Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Draymond Green pacing the Warriors

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NBA Power Rankings: Draymond Green pacing the Warriors

The Warriors never really were in serious doubt with Stephen Curry out of the lineup.

Though the reigning MVP missed two games the talk was more of how it may jeopardize the team's chase for 73 wins than anything.

But Curry's time off also paved the way for Draymond Green to take his game to another level. The Michigan State product continues to improve after finishing runner-up to Jimmy Butler for Most Improved Player a season ago, and he was at his best this week.

In four Warriors wins this week Green averaged 14.5 points, 12.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists. He added two more triple-doubles to his league-leading tally of eight. Though the Warriors are playing a brand of basketball and having success unlike any the NBA has ever seen, Green's individual play may be the most impressive of any on the team, Steph Curry included.

Consider his current averages of 15.0 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists. Since 1946, only seven players have maintained those averages (or better) over the course of an entire season, and it's been done 12 times by those players. Five are in the Basketball Hall of Fame: Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.

Taking it a step further, only two other players since 1974 (when blocks and steals were first officially recorded) have averaged at least seven assists, a block and a steal per game. LeBron James did it three times and Dwyane Wade did it twice. Green is currently averaging 1.3 steals and 1.4 blocks.

He's got a ways to go to finish the season with those numbers and join those players in such an exclusive club, but it's still worth noting that Green has been an absolute monster for the Warriors, ranked again atop this list.

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

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (35-2) Draymond Green has four triple-doubles in his last six games. That's more than Russell Westbrook has all year (three in 37 games). He'll get serious MVP consideration.
(2) (32-6) Six opponents have topped 100 points against the Spurs. Their defensive rating is 4.3 points better than No. 2 Boston. Oh, and they have the league's third most efficient offense.
(4) (26-9) The Cavaliers are 9-2 since Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup. But now the big tests come. Their next four games: at DAL, at SAS, at HOU, vs. GS. Buckle up.
4 (5) (25-13) Blake who? They've won nine straight (eight without Blake Griffin) and get the next three at home before a difficult road trip to finish January.
5 (3) (26-12) Sunday night's collapse in Portland notwithstanding, the Thunder are rolling. They're tops in offensive efficiency since Christmas Day.
6 (6) (23-15) Al Horford was a one-man wrecking crew in a 15-point win over the Bulls on Saturday. He went for 33 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and four blocks in 36 minutes.
7 (8) (22-13) Jimmy Butler is averaging 28.6 points in his last six games while playing 39 minutes a night. He's making a strong case to start the All-Star Game.
8 (9) (24-15) Rolled past Philly and Brooklyn and in between earned a tough victory over John Wall and the Wizards. They've responded after debacles against the Bulls and Cavs.
9 (7) (22-15) They scored 90 and 83 points, respectively, in losses to New York and Utah last week. Not a good time to go cold heading to Golden State on Monday.
10 (13) (21-16) The roller coaster continues. After losing four of five, Stan Van Gundy's group reels off three straight wins, including a nice road victory in Boston.
11 (11) (22-16) Looking at the Mavs' roster and realizing they're 8th in offensive efficiency is really a credit to the job Rick Carlisle has done this year. They've won 7 of 10.
12 (18) (19-19) Trevor Ariza is finally heating up for the now-.500 Rockets. Since Christmas Day he's 20-for-43 from beyond the arc. He dropped 24 in an overtime win over the Pacers.
13 (10) (21-16) Paul George took just two of Indiana's shots in overtime against the Rockets (a loss). Tough to swallow after they led by 13 in the fourth quarter.
14 (17) (21-18) Mario Chalmers, starting in place of Mike Conley, hit two clutch 3-pointers down the stretch to finish a comeback win over the Celtics on Sunday.
15 (19) (19-20) A one-point loss to San Antonio was all that stood between the Knicks and a perfect week. Still, the wins came over Atlanta, Miami and Milwaukee. They're on the rise.
16 (12) (19-18) They seemed to be back on track, up 21 in the third (and nine in the fourth) against the Grizzlies on Sunday. They lost by three, giving them L's in five of six.
17 (15) (16-19) John Wall has taken his game to another level. In Bradley Beal's absence. He's averaged 20.9 points and 9.9 assists in his last eight games.
18 (14) (20-18) They've lost five of six and haven't beaten a team with a current winning record since Nov. 29 (Boston). Tough to figure out the Magic at this point.
19 (24) (15-22) DeMarcus Cousins has averaged 32.4 points and 13.0 rebounds in his last five, and the Kings are looking better each time out.
20 (22) (16-20) Getting Rudy Gobert back is huge, but Derrick Favors has now missed 10 straight games with back spasms. Utah's win over Miami was an impressive one.
21 (23) (16-24) Damian Lillard's theatrics in the fourth quarter Sunday to beat the Thunder were something else. Five of his eight triples came in the final 3 minutes.
22 (20) (15-24) Though Giannis Antetokounmpo still has his deficiencies, he's one of four players averaging 2.0+ assists, 1+ steal and 1+ block (Green, Millsap, Cousins). Good company.
23 (16) (17-20) Yes, the team once ranked in the top-5 of these power rankings now owns the longest current losing streak in the NBA (seven games). Not good at all.
24 (21) (11-25) Positive signs continue to flash at times, but the reality is they've still got the fifth worst net rating in the NBA. Going to be tough to make up ground in the West.
25 (27) (14-24) Emmanuel Mudiay returns and the Nuggets pick up a win over the Hornets. If nothing else, it's good to see the rook back from that nagging ankle injury.
26 (25) (12-26) They've lost 10 of 11 and haven't reached 100 points in any of those games. That's tough to do. Tougher to do? Giving up 109 to the Sixers in a loss.
27 (29) (13-26) They mercifully stopped a nine-game losing streak against the flailing Hornets after that rock-bottom loss to the Lakers.
28 (26) (10-27) GM Billy King has been reassigned and Lionel Hollins is out as head coacht. Good luck replacing either with the team stuck in purgatory the next few seasons.
29 (28) (8-30) There won't be many non-Kobe memories from this Lakers season, but Lou Williams' 44-point explosion against the Thunder will be one of them.
30 (30) (4-36) They've got a five-game cushion in the Ben Simmons Sweepstakes after double-digit losses to East powers Toronto, Atlanta and Cleveland.

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Versatility is Wendell Carter Jr's calling card

Wendell Carter Jr. didn’t come to the NBA Draft Combine with the boastful statements made by his peers, refusing to declare himself the best player in a loaded draft.

But it doesn’t mean he lacks for confidence.

Carter Jr. is one of the more intriguing prospects in next month’s draft, even though he doesn’t come with the heavy fanfare of what many expect to be the top three picks.

One of those top three players was Carter Jr’s teammate at Duke, Marvin Bagley III, relegating Carter Jr. to a supporting role of sorts in his lone collegiate season. He couldn’t turn college basketball upside down as a freshman; He didn’t have the opportunity to, still averaging 13.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 29.1 minutes last season.

“Bagley's a phenomenal player. He came into college basketball, did what he was supposed to do,” Carter Jr. said. “My role changed a little bit but like I said, I'm a winner and I'll do what it takes to win.”

Like he said, considering it was the fifth time he patted himself on the back, describing his positive attributes. It didn’t come across as obnoxious, but more an affirmation, a reminder that his willingness to sacrifice personal glory shouldn’t overshadow his ability.

“I'm pretty versatile as a player,” Carter Jr. said. “I'd just find a way to fit into the team, buy into the system. I'm a winner. Do whatever it takes to win.”

When asked about his strengths, he didn’t hesitate to say he’s “exceptional” at rebounding and defending, certainly things teams would love to see come to fruition if he’s in their uniform next season.

Playing next to Bagley and not being the first option—or even the second when one considers Grayson Allen being on the perimeter—forced him to mature more in the little things.

“It was (an adjustment) at first,” Carter Jr. said. “I knew what I could do without scoring the ball. I did those things. I did them very exceptional. I found a way to stand out from others without having to put the ball in the basket.”

“I think it did do wonders for me. It definitely helped me out, allowed me to show I can play with great players but still maintain my own.”

If he’s around at the seventh slot, the Bulls will likely take a hard look at how he could potentially fit next to Lauri Markkanen and in the Bulls’ meeting with Carter Jr., the subject was broached.

“Great process. I was just thinking, me and him together playing on the court together would be a killer,” he said with a smile.

“I know they wanna get up and down the court more. The NBA game is changing, there's no more true centers anymore. They wanna have people who can shoot from the outside, it's something I'll have to work on through this draft process.”

An executive from a franchise in the lottery said Carter Jr’s game is more complete than Bagley’s, and that Carter Jr. could be the safer pick even if he isn’t more talented than his teammate.

It’s no surprise Carter Jr. has been told his game reminds them of Celtics big man Al Horford. Horford has helped the Celtics to a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Cleveland Cavaliers, in no small part due to his inside-outside game and ability to ably defend guards and wings on the perimeter.

Horford doesn’t jump off the screen, but he’s matured into a star in his role after coming into the NBA with a pretty grown game as is. Carter Jr. has shown flashes to validate those comparisons.

“Whatever system I come to, I buy in,” Carter Jr. said. “Coaches just want to win. I want to win too. Whatever they ask me to do. If it's rebounding, blocking shots, setting picks, I'm willing to do that just to win.”

He was also told he compares to Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge, two disparate players but players the Bulls have had a history with in the draft. The Bulls passed on Green in the first round of the 2012 draft to take Marquis Teague, and in Aldridge’s case, picked him second in 2007 before trading him to Portland for Tyrus Thomas.

As one can imagine, neither scenario has been suitable for framing in the Bulls’ front office, but whether they see Carter Jr. as a the next versatile big in an increasingly positionless NBA remains to be seen.

“I definitely buy into that (positionless basketball). I'm a competitor,” Carter Jr. said. “Especially on the defensive end. Working on my lateral quickness, just so I could guard guards on pick and roll actions. Offensively I didn't show much of it at Duke but I'm pretty versatile. I can bring it up the court. Can shoot it from deep, all three levels.”

His versatility has come into play off the floor as well, deftly answering questions about his mother comparing the NCAA’s lack of compensation for athletes to slavery.

Carter Jr’s mother, Kylia Carter, spoke at the Knight Comission on Intercollegiate Athletics recently and made the claim.

“The only system I have ever seen where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do, while those in charge receive mighty compensation … The only two systems where I’ve known that to be in place is slavery and the prison system, and now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that.”

As if he needed to add context to the statement, Carter Jr. indulged the media members who asked his opinion on the matter—or at least, his opinion of his mother’s opinion.

“A lot of people thought she was saying players were slaves and coaches were slave owners,” Carter Jr. said. “Just the fact, we do go to college, we're not paid for working for someone above us and the person above us is making all the money.”

As sensible as his comment was, as direct as his mother’s statements were, he still finds himself in a position where he has to defend his mother. In some cases, teams asked him about her—but that’s not to say they disagreed with her premise.

“My mom is my mom,” Carter Jr. said. “She has her opinions and doesn't mind sharing them. In some aspects I do agree with her. In others...you'll have to ask her if you want to know more information.”

“I never thought my mom is ever wrong. But I think people do perceive her in the wrong way. Some things she does say...that's my mom. You have to ask her.”

The versatility to handle things out of his control, as well as understanding how his season at Duke prepared him for walking into an NBA locker room should be noted.

There’s no delusions of grandeur, despite his unwavering confidence.

“I'd come in and try to outwork whoever's in front of me,” Carter Jr. said. “That's the beauty of the beast. You come into a system, There's players in front of you 3-4-5 years and know what it takes.”

“I would learn those things and let the best man win.”

After historical season at Oklahoma, Trae Young ready to make immediate impact in NBA

After historical season at Oklahoma, Trae Young ready to make immediate impact in NBA

There once was a period in NBA Draft history when leading the country in scoring all but guaranteed a top-5 draft pick. All-Americans were the talk of the class, and if he could pass, too, all the entire better. And if that player was a freshman? Forget about it.

But there’s never been a time in history when a player led the country in both scoring and assists. And it was done by a freshman, all of 19 years old. And yet for all Oklahoma point guard Trae Young accomplished in 32 games, doubters remain. He’s not the consensus top pick in next month’s NBA Draft. He might not even be a top-5 pick. He could even fall out of the top 10.

And that’s because the draft has become a science, of sorts. Position-less basketball is taking over, multiple ball handlers are on the floor for a team more time than they’re not, and height/length/wingspan and the rest of those Jay Bilas buzzwords mean more than ever.

And that is Young’s shortcoming (no pun intended). We’ll get the negatives out of the way before telling you why the Sooner is built perfectly for today’s NBA. He measured just under 6-foot-2 and weighed in at 178 pounds, which he told reporters was 10 pounds heavier than he was five weeks ago. His 6-foot-3 wingpsan was the smallest of all NBA Draft Combine participants, as was his 8-inch hand length.

So it’s reasonable to understand why he isn’t a slam dunk option at the top of the draft. But there’s also a number of reasons this 6-foot-2, defensive liability could also hear his name called in the top 5. And it’s because he’s the most dynamic offensive player college basketball has maybe ever seen. And, for the third time, he’s 19 years old.

“I think I’m the best overall player in the draft," he said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine. "My main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft. My motivation is to be the best player in the NBA and that’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”

Young, a five-star recruit from Norman, Okla., double-doubled in his first collegiate game. He double-doubled in his second game. In games 3-8 he scored between 28 and 43 points, all while leading unranked Oklahoma to an unlikely 7-1 record. Then December 16 happened. And over the course of the next eight games Young took college basketball by storm.

In a span of one month, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15, Oklahoma went from unranked to No. 4 in the country. Young’s numbers in that eight-game stretch? 31.4 points, 11.3 assists, 4.9 made 3-pointers and 1.6 steals in better than 34 minutes per game. His lowest scoring output in that time frame was 26, and in that game he handed out 22 assists, which tied an NCAA record. He had double-doubles in seven of the eight games, and had to settle for 29 points and five assists on the road against West Virginia, one of the country’s top defenses.

Young’s Sooners went into a nosedive after that, going 4-10 to finish the regular season and putting them close to the bubble, especially after a loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament. Young, the catalyst and only real option for the Sooners, posted modest 24.5 points and 7.5 assists, but wasn’t able to get a hold of the runaway train. The Sooners lost their opening round matchup to Rhode Island, a game in which Young scored 28 points.

But the roller coaster season is in the rear-view mirror. Young’s game is pretty straightforward: he’s a pick and roll nightmare for defenses, has the best range of anyone in the country and finds open shooters with ease. He’s a do-it-all offensively, and has naturally drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry.

“I love the comparisons. He’s a two-time MVP and a champion,” Youg said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young, that’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing.”

Young will make his presence felt wherever he winds up on June 21. Though he needs to continue adding weight to withstand the physical nature of the NBA (as well as an 82-game season) his skill set was built for today’s game. Though his shooting numbers came at a rather inefficient clip – 42 percent shooting, 36 percent from 3 – those will improve as he’s asked to take fewer shots at the next level.

His passing numbers should also improve; despite the 8.7 assists per game he wasn’t exactly paired up with knockdown shooters in Norman. If a team is able to pair him next to a stout defender – not unlike Isaiah Thomas playing next to Avery Bradley in Boston – his offensive game will cancel out any defensive deficiencies.

“My main focus is going to the right team,” he said. “It’s all about the fit for me and whether that’s (No.) 1 or whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and ready to make an impact and that’s what they’re going to get.”

That impact will be felt. Young opted against naming teams – he has met with the Bulls, he said – but mentioned that he has looked at teams picking in this year’s Lottery and knows the playoffs are a possibility if he enters the mix and leaves his imprint on a team in Year 1.

“There are teams in this draft that I think are one piece away, two pieces away from being a team that’s in the Lottery this year but not next year,” Young said. “There’s been some teams that I’ve met with I feel like if I’m on that team that I can make a big impact for them.”

He made that impact at Oklahoma, and despite his measurements there’s nothing to dislike about his game. He set records, carried a team for four months and dealt with adversity. That, as well as a lethal jump shot, will have him ready for the next level and whatever team selects him in six weeks.