NBA Power Rankings: Sixers #3 in the League

NBA Power Rankings: Sixers Soar to the Top Tier

1. Phoenix Suns (↑1)

Record: 40-9

Since the 15th: 8-0

Phoenix lost 3 of their first 4 games, since then the Suns are 39-6. Aside from Ayton Phoenix’s roster have been very consistent but one would expect the Suns to suffer without their young star big man. No one would expect his absence to be completely covered by Bismack Biyombo. The underside journeyman who was out of the league prior to signing a 10 day contract with the suns is averaging a career best 11.1 points per game. More importantly he has acted as a strong last line of defense for Phoenix.

2. Golden State Warriors (↑1)

Record: 38-13

Since the 15th: 7-2

Even without Draymond Green the Warriors have managed to keep their defense atop the league. According to the data from Synergy Sports the Warriors are 1st in defending pick and roll ball handlers, and second in defending transition, pick and roll screeners, and Post ups. On an individual basis, Moses Moody is the only defender rated below “good” per the tracking site’s data.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (↑7)

Record: 31-19

Since the 15th: 7-2

There is no doubt Joel Embiid wants the MVP. Over his last 8 games Embiid is averaging 37 points and a career high in assists per game. While those gaudy numbers may suggest Embiid is doing it all on his own, what makes this run more special for Philadelphia is all the help Embiid has received. As Embiid rested last night Maxey and Harris combined for 64 points. After his early season struggles, Tobias has returned to form averaging 21.2 points and hitting 57.7% from three over the 76ers last 9 games.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (↓3)

Record: 35-18

Since the 15th: 5-3

Making the all-star game for the first time is a great step for Ja Morant. Whether he is attacking the rim or looking for a pass the consistently underrated part of Ja Morant’s game is his spatial awareness. Against Utah Morant closed out the second quarter by getting just below the free throw line, rising up for a floater then when the defense closed out contorting his body to pass behind him to an open shooter. Against Philadelphia late in the fourth he attacked the rim, got turned in the air but finished through the contact. Morant’s sense of where everyone and the basket is gives Memphis a huge edge.

5. Denver Nuggets (↑7)

Record: 28-21

Since the 15th: 7-2

The Nuggets have climbed to 5th in the West and it is not because of their Bryn Forbes deal. The former NBA champion started to pick up his three-point shooting lately but the 4-13 from the floor opener was a rough outing. Jokic will not be denied. Over the second half of the month Jokic has averaged 28 points 12.7 rebounds and 11 assists on 60.3% FG%, 45% 3P% and 92.7% from the line.

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6. Cleveland Cavaliers (↑5)

Record: 31-20

Since the 15th: 6-2

The Strength of the Cavaliers continues to be their defense. Garland and Okoro have limited pick and roll ball handlers to just 0.82 and 0.84 points per possessions and Cedi Osman has put the absolute clamps on opposing players allowing just 0.64 ppp. Being the front line of defense the Cavs’ giant line up has limited opponents to the lowest points per possession in the league this season. The Cavs’ defense is getting a little luck with opponents shooting the 6th worst percentage on open catch and shoot attempts.

7. Miami Heat (↓3)

Record: 32-19

Since the 15th: 5-4

It has been a bit of a rocky go for the Heat whose firm hold on the East has been challenged by several streaking in conference opponents. Their losses came to the 76ers, Hawks, Celtics and in triple overtime to the Toronto Raptors. The Heat have been working on reintegrating Bam back into the lineup. While his touch is still returning, his defense is as good as ever. Since the 15thj Bam is averaging 2.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.

8. Dallas Mavericks (↑1)

Record: 29-22

Since the 15th: 6-3

Dallas’s three losses came against the Warriors, Suns and Magic. One of those is definitely not like the others and surprisingly it is the Warriors loss. Phoenix and Orlando came on the second night of a back-to-back. Golden State blew the doors off Dallas on the first night of one. Over all the Mavs have played back-to-back games for 8 of their last 10 games. Maintaining this high level of play in such a packed schedule is impressive.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (↓3)

Record: 31-21

Since the 15th: 4-4

The Bucks after being nearly unbeatable with their big three picked up a pair of losses with their trio during this recent stretch. First against Cleveland, whenever the Bucks tried to close the gap, they seemed to be outplayed by Rondo or Love. Milwaukee’s lack of depth was on full display without Allen, the Bucks’ bench scored just 15 points in almost 80 minutes of play. Then last night against Denver Giannis ran into a brick wall named Aaron Gordon in the third quarter. Milwaukee struggled and Denver ran away with that one. 

10. Chicago Bulls (↓5)

Record: 31-18

Since the 15th: 4-5

Chicago’s defense continues to slip. Caruso, Ball and Derrick Jones Jr are all out until the middle or end of March. Thankfully for Chicago Javonte Green is expected to return to action today. Thankfully thus far the Bulls big duo has performed well without Caruso, Green and Ball. In 79 minutes without any of their three defensive studs DeRozan and LaVine are giving up 117 points per 100 possessions but they are scoring 127.

11. Boston Celtics (↑7)

Record: 27-25

Since the 15th: 6-3 

The Celtics recent rise has come not from the offensive fire power of Tatum or Brown but rather from the defensive fortitude of Robert Williams. The Celtics entered January with the 9th best defensive rating and have continued to climb to the 4th best rating. When Williams is on the court opponents have averaged 103 points per 100 possessions which if that were the Celtics defensive rating would be the best in the league. 

12. Brooklyn Nets (↓5)

Record: 29-20

Since the 15th: 3-5

Did Kyrie somehow become the lone star in Brooklyn? With Harden, Durant, and Aldridge sidelined plus Millsap requesting a trade and Blake Griffin all but unplayable, the Brooklyn Nets are down to just Kyrie Irving who still cannot play home games. The intermissions do not seem to be affecting his play as the guard has bounced right back averaging nearly 50/40/90 in the last two weeks. Still when you gut a team for stars and lose those stars it makes winning difficult.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves (↑6)

Record: 25-25

Since the 15th: 5-3

It may not seem like much but the Timberwolves have the 14th best offensive and defensive rating in the league. Not since 2013-14 has Minnesota been in the top half of the league in both categories. The offensive improvement was expected with Karl-Anthony and Anthony but the defensive improvement is huge. Jaden McDaniels and Jarred Vanderbilt have come a long way as defensive wings who truly defend 1-5. Against Phoenix they consistently challenged Chris Paul putting pressure on him anywhere in the half court.

14. Charlotte Hornets (↑2)

Record: 28-23

Since the 15th: 5-3

Charlotte is either going to win big or lose big. Since the 15th the Hornets have had just 2 games decided by less than 10 points. The Hornets’ offense is in the top 5 in rating but could be even better. Per Synergy Sports the Hornets are the 18th best offense in pick and roll situations which makes up 29.1% of their possessions. LaMelo has shown to be an excellent passer out of pick and rolls. When he passes the Hornets average 1.23 points per possession however when he tries to score Charlotte only picks up 0.77 points per possession. 

15. Toronto Raptors (↓2)

Record: 25-23

Since the 15th: 5-4

The Raptors have a winning record but is it a good thing? It seems Nick Nurse is under a tremendous amount of pressure to win. As such he has shortened his rotation. In their triple overtime victory over the Miami Heat only three players off the bench touched the court and they played a combined 37 minutes. VanVleet and Siakam are 1 and 2 in minutes per game this season with Scottie Barnes at 6th in the league. Toronto may want to ease off the minutes to prevent any long-term overuse injuries.

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16. Atlanta Hawks (↑9)

Record: 24-26

Since the 15th: 7-2

The Hawks are barely in the play in but their offense has been cooking lately. Over their last 9 games Atlanta has averaged 116 points per game. Moving out Cam Reddish has given more security to Bogdan and Kevin’s roles. Since the trade Huerter 3P% has risen from 35.8% on the season to 42% over the last 10 games. Meanwhile Bogdan’s scoring has risen sharply averaging 16.3 points per game in his last 4. Atlanta has captured the 2nd best offensive rating in the league but are being dragged down by the 27th defensive rating.

17. Utah Jazz (↓9)

Record: 30-21

Since the 15th: 2-7

Unlike jazz music the Utah Jazz struggle when improvising. Without Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, Utah needed Daniel House to have an abnormally high scoring game. Unfortunately, his defense gave up an equal number of opportunities. Utah has no rim protection without Gobert which is an increasingly big problem as no one on their roster seems to be able to stop drives. Reserve bigs Whiteside, Gay and Paschall are turnstiles defensively. 

18. Los Angeles Clippers (↑2)

Record: 26-27

Since the 15th: 5-5

As pointed out on the most recent episode of the Hoops Temple podcast, the Clipper have a better record than the Lakers despite Paul George playing fewer games than Anthony Davis and Kawhi not having played just yet. Amir Coffey has been the latest Clipper hero averaging 19.4 on nearly 50/40/90 shooting splits. Next man up has been working for the Clippers so far but there are more rumblings that Kawhi and Paul George are not returning. Notable season ticket holder Bill Simmons has commented that the Clippers are trying to get season ticket holders to renew their tickets for next season unusually early. 

19. Portland Trailblazers (↑5)

Record: 21-30

Since the 15th: 5-5

Playing .500 ball in a densely packed schedule without your star player is impressive. Portland has maintained their position in the playing game keeping the hope of a playoff berth alive. With the deadline approaching, watch for Portland to make a move. Robert Covington does not fit Billups’s aggressive defensive scheme and Norman Powell’s scoring is superfluous due to the emergence of Anfernee Simons.

20. San Antonio Spurs (↑7)

Record: 19-32

Since the 15th: 4-5

The Spurs have returned to quiet competency. They lead the league in assists per game and commit the 3rd fewest turnovers. Unfortunately, on the defensive end San Antonio has been extremely unlucky. Opponents are 5th highest percentage on open jump shots. Compounding the problem, their defense is over committing to the ball handler giving up easy kick outs. 

21. Indiana Pacers (↑5)

Record: 19-33

Since the 15th: 4-5

In what has to be one of the most unexpected outcomes Indiana beat Golden State without Sabonis, Turner, Brogdon, and LeVert. The Pacers are taking their injuries and absences to new levels. Undrafted rookie Keifer Sykes came up big in the clutch against Golden State. He then started the following game against Phoenix but since that pair of games he has played 17.5 minutes over the Pacer’s last 5 games.

22. Los Angeles Lakers (↓5)

Record: 24-27

Since the 15th: 3-6

The Anthony Davis return is not going well. Losing to the Hawks is fine. They are a respectable franchise but the way the Lakers lost is truly troublesome. Onyeka Okongwu was unchallenged at the rim time and time again to close out the game. Davis picked up Collins on the parameter and provided zero assistance. To top it off LeBron is taking some time away from the team to let his knee heal. Anyone who was around the Cavs in 2017-18 knows what that means.

23. New York Knicks (↓9)

Record: 24-27

Since the 15th: 3-6

It is time for the Knicks to move on from Tom Thibodeau and embrace their young core. In the same sample size of minutes Reddish, Grimes, Toppin and Quickley have shared the floor they are outscoring opponents by 37.9 points per 100 possessions. Most of the minutes came against the Clippers. Over the Knicks next 3 games, all of which were losses, Reddish saw just 10 minutes, Grimes and Quickley continued to play behind Walker and Fournier, and Obi averaged fewer minutes per game than Taj Gibson.

24. Orlando Magic (↑6)

Record: 3-5

Since the 15th: 3-5

Somehow winning 3 games over the last 2 weeks and getting 4 wins in the Month of January total is an impressive step for Orlando. Closing out a close game against the more experienced Dallas Mavericks should not be under appreciated for this young squad. It caps off the best month they have had all year. Possibly more exciting is the Magic will have representation at all-star weekend with Cole Anthony committing to the dunk contest. 

25. Detroit Pistons (↓3)

Record: 12-37

Since the 15th: 2-6

The Pistons are not knocking down any doors this season but the numbers for Cade are steadily improving. Even on a terrible Pistons team, Cade has shown himself to be efficient as a spot up shooter scoring 1.04 points per possession in spot up scenarios. Even better Cade has shown he can create out of isolation. Without a plethora of shooters in Detroit Cade is still the 77th percentile in isolation plays when either shooting or passing.

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26. Washington Wizards (↓11)

Record: 23-26

Since the 15th: 1-7

Things are coming off the rails for Washington and somehow Kyle Kuzma has become their most important player. Over the last two weeks Kuzma has averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds on mildly efficient shooting. Meanwhile Brad Beal has been posting 18.7 on inefficient shooting numbers. With the trade deadline fast approaching Washington has two choices, move Beal and embrace the rebuild or move their role players to try and make sense of paying Beal a supermax this summer. 

27. New Orleans Pelicans (↓6)

Record: 18-32

Since the 15th: 2-6

Only Detroit and New Orleans are 25th or worse in both offensive and defensive rating. With Ingram out over their last 5 games the Pelicans have been scoring 103.2 points per game about 5 points below league average. Over that same 4 game stretch Graham has gotten even less efficient shooting 31.4% from deep on his 8.8 attempts from three.  

28. Houston Rockets (↑1)

Record: 14-36

Since the 15th: 2-4

It remains unfathomable to this writer how in a rebuilding tank job of a year the Rocket’s top 3 draft picks have yet to share the court. Now Garuba is facing down surgery that will keep him out 6-8 weeks. Meaning Rocket fans will have to wait another year to see what he brings to the franchise. The Big man has had a terrible stretch lately hitting just 35.3% of his shots from the floor since the 15th. Evan that percentage is better than Green who is shooting 25.7% from the field and 16.7% from three over the same period.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder (↓1)

Record: 15-34

Since the 15th: 1-7

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander being sidelined through the all-star break does not change much for a franchise looking to lose. In a way it just makes things easier. The Thunder are taking this opportunity to really try out some of their lower draft picks by starting both Tre Mann and Aaron Wiggins. It is not going well. In the last half of the month Mann is shooting 35.8% from the field and Wiggins may be scoring but his 28.6% from 3 on 3 attempts per game is not helping. Given Maledon and Pokuevski falling out of the rotation one has to begin to question the Thunder’s drafting ability.

30. Sacramento Kings (↓7)

Record: 18-34

Since the 15th: 0-7

If there was any doubt about what the Kings need to do at the deadline this stretch sums it up. The only question remaining is “is it too late?” Sacramento has gone 0-8 in the back half of January. DeAaron Fox has missed their last 6 games. Buddy Hield’s last 6 games have to be some of the worst in his career. Can they be moved at this point? Does Barnes have value?

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Podcast host for Hoops Temple and blogger for Temple Entertainment and Media. Studied Kinesiology with an emphasis on sports psychology and coaching basketball at Michigan State University. Coached at the High School level for 8 seasons.

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