Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Cousins, Kings heading north in the West

sackings012416.png

NBA Power Rankings: Cousins, Kings heading north in the West

For all the turmoil the Sacramento Kings have been through in the last 16 months, it's incredible they find themselves in this position.

Questions about arena funding, firing Mike Malone, contemplating trading DeMarcus Cousins, swinging and missing on every free agent, head coach George Karl feuding with Cousins via emojis on Twitter...the Kings were a mess.

And yet, here they are in the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference after winning five straight games.

Free agent acquisition Rajon Rondo has been a godsend for Karl's squad, averaging 11.7 points and an NBA-best 11.6 assists per game. Cousins has taken his game to the next level and should earn his second consecutive All-Star berth. Rudy Gay continues to be a model of consistency while guys like Omri Casspi, Marco Belinelli and Ben McLemore have played a stellar supporting cast.

They peaked this week with three straight wins (five straight overall), knocking off the Lakers on the road before impressive home wins over Atlanta and Indiana.

Rondo and Cousins led the charge. Rondo averaged 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 12.7 assists in the three wins, while Cousins exploded for 48 points against the Pacers, averaging 36.0 points per game this week.

They're rolling right now, and if they decide to be buyers at the trade deadline (Ryan Anderson?) we could see the Kings, miraculously, in the postseason.

On to the rankings:

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (2) (40-4) Back to the top spot they go. After losing two of three, they beat the Bulls and Cavs by a combined 65 points....both on the road. Then they stomp the Pacers.
(1) (38-6) The win streak now reaches an NBA-best 13 games, but they'll get their biggest test of the year when they travel to Oracle Arena tonight. Likely Western Conference Finals preview.
(3) (33-13)

A perplexing loss to the Nets on Sunday night doesn't change the fact that they had won seven straight and look like contenders. The West may be a three-team race after all.

4 (6) (29-15) The hottest team in the East has won eight straight, the last of which came in dominating fashion over the Clippers. DeMar DeRozan should make his second All-Star team.
5 (4) (30-12) Has a team 18 games over .500 with an All-Star starter that won their conference the previous year ever had more drama than this Cavs team? Tyronn Lue has his work cut out.
6 (5) (28-16) Not having Blake Griffin around is starting to show, as they suffered big losses to the top two teams in the East, Cleveland and Toronto, this week.
7 (9) (25-20) The road loss to Minnesota notwithstanding, they're up to No. 5 in the West with a very favorable schedule upcoming in February.
8 (7) (26-19) Consistency a real issue, as they've gone L2, W2, L2, W3, L2 in their last 11 games. Jeff Teague has struggled mightily and was benched for Dennis Schroder in Thursday's loss to the Kings.
9 (12) (25-18) Don't hurt yourself trying to figure out this Bulls team. Losers in six of eight, they go wire-to-wire in Cleveland to beat the Cavaliers. They're 2-0 against LeBron and 1-2 against Charlotte.
10 (8) (23-21) Still plenty to like about this improving Pistons team, but losing three of four after shellacking the Warriors isn't exactly how momentum works in this league.
11 (10) (24-22) They trailed by eight Sunday against the Mavericks but used a huge second half to top the Mavericks. Trevor Ariza and James Harden combined for 52 points.
12 (14) (25-21) Their last five losses are against Cleveland, OKC, San Antonio, OKC and Houston. Nothing wrong with those L's, but at some point you want to prove you can beat the top contenders.
13 (13) (24-21) It'll be a shame if Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is left off the East All-Star squad. Meanwhile, Boston has now won five of seven since a four-game skid earlier this month.
14 (16) (20-21)  A tough upcoming slate includes five of the next six against winning-record teams. If they can get through that stretch 3-3 or better they'd take some real momentum into the second half of the season.
15 (11) (23-21) They've now inexplicably lost eight of 10, and during their current four-game slide have averaged 80.3 points. And they're banged up heading to Chicago, where they desperately could use a win.
16 (19) (20-23) DeMarcus Cousins' 48-point outing against Indiana was the highlight of a perfect week for the Kings, who now sit in the No. 8 seed in the West. Rajon Rondo has been a perfect fit, too.
17 (15) (23-21) Though the Pacers are struggling, it's worth noting here that Paul George being named an All-Star starter is great to see after his devastating leg injury two years ago. 
18 (23) (20-26) They may not sneak into the playoffs this year, but Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are a hell of a backcourt tandem for the future. They combined for 66 in a win over the Lakers on Saturday.
19 (17) (22-24) Getting back to .500 with a win over the Jazz was nice; a 28-point home loss to Los Angeles and a 13-point loss in Charlotte to follow it up was not.
20 (24) (16-27) There's the MVP-like Anthony Davis. He won't win it this year, but his averages of 26.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in his last six are the numbers we expected all year. The Pellies have won five of those six.
21 (25) (21-23) What a week for Kemba Walker, who goes for a career-high 52 points on Monday and averages 34.8 points in his four games. Even better, the Hornets went 3-1 in those contests to break their disastrous January skid.
22 (22) (17-27) Their last 13 games have been decided by seven points or less. They're just 5-8 in those games, but they continue to improve under Mike Malone. Will Barton for Sixth Man of the Year?
23 (18) (19-24) They've lost four of five and have been supplanted by Sacramento for the last playoff spot in the West. They desperately need to get back Derrick Favors, who now has missed 16 straight games with back spasms.
24 (21) (19-27) They certainly look better than they did a month ago, but they're still 13th in the East and five games out of the last playoff spot. Will take quite a bit for them to get back in the playoff hunt.
25 (20) (20-22) They've now lost nine of 10, and 12 of their next 14 games come against teams currently with .500 or better win percentages. This thing could get ugly in a hurry.
26 (27) (14-31) It's a shame the Timberwolves haven't been better this season or we'd be talking more about Karl-Anthony Towns, who's averaging 15.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. KAT is ROY.
27 (29) (6-39)  They're 5-9 since Dec. 27. Those five wins are more than the Suns, Bets, Magic, Timberwolves or Lakers have had in that span. Baby steps trying to get out of the NBA's cellar.
28 (26) (12-32) The Nets would be wise to go snag one of Tom Thibodeau or David Blatt for their head coaching vacancy. The personnel may take awhile to turn over, but either would be great at the helm.
29 (30) (14-31) Archie Goodwin's buzzer-beating 3-pointer to top the Hawks stopped a six-game losing streak. Another Kentucky alum, rookie Devin Booker, continues to improve in extended minutes.
30 (28) (6-38) Since that three-game-ray-of-hope win streak the Lakers have lost 10 of 11, including six straight. At least we got to celebrate the anniversary of Kobe's 81-point performance last week.

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

5-18_wendell_carter_jr._usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: How NBA Draft combine impacted mock drafts

On this edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill discuss the NBA Draft and what happened at the NBA combine that shifted most experts mock drafts.

Kendall also explains why a "promise" to draft a player isn’t guaranteed. He also shares his experience on getting drafted by the Hornets and why he initially felt they were the wrong team for him.

North Carolina "News and Observer" Duke basketball beat writer Jonathan Alexander gives us his opinion on Wendell Carter and the other Duke draft prospects including why he thinks Carter will be a future all-star. Also includes an interview with Carter from the draft combine.

Listen to the full Bulls Talk Podcast right here:

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

The next preps-to-pros leaper, Anfernee Simons confident 'I'll be able to make this jump'

Anfernee Simons looks more like a ball boy than a 2018 NBA Draft prospect right now. He’s not considered small, what with having a 6-foot-3 frame with a massive 6-foot-9 wingspan, and he weighed in at last week’s NBA Draft Combine at 183 pounds, “heavier” than Lottery-bound guards like Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Collin Sexton.

But there’s plenty of potential to unpack from the soon-to-be 19-year-old, baby-faced combo guard. Don’t let the appearance fool you. Simons is one of the most talented players in the class, and a team patient enough to let him develop at his own pace could reap major benefits in due time.

You won’t find much video on Simons, as the IMG Academy star is preparing to be the first prospect to go preps-to-pros without a year in college since Thon Maker did so in 2016.

Simons, a consensus five-star recruit in the 2018 class, originally committed to Louisville in November 2016 and then decommitted the following September shortly after Rick Pitino was fired. Since he had graduated from Edgewater High School in Florida and was playing a post-grad year at IMG Academy, he became eligible for the 2018 NBA Draft because he is a year removed from high school. That’s where he played this past season, declaring for the draft and signing with an agent in late March.

“The opportunity is there. Me and my parents talked about it a lot and I feel like I’m confident in myself that I’ll be able to make this jump,” he said at last week’s Combine. “So I just felt like, do it now and not waste any time.”

Simons has been on the radars of NBA teams, even if he’s not a household name like Ayton, Doncic and Bagley. He’s currently projected outside of the Lottery, in part because teams haven’t seen him compete against collegiate level talent and because his wiry frame almost surely means time in the G-League as a rookie. But again, the skill set is there.

Simons is a point guard with solid range beyond the arc. He may struggle off the ball because of his size, though that long wingspan and a quick release from his chest should allow him to get off shots. He’s a blur in transition and finishes well at the rim – his 41.5-inch vertical was tied for third best at the Combine, and his three-quarters court sprint was eighth fastest.

He’s a mixed bag defensively. Wingspan is the fun buzz word these days, and that will help him at the next level, but his small frame means there’s work to be done. A strength and conditioning coach will salivate at bringing Simons into the weight room and getting his body NBA-ready.

“Just staying durable through 82 games,” Simons answered when asked about his biggest challenge physically at the next level. “Taking care of your body is real pivotal so I feel like learning how to take care of my body now is a good thing.”

Simons maturely answered that the “unknown” of his game will be both a positive and minus during the pre-draft process. While fellow prospects he may face in team workouts don’t know as much about him and, thus, his game, teams also need to find out more about Simons’ game and off-court habits.

“Coming in young, people don’t know who I am and haven’t seen me play much. That’s the good side about coming in early,” he said. “It could be the same thing (negatively). People haven’t seen me like that, so I feel like they don’t know who I am. They probably think I’m too young to play in the league.”

Simons met with the Bulls and has scheduled a pre-draft workout with them. Though the Bulls feel like their rebuild could go quicker than anticipated – especially if they hit on their No. 7 pick – there could be plenty to gain from drafting for upside on a player like Simons.

Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne will both be free agents in 2019, and Denzel Valentine’s long-term future isn’t set in stone in Chicago. That leaves plenty of openings in the backcourt behind Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Simons won’t be ready to contribute much in 2018-19, but the Bulls wouldn’t need him to. A handful of outlets projected Simons as a top-5 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The Bulls could snag him a year earlier, let him develop in Hoffman Estates and bring him up in a year when they’re a step closer to contending.