WhatiLearned.com - What I Learned
What I Learned. WhatILearned.com. Breaking News and Stories from around the globe.
Was the Lakers’ win in Oklahoma City on Saturday the best win of the year? Los Angeles thrashed the Thunder 125-110 without LeBron James or Anthony Davis, showcasing its deep collection of rotational talent. Kyle Kuzma has found his shooting stroke. Rajon Rondo is taking dips in the fountain of youth. We can’t forget Los Angeles’ twin towers, and we’re not including Davis. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard have oscillated between solid and spectacular, unthinkable a year ago. The Lakers’ lead for the No. 1 seed in the West appears safe for now.As we approach the season’s midway point, let’s dive into The Crossover’s power rankings with notes on all 30 teams. 30. Hawks – Trae Young remains perhaps the lone bright spot in Atlanta, and the Oklahoma product is currently in the midst of a potential All-Star campaign. But Young’s efficiency has dipped of late as the Hawks have lost 14 of their last 16. Young is shooting just 41.4% from the field and 33.8% from three since Dec. 10, and he’s tied for the league lead in turnovers per game. The load on Young’s shoulders is taking its toll. 29. Warriors – The latest breakout among Golden State’s collection of youngsters? Second-year forward Omari Spellman. The Villanova product has been showcasing his sweet stroke from three of late, making 12 of 21 threes since the calendar turned to 2020. Like many young Warriors, Spellman isn’t anywhere close to a foundational piece. But he’s a nice asset on the trade market or in the back-end of the Warriors’ rotation. 28. Knicks – Is anyone else confused by the Knicks’ reported interest in Andre Drummond? Mitchell Robinson isn’t Bill Russell, but he’s a young talent deserving of starter-level minutes. Playing-time concerns aside, it makes little sense for the Knicks commit significant long-term money to a limited center. New York will return to the free-agency race presumably in 2021. Why muddle your cap with Drummond? 27. Cavaliers – We won’t dive into John Beilein’s insensitive comment here, instead highlighting back-to-back wins for the Cavaliers to close the week. Cleveland defeated the Pistons on Jan. 9, then rolled into Denver to beat the Nuggets two days later. The Cavs aren’t devoid of young talent, and hitting big on a lottery pick could send this team to the postseason in the near future. It’s questionable if Beilein will be there to witness any potential playoff run. 26. Wizards – The Wizards have emerged as an entertaining squad, though their defensive shortcomings are truly jarring. Washington has the four worst defenders in basketball by defensive rating (take a bow, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Bradley Beal and Isaiah Thomas) and the Wizards have allowed 120 points 13 times this season. Scott Brooks’ squad is on its way to some historic defensive futility.25. Pistons – Not a great look for Drummond earning an ejection for throwing a ball off the head of Bulls center Daniel Gafford. Not only did Drummond leave a winnable matchup against a mediocre team, he wasted his ejection on an anonymous rookie. Get your money’s worth, Andre. 24. Pelicans – We’ll see Zion Williamson in action soon if his pregame dunks at MSG are any indication. When would be in intriguing return? The Pelicans host the Clippers on ABC on Jan. 18, and they host Boston on ESPN on Jan. 26. Let’s get Zion back when the lights are shining bright. 23. Bulls – Denzel Valentine appears to be on the trade block in Chicago, with his tenure in Chicago potentially ending after less than three full seasons. Valentine has played just once in Chicago’s last five games, and while his shooting percentages aren’t poor, it’s hard to see him making much of an imprint on the trade market. Consider this late lottery pick a bust for the Bulls. Perhaps Valentine can turn things around with a new team. 22. Kings – Bogdan Bogdanovic would be a major acquisition for a contender at the trade deadline (hello, Lakers), though Sacramento may be inclined to keep the 27-year-old this summer. Bogdanovic is a dead-eye shooter with size on the wing. He’s perhaps the Kings’ second-best young asset depending on your feelings regarding Buddy Hield. We’ll see if Sacramento coughs up major dollars to keep Bogdanovic from bolting to greener pastures. 21. Hornets – Charlotte was mocked for doling out $57 million to Terry Rozier after letting Kemba Walker walk in free agency, but Rozier has shined through his first 41 games with the Hornets. The Louisville product is making 39.4% of threes this season, and he has the fifth-most clutch points in the NBA. Rozier’s production has been a key factor in keeping the Hornets respectable amid a rebuild. 20. Timberwolves – The early-season renaissance from Andrew Wiggins appears to have been misleading. The artist formerly known as Maple Jordan is shooting just 28.7% from three over the last month, and he’s generated 44 assists compared to 41 turnovers. Karl-Anthony Towns’ supposed running mate is still a leap away from All-Star contention. The franchise’s way forward remains unclear. 19. Trail Blazers – Portland has lost eight of its last ten, failing to capitalize on a uniquely light back end of the Western Conference playoff chase. What’s the culprit behind their struggles? The Blazers can’t really stop anyone. They’re allowing 116.4 points per 100 possessions over their last ten games (better than only Denver) and only two teams crash the defensive glass at a worse rate. Damian Lillard has enough offensive weapons around him. Portland misses Jusuf Nurkic in a big way. 18. Suns – The Deandre Ayton era continues to be shaky in Phoenix, though his recent string of performances should provide at least a modicum of confidence. What would a strong close to the year look like? Consistent starts, passable defense and increased energy as a screener and rebounder. Ayton has the tools to be an All-Star. We’ll see if he can start to put it together. 17. Spurs – What’s happening to LaMarcus Aldridge? The aging big man has finally expanded his game beyond the arc in his last nine contests, making 59.1% of triples on 4.9 attempts per game. Aldridge’s efficiency is sure to dip, but the volume is important. Aldridge beyond the arc opens the lane for DeMar DeRozan as well as San Antonio’s young guards. For a team squeezed for spacing, Aldridge’s adjustment makes a huge difference. 16. Magic – Markelle Fultz’ career revival remains one of the better stories of the season, and his ascendance has paved the way for an interesting trade deadline in Orlando. D.J. Augustin could be a mildly interesting trade asset. Evan Fournier even more so. The Magic need to shed some bodies from their crammed rotation. Fultz won’t be one of them in his third season. 15. Grizzlies – Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. are averaging a solid 110.5 points per 100 possessions when they share the floor, and their two-man game continues to impress. Jackson is a versatile big who can stretch and finish with authority, while Morant is an absolute dynamo rolling downhill. It should be a fun next decade with these two in Memphis.14. Nets – Welcome back, Kyrie Irving. The Nets point guard returned to the floor after a 26-game absence on Sunday, and he looked relatively healthy in 20 minutes of action. Irving’s health remains paramount for Brooklyn, much more so than the Nets’ standing in the Eastern Conference. Kenny Atkinson and Co. need to remain cautious as the Nets eye a full strength squad in 2020-21. 13. Thunder – Chris Paul continues to impress in his first year in Oklahoma City, and Thursday night marked perhaps the highlight of his season. Paul torched the Rockets in Russell Westbrook’s return to OKC, capitalizing his revenge tour by going through the legs of Houston center Isaiah Hartenstein. Run this one on a loop. 12. Pacers – There are a lot of NBA scuffles involving fake displays of toughness. T.J. Warren’s tiff with Jimmy Butler doesn’t qualify. Warren is a stout 6’8”, 215 pounds, one of the more imposing forwards in the league. Butler is the superior player. I’m not sure he’d be able to square up successfully against Warren. 11. 76ers – The Sixers are all-but-guaranteed to add a shooter at the deadline, and a pair of Detroit options make sense. Luke Kennard would be a boom to Philly’s spacing, though his cost may prove prohibitive. Langston Galloway is an attainable option and a solid player. Philadelphia’s activity in February will be fascinating. 10. Raptors – The Raptors have held steady amid a slew of injuries, largely thanks to Serge Ibaka’s hot shooting of late. Ibaka has shot 54.9% from the field and 43.5% from three in his last ten games, crossing 20 points five times. Toronto’s crew of veterans is as deep as any in the league. They’ve kept the franchise near the top of the East despite Kawhi Leonard’s departure.9. Mavericks – Luka Doncic’s play has been superb in his second season, though his competitiveness is perhaps more impressive than his on-court acument. Doncic is notoriously hard on himself, ripping his jersey in frustration against the Lakers on Friday. His competitive fire will pave the way for a brighter future. 8. Heat – Rough close to the week for Miami, who dropped back-to-back games in Brooklyn and in New York on Friday and Sunday. The Heat’s loss to close the week was more painful, losing a seven-point lead with 4:04 to go. Miami’s youngsters will improve their crunch-time proficiency as the year continues, but losing to the lowly Knicks is sure to leave a bitter taste as the Heat head to Oklahoma City. 7. Jazz – That’s nine in a row and 14 out of 15 for the Jazz after Sunday’s win over the Wizards, and Quin Snyder’s squad leads the league in net rating since Dec. 19. Rudy Gobert is cramming everything in sight of late, and Donavan Mitchell is cooking at point guard with Mike Conley out of the lineup. The Jazz are dangerous once again in the Western Conference. 6. Clippers – We shouldn’t take Paul George’s impressive three-point stroke for granted. George is banging home 39.5% of triples this season, in line with his percentages from deep in the last six seasons. George is nearly 6’10”, and he’s one of the game’s smoothest drivers to the tin. Adding his proficiency from three is almost unfair. 5. Rockets – Clint Capela has been banged up of late, and backup center Isaiah Hartenstein has shined in his absence. The 21-year-old big dominated the Timberwolves with 17 points and 15 rebounds on Saturday, displaying his precocious ability in the pick-and-roll. Look for Hartenstein to earn significant minutes even as Capela returns from battling a right heel contusion. 4. Nuggets – Nikola Jokic ripped off one of the more impressive two-game stints of the season last week. The Serbian center poured in 47 points against the Hawks on Jan. 6, then punished the Mavericks for 33 points in a win in Dallas on Jan. 8. Jokic has found his groove after a slow start and so have the Nuggets. The top of the West should be a dogfight through April. 3. Celtics – Who is the Celtics’ All-Star? Boston has three players averaging between 19 and 22 points per game, and the Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker are clustered on the PER leaderboard. Walker’s raw stats may give him the nod, but I’d roll with Brown. He’s been a defensive menace and he’s made a legitimate leap offensively, playing the best of any Celtic for significant stretches. The All-Star roster is still up in the air in the East. 2. Lakers – We highlighted the Lakers’ supporting cast to start today’s column, but let’s take a closer look at the much-maligned Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. KCP is shooting 43.3% from three this season. He’s fourth on the Lakers in offensive rating. He’s stayed largely out of trade rumors with his recent performance, and he may just live up to his two-year, $16 million deal. The Lakers have made better moves on the margins than many assumed this summer. 1. Bucks – It’s time for another edition of Giannis statistical watch. Antetokounmpo is one of four players in NBA history to average at least 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists per game in a season, and he’s the first to record those averages since Wilt Chamberlain in 1965-66. Another MVP is likely in store for the Greek Freak.