Power Ranking Every Team's Season Entering B/R NBA Fantasy Week

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 10, 2020

Power Ranking Every Team's Season Entering B/R NBA Fantasy Week

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    The NBA is losing control.

    More accurately, the league is ceding virtual control to 30 B/R writers, editors and programmers who will each take over a team for B/R's NBA Fantasy GM League. Since the real Association is suspended indefinitely, we're bringing it back with a week of wheeling, dealing and live mock-drafting.

    Before sending the hoops world in a new direction, though, we must first remember where it left off. Since days feel like weeks in this socially distanced environment, the two months we've been without actual basketball seem more like two years.

    So, let's reset the league's hierarchy with a fresh batch of power rankings. As per usual, we're weighing both how a team has fared over the entire season and how they most recently performed.


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    30. Detroit Pistons

    The Pistons needed to embrace a youth movement, but the roster moves to make that happen coupled with some injury issues left this as the least competitive club in basketball. Dating back to the trade deadline, Detroit has gone just 1-12 with an NBA-worst minus-9.1 net rating.

    At least Christian Wood sent his breakout into overdrive. During that same stretch, he's gone for 22.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per night, while hitting 56.2 percent of his field goals and 40 percent of his threes. He'll need a new deal this offseason, and the Pistons should probably do anything they can to keep him.


    29. Golden State Warriors

    At least the basketball gods granted Golden State one Stephen Curry sighting before the hiatus started. The two-time MVP made his first appearance since breaking his hand in October on March 5, and while the performance lacked his normal efficiency, he still put 23 points, seven assists and six rebounds on the defending champs.

    Theoretically, the season's suspension could give Curry and Klay Thompson enough time to rejoin forces and splash their way through the final stretch. But this is already a lost campaign, and the franchise has draft-lottery odds to protect.


    28. Chicago Bulls

    The Bulls were finally getting healthy, and good things tend to happen when Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. share the floor. Over 13 games last season, that trio bested opponents by 2.8 points per 100 possessions. Add a red-hot Coby White to the equation (26.1 points on 48.0/43.2/90.3 shooting over his final nine outings), and Chicago had serious late-season spoiler potential.

    Then again, this group was little more than a speed bump the last time we saw it. Since Feb. 1, the Bulls were 3-11 with the league's third-worst net rating.


    27. Minnesota Timberwolves

    The Timberwolves entered the deadline with arguably the NBA's best offensive big man, and they exited it with three more fire-ballers. Karl-Anthony Towns' wrist injury prevented the puzzle pieces from all coming together, but the newcomers looked as advertised. D'Angelo Russell cleared 21 points and six assists a night. Malik Beasley averaged 20.7 points on 47.2 percent shooting. Juancho Hernangomez hit 42 percent of his triples.

    But the offense wasn't enough to cover for all of the defensive leaks. Dating back to the deadline, the Wolves allowed an abysmal 116.7 points per 100 possessions. Even with KAT at full strength, Minnesota's offense couldn't keep up.


    26. Atlanta Hawks

    The Hawks have a transcendent offensive talent in All-Star point guard Trae Young, but everything else is a bit of a mystery. John Collins overlaps a ton with Clint Capela, assuming Atlanta even keeps the former around. If not, the franchise will be in the market for a new No. 2 scorer. There's a decent amount of promise within the wing collection, but none of those players consistently pops.

    Oh, there is one more certainty with this club: The defense is dreadful. The Hawks are 28th on the season and 30th since Feb. 1 in defensive efficiency.


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    25. Cleveland Cavaliers

    The Cavs are showing more competitiveness under new head coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who has steered them to a 5-6 record since stepping in for the deposed John Beilein. One might think that's a good sign for deadline addition Andre Drummond, but he actually has the worst net differential (by a mile) of anyone in the rotation (minus-17.2).

    Instead, Cleveland has gotten good mileage out of its other bigs (Tristan Thompson, Kevin Love, Larry Nance Jr.) and the best basketball of Collin Sexton's career. Last season's eighth overall pick averaged 30.0 points and 4.6 assists while shooting 58.4 percent (37.5 from three) over his five March outings.


    24. New York Knicks

    The Knicks could be active in our GM Week, since this organization is so woefully short on long-term keepers. But at least the few they have are showing real-life progress.

    Since the All-Star break, RJ Barrett is up to 17.2 points on 45.2 percent shooting. Mitchell Robinson is cramming 12.2 points (on 79.1 percent shooting!), 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 blocks into only 25.8 minutes. Together, the twosome shares a plus-11.7 net rating across 117 minutes of this stretch. In a year light on victories, this could be a critical one.


    23. Charlotte Hornets

    Charlotte posted a respectable 5-6 record in its 11 games after the All-Star break with wins over the Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets and Miami Heat. The Hornets haven't found their post-Kemba Walker centerpiece yet, but they have talent.

    Terry Rozier erupted for 40 points and eight threes his last time out. Devonte' Graham had his fourth 30-point outburst in the team's final tilt. P.J. Washington continues to look like a draft-night heist with two of his seven 20-point contests coming in the month of March. There's more excitement around Michael Jordan these days than just The Last Dance documentary.


    22. Washington Wizards

    Bradley Beal would like a word with those who left him off the All-Star rosters. Or perhaps he'd prefer an All-NBA spot. The scoring guard has gone berserk since being denied a third straight All-Star appearance, averaging 36.5 points, 5.6 assists, 4.8 three-pointers and 2.1 steals over the 11 games since intermission. His slash line is an equally impressive 45.9/44.9/84.2 in that stretch.

    It still hasn't resulted in much winning, as the Wizards still field the second-worst defense the league has ever seen. But if this is the Beal that John Wall joins next season, things could interesting in the District real quick.


    21. Phoenix Suns

    It takes time for young teams to learn how to win, but the Suns can see tangible evidence of their progress. The defense has jumped from 29th to 19th in efficiency. The road record features nearly twice as many wins in 30 games (13) as last year's group managed in 41 (seven). Devin Booker made his All-Star leap, and Deandre Ayton, a nightly supplier of 19 points and 12 boards, could be next.

    The Suns already have their most wins since 2014-15, and while they're nowhere near their ultimate goal, they might have found the blueprint to get them there. General manager James Jones might not be batting a thousand, but the hiring of Monty Williams was an out-of-the-zip-code home run.


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    20. San Antonio Spurs

    Father Time finally flexed his muscle on the Alamo City. Sure, the Spurs haven't officially been eliminated from the postseason, but even the glass-overflowing portion of the faithful is losing hope of extending the 22-year playoff streak.

    The suffocating defense of the Silver and Black's past is gone, replaced by a wet paper bag that ranks 24th in defensive efficiency. The offense, meanwhile, is a living relic from basketball's past. San Antonio takes the third-fewest threes and the most mid-range jumpers (by a mile). Even the great Gregg Popovich is struggling with this two-way puzzle.


    19. Portland Trail Blazers

    Maybe this season's Blazers just aren't allowed to have nice things? Starting center Jusuf Nurkic—the team's best hope for stabilizing its 27th-ranked defense—was days away from his debut before the campaign was suspended. Zach Collins could've been right on Nurkic's heels, too, but Portland's year-long struggles with injuries might have torpedoed the team's playoff hopes.

    This will be a club to watch during GM week. The Blazers are in a strange spot where, when healthy, they might feel a few tweaks away from being really good, but the key players (namely, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum) have been at this long enough to wonder if major change is required to raise the ceiling.


    18. Orlando Magic

    The Magic can't figure out what they want to be. They fielded a top-10 defense before the All-Star break, but they were so starved for scoring they expressed interest in trading for DeMar DeRozan, per The Ringers' Kevin O'Connor. Orlando opted for a quieter trade season, yet its identity still changed in a massive way. Suddenly, the offense is the best in the business, but the defense has cliff-dived to the bottom five.

    Inconsistent identities are a worrying trend, and in this case, they speak to this roster's lack of direction. Overall, it's an uninspiring mix of average-to-slightly-above-it veterans and a few prospects with varying upside levels. Speaking of the latter, at least Markelle Fultz remains intriguing. This is admittedly a miniature sample, but his five-game trek through March was fun: 15.4 points, 6.4 assists, 55.7 percent shooting.


    17. Sacramento Kings

    Good luck to the amateur executive at these controls for the next week. There are less talented rosters, but few have as many question marks. Has Bogdan Bogdanovic established himself as an automatic keeper? If so, what does that mean for Buddy Hield? Is there a way of turning Harrison Barnes' colossal contract into something more useful? What, if anything, could get the Kings to part with Marvin Bagley III?

    At least Sacramento knows one thing for certain: De'Aaron Fox is a baller. The speedy point guard sprinted out of the All-Star break with 23.4 points per game on 50.3 percent shooting. The Kings won seven of the nine games he played. This team remains at its best when it can follow the lead of its fleet-footed floor general.


    16. New Orleans Pelicans

    If the first 19 games were any indication, the Zion Williamson era could be a fortune-changer for Anthony Davis' former franchise. Williamson is 19 years old and already looks like a full-fledged superstar. The game shouldn't come so easily to such a fresh face, yet here is averaging 23.6 points (28.5 per 36 minutes) on 58.9 percent shooting.

    The Pelicans are early in the process of creating the ideal environment for their new centerpiece, and this squad is already soaring. New Orleans has the seventh-best net rating since Williamson's debut, and its new starting lineup—Williamson, Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors—is the Association's most efficient quintet to log 200-plus minutes.


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    15. Brooklyn Nets

    The Nets are the biggest wild card for the season's stretch run and among the biggest wild cards for GM Week. If the suspension somehow allows Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to hit the hardwood, Brooklyn suddenly emerges as a monster in the East. As for GM Week, the Nets need a third star, and they have both young talent and a willingness to part with it.

    Brooklyn has been almost impossible to analyze this season, since Durant hasn't suited up and Irving has only made 20 appearances. But the Nets have made it to the middle of the pack without their stars, and they can play up a weight class or two when Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert get hot.


    14. Memphis Grizzlies

    Ja Morant should take home the Rookie of the Year whenever it's handed out, and Brandon Clarke should join him on the All-Rookie first team. Jaren Jackson Jr. would land somewhere on the All-Sophomore team if it existed. The Grizzlies' rebuild appears in great hands, and that's before dissecting where (or if) Justise Winslow, De'Anthony Melton, Josh Jackson and Tyus Jones all fit.

    Memphis looked like its playoff bubble might burst when it came out of All-Star break with five straight losses, but it rebounded to win four of six, including a 17-point drubbing of the Lakers. It's possible someone runs down the Grizzlies for the West's final playoff spot, but this has been quite the debut for Taylor Jenkins, who should appear on more than a few Coach of the Year ballots.


    13. Indiana Pacers

    The Pacers proved long ago they were feisty, but this is their chance to become straight-up scary. They went into the hiatus having won eight of their last 11 games, and this break could make them even stronger. Malcolm Brogdon already declared himself "100 percent" healed from his thigh injury, and Victor Oladipo has more time to keep knocking off the rust (16.3 points on 48.2 percent shooting his final seven games).

    The real-life Pacers are a team to watch and so are the GM-week version. With someone else calling the shots, will this finally bring about Myles Turner's exit from the Circle City? Stay tuned.


    12. Utah Jazz

    The Jazz put such a focus on upgrading their offense, it cost them their elite status at the other end. But with the eighth-best attack and 11th-most efficient defense, they might have found the two-way balance needed to make a lengthy postseason run.

    They apparently found a difference-making floor general hiding in plain sight, too. Former Salt Lake City scapegoat Mike Conley quietly started a heater and went into the season's suspension averaging 16.5 points on 45.8/44.4/83.3 over his last 13 games. The Jazz fared 6.3 points better per 100 possessions with him than without dating back to Feb. 1.


    11. Philadelphia 76ers

    Assuming the suspension gives Ben Simmons enough time to get healthy and rejoin Joel Embiid, this ranking feels too low. Even if their fit is imperfect and the supporting cast around them is far from flattering, you'd think a 6'10" floor general and 7'0" Hakeem Olajuwon reboot would be enough to fetch this team a top-10 ranking.

    But the metrics don't measure up. The Sixers are tied for 11th in winning percentage and sit 12th in net rating. Their offense isn't even in the league's top half. Maybe talent takes over and everything clicks at some point, but if it hasn't happened now, perhaps the switch never flips.

10. Miami Heat

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    The Heat are getting harder to figure out. They only have 17-16 record with a plus-1.6 net rating since Dec. 29, and they compiled some egregiously bad losses before the suspension. But they also own winning records against the 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, so it's hard to rule them out of Eastern Conference contention.

    Their best basketball should be ahead of him. They reshuffled their hand at the trade deadline, and they're still leaning heavily on inexperienced youngsters. This is still a team figuring itself out, which leaves a substantial amount of room for internal growth.

    Ultimately, though, the Heat's success hinges on how much star power they really have. Can Jimmy Butler lead the offense on a near-nightly basis? Does Bam Adebayo have another level he can reach in the postseason? Answer those questions, and you've answered how seriously South Beach's finest should be taken in the playoffs.

9. Houston Rockets

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Houston hit sky-scraping highs and head-scratching lows during the short time it had to experience with its super-small-ball lineups. The good featured a six-game winning streak and double-digit victories over the Lakers and Boston Celtics. The not-so-good saw the squad drop four in a row with losses against the Knicks, Hornets and Magic.

    "There's no swagger," head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters. "We're passing up threes, we're driving in because we missed so many threes. ... We need to take the shots. We need to take the threes. Even if we miss it, so be it, but we need to play the way we play."

    The Rockets have slowed the tempo since swapping out Clint Capela for Robert Covington (104.1 possessions per 48 minutes, down to 101.8), but they are taking more threes (45.7, up from 43.8). They're also, predictably, getting clobbered on the glass with a dismal 46.1 rebounding percentage.

    The combined potency of James Harden and Russell Westbrook is enough to scare anyone, but Houston looks more like a really good team than a great one.

8. Denver Nuggets

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    The Nuggets have had stretches where they appear a legitimate contender for the Western Conference crown, but it's been a minute since that was consistently the case.

    Denver's post-All-Star journey wasn't great, even if the schedule shows double-digit wins over the Raptors and Bucks. Both teams were beat up and looked it when they were run out of the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets also lost to the Warriors (by 16 points at home) and the Cavaliers, and their offense (13th) and defense (19th) both ranked outside of the upper third.

    They're still searching for consistent offense around Nikola Jokic, and it probably isn't fun seeing Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez provide exactly that in Minnesota. Expanding Michael Porter Jr.'s role might help, but the rookie was fighting his own funk on offense (5.2 points on 42.6 percent shooting his last nine games) and only worsened the defensive woes.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    The Thunder were a fun curiosity and feel-good story early in the season, but at this point they look legitimately dangerous.

    Putting Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander together created the best lineup in basketball. Finding minutes for Luguentz Dort gave OKC a backup plan when Terrance Ferguson went down, and even with Ferguson back, Dort kept his starting gig. Entrusting Dennis Schroder with the second-team offense might mean the Sixth Man of the Year award is coming to the Sooner State.

    Paul will get MVP consideration. Donovan deserves Coach of the Year votes. Gilgeous-Alexander might have some Most Improved Player support. Few freshmen have impacted good teams the way Dort has.

    OKC is 17-5 with the NBA's fifth-best net rating (plus-4.8) since Jan. 18. The Thunder aren't sneaking up on anyone; they are simply this good.

6. Dallas Mavericks

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    Luka Doncic is 21 years old. This is his second NBA season. You know that already, but it's still helpful to remind ourselves that this basketball savant could be nowhere near his actual ceiling.

    Tack on how frisky Kristaps Porzingis was starting to look (13-game stretch from February to March with 27.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.6 triples and 2.4 blocks), and the Mavericks might be terrifying. They have the sixth-best net rating in 2020, despite losing Dwight Powell and playing games without Doncic, Porzingis or Seth Curry.

    They could be a juggernaut by the time the postseason rolls around, and they might be worth monitoring during GM week. Have they done enough to cover Powell's absence? Are they comfortable with their non-Doncic, non-Porzingis scoring options? Is this defense ready for the postseason? They could be active in our exchange market.

5. Boston Celtics

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    The Celtics start the uber-exclusive tiers of no-doubt championship contenders.

    They have enough stars to light up the entire Northeast. Gordon Hayward is their fourth option—while clearing 17 points per night and being one hot shooting stretch away from a 50/40/90 slash. They have no obvious weaknesses. Their offense ranks fifth, and their defense sits fourth; no other Eastern Conference club holds top-five spots at both ends.

    Jayson Tatum isn't slowing down. He's a two-way superstar. Kemba Walker is perfect for this team. Jaylen Brown would be the two-way talk of the town if it wasn't for Tatum's leap. Hayward might be better than ever. Marcus Smart should get Defensive Player of the Year consideration. Daniel Theis is a critical, criminally underrated piece of their puzzle.

    With Brad Stevens pulling the strings, the Shamrocks are positioned to make a furious push for the crown.

4. Toronto Raptors

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    No Kawhi Leonard, no Danny Green, no problem? That probably shouldn't be the case, but apparently anything is possible when Nick Nurse—presumably the Coach of the Year favorite—is calling the shots.

    Every time you wondered whether Toronto's bubble might burst, it would slay another dragon. The Raptors had a wobbly three-game stretch in early January where they lost to the Blazers and Spurs at home and needed overtime to take down the Hornets; they went on a 15-game winning streak immediately after. They entered March amid a three-game losing streak and then won four straight before the suspension.

    The Raptors just find ways to make this work, whether it's as simple as letting Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry do their thing or clearing the runway for Terence Davis, Chris Boucher and Matt Thomas to take flight. The offense could be more explosive, but championship experience and the second-best defense is a pretty lethal combination.

3. Milwaukee Bucks

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    If it's possible for a team to look vulnerable while on a 67-win pace, that's where the Bucks found themselves before the break. They lost four of their last five games, and each was decided by at least nine points.

    That's a minor skid for anyone else, but it was enough to raise eyebrows in Milwaukee. As dominant as Mike Budenholzer's bunch can be in the regular season, it's still unclear how much of that success will carry over to the playoffs. If teams can keep Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the paint—like the Toronto Raptors did in the 2019 conference finals—do the Bucks have a counterpunch?

    Khris Middleton probably isn't putting this team on his back. Brook Lopez has been a mess on offense most of this season. Eric Bledsoe has flopped in his last two playoff trips.

    Maybe this is nitpicky. Milwaukee remains the wins leader (by four) and net rating leader (by 3.6 points per 100 possessions), after all. But the Bucks can't quiet their doubters until they're deep into a championship run.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Clippers spent most of their post-All-Star stretch flexing their championship muscle.

    They went 7-2 after the break with an absurd (and league-leading) plus-11.5 net rating. They had a 27-point win over the Grizzlies, a 29-point thrashing of the Nuggets and consecutive 15-point takedowns of the Thunder and Rockets.

    "Sky's the limit," Kawhi Leonard said after the demolition of Denver, per ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk. "We have very talented players, we got some youth, veterans, and when it's all put together, I feel like we can be one of the top teams. It's about just keep sustaining our health and trusting each other and just taking it one game at a time."

    All arrows are pointing up for Doc Rivers' bunch. The extra rest is good for the entire roster, and the Clippers haven't even put everything in place just yet. Marcus Morris has been a wreck on offense (38.6 percent shooting, 28.3 from three), and L.A. still has a plus-14.1 net rating when he shares the floor with Leonard and Paul George.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    If the person controlling the Lakers for GM Week opts to send Kyle Kuzma (the team's top trade asset) elsewhere, they better find someone who's equally quotable. When asked about his favorite moment of the campaign, Kuzma pointed to back-to-back victories over the Bucks and Clippers, which he likened to "marking our territory."

    Point taken.

    L.A. spent most of its post-All-Star calendar sending leaguewide messages. The Lakers stared down a 41-point outburst by Jayson Tatum and still won. Then, LeBron James twice went head-first into Zion Williamson's hype train, first outscoring the rook 40-29 in one win and then outshining his 35 points with a 34-point triple-double in another.

    Using the final pre-suspension weekend to knock off the Bucks and Clippers—by a combined 19 points—was the latest proclamation delivered directly from King James' throne. When he and Anthony Davis are clicking, the Lakers have a top gear arguably no one else can match. The Hollywood stars share a plus-10.3 net rating, and they rocketed that number to plus-17.3 in those two measuring-stick matchups.


    All stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.

    Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.