30. Detroit Pistons, 16-56 (Previous Ranking #29)
James Wiseman (13.8 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 1 block per game with a TS% of 58.4 since being traded) has been an excellent high-risk high-reward edition for the Pistons and it is certainly looking like he will be on the high reward side of that. Finally getting serious minutes, Wiseman has scored 16+ points and 10+ rebounds in four games already for the Pistons and is showing substantial improvements on both ends of the floor every week. Minutes was always the issue for Wiseman in Golden State, and they didn’t want to give him the minutes he needed to flourish.
Jaden Ivey (16 points, 6.4 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game with a TS% of 50 over his last 10 games) is getting more comfortable on offense as the year progresses, but may have a hard time adjusting back to playing with Cade Cunningham next season. Nonetheless, the Pistons would love to have a coveted top 3 pick in this year’s NBA Draft so they can accelerate their rebuild.
29. San Antonio Spurs, 19-52 (Previous Ranking #28)
The Spurs finished last week on a high note defeating the Hawks 126-118 behind 29 points and 12 rebounds from Keldon Johnson (21.8 points and 5 rebounds per game with a TS% of 55). Devin Vassell (18.8 points per game with a TS% of 55.7) also finished with 29 points and Zach Collins (16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game with a TS% of 58.5 over his last 10 games) had 19 points and 8 rebounds. Those three guys have proven to be valuable pieces in the rebuild centered around whoever they choose with a top 5 pick in this year’s NBA Draft.
28. Charlotte Hornets, 22-50 (Previous Ranking #27)
The Hornets have lost four straight games and have the worst offense in basketball (offensive rating of 109.3), but there are some positives for this team regardless. Mark Williams (11 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game with a TS% of 65.2 over his last 10 games) showed a lot of promise as a rookie, Terry Rozier (21.3 points and 5 assists per game with a TS% of 51.7) had a great year and is a valuable trade asset, and they will have a top 5 pick in one of the best drafts in recent memory.
The Hornets could end up pairing franchise player LaMelo Ball (23.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per game with a TS% of 54.1) with either Victor Wenbanyama, Scoot Henderson, or Brandon Miller in this year’s NBA Draft and that would be scary for the rest of the NBA.
27. Houston Rockets, 18-53 (Previous Ranking #30)
Don’t look now but the Rockets have won three out of their last four games and are finally playing some great team basketball. A lot of this newfound success is because of the development of Jabari Smith Jr., who has taken an offensive leap averaging 18.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game with a TS% of 61.5 over his last 6 games. It had been a year to forget for the rookie out of Auburn as his PSA was under 100 and one of the worst in basketball and his eFG% was also one of the worst marks in the league.
However, these past 5 games have been what we expected to see from the highly touted #3 overall pick this season and Smith Jr. finally looks like the two-way NBA Star NBA scouts envisioned him becoming. The rest of the team, including Jalen Green (22 points per game with a TS% of 53), Kevin Porter Jr. (18.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game with a TS% of 55.2), and Alperen Sengun (14.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game with a TS% of 60), are all benefiting from Smith Jr.s’ uptick in production as shots are coming easier to them now as well.
The Rockets are also playing with the most urgency I’ve seen from them on the defensive side of the ball this season as well. Furthermore, the Rockets aren’t just an easy win for NBA teams now, and these next few weeks could be a sign of good things to come in Houston next season with another top 5 selection.
26. Orlando Magic, 29-43 (Previous Ranking #26)
The Magic didn’t have the best week losing three out of their four games last week with the only win coming against the Kawhi Leonard-less Clippers, but there are still a ton of positives so far this year. Rookie Paolo Banchero (20 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game with a TS% of 52.6) has had a great year, showcasing his innate ability to get to the rim and draw fouls at a high level, and Markelle Futlz (14 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 5.7 assists per game with a TS% of 56.3) has proven himself to be the point guard of the future for the Magic. The only way is up from here.
25. Washington Wizards, 32-39 (Previous Ranking #24)
Bradley Beal (23.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game with a TS% of 59.7 and a PSA of 121.1, ranked in the 82nd percentile for Combo Guards this season) and Kristaps Porzingis (22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game with a TS% of 61.9 and a PSA of 124.5, ranked in the 59th percentile for Bigs this season) have both had great years, but the Wizards haven’t gotten their end of the bargain from the Monte Morris and Will Barton deal that sent Ish Smith and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the Nuggets.
Barton was abysmal for the Wizards and is now a valuable role player for the Raptors, and Monte’ Morris doesn’t play defense and is only averaging 10.2 points and 5.2 assists per game despite being the team’s starting point guard. This week is a defining week for the Wizards who will face the Magic, Nuggets, Spurs, and Raptors. Finishing with 2-3 wins this week is instrumental in keeping them in the Play-In Tournament race.
24. Indiana Pacers, 32-39 (Previous Ranking #25)
Tyrese Haliburton (28.8 points and 13.2 assists per game with a TS% of 71.6 over his last 5 games) has been excellent this season, but will miss the next few games with an ankle injury. The Pacers are 4-13 without Haliburton, but somehow pulled off a convincing 139-123 win on the road against the Bucks last Thursday night. Buddy Hield had 20 points and 6 assists, while rookie Andrew Nembhard had 24 points and 5 assists. In fact, Nembhard is averaging 18.8 points and 4.6 assists with a TS% of 61.3 over his last 5 games, showing the Pacers he can be a pivotal piece in the puzzle for the future. T.J. McConnell, and Myles Turner will need to step up alongside both Hield and Nembhard to continue to pick up the slack in Haliburton’s absence.
23. Portland Trail Blazers, 31-40 (Previous Ranking #22)
The Trail Blazers have lost six straight games and are almost effectively eliminated from the postseason. Damian Lillard (32.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game with a TS% of 64.5 and a PSA of 129.7, ranked in the 98th percentile for Point Guards this season) has had an excellent year, but will be shut down very soon since the team has no shot at contention.
This offseason will be important for the Blazers, as Jerami Grant (20.5 points per game with a 3PT% of 40.1 and a TS% of 60.6) is a free agent and the team lacks depth immensely. The Blazers have to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they can compete with this team? Realistically how many pieces are they away from contending? I would say at least 3-4 high end role players or stars away so this offseason will be important for them.
22. Chicago Bulls, 33-37 (Previous Ranking #23)
The Bulls are getting hot at the right time, as they’ve won three out of their last four games and now have a one game lead for the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference standings. Zach LaVine (30.1 points, 4.2 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game with a TS% of 67.2 over his last 10 games) has been excellent in March and DeMar DeRozan (30 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists per game with a TS% of 63.7 over his last 5 games) has gotten his dominant offensive production back on track over the last two weeks.
Patrick Beverley (6.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4 assists per game with a TS% of 57.7 over his last 10 games) has been instrumental in helping the Bulls reach a defensive rating of 112.7, the 5th best mark in the NBA. They have a tough week ahead with two games against the streaking 76ers, and games against the Trail Blazers and Lakers. If they can even split those games 2-2 they will be in a good position to make the Play-In Tournament.
21. New Orleans Pelicans, 34-37 (Previous Ranking #18)
Brandon Ingram (25.2 points 4.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game with a TS% of 56.7 over his last 10 games) and C.J. McCollum (21.4 points, 6.5 assists, and 5 rebounds with a TS% of 54.8 per game over his last 10 games) have kept the Pelicans afloat and right in the mix of the Play-In Tournament with Superstar Zion Williamson (26 points, 7 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game with a TS% of 65.2) still injured. It remains to be seen when Williamson will return, but the Pels still have the 9th ranked defense (defensive rating of 113.4) in basketball, and should be able to dominate two out of their three games this week with matchups against the Spurs, Hornets, and Clippers. If they win all three out their games this week, watch out.
20. Utah Jazz, 34-37 (Previous Ranking #20)
Talen Horton-Tucker (16.3 points, 5.6 assists, and 5.1 rebounds per game with a TS% of 53.9 over his last 10 games) hit a game-winner against the Celtics on Saturday night and now the Jazz have won three out of their last four games and are trending upward in the Western Conference standings. The NBA’s 7th ranked offense (offensive rating of 116.5) is led by Lauri Markkanen (25.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game with an absurdly productive 3PT% of 40.1, TS% of 64.5, and PSA of 130.2, ranked in the 96th percentile for Forwards this season), who has become a top 15 player in the NBA.
Markkanen is the most efficient 25+ point per game scorer in the NBA that isn’t a big man, and is blossoming into one of the league’s most dominant offensive forces right in front of our eyes. Role players Walker Kessler, Ochai Agbaji, Johnny Juzang, and Simone Fontecchio have all stepped up in a big way recently and this is a dangerous team no one wants to play over the last few weeks of the season.
19. Atlanta Hawks, 35-36 (Previous Ranking #17)
Trae Young (26.7 points and 10 assists per game with a TS% of 57.3) has taken his scoring up a notch recently in the new Quinn Snyder-led Hawks offense, but Dejounte Murray (20.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 6 assists per game with a TS% 53.7) is still trying to figure out his role in the newly implemented offense and is a big reason why this team still has some off nights.
The Hawks new offense has already taken the league by storm as the team’s once 17th ranked offensive rating is now 115.8, ranked 10th in the NBA. Their record of 35-36 isn’t fantastic, but it should be enough to get them in a good position to make it out of the Play-In Tournament and get to a 7 game series.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves, 35-37 (Previous Ranking #15)
Anthony Edwards (24.7 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game with a TS% of 56.7) went down with an ankle injury last Friday night, but is now out of a walking boot and could play as soon as Monday night vs. the Knicks. Regardless, the Timberwolves are struggling to stay afloat in the Western Conference as they have now lost three straight games and have a gauntlet of a schedule ahead with road games against the Knicks, Warriors, Kings, and Suns over the next two weeks.
Despite boasting the 10th ranked defense (defensive rating of 113.7) in the NBA, the Wolves have an abysmal offensive rating of 113.3, ranked 24th in basketball. At this point, it is hard for me to see the Wolves making it out of the Play-In Tournament, but it certainly is possible if Edwards can stay healthy and look like himself as soon as possible.
17. Toronto Raptors, 35-37 (Previous Ranking #19)
The Raptors have been playing good basketball recently, winning three out of their last four games and the only loss being to the Bucks on Sunday night, a game they let go right at the end. Jakob Poeltl has been possibly the best addition at the trade deadline, as he’s averaged 15.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists with a TS% of 67.2 since joining the Raptors. Poeltl has also helped take Fred VanVleet‘s production up a notch as VanVleet has averaged a career high in assists and steals, and is shooting 38% from 3pt range since Poeltl was acquired.
Having a good center has done wonders for the Raptors, and they are 1st in the NBA in forcing turnovers defensively and limiting turnovers offensively. However, teams still have an eFG% of 56.9 against them, the second worst mark in the NBA. If they can limit their opponents getting easy shots, this Raptors team has a chance to make it out of the Play-In Tournament.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder, 35-36 (Previous Ranking #21)
The Thunder have won three out of their last four games and are now 8th in the Western Conference standings. Their last win on Sunday against the Suns was incredibly impressive as they fended off Devin Booker‘s 46 points and were led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander‘s 40 point performance. SGA is now averaging 31.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game with a TS% of 62.5 and a PSA of 126, ranked in the 95th percentile for Point Guards this season.
Josh Giddey also put together a great performance, finishing with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. Giddey is averaging 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8.1 assists with a TS% of 55.1 over his last 10 games. Jalen Williams (19.9 points, 6 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 2.1 steals per game with a TS% of 66.3 over his last 10 games) has also been fantastic and the Thunder are a serious threat to make it out of the Play-In Tournament.
15. Golden State Warriors, 36-36 (Previous Ranking #12)
The Warriors have lost 11 road games in a row and will undoubtedly play more road games than home games in a first round series against whoever they play. Without Andrew Wiggins and the team’s concerning road record, how could anyone confidently pick the defending champs to even get past round 1 of the playoffs?
Stephen Curry (29.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game with a TS% of 66.6 and a PSA of 136.4, the highest mark in the NBA at the Point Guard position) and Klay Thompson (21.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game with a TS% of 57.3) have been fantastic this year, but it simply isn’t enough. They don’t have enough bench depth and wing defense without Wiggins to contend, they simply don’t regardless of how talented they are. If Wiggins comes back, the Warriors definitely have a chance, but if he doesn’t they’ll probably get sent home early.
14. Los Angeles Lakers, 35-37 (Previous Ranking #13)
The Lakers had a rough week, going 2-2 with an impressive blowout road win against the Pelicans and a hobbling victory over the Magic on Sunday, but two brutal losses to the Rockets and Mavericks, both of which they should have won. If it wasn’t for Austin Reaves (17.8 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.1 rebounds per game with a TS% of 70.1), who put up 35 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists to lead the Lakers to victory over the Magic, this team would be in a very bad position entering this week.
They are the 10 seed in the Western Conference, and their defense is continuously improving now (defensive rating of 113.9, now ranked 12th in the NBA), but it remains to be seen if this team has what is takes to go 6-4 over their last 10 games. Some nights, D’Angelo Russell (17.9 points and 6.2 assists per game with a TS% of 60.1) and Anthony Davis (25.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game with a TS% of 62.6) look like world beaters, and other nights they look like role-players. More consistency is needed from those two over this final stretch for the Lakers to get where they want to be. Furthermore, the Lakers certainly have the talent and depth to finish as high as the 7th seed, but they also are inconsistent and could not even make the Play-In Tournament.
13. Dallas Mavericks, 36-35 (Previous Ranking #16)
Kyrie Irving (27.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game with a TS% of 61.5 and a PSA of 132, ranked in the 99th percentile for Combo Guards this season) returned last Friday night and led the Mavericks to an instrumental comeback victory over the Lakers to move up to the 6th seed.
Luka Doncic (33 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 8 assists per game with a TS% of 61.3 and a PSA of 123.8, ranked in the 91st percentile for Point Guards this season) has missed the last few games but is close to coming back. Though they don’t play defense (defensive rating of 116.1, ranked 23rd), the Mavs offensive rating of 116.7 is the 6th ranked offense in the NBA and because of their superstardom, they can compete in a playoff series.
12. Miami Heat, 39-34 (Previous Ranking #14)
The Heat have won three out of their last four games and are just 1 game back of the 6 seed in the Eastern Conference standings. Jimmy Butler has of course been a huge part of that, averaging 27 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game with a TS% of 68.4 over his last 5 games.
Though Bam Adebayo (21.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game with a TS% of 59.5) and Tyler Herro (20.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game with a TS% of 56) haven’t been as consistent on a nightly basis as Butler, the Heat’s defense has been dominant, now ranked 6th in the NBA (defensive rating of 112.7). Though their poor offensive rating of 112.2 (ranked 25th in the NBA) may prevent them from going as far as last year, they have the defense and experience to pull off an upset in the first round.
11. Brooklyn Nets, 39-32 (Previous Ranking #10)
Mikal Bridges (26.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game with a TS% of 63.7 over his last 15 games) has become a Star in front of our eyes and is flourishing as a #1 option on a playoff team. Spencer Dinwiddie (18.7 points and 9.4 assists per game with a TS% of 53.7 over his last 10 games) is playing awesome per usual, and Cam Johnson (16.5 points and 5 rebounds per game with a TS% of 57.6 over his last 15 games) has taken his overall offensive game to another level since being traded.
The Nets have an offensive rating of just 114.6 (ranked 16th) and a defensive rating of 114.1 (ranked 13th in the NBA) and aren’t excellent at anything. However, they have more depth than a lot of teams and will use that to their advantage in the postseason. Nonetheless, I would be surprised if the Heat don’t catch them at some point down the stretch as the Nets should fall to 7th in the Eastern Conference based on pure talent.
10. New York Knicks, 42-30 (Previous Ranking #8)
The Knicks have won three out of their last four games, and their offensive rating is now up to 117.1, ranked 5th in the NBA. With a firm grasp on the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference standings, it is looking more and more likely that the Knicks play the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, which would be an epic matchup of two teams poised to make a playoff run. In that series, I would choose the Cavs since they play elite defense, and though the Knicks’ defensive rating of 114.2 (ranked 14th in the NBA) isn’t bad, it isn’t even close to the level of the juggernauts in the Eastern Conference in the Bucks, Celtics, Cavs, and 76ers.
Jalen Brunson (23.8 points and 6.1 assists per game with a TS% of 59.4 and a PSA of 120.2, ranked in the 82nd percentile for Combo Guards this season) and Julius Randle (25.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game with a TS% of 57.9 and a PSA of 117.4, ranked in the 70th percentile for Forwards this season) have been one of the best duos in basketball all season long and role players Immanuel Quickley (13.6 points per game with a TS% of 57.1), Quentin Grimes (9.8 points per game with a TS% of 59), and Obi Toppin (6.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game with a TS% of 53.3) have stepped up when needed to this season. The Knicks are playing very good basketball and are a team to watch out for this postseason.
9. Los Angeles Clippers, 38-34 (Previous Ranking #9)
The Clippers have won five out of their last six games and Russell Westbrook (12.7 points, 7.2 assists, and 5.2 rebounds with a TS% of 50.3 over his last 10 games) has been a huge part of the team’s recent success. Though his shot still isn’t falling consistently, he is more intense on defense and is setting more screens for his teammates than he ever did on the Lakers. Westbrook is also making way better decisions on the offensive end, differing to primarily his playmaking, and has become a team leader in the locker room. When the team hit a rough patch a few weeks ago, Westbrook was one of the pivotal members of the team that was positive and motivating despite the recent failures, allowing them to quickly move past that and get back on track.
Kawhi Leonard (28.7 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game with a TS% of 66.3 over his last 10 games) and Paul George (25.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game with a TS% of 56.5 over his last 10 games) are in a groove right now and the Clippers are just a half game back of the 4 seed in the Western Conference. The team’s defensive rating of 114.2 (ranked 14th in the NBA) still isn’t ideal, but the Clippers have been playing better defense as of late and are close to having a top ten defense. If they can continue to show up on the defensive end for the rest of the regular season, the Clippers will have a ton of momentum going into the playoffs and could get all the way to the NBA Finals.
8. Phoenix Suns, 38-33 (Previous Ranking #7)
Devin Booker (33.1 points, 5 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game with a TS% of 64.5 over his last 10 games) has been the best scorer in the NBA in March and is coming off yet another 40+ point game on Sunday in the Suns loss to the Thunder.
However, without Kevin Durant (29.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game with a TS% of 68.1) the Suns are beatable on any given night considering their lack of depth and that was evident on Sunday in the loss vs. OKC. With how good the Clippers are playing, despite having a very good defense (defensive rating of 112.9, ranked 8th in the NBA), the Suns will have a very tough time finishing as the 4 seed in the Western Conference without Durant. I expect them to finish as the 5 seed.
7. Denver Nuggets, 48-27 (Previous Ranking #5)
The Nuggets seem to be finally getting back on track, winning two out of their last three games and building a 5 game lead for the #1 spot in the Western Conference standings. Nikola Jokic (24.7 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 9.9 assists per game with an unreal TS% of 70.3, PER of 31.6, and a PSA of 141.9, ranked in the 93rd percentile for Bigs this season) continues to put up godly offensive numbers, but his defense continues to be exploited on pick and rolls by opposing teams.
Jokic has never been the best defender, but teams are starting to attack him on the interior more and more and it’s working. Nonetheless, Jamaal Murray (20.1 points and 6.1 assists per game with a TS% of 56.5) is back to his usual production his last two games and Michael Porter Jr. (17.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game with a TS% of 62.7) is one of the best catch and shoot players in basketball. Though depth will be an issue for the Nuggets this postseason, they have some special offensive players and have a chance to make a run despite their obvious flaws.
6. Memphis Grizzlies, 43-27 (Previous Ranking #11)
Despite Ja Morant (27.1 points, 6 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game with a TS% of 55.5) continuing to be out, the Grizzlies continue to dominate at home, winners of eight straight home games and five out of their last six games overall. In their impressive 133-119 win over the Warriors on Saturday, Jaren Jackson Jr. (17.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game with a TS% of 60) and Desmond Bane (21.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game with a TS% of 59.8) both showed out scoring 31 and 26 points respectively.
However, one of the biggest catalysts of this team’s recent success is Tyus Jones (16.4 points and 8.5 assists per game with a TS% of 59.4 over his last 8 games since Morant has been out), who has filled Morant’s role perfectly and is coming off of back-to-back 10+ assist games and even had a triple-double against the Spurs on Friday night. With the 2nd best defense in the NBA (defensive rating of 110.4) and Morant expected to return for a playoff run, the Grizzlies are in an excellent position right now.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers, 45-28 (Previous Ranking #6)
The Cavaliers have won three out of their last four games with their only loss in that span coming at the hands of the 76ers, the hottest team in the NBA right now. Darius Garland (21.9 points and 7.8 assists per game with a TS% of 59.7 and a PSA of 119.5, ranked in the 80th percentile for Point Guards this season) and Donovan Mitchell (27.4 points and 4.6 assists per game with a TS% of 60.7 and a PSA of 123.4, ranked in the 87th percentile for Combo Guards this season) continue to hold down the fort on offense as one of the best backcourts, if not the best backcourt in basketball.
Evan Mobley (16.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game with a TS% of 58.8) and Jarrett Allen (14.4 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game with a TS% of 67.3) continue to be the best interior defensive tandem in basketball, indicative of the Cavs boasting the best defense in basketball (defensive rating of 110.3). If I were to bet on a team to upset the Celtics, it would be this team as they play elite defense and have a guy who can score at will and only dominates more in the playoffs in Mitchell. Watch out for the Cavs to make a deep playoff run.
4. Boston Celtics, 49-23 (Previous Ranking #2)
The Celtics have lost two out of their last four games and on Saturday in their loss to Utah, they blew a 19 point lead. Inconsistent play on both ends of the floor has become a norm for the Celtics, who some games look like an unstoppable force on their way to winning the championship, and in other games looking like a team on upset alert in the second round of the playoffs. A lot of that inconsistent play is a direct correlation from Jayson Tatum‘s production, who was 4 of 12 from the field with only 15 points on Saturday, but 8 of 20 from the field with 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 steals the game before. As a result, the Celtics lost the game Tatum didn’t show up on Saturday, and of course won the game on Friday vs. the Blazers when Tatum did show up.
They have enough talent to move past round 1 and they are still the most balanced team in the NBA (offensive rating of 117.6, ranked 4th, and defensive rating of 112.2, ranked 4th), but they are moving in the wrong direction as other teams such as the Cavaliers, Knicks, and 76ers, are hitting their stride. The fate of the Celtics is simple: They ride and die on Jayson Tatum’s production and if he gets rolling in the playoffs and is more consistent, they will win the championship, and if he doesn’t, they could be upset in round 2 by the Cavs or Knicks.
3. Sacramento Kings, 43-27 (Previous Ranking #4)
Despite not having a good defense (defensive rating of 116.6, ranked 25th in the NBA) the Kings are so dominant on offense (offensive rating of 119.4, 1st in NBA and the best mark in history) that it may not matter in a playoff series. Despite 14 out of the last 15 NBA Champs boasting a top 11 defense, the Kings could be an outlier with their excellent shooting (1st in team eFG% at 57.7) and transition offense led by the fastest player in the NBA, De’Aaron Fox (25.3 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.2 steals per game with a TS% of 59.9 and a PSA of 120.4, ranked in the 81st percentile for Point Guards this season), who also leads the NBA in clutch points.
Versatile offensive force Domantas Sabonis (19.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game with a TS% of 67.1, and a PSA of 134, ranked in the 83rd percentile for Bigs this season), is also having by far the best season of his career. His PER of 23.6 is almost a full two points higher than his previous career high in PER, 21.9 (which he accomplished last season). Furthermore, despite history not being on their side to make a deep playoff run, the Kings have a historic offense that could make them an outlier. They are by far the best team in the Western Conference right now.
2. Philadelphia 76ers, 48-22 (Previous Ranking #3)
Winners of eight straight games and the hottest team in the NBA, the 76ers are clicking on all cylinders and have eclipsed the Celtics for the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference. They aren’t just winning games, they are dominating opponents on both ends of the floor as the 76ers have an offensive rating of 118.1 (ranked 3rd), and a defensive rating of 112.9 (ranked 8th in the NBA). Joel Embiid (33.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game with a TS% of 65.4, a PER of 31.7, and a PSA of 131.9, ranked in the 79th percentile for Bigs this season) has been by far the best player in the NBA over the last three weeks and is now the odds on favorite to win his first MVP award.
It is hard to argue against Embiid winning the award, with just as much team success as Nikola Jokic, and despite not being as efficient of an offensive player Embiid is ten times the defender Jokic is. With only a few weeks to go, the MVP award is Embiid’s to lose, and though it would be a great honor for him, I am sure Embiid wants to make it to his first Eastern Conference Finals, as his team’s have struggled in making deep playoff runs in the past.
1. Milwaukee Bucks, 51-20 (Previous Ranking #1)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (31.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game with a TS% of 60.2 ) may not win the Regular Season MVP award, but he has a golden opportunity to win his second Finals MVP award as the Bucks are on a roll and pulling away in the Eastern Conference standings. Defense wins championships the Bucks have exactly that (defensive rating of 111.1, ranked 3rd in the NBA) led by Brook Lopez (15.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game), Jrue Holiday (19.2 points, 7.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game with a TS% of 57.9), and Antetokounmpo. Another scary sign for the rest of the NBA is that Khris Middleton is finally starting to heat up, averaging 19.4 points, 6.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game with a TS% of 57.6 over his last 5 games.
Add in Bobby Portis (13.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game with a TS% of 57.6), Grayson Allen (10.6 points per game with a TS% of 61.2), Joe Ingles (7.1 points and 3.2 assists per game with a TS% of 61.1), Jevon Carter (8 points and 2.4 assists per game with a 3PT% of 42 and a TS% of 56.3) and Jae Crowder (6 points per game with a 3PT% of 39.4 and a TS% of 64.9) and the Bucks also bolster arguably the best bench in basketball. The Bucks are the team to beat right now and I don’t think it is particularly close. If everyone stays healthy they should hoist their second championship trophy in three years.
Note: Advanced Statistics used in this article are gathered from Cleaningtheglass.com and Statmuse.com and are updated as of Monday, March 20th