Power Rankings, Comeback Edition: Lakers, Bucks still stand tall
The light is not yet green and there are still some hurdles that need to be cleared. But the plan is in place for the league to resume the 2019-20 season.
If the plan comes to fruition, it will be basketball unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The experience of watching the NBA playoffs in a small arena with no fans will be weird. But it will be real basketball with real stakes, real results, and a real champion will be crowned.
The players will be on the same teams that they were in March, but, even beyond the no-fans thing, it may feel like a very different season. What we’re in the middle of right now is not an All-Star break. It’s 20 weeks off. There is no precedent for it.
With a few exceptions (Kevin Durant, John Wall, etc.), we’ll assume better circumstances for teams that weren’t so healthy before the season went on hiatus. But we know that there will be more injuries and issues once teams open up training camps. Even with only eight “seeding games” before the urgency of the playoffs, depth could matter.
For the eight teams that are no longer playing, missing out on 15-18 games of reps for their young or newly acquired players is tough. And there’s a valid and important question of how much (and what kind of) work their young guys will be able to get in between now and the start of next season.
But priority No. 1 is the health of the players, coaches, staff and the general public. Priority No. 2 is getting back to playing basketball.
We’re still a long way from that happening, but with the plan in place, it’s time to start thinking about how things will play out. So here’s a special, hiatus edition of Power Rankings, with the usual notes and numbers regarding all 30 teams.
East vs. West
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the hiatus: Detroit (+4), Chicago (+3), Denver (+3), Minnesota (+3), Portland (+3)
- Free falls of the hiatus: Utah (-5), Charlotte (-4), Sacramento (-3)
- March 9: Lakers end Bucks’ 14-week run at top
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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.9 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
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NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
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Last Week: 1
Pace: 101.1 (12) OffRtg: 112.6 (4) DefRtg: 105.5 (3) NetRtg: +7.1 (2)
Our last real memory of the Lakers is them beating the Bucks and Clippers in one weekend, holding two top-six offenses to just 96.3 points per 100 possessions, with LeBron James seeing the bulk of the matchup time against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard. (They did lose to the Nets that Tuesday). But, though that was two of the last three games they've played, it was also three months ago. And we're still at least seven and a half weeks from the next game that means anything.
We can be confident that James will be both ready for and serious about the resumption of the season. If the Lakers can get back to defending like they did over those last few weeks - they saw the league's biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions from before the All-Star break (106.3, fifth) to after it (101.6, second) - they have a good shot at winning title No. 17.
Given how lethal the Lakers are in transition and how much they depend on a scrambled defense -- 28.5% of their points, the league's highest rate, have come via fast-break points or second-chance points -- you can't put enough emphasis on their own defense. They've been better defensively with Davis at center (101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) than they've been with him at the four (106.4), though those Davis-at-center minutes are more likely to have come against opposing reserves and it remains to be seen how much we see of him playing center in the postseason.
Last Week: 2
Pace: 105.4 (1) OffRtg: 112.3 (6) DefRtg: 101.6 (1) NetRtg: +10.7 (1)
We should not assume that, when the season resumes, Giannis Antetokounmpo will be any less motivated to win his first championship than LeBron James is to win his fourth. And the reigning Kia MVP has both youth and one of the best defenses we've ever seen on his side.
We can wonder just how tested the Bucks' late-game offense is. Because they've been so bleeping good -- their differential of plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions is the fifth best mark in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data -- they've played only eight games (five fewer than any other team) that were within three points in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Khris Middleton is a mid-range assassin, but has shot just 31% (including 3-for-14 from mid-range) on clutch shots over the last two seasons (including last year's playoffs).
They have different ways to get Antetokounmpo to the basket, but other guys will need to make shots. And if George Hill has to play more minutes than Eric Bledsoe (0-for-7 in the clutch in last year's postseason), the Bucks will suffer in other areas.
Last Week: 3
Pace: 102.4 (8) OffRtg: 112.9 (3) DefRtg: 106.6 (5) NetRtg: +6.4 (3)
The Clippers, seemingly, have fewer holes than any other team in the league. Offensively, they have three players -- Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams -- who don't need any help to get a bucket. Shooting is the most important thing in basketball and the Clippers have nine guys who have shot better than the league average (35.7%) on at least 100 3-point attempts.
On the other end of the floor, they have both elite perimeter defense and elite rim protection. Opponents have shot 46.2% at the rim when Ivica Zubac has been there to protect it. That's the best rim protection mark among 48 players who have defended at least 4.5 shots at the rim per game, with Montrezl Harrell having the ninth best mark (51.4%).
But when they played the Lakers in early March, the ball movement was lacking, Marcus Morris couldn't make a shot, and Williams got picked on down the stretch. Leonard is the reigning Finals MVP, but he's certainly not the best passer among high-usage stars and he can't guard everybody.
Last Week: 4
Pace: 100.9 (14) OffRtg: 111.3 (12) DefRtg: 104.9 (2) NetRtg: +6.4 (4)
Defense wins championships, and the Raptors are a better defensive team than they were last season ... when they won a championship. And that's with their former Kia Defensive Player of the Year having missed 28 of the team's 64 games.
Their closer left, but all three Raptors who have attempted at least 25 clutch shots -- Pascal Siakam (53.1%), Kyle Lowry (60.4%) and Fred VanVleet (55.6%) -- have a better effective field goal percentage in the clutch than Kawhi Leonard does this season (40.0%) or did last year, regular season (52.8%) or playoffs (46.3%).
Of course, the Raptors are back to being that team that's better at taking care of business against lesser opponents than knocking off the good ones. Only the Magic and Thunder have a bigger differential between their winning percentage against the 17 teams with losing records (35-4, .897) and their winning percentage against the top 13 (11-14, .440). They're 1-6 within the top four in the East, likely to play at least two more within the group before the playoffs begin.
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (17) OffRtg: 112.3 (5) DefRtg: 106.2 (4) NetRtg: +6.1 (5)
The Celtics, the only East team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, certainly have a chance to reach The Finals for the 22nd time in franchise history. They've had the best defense (106.0 points allowed per 100 possessions in 17 games) against the league's top 10 offenses, and their off-the-dribble proficiency on offense is seemingly built for the postseason.
And if they face the Sixers, a team to whom they've lost three times, they certainly have a chance to lose in the first round. The Sixers' win in Boston on Dec. 12 was their only road victory against one of the 13 teams that currently has a winning record and the Celtics' second-worst defensive game of the season (115 points allowed on 93 possessions). Jayson Tatum shot just 5-for-16 while being defended by Ben Simmons this season, and the Celtics lost both of their Joel Embiid defenders last summer.
Of course, all three of those losses to Philly took place before Tatum's real breakout (28.6 ppg on an effective field goal percentage 57.1% over his last 17 games), which has raised the Celtics' ceiling. Their seeding-game schedule should include tests against both the Bucks and the Raptors, holding a 3-2 record against the top two seeds so far.
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (20) OffRtg: 111.0 (14) DefRtg: 108.4 (9) NetRtg: +2.5 (11)
So, how many minutes a night can the Thunder's best-five lineup -- Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams -- play together in the postseason? When the three guards aren't playing together, the defenses will I-G-N-O-R-E the fifth guy on the floor. Luguentz Dort, Terrance Ferguson, Abdel Nader and Hamidou Diallo have combined to shoot 31% from 3-point range. Yuck, yuck, yuck.
No matter who's on the floor, the Thunder don't really have the size to guard the West's best wings. Of course, they still have a top-10 defense, they still went 34-13 (the league's third best mark) after Thanksgiving, and the three-guard configuration has still been deadly. The Thunder have outscored their opponents by 28.6 points per 100 possessions in 401 total minutes with Paul, Schroder and Gilgeous-Alexander all on the floor, though in only 13 of their 60 games together have all three been on the floor for at least 10 total minutes.
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 97.7 (29) OffRtg: 112.0 (9) DefRtg: 108.9 (12) NetRtg: +3.1 (9)
As a team, the Nuggets were not at their best in early March, losing games to the two worst teams in the league. But the hiatus didn't come at a good time for Gary Harris, who shot 64% in March and had seen the second biggest post-break jump in effective field goal percentage (from 46.3% to 62.7%) among 141 players with at least 200 field goal attempts before the break and at least 75 after it. He had seemingly gotten past his previous struggles and now, like everybody else, has to hit the reset button.
Seeding games are another chance for Michael Porter Jr., who played just 32 total minutes over the Nuggets' last four games before the hiatus, to earn a consistent role. But with Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant in front of him in the rotation, the rookie may just be a situational, change-of-pace sub in the postseason.
The Nuggets have work to do to hold onto the No. 3 seed in the West and should face both the Lakers and Clippers before the playoffs begin, opportunities to see how Nikola Jokic's pick-and-roll defense holds up against two of the best players in the league. The Nuggets already have wins over both L.A. teams, though LeBron James didn't play in their win against the Lakers and Paul George didn't play in their win against the Clippers.
Last Week: 8
Pace: 98.5 (27) OffRtg: 112.2 (7) DefRtg: 109.2 (14) NetRtg: +3.0 (10)
The Heat went just 7-7 after adding Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder at the trade deadline, and four of those seven losses were to teams -- Atlanta, Cleveland, Minnesota and Charlotte -- that aren't going to Walt Disney World. Nine of the 14 games were within five points in the last five minutes, but Iguodala played just 12 of the 35 total clutch minutes. And over those 4 1/2 weeks, he played just 52 total minutes with Jimmy Butler. It will be interesting to see, both in seeding games and in the playoffs, if the 36 year old is played more liberally or strategically. The Heat have a lot of wings, but Iguodala has played more postseason games (145) than all of them combined.
While they struggled against some bad teams after the All-Star break, the Heat have the best record (9-3) in games played between the top six teams in the East. They'll likely see the Pacers (2-0 with a possible meeting before the playoffs) or the Sixers (3-1) in the first round.
This will be the first time since LeBron James left in 2014 that the Heat will measure as a better-than-average offensive team, though it could be just the seventh time in the last 25 years that they've finished outside the top 10 defensively.
Last Week: 9
Pace: 103.6 (4) OffRtg: 113.4 (2) DefRtg: 109.9 (16) NetRtg: +3.4 (7)
A reset probably wasn't a bad thing for the Rockets, who had the worst five-game stretch of offense of their season (105.4 points scored per 100 possessions) before going into the hiatus with a comeback win over the Karl-Anthony Towns-less Wolves. They were 11-6 since they went to center-less basketball full-time, slightly better offensively (114.0 vs. 113.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and slightly worse defensively (111.0 vs. 109.6 points allowed per 100) than they were prior. They ranked last in rebounding percentage over those 17 games, grabbing more boards than their opponents in just one of the 17.
James Harden has seemingly used the last 12 weeks to improve his conditioning. But it will be up to the players around him -- Russell Westbrook especially -- to make shots and plays when opposing defenses are able get the ball out of Harden's hands. Westbrook actually had the higher usage rate over those last 17 games.
With Western Conference seeding still very much in the air, the Rockets are the team for which "it's all about matchups" should be most applicable. They have handled Utah (a possible No. 4 vs. No. 5-series opponent) pretty easily in each of the last two postseasons. But they're neither undefeated nor winless against any of the other 12 Western Conference teams that are still playing.
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (18) OffRtg: 115.8 (1) DefRtg: 110.0 (17) NetRtg: +5.8 (6)
The Mavs have a chance to move up to as high as fourth in the West, but because they've played three more games, they'd have to finish with two more wins to pass the teams in front of them. (i.e. The Thunder could go 5-3 in the seeding games to finish 45-27 and have a better winning percentage than a Mavs team that went 6-2 and finished 46-29.)
The Mavs are more dangerous than their record would indicate. They have the West's third best point differential, both per game and per 100 possessions, with a healthy margin between them and the fourth-ranked Rockets. They actually have a better record (26-6) than the Clippers (27-9) in games that weren't within five points in the last five minutes.
But they're 14-21 (including 0-4 against the three teams directly in front of them in the standings) in games that were within five in the last five. The league's best offense overall has been the league's second worst offense in the clutch. Luka Doncic has shot 6-for-35 (17%) on clutch 3s, the third worst mark among 40 players who have attempted at least 20. And he's 0-for-9 (0-for-8 from 3-point range) on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.
They still need one or two more wins (depending on if they play Memphis in Orlando) to end their three-year playoff drought, but better late-game luck and something other than the No. 7 seed could put them in the conference semis for the first time since they won the 2011 title.
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 99.0 (25) OffRtg: 112.1 (8) DefRtg: 108.8 (11) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)
Bojan Bogdanovic's season-ending wrist surgery takes a lot of the bite out of the Jazz. They still have one of the league's biggest impact defenders, but just haven't defended at their previous level. Only three teams have seen a bigger jump in points allowed per 100 possessions from last season.
The offense took a step forward, and Bogdanovic was a big part of that. He's one of 10 players who have averaged at least 20 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 60% or better. On the team that leads the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage, he has 57 more catch-and-shoot 3s than any of his teammates. And he hit the two biggest shots (one, two) of the Jazz's season.
The Jazz still have a very competent top six. But the foursome of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles and Rudy Gobert has played just 36 total minutes without Bogdanovic all season, and the Jazz have not been very good offensively (109.6 points scored per 100 possessions) with Conley and Mitchell on the floor together.
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 99.4 (19) OffRtg: 109.7 (18) DefRtg: 107.6 (6) NetRtg: +2.1 (12)
The Sixers could be the biggest wildcard in Orlando, the team with the widest range between its floor and its ceiling. At home, they were 18-2 against the other 21 teams still playing, including 8-0 against the league's top seven. On the road, they were 4-21 against the larger group, including 1-9 against the top seven.
They should have a healthy Ben Simmons and a starting lineup that doesn't include Al Horford. If Shake Milton is the fifth starter, it'll be a lineup that has yet to play together. Milton was in the rotation for just seven weeks before the season was suspended and the Sixers have scored just 102.9 points per 100 possessions in 223 total minutes with Simmons and Milton on the floor together.
They still have the potential to be the best defensive team on campus. They've held five of the league's top 10 offenses -- those of the Celtics, Heat, Jazz, Nuggets and Lakers --under a point per possession this season. In the 2019 playoffs, they allowed just 93.0 per 100 in Joel Embiid's 334 minutes on the floor. His health, as always, is everything.
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 99.1 (24) OffRtg: 109.7 (17) DefRtg: 107.7 (7) NetRtg: +2.0 (13)
The Pacers won eight of their last 11 games before the hiatus, even though they had both Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo for just four of those 11 games. They ranked 27th offensively (107.2 points scored per 100 possessions) over that stretch, even though they lost Jeremy Lamb less than three games into it.
They won six straight games with Oladipo before losing in the final minute in Boston on March 10. He should now be on a more level playing field with the rest of the league in terms of being in game shape.
Defense (they allowed less than a point per possession in 257 minutes with both Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner on the floor over that 8-3 stretch) and a relatively slow pace should continue to keep the Pacers in games. Brogdon and Oladipo have the ability to get buckets down the stretch, when it's not such a bad thing to be more than comfortable with taking pull-up 2s. The Pacers rank third in both pull-up 2-point attempts per game (17.1) and field goal percentage on those pull-up 2s (44.3%), with Brogdon (50.3%) leading the way and Oladipo strong (19-for-39) on limited attempts.
Last Week: 14
Pace: 104.0 (2) OffRtg: 110.6 (15) DefRtg: 111.6 (20) NetRtg: -1.0 (16)
The Pelicans have a better point differential than the Grizzlies. But a 12-24 record (only the Warriors have been worse) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes has them trailing the Grizz by four games in the win column (in which they would need to draw even to finish in eighth place) and in a real fight with the Blazers, Kings and Spurs just for a play-in opportunity.
The Pelicans are 8-2 against the other five teams playing for the final playoff spot in the West, having scored 117.0 points per 100 possessions in those 10 games. One of the two losses was Zion Williamson's debut against the Spurs and the other came in overtime against Phoenix. They should be playing at least five of their eight seeding games within the group.
Over the seven weeks from Williamson's Jan. 22 debut to the night the season was suspended, the Pelicans ranked seventh in point differential per 100 possessions (plus-4.0), in the top 11 on both ends of the floor. Their starting lineup of Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Williamson and Derrick Favors has outscored its opponents by 26.3 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 34 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together.
Last Week: 15
Pace: 103.3 (7) OffRtg: 108.9 (20) DefRtg: 109.9 (15) NetRtg: -1.0 (15)
The league gave five teams a shot at catching them for the final playoff spot in the West, but the Grizzlies might still be in better shape than had the season not been suspended, given that they were set to face the West's toughest remaining schedule. They should still have a relatively tough eight-game slate, but removing the eight worst teams from possible opponents reduces the difference between the toughest and easiest sets of seeding games.
The Grizz should also have a healthy Justise Winslow, and a training camp will give Winslow a better chance to hit the ground running. If he's taking minutes from Kyle Anderson and Josh Jackson, he probably can't hurt an offense that already ranks in the bottom 10 in both 3-point percentage (35.2%, 21st) and the percentage of shots from 3-point range (34.1%, 27th).
Time will tell how Winslow's addition and 20 weeks off affects what had been an improving defense. The Grizz ranked eighth on defense after the All-Star break and held their opponent under a point per possession eight times in their last 20 games (after doing so just twice in their first 45).
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 101.2 (11) OffRtg: 112.0 (10) DefRtg: 113.6 (27) NetRtg: -1.5 (20)
The Blazers are clearly one of the most fascinating teams going to Orlando. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins are able to return while Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony are holding their places in the starting lineup. The four-month break reduces the discrepancy between the game-readiness of Nurkic and their opponents, and he should certainly help a defense that ranked last (by a healthy margin) between Christmas and March 11. Coach Terry Stotts has some interesting decisions to make.
Damian Lillard, meanwhile, has the ability to put his team on his back. The Blazers have had the best offense (111.4 points scored per 100 possessions in 20 games) vs. the league's top 10 defenses. Their second-most efficient game against the group was without their star (March 2 against the Magic's 10th-ranked defense), but Lillard has averaged 30.6 ppg on an effective field goal percentage of 59.2% in his 16 games against top-10 defenses. Alas, the Blazers are 6-10 in those games (they even lost the game in which he dropped 60 on the Nets), because, again, their own defense has been an issue.
In a virtual tie with New Orleans and Sacramento for ninth place (which would likely come with a play-in opportunity), the Blazers have the advantage in that they've played two more games and would have the higher winning percentage if they win the same number of seeding games as either or both of the Pelicans and Kings.
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 101.5 (10) OffRtg: 107.8 (22) DefRtg: 108.3 (8) NetRtg: -0.6 (14)
It was fun to think about for a while, but Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will not be returning from their injuries when the season restarts. The Nets' 2019-20 season isn't a total waste, of course, but the defensive improvement (they're top 10 in that for the first time in 14 years) kind of gets thrown out with a coaching change. Plus, they did have some momentum stifled by the season's hiatus after they had won four of their last five games (which included road wins against the Celtics and Lakers).
The lost momentum wasn't just about the results. Caris LeVert averaged 24.1 ppg (with improved, but still below-average efficiency), 4.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists over the Nets' last 16 games. LeVert seems to be a rhythm player and injuries have prevented him from sustained success through his first four seasons in the league.
In addition the coaching hire, this team will have some offseason decisions to make about its supporting cast. There's some value in seeing what they currently have for eight more games and (likely) a playoff series, though roles will be totally different when the two stars are healthy.
Last Week: 17 ↓
Pace: 98.7 (26) OffRtg: 107.5 (24) DefRtg: 108.7 (10) NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
Before the All-Star break, the Magic ranked 27th offensively and seventh defensively, combining with their opponents to score just 106.4 points per 100 possessions. That was the lowest combined efficiency for any team and its opponents before the break.
After the All-Star break, the Magic ranked first offensively and 26th defensively, combining with their opponents to score 116.9 points per 100 possessions. That was the highest combined efficiency for any team and its opponents after the break. So who knows what we're going to get after 20 weeks off, though it seems doubtful that we're going to get Jonathan Isaac in uniform.
The Magic have the biggest difference between their winning percentage against the 17 teams with losing records (.735) and the 13 teams with winning records (5-26, .161). That latter mark includes an 0-7 record against possible first-round opponents Milwaukee and Toronto, with only one of the seven games (Oct. 28 in Toronto) having been within five points in the last five minutes. But they could get four seeding games against the first group, with head-to-head matchups with Brooklyn likely determining the No. 7 seed. The Magic have won both meetings thus far.
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 99.1 (23) OffRtg: 109.0 (19) DefRtg: 110.8 (18) NetRtg: -1.7 (21)
The Kings have a chance to end a playoff drought which would be the second-longest in NBA history (14 years, breaking a tie with the Wolves' streak that ended two seasons ago) if they don't move up from 11th to eighth in the West. They didn't have as easy a remaining schedule as the Pelicans, but 11 of their 18 games were against teams with losing records. They should have two head-to-head matchups with New Orleans, having lost the first meeting on JJ Redick's lefty scoop shoot in January.
The Kings had seen the league's biggest jump in winning percentage and its second-biggest jump in point differential per 100 possessions from before the All-Star break (.389, minus-2.6) to after it (.700, plus-3.1), when they went 3-0 against Memphis and Portland. Most of the improvement came on offense, where De'Aaron Fox averaged 23.4 points on a true shooting percentage of 60.3% after the break, up from 19.7 on 54.4% before it. It also helped that their best perimeter defender -- Kent Bazemore -- shot much better with the Kings than he did in Portland.
Last Week: 20
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 111.3 (11) DefRtg: 112.8 (24) NetRtg: -1.5 (19)
The Spurs' playoff streak ain't dead yet, though their shot selection reduces their ability to "get hot" over an eight-game stretch. (They haven't won more than five out of eight all season.) They rank in the bottom five in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range for a third straight season, and one of their two prolific 3-point shooters -- Bryn Forbes -- will be an unrestricted free agent this year.
On that note, seeding games are another opportunity to experiment with a backcourt of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, who have played just 102 minutes together all season (and 10 minutes together in a single game just once). The Spurs have been outscored by 7.6 points per 100 possessions in 1,020 total minutes with Murray and Forbes on the floor together, but are a plus-0.8 in 427 minutes with Murray on the floor without Forbes, who has seen the third biggest drop in 3-point percentage (from 42.6% to 38.8%) among 46 players with at least 300 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons.
Last Week: 21
Pace: 101.8 (9) OffRtg: 110.2 (16) DefRtg: 111.3 (19) NetRtg: -1.0 (17)
The Suns have a slim-to-none chance of even making the play-in series in the West. Should they fall short, theirs would be the sixth playoff drought of 10 or more seasons in NBA history. But no matter what should happen in Orlando, they've taken a step forward under coach Monty Williams, seeing the league's third-biggest jump in win percentage and its second-biggest jump in point differential per 100 possessions (behind only that of the Lakers) from last season.
The hiatus should allow for the return of Kelly Oubre Jr. (who had meniscus surgery on March 3) and the reunion of a lineup -- Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Oubre and DeAndre Ayton -- that has outscored its opponents by 20.2 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark among 34 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together. Ayton has developed some solid chemistry with Booker and has displayed a soft touch in the paint; His 48.6% on non-restricted-area paint shots ranks ninth among 95 players who've attempted at least 100. But it would be nice if he could display that soft touch a little more at the free throw line. His free throw rate of 16.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field is the 10th lowest among 60 players 6-foot-10 or taller with at least 200 total field goal attempts.
Last Week: 22
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 111.1 (13) DefRtg: 115.0 (30) NetRtg: -3.9 (24)
The Wizards should count themselves lucky for making the "seeding games" cut. They're 24-40, for cryin' out loud, and that includes a pretty mediocre 14-11 mark against the eight teams that are no longer playing. At the time things went into hiatus, they had the league's toughest remaining schedule.
But two of their 10 wins within the group of 22 remaining teams (both at home and by a total of 10 points) were against Brooklyn in February. The Wizards would need to win two more games than the Nets (who should be one of their eight opponents) to face them in a play-in situation. Jerome Robinson's game-winning 3-pointer from the Feb. 26 meeting is one to remember if that should happen.
We don't know how sharp teams will be offensively, but defense will likely determine if the Wizards have a shot. Overall, they rank 30th defensively and Wall (an impact defender when healthy) isn't coming back until 2020-21. They're the only team that ranks in the bottom five in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint (59.3%, 29th) and opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (52.8%, 29th). But they did rank 20th on that end of the floor after the All-Star break, almost climbing out of the basement before the season was suspended.
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 100.5 (16) OffRtg: 105.8 (29) DefRtg: 108.9 (13) NetRtg: -3.1 (22)
The Bulls were the league's most improved defensive team, allowing 3.9 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season (104.5, 29th). But theirs was a feast-or-famine defense that relied heavily on forcing turnovers, ranking in the bottom 10 in each of the other four factors on defense (26th in opponent effective field goal percentage, 30th in opponent free throw rate, and 23rd in defensive rebounding percentage). Their best defender -- Kris Dunn, leader in deflections per 36 minutes -- is a restricted free agent who shot 32-for-130 (24.6%) from outside the paint.
With or without Dunn, the backcourt will remain flammable. Zach LaVine is one of five players with six or more 40-point games and Coby White has had three of the seven highest scoring games for rookies (33 points or more) this season. The question is if the Bulls can get better consistency and efficiency from their young frontcourt. Lauri Markkanen saw a big reduction in the percentage of his shots that came from mid-range (from 13% to less than 4%) and Wendell Carter Jr. saw the fifth-biggest jump in free throw rate (from 30.2 to 44.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field) among 200 players with at least 250 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons. But there's still a long way to go.
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 103.3 (6) OffRtg: 107.0 (25) DefRtg: 114.4 (28) NetRtg: -7.4 (28)
The young talent is in place in Atlanta, and the Hawks have a 48% chance at another pick in the top four this year. The question is if next season is when that talent takes a big step forward in regard to consistency and execution.
Clint Capela has yet to play with his new team, but has three more years on a reasonable contract and should help a defense that ranked 28th for a second straight season. The Hawks were in the bottom five in the percentage of their opponents' shots that came in the restricted area (36%, 26th), opponent free throw rate (30.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field, 29th) and defensive rebounding percentage (70.8%, 28th).
Offensively, Capela will fit in well with Trae Young, who led the league with 322 assists on baskets in the restricted area, even though John Collins missed 26 games. But the Hawks ranked 27th in ball movement (307 passes per 24 minutes of possession) and would do well by swapping some of Young's pull-up 3s (on which he shot 33.5%, 11th among the 18 players who attempted at least 200) for more attempts off the catch. Young, Collins, Kevin Huerter and De'Andre Hunter combined to shoot 42% on catch-and-shoot 3s, but the Hawks ranked 24th in the percentage of their 3s that were off the catch (66%) and ranked last in overall 3-point percentage (33.3%).
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 103.9 (3) OffRtg: 107.6 (23) DefRtg: 111.6 (21) NetRtg: -4.0 (25)
First, the Wolves changed their style of play. From last season to this season, they saw the league's third-biggest increase in pace (possessions per 48 minutes), its biggest increase in ball movement (passes per 24 minutes of possessions), and its biggest jump in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range. Then, they changed their personnel, overhauling half their roster at the trade deadline.
D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns played just 25 minutes together, and the Wolves allowed 88 points on 63 defensive possessions in those 25 minutes. They obviously need guys around Russell and Towns to shoot better -- they rank last in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (33.8%) -- but if the two former All-Stars are healthy, questions for next season will begin on defense, where the Wolves rank in the bottom 10 for the 11th time in the 13 seasons since Kevin Garnett was traded in 2007.
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 97.9 (28) OffRtg: 108.8 (21) DefRtg: 112.3 (22) NetRtg: -3.5 (23)
The Pistons will have a 42% chance at a top four pick and a relatively clean slate in regard to rebuilding their roster, though the health of Blake Griffin remains a huge variable (whether he remains in Detroit for the next two seasons or not). It will be interesting to see how much it would cost to re-sign Christian Wood (who turns 25 in September) and maybe a Derrick Rose trade could fetch them another building block.
There's a lot of potential in the Pistons' young core of Bruce Brown, Luke Kennard and Sekou Doumbouya. Brown needs to be a better and more aggressive shooter, but he's already a better-than-average passer. He had six or more assists in three of his last four games, with some gems here, here and here. Doumbouya struggled to gain the confidence of the coaching staff in February and March, but won't turn 20 until December and has done some tantalizing stuff that could prelude a high ceiling.
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 99.1 (22) OffRtg: 105.9 (27) DefRtg: 112.4 (23) NetRtg: -6.5 (26)
Despite playing just 66 games, the Knicks were one of five teams that surpassed their win total from last season. Alas, they had the lowest bar to clear in that regard and they still have a long way to go in their path back to relevance, with it now being seven years since they last reached the postseason.
Mitchell Robinson finished the season strong, averaging 17.1 points (on 80% shooting), 12.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks (and only 3.8 fouls) per 36 minutes over his last 12 games. The Knicks were also 18.2 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (+3.3) than they were with him off the floor (-14.9) over that stretch. RJ Barrett dropped 26 on 9-for-14 shooting -- with a couple of eye-opening, righty finishes (here and here) -- in Atlanta on the last night of the season.
The cupboard isn't empty, though the best player on the Knicks' next playoff team probably isn't on the roster right now. A new president (Leon Rose) and a new coach represent another reset. Maybe this one will be more effective than the last few.
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 96.2 (30) OffRtg: 105.9 (28) DefRtg: 112.8 (25) NetRtg: -7.0 (27)
If the Wizards were the cutoff, the Hornets were only a game and a half from being invited to Orlando. But really, they weren't that good, having the point differential (third-worst in the East) of a team that was 17-48. The league's best effective field goal percentage in the clutch (59.1%) pushed them to a 17-17 record in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They did finish the season with their best five-game stretch of offense (119.2 points scored per 100 possessions) and wins over the Rockets and Heat in two of their last three.
There's still another year (at $27.1 million) on Nicolas Batum's contract, but the Hornets are finally gaining some financial flexibility. Maybe they can use that to add another Draft pick (in exchange for taking on a contract), though some of that flexibility would be lost if they signed Devonte' Graham to an extension. Graham needs to get stronger in the paint -- his 49.0% in the restricted area was the third worst mark among 204 players with at least 100 restricted-area attempts -- but he saw the biggest jumps in minutes per game (from 14.7 to 35.1), points per game (from 4.7 to 18.2) and assists per game (from 2.6 to 7.5) among 234 players who have played in at least 40 games in each of the last two seasons.
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (21) OffRtg: 106.9 (26) DefRtg: 114.8 (29) NetRtg: -7.9 (29)
It doesn't look like there are any 6-foot-1 guards in the top six of the Draft, so the Cavs will get something new with their Lottery pick this year. They still have time to figure out if they can keep both Darius Garland and Collin Sexton long-term. The 117.3 points per 100 possessions that the Cleveland defense allowed with both on the floor was the highest on-court mark for any non-Wizards combination that played at least 750 minutes together this season. Kevin Porter Jr.'s second-half-of-the-season breakthrough (including that 30-point performance against the Heat in late February) adds another element to the discussion.
In his 225 minutes with the Cavs, Andre Drummond didn't really help their rim protection much and the 42.8 points per game in the restricted area the Cavs allowed this season was the most any team has allowed in the last 23 years. They're the second team in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data to rank in the bottom two in defensive efficiency for three straight seasons.
Last Week: 29 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (13) OffRtg: 104.4 (30) DefRtg: 113.0 (26) NetRtg: -8.6 (30)
We know that the Warriors will have a top-five pick. The 2020-21 season being pushed back should allow for a stronger Klay Thompson (full recovery from an ACL tear can take 18 months). A full season (or close to it) of Stephen Curry makes all the difference.
But we don't know how the Warriors will fill out their bench and we have no idea how Andrew Wiggins will fit alongside the Warriors' backcourt, having played just 27 total minutes with Curry so far. Wiggins' athleticism and ability to attack the basket could be an important component for this team, but his free throw rate (25.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field), the percentage of his shots that have come in the restricted area (28.6%), and his catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (35.5%) over the last three seasons are all below league-average marks (25.6, 32.3%, 37.1%).
No matter what they do with their Lottery pick, the Warriors will be one of the most fascinating teams to watch early next season.
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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