Steph Curry

NBA Power Rankings: New year, same old Steph Curry

warriors.jpg
USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: New year, same old Steph Curry

While the NBA certainly had a parity-filled 2018, 2019 could be a different story. We still have every team in the West sans Phoenix competing for a playoff spot. But we are quickly approaching the NBA trade deadline and the buyout period. This when NBA teams will start to make their moves, whether it be dumping salary or adding a valuable rotation piece to boost playoff hopes.

And as teams start to fill out their rosters, we will start to see the back-end of the NBA draft lottery standings take shape. Squads like the Nets and Kings are close to ending playoff droughts but a few moves could heavily determine if they will be headed back to the draft lottery.

The MVP race has also been extremely close for most of the season, with several candidates looking like serious contenders. But with Giannis Antetokounmpo attacking the rim with aplomb, Kawhi Leonard achieving a career-high in points (45) and James Harden literally carrying the Rockets to wins every night, the MVP race is starting to clear up as well.

https://twitter.com/DaveDuFourNBA/status/1080285490069323776

https://twitter.com/HoustonRockets/status/1080136830270562309

But there is one name—that has less than a 5 percent chance to win MVP according to Basketball-Reference's 2018-19 MVP Award Tracker—to watch this week specifically, and that is none other than two-time MVP Stephen Curry. 

Steph has played in less games than all the other MVP candidates, so he is fighting an uphill battle. And the fact that he is just barely leading his team in scoring because of the presence of Kevin Durant does not help him. But storylines rule all when it comes to NBA MVP races, and the narrative of the Warriors looking more vulnerable than usual can get flipped quickly if Curry goes supernova.

In the Dubs win over the Suns on New Year's Eve, Curry poured in 34 points on a hyper-efficient 64 percent shooting from the field to go along with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. And that night—just like so many others this season—showed that Curry is just as good as he was during his back-to-back MVP seasons, and that he is clearly the most important player on this team. 

The Rockets and Warriors play on Thursday at Oracle Arena. The showdown will be huge as a matchup between several MVP hopefuls (if you throw in Durant). And between Harden's play as of late and the fact that the Warriors got blown out by Houston in their only other matchup so far this year, you can definitely expect to see both squads—and Curry specifically—get off to a quick start. 

That game is just one of many this week that will go a long way towards painting a better picture of the NBA's hierarchy. Check out our latest update in the NBA Power Rankings right here

The aftermath of Kris Dunn's terrifying fall now includes a concussion

The aftermath of Kris Dunn's terrifying fall now includes a concussion

Things were looking up for the Bulls and Kris Dunn late in their comeback against the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night. 

Then Dunn hit the floor after a breakaway dunk and blood drew from his mouth. Initially he was diagnosed with two dislocated front teeth. 

But the news got worse Thursday when it was revealed the hard fall caused a concussion and Dunn will not travel on the Bulls' trip to Atlanta. 

Dunn has taken ahold of the point guard spot and been labeled the team's closer in recent weeks. And with Zach LaVine scheduled to have his minute restriction lifted after his first week of play, the Bulls were looking forward to having all three pieces from the draft day trade involving Jimmy Butler on the floor with true freedom. 

Now, that plan must take another backseat with this setback and the Bulls will embark on their three game road trip, likely without Dunn.

In 31 starts, Dunn has impressed, averaging 14.6 points and 7.0 assists. Overall for the year, Dunn is averaging 13.7 points and 6.4 assists, recovering from a slow start after torn tendons in his finger suffered during the preseason. 

In the concussion protocol, Dunn must pass a battery of tests before returning to action and the Bulls will certainly be cautious with Dunn, as they've been with LaVine. 

It will mean more playing time for Jerian Grant, who started the season as starter before Dunn supplanted him in December. It'll also mean more time at the point for LaVine, who played the position his rookie season in Minnesota.

Either way, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg will have to wait yet again for his full roster to be materialized, adjusting on the fly after another unfortunate circumstance. 

The Bulls will always be linked to the Warriors — symbolically, practically and through history

The Bulls will always be linked to the Warriors — symbolically, practically and through history

Whenever the Bulls and Warriors meet for the foreseeable future, it’ll be a reminder of how the two franchises are inextricably linked symbolically and practically — even if no one would consider the two franchises mirror images in any way that truly counts.

Starting on the sidelines, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr will forever be etched in Bulls lore with a championship-sealing jumper in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals off a pass from Michael Jordan, the second title of their second three-peat.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was rumored to be in the running for the Warriors job after the Warriors fired Mark Jackson in 2014, when Hoiberg was still at Iowa State and Kerr was in the broadcast booth.

Reportedly, Hoiberg was a backup plan if Kerr wound up taking the New York Knicks job being offered to him by…former Bulls coach Phil Jackson.

Kerr has spoken highly of Hoiberg before games, even going as far as saying he’s stolen some of Hoiberg’s offensive plays — and it’s easy to see the similarities in philosophy, with both placing an extreme emphasis on ball movement and 3-point shooting.

With the Bulls crushing their own 3-point records — hitting fewer than 10-pointers six times in the last 21 games, they’re doing their best to copy the blueprint the Warriors have unleashed on the basketball world.

“I don’t know if we’ve revolutionized the game,” Kerr said at morning shootaround. “We just picked up on where the game was been heading over the last ten years with the added spacing and turning small forwards into power forwards and power forwards into centers. Really spacing the floor. It was happening before we did it. We have the personnel to shoot a ton of 3’s. It’s effective for us. Teams have to find whatever’s most efficient for them. We just try to play according to our talent.”

There’s the simple fact the Warriors erased the 1996 Bulls from the record book as far as regular season wins with a 73-9 mark in 2016, although they couldn’t finish the job in the Finals by blowing a 3-1 lead to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Warriors have joined the Bulls of that vintage, the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant Lakers and James’ Miami Heat as the road shows of modern-day basketball, drawing massive crowds, sparking historical conversations and taking opposing teams’ best shots on the road 41 times a year.

Stephen Curry has earned a new respect for what Jordan’s Bulls had to go through during that eight-year period in which the Bulls dominated to win six NBA titles.

“Until you win a championship you don’t know how hard it is,” Curry said. “Only highlight that even more, all that goes into it, year after year after year, being that team everybody is chasing. I have an appreciation before but going through a couple championship runs, you have an appreciation for the dynasty that they were. It’s always nice to be in the city they did it in.”

Then there’s the petty, as Jordan Bell will get the start in place of Draymond Green, a man who looked like a mummy at shootaround with a sore shoulder but had his elbows and knees wrapped in ice.

Bell, of course, remains a point of contention for Bulls fans as he was traded for $3.5 million on draft night to the Warriors and let everyone know what he thought of it when the two met in late November, making a money reference with his hands when coming out for his first start of the season.

Although his playing time has been spotty, he blocked six shots against the Bulls and grabbed six rebounds as an uber-athletic big man in a 49-point humbling loss in Oakland on Nov. 24.

Whether Bulls fans are in love with Bell and what he represents or merely the notion of trading a second-round pick when starting a rebuild, seeing him is a sore spot.

Kerr, though, hopes Bell has moved past the pettiness with the Bulls, as one would certainly like to think he’s happy where he is as opposed to vying for minutes with the glut of bigs the Bulls already have.

“I would hope that’s a thing of the past,” Kerr said. “Jordan’s been in the league for more than half a season. He had his fun the first time we played the Bulls with his comments and whatever he was doing on the floor. I liked it. I thought he was getting himself motivated. That doesn’t last long, in this league you gotta be motivated every single night. He’s past that now.”

Bell, assuming he develops into more than just a spot starter, represents where the Warriors are currently and where the Bulls are trying to get to: selecting physically unique players whose skill sets essentially make them unicorns on the floor.

The Warriors have that in Kevin Durant and to a lesser degree, Green, because of Green’s versatility on defense and with his playmaking, allows the Warriors to be special.

The Bulls have someone in the mold of a matchup nightmare in rookie Lauri Markkanen, who just broke the rookie record by being the fastest in NBA history to hitting 100 triples.

Markkanen did it in 41 games, breaking the mark held by Portland’s Damian Lillard. Curry, widely regarded as the best shooter in NBA history, accomplished the feat in 58 games in the 2009-10 season.

Curry’s taken note while joking Markkanen should “slow down and stop breaking all those 3-point records for rookies. I’m pretty proud of being in those groups.”

“He’s an amazing talent,” Curry said. “Got an extremely unique skill set at his height and size, being able to put it on the floor, being able to shoot the way he does, scoring a lot of different ways… He’s only gonna continue to get better. Other than that, he’s gonna be a force to reckon with as he goes through his career.”

Kerr is among Markkanen’s fans, although he won’t be one at the United Center when he tries to stop Markkanen from adding to the impressive resume.

“These things are so hard to predict but you knew at minimum he was gonna be a great 3-point shooting big man which is important to have these days,” Kerr said. “I think the question was defensively could he hold his own and could he do more than shoot and I think he’s proving all of that. He’s been good defensively.

“He’s not a one-trick pony on offense. He’s not just standing out shooting. He can put it on the floor, he can post up and he’s so young, all that stuff is gonna get better. I know our coaching staff, preparing for this game, have a ton of respect for what the Bulls are doing and Markkanen in particular in terms of his potential. We think he’s gonna be an All-Star.”