Monday, February 17, 2014
I haven't done Power Rankings in a while, but don't fear, they're back in time for the All-Star Break! Here is how all the teams stack up at the All-Star Break!
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-12): The Thunder are playing the best basketball of any team in the NBA right now, and what's scary is that they're doing this without the help of Russell Westbrook, who may be back this Thursday. Kevin Durant is averaging 31.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game and is hands down the MVP of the NBA this season. If he is able to play like this with a healthy Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are going to be the team to beat in the Western Conference.
2. Indiana Pacers (40-12): The Pacers are in the bottom third in points per game (98.5) and yet they are #1 in the NBA in average point differential (+8.2). That speaks to their defensive ability and in my opinion makes them the #1 defense in the NBA hands down. If they can secure home court in the Eastern Conference, I expect Paul George to take the Pacers all the way to the NBA Finals in June.
3. Miami Heat (37-14): LeBron James' game winner in Oakland to beat the Warriors sort of was his way of saying "Don't forget what I can do!" when it comes to being a guy who can close games. He may not be winning MVP this season, but he still is the best player in the NBA and will once again be the only guy that stands in the way of the Pacers and a championship. The road to a title still goes through Miami until somebody knocks them off.
4. Houston Rockets (36-17): Before the season started, the Rockets were viewed by many as a sleeper pick to win the West. Now that they've won 7 straight games, with wins over the Spurs, Mavericks, and Suns, the Rockets may be starting to find their stride at the right time.
5. San Antonio Spurs (38-15): The Spurs are quietly still a top 5 team in the NBA, and are currently the #2 team in the West behind the Thunder. By quietly I mean very quietly. Like a ninja sneaking through a dark forest kinda quiet. Don't be shocked if they pounce on everybody in the West and once again reach the Finals.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (37-18): Chris Paul is back and they hardly missed a beat with him gone. That has to greatly concern their other Western Conference foes.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (36-17): In the past month they've fallen to the Rockets, Thunder, Warriors, Grizzlies, Wizards, Pacers, and Clippers. I'm not saying they aren't contenders, but they gotta start getting some wins over those teams before the playoffs start to regain some confidence.
8. Phoenix Suns (30-21): At some point you just gotta say that this team isn't a fluke and that there is something to their success. They still may miss the playoffs, but it won't be because they were a fluke. This team is good, and I expect Goran Dragic to play with a chip on his shoulder as a result of getting snubbed from the All-Star Game. Ironically, getting snubbed may end up doing the Suns more good than had he made the team.
9. Golden State Warriors (31-22): The Warriors have a better record at this point of the season than they did last season, so I'm not sure why Mark Jackson's seat is "hot". I'm confused.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (29-23): This team is just waiting to get everybody back healthy. Specifically Mike Conley, Jr. and Tony Allen. It'll be interesting to see if this team makes any more trades before the deadline or if the are confident that they can make some noise with what they have.
11. Dallas Mavericks (32-22): Old man Dirk Nowitzki is still playing really well, earning another All-Star Game appearance thanks to his 21.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. He and Monta Ellis certainly seem to be forming a solid one-two punch.
12. Chicago Bulls (27-25): For the second year in a row this team faces an uphill battle without Derrick Rose and they'll once again make the playoffs and probably win a series because they simply play harder than their opponents. Make no mistake, trading Luol Deng wasn't waiving the white flag, it was actually just allowing room for the arrival of Nikola Mirotic, who has been playing really well in Spain for Real Madrid. This team won't go down without a fight.
13. Toronto Raptors (28-24): Due to the horrible nature of the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division specifically, the Raptors suddenly realize they are actually sorta kinda a contender since they are leading their division. As a result, Kyle Lowry probably stays past the trade deadline unless somebody really gives them an offer that they can't refuse.
14. Atlanta Hawks (26-27): The acquisition of Paul Millsap truly has been mutually beneficial both for Millsap and the Hawks. Millsap gets an All-Star appearance and the Hawks get a guy who can keep the team motoring along without Al Horford. This team won't make any noise in the playoffs, but they should feel good having Paul Millsap locked up for the foreseeable future.
15. Washington Wizards (25-27): This really isn't that bad of a team. John Wall and Bradley Beal are forming a fantastic young back court and Nene is a solid guy in the front court. What nobody is talking about though is how disappointing Otto Porter, Jr. has been (1.6 points, 1.5 rebounds, and .4 assists). The dude was supposed to be the most "NBA ready" rookie in the draft class of 2013.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-28): In my previous blog post, I suggested the Timberwolves strike a deal with the Suns that would get Kevin Love off their hands in exchange for some nice assets. I don't think it will happen, but if the Wolves had any brains, they'd pull the trigger on such a deal.
17. Charlotte Bobcats (23-30): I still think this is a team capable of being above .500 if they can stay healthy. The Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Al Jefferson, and Gerald Henderson quartette is actually pretty solid especially in the East. They currently sit as the #8 seed in the Eastern Conference, but don't be shocked if they gain a little ground and catch the Hawks to get into that #5 spot.
18. Brooklyn Nets (24-27): Their ceiling remains rather limited with Brook Lopez done for the year, but I'm happy to see them wake up and start playing decent basketball. They'll make the playoffs without a doubt, and possibly win a series if they can avoid the #7 or #8 spot.
19. New Orleans Pelicans (23-29): The team itself may not be very good, but Anthony Davis sure is. They have to like their future purely because they have him. Now they just need to figure out if the want to hang on to both Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. Of course, the absence of Jrue Holiday hasn't helped so perhaps they'll just wanna see what they got for the rest of the year and not make any trades at the deadline.
20. Denver Nuggets (24-27): The Nuggets banishing Andre Miller has to be one of the weirdest stories in all of sports right now and certainly the strangest story in the NBA this season. Nate Robinson has torn his ACL, Danilo Gallinari is done for the year due to his ACL, JaVale McGee is likely done for the year due to the stress fracture in his leg, and the team still won't bring back Andre Miller. They also are thinking about trading Kenneth Faried. I don't know where in heaven's name this team is going, but it certainly doesn't look promising.
21. Detroit Pistons (22-30): I don't think Mo Cheeks deserved to be fired. The reality is that management overpaid for Josh Smith and have put together a team that doesn't properly suit the talents of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond who are forming a very formidable front court.
22. Utah Jazz (19-33): Since Trey Burke's return from his hand injury, the Jazz are playing close to .500 ball on the year. They certainly seem to have found their franchise point guard and in the process have quality pieces around him. This team should take comfort in knowing that failing to get a top 3 or even top 5 pick in this upcoming draft wouldn't be the end of the world.
23. New York Knicks (20-32): The Knicks should feel embarrassed about their poor performance this season. Andrea Bargnani was obviously a waste of money and the acquisition of Metta World Peace was truly a dud.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-33): This whole franchise is a train-wreck and it starts with their moronic owner Dan Gilbert. I don't see Kyrie Irving sticking with this team. Not because of the city or the fans, but because of Gilbert and his idiotic behavior.
25. Boston Celtics (19-35): They clearly need Rajon Rondo to be healthy. This team is running on fumes.
26. Los Angeles Lakers (18-35): Being lottery bound might be the best thing for this team for the future. Goodbye Kobe Bryant, hello Jabari Parker?
27. Sacramento Kings (18-35): DeMarcus Cousins is the only reason for this team to have any faith in a prosperous future.
28. Orlando Magic (16-38): They're heading for a top 5 pick it looks like, which for them wouldn't be all that bad.
29. Philadelphia 76ers (15-39): They are likely going to trade either Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, or Thaddeus Young for draft picks. Possibly all three or at least a couple of them. This team is looking to build around Michael Carter-Williams and hopefully Nerlens Noel.
30. Milwaukee Bucks (9-43): This team is so bad that they truly deserve the #1 pick. This city needs a basketball B12 shot in their arms, and getting the #1 pick would do the trick.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord
Sunday, February 9, 2014
The Minnesota Timberwolves are having another frustrating season and are currently sitting at the #11 spot in the Western Conference with a sub .500 record. While the team around him is struggling, Kevin Love has been playing like a Super Star, averaging 25.6 points, 13.3 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. It's no secret that Kevin Love is the only reason the Timberwolves have gone from being a cellar-dweller of the NBA to being a team that is "kind of in the mix for a playoff spot, but not really". If their sub-par play wasn't enough of an indicator, the broken thumb of Kevin Martin should be enough to indicate for all intents and purposes that the Timberwolves are not making the playoffs this season.
With that in mind, and Kevin Love being able to opt-out of his contract in the Summer of 2015, the Timberwolves are faced with the exact same dilemma that the Utah Jazz faced with Deron Williams back in the 2010-11 NBA season. The dilemma is do you try to keep Love all the way until free agency and cross your fingers that you can convince him to re-sign with the risk of losing him for nothing or do you face the music and realize that you must trade him so as not get the "LeBron James treatment" which is what happened when the Cavaliers lost LeBron James to free agency without getting anything substantial in return. I personally think that the Timberwolves' front office captained by Flip Saunders is smart enough to realize that Love isn't going to re-sign with the team unless a miracle happens such as winning a first round playoff series. Since that miracle isn't going to happen, I will argue that there are very good odds that the Timberwolves trade Kevin Love before the deadline with the Phoenix Suns being his destination.
Now it should be noted that the idea of Kevin Love going to the Suns isn't stemming from any rumor that I've heard but rather has come from my own intuition and personal trade radar or "trade-dar" or whatever you want to call it. The reason why I think the Valley of the Sun is a possible destination for Kevin Love is because the Phoenix Suns have already been rumored to be interested in acquiring a quality big man such as the Lakers' Pau Gasol or the Grizzlies' Zach Randolph at the trade deadline. More importantly, they also have the assets to pull off such a deal due to the fact that they have four first round picks and the expiring contract of Emeka Okafor to dangle out in front of teams. It should be noted that two of those first round picks are heavily protected, but even so, that doesn't take away from the fact that they have some attractive assets to offer teams in order to land a star such as Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol, or as I would like to put forth, Kevin Love.
Now while the Suns do have the assets to acquire Kevin Love in a trade with the Timberwolves, why would they roll the dice on a guy who could just opt out in 2015 and leave them high and dry for the Lakers, which is his rumored destination preference? The answer lies in the fact that the Suns are showing much more signs of promise than the Timberwolves are largely due to having an upgrade at the point guard position in Goran Dragic who can actually score the basketball unlike Ricky Rubio. The Phoenix Suns should feel confident in their ability to retain Kevin Love in free agency if they make the playoffs with him and make some noise in the first round. They could convince him that he is the missing ingredient to competitive playoff basketball in Phoenix and could be what gets them back into the mix of being a championship contending team. What Kevin Love seems to be most frustrated with in Minnesota is the front office, and I think if he landed in Phoenix, he would quickly warm to both their front office and excellent rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek.
The bottom line of all this is that if Kevin Love does get traded to the Suns, just tell people you first heard it from me! It doesn't have a high probability of happening since there aren't any real rumors to back this up, but this is the kind of deal that smells of being one of those trades where you wake up in the morning and are like "Did that seriously just happen?" as was the case for me when the Jazz traded away Deron Williams. However, what we do know is that the Suns are eager to trade away their assets to acquire a big name player on the front court and the Timberwolves are starting to face the music that Kevin Love isn't going to stick around past free agency. The Timberwolves could look at the Suns and tell themselves that the Suns can offer as good of a deal as they can expect for Love with their four draft picks, expiring contract of Emeka Okafor, and maybe even some promising young players like Miles Plumlee and/or Alex Len. The respective goals of each front office could create the perfect storm for a stunning trade at the trade deadline.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord
Monday, February 3, 2014
As the 2013-14 NBA season began, the Utah Jazz were viewed as one of the teams bound for the draft lottery and likely a top three pick in the NBA Draft. That was viewed as a good thing since this upcoming draft is beyond stacked with talent. But while they are still lottery bound, they don't appear to be heading for the very bottom of the standings either, which means that they likely will not get a top three pick in the draft. After starting the season 1-14, the Jazz have played just about .500 ball since, with a 15-16 record over their last 31 games. But while this may seem terrible for the Jazz since they are likely missing out on Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins, I will argue why it is actually good that they are winning games, and not losing games to rack up ping-pong balls for the lottery.
The first reason why it is good that they are winning games is the fact that they are winning games with their young and promising players leading the way. This isn't like last season where Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were leading the way to victories, rather it is the young group of Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, and Enes Kanter. According 82games.com, that lineup is the most successful unit for the Jazz, which means that the Jazz already have a quality young core of guys to build around. It appears as though the addition of Trey Burke at point guard was all that this young Jazz team needed in order to become competitive for the long haul.
Secondly, the Jazz have already built this team through the draft. At some point, you no longer need more draft picks, but you just need your young players to grow and develop. That seems to be the case here. I mean, what do the Jazz need now? They don't need a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, a power forward, or a center. What they actually need is a more quality bench to back those guys up, not another super talented rookie to develop. Don't get me wrong, the Jazz would welcome Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, or Dante Exum with open arms, but they aren't in the same level of crisis mode as the Milwaukee Bucks, who are doing everything in their power to tank. The Bucks need somebody to have hope for the future in, whereas the Jazz already have five guys in Burke, Burks, Hayward, Favors, and Kanter!
Finally, the Jazz are still going to miss the playoffs, which last I checked still gives them a shot for a top 3 pick. Teams with the worst record in the NBA have only a 25% chance of winning the #1 pick, and it isn't any higher than that. The lottery is designed to help the bad teams out, but also discourage tanking in the process. Teams with the worst records frequently get burned and don't end up with the #1 or even #2 pick. Heck, the Chicago Bulls won the 2008 NBA Draft lottery to get Derrick Rose with a 1.7 percent chance of winning!! So if the Jazz go into the lottery with even a 15 percent chance of winning the lottery, they still could win it or at the very least get a top three pick.
The bottom line is that the Jazz should be happy with how the season is going. They're winning games with their young players, building for the future, and still giving themselves a chance to get a high lottery pick. What would better than for the Jazz than to actually win some games, build confidence in these young guys, and in the process get the top pick? That would be the best outcome, and that outcome could very well happen. So while many people around the league and people in the state of Utah are grumbling about the Jazz winning, just remember that this winning is good for the development of these young players who are the future of the franchise. The future of the Jazz is on the court right now and it looks pretty pretty good as it is. Jazz fans really shouldn't be fretting about not getting a high pick in this year's draft unless they know that the next LeBron James is in this draft, which doesn't appear to be the case.
---Ben Parker: follow me on twitter @nba_lord