Here is our second set of power rankings! In case you want to track any movement, you can find our first set here. Today’s post will deal with the worst sixteen teams in the association and tomorrow’s with the fourteen best. Without further ado…
30. Phoenix Suns – 14-40
The Suns are bad, very bad. Since the beginning of 2016, the Suns have the lowest net rating across the association, and it is not that close. Moreover, since January 1, 2016, the Suns’ best player has been the one they have to trade, Markieff Morris. Their lineups with Morris playing see less time on the floor, but do noticeably better. Unfortunately, Morris tried killing his teammate (read as: beating up his brother) a little over one week ago, so he’s a bit of a headcase.
29. Brooklyn Nets – 14-40
The Nets actually have some talent, and really should be ranked higher, but they have two huge issues: the team does not work well together and they do not have tradeable assets. Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are on player-friendly deals. The Nets traded all of their assets for a one year rental of three old guys in wheelchairs… Whoops. I meant that the Nets traded all of their future assets for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Deron Williams. Unfortunately for fans, the team has no immediate future, and most likely this will be their most fun team for the next four seasons.
28. Los Angeles Lakers – 11-44
I have written before about how the Lakers have a potentially exciting future and how they also have interesting options in the upcoming free agency. Meanwhile, Harrison Feigan has recently written about how Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle are playing beyond their potential. Additionally, Kellan Jansen has discussed how D’Angelo Russell will absolutely not be a bust. The Lakers have three problems, though. First, as great as the Kobe farewell party has been, it is limiting the development of the rookies. Secondly, Byron Scott is ensuring his rookies will improve at a turtle’s pace. And finally, we do not know how good the Lakers’ young core actually will be. Consequently, while the Lakers have a young core with future, it is difficult to appropriately rank this group.
27. Philadelphia 76ers 8-45
I know what you are thinking, “Cohen, there is no way the Sixers are better than the Lakers, Nets, or even the Suns.” You are wrong. First, people who view the Sixers’ rebuild as a failed project are solely mistaken. The Sixers and Jazz both reached the playoffs in 2012, and began their rebuild shortly afterwards. Additionally, Orlando and Phoenix have been rebuilding since 2010. Consequently, while the Sixers’ rebuild is not going as planned, it has been more effective than the Suns’ plan, and arguable more than the Magic’s plan as well. The Sixers look to have a future offensive star big man in Jahlil Okafor. Moreover, since trading for Ish Smith, the new point guard is in four out of Philadelphia’s six best lineups. When Smith is in the game – even though he may be relatively limited as a scorer – the ball moves, as he leads the team in passes per game and is third in his pass efficiency rating. So while the future of this team is uncertain – especially considering the glut of young big men on the roster – Philadelphia does not have a completely failed rebuild.
26. Milwaukee Bucks – 22-32
I think Jason Kidd is a great NBA coach. I actually think the strategy to build Milwaukee’s team as long, athletic, and disturbing defensively is smart; as it hurts the quick paced teams that make mistakes during the game. For a team like the Warriors – who’s margin for error is incredibly high – it forces them to actually be conscious of ball security. But the signing of Greg Monroe and the trade for Michael Carter-Williams have seriously harmed this team. The former’s defensive liabilities and the latter’s inability to score have really ruined this team’s future plans. Moreover, Jabari Parker looks more like Derrick Williams than Carmelo Anthony, and that should be scarily unfortunate for the Bucks’ front office.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves 17-37
I recently wrote an article about the Timberwolves. In short, Andrew Wiggins has significantly underperformed and their future is shaky because of it. However, Karl-Anthony Towns is one of five players in the last 2.5 decades to have a Player Impact Estimate over 14%. This team has a very bright future, especially if Towns plays up to his potential, which would give Minnesota the next surefire hall-of-fame center. They need to find a new coach this summer (may I suggest David Blatt?) and create a system that will build around their dominant center. Once all of that is accomplished, watch out. Unfortunately, the team’s wild rookie inconsistencies mean the Wolves will be fairly beatable this season.
24. New Orleans Pelicans – 20-33
Let me start by saying that I think the injury to Tyreke Evans will help this team. He plays incredibly slowly and is a ball-hog, which negatively effected the Pelicans’ gameplan. Evans averages a speed of four miles per hour, which would rank him tied 374th amongst 455 eligible players. Consequently, the idea of “run-and-gun,” which is why the Pelicans hired Alvin Gentry, was harmed by Tyreke Evans’ play. Regardless, I do not see a large improvement over the rest of the season. As time goes by it becomes increasingly unlikely that Ryan Anderson gets traded, especially because he recently mentioned that he will test free agency this summer. Thus, overall, I expect the Pelicans to slightly improve this year; but do not expect a playoff push, as their team just is not talented enough to compete. And more importantly, getting a higher draft helps out Anthony Davis, strengthening their long-term future.
23. New York Knicks – 23-32
As I’ve recently written, the Knicks’ firing of Derek Fisher made basketball sense. Their rotations simply did not maximize the roster’s talent. Kristaps Porzingis’ potential represents the team’s future. Unfortunately, and on the corollary, Carmelo Anthony’s injuries represent the team’s present. Kurt Rambis will need to attempt to mix the Knicks’ youth with Anthony’s veteran mind and talent. If he can do so, well, he’ll be the coach next season. More than likely, though, we should expect more of the same.
22. Sacramento Kings – 22-31
This one pains me to write. Mainly because I have written on multiple occasions that the Kings are turning it around, one with relative recency. Unfortunately, I underestimated the idiocy of the Kings’ front office, and the instability they can sow. George Karl has been “fired” at least three times since he took over. I’ll leave it at this: the Kings have the talent to become an NBA playoff team this season; however, the flaws in their coaching and front office may ruin those chances.
21. Orlando Magic – 23-29
Orlando was so promising to start the season, hence my disappointment. Somewhere along the way the Magic stopped playing defense. Most importantly, though, their rebuild has taken a turn for the worse. Aaron Gordon is a great dunker, Elfrid Payton can play mean defense, Victor Oladipo is a good utility player, and Mario Hezonja has significant offensive prowess but has demonstrated none of it during his rookie season. Here is the problem, however, all four players had much greater potential. This has resulted in trade discussions where the Magic would send young potential talent and receive veterans. That type of move, while helping in the short term, will stick a team like Orlando on the “treadmill of mediocrity.”
20. Washington Wizards – 23-28
The Wizards have the worst rebound percentage in the NBA. Last week I wrote about how this hurts teams in the age of analytics. More importantly, though, the Wizards play at an incredibly fast pace and attempt to score the most points in transition of any other NBA team. The problem is that, when they shoot the ball so quickly, a lack of rebounders negatively effects the teams efficiency. Consequently, other fast-paced teams will ensure rebounds in order to beat the Wizards. Until Washington fixes this problem they will be no more than an NBA bottom-feeder.
19. Denver Nuggets – 22-32
Denver’s rebuild is going surprisingly well. They have four core players that can either stay, and develop into a winning team, or trade to fill other holes. These four are Emmanuel Mudiay, Danilo Gallinari, Jusuf Nurkic, and Nikola Jokic. Thus, while the team clearly is young and makes rookie mistakes, Moses Malone is forming a young core that could be a playoff team by as early as next season.
18. Houston Rockets – 27-28
One stat tells the story of Houston’s entire season: they have the third worst turnover ration in the entire NBA. This team is careless, poorly built, and reliant on two false superstars. Kevin McHale’s comments about James Harden coming into training camp out of shape furthers this narrative. If the team was not built on analytics they would be doing significantly worse. But, that ends up as a double edged sword. The way they are built will keep them on the “treadmill of mediocrity;” however, it also will ensure they do not make a championship run.
17. Charlotte Hornets – 27-26
I know, I have written that the Hornets are a really good and vastly underrated team. Also, I know that currently the Hornets are the eight seed in the Eastern Conference. But I also know that Charlotte’s potential ceiling is limited, especially with Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum returning to their standard performances. An article in the Washington Post puts the Hornets season into perspective.
“He [Kemba Walker] isn’t proficient in transition (1.09 points per possession) but he does score well as the ball handler on the pick and roll (0.86 points per possession) and spotting up opponents (1.14 points per possession with a 56.7 percent effective field goal percentage). Walker’s no-dribble jumper is particularly accurate from long range, averaging 1.32 points per possession.”
This quote perfectly sums-up the Hornets’ season. They excel at certain things, but overall, are just an average team playing beyond their means.
16. Detroit Pistons – 27-27
The Detroit Pistons excel at one thing: rebounding. The Pistons have the second best contested rebound percentage and the fourth best total rebound percentage. This helps them overcome a simplistic, pick-and-roll based offense.
Nonetheless, surprisingly, the Pistons really struggle defensively. It is confusing because they have a giant center, Andre Drummond, manning the paint. They have the second worst defensive field goal percentage in the NBA. This will limit the team as the season progresses.
15. Utah Jazz – 26-26
Utah’s dealt with injuries a lot this season. Only one player has played all 52 games (Gordon Hayward) and their star center, Rudy Gobert, has played slightly over half the season. Nonetheless, one should be surprised with their non-elite defense. They only have the twelfth best defense in the league this season. But, since February 1, they have the fourth best defense. This was also the time when they began to jump into the Western Conference playoff picture.
What makes the Jazz tough to play against is their elite cut defense, which, on the season, is ranked fourth in the association. Since Golden State became the team to beat last year, many others have adopted their strategy, sending guards cutting, off screens, straight to the basket. This creates a distraction allowing shooters top get open looks from three-point range. The Jazz, though, use their interior size and elite perimeter defense to prevent those types of plays. If the Jazz can continue to improve expect a first round matchup against Golden State.