NBA

NBA Power Rankings: One reason every team can be optimistic

NBA Power Rankings will be taking a week off for the holidays. As we finish off 2018, we’re leaving you with one reason every team can feel optimistic about the future.

30

Atlanta Hawks 6-23

Last week: 0-3
Last rank: 26

They only appeared in one game in December, for a single 13-minute sample, but the lineup of Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince, John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon outscored played respectable defense and outscored their opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions. This is Atlanta’s core for the foreseeable future (although possibly with another spacer/rim-protector in place of Dedmon once he hits free agency this summer) and to see it perform as hoped in any setting is a good sign.

29

Chicago Bulls 7-24

Last week: 1-2
Last rank: 30

Uhh….Wendell Carter Jr.?

28

Cleveland Cavaliers 7-23

Last week: 1-2
Last rank: 27

We’re probably not making enough out of how well Collin Sexton has been playing. In any other year, he might well be among the Rookie of the Year favorites — averaging 15.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 40 percent on 3s. Yes, it would be nice to see him making more plays for his teammates and yes his outside shooting is coming on a low volume. But nearly half his shots have been long 2-pointers, a correctable issue that could make a huge difference for his overall efficiency and how defenses have to handle him.

27

Phoenix Suns 7-24

Last week: 3-1
Last rank: 29

If you spend too much time looking up and down the roster, it’s easy to get stuck staring at all the disappointments. But Devin Booker is looking more viable as a point guard and when he Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges are on the floor together, the Suns are outscoring opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions. That’s the core to focus on.

26

New York Knicks 9-23

Last week: 1-3
Last rank: 28

The future still looks fuzzy, long-term roles aren’t coming into focus yet but I see at least six players on this roster — Noah Vonleh, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kevin Knox, Allonzo Trier, Frank Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson — all 23-or-younger who look like they could eventually be rotation players on good teams. Oh, and then Kristaps Porzingis comes back next year too.

25

Washington Wizards 12-18

Last week: 1-2
Last rank: 25

I know the intention was to provide a seed of optimism for every team but I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. John Wall dropped 40 the other night? Maybe he’s angry enough to move from passive aggression to actual aggression for the rest of the year?

24

Minnesota Timberwolves 14-16

Last week: 1-2
Last rank: 17

After a brief post-trade bump, the Timberwolves have continued to fade to the back of the playoff race. However, since Jimmy Butler was traded, Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 22.6 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 0.9 steals and 1.5 blocks per game, shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 38.7 percent on 3-pointers. Most importantly, the Timberwolves have outscored opponents by 5.4 per 100 possessions with him on the floor. An engaged and dominant Towns is the most obvious path to the Wolves hitting their ceiling and we’re getting closer and closer to that.

23

Miami Heat 13-16

Last week: 2-1
Last rank: 19

If you think the Heat need to push for the playoffs, take heart in the fact that they’re just a game back of the last playoff spot in the East and shouldn’t exactly be scared of the Hornets or Magic. If you think the Heat need to blow it up, then dive into the trade machine and feel good about all the trade assets they have and miraculous deals they could be a part of.

22

Orlando Magic 14-15

Last week: 2-0
Last rank: 23

Sure, they haven’t actually looked viable as a trio or in any of the different pairings but Aaron Gordon is still just 23, Jonathan Isaac is 21 and Mo Bamba is 20.

21

Brooklyn Nets 13-18

Last week: 3-0
Last rank: 22

Dear Brooklyn, 22-year-old D’Angelo Russell is averaging career-highs in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, points, assists and, consequently, Box Plus-Minus. Oh, and Caris LeVert will be back at some point this Spring. Feeling better?

20

San Antonio Spurs 16-15

Last week: 3-1
Last rank: 24

Every time it looks like the Spurs are finished, they bounce back with a strong week and keep themselves, at least hypothetically, in the playoff race. But hope for the Spurs is carried by Dejounte Murray, Jakob Poeltl, Lonnie Walker IV and this team’s incredible history of turning water into wine.

19

Detroit Pistons 14-14

Last week: 1-2
Last rank: 18

The Pistons are tied to the core of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond for the foreseeable future which means getting as close to championship content as possible. The team has had both impressive win streaks and ugly losing streaks this year but they have also beaten Boston, Toronto, Golden State, Houston and Philadelphia. They can compete with the best in the league and the chances of getting a favorable playoff matchup and catching lightning won’t be dead until they’re finally eliminated.

18

Utah Jazz 14-17

Last week: 1-2
Last rank: 16

The Jazz have had a frustrating start to the season, the offense isn’t right and Donovan Mitchell hasn’t been able to get his 3-point shot falling. They’re well back in the playoff race and in danger of seeing their presumed ascension interrupted, yet again, but a lost season. But…last year they were also 14-17 after 31 games and they came back to both make the playoffs and win a first ronud series. Their defense is good enough that if they can make a trade, get some things sorted on offense or simply catch a wave of progression to the mean, they could be right back in the thick of things.

17

Houston Rockets 15-14

Last week: 4-0
Last rank: 21

The Houston Rockets are struggling and their personnel is not what it was last year. Still, they are one of the few teams with the upside to legitimately challenge the Warriors. If you’re a Rockets fan looking for hope, you have to cling to the idea that if they can just get to the playoffs they can grind their way through.

16

Charlotte Hornets 14-15

Last week: 1-2
Last rank: 10

Malik Monk still can’t make a pull-up 3 but Miles Bridges will be a dunk-contest favorite and Michael Jordan hasn’t traded Kemba Walker yet. That’s good, right?

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