This article was co-written by Sam Keefe and Eli Pittman.
Updated Power Rankings as of January 15th.
1. Golden State Warriors
2. Atlanta Hawks
3. Portland Trailblazers
4. Memphis Grizzlies
5. Dallas Mavericks
6. Toronto Raptors
7. Houston Rockets
8. LA Clippers
9. Washington Wizards
10. Chicago Bulls
11. San Antonio Spurs
12. Detroit Pistons
13. Phoenix Suns
14. Oklahoma City Thunder
15. New Orleans Pelicans
16. Milwaukee Bucks
17. Charlotte Hornets
18. Cleveland Cavaliers
19. Denver Nuggets
20. Sacramento Kings
21. Miami Heat
22. Brooklyn Nets
23. Indiana Pacers
24. Boston Celtics
25. Orlando Magic
26. Utah Jazz
27. LA Lakers
28. Minnesota Timberwolves
29. Philadelphia 76ers
30. New York Knicks
As the NBA season dies down before the All-Star break, some teams jostling for playoff spots are beginning to feel the effects of injuries.
Julius Randle: Earlier in the year, the Lakers lost first round draft pick Julius Randle to a broken leg. Randle wasn’t playing outstanding by any means, and the Lakers certainly aren’t in any sort of playoff contention, but he was developing nicely as a player. It’s always sad to see a younger player go down for the season, but at least he’s got a long career ahead of him.
Jabari Parker: Not too long ago, the draft’s second overall pick and potential rookie of the year, Julius Randle suffered a torn ACL and is out of the season. The Bucks weren’t half bad this season, with players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brandon Knight lookings pretty decent so far. The team probably wasn’t going to make a splash in this years playoffs, but it’s sad to see a player like Parker lose a year of development.
Anderson Varejao: The Cavaliers one weakness, in theory at least, was their lack of a quality rim protector. After tearing his Achilles tendon on December 23rd against the Timberwolves, Cleveland’s frontcourt was left even thinner. The Cavaliers GM, David Griffin, clearly panicked after this injury, and made a series of trades to attempt to compensate for losing his starting center.
Kevin Durant: Now back from his second injury of the year, Durant is finally healthy after a broken foot held him out for the first 20 or so games, followed by a right ankle sprain that held him out a few more. If things hold up, the Thunder should be at full strength as they look to push for a playoff spot.
Thunder, Cavs and Knicks involved in three team deal.
On monday, January 5, the Cleveland Cavaliers sent Dion Waiters to the Oklahoma City Thunder in return for a 2015 first-round pick. In addition, the Thunder sent guard Lance Thomas to New York, while the Knicks sent guards J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cavs in exchange for forward Lou Amundson and center Alex Kirk. For the Knicks, the trade was used to free up the money due to both Shumpert and Smith. For the Thunder, acquiring Waiters gives them a much needed scoring threat to ease the load off of Durant and Westbrook. For the Cavs, the trading of Waiters was going to happen at some point. Waiters had made it very clear he didn’t want to be on the team, so they sent him somewhere else. In return they receive J.R. Smith, capable of his own fair share of scoring, and Iman Shumpert, a valuable perimeter defender.
Dallas Mavericks acquires Rajon Rondo from Boston Celtics
At the beginning of the season, the Mavericks riding the fine line between contenders and a fringe playoff team, due to the brutal western conference. They hopped this line by filling their weakest position, point guard, with a proven All Star in Rajon Rondo. Granted, they also traded away a big part of their depth in Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, and Brandon Wright, and also surrendered future assets in a 2015 first round draft pick and a 2016 second round draft. The Mavericks are clearly trying to win now, and gain another championship in the Dirk Nowitzki era.
Josh Smith Released by Pistons
Power Forward Josh Smith was recently released by the Detroit Pistons and picked up by the Houston Rockets. The Pistons had been trying to get rid of Josh Smith for a while, and it got to the point where they knew they no longer had to option trade him. After the team released him, Smith was soon picked up by the Houston Rockets where he’s been playing some really decent basketball so far. However, the Pistons have actually benefitted tremendously from this move. As of January 14th, the Pistons are 9-1 in their last 10 games, and have been playing really efficient team basketball. Everything just seems to be clicking. It may be just happenstance that it occurred after the cutting of Josh Smith, but it’s reasonable to believe he was killing a lot of team chemistry.
On January 12th, the Memphis Grizzlies sent Tayshaun Prince and a projected future first-round draft pick to the Boston Celtics, and Quincy Pondexter and a 2015 second-round draft pick to the New Orleans Pelicans. In return, the Celtics traded Jeff Green to Memphis, and the Pelicans sent Russ Smith and a 2014 second-round draft pick to Memphis and G Austin Rivers to Boston. On January 7th the Cavs traded two first round picks to the Denver Nuggets for center Timofey Mosgov. On January 9th, the Suns acquired Brandon Wright from the Boston Celtics for a protected first round pick.
Derrick Rose Struggling to Find Consistency
Derrick Rose has played in only slightly more than half of the Chicago Bulls games this season. While Chicago remains among the elite in the east, Rose’s noticeably underwhelming stats are still cause for concern. While the all-star caliber play of Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, and Jimmy Butler will allow the team to compete in the regular season, Derrick Rose must elevate his game in order to have any chance at making a run for a championship.
Atlanta Hawks Turning Into Dominant Team in East
At the start of the season, few would have projected the Hawks to be in first place in the East at this time of year. However, bolstering a 30-8 record and 9 game win streak as of January 14th, the team has been firing on all cylinders. With the 5th highest margin of victory in the league, their success doesn’t seem to be a fluke. It doesn’t seem to be because of one player either; Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Al Horford and the rest of team have all been playing really good basketball this season.
Eli’s MVP Prediction
James Harden has been playing out of his mind in the ultra-competitive western conference. He currently leads the league in the points per game at 26.9 points, all while Dwight Howard has been in and out of games all season, keeping the Rockets in the top three in the conference. He also individually lead the Rockets to a ten win undefeated start, and has been the best player in the league all season.
Sam’s MVP Prediction
Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors have been on a tear this season, snatching a 16 game win streak earlier in the year. Steph has also led the team to an NBA best 31-5 as of January 15th. Averaging 23.3 points and 8.0 assists per game, Steph is top 7 in the league in points, assists, steals and free throw percentage. With the 4th highest player efficiency rating and on pace to make the 40/50/90 club this season, all Steph needs to snag his first MVP is to keep improving this season, and win games.