B/R NBA Power Rankings: Where All 30 Teams Rank as Trade Deadline LoomsJanuary 28, 2022
B/R NBA Power Rankings: Where All 30 Teams Rank as Trade Deadline Looms
As we approach the NBA's trade deadline and All-Star Weekend, there seems to be a little shapeshifting within the title-contending tier.
Upswings from the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets have their centers back in the MVP conversation for the second year in a row. And if Nikola Jokic gets Jamal Murray back and Joel Embiid gets some help in exchange for Ben Simmons, both could make deep playoff runs.
On the other end of the spectrum, absences from Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell have the Utah Jazz in a virtual free fall down the Western Conference standings.
Over the next week-and-a-half leading up to the deadline, those teams and others can make moves to eventually challenge the Phoenix Suns, who've held down the top spot for weeks.
30. Orlando Magic
Previous Rank: 30
Net Rating: -8.7
The Orlando Magic are cruising toward a bottom-three record and a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick this summer, but all these losses shouldn't feel too painful for the team's fanbase.
The most important pieces of the young core continue to impress. Wendell Carter Jr. is averaging a double-double and showing off hints of playmaking ability. Franz Wagner is the second-leading scorer in this rookie class, and lately, Jalen Suggs has looked like the kind of dynamic guard who could make things easier for both.
In his seven games since returning from injury, Suggs is averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists. And the athleticism he showed during this dunk on DeMar DeRozan is almost frightening.
29. Detroit Pistons
Previous Rank: 29
Net Rating: -9.5
The Detroit Pistons went 0-3 this week. And though Evan Mobley built a sizable (and probably insurmountable) lead early in the Rookie of the Year race, Cade Cunningham may be crashing the party. At the very least, he probably warrants a mention.
Cunningham went for 34 points, eight boards and eight assists in a loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday, bringing his averages for the week to 25.7, 6.3 and 7.0. He's even added a total of five steals and eight blocks in that three-game span.
And perhaps just as important as the numbers, Cunningham's feel as a playmaker and scorer both seem to be improving. He reads pick-and-roll situations as well as any rookie ball-handler and knows when to shoot or pass. As the outlets around him getter, his numbers will continue to climb.
28. Houston Rockets
Previous Rank: 28
Net Rating: -8.2
The Houston Rockets are seemingly tank...er, rebuilding. So, reports like Monday's from The Athletic's Kelly Iko may come as a bit of a surprise.
Veterans Eric Gordon and Christian Wood are both generating interest around the league, but Iko notes that neither may be likely to move. For Gordon, Houston reportedly needs "an offer that simply can't be ignored." For Wood, it would take a "blow-me-away offer."
Or, given the fact that we're within two weeks of the trade deadline, Houston may be doing what it can to pump up the trade value of two players who almost certainly won't be around the next time the Rockets are playoff regulars.
As the losses keep piling up, Wood is averaging 17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 threes. That kind of floor spacing from a center could move the needle for a lot of contenders. Gordon, who's averaging 14.6 points and shooting 44.5 percent from three, could too.
27. Sacramento Kings
Previous Rank: 25
Net Rating: -5.1
The Sacramento Kings' current losing streak extended to five games on Wednesday, thanks to a 121-104 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in which the deficit dipped as low as 30 points. But even that wasn't the low point of the week.
The night before, the Boston Celtics annihilated the Kings by 53 points. Over the course of this streak, Sacramento is surrendering a whopping 126.6 points per game.
For a team that has shown has shown flashes of upside, mostly from Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell, this slide is particularly disappointing. For long stretches of the past several games, the Kings haven't appeared interested in much beyond moseying up and down the floor and waiting for the final buzzer.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous Rank: 27
Net Rating: -7.4
After looking positively pesky around Christmas, the tank has hit cruise control for the Oklahoma City Thunder. They've lost six straight and are 2-13 since December 28. Still, there are plenty of good signs from the two most obvious building blocks on the roster.
Over his last eight games, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 27.8 points and 7.3 assists, showing off a playmaking ability that has been somewhat muted in a season in which Josh Giddey's has been prioritized.
Giddey, meanwhile, continues to struggle with his shot, but he's shown vision and passing ability that belies his age. And he's quietly been one of the game's best rebounding guards this season. Giddey has averaged 8.2 boards since the New Year, and his season-long mark of 7.4 leads OKC.
25. Indiana Pacers
Previous Rank: 23
Net Rating: -1.7
They have the excuse of missing Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon for the past four games, but things were already heading south for the Indiana Pacers prior to all the injuries. At this point, those might serve as little more than confirmation that it's time to tank.
The ceiling for Indiana didn't look really high when everyone was healthy, so moving players like Caris LeVert, Sabonis and Turner for long-term assets feels like a logical direction to go.
And though 24-year-old Chris Duarte is older than most rebuilding cornerstones, he's shown plenty of scoring ability of late. Over his past six games, Duarte is averaging 17.3 points and 2.0 threes while shooting 44.4 percent from deep. At the very least, he looks like he could be a complementary cog in whatever the next version of the Pacers looks like.
24. Portland Trail Blazers
Previous Rank: 26
Net Rating: -4.2
Thanks to the recent play of Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers fans have something to look forward to with whatever the next iteration of this team looks like.
Damian Lillard last played on New Year's Eve, and Simons has looked borderline Lillard-like since then. Over the 12 games he's played during this stretch, Simons is averaging 24.2 points, 7.2 assists and 4.6 threes while shooting 43.7 percent from three.
If Portland eventually opts for a full rebuild, starting that process with a 22-year-old Simons wouldn't be a bad way to go. With him, 21-year-old Nassir Little (likely out for the rest of this season with a shoulder injury) and draft capital over the next few years, the Blazers could quickly mold one of the game's more exciting young rosters.
23. New Orleans Pelicans
Previous Rank: 24
Net Rating: -3.8
The New Orleans Pelicans' week ended with a loss to Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, but they've been just good enough of late to stay within striking distance of the play-in tournament.
New Orleans has been 5-4 since January 6, and it's getting contributions from all over the roster during that stretch. Over those nine games, Brandon Ingram is averaging 23.3 points, while Josh Hart, Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte' Graham, Herbert Jones and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are all in double-figures.
The Portland Trail Blazers are suddenly playing a bit better too, but if an extended absence from Damian Lillard dooms them, New Orleans might sneak in and extend the window for Zion Williamson to see some meaningful action in 2021-22.
22. Washington Wizards
Previous Rank: 17
Net Rating: -2.0
The Washington Wizards' months-long collapse following a 10-3 start to the season may have hit rock bottom on Tuesday.
The Wizards were up by as much as 35 points against the Los Angeles Clippers in Washington. At that point, their win probability was at 99.7 percent. With 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter, they were still up seven and had a 98.0 percent win probability. Then, Luke Kennard capped off the miraculous comeback with seven points—including a lead-snagging four-point play—in the last nine seconds.
The loss also serves as an exclamation point on Washington's plummeting playoff chances. Following the 10-3 start, FiveThirtyEight's projection system gave the Wizards a 63 percent chance to get in. Now, they're down to six percent.
21. New York Knicks
Previous Rank: 19
Net Rating: -1.2
Over the three seasons prior to his 2020-21 All-NBA campaign, Julius Randle had an above-average but far from stellar 0.6 box plus/minus. Last season, that mark skyrocketed to an All-Star level at 3.8. Now that he's back down to 0.4 in 2021-22, it feels safe to say 2021-22 was an outlier.
Now, with a game plan seemingly tailored to Randle, the Knicks have predictably tumbled down the Eastern Conference standings. Any chance they have at recreating last season's success will require a drastic boost in his play or a recalibration of his role.
Going forward, using him as more of a complement to RJ Barrett may be in order. The Knicks are 5-0 when Barrett scores at least 30 points.
20. San Antonio Spurs
Previous Rank: 22
Net Rating: -0.1
The San Antonio Spurs went 9-of-37 (24.3 percent) from three in Wednesday's loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. They're now 29th in the league in three-point attempts per 100 possessions and 16th in three-point percentage.
And when you have a drive-and-dish playmaker as effective as Dejounte Murray, that kind of volume probably isn't enough.
Moving Bryn Forbes to the Denver Nuggets in a deal that landed them Juan Hernangomez (in theory, a bigger shooter) could signify a desire to find players who fit better alongside Murray.
If Hernangomez can draw opposing 4s out of the paint for Murray's drives and be a reliable catch-and-shoot option, some of those shooting metrics could improve.
19. Los Angeles Lakers
Previous Rank: 18
Net Rating: -1.5
Prior to a late scratch for knee soreness on Thursday, LeBron James had led the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring in each of the previous 18 games. It's hard to hold the need for a night off against him.
The 37-year-old forward with nearly two decades of mileage on the odometer had played in 25 games and averaged 36.5 minutes and 30.5 points since the last time he was inactive.
Such a heavy workload for a player of his experience was bound to catch up to him eventually, which was ostensibly part of why Russell Westbrook was acquired.
Russ was supposed to be able to shoulder some of that burden and allow the Lakers to cruise to the playoffs, when peak LeBron would surface. That simply hasn't happened. After Thursday's blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, L.A. is now minus-5.0 points per 100 possessions when Westbrook plays without James.
18. Los Angeles Clippers
Previous Rank: 21
Net Rating: -1.0
The Los Angeles Clippers pulled off their third comeback of at least 24 points in the past two weeks on Tuesday. According to ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk, they're the first team in the past 25 seasons to have three such comebacks in a single season. And the latest one was a doozy.
L.A. trailed the Washington Wizards by as much as 35 points, and the ridiculous comeback was punctuated by Luke Kennard connecting on a three and a game-winning four-point play in the final nine seconds of action. Washington's win probability was as high as 99.3 percent in the first half. With 23 seconds left in the game, it was 99.8.
But the resilient Clippers, playing without both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, don't seem to care too much about win probability.
17. Atlanta Hawks
Previous Rank: 17
Net Rating: +0.1
After losing five straight and nine of 11 dating back to Christmas, the Atlanta Hawks seem to be getting back on track. On Wednesday, they blew out the Sacramento Kings, 121-104, in a game that wasn't as close as the score suggests. That victory was their fifth in a row.
Trae Young has understandably garnered much of the attention throughout the season, but it's another young Hawk who could be the key to getting back into the playoff mix.
Onyeka Okongwu didn't make his first appearance of the season until mid-December, and he didn't become a fixture of the rotation until Clint Capela went down with an injury. But averages of 15.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per 75 possessions, as well as having the team's third-best raw plus-minus despite only playing in 15 games, suggest Atlanta could have a long-term anchor inside.
16. Toronto Raptors
Previous Rank: 14
Net Rating: +0.6
The Toronto Raptors have followed up a six-game winning streak with a 3-6 stretch over their last nine. And knee soreness for Fred VanVleet means they may not be out of the woods yet.
He's missed Toronto's last two games, and he was shooting just 32.6 percent from the field in the seven games prior to that.
On the season, the Raptors are 9-1 when VanVleet shoots at least 50 percent from the field. They're 14-22 in all other games.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous Rank: 16
Net Rating: +0.9
They ended their week with a road loss to the Golden State Warriors, but things are looking up for Anthony Edwards and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Minnesota is 8-4 over its last 12 games. And the synergy between its three best players continues to improve.
Over this stretch, Anthony Edwards is averaging 24.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists. Karl-Anthony Towns is at 23.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists. And D'Angelo Russell is adding 19.1 points and 7.4 assists.
14. Boston Celtics
Previous Rank: 15
Net Rating: +3.1
The week started with a loss for the Boston Celtics, but fans have to be encouraged with Jayson Tatum's breakout.
Prior to this stretch, he was averaging 25.2 points, but his field-goal percentage (41.5) and three-point percentage (31.7) were dreadful. Now, in this 2-1 stretch that included a 51-point outburst against the Washington Wizards, Tatum is putting up 38.0 points while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor and 47.1 percent from deep.
You obviously can't draw sweeping conclusions from a three-game sample, but Tatum's earlier struggles weren't really in line with his last few years either.
If this week was a sign of things to come, the Boston Celtics (whose point differential already suggests they're a better team than their record does) may be able to break out of that play-in tournament range.
13. Brooklyn Nets
Previous Rank: 12
Net Rating: +2.1
The Brooklyn Nets were almost certain to slow down after Kevin Durant left the rotation because of a knee injury, but things suddenly look even bleaker after Wednesday.
Shortly before tipoff against the Denver Nuggets, James Harden was scratched from the lineup with a hamstring injury. With Kyrie Irving only allowed to play in road games, that meant a ragtag bunch of Nets led by LaMarcus Aldridge had to slow down the reigning MVP. Foul trouble helped them in the first half, but Nikola Jokic nearly had a triple-double and the Nuggets pulled away late.
If Harden is out for long, it'll be tough to avoid results like that in Brooklyn. Fortunately (seems odd to say, but Kyrie's situation is what it is), the Nets' next five games are on the road.
12. Utah Jazz
Previous Rank: 10
Net Rating: +6.6
The free fall continues for the Utah Jazz. After losing to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, they've now dropped three straight and nine of their last 11.
And their next six games include two road contests against the Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves, followed by four at home against the Denver Nuggets, Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors. If Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell remain out much longer, the Jazz might suddenly find themselves flirting with the play-in tournament.
Of course, fans can take solace in the fact that Utah is still plus-16.0 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile) when Gobert, Mitchell and Mike Conley are all on the floor, but it still feels like something is missing.
If that ingredient is a little more perimeter defense, the front office may need to explore moving reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson at the deadline. Replacing him with a more reliable defender could go a long way toward relieving Gobert of some of the pressure he faces around the rim.
11. Charlotte Hornets
Previous Rank: 11
Net Rating: +0.3
With Gordon Hayward out because of the health and safety protocols, the Charlotte Hornets exploded for 158 points in a win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. That ties Charlotte for the 22nd-most points in a game that ended without overtime in NBA history, and it smashed the previous franchise record by 15.
Plenty of Hornets were in on the fun. Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball all scored at least 20 points while shooting 50-plus percent from the field. Ball threw in 13 assists and 10 rebounds for good measure. But the biggest star may have been Kelly Oubre Jr. off the bench.
He went 10-of-15 from three on the way to 39 points. Big games from him have generally meant good things for Charlotte, as the Hornets are now 7-2 when Oubre gets to 25 points.
10. Denver Nuggets
Previous Rank: 13
Net Rating: +1.1
As Nikola Jokic iced Wednesday's win over the Brooklyn Nets at the free-throw line, "MVP" chants rained down on the reigning MVP. On the road. In New York.
Many were able to ignore his compelling case to repeat for a while, but the Denver Nuggets are 7-3 in their past 10, and Jokic's averages are up to 26.2 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.6 assists. He's on pace for the best single-season box plus/minus of all time (his 2020-21 is fourth on that list).
But the Nuggets' steady climb to sixth in the West isn't entirely about Jokic (though he's probably the closest thing in the game to a one-man show). In his past 10 games, Aaron Gordon is averaging 15.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.8 assists, while shooting 50.5 percent from the field. Over the same stretch, Will Barton is scoring 16.5 per game while shooting 40.8 percent from three.
9. Chicago Bulls
Previous Rank: 6
Net Rating: +1.8
One came against the way-below-.500 Oklahoma City Thunder, but the Chicago Bulls closed this week with a pair of get-right wins after losing seven of nine before that.
Considering what Chicago has dealt with in terms of health and safety protocols and injuries (surgeries will sideline Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso for the next several weeks), it should take wins wherever it can get them. And it should be encouraged by the performance of Nikola Vucevic over the last two games.
If the Bulls are going to survive the absences of Ball and Caruso, Vucevic may need to play more like the All-Star version of himself that he was with the Orlando Magic. In this little two-game winning streak, he's put up 21.5 points, 15.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
8. Dallas Mavericks
Previous Rank: 8
Net Rating: +2.5
When the Dallas Mavericks lost to the Utah Jazz on Christmas, they were 15-17 and looking thoroughly mediocre.
Since then, they're 13-4 (the fourth-best record in the league over that stretch) with a plus-7.7 net rating. And Luka Doncic is starting to look more like the player he was in 2019-20 and 2020-21.
Over his last five games, Luka is averaging 29.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 8.4 assists.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
Previous Rank: 7
Net Rating: +2.7
Joel Embiid has been unstoppable since Christmas. Over those 16 games, he's averaging 34.1 points, 9.8 free throws and 1.2 threes. Thursday's 26-point outing was just the second time during this stretch that he'd failed to get to 31.
And the scoring outburst hasn't come at the expense of anyone else. During the same time frame, the Philadelphia 76ers are 13-3 and have the league's best net rating. With Embiid on the floor, they're plus-13.4 points per 100 possessions.
Seeing the way the team and Embiid are playing now, it's not hard to imagine them reentering the title contenders' tier, whether they add to the roster with a Ben Simmons trade or not.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
Previous Rank: 5
Net Rating: +3.4
The Milwaukee Bucks went 2-1 this week, but Wednesday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers felt like a statement for the younger team, and the defending champions have quietly been a .500 team over their past 12 games.
Still, it's hard to watch a week that contains a loss like this and a comfortable win over the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies and feel a ton of concern. Milwaukee may simply be one of those teams that can now flip the proverbial switch, and it may not need to until the playoffs.
Despite the recent slide, the Bucks are still top-10 in net rating, and they're plus-8.4 points per 100 possessions when Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all on the floor.
Perhaps even more encouraging is that after a slow start to the season, Middleton is starting to look like an All-Star again. Over his past 11 games, Middleton is averaging 24.5 points and 6.1 assists, while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 47.9 percent from three.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
Previous Rank: 9
Net Rating: +5.1
The Cleveland Cavaliers are officially more than just a feel-good story. After a comfortable 115-99 victory over the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland has won eight of its past nine and is within striking distance of first place in the Eastern Conference.
Kevin Love's resurgence (he's posting his best box plus/minus since 2013-14), the jumbo frontcourt (the Cavs are allowing a paltry 101.0 points per 100 possessions with Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen on the floor) or Mobley's Rookie of the Year run are all worthy of a spotlight, but let's focus on Darius Garland here.
When Ricky Rubio went down with a torn ACL, Cleveland's backcourt depth was understandably called into question. But since then, Garland is averaging 20.1 points and 10.5 assists (compared to 19.5 and 7.3 before this run started).
4. Memphis Grizzlies
Previous Rank: 2
Net Rating: +3.1
The Memphis Grizzlies have cooled off a bit of late. They're 3-3 in their last six, and those losses were all by double digits to the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks (twice).
Still, since their 9-10 start to the season, Memphis has arguably been the best team in the NBA. From November 27 to now, the Grizzlies are a league-best plus-9.2 points per 100 possessions. And the Phoenix Suns are the only team with a better record than Memphis' 24-7 mark over that stretch (and even that is by mere decimal points).
The Grizzlies role players deserve a ton of credit for the success (especially since the winning coincided perfectly with Ja Morant's departure from the rotation with an injury), but the continued establishment of Morant's status as a superstar is the biggest story of this team's season.
Over his last 15 appearances, Morant is averaging 29.3 points, 6.9 assists, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 threes while shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three.
3. Miami Heat
Previous Rank: 4
Net Rating: +4.9
The Miami Heat dismantled the New York Knicks on Wednesday night in a game in which P.J. Tucker, Tyler Herro, Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson all eclipsed 20 points. Tucker, Butler and Robinson shot 76.7 percent from the field, and the balanced attack that night was a microcosm of what's made Miami so good this season.
Regardless of who's been available, the Heat have mostly remained competitive. In fact, when both Butler and Ban Adebayo have been off the floor, Miami is still plus-5.2 points per 100 possessions.
Now that those two are back and the team has seemingly weathered a stormy first half of the season, the top seed in the East feels well within their grasp.
2. Golden State Warriors
Previous Rank: 3
Net Rating: +8.3
The Golden State Warriors seem to be on the other side of whatever was plaguing them earlier this month. After losing six of nine, the Warriors have now rattled off four straight wins.
And on Thursday, they got a throwback Splash Brothers performance from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. In a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Curry and Thompson combined for 52 points, 10 assists and 11 threes on 19 attempts.
Without Draymond Green's playmaking, good shots haven't been quite as easy to come by. So a performance like this is encouraging as Golden State awaits his return.
1. Phoenix Suns
Previous Rank: 1
Net Rating: +7.9
The consistency of the Phoenix Suns feels like one of this season's more underappreciated storylines. They didn't lose a single game in the month of November. They've won their last eight games (and 12 of their last 14). And they have a four-game lead in the loss column over the second-place Golden State Warriors.
As the leading scorer on the team, Devin Booker (who's averaged 28.5 points over his last 15 appearances) gets a lot of the attention, but this remains a thoroughly Chris Paul team.
In high-leverage moments, he's the focal point. And in the 392 clutch minutes he's played, CP3 is averaging 23.5 points, 11.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.7 threes per 75 possessions, with a 62.9 true shooting percentage.