NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (03/07/17)

By Mark Dankenbring

NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers

As we start the second week of March and realize we're only 5 weeks away from the end of the regular season, we bring you another edition of Risers and Fallers based on this week's 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 Rankings - 3/7/17.

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 3 risers and fallers in the rankings, despite their initial position.

For the first time all season, there is a new team atop our Power Rankings. With the injury to Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard continuing to lead the Spurs to victories, San Antonio takes over the #1 spot in our rankings this week. Golden State doesn't drop far, however, as they remain at #2 with their Offensive Efficiency dropping with Durant out of the lineup. The Celtics fall out of the Top 10 with Al Horford being sidelined while the Cavaliers re-enter after a one-week hiatus. The Wizards find themselves back in the Top 5 as they've won 3 of 4, including a home victory against the Warriors. There is still a considerable amount of movement in the lower portion of the rankings as well, so let's first take a look at the Top 3 risers in this week's rankings.

Top 3 Risers

Milwaukee Bucks – #14 up to #9

Milwaukee enters Tuesday having won three in a row, and have moved into the 10th spot in the East as they sit just 1.5 games behind the Bulls and Pistons for a playoff spot. Giannis Antetokounmpo has picked up right where he left off in February, as he's averaging 21 points, 8 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.3 blocks, and a steal per game in the first four games of March. The return of Khris Middleton has been a huge boost for the Bucks offensively thus far. Middleton is off to a hot start in March, averaging 19.3 points, 5.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.8 steals a game while playing 31.5 minutes a game. He's also shooting 55.1% from the field and 43.8% from three in those four games. His return along with Antetokounmpo's continued success moves the Bucks to 10th in our Offensive Efficiency rankings, and that's even with the injured Jabari Parker and Michael Beasley. Look for the Bucks to continue to succeed with their rotation including Middleton, and to make a strong playoff push over the last month of the season.

Oklahoma City Thunder - #19 up to #12

Victor Oladipo's imminent return from an extended absence vaults the Thunder up several spots in our rankings this week. Russell Westbrook has become even more of a one man wrecking crew with Oladipo out of the lineup, as he's averaging 37.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 9.3 assists in the six games since the All-Star Break. Westbrook's efficiency has been underwhelming, however, as he's shooting just 39.4% from the field and 33.3% from three over that stretch. The talent is now there in OKC, but Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson continue to be somewhat disappointing since their acquisition, and Westbrook desperately needs Oladipo back for a consistent offensive threat. However, the 4th seed in the West is still very attainable for the Thunder as they're only 4.5 games out. Look for the Thunder to figure it out in the next week or so and make a serious run for a top five seed in the West.

Minnesota Timberwolves - #22 up to #17

The Timberwolves have started off strong having gone 3-2 after the All-Star Break, with their losses coming against the Rockets and in overtime against the Spurs. Ricky Rubio has showed his all-around game since the break, as he's averaging 11.6 points, 11.0 assists, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.2 steals per game in the last five, including a triple double in his last outing against the Spurs. Also, Rubio has been the leading assist man for either team in all five games since the break. Karl-Anthony Towns continues to show why he was the number one pick last year, as he's averaging 27.4 points and 17.2 rebounds in the five games since the break. Minnesota has been giving more minutes to Nemanja Bjelica, who has returned the favor by posting 11.3 points and 7 rebounds over his last four games off the bench. The T-Wolves are really rounding into form, and are still only 3.5 games out of the 8th spot in the West. Even if they don't make it this year, the future is awfully bright up north.

Top 3 Fallers

Utah Jazz - #5 down to #11

Utah continues to play a unique brand of basketball in today's game, as they rank third to last in the NBA in scoring at just 100.3 points per game, but are the best in basketball on the defensive end, allowing 96.0 points per game, 2.4 points lower than the next closest team. The Jazz are currently dealing with a banged up player in Joe Johnson, and George Hill still needs to be rested every once in a while, so that results in their exodus from the highly competitive Top 10 in our Power Rankings. Utah has dropped to 23rd in our Offensive Efficiency rankings, the lowest of any team in our Top 19. The Jazz have had a busy post-break schedule, having already played seven games. They are 5-2, but looked like they were going to drop a game in Sacramento, only to be bailed out by Rudy Gobert in the last second of regulation and OT. Utah currently sits in the 4th spot, 1.5 games ahead of the Clippers and 4 games clear of the Grizzlies, who are in 6th. It will be interesting to see where Utah stands after a tough upcoming stretch, as four of their next five games come against the Rockets, Thunder, Clippers, and Cavs, three of which are on the road.

Boston Celtics - #7 down to #13

In the midst of a West-Coast road trip, the Celtics fall outside of our Top 10 with the injury to Al Horford. He likely won't be out for much longer, but Boston has lost their two games without him and will head to Golden State and Denver to close out their road trip. Even after going 3-4 post All-Star Break, the Celtics remain just three games back of Cleveland, who dropped back-to-back games to the Heat. Avery Bradley just returned after missing nearly all of January and February, so it will be interesting how they rework him into the rotation with the success Jaylen Brown has had in his absence. Even with Isaiah Thomas's explosive offensive game, he still ranks as one of the worst defenders in the NBA, which could turn out to be more of a liability come playoff time. Boston still looks very strong in the East, however, and are still in the race for the #1 seed, so look for them to be back inside our Top 10 soon with the return of Horford and re-acclimation of Bradley.

Miami Heat - #16 down to #23

The Heat have continued to play well since their impressive 13-game winning streak, and have started 5-2 since the All-Star Break. Miami continues to be hit by the injury bug, however, as Tyler Johnson and James Johnson missed last night's game with injuries, and Luke Babbitt left mid-game due to back spasms. None of these injuries appear to be long term, but Miami just can't seem to shake their ailments. The Heat continue to get the job done by committee, as 7 players average more than 10 points per game, not including the injured Justise Winslow. Losing the Johnsons hurts their offense off the bench, as they provide 26.0 ppg combined off the bench this season. It will be interesting to see if Miami can reach the playoffs, as there are seven teams within six games of each other in the East, all between the 5th and 11th spots. Back-to-back wins over the Cavaliers might be just what the doctor ordered for the Heat, however, so look for them to continue to play well with a healthy roster and to be back in the Top 20 in no time.