NBA Power Rankings: Status Updates at Midseason Mark

Ethan Sherwood Strauss@SherwoodStraussNBA Lead WriterJanuary 28, 2013

NBA Power Rankings: Status Updates at Midseason Mark

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    Poor Rajon Rondo. Poor Boston Celtics fans. Poor NBA fans, while we're at it.

    The Boston point guard suffered an ACL tear against the Atlanta Hawks, giving an already bleak Boston season its death knell. Between Derrick Rose, Ricky Rubio and Rajon Rondo, the league just isn't safe for a point guard's knees these days.

    This might change the complexion of the playoff hunt, but not because Boston takes a dip in the standings. The Celtics have always been bargain hunters, and now they have reason to trade off their assets. 

    The question now becomes something like, "Will a title-contending team make a trade for Kevin Garnett?" One team's tragedy presents an opportunity for someone else. 

30. Charlotte Bobcats

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    Congratulations, Charlotte Bobcats, for winning your most recent NBA basketball game. You would think that a 102-101 Saturday win against the Minnesota Timberwolves would be enough to vault Charlotte from the bottom. 

    Unfortunately for the Bobcats (if they do oddly care about their Power Ranking status), the other bottom-feeding teams took games last week as well. Better luck next time, Bobs.

    On a negative note, it looks like the scouting reports might be catching up to Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. He's averaging slightly over seven points in January, despite getting starter's minutes. For the kid to become a successful perimeter player, he needs to develop some semblance of a shot. 

29. Orlando Magic

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    The Orlando Magic can't stop losing, having dropped five in a row. When I watch, it feels as though Glen Davis' return helps the cause, but it just hasn't coincided with winning.

    Also strange: The Magic can't win during an awesome stretch for J.J. Redick. Though Orlando has only taken two of its last 10, Redick has averaged 19.5 points, 55.8 percent from the field and 56.3 on threes in those games.

    That the Magic can't profit from this run speaks to some bad luck and poor overall talent. In any event, Orlando has lost five in a row.

28. Sacramento Kings

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    Is Tyreke Evans having a secretly good season? You can scarcely tell because his minutes have been reduced and the team might flee to Seattle at any moment, but Evans' efficiency has gotten a lot better this year. 

    Right now, 'Reke has a 18.44 PER, which would qualify for a career high. His 55.4 percent true shooting is respectable for once. 

    Evans also is making 39 percent of his three-pointers. That last figure is astounding to the point of flukey, considering that Evans' previous career high is 29 percent.

    If only Keith Smart would play Evans a bit more, we could get a sense of whether this is a real development. Sadly, Smart is fairly stubborn with his minutes allotment.

27. Phoenix Suns

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    The Suns beating the Clippers was the NBA's version of Any Given Sunday. Of course, with the NBA's grueling, lengthy schedule, it's really more Any Given Day.

    You can't give the Suns too much credit because the Clippers didn't have Chris Paul. It was mostly striking to see Phoenix on national television in their current stripped-down state. 

    The firing of Alvin Gentry removes yet another link to those D'Antoni teams that were oh so fun to watch. Phoenix has gone from the league's most exciting team to its most boring, while gaining little of anything in the exchange. Oh, and why is Michael Beasley getting minutes?

26. Washington Wizards

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    Supposedly, the Washington Wizards have the worst offense in basketball. At least that's what the numbers so far this season say.

    But when the Wizards went up against the defensively masterful Chicago Bulls, it didn't appear that way. Though Washington only scored 86 points, it did it on 79 shots against a smothering Bulls defense. In the end, the Wiz won 86-73 against one of the East's best teams.

    It goes to show that when John Wall and Nene are present and healthy, this Wizards team is much better than their record. They and New Orleans are similarly non-horrible when fully stocked.

25. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    We are all witnesses to Kyrie Irving. The new All-Star has been on a tear recently, scoring over 30 points in four of his last five games. In those games, he's shooting better than 59 percent.

    Tristan Thompson's also been playing well since Anderson Varejao was forced by injury to leave the lineup. Thompson is averaging 16.8 points on near 53 percent shooting these past five games.

    Since Varejao went down with an injury a little over a month ago, Tristan Thompson is averaging 14.3 points, 11.4 rebounds and 51.4 percent shooting. It helps that Thompson isn't taking forever to gather the ball off the catch anymore.

24. New Orleans Hornets

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    The New Orleans Hornets might be the best "bad" team around. They have a prototypical stretch-4 in Ryan Anderson, an already great rookie big man in Anthony Davis and a productive, athletic shooting guard in Eric Gordon.

    Greivis Vasquez has managed to be an above-average NBA point guard, much to everyone's surprise. The same can be said at the center slot for Robin Lopez. The "other Lopez" is nearly claiming a 20 PER in his 25.3 minutes per night.

    In short, this is a good-if-healthy team. They just haven't been healthy.

    Other NBA squads should be warned that they might be headed into a buzzsaw on the nights they play the Pelicans. Or a Pelican gullet. Whatever.

23. Detroit Pistons

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    The Detroit Pistons have lost to some good teams and beaten some less than good teams. Figures, as they aren't a bad team, but they certainly aren't a good one either.

    Lawrence Frank's handling of Andre Drummond's minutes has gotten a lot of attention. I'm coming around to seeing his side of it.

    Drummond is given stable, steady minutes, regardless of performance. The 19-year-old is getting brought along slowly and stably. It might not be the worst strategy, especially if he's producing astounding plays like this:

22. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Andrei Kirilenko was a possible All-Star snub that didn't get much attention. Part of that is because the Timberwolves have crumbled due to all the injuries they've suffered. 

    Part of it is also that the Wolves can't hit a three-pointer. I keep talking about this because it surprises me that the long-range figures remain so low. 

    The Timberwolves are still below 30 percent on three-pointers. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors actually combine to hit more threes than Minnesota, and they do so on 4.3 fewer attempts. 

    This is why I couldn't support Kirilenko as an All-Star. Brilliant as he's been in other aspects, he's part of his team's fatal flaw as a .286 three-point shooter.

21. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Last year's Philadelphia identity was "defense." I'm not sure what it is this year, as the D's gotten worse and the offense has ground to a halt. 

    Sick as it sounds to say it, now is their opportunity with Boston losing Rajon Rondo. A playoff berth is ripe for the taking, provided Doug Collins can wring something from his young, talented team. 

    Thumping New York at home could be a nice step in the playoff direction. Philadelphia soundly beat the Knicks on Saturday while getting an All-Star 35-point performance out of Jrue Holiday. This roster is good enough to make the postseason, especially if Jrue continues to improve. 

20. Toronto Raptors

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    Really, Toronto Raptors? You're going to let Kyrie Irving do this to you, the same way Jeremy Lin famously did?

    It might be Raptor destiny to be the foil for great regular-season NBA moments. As you might recall, Kobe Bryant recently livetweeted his 81-point game against this sad-sack franchise.

    Injuries have long dogged them, and they continue to do so. Jonas Valanciunas continues to sit due to a broken finger, and Kyle Lowry hasn't been the same since returning from ankle sprains. One suspects that the annual Jose Calderon injury is right around the corner.

19. Dallas Mavericks

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    The Dallas Mavericks are right back in the playoff hunt. It's probably not where they expected to be when summer free agency started, but this is the new goal. 

    It doesn't help that O.J. Mayo is regressing to the mean. Mark Cuban's awesome free-agent find is starting to look suspiciously like O.J. Mayo as the year wears on. 

    Shawn Marion is putting together a quietly impressive season for a man of his age. Marion's rebounding like the Phoenix days. He might even be the team's MVP for this season thus far, which shows you what kind of season it's been.

18. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Whether you believe that Nicolas Batum is an All-Star snub speaks to how you feel about positions in the NBA. If you believe that an All-Star roster should mimic a real roster, then Batum's your guy.

    After Kevin Durant, you can't really find a better Western Conference small forward than Batum and Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko has an argument over Batum, but I'm not sure if you would exactly categorize the former as a small forward, and he also plays fewer minutes than Batum.

    As for Portland's only actual All-Star, LaMarcus Aldridge has had better years. I'm surprised he made the game at under 47 percent shooting, but coaches are slow to adjust to trends. Or at least the people who fill out the All-Star ballots for them are.

17. Boston Celtics

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    The Boston Celtics didn't die on Sunday, because they've been six feet under for some time. Though they've certainly demonstrated impressive resilience in the past, it was hard to vest any belief in this year's mediocre squad.

    So, while losing Rajon Rondo to an ACL tear is sad, it's more depressing than calamitous. The 2012 Celtics were closer to the lottery than they were to contention, and the injury merely pushes them in the direction of the former.

    While their double-overtime victory over Miami deserves praise, in the grand scheme, it's looking bleak in Boston. It's hard to see how this team avoids the lottery without a point guard.

16. Atlanta Hawks

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    Splash! That's either the sound of a hawk descending on a fish or the sounds of a Kyle Korver jumper finding net. 

    Korver's been molten lately, hitting over 60 percent of his three-point attempts in the past five games. On the year, Korver leads the league with a .468 three-point percentage. 

    Thanks in large part to Korver, the supposedly boring Hawks are ripping nets en route to the third-most made threes in the league. That's impressive for a team that sacrifices so many errant Josh Smith threes over the course of a season.

    The Hawks lost to the Knicks, but they shouldn't feel much shame. It's hard to beat New York when it hits 16 threes.

15. Los Angeles Lakers

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    It's tempting to mock them, but what a huge win for the Los Angeles Lakers. Even if it was at home, beating Oklahoma City is an accomplishment. 

    Los Angeles controlled the 105-96 game on Sunday, mostly with incisive passes from Kobe Bryant. Kobe went into distribution mode, tallying 14 assists, many of them brilliant. 

    Dwight Howard still looks a step slow, but the Lakers might have something here. If Kobe tempers his inclination to take difficult shots in favor of using his excellent court vision, Los Angeles could get a boost on offense.

    On defense, the Lakers still need Dwight to be Dwight. He's far from it on D.

14. Milwaukee Bucks

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    I thought the Milwaukee Bucks would flounder and fold after losing Scott Skiles. Shows what I know; they've been racking up the victories.

    Larry Sanders showed why he might be basketball's most improved player in a win against Golden State on Saturday night. Sanders defensively dominated David Lee, helping to hound the All-Star into a 6-of-18 shooting performance.

    Sanders needs to do plenty just to offset the poor defense of teammates like Monta Ellis. Behold:

    The good news is that Milwaukee's frontcourt might just be able to pull it off.

13. Houston Rockets

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    In a Monday victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, James Harden went 5-of-20 and scored 29 points. You might assume that a few of his five made buckets were three-pointers. You would be wrong.

    In typical James Harden fashion, he attempted an incredible 21 free throws. He's the best player who's nearly unwatchable. Between Harden's contact-seeking scoop layup and his fake whiplash move on drives, he's the most effective flopper going these days.

    The Rockets finally got back on track with consecutive victories over the New Orleans Hornets and Brooklyn Nets. They'll need to return to their old sweet-shooting ways if they are to remain a probable playoff team.

12. Utah Jazz

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    The Jazz have won seven of their last nine. They've done so quietly because, well, they play in Salt Lake City.

    The victories have also come quietly because it's hard to peg a star to this team. Much like the Spurs, minutes are well distributed. Al Jefferson leads the team in minutes played, and he's out there for under 33 per night.

    Unlike the Spurs, these Jazz players aren't exactly established household brands. Also unlike the Spurs, this team can't possibly contend for a championship. 

    Utah's YMCA-league minutes apportionment seems either a vestige of an old era or the forefront of a rest-conscious new one. Either way, it doesn't exactly fit common understanding.

11. Indiana Pacers

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    Congratulations to Paul George on his first All-Star selection. Since suffering a horrid no-point game against the Golden State Warriors on December 1st, George has been great.

    From that point forward, George has averaged 20.0 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, while shooting a shade under 40 from three. He's realizing his potential, and it's been a thrill for Pacers fans and NBA fans alike. 

    So why the drop here? The vaunted Indiana defense got shredded in consecutive games by Portland and Utah. It was an odd, unexpected face-fall for the NBA's best D so far this season.

10. Brooklyn Nets

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    Brook Lopez has a claim to the worst All-Star snub, as he's notching above a 25.0 PER on a winning team. This might be a reaction to Avery Johnson getting fired, something for which Lopez didn't seem at fault. 

    "At fault" might be an odd term to use in this instance, because the Nets have been mostly good since Johnson's ouster. Though Brooklyn has been good on the whole since Avery, it just lost two in a row in what could be poor defensive outings.

    Brooklyn's defense has overperformed its construction, and Lopez's shot-blocking is part of that. But the fissures are starting to form. This defense is in trouble and puts the team at risk for a playoff exit in any round.

9. Golden State Warriors

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    When you win, it feels like you'll never lose, and when you lose, it feels like you never win. I'm reminded of that old saying after the Golden State Warriors beat Oklahoma City, only to lose two road-trippers to Chicago and Milwaukee.

    The Dubs were riding high, soaking in some new elite status. Suddenly, they're on a losing streak, grasping to regain their old form. Such is life in the NBA regular season.

    David Lee is Golden State's first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell, and he might not have been if the coaches' voting was held this week. Lee's shooting just over 41 percent over his past five games. He was wise to time that after ASG voting was largely decided.

8. Chicago Bulls

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    I'll grant that Joakim Noah is the rare All-Star big man who shoots less than 46 percent from the field, but Luol Deng? Again?

    As ridiculous as that second Deng All-Star selection may be, it speaks to the respect other coaches have for Chicago's defense. Granted, they play at a slow pace, but it's impressive that Chicago's held teams to under 90 points in five consecutive games. 

    The speed and versatility of Chicago's defense is a joy to behold. Basketball nerds have to love when Noah gets switched out on the perimeter and more than holds his own. Rare is the player who can guard a wing while ripping down 11 boards per night.

7. Denver Nuggets

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    Ty Lawson's $48 million contract was touted as a bargain (by people like me), and then he went out there and had a terrible November and December. In the immediate aftermath of the extension, the deal looked like a mistake for Denver.

    Lawson's season is finally turning around. In January, the ever-quick point guard is averaging 18 points and 6.5 assists in 31.8 minutes per outing. He's finally back to his old efficient ways, as the points are coming on roughly 50 percent shooting on three-pointers.

    Lawson needs more shooting and spacing around him to be truly effective, but in the meantime, he can polish his game beyond threes and drives off pump fakes. It could be helping Lawson's cause that Danilo Gallinari has slowly remembered how to shoot.

6. New York Knicks

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    I still can't believe that the Knicks nearly lost that Sunday night game to Atlanta. When Carmelo Anthony makes nine of his 12 threes, you expect a clean, easy victory. 

    Instead, this one was a nail-biter. With less than two minutes to go, the Knicks looked like they were set to lose a game in which they had a plus-five turnover advantage and 16-of-27 threes in the bank.

    How do you nearly lose such a game, you ask? You do it with terrible defense. 

    The defensive world has fallen apart around reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler. Slow switches and miscommunication are killing this once-competent D. Fortunately for the Knicks, they still hit threes at an absurd rate.

5. Memphis Grizzlies

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    With Dwight Howard hobbled, Marc Gasol is the best defensive player in the game. That wasn't enough to secure an All-Star selection, though, as the distinction fell to teammate Zach Randolph.

    No matter, "Grit and Grind" grinds away. The Grizzlies thrashed the Lakers into a crisis on Wednesday and broke Brooklyn on Friday. 

    They stumbled against the supposedly lowly New Orleans Hornets, but that's not altogether surprising. The Hornets are good; they've just been injured (See: Hornets Power Ranking).

    The Grizzlies themselves are very good, but not championship level. Now, if they go out and trade Rudy Gay for Paul Pierce, then things get interesting.

4. Miami Heat

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    It's easy to fixate on the drama inherent in a double-overtime loss to Boston. In the background, Rajon Rondo had been declared out for the season. In the foreground, we had an emotional battle between these two teams for possibly the last time with the Celtics as we know them. 

    Ray Allen also returned to Boston, but that became almost an afterthought. I was mainly struck by how sloppy and sluggish Miami looked after having racked up four straight wins.

    Jeff Green's defense on LeBron James drew raves, but I felt like James let Green off the hook with difficult, off-balance jumpers. I need to see Green successfully guard James twice to really buy into him as a defender.

    And sometimes, Dwyane Wade's just terrible.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Oh, when will Lob City get its mayor back? While it has been interesting to see the Clippers forge ahead without Chris Paul, his absence is starting to become worrisome. 

    If he's missing games this close to the All-Star break, you wonder if the Clips will just shut him down until after the break. L.A. has floundered in his absence, losing four of the last five.

    That shouldn't be surprising. For all the coverage "A Tribe Called Bench" got, it was easy to forget that Chris Paul is a top-three player.

    Now that he's out, you can see how much of Jamal Crawford's All-Star buzz was attached to the victories that CP3 brought with him. Without Paul, this might not be a good team at all. 

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Finally, the Oklahoma City Thunder look like a collection of human beings. They lost two hard-fought road games last week, one to Golden State and one to the newly competent Los Angeles Lakers. 

    The most intriguing development was how Kevin Martin was kept on the bench during crunch time of the Sunday loss to Los Angeles. I suspect that Martin had become such a defensive liability that Scott Brooks saw fit to bench him.

    Martin is an excellent shooter, but his off-ball defense can be poor. He often "dies" on screens, meaning that he gets cleaned out by picks, allowing his man to get free for a shot. 

    This was not a problem with James Harden, though he was never known as a defensive savant. It will be interesting to see how Oklahoma City manages this.

1. San Antonio Spurs

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    You're not tricking me, San Antonio. You're not roping me into thinking you're the prohibitive championship favorites again, not after last year.

    Much as I might be reluctant to believe in San Antonio, masters of regular-season basketball, the Spurs have earned this spot. Not only do they have the league's best record, but they snagged it while Tim Duncan missed four of the past five games.

    It's been a nice showcase for backup center Tiago Splitter. The Brazilian big man has averaged 15.0 points and 9.2 boards over the past five games. Best of all, he's done it on better than 64 percent shooting.