NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (04/04/17)

By Mark Dankenbring

NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers

With every team in the NBA having six or fewer regular season games left on the schedule, there aren't too many big changes left within our rankings. However, with late-season rosters still in flux, we bring you another edition of Risers and Fallers for 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 - 4/4/17.

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 Golden State Warriors reclaim the top spot in our rankings after sitting in 2nd for the last four weeks. The Warriors have built a comfy three and a half game lead on the Spurs with five games remaining, so it looks like Golden State will be the #1 seed in the West for the third year in a row. The Cavaliers drop to the 5th spot in our rankings this week as their defensive numbers continue to plummet. Cleveland has officially dropped to 18th in our Defensive Efficiency Rankings, the lowest of any team in our Top 10. Our rankings favor the Western Conference pretty heavily, as four of the top five teams are from the West, and eight of the top 12 come from the West as well. The Cavaliers, Celtics, and Wizards are all bunched closely together, but the Raptors remain relatively far down our list as they are still without Kyle Lowry. That will change immediately upon his return. There are some interesting changes in this week's rankings, so let's start with the Top 3 risers on the week.

Top 3 Risers

New Orleans Pelicans - #14 up to #6

It's strange to see the Pelicans back in the Top 10 as they're five games back of a playoff spot with five games remaining on their schedule, but the Pelicans roster still performs well in our simulations. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are currently healthy, which equates to them being the strongest front court in the NBA. They've played well in the past couple weeks, posting an 8-4 record in their last 12, and have found some better pieces to fit in their rotation. Jordan Crawford is now playing nearly 30 minutes a game for them after not playing in the NBA since 2014, and has put up above average numbers since joining the Pelicans. Overall, our rankings still think the Pelicans have Top 10 talent in the league and they just got it going a little too late to make the postseason.

Toronto Raptors - #19 up to #16

The Raptors have continued to play well recently without point guard Kyle Lowry, and have officially taken over the third spot in the East from the Washington Wizards. Toronto is 7-1 in their last eight, and their defense has excelled over that stretch, allowing 100 points or fewer in five of those wins. DeMar DeRozan has been exceptional in their last eight games, averaging 28.6 points, 5.7 assists, and 5.0 rebounds per game, including three games with 40 points or more. He's carried the Raptors with the injury to his backcourt mate as Toronto has a 15-6 record without Lowry. Serge Ibaka is the consistent stretch four they've been looking for and has aided DeRozan in their campaign without Lowry. Ibaka is averaging 15.6 points and 6.6 boards per game while shooting nearly 44% from three and 48% overall. The Raptors are looking somewhat scary heading into the postseason with the impending return of Lowry and their newfound experience in the last few years, as well as the experience Ibaka brings with him.

Atlanta Hawks - #24 up to #18

The Hawks have hit a proverbial speed bump on their way to their 10th consecutive postseason appearance, and are hoping the return of Paul Millsap will quickly settle their struggles. With Millsap out for an 8-game stretch, the Hawks managed to go 2-6 with their only wins coming in tight games against the Suns and 76ers, and failed to beat the lowly Nets once Millsap returned on Sunday. Hopefully Atlanta can change their luck in their five remaining games, as they are now capable of missing the playoffs if these last nine days don't go their way. It won't be an easy stretch by any means, as they'll face the Celtics once and Cavaliers twice in their next three games, and will end the season against the Pacers and Hornets, with both teams still alive in the Eastern Conference Playoff race. The return of Millsap boosts their roster tremendously, as he's second on the team in PPG, RPG, APG, SPG, BPG, and PER, according to ESPN, but we'll see if the Hawks can get things straightened out before time runs out.

Top 3 Fallers

Denver Nuggets - #7 down to #12

Denver's hopes of reaching the playoffs continue to remain bleak as Portland has exploded in the last month or so with a 14-3 record. The Nuggets disparity on the offensive and defensive side of the ball is clearly their downfall, as they have the 3rd best Offensive Efficiency in the NBA while also claiming the 3rd worst Defensive Efficiency. Will Barton has missed the last few games for Denver, which doesn't help their ranking this week as Barton remains their top offensive option off the bench. It's a shame the Nuggets likely won't make the playoffs, as Nikola Jokic vs. the Warriors would have been a matchup everyone would like to see, and maybe they could've taken the Warriors a few extra games with their offensive prowess and home-court advantage in the Denver altitude. Their decline this week and Achilles' heel all season has been on the defensive side of the ball, so look for the Nuggets to try and sure up their D before making a push for the playoffs again next year.

Milwaukee Bucks - #11 down to #14

Milwaukee has done nothing wrong to be moved down, but the rise of the Pelicans and Thunder are responsible for their small shift downward. Malcolm Brogdon and John Henson are both currently sidelined with injuries, which also hurts their stock, as Brogdon has been the best point guard for the Bucks this year. Milwaukee has gone 6-2 in their last eight games and are now sitting in the 5th spot in the East with just five games remaining on their schedule. Giannis Antetokounmpo has continued to carry the Bucks on both sides of the ball during this stretch, averaging 26.4 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 5.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, and 1.8 BPG. He is a stat-stuffing machine and will need to be down the stretch in order to secure the 5th spot. They'll face the Thunder tonight on ESPN, looking to clinch a playoff spot with the help of the Hornets and Pacers, who need to lose for the Bucks to clinch. However, the Bucks have games remaining with both Charlotte and Indiana, so their playoff destiny is in their own hands.

Memphis Grizzlies - #15 down to #20

The Griz are limping into the Western Conference playoffs as Marc Gasol has missed their last five games and three players remain questionable for tonight's game against the Spurs, their likely first round matchup. Memphis will play the Thunder on a back-to-back tomorrow night, but will then face the Knicks, Pistons, and Mavericks in their last three, who are all well below .500. As long as they can handle business against those three, they're a lock for either the 7th or 6th seed in the West. The injury to Gasol leaves Memphis with limited options on the offensive end, and causes their Offensive Efficiency ranking to drop from 12th to 19th since last week. The Grizzlies have already secured two wins against San Antonio this season, so their focus should be to get healthy before their playoff matchup, as they should enter it with confidence.