NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (02/28/17)

By Mark Dankenbring

NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers

As February comes to a close, 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 - 2/28/17.

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.

The return of Chris Paul vaults the Clippers into our Top 5 this week for the first time since he went down with his thumb injury in the middle of January. The Wizards also find themselves in the Top 5 this week, as they leapfrog the Celtics, who have lost three of their last four. Cleveland continues to drop a little in our rankings as they move outside the Top 10 for the first time all season, and are anxiously awaiting the return of J.R. Smith and Kevin Love. However, there is still a good 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

Los Angeles Clippers - #13 up to #4

It was only a matter of time before the Clippers re-entered our Top 10, as they were awaiting the return of superstar Chris Paul. The Clippers are navigating their way through a tough sequence in their schedule, as they just lost games to the Spurs and Warriors, squeaked out an OT win against Charlotte, and now will face the Houston Rockets tomorrow night. CP3 will take a few games to get fully back in rhythm, but showed his distribution skills with 17 assists and 0 turnovers against the Hornets. Blake Griffin had an impressive month of February, as he averaged 26.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists in their 11 games this month. Los Angeles will look to have a more successful March, however, as the Clips went just 6-5 in February. They currently sit in the 5th spot in the West, just one game back from the Jazz, who they'll face two more times before the season is over. However, the Clippers may want to avoid the 4th or 5th spot as they'd play the Warriors in the second round, a team who has beat them in 10 straight outings.

Atlanta Hawks - #18 up to #12

The Hawks ended their three game skid with an impressive 114-98 victory on the road against Boston last night. Mike Budenholzer is trying to figure out the best rotation for his team after acquiring Ersan Ilyasova last week, and has started to play rookie Taurean Prince more, as he's averaged 25 minutes in the last five games. Budenholzer was also able to reinsert Thabo Sefolosha into the starting lineup after he had missed nine games with a groin injury, which has bolstered Atlanta's defense. Sefolosha's return causes the Hawks to move from 14th to 5th in our Defensive Efficiency rankings, which is a large contributor to their rise in our rankings. The Hawks still sit in the bottom third of the league in terms of scoring, but will hopefully improve as their chemistry evolves with their current group. Paul Millsap will look to have a bounce back March, as he only averaged 17 points per game in February on 42.3% shooting and 26.3% shooting from three. Atlanta will need Millsap to make a late season run at the 4th or even 3rd spot in the East, as only 2.5 games separate the Raptors, Wizards, and Hawks in the standings.

Indiana Pacers - #22 up to #17

Indiana entered the All-Star Break on a six game losing streak, but the rest seems to have done them well, as they've started 2-1 post break with wins over the Grizzlies and Rockets, who both find themselves in our Top 10 this week. The Pacers also received a boost with the return of Thaddeus Young, as they went 2-6 in their most recent stint without him in the lineup. This helps Indiana on both sides of the ball, as they move from 19th to 16th in O-Rank, and 20th to 13th in D-Rank. All-Star Paul George will try to get back to his scoring average of 21.7 ppg in March, as he averaged under 18 in the month of January, including 12.8 in his last five games. With their lack of movement at the deadline, it appears the Pacers will attempt a playoff run, but they are currently only 2.5 games ahead of the 8th spot, and appear to lack the consistent firepower needed to take down the Cavaliers.

Top 3 Fallers

Toronto Raptors - #10 down to #20

The loss of Kyle Lowry, for what will likely be the rest of the regular season, significantly hurts the Raptors. It's especially sad to see after their deadline moves in which they picked up P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka, as the three of them won't be able to establish any on-court chemistry before the playoffs. The bulk of the load will now be transferred to DeMar DeRozan, who will need to carry the offense by himself. DeRozan's usage rate without Lowry this season is 41.0%, the second highest in the NBA behind only Russell Westbrook, who sits at 41.7% for the year. DeRozan has scored 43, 33, and 37 points in their last three games without Lowry, so the Raptors will have to find another option if they want to hold onto their third seed in the East. Cory Joseph will be the indefinite starter, a role in which he's had success this season, averaging 16.0 points, 5 assists, and 1.5 steals a game in his four starts. Moving him into the starting rotation will make their bench even weaker, however, especially after trading away Terrence Ross at the deadline. It will be interesting to see how the East shakes out, and we'll get a good sense of what the Raptors are made of in the next few days as they'll take on the Wizards in back-to-back games this Wednesday and Friday.

Milwaukee Bucks - #11 down to #14

After losing two of three to start the second leg of the season, the Bucks find themselves a game and a half out of the 8th spot in the Eastern conference. Giannis Antetokounmpo has continued to do all he can to carry Milwaukee, but needs more help from his supporting cast if they have any hopes of making the playoffs. He continues to lead the team in all major statistical categories, and really misses the 20 points per game Jabari Parker was giving him before he tore his ACL. Khris Middleton is trying to get back in basketball shape after missing a full calendar year, but still needs to be rested on days where they play back-to-backs. Greg Monroe has continued to give them quality minutes off the bench, averaging 16.7 points and 8 rebounds in their last six games. The Bucks will need to make a push in their next seven games, as 12 of their last 17 games come on the road, where they are currently 11-17 on the season.

Oklahoma City Thunder - #15 down to #19

This week's rankings include Victor Oladipo on the injury report, so the Thunder fall a bit from 15 to 19 in his absence. Oklahoma City has won their first two out of the break and currently sit only three games back of the 4th place Jazz, who they'll square off against tonight in OKC. Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott were acquired to reinforce the inside and outside games of the Thunder, but both have struggled in their 42 minutes of playing time so far. Gibson has shot just 8-22 (36.4%) while McDermott is 4-12 (33.3%) in their two games. The Thunder also added Enes Kanter back into the rotation, who showed his capability off the bench scoring 20 points and adding 9 rebounds and 3 assists in their last game against the Pelicans. OKC definitely made some moves to bolster their roster, but we still see them as a bottom half team without Oladipo. His ability to score and take some of the load of Russell Westbrook is pivotal to the Thunder's success.