This week’s Power Rankings come with the suggestion that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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.