NBA Power Rankings: There’s Plenty To Appreciate About The Grizzlies
Ah, All-Star week is here. Isn’t it beautiful? Just one week after getting smacked down by the Warriors, we could see Russell Westbrook flanked by Kevin Durant once more, along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, for kicks. Is Steve Kerr that much of a masochist? We’ll soon find out. The mixing and matching of the All-Star Game is always fun, and since Zach LaVine’s out for the season and will miss the Dunk Contest, an extension of the league’s best beef is all we have to hold onto right now. Maybe Mark Cuban in the celebrity game, if you’re one of those types of people.
The weekend can’t get here soon enough, but until then, here are new Power Rankings. After all, the players aren’t the only ones who could use a break sometimes.
30. Brooklyn Nets (9–45)
Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -8.1
A small positive takeaway—the Nets’ defense has been incrementally improving. Small sample size, and their offense has been league-worst in this span, but over the past seven games, their D has been the fifth-most efficient in the league. Baby steps.
29. Orlando Magic (20–36)
Last Week: 28
Net Rating: -6.7
Things have obviously been rough on the basketball side here, and now the word is Aaron Gordon’s foot injury could keep him out of the dunk contest. This should make nobody happy.
28. Phoenix Suns (17–38)
Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -5.8
1) I stand by all my Devin Booker excitement from last week, but 2) his dumb feud with Troy Daniels was…extremely dumb. Journeymen like Daniels who find ways to hang around warrant respect, and Booker can’t even legally drink. It was a heat of the moment mistake, and he tried to run it back a little.
27. Milwaukee Bucks (23–30)
Last Week: 25
Net Rating: +0.5
It’s tough to express how difficult it was to watch Jabari Parker tear his ACL a second time, and also hard to articulate the exact long-term implications for the Bucks. Milwaukee lost Parker on the same day Khris Middleton returned to the lineup from his hamstring injury. With the ascendance of Giannis aside, not much has broken happily for these guys in the greater scheme of things, and though they’re just a game and a half out of the playoffs in a muddled race, right now there isn’t a ton of reason to be optimistic for the short term. Antetokounmpo’s buzzer beater at the Garden feels like forever ago.
There’s no doubt Parker will make it all the way back, but you do have to wonder what type of player he’ll be when he returns. His first ACL tear brought back a bouncer, stronger player after he attacked his rehab with gusto and was able to address concerns about his conditioning in the process. Now, the issue is how much he’ll regain in terms of explosiveness, which proved vital to his impressive scoring leap this season. Parker remains an exceptionally skilled player with mental chops and makeup beyond his years, but now he’s looking at a year of rehab going into a summer in which he’ll be a restricted free agent. He’s only 21 years old, but how many guys come all the way back from multiple knee surgeries?
The Bucks will have to hope Parker remains a unique case study, and now face added uncertainty in their rebuild process. There should now be more minutes for Thon Maker, less pressure on Middleton right away and more room to experiment. Giannis’s workload remains heavy. It all depends on how badly Milwaukee wants to push for the postseason from here. An optimist would look at their pieces, look at the upcoming draft lottery and tell you there should be no rush.
26. Los Angeles Lakers (19–37)
Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -6.3
The rumor mill suggests the Lakers want to move their vets at the deadline. The reason for skepticism: what of substance can you really get for Swaggy P, Lou Williams or Luol Deng and his albatross contract on the free market?
25. Philadelphia 76ers (20–34)
Last Week: 26
Net Rating: -6.2
Here’s a sentence Sixers fans have been subconsciously dreading for the last six months at minimum: Why is Joel Embiid dancing shirtless on stage at a Meek Mill concert with a partially torn meniscus?
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (21–34)
Last Week: 22
Net Rating: -1.0
It looked like this situation was about to turn around, but a mostly rotten start to February has prevented the Wolves from gaining much traction for that last playoff spot. Losing obviously sucks, but adding another lottery pick to this talented mix won’t hurt.
23. New York Knicks (23–33)
Last Week: 21
Net Rating: -3.3
Well, on the bright side, the whole Free Oakley movement has given the Knicks a damage control situation to monitor that Carmelo Anthony can watch from the sidelines.
22. Charlotte Hornets (24–30)
Last Week: 20
Net Rating: +0.4
It’s pretty clear the Hornets miss last year’s bench depth, with Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee creating usable combinations and taking scoring pressure off the starting units, namely Kemba Walker. After losing nine of 10 games, Charlotte sorely needs the All-Star break, and will have to hit the ground running as a five-game road swing looms afterward.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (21–34)
Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -2.2
If and when the Pelicans get this Jahlil Okafor trade done, I’m all for it, and only partially because I want a massive NBA team-up of Chicago-bred players. Maybe Anthony Davis can cover for him on defense and make it work. New Orleans needs more talent, period. Why not?
20. Sacramento Kings (23–32)
Last Week: 23
Net Rating: -3.4
Look who just beat Golden State, Boston and Atlanta in one week. Also, look! It’s Willie Cauley-Stein!
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) February 9, 2017
19. Chicago Bulls (26–29)
Last Week: 18
Net Rating: -1.3
The Bulls only dressed 10 players on Sunday in a game that was somewhat ironically against Tom Thibodeau and the Wolves, and unsurprisingly devolved into a 117–89 disaster and also gave us the indisputable lowlight of the season for Chicago. See below.
— Born Salty (@cjzero) February 12, 2017
18. Portland Trail Blazers (23–31)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -2.0
The trade winds are blowing, the smoke signals have gone up, and it’s not a bad time to evaluate where Portland stands these days. Mason Plumlee is headed to the Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkic and a first in this year’s draft that originally belonged to Memphis. The Blazers also sent their 2018 second-rounder. It’s an interesting deal for both sides, and could certainly point to continued movement on Portland’s end as they continue to reckon with all the money they handed out last summer.
Ben Golliver broke down this trade as well as anyone can, so let’s skip some of that nitty-gritty, but basically, the Blazers’ cap situation forced their own hand with Plumlee about to be a restricted free agent and in line for a nice payday that they couldn’t really afford. Nurkic is still cheap and talented enough to gamble on, and netting a first in the current climate (deep draft, spiking salary cap) is a solid return.
Now the Blazers have three firsts in this year’s draft—their own and picks belonging to the Grizzlies and Cavs. What if we spin this forward? Does Portland hypothetically have enough to deal for a star? Rumor has it Meyers Leonard could be on the move. If they’re willing to move C.J. McCollum and picks, finding a better defensive compliment for Damian Lillard could certainly be in play. McCollum’s max extension doesn’t kick in until July, so matching salaries makes this tricky in-season and could require third teams, et cetera. But in essence, doesn’t McCollum and a couple firsts for, say, Jimmy Butler make sense?
Let me stop myself there. Just keep an eye on the Blazers for the next week or so.
17. Dallas Mavericks (22–32)
Last Week: 15
Net Rating: -1.5
Deron Williams is back, the Mavs continue to play much-improved basketball, Dirk just had back-toback 20-point games for the first time this year, and Mark Cuban is beefing with Donald Trump on Twitter. In other words, it actually feels sort of normal in Dallas right now.
16. Denver Nuggets (24–30)
Last Week: 16
Net Rating: -2.2
Nikola Jokic (who you should read about, courtesy of Lee Jenkins) just dropped 40 points at the Garden, which is extremely noteworthy. Let’s just hope Mason Plumlee ends up being worth a first-rounder.
15. Detroit Pistons (26–29)
Last Week: 17
Net Rating: 26-29
Did you know Andre Drummond has recorded a league-high 216 (!) double doubles since the start of the 2012–13 season? Now you do.
14. Miami Heat (24–31)
Last Week: 14
Net Rating: -0.9
That absurd, improbable, historically weird 13-game win streak ended with a bit of a whimper in Philadelphia, but the Heat are back in the thick of it and playing really fun basketball, to boot. Their season is basically the karmic argument against tanking.
13. Indiana Pacers (29–25)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: -0.5
The Pacers took a small step back this week, dropping three in a row to snap a seven-game win streak, including losses to the Cavs and Wizards, who they’ll need to beat to prove they belong near the top of the East. It isn’t getting any easier right now, as the Pacers pull the Spurs, then both Cleveland and Washington on a back-to-back entering the All-Star break. It’s a résume week for Indiana, and it comes at a not-great time.
12. Toronto Raptors (32–23)
Last Week: 12
Net Rating: 5.3
These Serge Ibaka-to-Toronto rumors have me intrigued, but the Raptors tend to hate trading anything of substance, so there’s also that. Regardless, the way the past month has gone, now seems like the time to switch some stuff up, one way or another.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (31–24)
Last Week: 11
Net Rating: -0.8
It was a definite positive to watch the Thunder pull together in a gritty win over the Cavs, but their continued inability to match up with the Warriors (and yes, Kevin Durant) sort of clouded the week. I read some “the Thunder are one player away” jokes on Twitter during that game… and they were mean.
10. L.A. Clippers (33–21)
Last week: 13
Net Rating: +3.7
This entire 10–13 tier was messy this week, because the Pacers beat the Thunder and the Raptors beat the Clippers, but neither the Pacers nor Raptors had a great week otherwise. Consider this a reminder that these Power Rankings are highly subjective.
9. Atlanta Hawks (31–23)
Last week: 8
Net Rating: -0.2
With Thabo Sefolosha out, versatile first-rounder DeAndre Bembry has finally started getting some run off the bench this month for the Hawks and has been pretty solid in spot minutes. Don’t be shocked if his role expands sooner than later.
8. Utah Jazz (34–21)
Last Week: 7
Net Rating: +5.7
This team misses Rodney Hood right now—he’s out again with an LCL sprain, joining a fairly long list of banged-up Jazz players this season. They’re 7–8 without him and 27–13 with him, for what that’s worth. If they can make it to April physically unscathed… I’m pretty in on Utah.
7. Washington Wizards (32–21)
Last Week: 5
Net Rating: +2.6
I caught the Wizards this week in a nail-biter at Barclays Center, and while almost losing to the Nets is not typically indicative of a great team, the Wizards have it going right now. Go watch John Wall play in person, because you’ll notice he might be an alien.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (33–23)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +1.5
There is a whole lot to appreciate about the Grizzlies, more so than last year’s bizarro, injury-plagued team. If you have a soft spot for emotionally captivating basketball and are looking to bandwagon the stretch run without feeling like you’re betraying your own fan base, Memphis is a nice place to start. Healthy, three-point shooting Marc Gasol. Healthy Mike Conley, who temporarily stumbled into being the highest-paid player in the history of basketball. The working man’s Sixth Man candidate, Zach Randolph at age 35. Vince Carter, who’s still dunking and just turned 40. Chandler Parsons is present, but more so on the internet right now. Tony Allen!
Basically, the Grizz are the cranky old men of the NBA. Exhibit A: Troy Daniels starting a fight with Devin Booker, which I mentioned briefly up in that Suns tidbit. This was a classic case of wily veterans baiting the inexperienced and mostly getting away with it, not to mention Memphis won that game handily.
The best part of this was that Alex Len got suspended, and Tyler Ulis and Marquese Chriss got fined (backing up their boy, understandable), but only Troy Daniels got fined on Memphis. I would like to think they gamed this situation with some YMCA-type scheming. This Grizzlies team have been through many a war and employed many random role players, over the years, but the attitude has always been constant, and that attitude is basically “we have Zach Randolph and Tony Allen.”
So let this be a small case study in a bigger picture that’s going to involve a first round series—preferably with the Rockets or Clippers for entertainment purposes—that quite possibly involves some scuffling. Against the odds (age, injury, attrition, you name it), this Grizzlies team is still kicking. They’re actually more well-rounded than in years past—there’s more shooting, for one, and they’re deeper and more athletic on the perimeter. The truly memorable teams kick it into gear in April, and health providing, this is shaping up like vintage Memphis.
5. Boston Celtics (35–19)
Last Week: 4
Net Rating: +3.2
Isaiah Thomas is getting proper credit, the Celtics just won nine of 10 games and Brad Stevens is gonna coach the East All-Stars. Boston has evolved into the East contender many people hoped it would be, and that is good for basketball.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (37–16)
Last Week: 3
Net Rating: +4.3
Gonna keep this one short and just mention how wild it is that Derrick Williams is on the Cavs this week.
3. San Antonio Spurs (41–13)
Last week: 3
Net Rating: +8.8
It’s common for anyone to have letdowns when spending two entire weeks on the road, but dropping a close one to a scrambling Knicks team hurts a little bit. But yes, these are the Spurs, and they’re gonna survive.
2. Houston Rockets (40–17)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: +6.2
Four straight wins look good on the streaking Rockets, who are positioning themselves well for the stretch run. Did you know they’ve been held under 100 points just three times, and all came in the first month of the season?
1. Golden State Warriors (46–8)
Last Week: 1
Net Rating: +12.9
Putting all the narratives aside, it was extremely fun to watch pissed-off Kevin Durant during that super-chippy Thunder game in which the Warriors proved, for the third time this season, that you can have your cupcakes and eat them too (Sorry).