriors seem willing to pay for a winner but for how long as luxury taxes grow progressively as the team gradually becomes a repeat offender?

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

This team continues to have everything you could want in a modern NBA team. An electric point guard who is nearly unstoppable, a 3-and-D wing with a killer three-point shot, an unstoppable one-on-one player who can score from anywhere, a dominant and flexible defensive forward who can play center and a defensive wing who is a great glue guy. That’s just the five players that are normally used to close out games. The rest of the roster has a number of key contributors ready to do whatever the team needs. Oh, and they also have a great coach to keep everyone on the same page. With all the pieces a team could want, expect the Warriors to again push a possible record-breaking pace in the regular season on their way to the playoffs and likely the Finals.

– James Blancarte

WEAKNESSES

The easiest answer here is none. Eventually the injury bug might hit the Warriors but for now they have everything they could want to continue their excellent play. Perhaps some players may lose a sense of urgency in the regular season after breaking records and dominating the last few seasons, though that seems unlikely. On paper, this team is not afflicted by any major weaknesses.

– James Blancarte

THE BURNING QUESTION

Can anyone stop the Warriors?

Other teams continue to make moves to get better. On September 23, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded agreed to terms on a deal to acquire Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. With that move, count the Thunder, Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and the Cavaliers as the biggest potential obstacles in the Warriors’ path to repeat. One of these teams may beat them, but the Warriors are the heavy favorites and the team most likely to win the championship next year.

– James Blancarte

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