By far the most difficult week of the season to handicap, there was a tremendous amount of movement in the Basketball Insiders Weekly NBA Power Rankings. The Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers all lost on the same night, with both the Clippers and Cavaliers losing multiple games this week.
Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors engaged in an epic battle on Thursday, while some of the Association’s lower echelon teams scored wins against respectable competition.
Some of the questions we have include: How is Tom Thibodeau not getting more out of the Minnesota Timberwolves? How is Luke Walton getting so much out of the Los Angeles Lakers? How will the Detroit Pistons look once Reggie Jackson returns? What will become of the Memphis Grizzlies without Mike Conley?
Obviously, there are more questions, but the answers will only be revealed by continuing to watch.
30. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 3-15 Last Week: 30)
By the looks of things, the Mavs should get comfy in the last spot. One of the bright spots? The play of Seth Curry. Over his last five games, he’s averaging 13.4 points per game. Maybe he’s more than just the “other” Curry?
29. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 4-14, Last Week: 25)
Trust the process! Joel Embiid earned the East’s Rookie of the Month honor for November. His minute limit has been increased from 24 minutes to 28 minutes, so hopefully, that’ll translate into a few more wins for Philly.
In Wednesday’s home loss to the Knicks, Karl-Anthony Towns became the youngest player in NBA history to record at least 47 points and 18 rebounds in the team’s 106-104 loss. The T-Wolves are obviously trying to figure some things out, but where there’s a KAT, there’s a way.
If you’re looking for a saving grace for the young Suns, maybe it’s the fact that they have played 11 of their first 19 games on the road. Even worse? Three of the next four will be played away from the desert, as well. All things considered, Wednesday’s 109-107 victory over the struggling Hawks was a feel-good win they’ll happily pocket.
26. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 5-13, Last Week: 26)
The Nets snapped their seven-game losing streak in dramatic fashion, getting 38 points and 14 rebounds from Sean Kilpatrick en route to erasing a double-digit deficit versus the Clippers on Tuesday night. The 127-122 overtime win was impressive, but unfortunately, still only counts once.
The Wiz bested the Kings, but got dropped by the Thunder. We can’t help but to wonder when the trade winds will begin swirling around John Wall. By far their most valuable player, DeMarcus Cousins suggested that the two have spoken about teaming up in the NBA after playing together in college. Let’s keep an eye on that.
Jrue Holiday might “only” be giving the Pels 17.1 points and 6.3 assists per game, but Anthony Davis and his team are 5-2 since the return of Holiday to the lineup. They’ll see the Clippers twice, the Thunder, Grizzlies and Warriors over their next seven, so we’ll be watching closely.
The HEAT scored an improbable upset on Thursday night, outlasting the Jazz in Salt Lake City 111-110. Even more impressive? James Johnson’s 24 points off the bench. The win gave the club back-to-back wins to end five-games-in-seven-nights stretch. That’s impressive.
Currently 1-1 on their five-game road trip, DeMarcus Cousins and his 36-point, 20-rebound effort couldn’t get the job done against the Wizards in Monday’s 101-95 overtime loss. With stops remaining in Boston, New York and Dallas, we think these guys would be fortunate to nab two out of the next three.
With reports coming out of Orlando that suggest heads may roll if things don’t improve, the Magic went down to San Antonio and broke a four-game losing streak by shocking Kawhi Leonard’s team. The win was their first at the Spurs since 2009 and just the fourth in their last 28 games in the house that Tim Duncan built. After that, we don’t even care about Thursday’s loss at the Grizzlies.
With the emergence of Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets clearly have a few too many forwards and not enough minutes to go around, especially with Wilson Chandler leading the club with 18.2 points per game. Quick shout to Jamal Murray, who was named the West’s Rookie of the Month for November.
One of the most disappointing teams so far this season, the Pacers began their five-game trip with a 131-109 loss at the Blazers. They’re giving up the 25th most points per game in the league and rank 15th in defensive efficiency. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Quietly, the Blazers haven’t won back-to-back games since they beat the Nuggets back on Nov. 13. The team has a $120 million payroll and is struggling to remain atop the division. Them’s the breaks when you’re allowing 113.5 points per game (29th in the league) and are dead last in defensive efficiency (they give up 113.4 per 100 possessions). They still seem fairly mediocre.
Let’s hope Al Horford’s season ends much better than it has begun. There are a ton of numbers we can point out as it relates to the Celtics, but for now, we’ll focus on two: eight and 44. That’s the total number of games Horford has played and the percentage of Celtics games he’s played in. Not good.
With the 111-93 win at the Nets on Thursday night, Jason Kidd improved to 4-1 coaching against his former team at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. In terms on what happened on the court, Giannis Antenokounmpo is the truth! He had 23 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, four steals and zero turnovers.
Stan Van Gundy’s team has won four of their last five and are expecting Reggie Jackson back soon. The young guard participated in a full practice on Monday and his return seems imminent. In the interim, Ish Smith has given the Pistons good minutes, averaging 13.6 points, 4.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game over his last five.
14. New York Knicks (Overall: 9-9, Last Week: 14)
Don’t look now, but the Knicks are 6-3 in their last nine and just outlasted the T-Wolves and a 47-point, 18-rebound effort from Karl-Anthony Towns. Kristaps Porzingis had 29 points, eight boards and four assists, but the most welcomed sight for Knicks fans? Carmelo Anthony hitting game-winning shots in two recent games, against the Wolves and the Hornets last Friday.
13. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 10-7, Last Week: 13)
Impressively enough, the Bulls went 4-2 on their six-game road trip and have quietly played 11 of their 17 games on the road. Call it crazy, but even though these guys haven’t won consecutive games in over two weeks, they seem to be in pretty good shape.
In Wednesday night’s 96-90 win at the Bulls, the starters for the Lakers were outscored by the bench, 56-40. Sitting pretty at .500, even without D’Angelo Russell, these guys are finding ways to win games. If you don’t truly believe that Luke Walton is changing the culture for these Lakers, you might be a hater.
Losers of seven of their last eight, the Hawks have sputtered. More concerning than the losses, though, are Paul Millsap’s concerns over his left hip. Millsap missed Wednesday’s 109-107 loss at the Suns and the club wasn’t able to pull out a win, even after getting 31 points from Dennis Schroder. Let’s hope he’s back soon.
Gordon Hayward didn’t get enough help on Thursday night, as the Jazz dropped a 111-110 home loss to the HEAT. The loss snapped the club’s four-game win streak. Rudy Gobert only registered six points, ending a double-double streak for him that was also at four games. Coincidence? Probably not.
All eyes are on (and all prayers are with) Mike Conley, one of the league’s warmest and most personable players. Conley suffered a vertebral fracture in the team’s 104-85 home loss to the Hornets on Monday. Andrew Harrison may be starting for the foreseeable future, and his 16-point, six-assist averages through two may be a tiny saving grace.
Team Kemba has responded to their four-game losing streak by winning three straight. Their latest victims were the Mavs on Thursday night, 97-87. You’d think a 3-4 stretch isn’t that great, but the skid of the Hawks has the Hornets somewhat improbably leading the Southeast.
With nine triple-doubles in his team’s first 20 games, Russell Westbrook has everyone talking. Even more impressive than his averaging a triple-double, though, is the fact that over his past five games, he’s averaging 13.4 rebounds and 13.2 assists. Best of all? After winning four straight, the Thunder are atop the Northwest Division.
James Harden’s 29 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists on Thursday night gave him his fourth triple-double of the season and helped the Rockets end the 12-game win streak of the mighty Warriors. The Rockets shot 14-for-44 from distance and have hit at least 10 three-pointers in 18 games this season. That’s an NBA record.
It was all good just a week ago… the Cavs suffered a 17-point loss to the Bucks on Tuesday and followed it up with a 113-94 home loss to the Clippers on Thursday. They’ve quietly played just six road games thus far and we fear they may get bored with their superiority out East. No panic, but we’ve gotta point out that the sense of urgency has been missing lately.
The Raptors have won four in a row and lead the Celtics and Knicks by two and three games in the division, respectfully. One issue is that they rank just 25th in defensive efficiency, a far cry from last season’s rank of 11th. Quietly, our biggest concern for the Raps is their relatively weak strength of schedule, though they did best the Rockets recently.
Thursday’s pummeling of the Cavs was a feel-good win for the Clips that reminded everyone how good they are, but that in and of itself could not excuse last week’s three consecutive losses to the Pistons, Pacers and Nets. They’ll live to fight for numero uno another day, but for now, the reign at the top stops at three weeks.
Somehow, the Spurs have managed to win their first 11 road games while somehow going just 4-4 at home in San Antonio. The loss to the Magic on Tuesday leaves a bad taste in our mouths, but the Spurs have won 10 of their last 11 and quietly clock in with the second-best record in the league. Our only concern? They’re just 13th in the league in defensive efficiency.
Even with the 12-game win streak coming to an end at the hands of the Rockets on Thursday night, the Dubs are the beneficiary of futility at the top. Thanks to three losses by the Clips, two by the Cavs and the Spurs’ home loss to the Magic, the owners of the best record in the league backed in to number one. Food for thought: In the loss to the Rockets, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson shot 13-for-42 from the field, and GS still probably should have won the game. They’re THAT good.
With the Warriors backing into the top spot, the Thunder storming and the Hawks descending, there was a fair amount of movement with regards to league’s Top 10 teams. The latter third featured much of the same, so check back next week to see whose stock rises and falls.
G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts
David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.
Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.
Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.
Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.
With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.
1. Christian Wood
Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.
His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.
2. Jameel Warney
Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.
3. Melo Trimble
After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.
He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.
4. Joel Bolomboy
Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.
At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.
5. Jeremy Evans
Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.
With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.
Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.
NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs
On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.
At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.
And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.
Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.
While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.
Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.
Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.
Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.
It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.
That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.
Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.
Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.
Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.
The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.
Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.
While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.
Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.
Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.
Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.
Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.
Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around
Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.
The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.
There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.
“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”
While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.
“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”
Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.
According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).
But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.
“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”
He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.
“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”
As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.
When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.
“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”
Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.
“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”
So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?
“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.
“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”
Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.
In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.
“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.
“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”
Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.
“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”
One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.
“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”