I haven't updated the power rankings in a while and seeing as the media has conveniently decided the middle of this week to be the "midseason," let's rank the teams, give my All-Star picks, and rank for awards.... In one post!
Hint: The MVP so far is more obvious than you'd enjoy admitting.
Team Power Rankings
Group A: Title Contenders
1. Boston Celtics (32-9)
2. San Antonio Spurs (36-6)
3. L.A. Lakers (31-13)
Group B: Conference Champion Contenders
4. Miami Heat (30-13)
5. Chicago Bulls (28-14)
6. Orlando Magic (27-15)
7. Dallas Mavericks (27-14)
Group C: Solid Playoff Teams Even If One-and-Done
8. New Orleans Hornets (27-16)
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-15)
10. Utah Jazz (27-15)
11. Atlanta Hawks (28-15)
12. Denver Nuggets (24-17)
13. New York Knicks (22-19)
Group D: Competing for Bottom Playoff Spots
14. Houston Rockets (20-23)
15. Memphis Grizzlies (19-23)
16. Milwaukee Bucks (15-24)
17. Charlotte Bobcats (16-24)
18. Portland Trail Blazers (23-20)
19. Philadelphia 76ers (17-24)
20. Indiana Pacers (16-23)
21. Phoenix Suns (19-21)
Group E: Won't Make the Playoffs, But Still Worth Watching (Maybe Even More than Group D Teams)
22. L.A. Clippers (16-25)
23. Golden State Warriors (18-23)
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-33)
25. Sacramento Kings (9-31)
Group F: Bad and Not Worth Time
26. Detroit Pistons (15-27)
27. Toronto Raptors (13-29)
28. Washington Wizards (12-28)
29. New Jersey Nets (11-31)
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-33)
Group A are the only teams I can see beating each other in a seven-game series. Simple enough.
Therefore, Group B is a group of teams that should win the first round, but when can't beat the C's, Spurs, or Lakers in a seven-game series. Ergo, not title contenders. Of course, seven games is a small sample and weird things happen, but to win a title Group B likely have to pass through two Group A teams. Beating two of those three in seven-game series is too unlikely to take seriously, IMO.
I struggle with the Heat, Bulls, and Magic because the Bulls matchup well against the Heat, but not the Magic, whereas the Heat can handle the Magic. Seeing as the Bulls are definite division winners and the Heat can lock up a #2 seed, I ranked them based on how seeding should decide home court. I also expect the Magic to see the C's in the second round and fall. Maybe, the Bulls should be #4 because of that.
Group C are teams as likely to be competitive in the second round as they are to completely collapse in the first. OKC's a sexy pick, but them and the Jazz are heavily flawed and inconsistent defensively. For that reason, I reluctantly slide the Hornets up to the top. but this is wishful thinking; the hope that Chris Paul starts shooting more.
Hawks and Knicks will be tough no matter who they play in the first round, but there's no reason to believe it won't be their only playoff round. That said, each of those teams would have to lose about 75% of the rest of their games to miss the playoffs. That's powerful enough for now.
Group D has teams from the East that aren't as good as Group E teams, but have better shots at the playoffs and you can't compete if you're out of the playoffs, right?
The Blazers will begin to wear down stretching to compensate for injuries and two very talented, but fuck-up prone teams in Houston and Memphis will have an interesting battle for the #8 seed. If 'Melo is traded, that mix is different, but power rankings shouldn't speculate for trades, IMO.
Group E has little to do with where they'll rank in wins and losses, but on watchability. I love watching all of these teams for wows and laughs, combined.
Group F is unwatchable embarrassments.
Starters (Who I voted for)
East: Dwight Howard (Magic), LeBron James (Heat), Amar'e Stoud_emire (Knicks), Dwyane Wade (Heat), Derrick Rose (Bulls)
West: Nenê (Nuggets), Dirk Nowitzki (Mavs), Kevin Durant (Thunder), Chris Paul (Hornets), Deron Williams (Jazz)
I'll make my personal picks for the reserves after the starters are announced.
Most Valuable Player
1. LeBron James, MIA
(25.6 PPG, 6.8 APG, 6.7 RPG, .515 eFG%, .578 TS%, 31.9% Usage Rate, 25.8 PER)
Having a great teammate or two shouldn't hurt your merit toward this award. Even if Dwyane Wade staying healthy makes you biased against LeBron, look at the Cleveland Cavaliers. He took that tub of goo to a 61-21 record last year. As long as his Usage Rate is in the 30s, his averages don't sink below this level, and the Heat play .700 ball, this is you MVP without a runaway between now and the end of the season. But there is no runaway.
2. Dwight Howard, ORL
(21.9 PPG, 13.1 RPG, 2.2 BPG, .569 eFG%, .596 TS%, 27.9% Usage Rate, 24.3 PER)
This is really tough, especially when you see the Magic defensive numbers with and without Dewey on the floor (h/t: Kelly Dwyer). The difference between him and the next name is incredibly marginal, but my dealbreaker at the moment is the success of the Magic and how they're built. Think about it: Is any legitimate Top Four team in either conference successful with the philosophy of building around one player like the Magic are? An incredibly large part of their offense is three-pointers. Who wins with that? A team with a rebounder and stopper like Dewey.
3. Derrick Rose, CHI
(23.4 PPG, 7.6 APG, 4.4 RPG, .493 eFG%, .543 TS%, .379 3P%, 31.5 Usage Rate, 23.1 PER)
Admittedly, this is more predictive than on merit to this day. But the Bulls W-L record with their injuries has to make you look at the guy with 31.5% Usage Rate. Add in that his shooting was an offseason improvement that gets better as the season matures, he just starting drawing more contact to get to the FT line around a month ago, and his assists will float high with a healthy, aggressive front court. There are two reasons why the Bulls are winning despite injury and lack of offensive depth: Rose being amazing and their defense. And Rose's defense is getting better and better every week.
4. Dwyane Wade, MIA
(25.1 PPG, .4.2 APG, 6.4 RPG, 514 eFG%, .575 TS%, 14.7 DRB%, 31.8 Usage Rate, 25.4 PER)
LeBron's the biggest reason why the Heat don't need fourth quarter comebacks and big decisions on who takes the last shot, blah, blah, blah. But when the Heat are pulling away in those third quarters, a lot is because of Dwyane Wade. Also, I'm liking a lot of his defensive rotations. His history's always been just attacking passing lanes for steals while sagging off. This season, he's switching to defend small forwards and when the Heat are forcing bad shots, D-Wade hustling for long rebounds is a huge part of igniting their also very efficient offense.
5. Dirk Nowitzki, DAL
(23.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 2.6 APG, .568 eFG%, 28.7 Usage Rate, 24.6 PER)
Dirk went down for nine games and the Mavs went to shit. It was clear before that he was the MVP and that there was no "MVP conversation" after him at that point. Now, he's back, but Caron Butler's out for the year. Dirk's gonna have to be amazing for them to secure a top four seed and that degree of amazing will probably create the sound of everyone else far behind him again in the "conversation." Case and point: look at his efficiency and percentages. Now, understand that his Usage Rate is going to skyrocket. The other team knowing the ball's going to him hasn't hurt him all season. Until then, I won't expect it to hold him back and I predict he'll be in the top three within a month or six weeks.
6. (tie) Kevin Durant, OKC
(28.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, .510 eFG%, .591 TS%, 31.2 Usage Rate, 23.4 PER)
I really like Durant, but this team's offensive strategy frustrates the hell out of me. Running into people every possession and praying for a whistle as you mindlessly release the ball from your hands isn't a gameplan. Worse, I constantly see this execution taking the ball out of Durant's hands to put his teammates at the FT line or turn the ball over looking stupid. I predict he'll rise higher on this list as his shots are falling again. The fact that he's put number so efficient while basically in a shooting slump is amazing. Understanding the best is yet to come makes me feel foolish to leave him off this list.
6. (tie) Deron Williams, UTA
(22.1 PPG, 9.5 APG, .3.8 RPG, 524 eFG%, .603 TS%, 26.4% Usage Rate, 23.4 PER)
The legitimate MVP conversation ends with Dirk, if you ask me. But like Durant, D-Will's candidacy depends on which team wins that division. The bigger hero of these two will enter the conversation and stay there. I'm thinking it'll be so competitive and that Dallas will stay in the top four, so winning this division will also mean home court or playing on the road in the first round.
8. Chris Paul, NOH
(16.3 PPG, 9.7 APG, 4.1 RPG, .528 eFG%, .607 TS%, .463 3P%, .904 FT%, 2.7 SPG, 4.1 STL%, 21.1 Usage Rate, 25.5 PER)
Leading the league with 8.6 Win Shares on a team that's struggled to gather 27 wins to this point and a 25+ PER would negate the MVP conversation. He's completely bought into Monty Williams' defense that's perfect for CP3's game and his DRtg has sunk to 99.3. The problem: he doesn't shoot enough. If he shot more, he'd be running away with this award, have more win shares, and the team would have an extra win or two. If you've watched the Hornets in the final minutes of close game, you know what I mean. If you haven't, you at least understand CP3 is far too great to be shooting less than 12 times per game.
9. Kobe Bryant, LAL
(25.1 PPG, 4.7 APG, 5.1 RPG, .491 eFG%, .555 TS%, 34.5 Usage Rate, 24.6 PER)
The meme is true. Kobe's shooting the Lakers out of some ballgames. Of course, now with Andrew Bynum back, I expect the Lakers to not have losing streaks anymore. This will largely also be because the interior game will develop more to make Kobe look less bad, but his numbers will deflate as his Usage Rate gets closer to 30%. Of course, Kobe could actually become good at shooting beyond 21 feet, but that'd actually make him more efficient with the lesser volume.
10. Manu Ginobili, SAS
(19.0 PPG, 4.8 APG, 4.0 RPG, .525 eFG%, .603, 26.1% Usage Rate, 23.0 PER)
If the Spurs win 70, he'll be the biggest reason why. And that will put him in the legitimate conversation. I don't see either happening. Just thought I'd mention it and show how deliberate it was that I left Russell Westbrook off the list. Usage Rate is always this man's downfall for an MVP candidacy. And while it's deserved, there are few in the league teams fear taking over a game against them than Manu.
Coach of the Year
1. Tom Thibodeau, CHI
(28-14, 105.9 ORtg, 100.0 DRtg, +5.45 Avg. Margin of Victory)
2. Gregg Popovich, SAS
(36-6, 111.7 ORtg, 103.2 DRtg, +7.98 Avg. Margin of Victory)
3. Doc Rivers, BOS
(32-9, 108.8 ORtg, 100.8 DRtg, +7.34 Avg. Margin of Victory)
4. Erik Spoelstra, MIA
(30-13, 110.4 ORtg, 102.1 DRtg, +7.63 Avg. Margin of Victory)
5. Monty Williams, NOH
(27-16, 104.6 ORtg, 102.4 DRtg, +2.00 Avg. Margin of Victory)
Thibs has been the biggest reason the Bulls are relevant and a force to be reckoned with in the league. I don't think this should be controversial.
Everyone but Pops on this list have overcome struggles to maintain an extremely strong defense. Though the names may seem so obvious that you'll rarely see them all together on such a list, the reason makes more sense than most.
As for Pops, that's amazing. Those guys are old. He's been able to put the same starting lineup on the floor for every game, meaning he's resting them enough without sacrificing wins. He's actually maximizing wins. The defense needs to be less sloppy. My only problem.
Most Improved Player
Derrick Rose, CHI
Yeah, it's a dumb award, but if it's there, this is the end of the conversation.
Rookie of the Year
Blake Griffin, LAC
(22.7, 12.7 RPG, 3.3 APG, .527 eFG%, .558 TS%, 27.5 Usage Rate, 23.3 PER, 93 Dunks)
A nickname for him could be "The Conversation."
Defensive Player of the Year
Dwyer makes a good case for Garnett and noting earlier in the post the on-off stats for Dewey. But let's be honest here. I'm the first to tell you that stats tell you more of what the yes miss than your eyes can tell you altogether, but this really is an eye test.
Dewey's had less help this year and his frustration's led to him be stupid at times, but he's still been the best. That said, KG's making a very strong case. It's remarkable that someone so great on defense took so long win his only Defensive Player of the Year Award and is getting better every year on defense at the age of 34.
CP3 could be my bias and maybe a better argument for Most Improved Player that isn't a good enough argument for him winning it. But he's becoming an elite versatile defender this season. He can man-up, shift pressure, rotate, attack passing lanes, defend multiple position, and guide the shifts on the rotating zones for what's been a suffocating Hornets D.
Sixth Man of the Year
This award is stupid, but if I must, OK , Tyrus Thomas. But who starts the game is who plays probably the most meaningless minutes. It's a giant paradox in the league at the moment.
Filed under: Power Rankings
Tags: blake griffin, boston celtics, chicago bulls, chris paul, coach of the year, dallas mavericks, defensive player of the year, derrick rose, dirk nowitzki, doc rivers, dwight howard, dwyane wade, erik spoelstra, gregg popovich, kevin garnett, la lakers, lebron james, miami heat, monty williams, mvp watch, nba awards, orland magic, rookie of the year, san antonio spurs, sixth man of the year, tom thibodeau