By Brady Klopfer
Happy New Year from everyone at BBALLBREAKDOWN! To celebrate, we’ve got the first power rankings of the year, complete with a resolution for 2018 for each team.
Tier 8: That bad, huh?
30. Sacramento Kings (12-24)
Offensive rating: 30th (99.7)
Defensive rating: 30th (110.0)
Net rating: 30th (-10.3)
2018 resolution: Get better at losing.
The Kings have far and away the worst net rating in the league, yet nine teams have either fewer wins, the same amount of wins, or only one or two more wins. While there are developmental resolutions for De’Aaron Fox, Bodgan Bogdanovich and Co., the biggest risk Sacramento faces is tanking unsuccessfully. The 2018 draft class is stacked at the top, and a team this bad needs to get one of the impact players.
29. Phoenix Suns (14-24)
Offensive rating: 26th (102.5)
Defensive rating: 29th (108.7)
Net rating: 28th (-6.2)
2018 resolution: Find trade partners.
Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, and Jared Dudley have combined to play 1,220 minutes so far this season. Second-year lottery picks Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss have both played fewer than 810. If Phoenix can find a playoff team at the deadline to take some of these (still valuable) vets, the Suns will not only have a chance to add assets, but they’ll open court time for players who actually need it.
28. Orlando Magic (12-25)
Offensive rating: 22nd (103.2)
Defensive rating: 26th (108.0)
Net rating: 27th (-4.9)
2018 resolution: Improvement for Aaron Gordon’s jumper.
Gordon started the season on fire from beyond the arc, which dramatically opened his game. But the 59.1 percent in October dropped to 39.8 percentin November, which regressed to 36.0 percent in December—which is still a marked improvement for the young power forward, but not good enough to classify as a strong weapon. Gordon seems unlikely to ever be an above average defender or rebounder, so if he has any chance at turning into a star player, it will likely require that three ball getting back into the 40 percent range.
Tier 7: Bad, but with silver linings
27. Los Angeles Lakers (11-24)
Offensive rating: 28th (101.5)
Defensive rating: 15th (105.1)
Net rating: 25th (-3.6)
2018 resolution: Something – anything – for Julius Randle.
Who knows if the oddities surrounding Julius Randle are the bizarre demands of Robert Pelinka and Magic Johnson, the discretion of Luke Walton, or something Randle has done behind the scenes. But here’s what we do know: per 100 possessions, Randle is second on the team in points, third in rebounds and blocks, fourth in offensive rating, fifth in defensive rating, and sixth in assists. He’s third on the team in true-shooting percentage, trailing only Andrew Bogut and Larry Nance Jr., who rarely create their own shots.
Yet he averages just 22.5 minutes per game. Randle is an upcoming restricted free agent, but the Lakers are neither working on his development for their own needs, nor showcasing his talent for a deadline trade. That’s a strategy that leads to losing a talented player and getting nothing in return.
26. Atlanta Hawks (10-26)
Offensive rating: 16th (104.4)
Defensive rating: 27th (108.1)
Net rating: 26th (-3.8)
2018 resolution: More starts for John Collins.
Collins was drafted 19th in June, but already looks destined to be a strong starter. His per 36 averages of 17.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks are promising, and Collins is receiving enough playing time that his figures are likely not a mirage. Now he just needs more than the four starts he’s had so far. Atlanta’s future is a little dreary in part because of a lack of high-ceiling prospects; there’s no reason to take a conservative route with the one that they do have.
25. Chicago Bulls (13-23)
Offensive rating: 29th (100.0)
Defensive rating: 18th (106.5)
Net rating: 29th (-6.5)
2018 resolution: Zach LaVine highlights.
The Bulls’ need the same resolution as the Kings: get better at losing. For better and for worse, Chicago has been on (relative) fire lately: they went 10-6 with a +2.3 net rating in December. That won’t cut it for a team that should have dreams of Luka Doncic and Deandre Ayton. Since I fully expect the Bulls’ record to start avalanching soon enough, let’s instead look for some Zach LaVine highlights, to provide entertainment value to a team sorely lacking in fun-to-watch players.
24. Memphis Grizzlies (12-25)
Offensive rating: 23rd (103.1)
Defensive rating: 17th (106.4)
Net rating: 24th (-3.3)
2018 resolution: Trade Marc Gasol (and Tyreke Evans).
The second the Grizzlies fired David Fizdale, it became clear a fire sale was in order. This team is not going to compete in the stacked West anytime soon. Trading Mike Conley doesn’t seem incredibly likely, given his large contract and injury history. But Gasol, who has a fairly priced two years left on his contract after this season, should net Memphis a decent haul. Add in a deadline deal with the suddenly resurgent Tyreke Evans, and the Grizz should start next season with a new coach, a new system, and some new building blocks.
23. Brooklyn Nets (13-23)
Offensive rating: 20th (104.0)
Defensive rating: 23rd (107.2)
Net rating: 23rd (-3.2)
2018 resolution: A conditioned Jahlil Okafor.
It seems unlikely that Okafor will ever be a quality NBA player. But he’s still just 22, he’s still tall and long, and he still has at-times dreamy footwork. There are some tools for Kenny Atkinson to work with, but until Okafor is in game shape, Brooklyn has no chance to see what they have in their new big man. A well-conditioned Okafor will at least give the Nets a lottery ticket for the second half of the season.
22. Dallas Mavericks (13-25)
Offensive rating: 21st (103.9)
Defensive rating: 20th (106.7)
Net rating: 22nd (-2.8)
2018 resolution: Some improvement on the Nerlens Noel front.
Given Dallas’ unwillingness to play Noel, they must be giddy that he turned down the four-year, $70 million deal originally offered, and ended up with just one-year and $4.5 million. Noel is 11th on the Mavs in minutes played, with a measly 225 on the year, due to both injuries and DNPs. Noel is hyper-athletic, young, and defensively intuitive, but at this rate it looks like he’ll walk next summer. Dallas needs to find some way to extract some value from Noel before he’s gone.
Tier 6: Hot and cold
21. Charlotte Hornets (13-23)
Defensive rating: 11th (104.6)
Net rating: 20th (-1.7)
2018 resolution: Health for Steve Clifford.
There are a lot of on-court resolutions for the Hornets: continued growth from Malik Monk and Jeremy Lamb, engagement and energy from Dwight Howard, and making the choice between competing and rebuilding. But it all pales in comparison to an indefinite leave of absence for their coach, with no timetable for a return. Clifford coaches one of the most disciplined teams on both sides of the ball, and hopefully he’s back where he belongs soon.
20. Miami Heat (19-17)
Offensive rating: 24th (103.0)
Defensive rating: 14th (105.0)
Net rating: 21st (-2.0)
2018 resolution: Trade Hassan Whiteside.
Hassan Whiteside is a very nice player. He is not a max contract player, especially not on a Heat team that has built their identity around a barrage of role players. If Miami is going to commit $25 million a year to a player, it needs to be a bonafide superstar. Until then, Whiteside will block free agent additions and youth development.
19. Los Angeles Clippers (16-19)
Offensive rating: 10th (106.3)
Defensive rating: 16th (106.0)
Net rating: 15th (+0.2)
2018 resolution: Health, and Milos Teodisic.
The Clippers are in a bizarre position. When healthy, they’re around the 10th best team in the league. But there’s not too much reason to think that they’ll be healthy, given their pieces. So perhaps their resolution should be to shop DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, but LA is more fun with a good team. Despite all their injuries, the Clippers are just 1.5 games out of the playoff picture. Their future is in limbo, but there’s plenty of opportunity for this to be a fun year. And showcasing Teodisic is a good start.
18. New York Knicks (18-18)
Offensive rating: 15th (104.4)
Defensive rating: 13th (105.0)
Net rating: 19th (-0.6)
2018 resolution: Play the youngsters.
It looked like NY started the year with a basic, overplayed equation: play the veterans, project an air of thinking you can make the playoffs, wait until you’re 10 games under .500, and then scrap the vets in favor of developing young players.
Instead, the Knicks are starting the year with as many wins as losses, and are just a half game outside of the playoffs. But is making the playoffs only to get demolished by the Cavs, Celtics, or Raptors really that admirable of a goal? I say no. Enes Kanter has played 841 minutes, and Kyle O’Quinn 593; Willy Hernangomez has played a mere 159. Jarrett Jack has seen significantly more court time than Frank Ntilikina.
New York’s best-case scenario is the seventh seed and a quick playoff exit. Time to develop their exciting young pieces instead of chasing that anticlimactic goal.
17. Utah Jazz (16-21)
Offensive rating: 17th (104.2)
Defensive rating: 10th (104.5)
Net rating: 18th (-0.4)
2018 resolution: Find big man clarity.
Derrick Favors is good. Rudy Gobert is really good. But the two, together, are not that good. The lack of spacing provided by the conventional two-big frontcourt simply doesn’t work well, and is only exacerbated by Ricky Rubio’s inability to make an open jumper.
The Jazz have been much better with only one on the floor, but each is deserving of more than the 24 minutes they would get if they were to be split. The most obvious solution to this problem is to trade Favors, but if Utah wants to keep the talented big man, they can experiment with staggering minutes such that Favors and Gobert only ever share the court when Rubio is on the bench.
Tier 5: Exciting, but mediocre
16. Portland Trail Blazers (18-17)
Offensive rating: 27th (102.1)
Defensive rating: 4th (102.0)
Net rating: 17th (+0.1)
2018 resolution: Solve the backcourt woes.
Coming into the season, there was talk as to whether Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum comprised the best offensive backcourt outside of Houston and Oakland. Needless to say, the dismal offensive rating is beyond disappointing.
Portland is treading water thanks to a surprisingly exceptional defense that is primed for some serious regression. If they want to stay afloat when that regression arrives, they need their backcourt stars to shine. McCollum and Lillard have been much better than the team rating suggests, so some of the blame falls on the bench, but both players need to step up. McCollum, in particular, struggles to run the offense with Lillard on the pine, which can’t continue if Portland wants to make the playoffs.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (17-19)
Offensive rating: 19th (104.0)
Defensive rating: 7th (103.7)
Net rating: 14th (+0.3)
2018 resolution: Proper jumper critique.
If you’ve watched Coach Nick, followed his Twitter, or heck, read any of our articles here, you probably know it’s a contractual obligation at BBALLBREAKDOWN to be seriously peeved by any coaches who encourage horrendous form.
For all the Sixers’ coaching brilliance, they work on jump shots like a fourth-grade team. Star rookie Ben Simmons doesn’t seem to know what hand to shoot with and top pick Markelle Fultz looks like he’s never shot a basketball when he’s at the charity stripe. Both players are immensely talented, but defenses will (and have) adjusted to such a glaring weakness, and it can seriously stunt the development of these two.
14. New Orleans Pelicans (18-18)
Offensive rating: 6th (108.6)
Defensive rating: 25th (107.7)
Net rating: 11th (+0.9)
2018 resolution: Sign some three-and-D wings.
It’s hard to see a path for the Pelicans to improve this year. They’re arguably already overachieving, and their two superstars are playing out of their minds. But despite having one of the best defensive players in the world, New Orleans has a tough time stopping even the weakest offenses.
Assuming DeMarcus Cousins re-signs, the Pelicans won’t have much money to use, but the contracts this year for players like P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute have shown just how affordable defensive wings with decent shots are. If New Orleans spends their summer money wisely, they could get their defense to a reasonable point, and be a very dangerous team.
Tier 4: Kind of good
13. Detroit Pistons (20-15)
Offensive rating: 18th (104.1)
Defensive rating: 8th (103.9)
Net rating: 16th (+0.2)
2018 resolution: More threes.
Detroit has a handful of players who shoot the ball well; as a team, the Pistons are shooting 37.9 percent from deep, good for seventh in the league. But Detroit is 26th in two-point field goal percentage, and as a result they’re below average in both effective field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage.
It seems unlikely that Andre Drummond will improve his efficiency, or that some of their players will lose their infatuation with mid-range jumpers. But they can bump up the number of threes they take, which would help the offense rise.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (19-15)
Offensive rating: 8th (107.6)
Defensive rating: 21st (106.8)
Net rating: 12th (+0.7)
2018 resolution: Find a big man to trade for.
Thon Maker and John Henson both provide value in various areas, but Milwaukee is still flawed at the center position. Rumblings of a trade for JaVale McGee were a start, but the Bucks need to find a way to make a move.
With their perimeter core, there’s no reason for the Bucks to be a bad defensive team, but they are. The missing piece is out there; they just need to find it, and make it happen.
11. Indiana Pacers (19-18)
Offensive rating: 7th (107.7)
Defensive rating: 22nd (107.0)
Net rating: 13th (+0.7)
2018 resolution: “The Leap” for Myles Turner.
Myles Turner is having the best year of his career. He’s scoring efficiently and playmaking better than ever before. Now it’s time for him to turn his defensive potential into output. Turner is showing serious glimpses, as he leads the league in block rate. But he’s still uncomfortable switching onto the perimeter, gets lost in the pick and roll, and relies more on his athleticism than his positioning.
Thanks to Turner and the emergence of Victor Oladipo, Indiana’s offense is sitting pretty. If Turner’s defense can make the leap, the Pacers will be a serious player in the East.
10. Denver Nuggets (19-17)
Offensive rating: 9th (107.6)
Defensive rating: 19th (106.5)
Net rating: 10th (+1.0)
2018 resolution: More defensive commitment.
The biggest reason Denver brought Paul Millsap into the fold this year was to jumpstart a horrendous defense. But no team can rely on just one player; Denver’s lackluster defense since Millsap’s injury reflects poorly on their entire starting lineup.
Their young backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris has flashed moments of defensive excitement, but both players get beat far too easily on cuts and pick and rolls. Nikola Jokic is improved, but still generally a step too slow. Denver cannot simply wait for Millsap’s return to fix their defense; they need the other pieces to commit on that end.
Tier 3: Quality teams
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-17)
Offensive rating: 14th (104.7)
Defensive rating: 6th (102.3)
Net rating: 8th (+2.4)
2018 resolution: Fewer threes for Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook averages 5.0 three-point attempts per game, but makes just 30.3 percent of them. Among 131 qualified players, that figure ranks 127th. Westbrook is still an asset, but he’s having a horribly inefficient year. And with a player as talented offensively as Paul George beside him, Westbrook has no excuse to jack up shots that he simply cannot make.
Westbrook will always be limited if he refuses to recognize his weaknesses. If OKC is to live up to their potential, Russ needs to start the new year with some increased self-awareness.
8. Washington Wizards (21-16)
Offensive rating: 11th (106.3)
Defensive rating: 9th (103.9)
Net rating: 9th (+2.4)
2018 resolution: Better allocation of shots.
Here are the Wizards starters by field goals attempted per game:
Bradley Beal: 19.0
John Wall: 15.3
Otto Porter Jr.: 11.6
Markieff Morris: 8.6
Marcin Gortat: 6.8
And those same players, by true shooting percentage:
Otto Porter Jr.: .603
Marcin Gortat: .558
Bradley Beal: .549
Markieff Morris: .548
John Wall: .507
The numbers speak for themselves. While Wall and Beal are immensely impressive shot creators, they’re not very efficient scorers. Washington has lots of room for improvement if they’re a little more selective in where their shots end up.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (23-14)
Offensive rating: 4th (110.1)
Defensive rating: 24th (107.6)
Net rating: 6th (+2.5)
2018 resolution: A defensive stance for KAT.
Tom Thibodeau was supposed to be one of the best defensive coaches in the league. Jimmy Butler was supposed to be one of the best defensive wings in the league. And Karl-Anthony Towns was supposed to be one of the best defensive prospects in the 2015 draft.
So when you see the “24th” next to “defensive rating,” it’s clear something’s got to give. Right now, that something is Towns. Towns is one of the worst defensive players in the league, and it’s clear in all phases of his game. He’s horrible when switched onto the perimeter, gets confused in the pick and roll, is easily beat in isolation, and constantly out of position when off ball.
It’s going to take a lot to fix Towns on the defensive end, but simply improving his stance would do wonders. A lower, wider stance would give him better balance and quicker instincts, while letting him take advantage of his wingspan and help off ball more effectively. That could be the difference between Minny’s franchise player being horrible on one side of the court, and being a well-rounded center.
Tier 2: Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good
6. San Antonio Spurs (25-12)
Offensive rating: 13th (105.1)
Defensive rating: 3rd (101.6)
Net rating: 5th (+3.4)
2018 resolution: Apply the lessons learned in Kawhi Leonard’s absence.
With Leonard sidelined, the Spurs’ offense ran through LaMarcus Aldridge and was, at times, beautiful. Gregg Popovich adjusted the offensive system to fit Aldridge’s strengths, and San Antonio exceeded expectations.
As the Spurs work Leonard back into the fold, they’ll do well to continue implementing the offensive principles they developed in his absence. Letting Leonard and other cutters work off ball while Aldridge works from the elbow and post has the potential to really open the Spurs’ offense.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (24-12)
Offensive rating: 3rd (111.2)
Defensive rating: 28th (108.7)
Net rating: 7th (+2.5)
2018 resolution: A modicum of defensive principles.
The Cavs’ defense is utterly horrible. Even if accounting for a LeBron James playoff boost, it’s still a really bad defense. While the Cavs lack defensive playmakers, the bulk of their issues come from constant lapses in the understanding of basic defensive principles.
I’ve seen junior varsity teams with a better understanding of how to defend the pick and roll, and how to help (or, in some cases, not help) off ball. Ty Lue was supposed to be a strong defensive coach; it’s time for him to show why.
4. Boston Celtics (30-10)
Offensive rating: 12th (105.6)
Defensive rating: 1st (100.8)
Net rating: 4th (+4.9)
2018 resolution: Patience for Jayson Tatum.
Tatum was very high on most draft boards, but he’s dramatically outperforming the expectations. Much of his production is sustainable, but much is primed for regression. After shooting 34.2 percent from deep in college, Tatum is league-best 47.5 percent from downtown in his rookie year, while also shooting 47.2 percent from 16 feet to the three-point line.
There will be some regression there, and as the season goes on, Tatum will begin to receive more and more defensive attention. His patience thus far has, indeed, been a virtue, and he’ll have to maintain it once he faces his first NBA obstacles.
3. Toronto Raptors (24-10)
Offensive rating: 5th (109.9)
Defensive rating: 5th (102.3)
Net rating: 3rd (+7.6)
2018 resolution: Consistency in the spring.
We’ve seen the same song and dance from the Raptors for a while now: quite good in the regular season, highly disappointing in the playoffs. But there’s reason to believe the main culprits – DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and coach Dwayne Casey – have made some adjustments. Toronto’s offense is far more balanced this year than in years past, and their system is much more identifiable, varied, and capable against strong defenses. The Raps are the top team in the East, and it’s starting to look like they may maintain their abilities in the playoffs; but I still need to see it first.
Tier 1: So damn good
2. Houston Rockets (26-9)
Offensive rating: 1st (113.0)
Defensive rating: 12th (104.8)
Net rating: 2nd (+8.2)
2018 resolution: Increased rotation size.
Come on, Mike D’Antoni. After watching his team fade in the playoffs half a year ago, D’Antoni is back to his old tricks, trotting out seven and eight-man rotations on a nightly basis in relatively meaningless games. Houston has eight players averaging more than 25 minutes a night, and that’s pretty much it.
The Rockets have a chance to make things very interesting if they meet the Warriors in the playoffs. But if their best players don’t have legs, and their bench pieces don’t have reps, it will be a quick playoff exit.
1. Golden State Warriors (29-8)
Offensive rating: 2nd (112.8)
Defensive rating: 2nd (104.8)
Net rating: 1st (11.2)
2018 resolution: Commit to Jordan Bell as a starter.
It’s stunning that the Warriors have put together arguably the greatest three-year run in NBA history without ever having an above-average center. It looks like that could change sooner rather than later.
Bell, a second-round pick that the Warriors bought from the Bulls during the 2017 draft, has already eclipsed Zaza Pachulia and David West in terms of minutes per game. And while he still has a host of rookie struggles, Steve Kerr would be wise to give his youngster enough slack to learn on the job. Against teams like the Rockets, Cavs, and Spurs, Bell is a better match-up than Pachulia or West, and can attack in ways his teammates can not.
It’s time to give him the keys to the vehicle. It’s been subpar long enough.