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?
20. Sacramento Kings (Up 2)
(19-31) Last week: 2-1
What will Kings GM Vlade Divac do about his compatriot Bogdan Bogdanovic. The 27 year old is a restricted free agent at seasons end, and expects a big pay day, considering the $13 million per season deal he turned down less than a year ago.
Trade demand is high, with seemingly half the NBA, including contenders like the Bucks, Sixers and Lakers all keen on acquiring the versatile shooting guard. He won’t come cheap, however. A middling 1st round pick is the minimum Sacramento will expect.
The Kings have, of course, expressed an interest in holding onto the Serb, and resigning him. That would make their back court rotation of Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield very expensive, before we even consider the on court fit. Coach Luke Walton may have found a solution to the latter issue. Since moving Bogdanovic to the 1st unit, Hield has thrived off the bench, to the tune of 22.2 points per game on marvellous 48.4% shooting from beyond the arc.
19. Orlando Magic (Down 2)
(22-29) Last week: 1-2
Orlando are similar to Brooklyn in that they've played distinctly average basketball through the season, yet are in little danger of missing the playoffs. Where they differ to the Nets, however, is that the Nets have a four time scoring champion in shining armour coming to rescue them next season. The Magic have no such saviour.
Aaron Gordon has been in trade rumours all season, despite a career worst stretch of play. Fortunately for Orlando, AG has pepped up of late, averaging 15.8 points, 8.5 rebounds. Most importantly, he's been shooting 42.1% from deep over that span. When Gordon is shooting well, it opens up all the other facets of his versatile game. He appears to have ridden out the slump. Perhaps the time for Orlando to move him is now.
18. Brooklyn Nets (Up 2)
(23-27) Last week: 3-1
The Nets have been on a relative tear, winning 4 of their past 5 and doing it without Kyrie Irving for part of the run. After hanging a brilliant 54 on the Bulls, he tweaked his knee against the Wizards and is expected to miss about a week.
Don't expect any trade deadline fireworks from Sean Marks and his team. They're in a strange, no-mans land of sorts. They made their big moves over the summer in acquiring Irving, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan. They're safely ensconced in a playoff spot, despite playing middling basketball for most of the season. They don't need to make any moves.
17. San Antonio Spurs (Down 1)
(22-28) Last week: 1-2
Me: Siri, show me a practical example of the relative strength of the NBA Western conference, over the East?
Siri: DeMar DeRozan.
Me: Siri, explain.
Siri: DeMar DeRozan was an All Star on four occasions when playing in the Eastern conference. Statistically speaking, his two best seasons have occurred since he moved to the West – he has been an All Star on neither occasion, nor has he been considered a legitimate All Star snub.
16. Damian Lillard (Up 2)
(23-28) Last week: 2-1
A wasted season is suddenly a whirlwind playoff push, thanks to one Damian Lamonte Ollie Lillard.
In his last game – a thumping 28 point loss to the Nuggets – Lillard posted a positively mortal line on 21 points and 9 assists. In the six game prior? 48.8 points, 10.2 assists, 8.2 three pointers per game at 57%. That’s….there really isn’t an adjective strong enough to describe that sort of form, is there.
Importantly, the struggling Blazers won 5 of those 6 games, so Dame’s efforts were not in vain. Does the hot streak spark the team in general? Does it change how the front office view the trade deadline? They were previously thought to be content sitting out after shedding payroll in the Ariza trade, but if the playoffs are suddenly on the table, do the Blazers go after Kevin Love or Danilo Gallinari?
15. New Orleans Pelicans (Steady)
(20-31) Last week: 1-2
In his 7 game NBA career, the #1 pick has come pretty much as advertised. He’s putting up a very good nightly average of 19.6 points and 8 rebounds on 54.6% shooting. In his last game against Milwaukee he started to show some of his vaunted play making chops, with 5 assists.
The defensive impact isn’t there as yet, with only 4 steals and 2 blocks recorded. However, even those are highlight worthy.
Zion RIPPED the ball away from Giannis 🤯 pic.twitter.com/6g2WxRExwl— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 5, 2020
With the team healthy and on the up, it’s unlikely that GM David Griffin will look to trade either Jrue Holiday or JJ Redick unless he gets absolutely bowled over by an offer.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (Steady)
(26-25) Last week: 2-1
Action aplenty in Memphis over the past few days.
Firstly, the young Grizz foundation, led by Dillon Brooks, made their feelings about the absent Andre Iguodala perfectly clear. Memphis reportedly made their Iggy trade. Surprisingly, he didn't head West to either of the LA teams – he went to Miami with Justice Winslow going the other way. The trade hasn't been finalised, as it appears the Heat are trying to pry Danilo Gallinari away from the Thunder.
Everything Dillon Brooks said about Andre Iguodala tonight. pic.twitter.com/1rDw0P2wp2— Mark Giannotto (@mgiannotto) February 4, 2020
Assuming he can ever get his body right, obtaining the play making Winslow is a great get for Memphis. At age 23, he fits in with the Grizzlies timeline. Sure, he's not a great jump shooter, but he's no worse than Jae Crowder. Winslow can play the 4 in a smaller lineup, or can run the point, unlocking Ja Morant as an off ball weapon.
13. Indiana Pacers (Down 2)
(31-20) Last week: 0-3
The Pacers have lost three straight since their emotional win on the return of talisman Victor Oladipo, including a shocker at home to the Knicks. That's not entirely unexpected. Twelve months out of the game lets a whole lot of rust set in. However, I'm not sure even the most pessimistic Pacer fan would have expected Dipo to be shooting 14.3% from deep, on seven attempts per game. It will fall into place for Oladipo, and the Pacers. It's just a matter of how long they can tread water until it happens.
12. Dallas Mavericks (Up 1)
(31-20) Last week: 2-2
Speaking of treading water, that's what Dallas are doing with young megastar Luka Doncic sidelined after re-spraining his ankle. They've slipped to 7th in the conference, but are still a safe five games ahead of 8th place Grizzlies, and importantly a full eight games in front of the 9th placed Blazers. So the Mavericks can afford to be conservative with their Slovenian wunderkid, keeping him fresh for the playoffs.
In his stead, Jalen Brunson has stepped up admirably. He took it to Trae Young, finishing with 27 points and 8 assists against the Hawks, in a game where Kristaps Porzingis also sat. Either side of that Atlanta game, KP put up 35 and 12 against the Rockets, and 38 (including six 3's) and 12 versus the Pacers.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (Down 2)
(31-20) Last week: 0-3
It must be maddening to support the 76ers. After the wildly impressive victory over the Lakers in LA, they go and lose to Atlanta. In the Hawks loss, the much vaunted Philadelphia front line of Joel Embiid, Al Horford and Tobias Harris combined for just 30 points. Embiid was particularly poor, shooting 1-11 from the field with 4 turnovers (and they say Atlanta needs a defensive centre!).
Do the Sixers attempt to smooth out their rough edges at the trade deadline? David Bertans would be ideal, but unlikely. Derrick Rose could allow Ben Simmons thrive as the roll man when Embiid is off the floor. Alas, Robert Covington would have be an upgrade on defense, whilst providing additional shooting.
Did Ben Simmons take a 3 this week? Yes!
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (Steady)
(31-20) Last week: 2-0
Chris Paul making the All Star team (giving OKC an All Star for the 11th consecutive year) surely means that any lingering doubt as to whether he would be traded has been erased. The other veterans, though.....
Miami's want for Danilo Gallinari is the reported hold up in the finalisation of the Iguodala/Winslow trade. Dennis Schroder has put together a lovely run: 22.8 points, 6.2 assists and 3.2 three's at 50% shooting over his last 10 matches. If GM Sam Presti wants to sell high, then I'm not sure Schroder will get much better than this.
9. Houston Rockets (Up 3)
(32-18) Last week: 3-0
In: Robert Covington, Jordan Bell, future 2nd round pick
Out: Clint Capela, Nene, 2020 1st round pick
The creative genius of Daryl Morey is at it again! But has this mega trade really helped his team?
They’ve certainly gone all in on a 5-out offense, with now full time centre PJ Tucker pop riveted to the corners on offense. This should open up yet more space for the back in form James Harden (38.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 9 assists per game in his last 3 contests) and – vitally – Russell Westbrook, who should thrive with a completely open lane to attack, and no need to rely at all on his wonky jump shot. Robert Covington’s help defense is elite – he will be a huge addition at both ends of the floor.
Of course, the Rox centre rotation is basically non-existent. Is there another trade coming? Perhaps Morey already has a wink-wink deal lined up for a buyout target. With the Chinese league cancelled, former Rocket Kenneth Faried might be in line for a return.
8. Utah Jazz (Down 2)
(32-18) Last week: 0-3
Uh, oh. Utah’s hot January form has suddenly cratered.
After an 19-2 stretch through late December and January, the Jazz have lost 5 straight. The most concerning part of that streak is that it’s coincided with the return of big ticket off season addition Mike Conley, just as his injury signalled the start of Utah’s extended hot streak. Conley has played well personally, with 22 and 21 points in his last pair of games, but with the team faltering, the question has to be asked: is Conley ruining the Jazz’s chemistry?
7. Miami Heat (Steady)
(34-16) Last week: 2-1
Well, Heat Grand Poobah Pat Riley will never die wondering, will he.
Possessing perhaps the most surprising team of the season, with a phalanx of young, cost controlled contributors, Riley has pounced. The trade for Andre Iguodala and perhaps Jae Crowder is expected to be ratified as soon as there is clarification on the Heat obtaining Danilo Gallinari from the Thunder. In adding a championship winning wing stopper, and a sharp shooting power forward, Miami are pushing their chips into the middle of the table. Despite the youth on the roster, it might not be the worst idea. Jimmy Butler will be 31 before next season starts, and he has Thibodeau miles on the tyres. With the league in relative flux, Riley smells blood.
6. Boston Celtics (Up 2)
(35-15) Last week: 4-0
Winners of 8 of their last 9 games, the Celtics are humming.
They have a pair of All Stars in Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, and perhaps should have a 3rd in Jaylen Brown. Does that mean they'll sit pat at the deadline? Not if Danny Ainge can help it.
As tailor made as Daniel Theis is for coach Brad Stevens system, the C's could stand to make an upgrade, as long as it doesn't compromise their methods. Clint Capela would have been a great fit. As would the presumably still available Tristan Thompson. The $64,000 question is what would the Celtics surrender in a trade? Their best players make the bigger salaries and for sure the Celtics don't want to break up their core. Their depth pieces are all on lower contracts, making salary matching difficult. If anyone not named Morey can find a creative way to make something happen, it's Ainge.
5. Denver Nuggets (Steady)
(36-16) Last week: 4-1
In: Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh, Gerald Green, Keita Bates-Diop, 2020 1st round pick from Houston
Out: Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez, Jarred Vanderbilt
The Nuggets were caught between a rock and a hard place, prior to their trade.
They have an excellent starting unit, with enviable depth and are a deserving 3rd place in the West, only a half game from 2nd. That would lead most teams to stand pat, perhaps look to make a move to add a difference making talent. Yet the Nuggets, as good as they are, are clearly a step behind the Bucks, Lakers and Clippers. Given Beasley and Hernangomez are in the final year of their contracts, Denver chose to cash in. they’ve picked up some depth pieces, but have clearly gotten worse at the bottom end of the roster, all for a pick that will likely fall in the mid 20’s in a poor draft.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (Down 1)
(38-11) Last week: 2-1
After an incredibly tough week, some normalcy returned to the Lakers family this week.
In their first game post Kobe Bryant’s death, Portland’s Damian Lillard went, well, kind of Kobe-like on them, going off for 48 points, 10 assists and 9 boards. Since that loss, the Lakers have rebounded well with comfortable wins over the Kings and Spurs.
It’s been long rumoured that the Lakers would trade the somewhat redundant Kyle Kuzma, but given the tragedy that’s rocked the club, they might look to sit pat and maintain their team atmosphere, rather than risk more emotional turmoil, no matter how relatively unimportant it is compared to the Kobe heartbreak.
3. Toronto Raptors (Up 1)
(37-14) Last week: 4-0
Their most recent win over Indiana took the Raptors win streak to a league best 12 games. In an interesting schedule quirk, they also play the Pacers on February 7th and 23rd – three matchups in 18 days. The struggling Pacers aside, Toronto play all sub .500 teams in that span, so the win streak could conceivably stretch out to 18 games before they meet Milwaukee later this month.
Through the streak, seven Raptors have averaged double figure scoring, including five at over 16 points per game. Both their offense and defense have ranked 3rd across that span. Suitably, Toronto now own the NBA's 3rd best record, and 3rd place in our Power Rankings.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (Steady)
(36-15) Last week: 3-1
The Clippers have handled the grief that engulfed their neighbours with class and grace, exemplified by the club not covering up Kobe Bryant's retired uniforms, despite their game with the Lakers being a Clips home fixture.
On the trade front, the Clippers are very quietly lurking. They are the one team in the league that has sufficient depth, with mid range contracts to package players for a difference maker without compromising their bench. Mo Harkless ($11m salary), JayMichael Green and Rodney McGruder (around $5 million each) are the perfect players to package. Watch this space....
1. Milwaukee Bucks (Steady)
(43-7) Last week: 2-1
The Bucks had their win streak stopped at nine games by the Nuggets, who put in the consummate team performance in Milwaukee.
The Bucks only had three players (Giannis Antentokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe) score in double figures. The Nuggets, by contrast, played nine players with each and every one of them hitting double figures. The Bucks are undoubtedly deep, but they don’t have as much depth as the pre-trade Nuggets or Clippers. Will that matter come playoff time, as rotations are tightened? Probably not, but it has renewed the calls for the Bucks to hunt another wing capable or solid two-way play. Marcus Morris and Robert Covington predictably lead the way, although Bogdan Bogdanovic would be the cleaner fit.