NBA Power Rankings: Feb 22, 2016

Milwaukee Bucks v Cleveland CavaliersTeams are back on the court after the All-Star break and, already, a few of the top squads have lost. Golden State, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Toronto are all trying to shake off the rust after losses, and one of these teams fell in our power rankings as a result. That said, let’s see which team this is, and here’s a look at last week’s power rankings.

1. Golden State Warriors (49-5); same spot – Perhaps fueled by his All-Star snub, Damian Lillard dropped 51 points on the Warriors to lead Portland to a 137-105 victory. Golden State righted the ship, though, with a 115-112 road win over the Clippers.

2. San Antonio Spurs (47-9); same spot – The Spurs came out of the break with a 105-86 loss to the Clippers, but have since won two easy ones against the Lakers and Suns.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (40-14); up 1 spot – Blowout wins against the Bulls and Thunder recently have the Cavs looking like the cream of the East crop. It also doesn’t hurt that their lead on the Raptors is 4 games now.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-16); down 1 spot – The Thunder have stumbled out of the mid-season pause with home losses to Indiana and Cleveland. But Durant and Westbrook should get them back in the contender conversation soon.

doug-mcdermott-career-high5. Toronto Raptors (36-18); same spot – Losing to a short-handed Bulls team and allowing Doug McDermott to score 30 had to hurt. But Toronto did come back with a nice 13-point victory over the Grizzlies.

6. Boston Celtics (33-24); same spot – No major trade for the Celtics this year, however, their current lineup is more than capable of a solid playoff run.

7. LA Clippers (36-19); same spot – Awkward handshakes aside, the Clippers are playing really well with a victory over the Spurs and a narrow 3-point loss to Golden State. It’ll be interesting to see how the Jeff Green trade impacts this team.

8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-23); same spot – It’s unclear if Lance Stephenson will help the Grizzlies win now. But they must be happy to part with Green and get a first-round pick.

9. Miami Heat (31-24); up 1 spot – Another health scare for Chris Bosh, but Miami is still playing pretty good in his absence right now. Hopefully Bosh can get his blood clot issue cleared up.

al-horford10. Atlanta Hawks (31-24); down 1 spot – Atlanta chose to keep their core together. They’re banking on doing well this year and re-signing Al Horford in the summer.

11. Indiana Pacers (30-25); up 1 spot – With George Best healthy and Myles Turner getting better all the time, Indiana could be a dark-horse contender in the East.

12. Charlotte Hornets (29-26); up 1 spot – The All-Star break didn’t cool off Charlotte since they’ve now won five straight and hold the East’s seventh seed.

13. Dallas Mavericks (30-27); down 2 spots – Dallas has been pretty mediocre lately. But they could get a little boost by signing David Lee in the near future.

14. Portland Trailblazers (28-27); up 2 spots – Portland has come out after the break and ripped off three straight wins, including the aforementioned Warriors victory. Pretty incredible for a team that lost several key players in the offseason.

15. Chicago Bulls (28-26); down 1 spot – Chicago needs to stay in the playoff hunt until Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic return, which will be at least a couple more weeks.

dwight-howard-rockets16. Houston Rockets (28-28); up spots –  The Rockets just couldn’t find a decent trade for Dwight Howard, so they decided to keep him. This certainly makes Houston better in the short term.

17. Utah Jazz (27-27); down 2 spots – Utah is 8-2 in their last 10 games, but they’re still on the outside looking in regarding the postseason.

18. Detroit Pistons (27-29); down 1 spot – Detroit keeps losing, but adding Tobias Harris should help this team turn things around and compete for a playoff spot.

19. Washington Wizards (25-29); same spot – The big question is how Markieff Morris affects this team’s chemistry. But it’s undeniable that he’ll add more talent to the Wizards.

20. Orlando Magic (24-30); same spot – Orlando picked up a quality player in Brandon Jennings, and they are poised to hunt for stars in the free agent market.

21. New York Knicks (24-33); up 1 spot – New York was surprisingly quiet at the trade deadline. They’ll definitely be looking to get better in free agency this summer.

randy-foye-thunder22. Denver Nuggets (22-34); down 1 spot – Nice trade by Denver to get rid of veteran Randy Foye for a couple of second-round picks.

23. Sacramento Kings (23-31); same spot – The Kings have won two out of the break, but they have a lot of ground to make up for the last playoff spot.

24. New Orleans Pelicans (22-33); up 1 spot – Anthony Davis is coming off a franchise-record 59 points and 20 rebounds against the Pistons.

25. Milwaukee Bucks (23-33); down 1 spot – Surprisingly, the Bucks were interested in trading for Dwight Howard before the trade deadline.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (17-39); same spot – The T-Wolves have really struggled to win at the Target Center, going just 9-20 on their home floor.

27. Brooklyn Nets (15-41); same spot – New GM Sean Marks quickly made an impact by cutting Andrea Bargnani.

28. Phoenix Suns (14-42); same spot – The losing continues for Phoenix as they’ve now dropped 11 in a row.

29. L.A. Lakers (11-45); same spot – Truly the only reason to pay attention to L.A. right now is to see Kobe play his last stretch of games.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (8-47); same spot – This team probably wants to fast-forward to next season and see just how “special” Joel Embiid can be.

Sources say Cleveland Cavaliers will take Joel Embiid with No. 1 Pick

joel-embiid-number-one-pickThe improbable happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers when they landed the 2014 NBA Draft’s top pick. Boasting just the ninth best odds (1.7% chance) of getting the number-one pick, the ping pong balls bounced Cleveland’s way and gave them the top selection. This is now the second straight year that they’ll be picking first on June 26th.

Last year, Cleveland didn’t do so well in the draft as they took UNLV’s Anthony Bennett number one. This was an unconventional pick, to say the least, as Bennett was already injured at the time and considered a project. He’s still widely considered a project, having averaged 4.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 35.6% shooting, and 24.5% three-point shooting. Given these numbers, Bennett could be years away from being a true NBA contributor.

Now, it’s up to new GM David Griffin to succeed where Chris Grant failed so miserably with the number-one pick. Griffin already has a huge advantage because the 2014 NBA Draft talent pool is much, much stronger than 2013’s crop. Some of the names that have been thrown around for this year’s first selection could’ve easily topped the 2013 Draft. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Dante Exum and Jabari Parker are all potential top choices.

So who does Cleveland have their eye on with a month left before the draft? Initially, it looked like they could be leaning towards Andrew Wiggins. The 6’8″ Canadian has been on the radar of NBA scouts for the past several years and did nothing to hurt his stock with 17.1 PPG and 5.9 RPG at Kansas. Here’s a look at what ESPN’s Chad Ford wrote a few days ago:

Sources in Cleveland say that Wiggins is the likely choice. The team feels he has the most long-term potential, helps them defensively right out of the gate, can replace Dion Waiters in the starting lineup while adding character to the team.

Interestingly enough, though, Wiggins figures to get some heavy competition from his Jayhawks teammate, Joel Embiid (11.1 PPG, 8.8 RPG). The 7-footer really impressed scouts during a workout hosted by the L.A. Clippers. Embiid was so impressive, in fact, that he quickly made Ford change his tune regarding who’s going number one. Here’s a look at what three different writers had to say on the matter:

 joel-embiid-number-one-pick-1Ford – Embiid quickly re-asserting claim to # 1 pick here. Added muscle, still has quick feet & a beautiful jumper. No evidence of back issues. Just spoke with Embiid. Told me his back is 100 percent. Been working out hard for last 3 weeks. Embiid said he’s gained 15 pounds. Up to 265. Still getting back into shape. Got a bit winded in workout but still looked quick & explosive.

Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports – Watching Joel Embiid in workout for league executives in Santa Monica. Impossible to imagine passing on him at No. 1.

Adam Zagoria, SNY.tv – “I did not see any issues with his back,” one veteran NBA scout on hand at the workout told SNY.tv. “He looked very agile and athletic.”

“He looks great,” a second scout said. “Running, jumping, dunking, bent up like a pretzel in warmups and stretching exercises. Had two ex-NBA bigs [Brian Scalabrine and Will Perdue] banging on him underneath. He passed the eyeball test big time. Move him up. “He helped himself today.”

Cleveland already has some good pieces in place to make themselves a playoff-caliber basketball team. And adding a super-talented big man like Embiid could give them the missing piece to become a postseason lock in the East. But then again, so could adding a shooting guard like Wiggins, who already seems NBA-ready. Likewise, many scouts believe that Parker (19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG) will also make an immediate impact at the next level.

Another option for Cleveland would be trading their top pick. Since the Cavaliers already have enough young talent in Kyrie Irving, Waiters and Tristan Thompson, they would do well to add a veteran All-Star to the mix. But like the three writers above mentioned, Embiid’s talent and potential may be too much to pass up on.

Will Andrew Wiggins be an NBA Star Right Away?

will-andrew-wiggins-be-starThis week marked what many considered the inevitable when Kansas Jayhawks freshman Andrew Wiggins declared himself eligible for the 2014 NBA Draft. A little over a year ago, Wiggins was the man, the myth, the Canadian legend whom most scouts thought was a lock to be taken number one overall in the 2014 Draft. A 6’8″, do-it-all forward with a 44-inch vertical leap, a 7-foot wingspan and tremendous all-around athleticism, it wasn’t hard to see why scouts were sky-high on him. Now, things are a little different…

We emphasize “little” here because Wiggins is still a lock to be a top-three pick this summer. He also didn’t do anything to hurt his stock at Kansas after leading the talented Jayhawks team with 17.1 PPG. He also chipped in 5.9 RPG, 1.2 SPG and 1.0 BPG for a school that finished 25-10 and grabbed the Big 12 title.

His main competition for the top overall choice is Kansas teammate Joel Embiid and Duke freshman Jabari Parker. Some analysts see Embiid as a potential franchise center since he’s got the size (7’0″, 250 pounds) and college numbers (11.2PPG, 8.1RPG, 2.6BPG) that NBA teams like to see. Given his upside, Embiid will be hard to pass up for whoever wins the ping pong ball lottery.

Parker might be even harder to pass on because, much like Wiggins, he’s already the complete package. The 6’8″ combo forward was truly all over the court for Duke this year, as he averaged 19.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 1.2 BPG and shot 35.8% from the three-point line. Going beyond the numbers, what many scouts love about Parker is his killer instinct, much like Kobe or MJ.

will-andrew-wiggins-be-star-1So it looks like Wiggins will definitely have some competition with regard to being picked number one overall. But no matter whether he’s picked first, second or third, he is going to be a very good player. And our question is this: will he be an All-Star right out of the gate?

We already discussed how freakishly athletic Wiggins is. Based on pure athleticism (i.e. run, jump, quickness), he’s quite possibly be the most talented basketball player on the planet. He has the ability to defend multiple positions, runs like a gazelle and is excellent at finishing in transition.

On the downside, Wiggins’ killer instinct and basketball passion have often been called into question. This is what essentially took him from a guaranteed top pick to somebody who could go 1-3. It’s also what saw him end his college career with a nightmare 1-for-6, four-point performance against Stanford in Kansas’ second-round exit from the tourney. Those analyzing Wiggins saw a guy floating around the perimeter against the Stanford zone defense, rather than attacking it and making something happen in the paint.

But are we to take one terrible college game and use it to foreshadow Wiggins’ future. Not according to Kansas coach Bill Self, who had the following to say about his star:

I think the improvement he made this year with his approach and mindset was a great, great improvement. If you look at his statistics and everything, and you look at the games in which we labored for the most part or games which were narrow victories, he always seemed to produce more. He is one of those guys that if the team didn’t have to have him do it, he, a lot of times, deferred to let others do it. But at game point, usually, he was right there.

Self isn’t just full of empty words here because the stats back up what he says. During the Jayhawks’ 25 wins, Wiggins took 11.8 shots and 5.7 free throws while scoring 16.8 PPG. In the team’s 10 losses, he attempted 13.3 shots and 9.4 free throws while scoring 17.7 PPG. Case in point, he is a selfless player who tries to take over when his team is struggling. And this was on a Kansas team that was loaded with plenty of other great players.

As for those who still question Wiggins’ work ethic and drive to improve, perhaps they should listen to the future star himself. “No one’s game is perfect, I have a lot of things to work on,” he said. “There’s strength, ballhandling and shooting, just trying to perfect everything for next season.”

andrew-wiggins-not-number-one-1Wiggins added, “I think I improved a lot. There was never really a non-competitive practice we had, every practice every player would go at each other a lot, making each other better.”

Judging from his underrated competitiveness, freaky talent and versatility, we think that Wiggins definitely has the potential to be an All-Star in his first season. Of course, it will greatly help his cause if he’s paired with another talented player or two to start off with. This would take some of the pressure off of Wiggins and allow him to avoid forcing bad shots and trying to carry a team.

The cupboard is pretty bare in Milwaukee (14-60), which currently owns the NBA’s worst record. But if Wiggins were to land in Philadelphia (16-58), he could play with Michael Carter-Williams. Being picked by the Orlando Magic (21-53) would allow him to play with Victor Oladipo.

In any case, it’ll be fun to see where Wiggins ends up and if he can make the lucky lottery team that picks him into a playoff contender. Our bet is yes.

Andrew Wiggins not No. 1 Pick? Julius Randle, Others factor in

andrew-wiggins-not-number-oneThe 2013-14 NBA Season is one that’s expected to see several teams tank just to have a chance at Andrew Wiggins. For the past two years, NBA clubs have been salivating at the prospect of landing the number one pick and grabbing the 6’8″, do-it-all forward. But is Wiggins really the first true slam-dunk number one pick since LeBron James?

Most teams are convinced so, but others have their doubts when it comes to his on-court efforts. “Until Wiggins learns how to play hard,” said an anonymous NBA scout, “he’s Kansas’ third-best freshman.” Another long-time scout said, “Wiggins has been advertised pretty high. Is he that good? The jury is still out.”

Okay, so this isn’t the general consensus by all NBA GM’s and scouts, but it is enough to consider opening up the discussion that Wiggins may not go first overall. The 2014 NBA Draft class is loaded with talent and several other players who, in a different year, might easily be the top pick. 6’9″ Kentucky freshman Julius Randle is one player who immediately comes to mind. According to DraftExpress, he’s the predicted number two pick behind Wiggins. So it’s not unfathomable to think that, with an excellent college season, Randle could leap up to the top pick.

Other players who could sway GMs’ minds include Australian combo guard Dante Exum, Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Arizona freshman Aaron Gordon and Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart. Even Wiggins’ fellow Kansas frosh teammates, 7-footer Joel Embiid and guard Wayne Selden, could factor into the number-one pick debate.

andrew-wiggins-not-number-one-1An NBA scout discussed several of these players by saying, “Julius Randle is the real deal. Jabari Parker is really good. Dante Exum, he was super impressive at the Hoop Summit at practice and is smooth and can shoot it. Marcus Smart, if a team needs a point guard, he can be a high pick, too. This upcoming draft class is outstanding.”

Despite these glowing reviews of other players, some teams are still fixated on Wiggins. His talent first shined through back at the 2012 Hoop Summit, when the Toronto native dominated an exhibition between the World Team and United States. Wiggins scored 20 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked two shots against the US team, which included Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel.

As alluded to before, many people around the league have compared Wiggins’ potential impact to LeBron. Other scouts believe that, in the “worst-case scenario,” he’d be similar to Tracy McGrady or Vince Carter. In any of these scenarios, the Canadian still would be an outstanding, All-Star-caliber player who has a great career.

Beyond simple comparisons, the league loves Wiggins’ athleticism and upside. His dad, Michael Wiggins, played in the NBA while his mother, Marita Payne-Wiggins, was a track star for Canada. He’s also considered to be a solid citizen who doesn’t get into trouble off of the court.

Still, Andrew Wiggins isn’t the once-thought guaranteed number one selection that many thought previously. The biggest scare is his ability to continually stay motivated and play hard. This could be the main thing that keeps him from ascending to a LeBron James, or flaming out amidst the hype, like Omar Cook and Sebastian Telfair did.