Thursday, February 23, 2017

2017 NBA Trade Deadline Power Rankings

The trade deadline came up quickly today and passed without too much action even faster. It's the perfect timing for another power rankings review of every team with the All-Star break giving me a chance to catch a temporarily stable set of point differential and offensive and defensive ratings from before games resume tonight. I've included a look at any trades that went down the past week and a half with draft pick details from and salary data from, although I use blue for player options, orange for  team options, and red for years that aren't fully guaranteed.

1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 47-9 (27 H, 29 R) 
Point Differential: +12.8 (1st), Offense: 114.2 (1st), Defense: 101.6 (T-2nd)

With an astonishing 34 wins by double digits, the Kevin Durant fit has been about as seamless as you could have hoped for, and his defense and rebounding have been noticed more thanks to playing so much power forward with bench units, leading to a career high 1.7 blocks per game. His 3 point shooting (37.4% overall) has been a little streaky, but Steve Kerr's ball movement system has made him even deadlier on 2's with a career high 61%. Aside from Draymond Green's shooting efficiency going down, the rest of their All-Stars haven't been affected too much by the change, with Stephen Curry back to his 2015 MVP level as expected rather than last year's historic campaign, though his numbers are also typically better after the All-Star break for his career. With the ability to fit in a variety of players in the 5th spot of the lineup at times between Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, and even JaVale McGee, they have proven to be the team to beat.

2. San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 43-13 (25 H, 31 R)
Point Differential: +8.4 (2nd), Offense: 110.0 (5th), Defense: 101.0 (1st)

Despite their gaudy history, they still seem to be falling under the radar while on pace for 63 wins. Kawhi Leonard has taken his offensive game to another level with an increased workload while maintaining his stunning efficiency; someone who was a "non-shooter" when drafted had been flirting with a 50/40/90 season before a slight February slump. New center Pau Gasol has been out since mid-January with a broken hand but was effective when in, and Dewayne Dedmon has proven to be the steal I expected when filling in for Gasol with better defense. Although LaMarcus Aldridge isn't shooting at his normal clip from the mid-range, they are still elite offensively to go along with their league leading defense, joining the Warriors as the only team in the top-5 on both ends.

3. Houston Rockets (3rd in the West) 40-18 (28 H, 30 R)
Point Differential: +6.4 (3rd), Offense: 111.5 (2nd), Defense: 105.5 (T-13th)

James Harden has been even better than expected in Mike D'Antoni's offense to lead them to the best offense in the league, non-Warriors division. The true shocker is that they've been able to maintain a defense in the top half of the league with Nene and Eric Gordon holding surprising Defensive Ratings at this point in their careers to help hold things down with Patrick Beverley and the emerging Sam Dekker now that he's healthy. Brewer wasn't playing a ton of minutes, but swapping him out with a 1st rounder to get Williams might not be as helpful as it looks on the surface due to the huge difference between them defensively on a team that is already loaded with firepower. The Ennis/Huertas deal might technically be a different trade, but it's inconsequential really since Huertas is reportedly going to be waived. Dumping a young player like McDaniels that they once traded for but haven't really given an opportunity to is disappointing, but now they have two open roster spots with a little over $3.5 million in cap space for the buyout market.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (1st in the East) 39-16 (29 H, 26 R)
Point Differential: 5.4 (4th), Offense: 111.0 (3rd), Defense: 106.5 (T-19th)

This may be underselling them a bit based on pure talent, but they had that notable 7-8 January and just lost Kevin Love for around five weeks after knee surgery. They may be wise to not worry about their regular season record and rest their players more since LeBron James leads the league in minutes per game since the start of December. JR Smith is still out for at least another month since he broke since his right thumb in December, and other rotation players like Kyle Korver, Richard Jefferson, and Channing Frye probably shouldn't be pushed too much at ages 33 and older. Recently waived point guard Deron Williams could fill a need behind All-Star Kyrie Irving, but he is 32 years old himself and far from the player he once was on either end. They can likely turn up the defense come playoff time, but with their precarious bench, any missing pieces would drop their chances of repeating as champs.

5th. Toronto Raptors (2nd in the East) 33-24 (29 H, 28 R)
Point Differential:  +4.1 (6th), Offense: 110.9 (4th), Defense: 106.0 (16th)

I might be jumping the gun putting them this high after their roster upgrades, but these moves fill their glaring needs at forward, which should help them get back to their winning ways after a 11-16 start to 2017 and gives them their Bird rights to re-sign them this summer along with impending free agent Kyle Lowry. Ibaka's defense and shooting slots in well with Lowry, DeMar Derozan, DeMarre Carroll, and Jonas Valanciunas in the starting lineup and could work well as a pairing with Patrick Patterson in crunch time. Tucker, meanwhile, may not provide the explosive offense of the departed Ross, but he brings a lot more physicality and defense on the wing, allowing Norman Powell to stick with more guards he has a size advantage on. If these moves can get them to a top-10 defensive presence, then their offense could potentially get them to the Finals.

6th. Los Angeles Clippers (4th in the West) 35-21 (26 H, 30 R)Point Differential: +3.8 (7th), Offense: 109.6 (7th), Defense: 105.0 (T-9th)

It's pretty impressive that they've done this well with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin each limited to just 36 games played and a slightly road heavy schedule. However, I'm still dubious that Luc Mbah a Moute's strong net rating will hold up come playoff time with teams daring him to shoot, his percentages on such few attempts be damned. Austin Rivers has shown some improvement as their third guard, but I'm not a believer in his defense or shooting on a consistent basis while Jamal Crawford is looking his age in the first year of his big deal. Paul and Griffin can make up for a lot of deficiencies if at full strength, but barring some matchup luck, I think these are the same old Clips.

7th. Boston Celtics (3rd in the East) 37-20 (28 H, 29 R)
Point Differential: +2.8 (T-8th), Offense: 109.6 (6th), Defense: 106.2 (18th)

It may feel like they need to eventually push their chips into the pile and go for it, but if Paul George (who seemed to be more available than Jimmy Butler) is a threat to leave next summer, then I can understand why Danny Ainge was hesitant to include both this year's Nets pick (almost assuredly in the top-4 at this point with an 8.5 game lead on the worst record) and a combination of their best players. Butler has a year longer on his slightly cheaper deal but is surprisingly a bit older than George and might not have been as seamless of a fit given that he likes to hold onto the ball more; the possibly higher price of future assets as well as this year's key pieces for such a shakeup without a training camp to mesh might not have been tenable. As it stands, they're still a top team and are only 3 games behind Cleveland for the #1 seed in the East thanks to a 24-7 stretch before their nationally televised loss in Chicago on an unbelievable Marcus Smart foul to gift Jimmy Buckets two free throws and the win in the final second. I am surprised that their defense is so far behind their defense, but unfortunately, star free agent addition Al Horford has carried on his diminishing defensive rebounding rate (17.9%) from his recent Atlanta years, leading to the second worst team rate in the league as they only corral opponents' misses at a 74.7% clip. Maybe #3 pick Jaylen Brown can help with that from the wing as he grows into a bigger role and eventually helps All-Star Isaiah Thomas carry the load offensively so that the gutsy point guard doesn't have to lead the league in 4th quarter scoring anymore. For now, though, they might have to wait for their young assets to mature and acquire a star star with near max cap space after a nice playoff run this spring, and coach Brad Stevens' star player at Butler could become a free agent...

8th. Utah Jazz (5th in the West) 35-22 (31 H, 26 R)
Point Differential:  +4.5 (5th), Offense: 107.2 (12th), Defense: 101.6 (T-2nd)

My dark horse for home court in the West has overcome injuries again to mostly live up to expectations thanks to their elite defense and a slightly home heavy schedule. They're 23-9 with point guard George Hill healthy, and he has the best net rating on the team at 12.4, likely earning himself a much-deserved payday this summer. Despite down numbers due to their ailments, the team is also 27-13 when wing Rodney Hood plays and 21-11 when big man Derrick Favors starts, so you can sense a theme here. Fortunately, Hood should be join the other two, All-Star Gordon Hayward, and DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert soon, so everyone can see what this group is capable of in the playoffs before Hayward can hit free agency this summer.

9th. Washington Wizards (4th in the East) 34-21 (31 H, 24 R)
Point Differential: +2.8 (T-8th), Offense: 108.2 (9th), Defense: 105.0 (T-9th)

After a 7-13 start, I was worried that I ranked them too high at #13 in the preseason, but after an incredible 27-8 run, I might have actually been too low. New coach Scott Brooks has them competing on both ends (joining only the Warriors, Spurs, and Clippers to be in the top-10 of both categories), and apparently spurred an awakening in Markief Morris, who has averaged 18.6 and 8.7 in his last 16 games since the Philadelphia game mentioned on Zach Lowe's podcast (although Lowe alluded to a halftime in December rather than January). More importantly, Bradley Beal has stayed healthy for 51 out of 55 games and played at a level that should have garnered him the replacement All-Star spot over Carmelo Anthony, and fourth year forward Otto Porter has taken a huge leap to lead the NBA in 3P% at 46.5% and provide another perimeter threat with Beal and face of the franchise John Wall. Now Bogdanovic has been added to provide some more scoring punch off the bench, and while a 1st rounder is a heavy price to pay for a pending restricted free agent, they were also able to get out of the contract they gave Nicholson last summer and pick up a worthwhile throw-in in McCullough, who is now two years removed from his torn ACL and has solid per minute numbers despite not getting a look with the lowly Nets. With the East somewhat open, I wouldn't be surprised to see them make some noise in the playoffs again provided the right matchups if they start to improve on their 10-14 road record.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (6th in the West) 34-24 (29 H, 29 R)
Point Differential: +1.3 (10th), Offense: 104.2 (T-19th), Defense: 102.8 (4th)

Rookie coach David Fizdale has done a great job, with the move to start JaMychal Green at power forward and having Zach Randolph feast on opposing benches working especially well. Thanks to a return to health for All-Star center Marc Gasol and reliable point guard Mike Conley, it hasn't mattered that volatile free signing Chandler Parsons has only played 27 games and been a shadow of his previous form at that. They couldn't do much at the trade deadline being hamstrung by owing both this year's and 2019's 1st round picks, but they did get Brandan Wright and Troy Daniels back healthy a few weeks ago to potentially spark the offense en route to another playoff appearance.

11. Atlanta Hawks (5th in the East) 32-24 (27 H, 29 R)
Point Differential: -0.5 (15th), Offense: 102.9 (26th), Defense: 103.3 (5th)

Following up on Woj, Brian Windhorst reported that there might be a "heavily protected" 2nd going to Atlanta, as well, but that likely means protected 31-55 and won't convey given that Phoenix currently has the second worse record in the league. That cleared a roster spot and a small TPE while the Philadelphia trade replaced someone who isn't playing with a shooting big that could spark the offense in Ilyasova, albeit at a slightly steep price. Perhaps Tim Hardaway's recent re-insertion into the starting lineup will also stabilize things a bit more since he's averaged 19.7/4.3/3.7 over these past 9 games, and when the man he replaced, Thabo Sefolosha, gets healthy, they could explore playing together a bit more since that's been one of the best lineups among those with 50+ minutes played. Otherwise, they might just have to get more used to having Dwight Howard as a roll man and hope that high-priced 3-and-D wing Kent Bazemore regains his form.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (7th in the West) 32-25 (28 H, 29 R)
Point Differential: -0.1 (13th), Offense: 104.0 (T-21st), Defense: 105.0 (T-9th)

Lost in the Russell Westbrook triple-double mania, which might also be a bit inflated, is the fact that the offense absolutely goes in the tank with him off the floor, with a 97.3 Offensive Rating compared to 106.7 when he's in the game. Trading away a backup point guard who was just taken #14 in 2015 might be a risky proposition then, but clearly things weren't working in the 20 games Payne has been healthy for. McDermott (37.1 3P%) has one less year than Payne before restricted free agency but will give Westbrook an actual shooter to kick out to since Morrow's usually magnificent stroke has fallen off a cliff this year for the team that ranks 24th in 3 point makes but just 29th in percentage. Gibson, meanwhile, will make sure their defense stays in the top-10 and form one of the toughest front line pairings in the league with Steven Adams, likely taking the starting power forward spot from #11 pick Domantas Sabonis, who has held his own but has been stuck in a bad shooting since the turn of the calendar. Getting a draft pick on top of these upgrades is icing on the cake for GM Sam Presti and this inconsistent playoff team.

13. Detroit Pistons (6th in the East) 27-30 (28 H, 29 R)
Point Differential: -0.4 (14th), Offense: 103.7 (23th), Defense: 105.0 (T-9th)

Point guard Reggie Jackson hasn't been the same coming off the knee injury that cost him 21 games, and star center Andre Drummond has regressed defensively in the first year of his $127 million deal, leading to some trade speculation around both. They're going to work through it, though, with 3-and-D stud Kentavious Caldwell-Pope having a career year as he approaches restricted free agency and versatile forward Tobias Harris possibly finding his niche as an instant offense 6th man. With free agent signings Jon Leuer and Ish Smith playing well enough and a 6-3 mark in February so far, there are signs of encouragement going forward, although it would be nice to see more from young Stanley Johnson.

14. Indiana Pacers (7th in the East) 29-28 (30 H, 27 R)
Point Differential: -0.9 (T-17th), Offense: 105.5 (14th), Defense: 106.5 (T-19th)
Their results graph is a sight to see.
It's fair to wonder whether they should actually trade franchise player Paul George and rebuild around 20 year old center Myles Turner given how far they truly are from being a title contender. They're only 9-18 on the road and have been so inconsistent, following a 4 game losing streak by winning 5 in a row and later following a 7 game winning streak with their current 6 game losing skid. PG13 can opt out of his deal next summer while starting point guard Jeff Teague and useful reserves C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey could be needing new deals this offseason, so if they don't start figuring some things out to result in at least a respectable playoff showing, there could be sweeping changes.

15. Charlotte Hornets (8th in the East) 24-32 (29 H, 27 R)
Point Differential: +0.2 (12th), Offense: 105.0 (16th), Defense: 104.6 (7th)

Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment, but I still believe in this team and their underlying numbers. They're currently on a 4 game losing streak and have lost 11 of 12 overall, but if they can just start to play decently on the road, where they're only 8-19, I believe they can still make the playoffs. They'll need Nicolas Batum to start playing defense like he has in the past to earn his new contract and Cody Zeller to stay healthy since they're 22-17 when he plays, with his latest absence coinciding with this dismal stretch. Point guard Kemba Walker was rightfully named to his first All-Star team, but he's going to need some help to get this squad back to the postseason.

16. Chicago Bulls (9th in the East) 28-29 (28 H, 29 R)
Point Differential: -0.7 (16th), Offense: 104.4 (18th), Defense: 105.5 (T-13th)

On the bright side, the ill-suited fit of Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade hasn't affected Jimmy Butler, whose evolution from lock-down defender to do-it-all superstar has been remarkable as he's increased his scoring from 20 points a game to 24.5 and assists from 3.3 to 4.8 to 5 in actually slightly fewer minutes. Conversely, the team struggles mightily while he's not on the floor, with Nikola Mirotic and Jerian Grant the only other players besides him getting significant minutes and maintaining even a slight net rating in plus territory, usually off the bench. I would think Mirotic moves into the starting lineup now with Gibson gone ahead of free agency, so hopefully his 3 point shooting will return to provide some semblance of spacing along with Grant, who has recently become a threat from outside since being inserted into the starting lineup on January 24th, hitting 38.9% across 12 games. Now they'll just have to hope their bet on Payne becoming their point guard of the future next to Grant and Butler will be worth a 2nd and a year and a half of their best bench scorer in McDermott.

17. Denver Nuggets (8th in the West) 25-31 (28 H, 28 R)
Point Differential: -1.2 (20th), Offense: 108.8 (8th), Defense: 110.9 (30th)

I understand that they already have more players on rookie contracts that they know what to do with and basically had this pick to spare, but I wasn't the biggest fan of the Mason Plumlee trade since this cost basically means they have to pay up again in restricted free agency this summer for someone whose fit next to star center Nikola Jokic is questionable. The new big man can do some of the same things as the second year stud with his rebounding and passing, but I don't see him turning things around for this putrid defense, even if he might be an upgrade on Nurkic, who clearly needed a change of scenery. Hibbert's not likely going to be that guy either and was likely just acquired in a cash savings move since they're under the salary floor and there isn't a confirmed report on them giving up an actual pick of value, likely being protected 31-55. That being said, I still like all of the pieces they have, and this offense is good enough to maintain their 2.5 game lead on the final playoff spot in the West if they get some health luck.

18. New Orleans Pelicans (9th in the West) 23-34 (29 H, 28 R)
Point Differential: -3.1 (T-24th), Offense: 102.3 (27th), Defense: 104.7 (8th)

They of course had to pull the trigger on this steal of a trade, but I definitely don't think they are automatically guaranteed of making the playoffs now. Pairing Cousins with his fellow Kentucky Wildcat Anthony Davis gives them a devastating combination inside, but they're going to need some improved perimeter play from the likes of Solomon Hill and the newly signed Hollis Thompson, whose addition I'm a big fan of with his career 38.9% 3 point shooting. The Galloway for Casspi swap is interesting since they're both useful players who can hit free agency this summer, and they probably got the better end since Casspi can guard bigger wings. They're 21-21 when point guard Jrue Holiday plays and 2-13 when he doesn't, so it would be nice if some of the other players stepped up and were not as reliant on him as they are. The defense has been great, but the offense needs to provide some consistent threats around the Brow and Boogie.

19. Milwaukee Bucks (10th in the East) 25-30 (28 H, 27 R)
Point Differential: +0.3 (11th), Offense: 107.7 (10th), Defense: 106.8 (21st)

After dumping the contract they gave Miles Plumlee at the beginning of the month, this minor trade saves them a few bucks in salary while opening a roster spot they can use to try out different players around star point forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. It's tragic that rising forward Jabari Parker re-tore his left ACL in the first game that stud swingman Khris Middleton came back healthy for, so they won't get to see how pieces fit around their core three players together in their new roles. Along with the already-reliable #36 pick Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell has emerged as a possible long-term piece next to that core thanks to his career high 40.2% on 3's and defensive versatility, although his rating on that end isn't as great as past years per Maybe #10 pick Thon Maker (pronounced muh-KEHR) will show his progress now that he is the low-minutes starter at center, but I still don't trust their defense enough to make a playoff push.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (10th in the West) 22-35 (32 H, 25 R)
Point Differential: -0.9 (T-17th), Offense: 107.5 (11th), Defense: 108.3 (23rd)

The rise in the Twin Cities hasn't occurred as rapidly as many had hoped, but at least they didn't make the mistake of trading Ricky Rubio for Derrick Rose and his expiring contract due to Tom Thibodeau's connection to the latter and apparent distaste for the former as he's been trying to get rid of the Spanish magician since the day he took over as coach and president of basketball operations. It's terrible that high-rising shooting guard Zach LaVine tore his ACL, especially since he's eligible for a contract extension this summer, but I can't stop coming back to the thought that he should be the starter moved instead of Rubio, even if it's just from the opening lineup. The net rating of that group is -2.3 in 880 minutes while if you replace LaVine with bigger wings Brandon Rush (+8.8 in 181 minutes) or Shabazz Muhammad (+6.7 in 105 minutes), you get much better results. Furthermore, star wing Andrew Wiggins, who turned just 22 today, has been more of the shooting guard with Rush starting and has responded with 31.1 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1.9 steals, and just 1.4 turnovers per game on 53.5%/43.3%/79.6% shooting in the small sample of 7 contests since the change. Wiggins also posted his career high of 47 points as a guard when forward Nemanja Bjelica started in place of an injured LaVine back in November, and many compared the Seattle native to Jamal Crawford when he was drafted, making a 6th man role logical with his explosive offense. His 38.7% 3 point shooting won't be as missed in the starting lineup with a shooter like Rush (40% 3P% this year and for his career) or Muhammad (career high 41.4% this year) taking his place and big man Karl-Anthony Towns now making over 1 a game in his rise as a superstar. However, Rubio's likely the goner at some point given that Kris Dunn was drafted 5th overall to be his replacement, but they'll need the rookie's offense to catch up to his stellar defense over the last 25 games to feel comfortable about a switch.

21. Miami Heat (11th in the East) 25-32 (27 H, 30 R)
Point Differential: -1.0 (19th), Offense: 103.3 (25th), Defense: 104.3 (6th)

Suddenly given new life after an unbelievable 13 game winning streak, Miami entered the Break just 7 games under .500 after being as low as 18 under on January 10th, largely thanks to shooting guard Dion Waiters suddenly becoming an unsustainable bomber with 46.6% 3 point shooting since the streak began. Rookie forward Okaro White being re-signed after being waived at final cuts has also been a boon since he has a team-best +8.5 net rating in 226 minutes, the first win occurred the day he received a 10-day contract, although he didn't play in that one. Willie Reed has also proven to be another cheap find as he's averaging 12.9 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes and has keyed better defense than star center Hassan Whiteside, albeit in only 702 total minutes. Both Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson have dealt with injury-filled sophomore slumps, but with lead guard Goran Dragic at the helm, coach Erik Spoelstra getting these lottery ticket free agents to hit with 3's from a variety of players, and more home than road games left, I'm glad they decided to stay the course to further evaluate what they have with an outside shot of the playoffs rather than tank at the deadline.

22. Portland Trail Blazers (11th in the West) 23-33 (27 H, 29 R)
Point Differential: -2.8 (23rd), Offense: 106.5 (13th), Defense: 109.0 (T-26th)

Even though I wasn't a believer in this team, it's still hard to believe how far they've regressed past the mean on both ends. They did well to pick up an extra 1st rounder along with the younger asset that has another year on his rookie deal left since they'd be delving deep into the Luxury Tax this summer to re-sign Plumlee at a market rate, and Nurkic showed flashes of impressive talent when on the floor. After cashing out new deals Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless along with C.J. McCollum's extension, it looks like the only way they'll be able to improve this team will be through further trades, lineup tweaks, and internal development. Both McCollum and Damian Lillard have strong on/off numbers with the offense dropping off when either one sits, while Turner has proven to be an overpay as expected. The defense needs forward Al-Farouq Aminu getting consistent minutes despite his horrific shooting on the other end, but I don't think the same can be said can be said about third year big man Noah Vonleh, unfortunately. How coach Terry Stotts balances these issues will definitely be worth watching.

23. Dallas Mavericks (12th in the West) 22-34 (28 H, 28 R)
Point Differential: -2.3 (21st), Offense: 104.2 (T-19th), Defense: 106.1 (17th)

In a vacuum, this might have been the best trade of the deadline since they protected the pick in such a way that it's almost guaranteed to become 2nd rounders in this and next year's draft, and if they miraculously do make it to one of the best 12 records in the league, than Noel would obviously be worth it. I wasn't the biggest fan of Anderson when he was drafted, with a lot more questions about his 3-and-D potential than his teammate Brogdon, and it has proven an actual concern early on his career with 28.8% shooting from deep and worse defense when he is on the court this season. They'll likely have to pay up for Noel in restricted free agency this summer, but they'll get a first hand look at someone who has shown DPOY upside and is actually five months younger. I'm curious to see how soon he becomes a starter since they've been using a small lineup to go 14-11 once Dirk Nowitzki came back healthy on December 23rd before losing their last two before the break. Free agent addition Harrison Barnes has appeared to be worth his max deal, averaging a career high 20.1 points per game with solid efficiency as a stretch 4 on most occasions. Sharpshooting Seth Curry has proven to be just as valuable for the money with his breakout year in the first season of a two year deal at just the Room Exception, and undrafted Nets castoff Yogi Ferrell has been a revelation with his fearlessness contributing to a 5-2 record as the starting point guard. If they can keep getting the offense in the right direction along with Noel making an impact defensively, they could be a team to watch going into the summer.

24. New York Knicks (12th in the East) 23-34 (29 H, 28 R)
Point Differential: -3.1 (T-24th), Offense: 105.2 (15th), Defense: 108.7 (25th)

The thought of this group being a "super team" was always ludicrous, but it was has been a surprising fall for a team that I thought could be around .500 and sneak into the playoffs, as they've lost 21 of 28 after a 16-13 start. The drama off the court with Phil Jackson being rumored to wanting to trade Carmelo Anthony hasn't helped, nor has Derrick Rose's mysterious absence from the team at the beginning of January. The main issue, though, has been that neither of those players are good defenders, and the center they signed to cover for those flaws, Joakim Noah, is already breaking down and losing effectiveness with 3 years and almost $55.6 million owed after this season. Kristaps Porzingis has slowed down after a hot start again, but his former Sevilla teammate, Willy Hernangomez, has had an effective rookie year so far, especially on the glass. He and Justin Holiday, who was a nice throw-in as part of the Rose trade as an adequate 3-and-D wing, are the only players getting regular minutes with a slight positive net rating, although 27 year old rookie Mindaugas Kuzminskas not far behind largely because the second unit actually tries on defense. Maybe this summer will be a better time for a shakeup to solve their dysfunction unless coach Jeff Hornacek can somehow flip a switch on the effort of that end of the floor.

25. Philadelphia 76ers (13th in the East) 21-35 (29 H, 27 R)
Point Differential: -5.6 (27th), Offense: 99.7 (30th), Defense: 105.6 (15th)

I think I made my view of the Noel trade pretty clear in the Mavs section above, but the fact that it is framed as a "first rounder" is almost insulting since Dallas has almost no shot of rising 12 spots in the standings, meaning that it will become 2017 and 2018 2nd round picks. As Mark Deeks pointed out, that's not much better than they got for Jerami Grant, who is a nice player but fell to #39 for a reason, and at least in that trade, the 1st round protection at least rolls over for a couple of years before converting to 2nds. Noel is just four months away from restricted free agency, though, so if they were afraid of losing him to a big offer sheet that they were uncomfortable, I can see why they got what they could in assets and financial relief with Bogut's cap number helping them save actual money spent since they were so far under the salary floor. Splitter's contract is likely insured, so that's an added bonus on top of gaining some draft capital for a veteran who was not in their future plans and actually could help them win too many games down the stretch in Ilyasova. I'd expect them to be extra careful with the Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons injuries again in order to drop further in the Lottery while also "showcasing" Jahlil Okafor in more minutes to hopefully raise his trade value for this summer. I think they can be okay with just energy big man Richaun Holmes as their backup center now that Noel is gone, and the talented Dario Saric will get more opportunities to expand his game as a versatile forward. If inconsistent rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot can continue to show flashes or Anderson starts to harness his physical tools, I wouldn't be surprised if 3-and-D specialist Robert Covington is moved this summer since he'll be entering the last year of his steal of a deal, but I hope they reward the 26 year old with a new deal so that he can enjoy the fruits of his labor once they finally turn things around.

26. Orlando Magic (14th in the East) 21-37 (27 H, 31 R)
Point Differential: -6.6 (29th), Offense: 100.5 (29th), Defense: 107.3 (22nd)

So it turns out that I was right to be skeptical of the way this team was put together and ranked them too high at the beginning of the season based on raw talent and a good coach. Fortunately, they saw the error in their ways and alleviated a piece of their front court logjam by dealing Ibaka before he hits free agency this summer, allowing Aaron Gordon to be freed up as a power forward again. You could argue that this is a much smaller return than what they gave up last summer (Victor Oladipo and the #11 pick, Domantas Sabonis), but they did get 56 games out of Ibaka, he is a sunk cost likely to leave for nothing at this point, and they are paying less than the new deal Oladipo was about to get, albeit for a lesser player in Ross. This was likely the best course of action going forward, and with more space on the floor to operate now, they can likely better evaluate their young perimeter players like Elfrid Payton and Mario Hezonja, with the latter of whom disappointing thus far . The offense basically has nowhere to go but up, and although a push for the 8th seed isn't feasible, these can still be vital games for Frank Vogel's first year to set the stage for next season.

27. Phoenix Suns (13th in the West) 18-39 (28 H, 29 R)
Point Differential: -5.5 (26th), Offense: 104.0 (T-21st), Defense: 109.0 (T-26th)

I haven't seen reports of how much the dollar amount is in the Scott trade, but I doubt it's much considering it's a move to help them move towards the salary floor with his cap number higher than the actual salary owed him the rest of the season. Trading an impending free agent like Tucker for any draft assets they can get while also opening up more playing time in a rebuilding year is another nice, subtle move. Stud second year shooting guard Devin Booker has already been spreading his wings to grow his floor game, and now he'll likely play some more small forward to open up more guard minutes for Brandon Knight and rookie Tyler Ulis off the bench. Hopefully #4 pick Dragan Bender can get in some healthy games to close the season after having ankle surgery surgery earlier this month, but another name to watch alongside #8 pick Marques Chriss in the front court is Alan Williams, whom I touted from my alma mater of UCSB after last year's draft. He's continued to put up strong per-minute numbers this season and has the highest net rating of anyone on the team with more than a few games played at +13.4, so he could be a sneaky restricted free agent this summer.

28. Los Angeles Lakers (14th in the West) 19-39 (26 H, 32 R)
Point Differential: -6.3 (28th), Offense: 103.6 (24th), Defense: 110.4 (29th)

With just the third most wins in the league right now, they have a 46.9% chance of landing in the top 3 of the lottery to keep the pick they originally traded for Steve Nash for another year, which is huge since the 1st rounder they owe to Orlando from the Dwight Howard deal later that summer converts to 2nd round picks this year and next if this first pick isn't conveyed by this draft. Having to just give up the two 2nds and next year's unprotected 1st rather than this year's and 2019's 1sts could be considered a win in this rebuilding season under rookie coach Luke Walton, but things obviously aren't going well enough in Laker land considering president and part owner Jeanie Buss got rid of her brother Jim as VP of basketball operations along with Mitch Kupchak as GM and longtime PR man John Black to install Magic Johnson as president of basketball operations with agent Rob Pelinka about to become GM...all right before the trade deadline. Flipping 30 year old Williams and 33 year old Huertas for an extra 1st rounder and a free look at 2014 #18 pick Ennis was nice work in quick order, though. This season is all about giving their young talents the opportunity to develop, and although they aren't showing much on defense or putting up eye-popping offensive numbers, especially #2 pick Brandon Ingram with his 36.3/30.4/65.5 shooting, you have to remember just how young most of them are. The ineffectiveness of the veteran mentors they overpaid for is the more concerning part that the new front office needs to consider, and they'll certainly have an eye on the win totals of the other teams jostling for lottery positions since so much could be determined by those ping pong ball combinations on May 16th.

29. Sacramento Kings (15th in the West) 24-33 (27 H, 30 R)
Point Differential: -2.7 (22nd), Offense: 104.8 (17th), Defense: 108.6 (24th)

Lost in the uproar over how underwhelming of a trade this was for the face of their franchise is the fact that New Orleans' pick is currently higher than theirs since they're a game ahead of them in the standings, so having two top-10 picks and a high 2nd rounder in a strong draft to go with last year's #6 pick in Hield will help their rebuild. However, the Pelicans are likely to move up the standings with their new All-Star joining Davis, and even if things don't work out for whatever reason, they somehow agreed to top-3 protection, which means that they have a 0% at the #1 pick since they owe a pick swap to Philadelphia from the idiotic 2015 salary dump that also left them without their 2019 1st, hurting the rebuild. That trade sent out Nik Stauskas, whom owner Vivek Ranadive had far-fetched views of in a similar way to how he thinks of Hield, who is only 2 months younger despite just coming into the league now. The rookie's story is still far from written, but it's hard to believe that they handled this process so poorly to get such little upside in their haul, with GM Vlade Divac saying that he had better offers previously. The good news is that they're going to drop now, meaning that the top-10 protected pick they owe Chicago just becomes this year's 2nd rounder, and they'll have salary cap flexibility going forward, although they had to waive Matt Barnes and stretch his $6.4 million player option for next season. It will be interesting to see whether Rudy Gay will opt into his $14.26 million since he tragically suffered a ruptured Achilles before he could cash in this summer, which short-circuited their hunt for a return to the playoffs as he's the only one among their regulars with a positive net rating. For now, though, they can just see what they have in Hield and the rookies they've hardly played so far, Georgios Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson, and Skal Labissiere, and figure out what to do with Ben McLemore as he hits restricted free agency.

30. Brooklyn Nets (15th in the East) 9-47 (31 H, 25 R)
Point Differential: -8.8 (30th), Offense: 101.3 (28th), Defense: 109.3 (28th)

You knew it wasn't going to be an easy rebuild for rookie coach Kenny Atkinson, but it's especially tough for a bad team to compete when their main (read: only) proven point guard is out for most of the time with a hamstring issue. Their offensive rating in Jeremy Lin's 300 minutes may be lower than their overall average and 3-9 with him playing may not sound like much, but it looks better when compared to the 6-38 record when he's out, including losing streaks of 7, 11, and 14, the last of which is still ongoing. He should be back after the All-Star Break, and that should help their young perimeter players Caris Levert, Isaiah Whitehead, and Spencer Dinwiddie, who can all pick up some of the minutes left behind from the smart Bogdanovic trade. They can afford to take on Nicholson's salary, and any extra 1st round pick for someone set to hit free agency helps, even if it's going to be a late one. Although McCullough was a holdover from the previous regime and spent most of his time in the D-League, it is a bit disappointing to see him as a throw-in to the deal given his youth, but with the other trade, they were smart to get a risk-free look at another team's out of favor high-flier in McDaniels. He never became a consistent contributor for Houston after they traded for him and gave him a nice contract based on his hot start in Philadelphia, but this is exactly the type of cheap deal a team like Brooklyn should be making in the hopes of uncovering a young gem, especially since they can simply decline his team option for next year if it doesn't work out. Rookie GM Sean Marks is on the right path, even if it will still be a long, painful process to competence.

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