NBA Power Rankings: Where All 30 Teams Rank After the Trade Deadline
The NBA trade deadline is behind us, and we've got to reorganize 30 teams with new personnel scattered all over the place.
The usual criteria—advanced stats, record, recent play and injuries—still apply. But by necessity, this edition has a little more emphasis on speculation.
How much better are the Cleveland Cavaliers with a revamped rotation that includes George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.? How much harder might LeBron James play on defense? Cleveland, the league's busiest deadline participant, is a great unknown.
Though the Cavs' new ranking requires the most guesswork, we'll have to approach several other tweaked teams the same way.
In the wake of a dizzying deadline, here's how the league has reshuffled itself.
Last week's ranking in parentheses.
30. Phoenix Suns (30)
The Suns reeled in Elfrid Payton from the Orlando Magic, and it only cost a second-rounder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.
Payton is defensively suspect, and it says a lot when a team as strapped for talent as the Magic are effectively gives up on you—especially when holding restricted rights this summer. But the Suns, who've lost four straight and suffered a 48-point defeat against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday, took a solid flier on a former lottery pick.
29. New York Knicks (22)
Emmanuel Mudiay, whom Wojnarowski reported came over from Denver on Thursday, is an intriguing addition, though Knicks fans will be unhappy if he costs rookie Frank Ntilikina any playing time at the point. This was already largely the case, but New York's season is now entirely about developing youth and tanking. Kristaps Porzingis is done for the year with a torn ACL, which is the entire reason the Knicks plummeted seven spots.
28. Brooklyn Nets (28)
Brooklyn, a loser in eight of its last nine games, added Rashad Vaughn and a second-rounder from the Milwaukee Bucks for Tyler Zeller, then flipped Vaughn to New Orleans for Dante Cunningham, per Yahoo Sports' Shams Charania. That thing you see not moving is the needle.
27. Dallas Mavericks (27)
The Mavs have dropped seven of their last eight games and learned this week that Seth Curry's year is officially over. He'll have surgery on the left tibia that has sidelined him since the preseason.
In more positive news, Dwight Powell is starting, and he leads all high-volume roll men (at least 100 plays used) in points per possession. And Doug McDermott is aboard, along with a second-rounder. It cost the Mavs Devin Harris, but they're now the only team in the league with two members of Ames High School's 2010 Iowa state championship team. Harrison Barnes is the other.
26. Sacramento Kings (25)
There was a time last summer when the market rate for a first-round pick was taking on about $15 million in bad salary. That's what the Brooklyn Nets did when they snagged DeMarre Carroll and a first from the Raptors, and it's what the Kings should have done with the money they spent on George Hill.
Now that Sacramento has traded Hill for Iman Shumpert (who owns an $11 million player option next season), Joe Johnson (who'll be bought out), a second-rounder and $3 million in cash, the Hill signing is even less excusable.
The Kings gave away Malachi Richardson to clear a roster spot and continue to operate without a clear direction.
25. Chicago Bulls (23)
Nikola Mirotic is gone, dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans along with a second-rounder for Omer Asik, Jameer Nelson (later sent to Detroit), Tony Allen and a 2018 first-round pick. Considering his return earlier this year sparked a tank-busting turnaround, Mirotic had to go. He was performing too well.
The Bulls' other shrewd move was taking on Noah Vonleh from the Portland Trail Blazers, who needed to move him to duck under the tax line. Vonleh is only 22, and his lottery pedigree might still be in there somewhere.
Chicago has lost seven straight, but it has work to do as the bottoming out resumes in earnest. The Bulls' 10-2 stretch in December has them ahead of several teams in the loss column.
24. Atlanta Hawks (26)
Surprisingly, the Hawks held on to Marco Belinelli, Kent Bazemore, Ersan Ilyasova, Dewayne Dedmon and the other middle-tier vets purportedly on the block. They dumped Luke Babbitt on the Heat in a cost-saving move, and Atlanta will likely start negotiating buyouts with the other names above soon.
With a pair of wins this week, the Hawks climbed a tad.
23. Orlando Magic (29)
Tuesday's 21-point comeback against the Cleveland Cavaliers says more about the Cavs' struggles than anything else, but the Magic notched three wins this week. They haven't won two in a row since Nov. 8 and 10.
Wisely, Orlando didn't deal Aaron Gordon. He and Jonathan Isaac are the franchise's only possible cornerstones, and even if the current front office may not feel attachment to Gordon (having not drafted him), the 22-year-old's improvements as a shooter and ball-handler this season suggest he has the capacity to continue honing his skills.
Finally, prior to trading him, the Magic were 6.9 points per 100 possessions better with Payton off the floor this year. They won't miss him.
22. Memphis Grizzlies (21)
Tyreke Evans is still a member of the Grizzlies, which means they'll have to find ways to keep him off the floor if lottery position is a concern. He's been too effective for a team that ought to chase losses.
Don't rule out a buyout or a re-signing this summer, perhaps for the mid-level exception.
Memphis has lost five straight and dealt James Ennis, the team's best two-way wing, to Detroit.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (17)
New Orleans has lost four of its five games since DeMarcus Cousins tore his Achilles, and Mirotic's arrival hasn't paid dividends. Though the pre-deadline acquisition put up 18 points and 12 boards in his Saturday debut (a loss to the Timberwolves), Mirotic's time on the court has been unproductive.
Units including Mirotic and Anthony Davis are surrendering over 120 points per 100 possessions—an untenably bad figure. The sample is small, and we should expect what is a theoretically sound frontcourt to improve its production.
20. Los Angeles Lakers (24)
What a move!
The Lakers cleared the decks for the summer of 2018 or 2019, opening up two max-salary slots by trading Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to the Cavaliers for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and Cleveland's 2018 first-round pick.
The future is brighter in L.A., but the deal's impact on the rest of this season is hazier.
Thomas and Clarkson have been similarly (un)productive this season, posting nearly identical scoring averages (14.5 for Clarkson, 14.7 for Thomas) and usage rates (27.5 and 29.0 percent, respectively). Clarkson has shot it more efficiently, but that's not saying much.
Maybe Thomas finds his form, and maybe Frye offers some spacing if he's not bought out. Or maybe both will prove useless.
Ultimately, the Lakers' climb is more closely tied to an 8-2 record over their last 10 games than any of Thursday's deadline action.
19. Los Angeles Clippers (20)
DeAndre Jordan stayed put despite being perhaps the most-discussed trade candidate all season.
A half-game out of the eighth spot in the West, L.A. has won four of its last five contests. A trying seven-game road trip begins Friday, though. With the Utah Jazz surging, the Clippers don't have much margin for error in their playoff pursuit.
18. Detroit Pistons (19)
So much for an adjustment period.
Detroit has won five straight, and four of those victories came after Griffin's arrival. The surprisingly quick synergy between him and Andre Drummond is the headline, but the Pistons are also getting excellent production from Reggie Bullock and Stanley Johnson.
If forcing Johnson into a bigger role is what pulls him off the lottery-bust pile, Detroit may start feeling better about paying Griffin zillions of dollars over the next four years. Emphasis on "may."
James Ennis, acquired from the Grizzlies, bolsters the Pistons' wing depth. Jameer Nelson's arrival from Chicago is less significant. He won't push Ish Smith for minutes at the 1.
17. Charlotte Hornets (18)
The Hornets pasted 49 first-quarter points on the Pacers this past Friday, becoming the first team to do that against any team in an opening frame since the Portland Trail Blazers did it Nov. 25, 1990, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Kemba Walker ended that win with 41 points of his own, and because of that performance (and his general excellence), he's still a member of the Hornets.
The playoffs remain a long shot, but the Hornets are quietly above .500 since Jan. 1, and Nicolas Batum is rounding into form. February has been his best statistical month by a significant margin.
16. Miami Heat (11)
Dwyane Wade is back, but whether the good vibes and sense of closure his return engenders mean anything on the floor remains to be seen. Is this a farewell tour, or will Wade play? And if he plays, does he deserve rotation minutes over the younger, scrappier wings who've gotten the Heat to this point?
Actually, that last question's easy. The answer is "no."
Miami has struggled lately, but each loss in its five-game skid has been of the single-digit variety. We've got to demote the Heat for losing, but the wheels haven't fallen off.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (10)
The Blazers stayed streaking this past week, losing three straight roadies against the East after collecting four consecutive victories. On the year, these guys have five streaks of at least three wins and four stretches of at least three losses in a row. When things get rolling for Portland, good or bad, the momentum is tough to stop.
Noah Vonleh was a cap casualty at the deadline, as the Blazers dumped him on the Bulls to creep under the tax line.
14. Indiana Pacers (9)
Darren Collison's knee surgery will cost him two to three weeks, and the fact Indy didn't go out and add a point guard suggests it believes that aggressive timeline.
The Pacers have lost two out of three, and while Cory Joseph is reliable as a fill-in starter, the offense will struggle when former third-stringer (and now backup) Joe Young runs the show. To compensate, Bojan Bogdanovic will need to stay hot. He hit the Wizards for 29 points Monday and has scored at least 18 in four straight.
13. Washington Wizards (14)
Washington started rolling immediately without John Wall, racking up assists at a torrid pace and winning five straight games. In that stretch, they averaged 32.2 dimes per game, up from 23.2 before Wall went down. In hindsight, maybe this shouldn't have been a surprise. In games before Wall's injury (so we're cutting out the five-contest winning streak), Washington's assist percentage was higher when Wall was on the bench.
To his credit, the Wizards' offensive rating is still higher when he plays. But it's hard to see the way Washington has thrived without its star point guard and not wonder how much truth there was in J.J. Barea's dig at Wall a couple of weeks ago.
It's empirically wrong to say the Wizards are better without Wall, but it feels fair to point out how they look fresher sans a ball-dominant point guard.
Washington went 2-2 this week but has won five of its last seven.
12. Philadelphia 76ers (12)
Joel Embiid suited up for games on back-to-back days for the first time this year, playing in Friday's win over the Heat and Saturday's loss to the Pacers. Embiid showed no ill effects afterward, pumping in 27 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and three blocks to beat the surging Wizards the following Tuesday, 115-102.
Philly stood pat at the deadline, which means its fate will continue to hinge on Embiid's health.
That's looking like a safer proposition than ever these days.
11. Denver Nuggets (16)
Jamal Murray has been scorching of late, as has his team. The Nuggets drilled 18 treys during Monday's 121-104 win over Charlotte. Murray, just 20 years old and looking more like a star-in-waiting every day, is on pace to become the youngest guard since Magic Johnson to average over 16 points on at least 53 percent true shooting.
Denver is 6-2 over its last eight games and hit 40.7 percent of its threes in that span. It took down the Thunder to close out last week, and subsequent wins over the Warriors and Hornets pushed this team to the top 10's edge.
10. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 13
Between Christmas and Thursday's trade deadline, the Cleveland Cavaliers ranked in the league's bottom five in defensive efficiency, net rating and wins. Chaos reigned throughout the organization, lines of communication were down and 21-point leads were getting blown against the Magic.
So it was a good time to blow things up.
In three separate deals, Cleveland sent away Isaiah Thomas, Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Dwyane Wade, its own 2018 first-rounder and a 2020 second-rounder (via Miami). The return: Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Rodney Hood and George Hill.
Cleveland shed age, defensive ineptitude and many members of lineups that had been bleeding points. Younger, more versatile and more athletic, the Cavs are a different team.
Hill is the league's leader in three-point percentage—one who can guard both backcourt positions. The 6'8", 206-pound Hood is a two-way wing with great size and a reliable stroke from deep. Neither needs the ball, but both can run an offense if necessary. In short, they're the kinds of players who fit with James.
Clarkson and Nance are less valuable, though Nance's threat as a vertical spacer gives Cleveland a dimension it had been missing.
This is as close to a fresh start as any team can get in February.
9. Utah Jazz
Last Week: 15
We'll get to the hot streak since Rudy Gobert's return from knee troubles in a second, but just know the Utah Jazz rank 12th in net rating. So if this feels like too lofty a spot for a 26-28 team, keep in mind that we don't have to lean all that hard on the last few weeks to justify Utah's position.
But because recent performance matters, said run is a huge factor its climb.
The Jazz have won seven in a row and are 8-2 since Gobert rejoined the lineup Jan. 19. Having the big man back in the middle has been key, but everything else seems to have fallen into place.
Ricky Rubio is suddenly an offensive dynamo, averaging 24 points per game on 55 percent shooting (including 59 percent from deep) over his last five contests. Let's also note Donovan Mitchell, who became the first rookie since Michael Jordan to post two 40-point games before the All-Star break when he bashed the Suns for 40 last Friday.
Utah is surging. Over the last three weeks, no one has a higher net rating than the Jazz's plus-10.5.
Losing Hood is a bit of a blow, but Mitchell can take up the slack. Joe Johnson, who went to the Kings, was one of the league's least productive players.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 7
The Minnesota Timberwolves' rise has been unconventional.
In an era of three-point explosion, the Wolves have gotten a declining percentage of their points from beyond the arc in each full month of the 2017-18 season. No surprise, then, that they rank last in the league in that category, per Team Rankings.
Remarkably, their offensive rating (all the way up to third) has improved in each month. Fewer threes; more points. Go figure.
To compensate, Minnesota draws tons of shooting fouls and almost always wins the turnover battle. Is this approach a little too close to the one that doomed the Toronto Raptors in recent postseason runs? Who cares? We're worrying about what will happen to the Wolves in the playoffs. That presumes, correctly, they'll be in the playoffs—which is a win for this organization.
The Timberwolves have won two of three, with the lone loss coming on a LeBron James game-winner Wednesday night.
If they add Derrick Rose, a buyout candidate in Utah whom Tom Thibodeau might consider playing ahead of Tyus Jones, expect a fan revolt.
7. San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 6
The hive mind in San Antonio remains intact, as the Spurs, losers in two of their last three, did nothing at the deadline.
If we'd only taken Tony Parker's suggestion—"I think it is always good to stay intact," he told Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News on Wednesday—as an indication of the franchise's shared thought patterns, we would have known no deals were coming.
San Antonio fell to the red-hot Jazz and Rockets this week, and its season remains a triage scenario. The Spurs are just surviving (albeit better than anyone could have expected) until Kawhi Leonard is ready to return from his quad injury.
Still second in defensive efficiency and fifth in net rating, the Spurs are chugging along.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 8
Giannis Antetokounmpo picked a bad week to jump over a 6'6" human being—Tim Hardaway Jr. in this case—and throw down one of the year's best dunks...because there's a lot to talk about with the Milwaukee Bucks, and all any right-thinking person should want to do is watch that clip on a loop.
Malcolm Brogdon is due to miss six to eight weeks with a torn quadriceps, and Matthew Dellavedova could be out for a month with an ankle sprain. Jabari Parker is back and looking aggressive, getting up plenty of shots and averaging double-digit points despite strict minute management. His return will have a far greater impact than Milwaukee's trade acquisition, Tyler Zeller.
Since canning Jason Kidd on Jan. 22, the Bucks are 7-1 with the league's best defensive rating. That's a mighty straightforward correlation.
In closing, Giannis jumped over a dude.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 4
Tuesday's 125-105 road win over the Warriors snapped the Oklahoma City Thunder's four-game slide and served notice of an important fact: This team has a frighteningly high ceiling. Because even amid a stretch of uninspiring play and underwhelming defense, OKC still mustered the orneriness necessary to bully a Warriors team coming off a loss—one that should have been dialed in.
Russell Westbrook set the tone with an explosive first quarter, but Paul George controlled the game. He smothered perimeter opponents, grabbing six steals and refusing to be screened. If the Thunder campaign for him for Defensive Player of the Year, they'll struggle to do better than sending in the full game tape against the Warriors.
Oh, and he also scored 38 points.
George is also enjoying a tremendous shooting season. Klay Thompson is on his own planet, hitting a preposterous 56.2 percent of three-point attempts deemed "wide open" by NBA.com's tracking data. That leads the league.
But George is in second place at 50.9 percent.
OKC doesn't climb after the Warriors victory because its overall defensive performance is suspect without Andre Roberson around—and because the four losses that preceded the win in Golden State (and the short-handed one after) still count. But the Thunder remain exceptionally scary.
4. Boston Celtics
Last Week: 5
Greg Monroe will fit perfectly with the Boston Celtics, as the skilled big man should function well alongside Al Horford in large lineups but will especially thrive as a second-unit hub. That's something the Celtics, who rank in the bottom five in offensive efficiency since Jan. 1, desperately need.
The 27-year-old center, signed after he secured a buyout from the Suns, has always been a clever passer, and he'll do a strong Horford impersonation as an offensive fulcrum at the elbows.
Former Cavs general manager David Griffin saw the potential immediately, tweeting: "Boston's defensive strengths can mask many of Monroe's deficiencies ... using him as a sixth man and picking his spots could really highlight his offensive strengths, which are similar to Horford. His playmaking fits Kyrie Irving well."
With Irving out, backup Terry Rozier shined. He notched a triple-double against the Knicks on Jan. 31 then pumped in 31 points in a Friday win over the Hawks.
Though the Celts took a beating when they faced Toronto on Tuesday, they've upgraded the roster and didn't lose anything at the deadline. That's enough for a move into the top four.
3. Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 1
The Golden State Warriors' defensive performances of late have been abysmal. Despite having the personnel to rank among the league's top four on that end (where they've resided in each previous season of the Steve Kerr era), a stretch since Dec. 1 in which the Dubs' defensive rating ranks 24th has them down to sixth on the year.
It's fatigue. It's a lack of urgency. It's disappointing steps backward from Patrick McCaw and predictable ones from Nick Young.
We threatened to drop the Warriors out of the top spot last week if they laid any more eggs. Since then, they've registered an undeserved win against the Kings marred by 25 turnovers, a seven-point loss to the Nuggets and an embarrassing undressing at the hands of a far more focused and competitive Thunder team—one that wasn't even playing well before Tuesday's 125-105 blowout in Oakland.
Those are all duds.
Golden State should be more concerned about its title-odds primacy than at any point in its run. Opponents understand that physicality and ball denials on the perimeter flummox the Warriors. And the degree to which smart foes ignore non-shooters (basically everyone other than Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant) is reaching critical levels.
This is the most vulnerable a healthy Warriors team has looked in years.
2. Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 3
Thanks to the Warriors' defensive slippage, the Toronto Raptors are the only team to rank among the top five on both ends. According to John Schuhmann of NBA.com, 11 of the last 35 teams to end the season with that distinction won titles, while 14 made the conference finals.
Two-way excellence during the regular season doesn't guarantee a deep playoff run...but it sure makes it more likely.
Toronto blitzed the Celtics on Tuesday, winning 111-91 behind a balanced attack. As much as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan deserve notoriety for stellar seasons, the Raptors' depth—which includes two dominant five-man units—sets the team apart.
Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl are Toronto's main reserve quintet. When they share the floor, they outscore opponents by 25.4 points per 100 possessions, better than Toronto's regular starters. Stick Norman Powell in there, and the bench still romps.
"Their bench has been killing everybody," Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters after Tuesday's defeat.
This is the deepest, most balanced team in the league.
1. Houston Rockets
Last Week: 2
The Warriors' slide means the Houston Rockets are now even with the defending champs in the loss column. Based on the Rockets' recent play, it's reasonable to make them the front-runners for the West's top seed.
They've been significantly better than Golden State (and everyone else in the league) for nearly a month.
Since getting Luc Mbah a Moute back on Jan. 15, Houston is tops in net rating and winning percentage, notably besting the Warriors in both offensive and defensive efficiency—all while dealing with more injury trouble than Golden State. Trevor Ariza is out with a hamstring setback, and Eric Gordon (back) has been banged up and bricky from distance.
It hasn't mattered.
And while the Warriors try to regain their top form, the Rockets are still figuring out what their peak looks like.
"That's what's fun about this process," Chris Paul told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "We're building, adding little things in. Obviously, there's going to be hiccups here and there. We're progressing."
Houston embarrassed the Cavs on Saturday, has won six straight and has more than earned the No. 1 spot.