We did a Top 10 Power Rankings and
my mom the readers loved it so I thought it would only be right to continue the list, and include the next 10 teams as well. Unlike the top 10, none of these teams are guaranteed to see the post-season, ironically making them have to gear into playoff mode earlier than everyone else. After All-Star Weekend, each one of these teams will be hoping to find a groove, but it seems like the only thing most of these teams consistently do is be inconsistent.
The elite teams may be the ones stealing all the headlines and casual fans, but basketball purists know that, come March, the positioning between the lower seeds in either conference leads to the most dramatic games. There’s only a 5 game difference between the 5th seed and 10th seed in the East, and only a 6 game difference in the West between 6th and 10th place. One rough week can drastically change your teams future, and all it takes is 1 big move before the trade deadline for any of these teams to cement their place in the post-season.
Some teams have finally found their health, whereas other teams have sadly been dealt serious injuries. This time of the year, however, there is no comfort in excuses. You’ll see role players jumping for loose balls, star players refusing to be benched, and Demarcus Cousins getting ejected at least twice. Without further ado, here is your “Middle 10”.
11. Dallas Mavericks (29-26)
Off RTG: 105.2 (17th) Def RTG: 106.1 (17th)
The Dallas Mavericks probably should have been in the top 10, but I probably shouldn’t have wasted 200 dollars on a suit to go to prom alone. Lets stop living in the past. Nobody tell the Mavs that though, since their 2 leading scorers are Dirk “I could be Chandlers Parsons’ dad” Nowitzki and Deron “I used to break ankles until I broke my own” Williams. Led by their coach, Jim Carey (seriously), The Mavs have exceeded expectations. With Chandler Parsons and Wes Mathews slowly making their way back to the Almost-All-Stars they are, and 9 of their next 11 at home (2 road opponents being Orlando and Denver) they have a very realistic shot at catching the 5th place Grizzlies, who lost Marc Gasol to a broken foot. They need to watch their backs though, because the Trailblazers and Jazz are only 1.5 games behind them. Even if they miss the playoffs altogether, Mavs fans can find solace in the fact that Zaza Pachulia was less than 15,000 votes from being an all-star starter, and had almost 500,000 more than Deandre Jordan.
12. Indiana Pacers (28-25)
Off RTG: 104.5 (22st) Def RTG: 102.2 (3rd)
Paul George has to be one of the best feel-good stories of the year. After a horrific injury in 2014, and looking extremely rusty in the 6 games he played last season, he is having a career year and cementing himself as a top 10 player in this league. Acquiring Monta Ellis and being thin in the front-court (George started the season at the PF spot) was supposed to hurt their defense, but Frank Vogel has them in the top 3 for defensive rating. Unexpected contributions from rookie Myles Turner (17 ppg and 9 rpg per 36 min) and Ian Mahinmi (12.5 ppg and 10.5 rpg per 36) have helped them tremendously. George Hill is also stepping it up in 2016, averaging almost 15 ppg on 49% shooting and 50% from 3 since January 1st. Unfortunately for the Pacers, Hill decided to get rid of his Sisqo hair, making them significantly less fun to watch.
13. Utah Jazz (26-26)
Off RTG: 106.3 (10th) Def RTG: 104.7 (13th)
Don’t look now, but the Jazz have won 7 of their last 8 and are finally looking like the team that finished last year 19-10 after the All-Star break. Even though injuries to Derrick Favors (16 games), Rudy Gobert (20 games), Alec Burks, (23 games), and Dante Exum (all season) seem to have cost Utah the chance for a fast start, the Jazz were able to stay afloat and are now reaping the benefits of a healthier team. Exum and Burks are still out, but Rodney Hood is having a breakout sophomore year, averaging career highs across the board. He is averaging nearly 20 ppg since January 1st, and looks to be the offensive punch that they have missed on the perimeter without Exum and Burks. Along with their top 10 offense, they have been the #2 defensive team in the last 3 weeks (96.6 Def RTG), and if they can remain healthy then a playoff series should be in their future. It helps when you beat the teams you’re trying to catch, and Tuesday’s epic OT-win against the 6th seed Dallas was a great step in the right direction.
Gordon Hayward hitting a shot prettier than he is.
14. Chicago Bulls (27-25)
Off RTG: 103.5 (25th) Def RTG: 104.2 (10th)
The Chicago Bulls fired Tom Thibodeau this off-season in hopes for a more fluid offense, but as of yet they haven’t looked great on that end. Luckily, Thibodeau did not take his defensive efficiency with him. The Bulls hold their opponents to 43% shooting, 2nd lowest in the entire NBA. Jimmy Butler has become the best SG in the East, and is one of the only guys in the league who can keep Lebron James in check. Unfortunately for the Bulls, injuries have taken their toll on the team. Along with Butler being out for 2-3 weeks, they are currently dealing with injuries to Noah and Mirotic. The All-Star break comes at a great time for them, since they’ve been 1-5 in February (falling all the way to 7th in the East in the process) and need all the rest they can get. The best news for the Bulls is that Derrick Rose is finally starting to look like every Asian kid’s favourite player again, averaging nearly 20 ppg, 6 rpg, and 7 apg in the last 2 weeks. Their fans are hoping he can keep that up if they want to grab a spot in the playoffs.
15. Houston Rockets (27-28)
Off RTG: 107.0 (8th) Def RTG: 108.8 (25th)
Houston, we have a problem. After being Western Conference finalists last season, and a top 2 seed, the Rockets look like a completely different team. They are 29th in opponents PPG (106.6). The acquisition of double-double threat/alcoholic Ty Lawson was supposed to help James Harden by giving the team another capable offensive ball-handler to make plays. Unfortunately, Lawson is averaging a career-low 6.4 ppg and almost career low 3.6 apg (he had 3.1 in his 1st year). Dwight Howard is also having a down season, averaging the least ppg (14.3) since his rookie campaign. The team just can’t find any consistency, regularly following winning streaks with losing streaks. After a huge statement win against the Spurs on Christmas, they have gone 11-13, including 2 blowout losses to those very same Spurs. James Harden is still having a phenomenal season, averaging 29 ppg, 7 apg, and 6 rpg, but if this team wants to turn it around, they’re going to need him to become a leader on both ends of the court.
16. Detroit Pistons (27-27)
Off RTG: 105.2 (16th) Def RTG: 104.4 (12th)
The Pistons are looking to be in the playoffs for the first time since 08-09. After appromixately 23842 coaches in that span, they found their guy last year, and Stan Van Gundy has them playing the best basketball Detroit has seen the Billups/Rip Hamilton era. Averaging 17 ppg and 15 rpg on the season, Andre Drummond has shown people that big men can still dominate without having to stretch the floor. Their 80 million dollar man, Reggie Jackson, is proving that he is worth every penny, averaging 19 ppg and 6 apg. Along with Drummond and Jackson, the Pistons fans are also banking on the growth of rookie Stanley Johnson for their future, who has stepped up recently with Caldwell-Pope getting hurt. They need to put the D back in Detroit basketball though if they want to hold on to their playoff spot. They are 0.5 games behind the Hornets for the final playoff spot, and have been in the bottom 10 defensively for the last 2 weeks now.
R.I.P to the rims in Toronto during All-Star Weekend
17. Charlotte Hornets (27-26)
Off RTG: 105.4 (13th) Def RTG: 104.2 (11th)
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, get injured like a Hornet” – Muhammad Ali, if he was following the NBA.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, after being back for only 7 games, dislocated the same shoulder he had surgery on after a preseason injury. On top of that, Al Jefferson (by far their best post player) has only played in 19 games. They also lost Zeller. Batum, and Jeremy Lamb to injuries for a handful of games. If there was one overly used internet fad that could describe the Hornets season up to this point, it would most definitely be this.
Luckily for them, Kemba Walker walked the walk (say that 10 times fast), averaging an impressive 24 ppg, 5 rpg, and 5.5 apg in the last month. That includes lines of 40 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds against the Magic and a franchise-record 52 points, 8 assists, 9 rebound game against the Jazz. Both games were hard-fought OT wins, needing every single bucket from Kemba. Although the coaches didn’t reward him with an all-star nod (a 2-9 stretch by the Hornets in January prevented that from being possible), he has kept the Hornets in the middle of the Eastern conference playoffs race. They currently sit at 8th, only a half game behind the slumping Bulls.
18. Portland Trailblazers (27-27)
Off RTG: 107.2 (7th) Def RTG: 106.6 (18th)
The Portland Trailblazers lost 4/5 starters from last season, so if they finished bottom 5 in the league nobody would have blamed them for it. Fortunately for them, the 1 starter they kept is Dame Lillard, one of the most promising young PGs in the league. Averaging a career best 24.2 ppg and 7.3 apg, Lillard has somehow led the Trailblazers to a .500 record going into the all-star weekend. Sadly, that still wasn’t enough to actually be a part of the weekend itself. To say he has helped this team succeed single-handedly would be hyperbole (and not only because a single-handed basketball player would be ridiculous), because he has had an incredible amount from help from CJ McCollum. McCollum averaged 6.8 ppg last year so you would be justified in not knowing who he is, but he has upped his scoring to 21 ppg, tripling his output from last season. They’ve gone 12-3 in their last 15 games, but most of those wins came against weak competition. We’ll see how real the Trailblazers are after the All-Star break, as they end the season playing more than 50% of their games against teams above .500, including 3 games against the Golden State Unbeatables.
19. Washington Wizards (23-28)
Off RTG: 105.1 (19th) Def RTG: 107.7 (21st)
Although a lot of teams have had injuries as a valid excuse for their struggle, no team has had to deal with the amount of injuries that the Washington Wizards have had to deal with. They destroy the competition when it comes to games lost to injury, as you can see in this graphic. Bradley Beal (by far their 2nd best player) being out for 21 games would be tough by itself, but they lost Humphries for an extended period, Neal, Porter and Gortat to a handful of games, and Nene has been injured since 2011 it feels like. John Wall has been a man on a mission in the last month, putting up 21 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 11 apg, 2 spg in the process and making sure his team doesn’t fall too far back (currently 3.5 games out) of the playoffs. He also seems to have found senzu beans for his team, who are now almost completely healthy and poised to make a run for a playoff spot.
Off RTG: 106.1 (11th) Def RTG: 108.1 (23rd)
Who would have thought that a team with Demarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, and Rajon Rondo would be 9 games under .500 going into the all-star break? Apparently the Kings management, because they have recently announced that they are not going to fire George Karl. In a season full of coaches getting fired prematurely (Kevin McHale, David Blatt, Derek Fisher), it is rather refreshing to see a coach who deserves to get fired keep his job. When Demarcus Cousins isn’t yelling expletives at a ref, he has been an absolute monster on the court this season. Currently 4th in scoring (26.8 ppg), he is making minority Kings owner, Shaquille O’Neal, very proud. Not since Shaq himself has a Center scored more than 25 ppg. Rondo is also enjoying a statistically dominant season, leading the league in assists per game with 11.9, nearly 2 assists over 2nd place.
Unfortunately, the big offensive numbers haven’t been able to help this team pick up more wins. Not only are they dead last in Opponents PPG (109.1 ppg) but in their last 10 they are letting teams score an average of 117.3 on them. 117.3….just let that sink in for a second. They haven’t been playing elite competition either, since the last 10 games included Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Portland, Charlotte, and New Orleans. The Kings have too much talent to be fully dismissed though, and even though they’re playing High School defense, they are still only 4.5 games out of a playoff spot.
Will they make a push and give the fans the Draymond vs Cousins 1st round matchup they all want? Will they burn out and give the haters the Rondo vs Cousins fist fight they all want? Will Rudy Gay ever see a contested mid-range shot he doesn’t like? Find out next time on Dragonball Z (but really, their next game is on the 19th).
Shaq would not be proud of this attempt by Cousins.