NBA Power Rankings: 3 Weeks In

This is the first in-season NBA power rankings for Around the Block. We are about an 8th of the way through the season, with every team playing between 9-11 games so far. The season has gotten off to a great start, with rookies making their mark, former dynasties looking revamped and a wide-open race to the finals. There have been surprises all over the league, good and bad. Here is the first look at where all 30 teams stack up thus far.

nba power rankings
Credit: The Guardian

1) Golden State Warriors

Record: 9-1

Before the season I wrote about my favorite over-under bets for the NBA season. My number one pick was the Warriors to go over, and so far that looks like a fantastic bet. The Warriors have jumped out to hot start, with the best record in the league at 8-1. The Warriors have the league’s best defensive rating, along with the current MVP front runner in Stephen Curry. They are doing all this without last year’s 2nd overall pick James Wiseman and the imminent return of Klay Thompson. This team should only get better. I expect them to be near the top of these rankings all season long.

2) Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 8-3

Without patting myself on the back too much, I also had the 76ers beating their projected win total. Even with the ongoing Ben Simmons drama, and missing some of their key players due to Covid. The Sixers have picked up where they left off last regular season, dominating the east. Joel Embiid has produced at the same level we have seen the past four seasons. The emergence of Seth Curry has been one of the bright spots for this team. Curry currently is 3rd in true shooting percentage league-wide. A stat historically dominated by bigs who take the majority of their shots within 5 feet of the basket. While the shooting numbers are unsustainable, the Sixers will be able to keep pace once they get some key players back and sort out of the Simmons situation.

Update: This was written prior to the news of Joel Embiid being put into health and safety protocol for a minimum of 10 days

3) Brooklyn Nets

Record: 7-4

Another team with a lot of drama surrounding, the Nets took a couple games to return to form; specifically James Harden. The Nets can compete with any team in the league when Harden is playing as he did in Toronto. The Nets are getting valuable minutes from their veterans, they are one of the best in the league and they are doing this all without one of the top 20 players in the league. The Kyrie situation currently doesn’t have any end in sight, but there are rumors New York could change its vaccine stance which would allow Irving to rejoin the team without major repercussions. The Nets will continue to win games as long as they have two of their three stars in action, and a supporting cast that perfectly suits the big 3.

4) Miami Heat

Record: 7-3

The Heat were on top of many power rankings before to their brutal loss to the Celtics. Miami has come out guns blazing and the way the game is being officiated has given an advantage to physical defense, Miami’s specialty. One of my favorite parts of the early season is members of the media talking about Kyle Lowry’s defense, shooting, and play-making. Essentially admitting they didn’t watch any of Kyle in Toronto, as he continues to be the same All-Star caliber player. Combined with the re-emergence of Tyler Herro’s scoring ability, the Heat are built for a playoff run.

5) Utah Jazz

Record: 7-3

The Jazz continue to dominate in the regular season, where Rudy Gobert shines as the front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year once again. Two of the three Jazz losses have come without Mike Conley, a great sign for the Conley-Mitchell backcourt. The Jazz have a deep rotation with the ability to cover any injury setbacks. The real issues start in the playoffs where teams go small to pull Gobert away from the basket. For the time being the Jazz are one of the best in the west, especially when Conley is at full health.

6) Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 4-6

The Bucks currently sit in the final spot for the eastern play-in game, of course, it is only 10 games in but things have broken wrong for Milwaukee. Jrue Holiday missed 5 games, Brook Lopez hasn’t played since opening night and Khris Middleton continues to be in health and safety protocol due to Covid. The defending champs are off to their worst start since the 2017-2018 season, but this roster when fully healthy is a top 5 team in the league. Giannis Antetokounmpo has played his butt off to keep the Bucks ready to make a run and push back into the top of the east.

7) Dallas Mavericks

Record: 7-3

Luka Doncic added another career highlight when he sunk the Celtics with a 3 point buzzer-beater. Doncic continues to break the brain of every NBA fan, hitting shots that no 6’7 human should hit. With the game-winner Saturday, Luka tied Dirk Nowitzki for the most game-winning buzzer beaters in Dallas history. The Mavs go as Luka does, and so far this season that is good for the third-best record in the west. The rest of the roster could use some upgrades, another wing or ball handler would be ideal for this team. Jalen Brunson has been a much-needed boost off the bench and has shown he can provide valuable minutes in crunch time. His performance against San Antonio was easily one of his best.

8) Phoenix Suns

Record: 6-3

Last season’s western champions bring back an almost identical roster. The Suns know the formula to a winning season, they just need to shake off the rust of a shorter than average offseason. Chris Paul moved into 3rd place on the All-time assist leaderboard, jumping Mark Jackson and Steve Nash in the process. He had a season-high 18 assists on Tuesday. The Suns will be competitive all season long as they are among the West’s elite, but most of their play has been overshadowed by the tragic reports about owner Robert Sarver and his inexcusable behavior.

9) Denver Nuggets

Record: 5-4

The Nuggets are a one-man show for the time being. Nikola Jokic leads the team in every statistical category. He is playing even better than his MVP season and carrying the Nuggets to a 5-4 record. Jokic’s biggest improvement this season has come on the defensive side of the ball, he is 2nd in the league in individual defensive rating, behind reigning DPOY Rudy Gobert and ahead of former DPOY Draymond Green. Jokic has made strides on that side of the ball using technique and IQ to keep pace with faster and more athletic players. The Nuggets have the potential to finish higher on this list if Michael Porter Jr. can get out of his slump. Coming off a major 172 million dollar extension, he has been one of the most disappointing players in the league this season.

10) Chicago Bulls

Record: 7-3

The Bulls are off to their best start since the Derrick Rose days, their offseason additions have made the biggest impact league-wide. While many were skeptical of the DeMar DeRozan – Zach Lavine fit, the two have meshed very well. DeRozan has shown he can be a key contributor on a winning team again. Free-agent signee Alex Caruso has exceeded expectations to help the Bulls thus far, but no player has had a bigger impact on the Bulls than Lonzo Ball. Ball is the perfect piece to tie this unit together, his play-making and defensive impact have been crucial in every Bulls win this season. The Bulls will continue to be an offensive powerhouse as they have 3 players who can score at will, the team’s issue will come on the defensive front. The Bulls best defensive player Patrick Williams was on the verge of a breakout, but after breaking his wrist the Bulls won’t see him again until next season.

11) Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 6-4

The Grizz have been of the league’s early-season darlings. Ja Morant is a bonafide star, leading the NBA in points in the post. Ja is 6’3, his layup package so far this season is unmatched. The Grizz are getting healthier and have a young team with a lot of talent, Jaren Jackson Jr. started off slow but has picked up his play over the past couple of games. With Dillon Brooks on his way back from injury, Memphis should be competitive all season long.

12) Washington Wizards

Record: 7-3

When the Wizards traded Russell Westbrook to the Lakers, many people wrote the team off. Westbrook was not a fantastic fit beside Beal but the team was trending in the wrong direction. 10 games into the season and the Wizards sit ahead of the Lakers in the power rankings (not by much, but we’ll get there). Washington is experiencing what Bill Simmons calls the Ewing effect, in short – the Ewing effect represents an uptick in play from a team when they lose a “star”. The Wizards look completely different this season, they are getting the most out of new additions. Montrezl Harrell is one of the front-runners for Sixth Man of the Year, Kyle Kuzma has carved out a nice role as a starter and Spencer Dinwiddie is finding his legs after missing the majority of last season. The Wizards are the surprise team of the league thus far.

13) Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 6-5

This spot feels low for the Lakers, but also high? I’m not sure what to make of this year’s Lakers. They still have LeBron, who is currently out with an abdominal strain that was initially expected to keep him out for just a week. There are now rumors it could keep him out much longer. The roster construction of the Lakers is a mess, Anthony Davis is one of the league’s best but the Russell Westbrook experience has had mixed results. The Lakers could have had Buddy Hield (a career 40% three-point shooter) while having more cap to resign free agents like Alex Caruso. The Lakers are a talented team, but they need to figure out a better rotation and hope LeBron can stay healthy after a rough 8 months.

14) New York Knicks

Record: 7-4

BING BONG! The new catchphrase of the Knicks can be heard and seen across NBA arenas league-wide. It has captivated basketball in New York and the Knicks are looking to build off of last season. RJ Barrett has been the Knicks’ best player so far, showing flashes of a future all-star. The Knicks started hot but have dropped three of their last four, as they look to build chemistry with new offseason additions. While the offense has been fine, the Knicks defense will need to get back on track to keep them in the playoff race, and out of the play-in game.

15) Toronto Raptors

Record: 6-5

Coming off of a five-game win streak, the Raptors dropped two straight over the weekend, but that shouldn’t halt the buzz surrounding this team. On July 29th the Raptors shocked the world by selecting Scottie Barnes fourth overall, with cries from fans to take Jalen Suggs who went one pick later. 11 games into the season and Barnes has all the looks of a future star. After Sunday’s loss to the Nets Kevin Durant raved about the young rookie, to the delight of Raptors fans league-wide. Combined with the emergence of OG Annunoby and the return of Pascal Siakam, the Raptors are once again set up to destroy all offseason predictions regarding the team.

16) Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 7-4

Speaking of rookies, Evan Mobley has been getting his share of praise. Mobley played the best game of his young career on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, dominating every aspect of the game. Mobley has earned the nickname “Baby KG” after the great Kevin Garnett. His defense at such a young age has been unbelievable to watch, Mobley leads the league in contested shots, not just rookies. The Cavs have been another surprise as they have gotten lots out of new additions Lauri Markknen and Ricky Rubio. As someone who had lots of questions regarding the roster construction, I can happily say. I was wrong.

17) Portland Trailblazers

Record: 5-5

The Blazers and new head coach Chauncey Billups have not gotten off to an ideal start. Damian Lillard is in the midst of the worst shooting slump of his entire NBA career. Dame is averaging just 18.5 PPG (points per game), down from 28.8 last season and 6 points lower than his career average of 24.6. It is easy to see that his shooting splits have completely cratered to start the season, I expect Lillard to find his game and the Blazers to move up in these rankings. To make matters worse the Blazers are now dealing with an in-house investigation of a toxic workplace environment caused by current GM Neil Olshey.

18) Los Angeles Clippers

Record: 5-4

The Clippers are getting healthier, with the return of Serge Ibaka after offseason surgery. Paul George has carried this team most nights, with little help from the rest of the roster. Terrence Mann has been the lone other bright spot while slowly playing more minutes and becoming a hound on the defensive end. This Clippers team definitely has its limitations but the play-in game is definitely within reach.

19) Charlotte Hornets

Record: 5-7

The league’s most fun team, the Hornets are coming off their worst loss of the season to the 9-1 Warriors. Charlotte has ways to go on the defensive side of the ball, as LaMelo Ball continues to struggle defensively. The Hornets have now lost five straight after a dominant start to the season, Miles Bridges has come out hot, and seems to be the early favorite for Most Improved.

20) Boston Celtics

Record: 4-6

Coming into the season, the Celtics were expected to be in the thick of the playoff race led by their two young Stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Through ten games, the Celtics have been one of the league’s most disappointing. After seemingly righting the ship with back-to-back wins in Florida, the Celtics gave up a massive fourth-quarter lead and then lost to another Luka dagger. The rumors have already started swirling as Shams Charania of The Athletic reported the Celtics have called about Sixers star Ben Simmons. The rumor suggests that any talks start with Celtics star Jaylen Brown who is in the midst of a career season statistically.

21) Atlanta Hawks

Record: 4-7

The 2021 Hawks have looked polar opposite to the team we saw in the eastern conference finals just five months ago. No player has struggled more to adjust to the new foul rules, than Trae Young. The Hawks have outright been bad, there is no sugar-coating it. This team is talented and has plenty of depth, I expect the Hawks to make a run and find their rhythm. The only positive surrounding this team is the early play of John Collins. He is shooting 59.6% from the field and 42.9% from 3, both would be career highs, all while shooting more than ever. If the rest of the Hawks can pick up their play, watch out.

22) Sacramento Kings

Record: 5-6

The Kings have had a really nice start to the season, while their best player De’Aaron Fox has struggled. Fox has been the one of league’s worst 3 point shooters, shooting just 20% so far. His PPG is also down from 25.8 to 18.9, aside from Fox the Kings have been a welcome surprise as the best of the league’s bad teams. Harrison Barnes is averaging 22.5 points and has become the de-facto late-game scorer. While I doubt the level of play is sustainable the Kings couldn’t have asked for a better start with this roster. I realize how sad that sounds with the team sitting at 5-6 but the roster is really really bad.

23) Indiana Pacers

Record: 4-7

The Pacers’ have been playing without fringe all-star and leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon due to Covid so the record does not tell the full story. Indiana has a talented roster and solid core between Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, and Caris LeVert. The team is adjusting to a new coach and a new system from Rick Carlisle. The Pacers have the pieces to be competitive and play for a spot in the play-in game. If things continue to go south the Pacers are a team to watch for a splash trade or full tear down.

24) Minnesota Timberwolves

Record: 3-6

The Wolves are on a five-game losing streak, they have a date with the Warriors on Wednesday. Things are not looking great for one of the league’s worst franchises. The Wolves are nearing a point where they should consider trading their best asset, Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns’ career has been rotting away in Minnesota and it is time to see what he can do on a good team. The Wolves have some talent around KAT in Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell but it has been the same story since KAT was drafted. Another early lottery pick and we could see a trade request from more than one guy.

25) San Antonio Spurs

Record: 3-7

Long gone are the days of the Spurs dynasty, now it is the early stages of a rebuild. Dejounte Murray has easily been the Spurs’ best player averaging a crisp 18.4 points, 8.2 assists, 8.1 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. These numbers would put him in Hall of Fame company as the third player to average that since Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. The Spurs have a plethora of young wings to coach up and reevaluate after the season to continue the rebuild.

26) Orlando Magic

Record: 3-8

The Magic have been helped by the emergence of Cole Anthony. Last year’s first-rounder has been one of the league’s most improved. He has carried a young Magic team to each of their three victories. The Magic are ways away from being a contender but they have some really nice players who could be a large part of the future. Fifth pick Jalen Suggs has not had an ideal start to his young career, while early his shooting woes have continued from college.

27) Oklahoma City Thunder

Record: 3-6

The Thunder are just letting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander just go to work, SGA is leading the NBA in isolation points per game. Shai has constantly kept this team in games and single-handedly beat the Lakers (without LeBron but still). Since the start of last season, the Thunder are 19-25 when he plays and 6-31 

28) Houston Rockets

Record: 1-9

The Rockets are the best of the one-win teams. This roster has some talent to trade away at the deadline. That is the story with the Rockets this season, keep acquiring assets and developing. This year’s second overall pick Jalen Green has shown flashes through ten games. His scoring has been on full display at times, with a high arcing shot and ferocious dunks. Green is about the only watchable part of the Rockets.

29) Detroit Pistons

Cade Cunningham, the first overall pick in this year’s draft is off to a bad start. There are plenty of statistics out there telling us he is off to the worst start for the first overall pick since Anthony Bennett. Cunningham is 20 years old, coming off an injury, and is working on changing his shot. I know it has not been encouraging to start but can we give the kid more than four games. Cunningham has struggled in just about every aspect but I would be shocked if he doesn’t turn it around.

30) New Orleans Pelicans

The Pels are a mess, missing their two best players they have been downright bad. Zion Williamson has been one of the leading news stories as he struggles to get healthy and rumors persist about his weight issues. Brandon Ingram is about to miss his fifth consecutive game, with hopes his return is imminent. The Pelicans are the laughing stock of the league until Zion can return and dominate the way he did last season. At his best, he is one of the league’s best and most efficient scorers. The hope is Zion can figure things out on his end so we can see him take his play to the next level.

Jamie Cutler’s Favorite NBA Win Totals for 2021

NBA win totals 2021 Credit: ClutchPoints

Every year, Bill Simmons does a two part NBA win total podcast going over every team and picking a side. It is always one of my favorite listens before the season starts; it helps get to gage where each team is at based on the consensus of basketball junkies I trust. This year I decided to hold off listening to the podcast so I could pick a few of my own. Win totals are always a fun bet that gives you more of a rooting interest in different teams. Without further ado, here are my five favorite NBA win totals for 2021.

Golden State Warriors Over 47.5 Wins

This is the first total that stuck out to me, each time I look, I keep coming back. The once dominant Warriors have come back to reality with a plethora of catastrophic injuries over the past couple seasons, but there is optimism in the bay once again. Klay Thompson is on track to play for the first time in over 2 years, clips of him practicing have looked encouraging. Stephen Curry is coming off an MVP caliber season, and the Warriors got better over the season.

The Warriors have much more talent this time around with Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, the return of Andre Igoudala and a another year of last years 2nd overall pick James Wiseman. Combined with two high draft picks and Otto Porter who has flashed signs of being a valuable role player in the past.

All of this depth plus a player who I expect to make a leap this season, Jordan Poole. Poole has really come into his own and he has shown flashes of being a true number 3 option on this team. Expect Poole to be a major part of the Warriors offence this season. The Warriors are ready to re-enter the title conversation, and should smash this win total.

Charlotte Hornets Under 38.5 Wins

The Hornets were one of the league’s most surprising teams last season, they beat their win total of 26.5 by 6 games. Come 2021 LaMelo Ball and co. have higher expectations. While I believe this team is on the right track, I think a lot broke right for Charlotte last season, from a weaker eastern conference to lucky breaks. The east has definitely improved this season, with the top 6 likely a combination of the Bucks, Celtics Hawks, Heat, Nets and 76ers. The Bulls, Knicks and Pacers all improved this season and added key contributors through personnel or coaching.

That is 9 teams currently set up to be better than Charlotte, not including a pesky Raptors squad and a always in the mix Wizards. The Hornets are young, but it feels like they are missing established vets who help right the ship during a tough stretch. I expect some growing pains from the young Hornets, this feels like a learning season to get LaMelo to the next level.

Philadelphia 76ers Over 50.5 Wins

One of the biggest question marks in the NBA right now is Ben Simmons. After talk all offseason that Simmons would not play for the Sixers again, Ben has finally reported and it sounds like he is on track to play for the team this season. A shocking development that no one expected, makes it hard to get a read on this team. The Sixers were the #1 seed in the east last season, winning 49 games in a shortened season. I believe this Sixers team is capable of winning 50 games with or without Ben Simmons.

The Sixers have one of the league’s best in Joel Embiid and a fantastic supporting cast for him. Tobias Harris and Seth Curry are perfect complimentary pieces to Embiid’s game. Tyrese Maxey is a player i expect to make a leap this season, he showed flashes in 2020 and the Sixers would be wise to push him into the starting lineup sooner than later. Embiid and Simmons have both shown they play better in a system without each other.

The best case scenario is trading Simmons for a package that includes shooters, or a floor general to work with Embiid. If they could pry Tyrese Haliburton or in a crazy situation, De’Aaron Fox from the Kings, that would upgrade the lineup immensely. The Sixers are in a good position regardless of Simmons status, I expect another strong regular season from the team.

Sacramento Kings Under 36.5 Wins

Speaking of the Kings, I am expecting their under to hit as well. The Kings roster construction confuses me, two years in a row they drafted best player available. A draft strategy I usually love, but the team already had a young stud point guard in De’Aaron Fox. Now they have 3 ball dominant guards with Tyrese Haliburton and Davion Mitchell, plus another guard who loves to shoot in Buddy Hield. They can’t possibly play the 4 of them at once, the defense could have prime Hakeem as their 5th and still be horrendous. While I like Richaun Holmes as role player his defense lacks as well.

The best thing this team could do is trade for Simmons. A defensive stud who can drive to the basket, and make plays. The Kings also suffer from having the worst coach in the league, Luke Walton. Walton and the Kings are in for a rough season, which might see them saying goodbye to some of their core players.

Denver Nuggets Over 47.5

Coming off an MVP season, Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets are looking to make the jump from perennial playoff team, to title contender. They have had playoff success the past two seasons but couldn’t get past the hump. Late last season rising star Jamal Murray tore his ACL just weeks before the playoff run. While Murray is out for at least the first half of the season, the other Nuggets will need to step up in order for the team tops in the west again.

This team gets a full season of Aaron Gordon, and Will Barton is fully healthy for the first time since last march. I am excited to see how Michael Porter Jr. looks in the absence of Jamal Murray. Many around the league are expecting a major jump from Porter Jr in year three.

The Nuggets have intriguing role players from PJ Dozier, to rookie Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland . They will need one of the guards to step up as well as more of a scoring effort from Gordon and Porter. Nikola Jokic is a threat to take over any game, he is one of my favorite league pass alerts (a player who gets so hot you have to text a friend telling them to turn on a random basketball game in December, Steph Curry usually leads this made up stat).

He can keep the Nuggets in any game, which always helps the win total. The Nuggets high powered offense and good coaching will lead them to another strong season, I expect another 50 win season for Michael Malone.

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Thunder vs Bucks: Post game report

Thunder vs Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks had no real trouble beating the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night, beating them 130-110. Don’t fear Thunder fans, there were some positives vs the Bucks as well! We’ll break them down here — along with the not so positive. 

Luguentz Dort is the best shooter in NBA history

Ok, I’m kidding obviously. Dort had a great showing offensively tonight much like he did against the Rockets during Game 7 in 2020. Dort started the game going 4/4 from three, and finished 4-6 from three with 19 points on a total 7-11 from the field. Luguentz has vastly improved offensively since entering the NBA, and he still has more untapped potential — which to the rest of the NBA should be as terrifying as being chased by Michael Myers, Jason Vorhees, Chucky, and Leatherface all at the same time. 

Josh Giddey all around game

If you asked me what I expected a Josh Giddey statline to look like, I would say something close to what Giddey put up tonight. Josh struggled a little from the field going 3-9, but he did finish with nine points, six rebounds, and six assists. I definitely expect the rookie to get a triple double this season if he can stay healthy. 

Scary Pokusevski

We knew when the Thunder drafted Poku that development would take time. His performance on Sunday night has to give the fans and Oklahoma City front office cause for concern, however. Pokusevski posted two points on 1-6 from the field, and looked completely lost at times. This is not the time to give up on young Poku though, as he is still just that, very young. But this was in way a positive performance. 

Defense

We knew coming into the season the Thunder would struggle on defense at times. Milwaukee showed everyone just how bad it could possibly be / get. The Bucks went an astounding 54% from the field, and 54% from three. That is just brutal. Milwaukee scored 50 of their 130 points in the paint highlighting just how desperate the Thunder are for post length. Hopefully getting Derrick Favors back soon will remedy that if even little.

In closing

The Oklahoma City Thunder are what we thought they were. A young team that would struggle mightily on the defensive end but has potential to be very fun to watch on the offensive end (even though the final numbers say otherwise). The Thunder need to put this loss vs the Bucks behind them as they host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night at 8 pm EST. A game I assume will be available to watch on the Thunder website.

Thunder vs Bucks: Preseason Preview

thunder vs bucks

The Oklahoma City Thunder will be back in action this coming Sunday as they travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for an intriguing matchup vs the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Thunder most likely will not have to play against the majority of the starting lineup that won the NBA Championship last year as the Bucks are choosing to be precautious with Giannis Antetokoumpo , Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, Jrue Holiday, and Rodney Hood. Here are my projected starters for each respective team, and a preview of what to expect from Thunder vs Bucks. 

Bucks

Point guard- George Hill

Shooting guard- Grayson Allen 

Small forward- Jordan Nwora 

Power forward- Thanasis Antetokoumpo

Center- Brook Lopez

Thunder

Point guard- Shai Gilgeous Alexander

Shooting guard- Josh Giddey 

Small forward- Luguentz Dort

Power forward- Darius Bazley 

Center- Isaiah Roby

In their last game against the Hornets the Thunder had a difficult time scoring the ball, going 38% from the field, and 31% from three. I don’t believe they are that bad of an offensive team, so I do look for a bounce back game here. On the flip side, the Hornets went 49% from the field and 27% from three. Oklahoma City did a good job it seems on defending the perimeter, but struggled guarding in all other situations. As predicted, the Thunder were putrid in the paint on defense, giving up 62 of Charlotte’s 113 points in the paint. That will most likely carry over and be a huge storyline throughout  the season. 

And in their last game against the Memphis Grizzlies the Bucks struggled on the offensive end without their veteran leaders, going 41% from the field and 28% from three. This game on Sunday does have the potential to get ugly offensively. Oklahoma City would probably prefer for it to. On defense, Milwaukee gave up 46% from the field, and 31% from three to the Grizzlies.

As mentioned earlier, this has the potential to be an ugly game that could go down to the final buzzer. I do expect the Bucks to exploit the Thunder’s weakness in the paint, and I predict Milwaukee pulls off the win.

Oklahoma City Thunder 88 | Milwaukee Bucks 104

Is DeAndre Ayton worth the max?

DeAndre Ayton
DeAndre Ayton, Credit: NBA

In 2018, the Phoenix Suns selected DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick. Taking him two spots before Luka Doncic and four spots before Trae Young. Ayton had a rough start to his career, but he has blossomed into one of the league’s premier young centers. Ayton’s 2020 playoff run showed how valuable he can be to a playoff team. Ayton averaging an extremely efficient 15.8 points per game, with fantastic rebounding and mostly good defense (he struggled against Giannis in the finals, but who doesn’t). Due to this, DeAndre Ayton is looking for the max.

Come 2021, Ayton is expected to have an even bigger role for the defending western conference champions. DeAndre Ayton is eligible for the rookie max. The max comes in at 5 years, $172.5 million. With boosts and bonuses that could push it to a total of $207 million. So far Ayton’s camp will not budge on anything less than the max, his peers have received the same contract why shouldn’t he?

Reasons to not resign

The Suns have reservations about giving Ayton the max, they have seen how quickly the landscape of the league changes, especially with Bigs. Big men who can’t knock down 3’s, or run an offense have seen their value quickly deteriorate. Even the league’s best defender, Rudy Gobert has had trouble staying on the floor due to his offensive inabilities. The modern NBA big has a new role in the game, and many teams are still figuring out how they view these players.

Ayton will need to add more to his game, we have already seen his a capable mid-range shooter. Ayton shoots above league average from within 5 feet, 5-9 feet and 10-14 feet, where he struggles is anything over 15 feet where he is below league average. Adding a reliable 3 point shot to his game, would do wonders for Ayton and help keep him on the floor during the playoffs. We have seen traditional bigs add the 3 to their game, from Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Brook Lopez.

Reasons to resign

Ayton’s rare combination of size and athleticism combined with a consistent deep ball would make him one of the league’s best centers. His defensive IQ and footwork also need improvement. Physically Ayton has the tools to be an elite center, who disrupts the middle and shuts down other teams bigs. Thus far he has shown flashes of greatness but those have been few and far between. Ayton’s best defense performance to date, came against the Lakers in the first round of last years playoffs.

The Lakers averaged 42.6 points in the paint per 100 possessions with Ayton on the floor, with Ayton on the bench that number ballooned to 58.5. Ayton held Anthony Davis one of the league’s best to a pedestrian 40% shooting when guarded by him. Davis shoots 40% on just jump shots when guarded by the rest of the league. If Ayton can continue to take these strides on the defensive side of the ball, he could become one the league’s best two-way players.

Overall

The Suns need to be careful how they approach this situation, Phoenix does not have a great reputation for taking care of their guys. Suns owner Robert Sarver has been the center of media attention multiple times, and not for the right reasons. The longer this story goes, the worse the trust gets between the players and ownership. Ayton of courses feels as though he deserves the max.

Ayton is the second most important player for the Suns future. The combination of Devin Booker and Ayton are the keys to success. The Suns need to make sure both players continue to play for this team. Otherwise we could see the Suns short run of success doom itself very quickly. While I understand the risks that come with giving Ayton a max contract, the upside far outweighs the risk of possibly losing Ayton to a team willing to pay him the max.