Each week during the season, NBA.com writer John Schuhmann surveys the league to compile stats and notes for his in-depth Power Rankings. Before the next rankings drop on Monday, here are some of the storylines he’s keeping an eye on this weekend.
It’s been four weeks since the trade deadline, so let’s check in with the teams that made significant moves with an eye on the playoffs.
1. Top of the East
The Brooklyn Nets made their big trade (acquiring James Harden) in January, but added a couple of bigs in the buyout market. The Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, each traded for veterans at or before the deadline. George Hill (52) and P.J. Tucker (50) rank 13th and 17th in total playoff games over the last four years.
1. Philadelphia – George Hill
Recovering from a thumb injury suffered in January, Hill didn’t make his Sixers debut until Monday. He was thrown right into the fire, asked to guard Stephen Curry for a portion of his 18 minutes off the Sixers’ bench. That didn’t go particularly well, but Hill had better minutes (11 points, 4-for-5 shooting, +5) in the Sixers’ loss to Phoenix on Wednesday.
When the Sixers are healthy, Hill will take minutes from Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey. Their offense has not been very good with either on the floor and has scored just 101.1 points per 100 possessions in 309 total minutes with them on the floor together.
2. Brooklyn – Blake Griffin
It’s not breaking news to say that the Nets have had no continuity. Over their 17 games since Griffin made his debut, their most-used lineup has played only 30 minutes together, and that lineup includes the since-retired LaMarcus Aldridge. But over that time, they’ve been 11.6 points per 100 possessions better with Griffin on the floor (+10.3) than they’ve been with him off the floor (-1.3).
Griffin’s 265 minutes have been split about evenly between playing the four and the five. The minutes have generally been good with him at center (+12.4 per 100 possessions) or with him at power forward alongside Nicolas Claxton (+15.5), but the (small-sample-size) minutes with Griffin alongside a less mobile big (Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan or Reggie Perry) haven’t worked out.
Griffin, of course, offers more playmaking (useful when Harden isn’t on the floor) than they’re getting from their other bigs …
3. Milwaukee – P.J. Tucker
Tucker has played just seven games for the Bucks, having dealt with a calf injury. He’s played 100 of his 113 minutes alongside Brook Lopez or Bobby Portis, but the Bucks closed their overtime loss to Phoenix with Tucker at the five, with some offense/defense substitutions (Tucker for defense, Lopez for offense) mixed in. With Giannis Antetokounmpo having missed most of the overtime, we’ve seen just 20 offensive possessions (26 points scored) and 19 defensive possessions (19 points allowed) with Antetokounmpo and Tucker at the four and five.
Tucker has a lower usage rate in Milwaukee (it’s the lowest in the league in the time since he made his Bucks debut) than he did in Houston. Ten of his 16 field goal attempts have been corner 3-pointers, on which he’s shot 6-for-10.
2. Elsewhere in the East
There’s been a five-team race for the No. 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the East. With their win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, the New York Knicks are atop the scrum. But, they’re tied in the loss column with the Hawks and Boston Celtics … with the Miami Heat just a game behind and the Charlotte Hornets still in the mix.
The Knicks are the only team in that group that didn’t make a move at the deadline that affected their rotation, having already traded for Derrick Rose (their leader in on-off differential per 100 possessions) earlier in the season.
5. Atlanta – Lou Williams
Since making his debut on April 1, Williams has had his hand in a couple of wins for the Hawks, including a victory over Orlando on Tuesday in which he scored 22 points in less than 24 minutes off the bench. And the Atlanta offense has been better with Trae Young off the floor this month (110.2 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was prior (101.6).
But that improvement can probably be credited more to Bogdan Bogdanovic, who’s averaged 21.6 points on an effective field goal percentage of 62.1% in April. Williams’ effective field goal percentage with Atlanta (45.7%) ranks 111th among 118 players with at least 100 field goal attempts this month. And his defense, of course, remains an issue.
With Young having suffered a left ankle injury in New York on Wednesday, the Hawks could need to lean on Williams more than they already have.
6. Boston – Evan Fournier
After a rough start (0-for-10 in his debut), Fournier totaled 40 points (shooting 11-for-16 from 3-point range) in his third and fourth games with the Celtics. He was on the floor down the stretch of their two close games for which he was active. But Fournier was then lost to health and safety protocols and has missed the last eight games. And it sounds like he’ll miss at least a couple more before he’s ready to play again.
7. Miami – Victor Oladipo, Trevor Ariza
Oladipo played only four games with the Heat (shooting 10-for-12 in the restricted area and just 6-for-31 from outside it) before suffering a right knee injury on April 8. It’s been two weeks since then and there’s been no details on his injury or indication if he might return.
Ariza, meanwhile, has started the last 15 games for the Heat, spending a lot of his time guarding point guards (with some Myles Turner mixed in). He hasn’t shot particularly well (36% from 3-point range, 41% inside the arc), but the Heat have outscored their opponents by 14.4 points per 100 possessions in 193 total minutes with their four full-time starters (Ariza, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo) on the floor together.
11. Toronto – Gary Trent Jr.
Trent has a buzzer-beating game-winner and a 44-point performance with his new team. And there’s a scenario where that buzzer beater (which clinched the season series with Washington) is the difference in the fight for the final Play-In spot in the East.
The Raptors have been banged up for most of the last month, so they’ve played just 30 minutes (in two games) with a “best five” lineup of Trent, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. But they’ve been outscored by 22 points in 39 minutes with Trent on the floor with the two small guards. With everybody healthy against Brooklyn on Wednesday, he came off the bench for his first time as a Raptor.
12. Chicago – Nikola Vucevic, Daniel Theis
Vucevic has shot 50% from the field, 45% from 3-point range and 87% from the line over his 15 games with the Bulls. But that 87% has come on only two free throw attempts per game. Among 217 players with at least 300 field goal attempts this season, Vucevic’s free throw rate (11.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field) ranks 186th. And it’s been lower in Chicago (11.1 per 100) than it was in Orlando (12.1 per 100).
More of an issue is the Bulls’ defense. Chicago ranks 25th defensively since the trade deadline, having allowed 115.1 points per 100 possessions. And they’ve allowed almost 118 per 100 with Vucevic on the floor.
The Bulls have played Theis and Vucevic together for a rather remarkable 160 minutes over the last four weeks. It hasn’t worked out well on either end of the floor, with Chicago having been outscored by 22 points per 100 possessions in those 160 minutes. On Wednesday in Cleveland, the Bulls were outscored by 18 points in 17.2 minutes with the two centers on the floor together … and lost by 16.
3. Top of the West
While the Eastern Conference has three clear Finals contenders, the West has five. The Utah Jazz have been at the top and made only minor moves — signing Ersan Ilyasova, trading for Matt Thomas — in-season. The rest of the group has done a little more work in trying to catch the Jazz and/or load up for the postseason.
2. Phoenix – Torrey Craig
The Bucks basically gave Craig away, and he’s been in the Suns’ rotation for the last month, shooting 15-for-39 (38%) from 3-point range. He’s had some good moments, but the Suns’ bench minutes have not been as good over the last month as they were previously. They’ve been outscored by 5.0 points per 100 possessions in 231 total minutes with Craig and Cam Johnson on the floor together.
Craig might not get consistent minutes come playoff time, as he’s likely their fourth forward (behind Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder and Johnson) on the depth chart. But he could be useful in a series against the Clippers’ star wings.
3. LA Clippers – Rajon Rondo
Rondo was brought in to shoulder some of the ball-handling burden in L.A., and he’s averaged 10.1 assists per 36 minutes (with a 3.13 assist/turnover ratio) with the Clippers, who have outscored their opponents by 85 points in his 167 minutes on the floor. That’s a small sample size affected by poor opponent shooting from 3-point range. The Clippers have allowed just 94.2 points per 100 possessions in those 167 minutes, with their opponents having shot just 28% from beyond the arc.
Rondo can find some passing angles that were otherwise unused …
4. Denver – Aaron Gordon
Gordon is just 10-for-35 (29%) from 3-point range with the Nuggets, but that hasn’t mattered much. The Nuggets have had the league’s second-ranked offense (118.3 points scored per 100 possessions) since the trade deadline and have scored 126.8 per 100 in 285 total minutes with their four non-injured starters — Gordon, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic — on the floor together.
One reason why Gordon’s 3-point shooting hasn’t mattered much is that he’s getting shots at the rim much more than he did in Orlando. With the Magic this season, only 26% of his shots came in the restricted area. With Denver thus far, 38% of his shots (41/107) have come in the restricted area, where he’s 33-for-41 (80%). Jokic has assisted on 15 of those 33 restricted-area buckets.
Here’s a couple of possessions where Gordon was able to pester Kawhi Leonard …
Gordon didn’t spend too much time guarding Stephen Curry when the Warriors’ star dropped 53 on the Nuggets 10 days ago. Perhaps he’ll take on more of that assignment when the Nuggets are back in San Francisco on Friday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN).
5. L.A. Lakers – Andre Drummond
Drummond had a false start with the Lakers, suffering a toe injury in the first quarter of his first game. But he’s played in (and started) six of the last seven and, more interestingly, been on the floor down the stretch in the three games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Though he leads the Lakers in deflections per 36 minutes (4.4) and has shot just 46% (including 1-for-10 on post-ups), the Lakers’ numbers with Drummond on the floor have been much more favorable on offense than they have on defense.
Of course, we’ve yet to see Drummond alongside LeBron James or Anthony Davis. Drummond and Davis will play together for the first time when the Lakers visit the Mavs on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
4. Elsewhere in the West
The bottom of the West playoff picture features some teams that will not be easy to deal with in the first round. There’s a there-way race for the No. 6 seed, though the Memphis Grizzlies missed out on an opportunity with their loss to the star-less Clippers on Wednesday. The Grizzlies had been waiting on the return of Jaren Jackson Jr. (15 points and four blocks in less than 18 minutes in his debut on Wednesday), but the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks made moves to add some shooting around their stars.
6. Portland – Norman Powell
Though Powell hasn’t shot as well with his new team (effective field goal percentage of 52.2%) as he did with Toronto (60.2%), the Blazers have outscored their opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions in 222 total minutes with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Powell on the floor together. That’s the best mark for any Lillard-McCollum trio that’s played at least 100 minutes. Though the Blazers remain pretty bad defensively overall, their new starting lineup allowed just 102.2 points per 100 possessions, the sixth-best mark among 71 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes.
But Portland is just 4-6 in games in which Lillard has played with Powell. The Blazers sacrificed some depth (trading both Trent and Rodney Hood) to get Powell, and they’ve had some rough bench minutes (they’ve been outscored by more than 11 points per 100 possessions with Carmelo Anthony on the floor) as they’ve lost seven of their last nine games.
7. Dallas – JJ Redick
Like some other guys on this list, Redick wasn’t ready to play when he was first acquired. He’s played the last five games and shot 8-for-17 (47%) from 3-point range, but the Mavs have scored just a point per possession with him on the floor. Thus far, 36 (57%) of his 63 minutes have come alongside Luka Doncic.
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