NBA Power Rankings: How Each Team Stacks Up After the All-Star Break
Well, that was a fun All-Star Game. A short week gave way to all the wackiness that is All-Star weekend, culminating in Kobe Bryant defensively hounding LeBron James with a (meaningless) game on the line.
It was a nice dessert to what seemed like a main course of Michael Jordan hagiography. Granted, the "Jordan at 50" coverage was fun, but the constant hypotheticals of "MJ vs. Kobe" and "MJ vs. LeBron" grew tiresome. It was just nice to see the players who carried his legacy actually play some real-life basketball.
The game was a reminder that LeBron James just doesn't get criticized like he once did. Had he not won the title last year, those two Kobe Bryant blocks would be the subject of intensive media scrutiny.
As far as the rest of the NBA goes, though, here are the power rankings for all 30 NBA teams post All-Star break.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Kevin Garnett hit various big shots, madly cursing all the way, and it really looked like Boston was going to pull out yet another Rondo-less game.
But Byron Mullens responded with the game of his life. Now, that might not be saying a whole lot, but 25 points and 18 boards is nothing to sneeze at. I don't have much hope for Mullens as a starting NBA big man, but perhaps he can surprise further.
29. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic are terrible this year, but positive signs are abound. The young guys have been good.
Andrew Nicholson has been the most underrated rookie in the league, claiming over a 16.0 PER and notching a .538 field-goal percentage. Hardly a high flyer, Nicholson gets it done with touch around the rim.
Between Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic, the Orlando Magic have a good young frontcourt to build with. They will also get a high lottery pick next season.
Orlando desperately needs the lotto pick because it lacks any star power. The aforementioned young big men have impressed, but it's hard to envision either of them in future All-Star Games.
28. Sacramento Kings
After a monster five-game stretch, DeMarcus Cousins has cracked the 20.0 PER mark. I'm not sure that Kings fans are wildly celebrating the feat, though, as their team's fate is hanging in the balance.
David Stern was vague about what will happen regarding the possible Seattle move. Still, the smart money is on a relocation to the Pacific Northwest, which is a shame, considering how proud and fervent the Sacramento fanbase is.
Jimmer Fredette and Tyreke Evans have been good this year amid the mess. So if this franchise does indeed move, the new owner will inherit some talent. The Kings have players; they just need an organizational structure to shape them into a cohesive unit.
27. Phoenix Suns
This is basketball's most unwatchable team. Here's my shortened case for that claim: Michael Beasley played 33 minutes against the Lakers last week.
The Suns have lost four in a row and lack a plausible All-Star down the line. They also don't have any valuable trade assets, and rookie Kendall Marshall has disappointed.
On the bright side, the Suns are likely receiving a lottery pick from the Lakers, and it looks like the Steve Nash trade hasn't exactly come back to haunt them thus far.
Things are bad in Phoenix, but they could be worse.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
The All-Star weekend was Kyrie Irving's coming-out party. He wowed in the Rising Stars Challenge by making Brandon Knight fall over, and then he demonstrated his versatility by winning the three-point shootout. Finally, in the All-Star Game itself, he thrilled the crowd with a flashy 15 points.
This kid's a future superstar, if he isn't one already. Cleveland has lost three in a row, but it's hard to care about that when witnessing Irving's talent. With another draft pick and a little health, the Cavs should be good again.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves
I rarely say this about players shooting .343 from the field, but please get Ricky Rubio some help. The kid has been majestic of late, averaging better than 15 points and nine assists over his past five games.
In the offseason, they must add some three-point shooting. A dearth of threes has killed this offense, and Kevin Love's return won't fix everything. The Wolves need to augment what they have.
24. Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards keep playing defense. Free of JaVale McGee, they've rocketed up to seventh in defensive efficiency this season.
Losing McGee helped the defensive cause, but so did competent bigs like Emeka Okafor and Nene. The team has a solid foundation for making other teams miserable next season.
When you add John Wall to the mix, you have the potential for an elite defense, not just a very good one. Wall continues to impress in almost every aspect, and he'll be an All-Star lock next season if and when he fixes that jumper.
23. New Orleans Hornets
Few took notice, but Anthony Davis took Wednesday against the Blazers to show that he's actually been the best rookie in the league this season.
Damian Lillard will probably win the Rookie of the Year Award on account of playing more games and more minutes, but the Brow's been better per minute than any other rookie this year.
Davis claimed 21 points, 11 boards and two blocks in 28 minutes of play, while the Hornets smacked the Blazers 99-63. Lillard, in contrast, went 4-of-15.
That's just one game, which is a tiny sample from a long season. Still, it was hard to come away with it thinking that the Hornets erred in selecting such a gifted 19-year-old.
22. Philadelphia 76ers
Also, does anyone know what's up with Andrew Bynum?
The information related to his knee and his return is often vague and cryptic, and at times, it seems as though the big man took this season off for fun.
While I wouldn't argue for a coaching change, I do wonder if this offense needs some fresh eyes. Jrue Holiday should be playing in a more fast-paced system.
21. Toronto Raptors
At least the Raptors had a plan for Rudy Gay. They're using him in small-ball lineups, trying to open up driving space by playing Rudy at the power forward position.
The results have been, to put it kindly, mixed. Gay shoots a lot more in Toronto than he ever did, but more than 20 shots per game is a bit much from a player of his talent level.
Wednesday's game against the New York Knicks was a reminder that he might not be up for such a challenge. Gay went 4-of-21, and though the bricks were loud, I could barely hear them over all the high-fiving in the Memphis front office. This might not have been the best trade for Toronto.
20. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers had a golden opportunity to get into the playoff race, but they've been slumping and are on a five-game losing streak. Portland just keeps giving away easy buckets to the opposition.
The season's nadir may well have come on Wednesday when Portland lost 99-63 to the New Orleans Hornets. This just isn't the kind of game you see from a playoff contender.
Perhaps such expectations (or hopes, really) weren't fair to this team. It's still young and figuring out defensive principles.
Next season, look out for the Blazers. In the meantime, score on them a lot.
19. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons lost to New Orleans and beat the Wizards. Both teams are deceptively good, or at least better than the records would indicate.
The same could be said for the Pistons, who might have something offensively with Jose Calderon and Greg Monroe. The two are hardly a natural pick-and-roll pairing, but few teams boast a better combination of passers.
Without Drummond, Monroe has picked up the rebounding slack, and he's averaging 13.6 boards over the past five games. He'll never be the defensive talent that Drummond is, but Monroe's still capable of being an elite big man in other ways.
18. Dallas Mavericks
We've yet to see the superstar version of Dirk Nowitzki this year, and it's beginning to look like that guy isn't coming back.
If this is the case, then who will replace Dirk going forward? If Mark Cuban again whiffs in free agency, the future is fairly bleak for this once-great team.
17. Los Angeles Lakers
Kobe Bryant blocked LeBron James' shot twice in the All-Star Game. Sadly, that might be the best Laker accomplishment this season.
Overall, though, Los Angeles has been acceptably decent in the month of February. The Clippers killed them on Thursday, but that was expected against a team with so much athleticism.
L.A.'s offense has been good this year due in large part to Kobe Bryant and, believe it or not, Dwight Howard. Dwight's overall efficiency has largely gotten ignored because his defense has slipped, but credit to him for notching the league lead in rebounds while playing hurt.
16. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks beat the 76ers, but it happened amid Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings shooting a combined 19-for-45. I just don't know how Bucks fans can watch this backcourt.
After beginning with a hideous November, Ersan Ilyasova has been quite good offensively for Milwaukee. With Larry Sanders out with an injury, Ilyasova has been a team bulwark.
The Bucks should probably make a trade at the deadline because their backcourt just isn't feasible. Knowing them, though, they'll do nothing.
15. Atlanta Hawks
My, is Josh Smith showcasing his trade value right now. Over the last five games, Smith is averaging 21.4 points and 10 boards with .544 shooting from the field and .647 shooting from three-point land.
This will either boost his trade value or cause the Hawks to keep the talented, yet maddening power forward. One thing to watch for is Smith's aforementioned three-point shooting.
He's shooting .354 from deep on the season, which isn't great, but at least it nets a positive yield on average. If Smith can actually become competent from long range, he suddenly becomes an awesome offensive player.
14. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors keep on sliding, losing their last five and falling into negative point differential territory. The good news is that they've played a hard schedule and they'll play a lot of home games at the end of the season .
The bad news is that Andrew Bogut's inclusion hasn't made them better. Perhaps that's because he hasn't been completely included.
It's hard to find a comfort zone when you're playing your center every other game within the confines of a strict minutes cap. That's where Golden State is with Bogut, and you have to wonder whether such restrictions have become a distraction.
13. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz beat the Minnesota Timberwolves last week, and more importantly, they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.
So why no boost in the rankings?
It's just hard to have a negative margin of victory team leapfrog some of the teams in front. But, if Utah keeps playing this way, said leapfrogging will happen.
Rumors are swirling about regarding a Paul Millsap for Eric Bledsoe deal with the Clippers. That might make Utah worse in the short term, but it will be better in the long run as Bledsoe develops.
12. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets had a hyped rematch against the Golden State Warriors last Tuesday, and they did not disappoint. The most impressive aspect of their 116-107 victory was that the three-pointers weren't even falling.
Houston just dominated Golden State in the paint, often with smart interior passes. Though this team gives off the hint of gimmickry with the constant three-pointers and drives that beg for contact (i.e. free throws), the Rockets just might be growing some new facets.
The Rockets also lost decisively to the Clippers, who beat Houston at its own game with 13 made three-pointers. Houston's problems on defense could hold it back from getting out of the first round of the playoffs.
11. Boston Celtics
They lost to the Charlotte Bobcats last week, a disappointment that nearly invalidates the preceding winning streak.
In fairness to Boston, I'm not sure how Byron Mullens was hitting those contested shots. But I guess that sometimes, it's just not your day.
There's a lot of speculation on whether or not the C's are better without Rondo. The short answer is that they are. The longer answer is that they'll eventually need him, probably in the playoffs.
But the other question related to those answers is: "Does Boston want to build around someone like Rondo?"
It's better that Rondo shows up for big games as opposed to small ones, but his mediocrity in the former is a bit concerning going forward.
Either way, Boston's stingy defense is back, and it is killing opposing teams right now.
10. Brooklyn Nets
Has Brook Lopez become a plus defender? It's fair to wonder when the big man averages over two blocks in slightly over 30 minutes per night. Lopez just might be the franchise player that nobody thought Brooklyn was getting when it signed him last offseason.
Now, with the trade deadline approaching, one wonders if Brooklyn would even offer Lopez for Dwight Howard. It's ardently chased the Laker center, but Lopez has been better this season.
It's the other lavishly compensated players that the Nets need to worry about. Somehow, this team is winning games despite Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Deron Williams all performing short of expectations.
9. Chicago Bulls
Rarely have we witnessed an All-Star tandem more awkward than Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. It was disgustingly beautiful, as many things Chicago Bulls are.
Deng hung in the background of the ASG action while Noah hilariously played far too hard. The latter better symbolized Chicago's team in that he was giving maximum effort when many players around the league wouldn't.
Chicago lost an eyesore of a 71-69 game to Boston last Wednesday. It was tempting to knock it down in the rankings, but the game was as much a testament to its great defense as it was to its mediocre offense.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
I keep hearing pundits discuss Memphis as a dark-horse contender, but I really don't see it. It's not because of the Rudy Gay trade. I didn't see it before the trade happened, and I'm even inclined to believe that the deal made Memphis better.
What we're probably going to witness is that problems Memphis always had will be cited as problems the trade caused if and when the Grizzlies lose in the playoffs. This squad struggled to score, and Gay wasn't exactly helping the cause.
The Grizzlies' hopes rest with Mike Conley now, who might benefit from controlling more of the offense. He looked great last week against the Sacramento Kings with 22 points on 12 shots. Of course, the caveat is, it was against the Kings.
7. Indiana Pacers
Paul George had an excellent All-Star Game after the Pacers went 1-1 last week. It's an exhibition, but it's also encouraging that George scored 17 points among the league's best players. The kid's either arrived or arriving.
Indiana lost a close one to Brooklyn on Monday, one that seemed to be in hand until the Nets surged and sent it into overtime. Crunch-time offense might be an issue for this team.
Defense certainly isn't an issue for Indiana, as it demonstrated by strangling the Bobcats. It forced poor Charlotte to score 77 points on 31 percent shooting Wednesday night.
6. Denver Nuggets
Can Kenneth Faried become a franchise player? It's a goofy question, but one I considered while watching Faried dominate the Rising Stars Challenge and again after he pulled off the best dunk of the 2013 Dunk Contest.
Those were exhibitions, certainly, but they were also excellent showcases for Faried's athleticism. That element of his game was undersold coming out of college, much to the delight and surprise of Nuggets fans.
The Nuggets themselves lost two road games last week, one to Toronto and the other to Brooklyn. They're obviously quite strong at their high-altitude home, but it's hard to take them seriously as a contender until they start reeling off road wins.
5. New York Knicks
That's a revisiting of the "bad Melo" who chucks with volume, but not efficiency. In theory, that guy had been banished in favor of someone who only took open off-the-catch three-pointers.
One wonders if the Knicks are suffering from the awkward on-court dynamic between Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire. The latter has been surprisingly good since he returned from injury, but it's possible that the two just aren't meant to play with one another.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
I'm not sure why the Los Angeles Clippers are in every trade rumor, but they are. It seems to me that this squad has enough to compete for a title as it stands, and such franchises usually stand pat at the trading deadline.
Of course, Kevin Garnett could be a good fit if he comes along in a trade. I understand the interest in him, but I don't see how a package of Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan should be the cost.
KG will turn 37 in May. You can theoretically get another couple seasons from him, but an injury could easily end his career.
This is rarely considered when people discuss bringing on old players. They could be washed up, sure, but an injury could force them out of the league instantly.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week was a rough one for the Thunder. They got thoroughly cleaned by the Jazz and tried to respond in a bigger game against the Miami Heat.
Instead, they were picked apart from start to finish, further fueling the notion that the Heat just might be a poor matchup for OKC.
On the bright side, Scott Brooks found some success near the end of the game with placing Serge Ibaka at center.
Kendrick Perkins has killed the Thunder when playing against the Heat. If Oklahoma City ever meets Miami again in a finals matchup, the Thunder must reduce Perkins' minutes. If this last debacle is any indication, they will.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Sorry, San Antonio, but Miami beat a major team in a nationally televised game. Given that Gregg Popovich disdains media attention and he was busy coaching the All-Star team, he might not notice that his team has the best record, but not the best ranking.
San Antonio pulled off an impressive road victory against the Chicago Bulls on Monday. Despite lacking Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the Spurs took the game easily with a barrage of open threes.
I'm not sure if that game is a testament or indictment of San Antonio. On the one hand, talent seems ancillary when it comes to regular season wins. On the other, perhaps it reveals that this team's regular season success is system-based and that such a system will get cracked in a seven-game playoff series.
1. Miami Heat
The Miami Heat cruised into the All-Star break with a seven-game win streak. That's good on its own, but the last game against the Thunder was the most encouraging one of the season.
Though underdogs at Oklahoma City, Miami led start to finish, eventually besting the Thunder by 10 points. LeBron James continued his deity-like play by claiming 39 points, 12 boards and seven assists on a "mere" 58 percent shooting.
That ends his streak of consecutive games with 30 points and better than 60 percent shooting. Something tells me that Miami will bounce back from that mildly disappointing news, though.
Right now, it has the best player and the best chance at a title.