Whilst no All Star was traded, the Trade Deadline was a hive of activity.
The Rockets made a seismic change to their line-up, and the Wolves/Warriors Challenge Trade will be fascinating to watch over the next few seasons, yet most of the action took place within the lower reaches of the NBA.
With familiar faces in new places, we head towards the All Star break and teams will take stock of their spot in the NBA food chain. Some will decide to eat; others will be eaten.
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 (Steady)
(14-40 Record) Last week: 1-1
The Cavs crushed Atlanta in their last game, breaking a 6 game losing streak and winning only their 2nd game in the past month. The interesting thing about that game was Tristan Thompson putting up 27 points and 11 rebounds. The Championship winning centre was supposed to be an afterthought with Andre Drummond on board. If he is to eventually be bought out – reports indicate that he won’t be at this stage – then he’s showing potential suitors that he still has the goods.
29. Detroit Pistons (Down 3)
(19-38) Last week: 0-4
The Pistons have traded Andre Drummond for effectively nothing; are talking of buying out Reggie Jackson; Blake Griffin is out for the season. They’re clearly embracing the tank. My question is this: with all those things taken into account, why keep hold of Derrick Rose? Surely the former MVP is a hindrance to any Detroit tanking efforts.
Rose must have been courted by teams at the deadline and given what Detroit was happy to accept in exchange for Drummond, surely the Pistons asking price wasn’t the reason for the inactivity.
It’s yet another perplexing move form a front office that has chased it’s tail for too many years to count.
28. Golden State (Steady)
(12-43) Last week: 0-3
The Andrew Wiggins Experiment is off to a roaring start in Golden State, with the former Timberwolf averaging 23 points, 4 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.7 blocks and 2.7 three pointers through his three games in Northern California. Most importantly, he's doing it extremely efficiently, shooting 57% from the floor and 53% from deep. There is obvious regression around the corner for those shooting numbers, but the starting point is exceedingly encouraging. As is the effort on defense. Wiggins recorded 4 blocks in the Warriors loss to Phoenix – the first time the hyper athletic forward has done that in his 449 game NBA career.
27. Atlanta Hawks (Up 2)
(15-41) Last week: 2-2
In Houston, where the championship is the goal, Clint Capela’s startling fluctuations in form were barely tolerated. In Atlanta, where the pressure won’t be nearly so suffocating, expect the Swiss to thrive. He’s not an elite centre by any means, but he’s a dexterous roll man, and an active rebounder and shot blocker. He will make Trae Young very happy.
Of course, he’s still injured and not expected to play for at least another week. In his stead, another trade import, the returning Dewayne Dedmon has stepped in. He’s averaged 10.7 points, 7 rebounds and 3.3 blocks since his return to the East.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (Up 1)
(16-37) Last week: 1-2
The Timberwolves broke their 13 game losing streak in some style, knocking down a franchise record 26 three pointers in their 27 point victory against the Clippers. The Wolves gamble of going all on the 2015 draft (Karl Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell went 1 and 2 in that draft, of course) is going to be something to watch. The offensive potential of that pair is off the charts. Their pick and roll pairing is going to be beautiful to watch. What won't be as pretty is their defense. Neither player is even competent at that end, let alone a positive. Still, impressive young GM Gersson Rosas looks up to the task of creating a complimentary roster around his young cornerstones.
25. Chicago Bulls (Down 3)
(19-36) Last week: 0-3
Hosting the All Star game is a stark reminder of just how far away the Bulls are from contention. Their only player within a sniff of making an All Star team is the oft-maligned Zach LaVine. Their other apparent cornerstones in Otto Porter, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter are all injured and/or struggling for form. Optimism is in short supply.
A small sliver of light is the recent form of 2018 1st round pick Chandler Hutchison. The Boise State product has put up 11.8 points and 6 boards as a starter since Kris Dunn went down. He’s a high energy player with good defensive instincts. If his shot comes around, the Bulls may have a player.
24. New York Knicks (Up 1)
(17-38) Last week: 2-2
New York somehow put together a 4 game winning streak, before falling in double OT to the Hawks.
Of course, this being the New York Knicks, you don't have to wait long for drama to come bubbling up to the surface. In the latest episode of the Knicks day time soap, their new self styled 'Brand Guru' Steve Stoute gave an absolute train wreck of an interview to ESPN's First Take program, to which the team were forced to release a statement stating that Stoute 'does not speak on behalf of the New York Knicks'.
No matter how the team is performing, this franchise is always entertaining.
23. Charlotte Hornets (Up 1)
(18-36) Last week: 2-1
With wins over the Pius tons and Timberwolves, Charlotte recorded their first set of back to back victories since January 4th. Their record since the turn of the calendar is a putrid 5-13.
Whilst this team is dedicated to it's younger players, there really isn't a transformational talent that the Hornets can build around. In short, their supporting cast has no one to support. In that sense, the losing isn't such a bad short term thing for Charlotte. A top 3 pick in this years draft might give the club that focal point to build around.
22. Phoenix Suns (Down 1)
(22-33) Last week: 2-2
Much like the Wolves, the Suns have a solid young core – at one end of the court, at least.
In Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre and DeAndre Ayton, Phoenix have all bases covered: the lead guard, the powerful wing, and the athletic big man. Of course, that trio have proven themselves utterly incapable of stopping anything that has been thrown at them.
The challenge for the Suns is building around their developing Big 3. Given Booker's ability on the ball, the Suns could get away without a traditional point guard. Rather, they might look for a shooter that can defend the opposition point guard. If he was younger, George Hill would be perfect. At the other forward spot, a player in the mould of PJ Tucker would be ideal: a stout defender that can knock down open corner three's.
21. Sacramento Kings (Down 1)
(21-33) Last week: 2-2
Sacramento have steadied the ship in the past few weeks, winning 6 of 8 at one stage, with impressive triumphs over the Clippers and Heat. They've closed out this week losing on the road to Dallas and Milwaukee – no shame in that. Thankfully, it has put them out of the chasing pack for the 8th seed, which should encourage the team to experiment with it's younger players a little more. Especially since Coach Luke Walton's last shake up – Buddy Hield to the bench for Bogdan Bogdanovic – has worked so well.
Jabari Parker is exepcted to suit up after the All Star break. His offensive fit with Marvin Bagley will be intriguing. Their defensive fit will be worth a watch, just to see how many points they can concede.
20. Washinton Wizards (Up 3)
(20-33) Last week: 3-1
Like an average late night telemovie, the Wizards do just enough to keep you interested.
After losing at home to the Warriors, they take down Dallas with a wonderfully drawn up buzzer beating play, including a brick wall of a screen from Mo Wagner.
Beal and Davis Bertans have been hot for Washington. Beal has scored over 25 points in every contest since Toronto held him to 14 back on January 17. Bertans, over his past 5 matches, is scoring 16 points a game off the bench.
19. Orlando Magic (Steady)
(24-31) Last week: 2-2
The Magic continue to do what they do. In their last 11 contests, they’re 3-1 against teams with a sub .500 record, and 0-7 versus winning teams. Their solid defense takes care of the NBA lesser lights, but they can’t score enough (29th in the NBA) to beat any half decent side they come up against.
To that end, surely Orlando have to understand that whilst Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon are good offensive players, they’re complimentary – at best – on a good team. Why the front office decided not to trade either of them is perplexing. Yes, they’re great for the culture and both are effectively home grown, but that loyalty won’t win you games. The Magic need to be far more ruthless.
18. San Antonio Spurs (Down 1)
(23-31) Last week: 1-3
The annual Rodeo Road Trip hasn’t been kind to San Antonio this season. In losing their first 5 games of the trip – finally breaking the streak in taking down the Thunder – they’ve slipped 4.5 games behind Memphis for the final playoff spot. They still have another OKC visit and a game in Utah to negotiate before heading home to play Dallas. Lose those 3 games, and the monumental 22 year playoff run is likely all but over.
17. Brooklyn Nets (Up 1)
(25-28) Last week: 2-1
I know it’s been a regular theme in this seasons Power Rankings, but the Ewing Theory is rearing up it’s head again. Since Kyrie Irving went out with a knee sprain, the Nets have rattled off 4 wins in 5, with the loss a heartbreaking 1 point defeat to Toronto.
In their past 5 games, the back court of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert have been superb. Dinwiddie is giving the Nets 16.2 points and 9.8 assists, while the 3rd year youngster LeVert has been good for 24 points and 5.1 assists per night.
16. Damian Lillard (Steady)
(25-31) Last week: 2-3
Damian Lillard has once again become a mere mortal, averaging 28.4 points and 8.8 assists, with 3.6 three pointers thrown in over his past 5 games. Most players would literally kill to be able to do that. For Lillard, after the weeks he enjoyed prior, that's a come down. And as Lillard has regressed to his own admittedly sensational mean, so have the Blazers fallen back to their own, rather less impressive mean. A tough stretch of games this week, with losses to Jazz, Grizzlies and Pelicans offset by a hard fought victory over the Spurs and a win over the suddenly struggling Heat. The Blazers are still 9th in the conference, but trail Memphis by 4 games, making that loss to them so important. Combined with getting stone cold robbed in Utah, it hasn't been a good week for Portland.
15. Indiana Pacers (Down 2)
(32-23) Last week: 1-3
Patience is a virtue, Pacers fans.
It was always going to take time for Victor Oladipo to get his game back in order after so long out injured. Yes, he’s struggling to the tune of 11.1 points in sub 30% shooting, but he’ll improve. Encouragingly, he's scored in double figures in his last 4 games.
An underrated challenge of Oladipo's reintegration has been the changes in team hierarchy with Dipo sidelined. Off season addition Malcolm Brogdon has thrived as the lead guard. He’s proven in his time alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo that he is effective as an off ball target, but you’re taking so much off the table playing Brogdon in that way.
Domantas Sabonis has become the fulcrum of the team over the past 12 months. Oladipo is an excellent cutter so he should develop some chemistry with a more ball dominant Sabonis over time.
Still, if the Pacers are going to be a more egalitarian team, it’s another wrinkle for Oladipo to have to iron out.
14. New Orleans Pelicans (Up 1)
(23-31) Last week: 3-0
New Orleans made the wise decision at the trade deadline, in remaining patient and seeing what they have now that Zion Williamson is up and about. A core of Zion, Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram, with the complimentary pieces that the Pellies possess, could make some real noise next season. For his part, the rookie phenomenon is living up to the hype, averaging 21 points and 7.7 rebounds.
13. Memphis Grizzlies (Up 1)
(28-26) Last week: 2-1
A big week in Memphis, who are 8-2 over their last 10 games.
First, they pick up a potentially perfect fit at small forward in Justice Winslow, then they move above .500 for the first time this season, then last but not least they take care of business at home, turning the Blazers away and opening up their lead for the final playoff berth in the West to 4 games. The rebuild is so far ahead of schedule it's incredible.
Grit'n'Grind is dead. Long live Grit'n'Grind.
12. Dallas Mavericks (Steady)
(33-22) Last week: 2-2
The Mavs were able to tread water without Luka Doncic, going 3-4 with the Slovenian star out injured. Doncic returned for his team's configurable win over Sacramento, picking up where he left off with a 33 point, 12 rebound, 8 assists performance.
Whilst Doncic sat, Kristaps Porzingis stepped up (despite missing a pair of games himself through that stretch), averaging 28.8 points, 10 boards and 3.7 three pointers per game. Tim Hardaway Jr was also quite impressive, giving his side 25.4 points and a surprising 5.2 assists with Doncic out.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (Down 1)
(33-22) Last week: 2-2
The Thunder kept their team together at the trade deadline – just. That means that the team can continue it’s surprising surge into the playoffs. They’ll surely be a nightmare 1st round match up for whoever is unlucky enough to catch them. Rookie guard Luguentz Dort has been a pleasant surprise for OKC. The 2-way player is nearing the end of his 45 day service allotment, so the Thunder are having to hold him out of practices to extend the number of games he can appear in. As successful as it’s been, we’ll surely see some wholesale changes to the 2-way system at the next CBA negotiations.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (Up 1)
(34-21) Last week: 3-1
Much like the 2018 deadline, when the Sixers picked up Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova to bolster a thin bench, the additions of Glen Robinson III and Alec Burks should give the Sixers depth and shooting a much needed boost. That being said, this team will only travel as far as it’s leader can take them. But who is that leader? Joel Embiid has is being booed by his own fans. Does that mean Ben Simmons – triple doubles in his past two outings – is The Man, now? Nah! This team belongs to Furkan Korkmaz, now. The 22 year old guard laid an egg against the Clippers, but had a pair of 30 point games before that. He's giving the team a fair approximation of the much missed JJ Redick.
Did Ben Simmons attempt a 3 this week? No.
9. Miami Heat (Down 2)
(35-19) Last week: 1-3
Miami made perhaps the biggest splash at the deadline out of all the quasi contenders, turning Justice Winslow and a series of unwanted contracts into Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder. It hasn’t quite gone to plan, since then.
Miami have beaten the tanking Golden State, but lost to Utah, Portland and Sacramento since the deadline. Jimmy Butler missing with a shoulder injury has certainly not helped matters, but isn’t this newly added depth supposed to be able to help Miami ride out these types of bumps?
8. Houston Rockets (Up 1)
(34-20) Last week: 2-2
Teams will surely figure out a way to counter Houston’s 5-out offense – perhaps a replica of Utah using Rudy Gobert to guard Westbrook, making him a shooter – but for the moment Daryl Morey’s reimagining of the sport appears to be working. They’ve taken down the Lakers in LA and beaten Boston, whilst the Jazz only prevailed through a miracle Bogdanovic buzzer beater. There are of course concerns about how much effort this style of play requires, especially from nominal centres PJ Tucker and Robert Covington. Houston’s loss to Phoenix, a day after the Lakers victory, was a sluggish performance. Physical Suns forward Kelly Oubre scoring a career high 39 points on a mixture of open 3’s and bruising effort plays, highlighting the downside of the Rockets approach.
7. Utah Jazz (Up 1)
(36-18) Last week: 4-0
The Jazz have rebounded from their 5 game losing streak, with 4 very good wins on the bounce against the playoff bound Mavericks, Rockets and Heat, and a streaking Blazers.
The biggest positive for the Jazz is the return to, if not peak form, then competency from Mike Conley. The veteran has averaged 20.3 points since returning to the starting line up on February 1st, although he has missed the past 2 games with more niggles. His presence, along with Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles gives the Jazz a trio of legitimate pick and roll play makers that all play with a different cadence, which in turn keeps the defense off balance.
A fit and firing Jazz are a better than outside chance to steal the Western Conference crown from it’s presumed Los Angeles destination.
6. Boston Celtics (Steady)
(37-16) Last week: 2-1
The Celtics have come out of some patchy early January form by putting together a 7 game winning streak, before falling to Daryl Morey’s 9th Grade Science Experiment. Whilst their form has been overshadowed by the all conquering Bucks and Toronto’s own gargantuan streak, Boston have quietly been red hot. Jayson Tatum has been electric through the stretch, putting up a nightly 27.2 points and 6.5 rebounds, firmly entrenching himself as The Man (non-Kemba division) in Boston.
5. Denver Nuggets (Steady)
(38-17) Last week: 2-1
In football, there's a school of thought that people prefer Leo Messi over Christiano Ronaldo, because Ronaldo looks like a God (and carries himself like one, if we're being honest). He looks like he should be able to do extraordinary things in the heat of battle. Where as the diminutive Messi is the every-man. He's the guy you look at and think, 'He's built like me. I could copy what he's doing', even though you clearly can't. Messi, despite his undoubted genius, seems.....attainable.
Nikola Jokic shares that same trait. Aside from his height, could you imagine a player of Jokic's physical appearance rolling up to your local Tuesday night social competition? Jokic, with his doughy physique and plodding gait, looks like us. He's not LeBron or peak Dwight Howard, or Michael Jordan doing things athletically that were previously unimaginable. Jokic does things that we could do, if only we 'had the training', or were 'as tall as him' or whatever we want to tell ourselves.
Jokic is the superstar every-man of the NBA. He is the champion for all of us.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (Down 2)
(37-17) Last week: 1-2
With the addition of Marcus Morris – and the Lakers lack of addition of Marcus Morris – the Clippers stand as a big winner from the latest trade season. Whilst his offensive numbers will obviously fall away as he goes from a 1st option to probably a 5th, his knock down shooting, fearlessness, and stout and versatile defense add perhaps the final piece to the Clips puzzle. When healthy, they surely have the strongest 8-man rotation in the NBA. As a bonus, Morris is already doing his thing, getting in Joel Embiid’s grill.
EMBIID AND MORRIS GOT INTO IT 👀 pic.twitter.com/heEVwLW7po— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 12, 2020
3. Los Angeles Lakers (Up 1)
(41-12) Last week: 3-1
The Lakers overtime victory against Denver over capped a three game win streak, but it hasn't exactly been inspiring basketball from Los Angeles, of late. Of course, there are mitigating circumstances around that. The team is on the older side, and the dog days of late January and early February can be tough for playoff focused veterans to stay motivated. When the team thought it may get a trade deadline boost, their neighbours nipped in to steal Marcus Morris – that's now compounded by the news that Darren Collison is intending to stay retired, rather than sign with the team – and of course the team will still be dealing with the aftermath of the Kobe Bryant tragedy.
Frankly, the All Star break couldn't have come at a better time. The Lakers will welcome the chance to regroup and focus for the stretch run.
2. Toronto Raptors (Up 1)
(40-15) Last week: 3-1
The streak is finally over!
In losing at Brooklyn, the Raptors franchise record winning streak was stopped at 15 games.
To be sure, there were signs that the Raps were petering out a bit, with a pair of 1 point comeback wins late in the streak. That’s not surprising, though. The Raptors continue to battle injuries, as they have all season. In addition to Norman Powell’s broken hand, Marc Gasol has been sitting due to a hamstring strain and Serge Ibaka sat against the Wolves. As they have done all season, the Raps found a way. In that Minnesota game, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stepped in as a nominal centre as Nick Nurse had his team do their best Rockets impersonation. The small, fast lineup bothered Karl-Anthony Towns to the point where he shot only 2 of 7 inside the paint. Hollis-Jefferson, meanwhile, went off for 21 points, 6 boards and 3 steals.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (Steady)
(46-8) Last week: 3-1
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a father to a bouncing baby boy! Congrats, Big Fella!
The rest of the NBA just hopes you don’t experience the sort of form bump that Toronto guard Fred Vanvleet had after the birth of his first child through last seasons playoffs. If that happens, the only thing that will stop Giannis is a limb literally falling off his body.
With Giannis attending to his fatherly duties, Milwaukee’s latest winning streak was snapped by Indiana. With a 46-8 record, a 70 win season is very much in play, but can they match the 2016 Warriors or 1996 Bulls records of 73 and 72 wins respectively? To beat both of those, the Bucks need to be perfect from here on in, which is doubtful. According to Tankathon, the Bucks have the 6th toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, however given the amount of in game rest the players are getting thanks to the Bucks crushing their opposition on a nightly basis, they may not hold players out of games down the stretch.
In a regular season that is short on intrigue for the dominant Bucks, this is something to keep an eye on.