“If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all.”
In the interest of saying 30 nice things about 30 NBA teams, we present this weekend’s Weekly Wrap where we spotlight nothing but the nicest of niceties.
30. Sacramento Kings
They may be last in our power rankings, but no team plays their bench more than the Kings, who rank first in both minutes (23.4) and points per game (47.3). Then again, perhaps the reason they are in last is because they play their bench nearly as often as their starters. I digress. Alas, we know one last thing: at least their bench is being efficient in the minutes they do get, posting a +8.6 difference in opponents’ bench efficiency, according to HoopsStats metrics.
29. Phoenix Suns
There are two things that Suns do well: 1. Get to the free throw line; 2. Offensive rebound. Phoenix ranks third in the NBA at 25.1 free throw attempts per game (Devin Booker shoots a team-high 6.5 per game). Meanwhile, it the Suns rank sixth at offensive rebound percentage with 24.1 percent (led by centers Alex Len, 13.9 percent; Tyson Chandler, 13.0; Greg Monroe (11.2).
As bad as things have gotten in the 13 games that Nikola Vucevic has missed since Christmas, management has to focus on the season’s first 34 games before they do anything too drastic at the upcoming February 8 trading deadline before us. As bleak as things look, remember at one time, the Magic had the eighth-best assist ratio (17.1 percent), had the 11th-lowest turnover percentage (14.5 percent) and ranked 16th in true shooting percentage (.551) in those pre-injury days.
Congrats to Atlanta whose opponents commit 16.3 turnovers per game, which ranks third in the NBA. Credit Kent Bazemore, who ranks ninth in the NBA at 1.9 steals per game, for leading the Hawks’ ballhawks. Bazemore’s exemplary defense is best evidenced by his No. 7 status among all shooting guards in defensive Real Plus-Minus (+1.13).
26. Chicago Bulls
Chicago may have unloaded four starters in this season of tanksgiving, but the Bulls are working on D, despite their 22th-ranked status. No one can deny these young Bulls replacements aren’t doing their jobs on the boards, owning the third-best defensive rebounding percentage (81.0 percent), while also limiting opponents’ free throws as best they can, ranking eighth at 20.0 attempts allowed per game.
25. Los Angeles Lakers
Nobody plays faster than the young Lakers, who average 103.18 possessions per game. Now while that does not help their offense since they presently lack shooters, it does feed into their defense and such young-legged ballhawks as Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Larry Nance and Julius Randle, who each are posting plus-defender stats this season. As a team, the Lakers rank 12th in defensive efficiency (allowing 104.8 points per 100 possessions), creating 15.3 turnovers per game, which ranks fifth in the NBA.
Memphis runs the NBA’s slowest pace (95.93 possessions per game) in part to keep up with 7-1 giant Marc Gasol, who turns 33 on Monday. But playing Gasol, a former Defensive Player of the Year, does have its advantages, like limiting opponents’ points in the paint, like the Grizzlies do at a League-best level (40.2 points per game). Memphis also ranks first in two-pointers allowed (25.5 per game) and fifth in opponents’ two-point percentage (.491).
Despite a lack of talent, there is a reason Dallas does not rank near the bottom in either offense (14th) and defense (21st) this season. On offense, the Mavs are halfway-decent because they really take care of the ball, ranking first in the NBA with the lowest turnover percentage (12.7 percent). On defense, they do not allow second chances, owning the sixth-best defensive rebounding percentage (79.2 percent).
22. Brooklyn Nets
Despite lacking the horses, the Nets play fast (fifth in pace at 101.77 possessions per game), shoot 3s (second at 34.1 three-point attempts per game) and get to the free-throw line (fifth at 23.9 free throw attempts per game) well enough to avoid the NBA’s bottom ranks. Couple that out-of-the-cellar offense with some halfway-decent defense (17th in defensive efficiency) and Brooklyn could become a .500 team as soon as next season.
Limiting possessions is important to the Utah defense, which is why they rank seventh in defensive rebounding percentage (78.9 percent) and fourth in opponents’ turnover percentage (15.5 percent). Had rim-protector extraordinaire Rudy Gobert not already missed 26 games to injuries, the Jazz would probably be a top-5 defense with those numbers, instead of rating 13th as they do now (105.0 points allowed per 100 possessions).
20. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are obviously followers of Four Factors principles, leading the NBA in free-throw attempt rate (.315), ranking second in low turnover percentage (12.9 percent), while also holding opponents to the second-lowest free-throw attempt rate (.219) in addition to the second-lowest offensive rebounding percentage (18.8 percent), which leads to their first-place status in limiting opponents’ second-chance points (9.8 per game).
19. New York Knicks
Remember, this is a positive space today so we are not going to talk about what happens to your defense when Enes Kanter comes to your club. But offensively, he is a presence. The Knicks, thanks to their glut of centers to play alongside All-Star power forward Kristaps Porzingis—Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn, Willy Hernangomez and Joakim Noah—now rank fifth in offensive rebounding percentage (24.8 percent) and second in two-point baskets made per game (32.4).
Head coach Stan Van Gundy knows better than anyone not to put your opponents on the free throw line, which is why the Pistons rank first in fewest free throw attempts per game allowed (18.9) fewest fouls per game (18.5). Mind you, Detroit still plays tenacious D, ranking eighth in defensive efficiency (104.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). It is just that they do not gamble recklessly with unnecessary steal attempts. And, yet, with their at-home defense, they still are able to rank fourth in opponents high turnover percentage (14.7).
Chris Paul may be gone, but the 2017-18 Clippers do not attack the rim with any less frequency, with both Blake Griffin and Lou Williams averaging 6.9 and 6.0 free throw attempts per game. Consequently, the Clippers rank fourth in free throw attempts per game (25.3), which contributes to their No. 9 offense (107.1 points per 100 possessions).
16. Denver Nuggets
Having the NBA’s all-time best point center Nikola Jokic (career-best 24.3 assist ratio for centers) gives a team certain luxuries. In addition to also maintaining a top-10 offense (106.4 points per 100 possessions), the Nuggets also rank second in offensive rebounding percentage (26.9 percent), thanks to Jokic’s constant proximity to the basket.
Ex-head coach Jason Kidd never had a problem squeezing offense out of this young crew (ranking eighth in offensive efficiency at 108.2 points per 100 possessions). Not only did the Bucks know the value of good shot selection (making 53.6 percent of their two-pointers, ranking fifth), but also getting to the line often (24.0 free throw attempts per game, ranking seventh).
Head coach Brett Brown’s young Sixers play great defense, ranking third in defensive efficiency (102.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) and do a lot of wonderful things to attain that level of D: rank first in NBA in limiting assists per game (20.7); rank first in .529 rebounding percentage; rank third in defensive two-point percentage (.486); rank third in three-point defensive percentage (.339).
Last year’s Trail Blazers used to put opponents on the free-throw line all too often (26.5 attempts ranking 28th). This season’s Portlandians do better at limiting foes at the charity stripe (22.6 ranks 19th). And that, plus their two-point field goal defense (.488 percentage ranks fourth), allows the Blazers to post the seventh-best defense in basketball (104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Part of running a top-10 offense is making your shots. And although Indiana could be better about shooting more three-pointers, at least they are good at making the ones they do take, ranking fifth in three-point percentage at .374. As far as two-pointers go, the Pacers have no problems with quantity and quality, making 31.8 per game, ranking fourth, and hitting a two-point percentage of .519, ranking eighth.
Nobody scores more points in the paint (56.6 per game), thanks in large part to large All-Stars DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. It is also no surprise, according to HoopsStats, that the Pelicans also lead the league in frontcourt scoring at 75.6 points per game. Those two getting easy baskets is part of the reason New Orleans ranks second in assist ratio (19.2 percent), fourth in true shooting percentage (.582) and sixth in offensive efficiency (108.1 points per 100 possessions).
With both John Wall and Bradley Beal making the All-Star Game together for the first time, the Wizards now can re-stake a claim on new territory against fellow All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson of the Warriors, along with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors, among others. Until then, their biggest threat to both duo’s hold on top backcourt arguments was that all three pairs ranked neck-and-neck together in the points-per-game backcourt scoring race (Washington guards, 49.9 points per game, fifth in NBA, according to HoopsStats; Golden State, 52.0, fourth; Toronto, 53.3, third).
Miami has become a top 10 defense by taking away opponents three-point attempts (25.7 per game) and also limiting second-chance baskets (Heat rank fourth in defensive rebounding percentage at 79.7), which was pretty much the M.O. of last year’s team that won 30 of its last 41 games. FWIW, Miami has won 16 of its last 23 games this season.
Thunder players know something about analytics and winning via Four Factors, ranking first in offensive rebounding percentage (28.1 percent) and also in opponent turnover percentage (16.5 percent). Consequently, they are making teams pay while leading the League in both offensive rebounds (12.4) and steals per game (9.4), while also ranking fourth in defensive efficiency (102.8 points allowed per 100 possessions).
7. Minnesota Timberwolves
Nobody has risen up the standings like Minnesota, who had a 31-51 record last season and now ranks 31-18. That’s a winning-percentage improvement from .378 to .633. It helps that old Tom Thibodeau disciples Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson are showng the youngsters the value of pounding it into the paint, time and time again. The Timberwolves rank first in both free throws (19.7) and two-point field goals (32.7) per game.
Offensively, the Cavs are quite alright, not only ranking fifth in offensive efficiency (109.7 points per 100 possessions), but also ranking third in true shooting percentage (.583), fifth in assist ratio (17.8 percent) and sixth in free throws per field goal attempt (.224). With a healthy Isaiah Thomas joining All-Stars LeBron James and Kevin Love for the second half, who knows how how much better they’ll be come playoff time.
5. San Antonio Spurs
They may not be Tim Duncan and David Robinson, but Coach Gregg Popovich knows how to play to his advantage—HEIGHT—in this Kawhi-less season thus far. And by relying on the defensive prowess of Hall of Famers Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio finds itself ranking second in
Toronto may be the most-balanced team in the League, especially since they are the only NBA team to rank in the top five in both offensive (fourth at 109.9 points per 100 possessions) and defensive efficiency (fifth at 103.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). Part of the reason for their offensive success is their high rank in both free throw percentage (second at .804) and two-point field goal percentage (sixth at .535). On D, they limit three-pointers (allowing 8.9 per game) better than anyone.
3. Boston Celtics
There is a reason the Celtics rank first in defensive efficiency, allowing only 99.8 points per 100 possessions. It is because nobody is better at contesting three-pointers (opponents shooting a league-low 33.4 percent against Boston) and two-pointers (again, a league-low 47.7 percent).
2. Houston Rockets
Nobody makes more three-pointers (15.7 per game)—nor shoots more (43.2 three-point attempts per game) for that matter—than the Rockets, who also rank second to the Warriors in offensive efficiency (112.4 points per 100 possessions). Credit goes out to James Harden, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, who are all good to make multiple 3s most nights. Also, big up to their bigs (and littles and middles) for also ranking first in defensive rebounding percentage too (.814).
1. Golden State Warriors
Nobody does offense better than the Warriors, who lead the NBA in offensive efficiency (113.4 points per 100 possessions) for the third straight season, while also leading the League in scoring margin (+8.7), scoring offense (115.8 points per game), free throw percentage (.815), field goals per game (43.5), field goal percentage (.509), two-point percentage (.572), three-point percentage (.391), true shooting percentage (.611), assists per game (30.5) and blocks per game (8.0).