NBA Power Rankings: The Wizards Get Serious
I’m scratching out the bulk of this column in a post-Super Bowl haze, which means two things: 1) There's no more football until August and 2) I've got no patience to scribble a long-winded intro. Now that we can focus 100% of our sports-related attention on basketball, it’s time for your Monday morning Power Rankings.
It’s worth noting the degree of fluctuation in certain places here: that’s because there are currently a handful of scalding-hot teams, including Miami (10 straight!), Washington and Boston (seven in a row each), Indiana (six) and Dallas (four).
Let's get to it. Here are this week's NBA Power Rankings.
(All stats and records used through Feb. 5).
30. Brooklyn Nets (9–42)
Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -8.3
To add insult to injury, Yogi Ferrell—who broke out last week in Dallas—was once a Net.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (17–36)
Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -6.8
Magic Johnson’s slide into the front office conversation is certainly interesting. Let’s hope he doesn’t take over their Twitter account anytime soon.
28. Orlando Magic (20–33)
Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -6.2
Whether or not GM Rob Hennigan actually referred to Mario Hezonja as “Pooper Mario” is a moot point. This would be an alternative fact I can accept.
27. Phoenix Suns (16–35)
Last Week: 28
Net Rating: -5.3
This is less a Suns spotlight than it is just a moment of appreciation for Devin Booker.
Here’s something he did this week. That triple (triple?) jab step froze the living daylights out of Matt Barnes and glued me to my phone. I think I replayed that five times. Devin Booker ain’t even old enough to drink. Devin Booker doesn’t remember Power Rangers. Devin Booker definitely has no idea Justin Timberlake was ever in N*Sync.
Devin Booker banks in the game-winner! pic.twitter.com/5AfqXiz2a4
— The Crossover (@TheCrossover) February 4, 2017
Devin Booker is a cold, cold man. For some reason, that strikes me as one of the more impressive shot-making displays of the season, just with his sheer confidence. I don’t care if he meant to bank it or not. I think he knew that was going in. I want to believe Devin Booker is evolutionary J.R. Smith, with a conscience and a smile across his face. I want to believe he is more than that, too.
Then, on Saturday, he scored 27 points in a quarter. He didn’t do jack the rest of the game, but just watch.
— NBA (@NBA) February 5, 2017
Booker’s 20 years old. Let us all hope we can rewrite some records with him one day. We need the best possible version Devin Booker in our lives.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (18–32)
Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -6.4
The great news is that we’re pretty sure Joel Embiid is a legitimate guy, but the less-than-great news is that the trade market for Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor may not bring back awesome value given their talent and where they were drafted. This is not the worst problem to have, but a predictable issue when it comes to stockpiling.
25. Milwaukee Bucks (22–28)
Last Week: 25
Net Rating: +0.7
Spencer Hawks and Roy Hibbert aren’t fixing anything here, but at least they don’t have to pay Miles Plumlee anymore.
24. New Orleans Pelicans (19–32)
Last Week: 17
Net Rating: -2.7
If you want to know the reason I’m skipping All-Star Weekend this year, yes, it is 100% the presence of the King Cake Baby.
— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) February 1, 2017
23. Sacramento Kings (20–31)
Last Week: 23
Net Rating: -4.0
January was unkind to the Kings, with a crappy slate of travel understandably wearing them down. But topping the Warriors in OT was a great start to February. They’ll now play nine of 11 games at home, through the first week of March. It’s a make or break (or tank) month in Sacramento.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (19–32)
Last Week: 21
Net Rating: -1.5
Losing the vastly improved Zach LaVine for the season is a major blow, but may actually buy the Wolves some financial bargaining leverage if they push to hand him an extension this summer. Every dollar they can save long-term with Wiggins and Towns is a godsend.
21. New York Knicks (22–30)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -3.1
Just. Trade. Carmelo. Already.
20. Charlotte Hornets (23–28)
Last Week: 15
Net Rating: +0.6
Seven straight losses are a bad, bad look for the Hornets, who’ve devolved from stable playoff contender and seen their defense slip. On another note, I fully support Charlotte’s mission to collect all three Plumlees and all three Zellers.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (22–30)
Last Week: 16
Net Rating: -2.0
The Blazers have played better since moving Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh into the starting lineup for Moe Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. Those two along with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Mason Plumlee haven’t scored quite the same way, but have provided significantly improved defense as a unit. As the Blazers try and claw into playoff position, it might be a start.
18. Chicago Bulls (25–26)
Last Week: 20
Net Rating: +0.1
It looks like the Bulls have responded a little bit after that uncomfortable public locker room collapse. No news is good news at this point. That said, if they make it through the season without any personnel changes, it would be impressively stubborn.
17. Detroit Pistons (23–28)
Last Week: 18
Net Rating: -1.8
If the season ended today, Detroit would be back in the playoffs. The Eastern Conference: Where falling upward happens.
16. Denver Nuggets (22–28)
Last Week: 14
Net Rating: -2.4
I honestly really tried to get excited about the Nuggets a year ago. It didn’t go that great. But that optimistic stance has become much more palatable of late, as Denver rode a 7–3 stretch out to close January and take control of the eighth seed in the West. This is a franchise that hasn’t been to the postseason since George Karl left. Can you believe they won 57 games in 2012–13 (and Karl won Coach of the Year) despite the fact that everyone probably hated playing for him?
Three and a half seasons later, it finally feels like the Nuggets have a more obvious direction than just “these guys might be good” and “oh look, Danilo Gallinari.” It boggles my mind that Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Wilson Chandler never got traded as Denver rebuilt (although we might actually be nearing that point). But with Nikola Jokic making an argument as the league’s savviest-passing big man at age 21, Jamal Murray having some nice moments, Emmanuel Mudiay cutting back on turnovers and Gary Harris providing a steadying presence, there’s a clear set of core pieces here that was harder to identify even three months ago. Jokic in particular will determine the arc of this team, it seems—he’s a bit of a liability on defense but a game-changing passer that should continue to evolve and make the parts around him better. The crazy part is he’s only averaging 26 minutes per game. If you extrapolate his numbers on a per-36 minute basis, 21.5 points, 11.7 boards and 5.6 assists sure do pop.
The Nuggets aren’t slaying giants yet, but they’re making strides that matter. The overall successes of their scouting department post-Karl should be lost on nobody. What they do with their chips at the deadline should be fascinating.
15. Dallas Mavericks (20–30)
Last Week: 26
Net Rating: -1.9
Yogi Ferrell’s improbable breakout aside, the Mavs own the league’s fourth-best net rating since Jan. 1 and have somehow played their way back into the playoff conversation. The NBA: Where Amazing Happens.
14. Miami Heat (21–30)
Last Week: 22
Net Rating: -1.2
Consider this ranking a purposeful over-correction: the Heat’s winning streak is now at 10 games, this is ridiculous, and I will never doubt Dion Waiters ever again.
13. LA Clippers (31–20)
Last week: 13
Net Rating: +4.0
OK, so this could totally be filed under Celtics news, but take a minute to revisit Paul Pierce draining this three at the end of his last game in Boston. Between this and the Super Bowl, good day for New England. The Clippers…rode shotgun.
— Becca Laurie (@imbeccable) February 5, 2017
12. Toronto Raptors (31–21)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +5.5
This bubble has burst, as the Raptors are 3-7 in their last 10 and looking like a team that desperately needs the All-Star break to regroup. After hanging around atop the conference, Toronto’s now staring down the possibility of losing homecourt advantage entirely.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (30–22)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: -0.5
Russell Westbrook’s numbers are a thing to behold, but the Thunder have been fairly dreadful on both sides of the ball lately. They miss Enes Kanter but have a decent playoff cushion to work with in the meantime.
10. Indiana Pacers (28–22)
Last Week: 12
Net Rating: +0.3
Indiana has ripped off six straight wins and is 12–4 in the 2017 calendar year, ranking in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency over that span. Indy has also posted the best true shooting percentage (58.8%) of any team that isn't Golden State. The Pacers are debuting in the top third of these rankings, and that probably doesn’t give them enough credit.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (31–22)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: +1.2
Somehow, the Grizzlies had never done better than .500 on a five-plus game road trip in franchise history before knocking off the Wolves on Saturday. In that game, Zach Randolph passed Kevin McHale in career points. Just chew on that one.
8. Atlanta Hawks (30–21)
Last week: 11
Net Rating: +0.1
Last week, Atlanta came back from down 20 to knock off Houston in Dwight Howard’s return, a game in which Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 33 and DeAndre Bembry locked up James Harden in the fourth. So yeah, you could say this turnaround is complete.
7. Utah Jazz (32–19)
Last Week: 7
Net Rating: +5.2
Can you believe the Jazz are 11–0 when George Hill scores at least 20 points this season? Or that they’re 17–4 when Hill and Gordon Hayward have played together? Is it the initials G.H.? Is Gerald Henderson on the market?
6. Houston Rockets (37–17)
Last Week: 5
Net Rating: +5.3
This put a smile on my face. That’s all.
Rockets legacy. 🚀 pic.twitter.com/VAieuSfUU2
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) February 4, 2017
5. Washington Wizards (30–20)
Last Week: 8
Net Rating: +2.6
The Wiz are the best thing happening in our nation’s capital right now, and it’s not even close. Remember when we were seriously worried about their chemistry and John Wall was the moodiest man east of Sacramento? Erase that, because the Wizards just ripped off seven wins in a row and 11 of 12 to leapfrog all the way into the East’s bigger conversations. Sorry for ever doubting that Scott Brooks.
It’s nice that we can take this team seriously again, with parts that seem to mesh nicely and a star in Wall that can glue them all together as a passer. And at age 26, he’s still underappreciated. The Wizards’ bench still isn’t that great, but it’s better. And to diminish any issues, Brooks has played Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat together more than any lineup in the entire league (two minutes more than Tom Thibodeau plays his Wolves starters and 342 more than the next-most frequented unit).
And guess what? Even in all those minutes, that lineup is a +10.9 in efficiency together on the floor. That makes the Wizards’ starters the third-best group in the entire league (minimum 200 minutes) in terms of net rating, which is not a thing you’d ever guess on paper. They’ve been better than San Antonio’s starters, Cleveland’s top group (with healthy J.R. Smith at the two) and Houston’s preferred five.
Thin rotations are not typically the recipe for post-season success, but you can get by with them to a degree. What the Wizards have is a little fragile, but it totally works. They’ll hope Ian Mahinmi’s eventual return can help make the defense passable in rotational spurts. But the simultaneous breakouts of Beal (mitigated by his health, knock on wood) and Otto Porter (surprise!) combined with Morris’s versatility and the toughness of Gortat have become a sneakily perfect engine for Wall’s talents. If Washington doesn’t wear down over the next couple of months, take them very seriously.
4. Boston Celtics (33-18)
Last Week: 3
Net Rating: +3.1
Most Improved Player candidate Isaiah Thomas leads the Eastern Conference in scoring and has all but played his way into a max contract. Boston fans should relish the rest of this season: he’s up for renegotiation this summer along with Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Renewing all these assets may force the front office to pick and choose, whether it’s at the deadline or in July.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (34–15)
Last Week: 4
Net Rating: +4.1
Four wins in five games? The Cavs are fine. But, as Rob Mahoney examined, they might need a f—ing playmaker.
2. San Antonio Spurs (39–11)
Last week: 2
Net Rating: +9.5
Cheers to Gregg Popovich, who is now the winningest coach with one team in league history, as well as America’s unlikely moral compass. On a semi-related tangent, Manu Ginobili scored 18 points in 10 minutes on Saturday. The Spurs will never die.
1. Golden State Warriors (43–8)
Last Week: 1
Net Rating: +12.3
Steph is rounding into form nicely right now, and the Warriors are basically where they want to be. Since Jan. 1, Curry’s outscored Kevin Durant, been far more dangerous from three, and has shaken his December blues. I genuinely don't know how Golden State has lost eight games.