Welcome to the inaugural edition of Rowan’s Rankings: a weekly power ranking of who the top 20 teams are in the NBA.
This is the toughest ranking of the season, because right now everything is just on paper. While we have the historical context of the past, “the disease of more” has always been a factor tearing established teams apart. We saw the Houston Rockets go from the Western Conference Finals to a team that barely made the playoffs a year later with the same roster. Some teams will struggle to find chemistry, some with tremendous roster turnover will find the spark they need.
With that in mind, here’s how the league stacks up on opening night:
- Golden State Warriors
In a “what have you done for me lately league” the Warriors are the clear number one on this list. While the Cavaliers are the defending champs, Golden State have added a top three player in Kevin Durant while retaining Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Igoudala. Unless things implode, the Warriors are the favourite to bring home a championship in 2017.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
While the Warriors may be the favourite, that guy LeBron James is still around. After bringing a championship home to Cleveland, the pressure is off of James. However, the bar has been raised as a result of the acquisitions Golden State has made. He will never have a perfect Finals record like Michael Jordan, but after defeating the greatest regular season team in NBA history, he now has a chance to upset the most talented NBA team assembled. Whether he climbs that mountain will likely come down to whether or not Kyrie Irving can elevate to the top tier at the point guard position.
- Los Angeles Clippers
This may be the last rodeo for the tandem of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. With free agency looming for their stars, the Clippers will look to put the dysfunction of the past behind them, and finally advance beyond the second round.
- Boston Celtics
While the Toronto Raptors have owned the Atlantic Division, the injury to Jared Sullinger has left their big man rotation thin. Al Horford will help elevate an already elite Celtics defense, while providing an offensive hub that the team desperately needed. The Celtics have a deep roster and great coaching.
- San Antonio Spurs
The departure of Tim Duncan has got a lot of the attention in San Antonio. Without him, it’s reasonable to question how the Spurs historic defense holds up. But he isn’t the only defensive departure they have to deal with. Losing Duncan, David West, Boris Diaw and Boban Marjanovic will hurt their defense in a meaningful way. Especially when you replace them with Pau Gasol and David Lee. The Spurs success this season will be heavily dependant on Kawhi Leonard taking the next step.
- Toronto Raptors
The Raptors had poor luck last season when it came to free agent acquisitions. DeMarre Carroll missed a lot of time with various injuries, now their big acquisition in Jared Sullinger may miss up to three months due to foot surgery. Their third big behind Jonas and Patterson will likely be Pascal Siakam, a rookie trying to find his place in the NBA. The pressure will once again fall on Toronto’s All-Star duo to carry the load and make up for the flaws of their roster.
- Utah Jazz
The Jazz barely missed the playoffs last season with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert missing a quarter of the season. In addition, they didn’t even have a starting calibre point guard. With the acquisitions of George Hill, Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson, Utah is poised to make a leap up the Western Conference standings. Even with Gordon Hayward missing time.
- Memphis Grizzlies
If the injury bug strikes again, this team will fall apart. But with Conley, Gasol, Randolph, and Parsons, this team possesses a talented starting lineup that knows how to win.
- Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets will miss Jeremy Lin and Al Jefferson offensively, but they still have a well coached team that will have a difference-maker returning in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They will capitilize on the mistakes of other teams and once again have a successful regular season.
- Detroit Pistons
If Reggie Jackson wasn’t injured, this team may have been higher up in these rankings. The Pistons pushed the Cavaliers in each game of the playoffs, even with the series being a sweep. They’re young, tough, deep, and well coached. While injuries may hold their regular season record down, watch out for them come playoffs.
- Houston Rockets
If we were ranking offenses, the Rockets would be among the best in the league. James Harden is bound to put up crazy numbers surrounded by shooters. But the team lacks defensive talent and will likely finish near the bottom of the league in that category.
- Indiana Pacers
Until proven otherwise, Paul George is still the second best player in the Eastern Conference. While Indiana has lost some defense and the coaching may be a question, they added a former All-Star at point guard in Jeff Teague, and Thad Young is a great power forward for this system. A lot of the pressure falls on Myles Turner to step up defensively and make an impact this year.
- Atlanta Hawks
While the departure of Al Horford will hurt, Dwight Howard gives this team a defensive anchor and will provide them with the rebounding they desperately needed. Their success relies on the learning curve of Dennis Schroeder and the ability of coach Budenholzer to smooth over the transition period for Atlanta.
- Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook is going to put up numbers. We know this. The question will be if he can lead a team to play winning basketball. His defensive effort has been inconsistent and the Thunder lack shooters. Can Westbrook help OKC overcome their flaws?
- Portland Trail Blazers
This team was a sub-.500 team outside of a weak January and February schedule. Which team are they? And can Evan Turner help out without destroying last season’s chemistry?
- Washington Wizards
John Wall is back and there is finally good coaching in DC. The injury to Ian Mahinmi will hurt their interior defense, but they should have enough talent to overcome that short-term. Wall is simply too good to miss the playoffs in back to back season.
- Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets haven’t had the strongest pre-season, but they have an impressive collection of young talent and savvy veterans. Health will always be a concern when Danilo Gallinari is the straw that stirs the drink, but in a summer where the Wolves are expected to take that next step, don’t be surprised to see Denver ahead of them in the standings.
- Minnesota Timberwolves
It’s clear to almost everybody that Karl-Anthony Towns is the future of the NBA. The 21 year old is already looking like a top 15 player and will look to power an incredibly young Minnesota team into the playoffs. They likely are too inexperienced to make it in, but we’ve seen special players elevate their team above expectations in the past.
- New Orlean Pelicans
The man many assumed would takeover the title of future of the NBA is still around in New Orleans. Anthony Davis will try to remind people of how incredible he is in this year’s redemption campaign, but he’ll need some help from his roster. E’Twaun Moore has been a big surprise for the Pelicans in pre-season, but the lack of talent in New Orleans may be too much for Davis to overcome.
- New York Knicks
Brandon Jennings is back and looking like himself again. Unfortunately he’s likely to be stuck behind Derrick Rose unless Jeff Hornacek elects to run two point guard lineups as he had in Phoenix. Carmelo Anthony is still a hell of a player and the Courtney Lee signing was a smart one. The Knicks may need a few lucky breaks to make playoffs, but they’ve rolled the dice on a lot of important pieces, and if they roll enough sevens, things just might work out.
Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers
Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?
Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.
Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.
Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.
Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting.
These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA:
- 14.6 Points
- 7.6 Assists
- 6.0 Rebounds
- 1.8 Steals
- 0.8 Blocks
- 55.1 FG%
- 41.2 3P%
He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.
Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.
He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.
|2012||Damian Lillard (co-MVPs)||PG||Portland Trail Blazers|
|Josh Selby (co-MVPs)||PG||Memphis Grizzlies|
|2013||Jonas Valančiūnas||C||Toronto Raptors|
|2014||Glen Rice Jr.||SG||Washington Wizards|
|2015||Kyle Anderson||SF||San Antonio Spurs|
|2016||Tyus Jones||PG||Minnesota Timberwolves|
|2017||Lonzo Ball||PG||Los Angeles Lakers|
With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.
The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.
Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.
If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.
Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.
It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.
New York has agreed to a deal to send Carmelo Anthony to OKC for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and a draft pick, league sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 23, 2017
Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.
And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.
Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.
The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.
It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.
It didn’t matter to Melo.
And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?
And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.
The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.
A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.
As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.
But, he refused and rebuked such a change.
And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.
So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.
Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?
He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.
In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.
Championship or bust, they say.
He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.
In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.
Reloaded Raptors Banking on Young Guns
Masai Ujiri is a smart guy.
No matter which conference your team is in, you’re either stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out the Warriors, or you’re stuck with the issue of figuring out how to combat/wait out LeBron James. For Ujiri’s Raptors, the latter is the elephant in the room. So when the offseason came, the club had some decisions to make that would indicate the direction of the franchise’s future, both immediate and long-term.
Ujiri and Toronto GM Bobby Webster were somehow able to re-sign Kyle Lowry for a three-year deal instead of the five years that Lowry desired, and then managed the same with Serge Ibaka. This effectively put the Raptors on a three-year timeline until the next big shift in the franchise. For these upcoming three years, the Raps will stay competitive with their tried-and-tested core, and they will simultaneously cultivate young talent around their stars.
It’s a great formula. LeBron is going to be 33 years old this December, and by the time Lowry and Ibaka’s contracts are up, he will be entering the twilight stage of his career. Suddenly, the East could be wide open again. Ujiri knows it, and he wants to be ready for it.
But what about the present? The Raptors lost a couple of their veteran role players this summer in the re-signing of their core, including Patrick Patterson (an advanced analytics darling), and P.J. Tucker (a terrific perimeter defender). The team also traded away DeMarre Carroll—who was never able to return to his Atlanta peak—to Brooklyn in order to shed his contract, as well as Cory Joseph to Indiana, who snagged them sharpshooter C.J. Miles—swiftly signed to a three-year deal, no less—as a return.
These changes have left the Raps with a squad that, outside of the starting lineup, is quite young. None of their bench players have played more than three seasons in the NBA, and their total average age is about 23 years old. A number of them have yet to see significant minutes, with Norman Powell, Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, and newcomer K.J. McDaniels being the exceptions.
The regular season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the keys to racking up wins in order to put yourself in a good position come playoff time are chemistry and consistency à la the Spurs. If the Raptors are to continue their regular season success of the last few years, then they’ll need their young guns to step into formerly veteran roles and rise to the challenge.
Thankfully, a few of them already seem prepared to break out and have impactful seasons. Both Powell and Wright gave the team some fantastic minutes last year, especially in the playoffs. Norm in particular was a standout, putting the league on notice with his athleticism and tough defensive play. He was part of the best lineup the Raptors had in the postseason (a +5.3), and the team’s offensive rating shot up from 101.7 to 107.9 when he was on the floor compared to when he wasn’t.
In the first round against the Bucks, Powell went for 55/91/92 per cent shooting, averaging 12.4 points per game and torching his opponents. He was a key cog in helping the Raptors win that series and fully earned Dwane Casey’s trust, which is not an easy thing to do for a young player.
Wright didn’t get quite as much time to shine with CoJo being the primary backup point guard, but when he was on the floor he scrapped defensively and showed in flashes that he was able to run the team. His length and effort have been the two most noticeable qualities when watching him so far, and his nose-to-the-grindstone mentality is one that Casey must love.
Siakam is another high-energy guy, and good for a few minutes a game, although playing him for a substantial amount of time isn’t a great idea since he’s undersized and a below-average rebounder. Jakob Poeltl should get more run, and like Wright—though less frequently—he showed instances of strong play, both on the boards and around the basket.
Perhaps the two most interesting youngsters are the newcomers: Raptors 2017 draft pick OG Anunoby and K.J. McDaniels. Anunoby has been touted as an excellent defender, a grinder, and he already has an NBA body that should allow him to guard multiple positions on the floor. Unfortunately, he’s recovering from an ACL tear and therefore it’s possible he doesn’t even play this season. Still, this is the kind of player you get excited for as a fan and as a coach—he’ll likely be impactful right away, at least in one aspect.
As for McDaniels, he’s spent time bouncing around the league during his three seasons. He’s already played for Philadelphia, Houston, and Brooklyn, and has never had a chance to get comfortable. He’s another player with defensive potential—he’s got some pretty sweet block highlights—but has yet to find any sort of consistent shooting. If he can’t show Toronto something this season, he may be on the move again.
And finally, as we ask every year, is this the season when Bruno Caboclo breaks loose and starts going Brazilian Kevin Durant on the rest of the league? My answer: Unlikely. It may be hard to believe, but Bruno is still one of the youngest guys on the team at 21 years old. His time in the D-League—now the G League—can only be good for him, but his scoring dropped off significantly last season compared to the year prior, when he was putting up double-figure numbers almost every game. There’s still a lot of time left for Bruno to prove himself, and as such it’s tough to imagine that time being this season.
It’s difficult—though intriguing—trying to judge a group of players who don’t have an extensive NBA resume as of yet (I feel for you, Philly fans). Even if one has seen a player be productive in spurts, it’s impossible to know whether or not they’ll be capable of handling a bigger role long-term without actually seeing it. For the Raptors in particular, Powell is probably the only young player that the team has a good grasp on.
So let the experiment begin. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
And remember: It’s all part of the three-year plan.
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Dads & Draft Picks | The Break | Episode 9
Progression is Power: On Social Justice in the NBA
Detroit Pistons talk with Duncan Smith — TWT 107
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
BIGS N smalls | The Break | Episode 11
Christmas Day Showdowns | The Break | Episode 10
Western Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 1
Eastern Conference Preview | The Break | Episode 2
NBA & More Mailbag with Josh Howe — TWT 102
Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview with Keith Parish — TWT 101
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