NBA Power Rankings: Evaluating teams at the All-Star break


NBA Power Rankings: Evaluating teams at the All-Star break

It's been just four days since the last power rankings came out, so there wasn't much movement prior to the All-Star break (though the Bulls and Blazers did make significant movement in different directions).

So instead of analyzing what the teams did this week in their four days worth of games, we'll analyze their respective seasons as a whole and look ahead to the "second half" of the schedule.

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 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (48-4) They've already hinted at it, but fully expect them to gun for 73 wins in the season's second half. They need to go just 25-5 to get there. 
(2) (40-14) With a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook they're the Warriors' toughest matchup. And they'll likely meet in the West semifinals. Wild.
(3) (45-8) They're banged up right now, but Danny Green is putting things together after an atrocious first three months. He'll be key to a deep run in the West.
4 (4) (38-14) Kyrie Irving is heating up, and that's bad news for the East. In his last eight games he's averaged 26.9 points and 6.0 assists. 
5 (5) (35-17) It'll be interesting to see if they make a much-needed move for a power forward at the deadline. If they do, Cleveland's got a legitimate threat in the East.
6 (7) (32-23) Not sure they're the sixth best team in the NBA, but Brad Stevens has this group playing great defense. Will they make a move for Al Horford or Dwight Howard?
7 (6) (35-18) J.J. Redick has averaged 17.9 points on 49.6 percent from beyond the arc since Blake Griffin went out. A big reason the Clips are 18-5 without Griffin.
8 (8) (31-22) Marc Gasol's broken foot is a death sentence for a Grizzlies team playing its best basketball of the year. They'll compete, but hopes of a playoff run have been dashed.
9 (10) (31-24) The most intriguing seller to see at the trade deadline. They're competing in the East but could unload one or both of Jeff Teague and Al Horford.
10 (9) (29-24) They appear to be kicking the tires on dealing impending free agent Hassan Whiteside. If they don't, they'll be a tough out come playoff time.
11 (11) (26-26) They've got the inside track on a playoff berth now that they're healthy. They'll go as far as their stifling defense will take them, which could be far. Sleeper in the West.
12 (12) (28-25) There were plenty of great moments during All-Star Weekend. Paul George going for 41 points Sunday night was one of the best.
13 (17) (27-27) Let's see if Damian Lillard takes another All-Star snub and uses it as motivation in the second half. Wild that Portland is still in the playoff hunt this late into the season. 
14 (18) (27-26) They've recovered well after being left for dead a few weeks ago. They've won five of six, including wins over Cleveland and Indiana to gain some second half momentum. 
15 (16) (29-26) They're sort of in no-man's land, a pronounced tier behind the heavy hitters in the West but good enough so that they won't be in the lottery. Maybe they can steal a round in the playoffs.
16 (14) (27-28) They've got an important decision to make on potentially unloading Dwight Howard. Something's got to give on one of the league's most inconsistent teams. 
17 (13) (27-27) There's too much talent on this team for them not to make the playoffs (they're currently ninth). Getting KCP back to go with Drummond and Jackson should do it.
18 (15) (27-25) They've lost 13 of 18 and Jimmy Butler's on the shelf the next three weeks. It'll be interesting to see if Pau Gasol or Taj Gibson are moved this week. 
19 (19) (23-28) John Wall has a chance to average 20 points and 10 assists, which has only been done 22 times (by 10 players) since 1947. He's at 20.0/9.9 right now.
20 (21) (20-33)  Tyreke Evans is done for the year and essentially ends any hope of a late playoff push. This is just going to be a year to forget for the Pellies.
21 (20) (22-31) Six of their first eight games out of the break are against teams with winning records. Unless they catch fire they could be out of playoff contention by early March.
22 (22) (22-32) Denver was well represented this weekend with Emmanuel Mudiay (Rising Stars, Skills), Nikola Jokic (Rising Stars) and Will Barton (Dunk). Mike Malone's building something.
23 (25) (22-32) With the playoffs essentially out of reach, hopefully Jabari Parker will continue to show improvement. His post-ACL numbers have been just average.
24 (23) (17-37) Karl-Anthony Towns wins the skills competition and Zach LaVine goes back-to-back in the Dunk Contest. Good weekend for the young T-Wolves.
25 (26) (23-29) Aaron Gordon deserved to win Saturday's Dunk Contest. His second dunk in the finals will go down as arguably the best we've ever seen.
26 (24) (23-32) Godzingis was one of the many highlights from All-Star Weekend, scoring 30 points in the Rising Stars Challenge. He'll be fun in the second half.
27 (27) (8-45) Jahlil Okafor's having a fine rookie season, but his on/off splits are troubling. Philly is 11.6 points per 100 possessions better with Okafor OFF the floor.
28 (28) (14-40) Though the season's been over for awhile, it will be fun to watch rookies Chris McCollough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (when he returns) progress. Solid pieces to build on. 
29 (30) (11-44) The weekend-long tribute to Kobe Bryant in Toronto was awesome. Good to see the Black Mamba play well in his final ASG (10 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds).
30 (29) (14-40) It's getting ugly in Phoenix. The Markieff Morris-Archie Goodwin scuffle was a new low. They're playing for lottery balls and not much else.

Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need


Wichita State's Landry Shamet could give Bulls backcourt versatility they desperately need

The Bulls are in need of talent. That much is clear after a 27-win campaign in which they finished ranked 28th in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’ll add a pair of prospects next month, with two selections in the first round, and presumably take the next step in their rebuild. Talent is important, that can’t be overstated. The Bulls should stick to their board and take the best player available nine out of 10 times.

But as much as the Bulls need an influx of talent, versatility in the backcourt might be a close second. And while there isn’t really any player at No. 7 that would fit that bill – they could reach for Collin Sexton – there are a number of versatile guards, in a class dominated at the top by bigs, who could be there when the Bulls are on the clock at No. 22.

Meet Wichita State guard Landry Shamet. That classic NBA buzzword “versatile” is thrown around more often than ever before. The idea that a player can play multiple positions, can defend 1-3 or has the potential to learn two spots at the next level. Then there’s Shamet. He’s actually done it.

He arrived in Wichita as a shooting guard, the Shockers’ highest-rated recruit in nine years. A broken foot cost him all but three games of his freshman season, but he returned in 2016 and made an immediate impact, including a shift to point guard midway through the season; the move went seamlessly, as he led the Shockers in assists (3.3) and was 14th in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.00). He matched Kentucky freshman point guard DeAaron Fox in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 20 points on 7 of 14 shooting in a loss.

He remained at point guard in his sophomore season and dominated, earning an honorable mention All-American nod while leading the team in points (14.9) assists (5.2), and 3-pointers (2.6) per game for a Shockers team ranked in the top 25 all year, and as high as No. 3 in December.

He had the ball in his hands plenty at Wichita State, but his shooting hardly suffered. A point guard in name, his shooting may be his best attribute. In his final two seasons Shamet shot 44.1 percent from deep on 354 attempts. He was the nation’s best spot-up shooter when Greg Marshall used him off the ball, and made multiple 3-pointers in 23 of 32 games.

His versatility can best be explained as such: He was the only player in the country – and just the 13th since 1992 – to average at least five assists, 2.5 3-pointers per game and shoot 44 percent from deep. The 6-foot-5 guard brings shooting, facilitating and length defensively to the table. It’s no cliché.

“I feel like I can step in and do whatever a coach needs me to do, whether it’s playing on the ball being a facilitator/playmaker/initiating offense, or a guy you’ve got to honor off the ball (as) a spot-up shooter,” Shamet said Friday at the NBA Draft Combine.

He struggled shooting in the 5-on-5 scrimmages over the two-day span, but also noted that he accomplished his main goal of defending well. His 6-foot-7 wingspan will be looked down upon in an era where measurements mean more than ever, but he also had a 39-inch max vertical (12th best) and a 3.11 three-quarters court sprint (10th best).

He admitted he’s more athletic than some give him credit for – as his vertical would suggest – but that his game is more “cerebral” and making the right decisions.

“I feel like I have a high IQ, a cerebral player,” he said. “I’m not going to wow you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. I feel like I’m a solid player, pretty steady across the board.”

It’s a skill set the Bulls could use. His numbers and measurements look similar to Denzel Valentine, who has drawn mixed reviews in two NBA seasons and is really the closest thing the Bulls have to a “versatile” guard; Valentine was one of 21 players with 140+ 3-pointers and 240+ assists, 12 of whom were All-Stars.

Shamet also has seven inches of vertical leap and a quicker sprint as far as Combine times are concerned, and he’s a more natural fit as a point guard than Valentine. Shamet said two players whose games he studies include Malcolm Brogdon, a less-than-flashy guard who won 2017 Rookie of the Year making just about every correct play. Brogdon possesses the same sneaky athleticism – ask LeBron James – has shot 40 percent from deep in two NBA seasons and has a 2.62 A/TO ratio.

“You don’t want to step out of your comfort zone and be somebody you’re not, so out here I’m trying to be me, be solid, (and) make the right play all the time,” he said. “I don’t rely on my athleticism, I like to think the game. So I try to just be myself.”

Kris Dunn is cemented as a point guard for the Bulls’ future, and the front office sang Cameron Payne’s praises at season’s end, though he’ll be a free agent after next season. But Dunn, Payne and Jerian Grant combined to shoot 33.6 percent from deep, and even Payne’s 38.5 percent shooting came in a limited, 25-game span.

Shamet wouldn’t be a home-run pick, and certainly not a sexy one. Those picks have burned the Bulls in the past with players like Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and even Valentine. Shamet is 21 years old and has had two major foot surgeries. But the skill set is one the Bulls have needed for some time. And in a draft where the Bulls will be searching for talent, adding a player who fits the bill as a team need as well makes sense.

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.”