This week’s Power Rankings come with the suggestion that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
With the NBA’s newly discovered parity this season, the list of buyers and sellers isn’t as clear as seasons past. That could lead to a lot of teams looking to stock up in the hope of stealing a title. However, to buy, you need a seller – with so many teams looking to improve, those are in short supply.
There will be moves – there’s always moves – and some biggish names may be on the move. What we shouldn’t’ expect to see is a seismic shift in NBA championship favouritism, as the teams dining at the top table will likely make adjustment around the edges, if at all.
Oh, wait! I totally forgot that Daryl Morey exists!
The Rockets GM was the alleged orchestrator in the monster four team – it's rumoured the Warriors were a 5th team in these talks until they pulled out - trade that went down between the Rockets, Hawks, Wolves and Nuggets. We’ll look at those trades in each teams section of the rankings, and keep an eye on for the weekend, where we’ll examine all of the deadline trades in detail.
Throughout the season, Inside Sport will be bringing you our NBA Power Rankings. These are not necessarily ranking based on records. This is a purely subjective assessment of how a team is progressing, projected and playing.
All records are as of Thursday night Australian time.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (Down 2)
(13-39 Record) Last week: 0-4
In a sure sign that the Cavs have given up on season 2019/20, Cleveland have managed to lose back to back home games to the Warriors – in a blow out – and Knicks, before losing in Oklahoma City. Their losing streak is now at 5 games, with only a surprise victory in Detroit to show for their efforts in their past 13 games.
GM Koby Altman's efforts to end Kevin Love's Cavs stint appear to have come to nothing, with the veteran's contract proving to onerous to move. Tristan Thompson might still get traded. He might also resign – there have been rumours alluding to all three outcomes.
29. Atlanta Hawks (Steady)
(13-39) Last week: 1-3
In: Clint Capela, Nene
Out: Evan Turner, 2020 Brooklyn 1st round pick
This trade raises as many questions as it answers for the Hawks, but at the same time they simply had to do it. Trae Young is reportedly disgruntled, so making a move for a solid young veteran is a wise move by GM Travis Schlenk.
The Hawks defense, frankly, is awful. Capela isn’t an elite defender by any means, but is able to rebound and protect the rim. He’s also somewhat switchable on the perimeter. For the cost of a mid 1st round pick, that’s perfectly acceptable.
The issue is John Collins’ fit with Capela. Collins is agile and has extended his range to the corner 3, but is at heart a rim runner – exactly what Capela will be doing. Does Atlanta still see Collins as a foundational piece?
28. Golden State (Up 2)
(12-40) Last week: 2-2
Given Golden State were rumoured to be the 5th team involved in the eventual 4 team trade. It appears that any D'Angelo Russell trade is dead in the water for the time being, especially given what the Warriors could reap in an off season trade for the young guard. I've got no information to go on, but I'm going to predict a three way blockbuster come the offseason: D'Lo to the Wolves, Andrew Wiggins to the Wizards and Bradley Beal to Golden State. The salaries match up well enough, although there would have to be some draft capital thrown into some legs of that transaction.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (Down 3)
(15-35) Last week: 0-3
In: Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Evan Turner, 2020 lottery protected first via Brooklyn
Out: Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Robert Covington, Keita Bates-Diop, Jordan Bell
Minnesota are a sad and sorry team. Along with the Warriors – who at least have light at the end of the tunnel – they’re the only Western team that isn’t a playoff chance. They’ve lost 13 straight games, and talisman Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t been a part of a winning side since late November! They had to do something.
In trading Robert Covington – Towns’ best friend on the team, remember – they’ve at least added to their depth. Beasley is a very good scorer. His ability to create shots and make the three will help this horrible offense. As will Hernangomez. He’s not the same level of scorer as Beasley, but is a smart ‘fill in the gaps’ type who can score, rebound and will make the extra pass. He’ll start at the 4 straight away.
The biggest addition here is the Brooklyn 1st rounder. Does that, along with Wiggins and another high end pick tickle Golden State’s fancy in a D’Angelo Russell swap?
26. Detroit Pistons (Down 1)
(19-34) Last week: 2-2
Eyes are on Detroit as the trade deadline approaches. With Reggie Jackson back and playing well after a lengthy injury layoff, surely now is the time to cash in on Derrick Rose's Indian Summer. The Lakers are reportedly extremely keen on the former MVP. Given Andre Drummond's contract, it's unsure who would be open to trading for him with Atlanta now in possession of a real live centre. If the Pistons could find someone willing to give up a variety of picks/young players, that's surely better than continuing down the depressing path that has been the Pistons last decade.
So who's the player that Detroit have been dangling? Young shooting guard Luke Kennard. Why? I have literally no idea. The 23 year old is exactly the sort of building block the Pistons should be hunting, not giving up.
25. New York Knicks (Up 2)
(15-36) Last week: 2-0
New York’s perplexing July free agency splurge on every available power forward continues to reap the expected rewards. Julius Randle shows some promise, but is still regarded with healthy scepticism around the league. Former Bulls pair Taj Gibson and Bobby Portis hold little value. Marcus Morris is certainly coveted around the league, with both the Los Angeles teams reportedly sniffing around. So of course, he’s the one player that has expressly said he doesn’t want to leave New York. Their lack of successful team building has, finally, after 20 years in the front office, cost President of Basketball Operations Steve Mills his job.
The Knicks should be starting their teardown/rebuild, but this being the Knicks, don’t expect them to learn the quite obvious lessons of off-seasons past.
24. Charlotte Hornets (Down 1)
(16-35) Last week: 0-4
The Hornets are a team with a future. They’ll be represented by Miles Bridges, PJ Washington and Devonte’ Graham in the Rising Stars game at All Star Weekend. Graham will also be participating in the 3 point shoot out, although his accuracy from deep has dropped throughout the season, to 34.3% in January.
Charlotte can add to their future by trading the phalanx of veterans that are surely available before the trade deadline. Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Nic Batum and perhaps Bismack Biyombo should all be able to net something (even something small)(Well, perhaps not Batum) to help continue the rebuild.
23. Washington Wizards (Up 3)
(17-32) Last week: 2-1
It’s probably safe to say that Bradley Beal isn’t happy about being overlooked for an All Star berth. Between his own statements, releases from his agent and his partner, the hyperbole was juuust a bit over the top.
At least Beal also did what he should have done: take out his frustration on the basketball court. Since the All Star reserves were announced, Beal has averaged 39.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.5 steals while shooting 45.5% from deep. He’s still not playing any defense, mind you….and that might have been a part of the issue in the first place.
22. Chicago Bulls (Down 1)
(19-33) Last week: 0-2
The Bulls have just about been able to somewhat overcome their – Zach LaVine aside – anaemic offense throughout the season by playing solid to very good defense. Wing stopper Kris Dunn has been added to the pile of broken bodies in Chicago, including their entire centre rotation of Wendell Carter Jr, Lauri Markkanen and Daniel Gafford. With Luke Kornet and Cristiano Felicio now manning the middle, the Bulls defensive numbers have cratered: 29th in the NBA over their past five games.
21. Phoenix Suns (Down 2)
(20-31) Last week: 0-4
The Suns have lost four straight. Of their next five games, four are against Houston, Denver, the Lakers and Toronto. Barring a miracle or four, they're outside of the playoff picture for this season – their 10th in succession.
That's unfortunate, given the injury and suspension luck that has befallen Phoenix this season, but it does make their direction at the trade deadline clear. Veterans like Aron Baynes and Dario Saric should garner decent draft picks should the Suns decide to shop them. Could a package of some young depth pieces like Elie Okobo, Chieck Diallo or Jevon Carter be packaged and turned into something like a good 2nd round pick?