Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: The league's other best team

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NBA Power Rankings: The league's other best team

The Golden State Warriors have rightfully hogged headlines this season. That'll happen when you're setting NBA records left and right before the calendar flips to the new year.

But just below Steph Curry's 26-1 team in the Western Conference standings are the San Antonio Spurs. At 23-5, winners of five straight and nine of 10, and a point differential (+13.2) nearly as good as Golden State's (+13.4), Greg Popovich's group is the best team in the NBA that doesn't play its home games in Oakland.

Kawhi Leonard has been nothing short of magnificent, averaging 21.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists on 50.9/49.0/88.0 shooting, while also adding two steals and nearly a block per game. LaMarcus Aldridge has shaken off a slow start and is up to 16.1 points per game, while Tony Parker has had a bounceback year to the tune of shooting nearly 56 percent from the field.

The Spurs are up to No. 3 in offensive efficiency and they lead the NBA in defensive efficiency by nearly five points per 100 possessions (in layman's terms, by A LOT).

What Golden State is doing has been historic. But don't forget about the NBA's other best team.

On to the rankings:

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) (26-1) Friday can't come soon enough. Yes, it's Christmas Day, but it's also a rematch of last year's NBA Finals. The most highly anticipated regular season game in awhile.
(2) (23-5) Kawhi Leonard is rising in the MVP race for players not named Stephen Curry. He's been an absolute monster of efficiency this season. And as always, he's somehow done it quietly.
(4) (18-7) Dating back to last January, the Cavaliers are now 34-3 with LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in the lineup. With Irving back, the East is clearly theirs to lose.
4 (3) (18-9) They've won seven of eight but missed a golden opportunity to take down the Cavaliers before Kyrie Irving returned. A few offensive droughts did them in in Thursday's loss.
5 (8) (16-10) Hassan Whiteside was outstanding down the stretch Sunday against the Blazers, finishing with 22 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
6 (6) (16-10) The Pacers need to get Monta Ellis (12.2 points, 42.1% shooting, 4.5 assists) going at some point. Paul George and C.J. Miles can only shoot 3-pointers for so long.
7 (5) (17-12) Like many in this range, tough to tell where the Raptors stand after double-digit losses to Indiana, Charlotte and Sacramento....and a double-digit road win over Miami.
8 (14) (17-12) The offense is coming around in a hurry, as Mike Budenholzer's group averaged 113.0 points in three straight wins this week, including 109 against the pesky Celtics.
9 (11) (16-12) Still tough to figure out where the Clippers stand among contenders after road losses to San Antonio and Houston. Monday against Oklahoma City should give us a clearer picture.
10 (16) (16-12) Wins over Indiana, Boston and Chicago in their last four games, and they'll get Brandon Jennings back this week. Detroit is on the rise.
11 (7) (15-10) As our Vincent Goodwill wrote on Sunday, all eyes will be on Jimmy Butler after he stepped up and called out Fred Hoiberg following the Bulls' second straight loss.
12 (9) (14-13) They couldn't parlay momentum from nearly topping the Warriors and then beating Charlotte, losing three straight to East contenders in Cleveland, Detroit and Atlanta.
13 (12) (15-12) Chandler Parsons seems close to shedding his minute restriction, which should change the dynamic of the Mavericks. Big home win over the Grizzlies on Saturday.
14 (17) (15-12) Somehow, some way, the Magic are all the way up to No. 6 in defensive efficiency. A blowout win over Charlotte was particularly impressive (and surprising).
15 (10) (15-11) A solid win over the Raptors was the lone positive from a week that included losses to Orlando and Washington. They had a chance to push ahead in the East.
16 (23) (14-14) Kristaps Porzingis is one of four players averaging 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks per game. The others? Anthony Davis, Pau Gasol and Karl-Anthony Towns. Good company.
17 (15) (15-14) Call it a positive going 2-2 against that schedule (WAS, at CHI, at DAL, IND). Zach Randolph is averaging just 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds since his move to the bench.
18 (12) (14-14) Watching vintage Dwight Howard above the rim in a win over the Clippers (22 points, 14 rebounds, two blocks) was fun to watch. Can it spark Houston going forward?
19 (21) (11-14) John Wall quietly putting up career-high numbers in points (19.9), field goal percentage (44.5%) and steals (2.1). The Wizards have work to do to get back in the playoff hunt.
20 (20) (11-18) Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 17.0 points on 50 percent shooting and 6.3 assists in his last seven games. And they had the Warriors on the ropes in Oracle.
21 (18) (12-17) Brandon Knight's revenge game against the Bucks on Sunday? Nine points on 3-for-10 shooting, and the Bucks earned a 101-95 road victory.
22 (22) (8-19) Baby steps for Anthony Davis and Co., who have won two of three and may be trending in the right direction as their collective health improves.
23 (19) (11-14) We write about it every week, but the defensive drop-off without Rudy Gobert continues. They're now down to 18th in efficiency after being top-3 with Gobert.
24 (26) (11-16) The Kings picked up their best win of the season Sunday night, with all five starters in double figures in a 104-94 road win over the Raptors.
25 (24) (11-18) The Blazers blew a 10-point halftime lead in Miami to close out a difficult road stretch. They play two more on the road (ATL, NOLA) before hosting the Cavs.
26 (25) (11-16) Ricky Rubio has averaged 10.2 assists in his last nine games, and nearly had a quadruple-double Wednesday against the Knicks (9/10/12/8 steals).
27 (27) (11-16) It's tough for the league's 24th ranked offense to score 125 points and lose, but that's what the Nuggets did Sunday against the Pelicans.
28 (28) (7-20) The league's longest non-Sixers losing streak (L5), the Nets hung with Miami and Indiana this week but couldn't pull off either upset.
29 (29) (4-23) A resurgent Kobe Bryant is shooting 49 percent in his last six games, averaging 18.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
30 (30) (1-28) During their 10-game losing streak, the Sixers have been outscored by an average of 108.6 to 82.0. Good luck, Mike D'Antoni.

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

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USA TODAY

Jimmy Butler may have gotten uninvited to the Wade's BBQ again

Jimmy Butler is in hot water with the Wades ... again.

Maybe not really, but the two former Bulls teammates exchanged pleasantries on Instagram after Butler commented on a photo Dwyane Wade's wife Gabrielle Union posted poolside, saying: "WELL DAMN!!"

Wade, a three-time all-defensive second team, came to his wife's defense when Butler posted a video the next day with the caption: "The good, the bad, and the ugly...", prompting Wade to respond: "Put well damn in caps on my wife photo again and you're gonna see what the good, the bad and the ugly is like."

*Mic drop*

It appears this won't affect Butler getting an invite to the next get together. Or so he hopes...

"Well that escalated quickly," Butler responded to Wade. "Point noted.. I'm still coming to the bbq tho 😂😂😂"

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

SI names Lauri Markkanen a top-five candidate for a breakout season

Lauri Markkanen has been making headlines this offseason, mostly for bulking up considerably, and making appearances around Chicago at Nike camps and Jabari Parker’s camp, but as the season nears, his on-the-court exploits are starting to come up as well. On Thursday, Sports Illustrated put Lauri Markkanen on their list of five breakout candidates for the 2018-19 season

SI writer Michael Shapiro had this to say about Markkanen:


Markkanen has all the tools to be a future All-Star, and it looks as though he has the mindset, too. He seemed to take his matchup with Porzingis personally in early January, demanding the ball down the stretch en route to a career-high 33 points in a road victory. The Bulls enter 2018-19 on the outside of the East playoff picture, but Chicago is now home to the NBA’s newest unicorn.

High praise indeed for Markkanen, and well-deserved praise considering that he finished with a usage rate lower with the Bulls than his college stint at Arizona, yet still was able to have an impact on the Bulls. Shapiro mentioned Markkanen’s burgeoning off-the-dribble game as the skill that most stood out, and speaks to the Finnish big man’s All-Star potential. 

While the 21-year-old’s threes lived up to the hype, it was his prowess of the bounce that made the biggest impression. Markkanen showed a deft handle and array of canny fakes in the post, adding a mean streak to boot. The Finnisher lived up to his nickname, unafraid of contact and eager to fight for position in the post. The stereotype of the soft European big man doesn’t apply here.

The numbers back this up. 

Among the Bulls top 10 players in drives per game last season, Markkanen finished second in field percentage (on drives) at 46.1 percent. If that numbers rises, or more likely, Markkanen drives to the basket more, his scoring total will increase. And when it came to finishing around the paint in general, he shot  67.6 percent on shots from zero-to-three feet, making him the third best in that range out of the Bulls top nine rotation players last season. Yet among the same group of players, Markkanen ranked sixth in shot attempts from zero-to-three feet. With the presence of Wendell Carter Jr., and another year of internal growth from Bobby Portis- bigs that can stretch the floor -Markkanen should be the recipient of more plays putting him in a position to score around the basket.

On a roster that will surely give big minutes to Parker, Kris Dunn, Carter, Chandler Hutchison and a working-his-way-back to form Zach LaVine, Markkanen may be surest 3-point shooter on the floor. This means defenses will key in on his outside shot. If players are routinely closing out hard on Markkanen- as they should -this will open up more driving opportunities for the nimble seven-footer. 

The third or fourth season is usually when young players take the leap from good to great, but Markkanen will be playing with the most talented group of teammates he has ever been surrounded with. How he handles playing with this group will go a long way towards establishing what kind of player he will be in the future, specifically if he is an All-Star caliber talent. On the 2018-19 Bulls, someone will have to hover around a 20 percent usage rate, making them a clear third-option, whoever that player is, his last name should not be Markkanen.