NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (3/9/18)
NBA Power Rankings – Risers and Fallers
Welcome to the 16th edition of Risers and Fallers for this season's NBA Power Rankings. Our Power Rankings are developed using players on the active depth chart, which causes fluctuation week-to-week based on injuries and who is in and out of the lineup. To see a full description of how our Power Rankings are created, as well as this week's full list of rankings, please visit NBA Power Rankings - 3/8/18.
Within our rankings every week, there are noticeable risers and fallers throughout. The goal of this article is to identify who has gained or lost the most ground in the Association, whether it be due to injury, roster changes, or just a decline in team performance. Each article will include the top three risers and fallers in the rankings, despite their initial position.
With just over a month remaining in the NBA regular season, the Houston Rockets have reclaimed the top spot from the Golden State Warriors. Houston's 17-game win streak puts them a half game up on Golden State in the Western Conference standings, remarkably, as the Dubs have rattled off seven in a row and 10 of their last 11. They've completely separated themselves from the rest of the conference and the league as a whole, sitting 12 games above every team besides Toronto and Boston, who are four and six games back, respectively. The Rockets have altered their pace during their current 17-game streak, as they finished February averaging the slowest pace in the league with just 97.20 possessions per game. This is interesting to note moving forward since Mike D'Antoni has been known to push the pace as much as possible throughout his coaching career. It didn't seem to hurt their offensive efficiency, however, as their offensive rating of 116.7 in February was over three points higher than their season average of 113.5. As great as this streak and season has been for Houston, nothing really matters until they meet the Warriors come playoff time. Until then, we'll just have to enjoy James Harden's MVP season and the battle for home court advantage between his squad and the Warriors.
The hottest team in the league outside of Houston finds its way into our Risers section this week. Since Rudy Gobert returned on January 19th, the Jazz are 17-4 and 4-0 in the month of March. Their defense has been outstanding over this stretch, leading the league with only 98.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. The two closest teams to them during that span are the Toronto Raptors (101.4 pts/100, 17-4 record) and the aforementioned Rockets (103.1 pts/100, 20-1 record). Before Gobert returned on Jan. 195h, Utah was sporting the 14th ranked defense and allowing 105.4 points per 100 possessions. Clearly his presence changes their entire defensive structure and creates a more cohesive defensive unit. On the offensive side of the ball, Donovan Mitchell continues to lead the way averaging 19.8 points per game. If you take away his seven games to begin the season in October, however, he jumps up to 21.2 points per game, but 19.8 still makes him the highest scoring rookie by over three points per game. Utah's six-week stretch has tied them for the eighth seed in the West with Denver and the Clippers at the moment, but just four games separate eight teams in the West, so Utah will need to keep up their winning ways if they want to play come mid-April.
The Wizards have benefitted from some injury news as well, but it's not exactly what you'd expect. Since John Wall went down on January 25th, Washington is the eighth rated offense in the league, averaging 109.7 pts/100 possessions. With Wall active, those numbers drop to 11th in the league at 106.9 pts/100 possessions. It's unusual to see this discrepancy with a player of Wall's talent on the sidelines, especially over a 17-game sample size. Washington's record has benefited as well, racking up 11 wins and just six losses since Wall's injury. Bradley Beal has shouldered most of the facilitating load for the Wiz, averaging 38.2 minutes and 6.9 assists in Wall's absence compared to 36.1 minutes and 3.8 assists beforehand. His scoring has actually gone down from 24 to 22.1 per game over that span, with guys like Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, and Kelly Oubre Jr. taking extra shots with teams focused on Beal as the primary ball handler. Washington is just 1.5 games back of Cleveland for the 3-seed in the East, so home-court advantage for at least the first round is well within their grasp. With Wall expected to return in the next week or two, it will be extremely interesting to watch their team performance and chemistry, as they've played better basketball without him this season.
Indiana is likely the most underrated team in the association this season. They've been in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race since day one, and currently sit tied for fourth with Washington and are just 1.5 games back of Cleveland for third. Their record is awfully impressive when you take a look at their roster, as it's pretty much Victor Oladipo and a bunch of role players. Bojan Bogdanovic is their second-leading scorer, yet people still don't know the difference between him and Bogdan Bogdanovic for the Kings. Oladipo has played like a top 15 player this season, entering the weekend with a top 20 PER while sitting 13th in scoring (23.8 ppg) and first in steals (2.22 per game). Unlike the Wizards with Wall, Indiana is 0-5 without Oladipo and would likely be battling for a lottery pick instead of home-court advantage in the playoffs. Indy will get a nice boost tonight as well with Darren Collison returning from a knee injury that caused him to miss 11 games. Collison leads the team with 5.3 assists per game and is second in the NBA with a 4.14 assist to turnover ratio.
It's been a tough start to 2018 for San Antonio. Their franchise player has been on the court for less than 90 minutes while the team has managed just a 12-16 record since the calendar flipped. Their 12 wins haven't been impressive, either, as eight of them came against the bottom-feeders of the league like the Suns, Grizzlies, Kings, Knicks, and Nets. Their other four have been split between Denver and Cleveland, but outside of those games they've fallen consistently to teams currently in the playoff picture. In 2017, the Spurs had the 13th ranked offense and second ranked defense in terms of efficiency, compared to the 20th ranked offense and sixth ranked defense in 2018. San Antonio's aging roster might have finally caught up to them, as well as the fact they're playing without a top five player in the league in Kawhi Leonard. There's still a bright spot Popovich and his staff can look to when planning for next season, as LaMarcus Aldridge has had by far his best season as a Spur. His PER of 23.9 is good for 16th in the NBA. Pairing him and Kawhi will surely be a huge advantage for the Spurs moving forward, but they'll need to refresh the rest of the roster with guys like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on their last legs.
OKC lands in our Fallers section for the second consecutive week. Since writing last week, the Thunder went 2-2 with losses to the Warriors and Blazers, while both wins came against the tanking Suns. It's been a common theme this week to compare defensive numbers with and without players on the court, so we'll do the same with the Thunder and Andre Roberson. Roberson has missed all but five games since December 29th, so we'll use that as our benchmark. Up until December 29th, the Thunder boasted the fourth best defense in the league, allowing just 101.8 pts/100 possessions. Since that date, they've fallen down to 16th in the league and are allowing 107.1 pts/100 possessions. Without Roberson in the lineup over that span, the Thunder are just 13-14. OKC has tried Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis, Alex Abrines, and even recently acquired Corey Brewer in the starting lineup since all the others had failed to produce in that role. It doesn't appear to be the Thunder's year (again) with Golden State and Houston being the powerhouses out West, and the future could look extremely bleak if Paul George decides to walk this summer. For as much excitement as the Thunder entered the season with, they'll likely end it hanging their heads.
Yikes. 15 losses in a row for the Griz. Mike Conley, Tyreke Evans, Andrew Harrison, and Mario Chalmers are all sidelined indefinitely, leaving Memphis with a roster full of rookies and fringe NBA players. This is a common theme in today's NBA, but it's shocking when it happens to a team like Memphis that has made the playoffs each of the last seven seasons. Let's not forget Memphis started the season 5-1 with wins over the Pelicans, Warriors, and two against the Rockets. Since that opening week, they've won back-to-back games just ONCE (three in a row in mid-January vs. Lakers, Knicks, and Kings), culminating in a 13-45 record and .224 winning percentage. One of the strangest things about the Grizzlies tanking is that they have the seventh-highest paid player in the league on their team in Mike Conley ($28.5 Mil), and Marc Gasol ($22.6 Mil) not far behind. If they were to win the lottery, their #1 pick would be slotted next to these two All-Stars, giving the Grizzlies a great shot at success in the near future. Until then, however, we get to watch them lose.