Post All Star Break: NBA Power Rankings
By Jason Katze
- Milwaukee Bucks (47-8) – The Giannis-led Bucks have been surging this year, with a league-best record of 46-8. Giannis is currently the frontrunner for MVP, with averages of 30 PPG, 13.5 RPG, and 5.8 APG. Not only that, but Giannis just had a child, who is possibly a good luck charm. Giannis took to Twitter to say “Look at Fred VanVleet. He Started Making All Those Shots When He Had His Kid. Maybe That Happens To Me Also.” The “Greek Freak” isn’t the only star on the team though, as Khris Middleton has also kept up his performance from last year, earning a spot on the All-Star team, with a shooting % slash line of 50.1/43.8/90.2.
- Los Angeles Lakers (41-12) – Ever since the addition of Anthony Davis over the summer, the Lakers have looked like a whole new team this year, getting valuable minutes from Danny Green, JaVale McGee, and Dwight Howard. LeBron is halfway through his 17th season and continues to show no signs of slowing down, averaging a cool 24.8 PPG, 7.7 RPG, and a league-leading 10.7 APG. He continues to rise on the all-time leaderboards in many categories, most notably scoring. In January, LeBron passed the late legend Kobe Bryant for 3rd in all-time scoring. I want whatever he is putting in those tacos!
- Los Angeles Clippers (37-18) – With the surprise addition of Paul George to go along with Kawhi Leonard this past summer, the Clippers seemed like the favorites to win it all. Their combination of defense, athleticism, and grit seemed (and still seems) impossible to beat. Though the Clippers are rumored to have gone through some chemistry issues, they sit 3rd in the West at 37-18, and that’s with the two superstars missing 35 combined games. The team added Marcus Morris at the trade deadline, who provides excellent scoring and three-point shooting. Although the load management for Leonard and George may cost them a 1-seed, it could pay off greatly in the playoffs.
- Toronto Raptors (40-15) – After winning the championship last year, the Raptors lost their all-time best player, Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers. Still, the Raptors came out with a 25-15 record to start the year, and recently went on a 15-game win streak, dethroning the Heat and Celtics for second in the East. Career years from Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, as well as the usual All-Star year from Kyle Lowry, have helped keep the Raptors in contention. Siakam, who won the 2018-19 Most Improved Player, has made an even bigger improvement this year, earning a spot as an All-Star starter. The Raptors are undoubtedly a title contender this year.
- Boston Celtics (38-16) – At the beginning of this past off-season, it seemed like the Celtics had very little going for them; Kyrie Irving and Al Horford were leaving, Gordon Hayward was nowhere close to the player he was in Utah, and young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were still early in their development. Then, out of nowhere, the Celtics were given an injection of hope and promise: Kemba Walker. With the additions of Kemba Walker and other players like Enes Kanter, the Celtics have been able to shine this year. Tatum and Brown are having career years, in fact, Tatum earned his first All-Star selection this year. Even Gordon Hayward has been better, giving the Celtics several 30-point games, helping them earn the 3-seed in the East.
- Denver Nuggets (38-17) – The Nuggets have been one of the most consistent teams in the league over the past few years, earning the 2-seed last year and currently holding the second seed this year. Nikola Jokic continues to be one of the best passing bigs in the league, averaging 6.9 assists. While the team is led by the Joker, it boasts one of the deepest rotations in the league, with major contributions from Mason Plumlee and rookie Michael Porter Jr. off the bench. Look for the Joker & Co. to try to upset juggernauts like the Clippers or Lakers in the playoffs.
- Miami Heat (35-20) – The Miami Heat looked like they were in the worst position in the NBA after last season. They had no cap space, lots of terrible contracts, no star player, and no great young talent. They were given a blessing when superstar Jimmy Butler decided he wanted to sign with them. The Heat traded away Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside to get Jimmy Butler, which opened the way for surprise stars like Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, and best of all, Bam Adebayo, to get more minutes in the rotation. Adebayo has become one of the most improved players of the season, averaging 16 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 4.9 APG. Duncan Robinson is 5th in made three pointers this year and Kendrick Nunn is arguably second in the race for Rookie of The Year. The Heat also have young stars like Tyler Herro and Derrick Jones Jr. giving them exciting minutes off the bench. Note to NBA defenders: if you see Derrick Jones Jr. coming towards you with the ball, get out of the way!
- Utah Jazz (36-18) – The Jazz made what was probably the second biggest trade of the offseason, sending Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, and several picks to the Grizzlies for star point guard Mike Conley. With the addition of several other players in free agency, including star forward Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Jazz have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch. They traded for 6th Man of The Year candidate Jordan Clarkson earlier this year. As soon as he hit the floor, Utah went on a 10-game win streak. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert have both made the All-Star team and are looking to take Utah deep in the playoffs.
- Houston Rockets (35-20) – The Rockets made one of the most surprising moves of the offseason when they traded star Chris Paul and draft compensation for former MVP Russell Westbrook. Many were not sure whether they could work together, because both players had the highest usage in the NBA over the last several seasons. Though they are both ball-dominant, the Rockets have worked out for the most part this year, as Harden averages over 35 PPG and Westbrook continues to be the star player he was when Houston traded for him. The Rockets decided that one surprise wasn’t enough, as they traded away starting center Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks for forward Robert Covington in a 4-team trade. This trade left Houston without a formidable center to start. Since then, the Rockets have been running a lineup with an average height of 6’4”. Many question whether Houston will be able to succeed without any starting-level big men. We’ll see how “The Beard” and “Brodie” compensate for the lack of a center for the rest of the season.
- Philadelphia 76ers (35-21) – The 76ers added Josh Richardson and Al Horford after the loss of Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick during the offseason. Many thought that this could be the year of The Process, but so far that has not panned out. Sitting just 5th in the Eastern Conference, the 76ers continue to disappoint, as there seems to be major chemistry issues at play. There are rumors swirling throughout the league that this season could be Joel Embiid’s last as a 76er. He recently had an interesting interaction last week with Heat superstar Jimmy Butler, which makes it seem like he’s interested in joining Butler down in South Beach.. Even without the chemistry issues, Ben Simmons, who is still a beast, is unwilling or unable to shoot three pointers, while Josh Richardson and Joel Embiid are continuously injured. Only time will tell how this Sixers team does in the playoffs, but there have been lots of red flags throughout this season.
- Indiana Pacers (32-23) – One of the most impressive and overachieving teams of the season, the Indiana Pacers have a first time All-Star in Domantas Sabonis and have Victor Oladipo back from injury after over a year off the court. The Pacers were already top 6 in the East before the return of Oladipo, who is their best player, and now they look more dangerous than ever. It feels impossible to score on their starting lineup, with star defenders in all their starters, including Myles Turner, TJ Warren, and Malcom Brogdon, as well as Sabonis and Oladipo. They could make lots of noise in the playoffs this year, don’t underestimate this team.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (33-22) – Easily the most surprising team of the year, the Thunder are in possibly the best position in the NBA for the future. After being ousted by Damian Lillard in the playoffs last season, the Thunder decided to blow it up. They traded Paul George, who finished top 3 in MVP voting, to the Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a whopping 5 draft picks. Then, as mentioned earlier, the Thunder traded their all-time best player, Russell Westbrook, to the Rockets for Chris Paul and a couple of picks. Many expected the Thunder to be completely out of the playoff picture this year, but they have managed to go 32-22 so far and Chris Paul, who was considered by many to be “washed”, has returned to the All-Star Game. The Thunder are winning now and have the draft picks and young pieces to win in the future. Thunder Up!
- Dallas Mavericks (33-22) – Former Knicks star, Kristaps Porzingis, was traded to the Mavericks last season after suffering a torn ACL, which left many wondering how he would perform this season. Still, the Mavs decided to give “The Unicorn” a max contract this off-season. He has not come back close to the same player he was with the Knicks, but it doesn’t matter. 2018-19 Rookie of The Year Luka Doncic has quickly become one of the 10 best players in the league, dropping dimes, scoring insane baskets and leading the team to 32-22 before All-Star Break. Doncic makes the Mavs must-watch basketball and will start in the All-Star game on Sunday. While the Mavs are unlikely to make it past the first round of the playoffs, they are set for the future, as they continue to look for a third star to pair with Porzingis and Doncic.
- Memphis Grizzlies (28-27) – The Grizzlies have had a very interesting season, to put it mildly. They traded away franchise star Mike Conley as they looked to go into a complete rebuild. Several trades later, the Grizzlies made themselves one of the youngest teams in the league, led by none other than Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant. Because of their age and lack of experience, former Warrior Andre Iguodala decided not to play for them. He was traded at the trade deadline in a multi-player deal including 2015 first round pick Justise Winslow. With the addition of Winslow, the Grizzlies have an amazing young core consisting of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Josh Jackson, and more. It’s very impressive that the Grizzlies have a winning record, we’ll see how long they can keep it up.
- Portland Trailblazers (25-31) – The Blazers started the season with pretty high expectations after they reached the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive year in 2019 but have not been a match for those expectations. Sitting at 25-30, looking into the playoff picture, the Blazers find themselves in big trouble. They received star Hassan Whiteside from the Heat when Jimmy Butler decided to sign with Miami and he has done a good job replacing Jusuf Nurkic, who Portland lost to injury before the season. Despite superstar Damian Lillard putting up MVP numbers consistently, CJ McCollum putting up his normal stats, and Whiteside being a beast in the paint, the Trailblazers were trailing in a majority of their games (pardon the pun). Portland’s answer to these problems? NBA legend Carmelo Anthony. After spending more than a year on his couch, Carmelo was signed by the Blazers and started immediately. Since then, the Blazers have slowly crept out of the hole they dug themselves to start the season, but still have lots of work to do in order to get where they want to be. The return of Jusuf Nurkic could be the extra push they need to get into the playoffs, but he currently has no timetable of return.
- Brooklyn Nets (25-29) – The Nets are arguably one of the most underperforming teams in the NBA. They made a huge splash in free agency, signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, as well as role players DeAndre Jordan and Garrett Temple. Though Durant is out for the year, I expected Kyrie to be able to carry the team that is filled with depth on paper. Spencer Dinwiddie is a borderline All-Star, Jordan and Jarrett Allen are elite defensive centers, and players like Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Taurean Prince are formidable supporting pieces. Yet, it seems like they are having a hard time putting it together, currently 5 games under .500 and holding the 7 seed in the East. The reason: Kyrie Irving. He has missed 33 of the Nets’ 53 games, and now, he’s out for the year after undergoing surgery.
- San Antonio Spurs (23-31) – The Spurs haven’t been the same since the trade of Kawhi Leonard in 2018. Since then, their “Big 3” of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker have all retired. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have led the team, which is evidentially not good enough anymore. San Antonio does have one of the greatest coaches of all time in Greg Popovich, but even he can’t coach this team into winning. The problem is the star player and team’s focus on mid-range and inside scoring. In the league now, your team needs to be a threat from beyond the arc, which the Spurs, DeRozan especially, are not. They ended up doing nothing at the trade deadline, which was surprising. The Spurs already have several players with good potential, like Lonnie Walker IV, Dejounte Murray, and Derrick White, and they aren’t going anywhere this season. They could have traded Derozan and Aldridge to add to that group of young stars. We will have to wait and see what Popovich decides to do with this team in the off-season.
- Orlando Magic (24-31) – The Magic are perhaps the most mediocre team in the NBA. While they have several solid contributors in Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, and Markelle Fultz, they have no real star power and have lots of players signed to large, head-scratching contracts. The Magic do have some hope for building future success. They swung and hit at the trade deadline last year, when they traded Jonathon Simmons and a first rounder for Fultz, who was having no success in Philadelphia after being taken first in 2017. With new surroundings, Fultz has been able to thrive and become a solid starting point guard for Orlando. They have other young stars like Jonothan Isaac and Mo Bamba, who show potential. The next few years are not the years we’ll see the best of the Magic, but with some maneuvering by the front office, they could look good in 3-4 years.
- New Orleans Pelicans (23-32) – Last season, superstar Anthony Davis made it clear that he was no longer going to play for the Pelicans. Luckily, they were blessed with the first pick in this year’s draft and draft Duke prodigy Zion Williamson. Not only that, but they were able to get compensation for AD that set them up for years to come. They received Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and loads of picks for Davis. Though he’s no AD, Brandon Ingram has turned into an All-Star this season and is on pace to win the 2019-20 Most Improved Player award. An injury in the preseason set Williamson’s debut back and it hurt the Pelicans significantly. They couldn’t seem to get close to .500 and clearly needed help. Since his return, the Pelicans have won a majority of their games and he is averaging close to 20 PPG. Though they are not going anywhere this season, look for the team to make noise in the West as soon as next season.
- Sacramento Kings (22-33) – The Kings are still waiting for their continuous losing seasons and lottery picks to pan out, as they sit at 21-32 and 12th in the West. They have a handful of elite young talent in De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bojan Bogdonavic, Marvin Bagley, and Harry Giles, but these players do not mesh together well. Hield and Bogdonavic fight each other for minutes and head coach Luke Walton can’t seem to find a way to get the best production out of Hield, who has continuously complained about his usage and may ask for a trade at the end of the season. Besides this, it is mostly just a waiting game for the Kings. Once players like Fox and Bagley realize their full potential, the league better watch out. For now, the Kings aren’t worth watching.
- Phoenix Suns (22-33) – The Suns are in a similar situation as the Kings, they have loads of talent, but have yet to put it together. One of their biggest holes last season was a point guard who could pass and play defense. They got what they were looking for this past off-season, signing Ricky Rubio. Though they may have overpaid for him, he allows Devin Booker to play more freely. Booker has been a star for several seasons, and this season he earned a spot in his first All-Star game. With Booker already being a star, the development of young talents Deandre Ayton, Kelly Oubre, and Mikal Bridges is important for them to contend for a playoff spot. The Suns could also use some bench help, but that will come over time. When Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker hit their primes, the Suns will be a contender, so it’s a matter of waiting for that to happen and surrounding them with good role players.
- Washington Wizards (20-33) – Unfortunately for the Wizards, John Wall is unable to stay healthy in his own home, as he tore his Achilles after falling in his home, right after he signed a supermax contract with the team. Besides star Bradley Beal, the Wizards have very little. Rui Hachimura, their 2019 first round pick, has shown flashes of potential, but they have no real contributors besides that. The Wizards are one of the worst run organizations in the league.
- Chicago Bulls (19-37) – Despite having a star in Zach LaVine and promising talent in Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and Coby White, the Bulls have not improved since losing Jimmy Butler in 2017. The talent is clearly there, but the results are simply not improving. It might be best to completely gut the Bulls front office and go from there.
- Detroit Pistons (19-39) – The Pistons made the most questionable trade of this offseason by trading star Andre Drummond for Brandon Knight, John Henson, and a second round pick. Drummond, who the Pistons did not want to pay, is the best rebounder in the world and is also an elite shot blocker. Without Drummond, the Pistons have injury-riddled stars in Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin, who are far beyond their prime. With these stars and a lack of depth otherwise, the Pistons are sitting on a fence between the 8th seed and being completely terrible. All three of these teams should choose a direction and go all-in.
- Charlotte Hornets (19-36) – The team owned by Michael Jordan continued to make senseless moves this offseason when they lost out on retaining Kemba Walker and instead signed “Scary Terry” Rozier. They gave him 58 million dollars over three years, despite his mediocre play in his last season with Boston. They did find a diamond in the rough though, as Devonte Graham has broken out this season and has given fans hope that the Hornets are not going to be horrible forever. The team has recognized how bad it is and is in a complete rebuild. They recently released former starters in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams. Though they have little hope to fall back on, a good draft pick could turn their fortunes around.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (16-37) – The Timberwolves are one of the most made fun of teams in the league. They drafted both Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins (traded for him right after the draft) with the first pick in consecutive drafts, but neither has become the leader they hoped for. Towns has become an All-Star, but he lacks true leadership or defense, which has tainted his reputation throughout the league. When he came into the league, some people thought Andrew Wiggins could be the next Kobe Bryant (RIP), but he has shown that he isn’t even close to what Kobe was. Wiggins has been exposed as a terrible defender and an inefficient shooter. The situation wasn’t working out, so the Wolves swung for the fences. In a series of trades at the deadline, the Wolves picked up star guard D’Angelo Russell, who is best friends with Towns, and several other role players, as they got rid of Wiggins and forward Robert Covington. The new look Timberwolves have yet to really be tested out, but the pairing of Russell and Towns could be fun to watch.
- Atlanta Hawks (16-41) – The Hawks have been the worst team in the league for the whole season, as their young core of Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and DeAndre Hunter could not win games. Trae Young, who is an All-Star starter, has taken his game to the next level, averaging 29.7 PPG and 9.2 APG, but he had no help. After expressing his discontent with the constant losing, the Hawks made several trades, including the move to acquire Jeff Teague and Clint Capela. With Capela, the Hawks get rebounding and interior defense. Jeff Teague, who has played for the team in the past, gives them good leadership and scoring off the bench. The Hawks will continue to make moves to improve their roster, but for now, they are not that threatening.
- New York Knicks (17-38) – The Knicks, besides the Hornets, are the saddest franchise in the league. Though they are in New York and have had tons of cap space, they have been unable to attract any star players. The saddest part is that they traded star Kristaps Porzingis for practically nothing last season in order to make room for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They ended up whiffing on both and didn’t get the first pick in the draft. The team has had top picks in each of the last 3 or 4 seasons but have been unable to pick up young star talent. Frank Ntilinka, Kevin Knox, and Dennis Smith, who they got from the Porzingis trade, have not become anything and don’t really show any signs of major improvement. The only signs of potential they show is in their first rounder from this year, RJ Barrett, elite shot-blocker Mitchell Robinson, and Julius Randle. If Barrett can become a star, the Knicks may be able to attract star free agents. Until then, Knicks fans will have to sit in a deep depression.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (14-40) – The Cavs have several young stars in Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, and Kevin Porter Jr. They still have Kevin Love from the Cavs super team of 2016 and they just traded for Andre Drummond, but other than that, the team is not very exciting. Though they are going through a rough time after the departure of Lebron, they are moving in the right direction and could look to contend for a playoff spot in a few years.
- Golden State Warriors (12-44) – Last and very much least, the Warriors have not had the season they thought they would have. People weren’t really sure how they’d perform after the departure of superstar Kevin Durant and the injury of Klay Thompson. Still, they were able to sign D’Angelo Russell this offseason and keep some decent depth that could help them make a playoff run. Four games in, Stephen Curry had to undergo surgery for a left hand injury suffered after Aron Baynes fell on his hand. The fit with D’Angelo Russell turned out to be terrible and the Dubs traded him away, along with several others. They got Andrew Wiggins, but they have no depth at all and are by far the worst team in the league until Curry returns. With the returns of Curry and Thompson next year, the Warriors could return to contention, but for now, they are terrible.
Header Photo Credit: Magic Social Media
Clippers Photo Credit: Clippers Social Media
76ers Photo Credit: 76ers Social Media
Grizzlies Photo Credit: Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Magic Photo Credit: Magic Social Media
Suns Photo Credit: Barry Gossage
Timberwolves Photo Credit: Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images