Over half the season is now over! The trade deadline is also on February 23rd so after that, teams that are in position for the playoffs may be able to get that extra push. Keep that in mind while reading these power rankings as it is likely they will change – so look forward to a slight amendment next weekend!
This season has been, depending on how you see it, either exciting or just a precursor to the inevitable: a third meeting of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. This playoff push may surprise everyone though. Below are the teams ranked into groups with the Western and Eastern conferences separated. I also really hope no one wasted their time with the All-Star game.
Top of the Class: Cavaliers (39-16) – The injury and surgery on Kevin Love has set them back, but even the conservative time estimate gets him back playing before the playoffs start. There were/are many rumors about trade possibilities with this team. They need to bolster their bench in order to defend their championship.
Celtics (37-20) – Their small ball and defense have gotten them the second best record in the East. Isaiah Thomas is having a career year but they have to hide him on defense whenever they play the Cavs or Wizards whose guards are bigger. They can be streaky, but they should be winning at least one playoff series.
Wizards (34-21) – Talk about a turnaround for a team from the beginning of the season. Defense has been key for this team as they went on a run into the All-Star break winning 11 of 12. Their bench is still a joke, but their top 6 players are about as solid as any.
Raptors (33-24) – With the experience from their playoff success last year, the Raptors have to be put above some of the others. It remains to be seen how effective of a trade that Serge Ibaka for Terrence Ross will be.
Atlanta (32-24) – Paul Millsap has led this team to a respectable record, but this team is missing the outside threats and elite guard play to really challenge the top teams in the East. It is a credit to the players that they have the record they have despite getting rid of some of their top talent (Kyle Korver).
Indiana Pacers (29-28) – They have a terrific home court record 20-10, but Paul George doesn’t have much help. Too bad Glenn Robinson III’s win in the slam dunk contest doesn’t count towards actual wins.
Chicago Bulls (28-29) – Jimmy Butler, their best player, has been one of the most popular trade pieces the past week or two. It is quite obvious why: as they are right now, they can’t contend and they will need draft picks to really restart everything.
Detroit Pistons (27-30) – Another team that could go one way or the other if rumors are true about a Reggie Jackson trade. Andre Drummond is a classic big man in a wing players league. They have the coach though (Van Gundy) that could push them over the edge and keep them in the playoff chase.
Milwaukee Bucks (25-30): This is one of the more promising young teams. Everyone knows about the Greek Freak (Giannis Antetokounmpo) now. The general public has been turned on to him and he is a sight to behold. He leads his team in every significant stat: Points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks per game.
I would like there to be a special recognition for the disaster that is the New York Knicks (23-34) team and organization. They wish they could trade Melo, but he won’t let it happen unless it is pretty much to the Cavaliers. Also would like to mention the Brooklyn Nets (9-47) as being the worst team and still not having a draft pick this year.
Team to Beat:
Warriors (47-9) – Who would have thought adding Kevin Durant would be a good thing? Everyone. Everyone thought that.
Spurs (43-13) – Kawhi Leonard is the best defensive player in the league and has become a force on offense. They may have the best match ups with Golden State LaMarcus Aldridge and good defense on the perimeter.
Rockets (40-18): James Harden has been playing like the MVP (averaging 29 points and 11 assists) and this run and gun team has been lighting people up. This has been one of the more exciting teams to watch.
Clippers (35-21) – Despite having the fourth best record they are still a very dangerous team and Chris Paul’s quest for some playoff success continues. Currently he is still sidelined with a thumb injury and if they hope to have any kind of success they will need everyone at full health.
Jazz (35-22) – They are the biggest-up-and-comer this year and may be making noise in the playoffs. They are a pretty popular “dark horse” team with Hayward’s offense, Gobert’s defense, and George Hill running point.
Grizzlies (34-24) – This team may be the best at grinding it out, but what may be the most amazing thing is that Vince Carter is still in the league. They have a solid core of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen.
Thunder (32-25) – Russell Westbrook is breaking records this season and is still averaging a triple-double. It is amazing to watch, but unfortunately he can’t play 48 minutes every game so the Thunder don’t have any real hope when they run into a complete team like the Spurs or Warriors.
Nuggets (25-31) – They are in the 8th seed position so they have quite a fight after the break. This international team is led by Danilo Gallinari, Nikola Jokic, and Emmanuel Mudiay. This team is a great example of having depth but not a number one guy. They can give the less disciplined teams fits for sure (watch for an upset if they matched against the Clippers).
Kings (24-33) – They just traded away their best player Boogie Cousins for 3 role players and two picks in this year’s draft to New Orleans. I guess they really didn’t want to make the playoffs. More on this trade later this week.
Pelicans (23-34): That trade made it clear they want to be in the playoffs. Possibly to prove to their young star, Anthony Davis, that they mean business. As they should since he is an absolute stud. Jrue Holiday has been a better than average point guard, but they still lack a cast of outside shooters.
A special mention should be made for the Phoenix Suns (18-39) who seem to not know how to get on track. I don’t know how they get away with not having as much media coverage of their tanking, but it is quite clear over the past 2 years. The LA Lakers (19-39) have fallen back to earth, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as they are still building up a young core. Another lottery pick in what is perceived to be a very deep draft can never hurt.
I hope this helps put some of the teams into perspective and to know where we are after the All-Star break. Look for a piece later this week after the trade deadline recapping the big moves (or lack of) that teams made.