NBA Power Rankings: Historic regular season could hold promise for epic playoffs
An unforgettable 2016-17 regular season comes to a close
It’s going to take a while to digest this NBA season, and figure out the meaning in everything we saw.
The 2016-17 season was one for the history books. Unprecedented offensive efficiency, the super team in Golden State, the trials and tribulations of the Cavaliers (again), the best MVP race in modern history (maybe ever). The absurd run by the Heat after starting 11-30. The rise and fall of the Bulls. The Joel Embiid phenomenon. DeMar DeRozan’s scoring streak. The Spurs once again winning 60 games. Nurkic fever. Jokic hysteria.
Derrick Rose literally went AWOL. Giannis Antetokounmpo turned potential into ability. We’ve haven’t seen a 50-point triple double in 40 years. We saw five this season between two players. A 5-foot-9 point guard set nearly every offensive record for the legendary Celtics. DeMarcus Cousins is a Pelican ... that’s a thing that happened. Devin Booker scored 70. LeBron James set career marks in rebounds and assists. Kawhi Leonard smiled, like, once.
What does this mean for the playoffs? It could hold promise for one of the greatest postseasons in NBA history. It could foretell bland and predictable playoffs that go chalk. But we’re not going to forget this regular season. From Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles to James Harden and the Rockets’ offense to the Warriors’ dominance (and occasional foibles which didn’t wind up mattering) to Boston’s rise, Toronto’s perseverance and every Rudy Gobert block in between, we saw something special every night this season.
There’s talk that the NBA season is too long, that 82 games is too many, and that talk’s probably on point when it comes to preventing rest and injuries, and improving the product overall. But the league never disappointed this season, and gave us too many memorable moments to count.
Here’s to the 2016-17 NBA regular season.
The playoffs begin in five days.
|1||Warriors||Kevin Durant's back on the floor, the road to the Finals goes through Oracle, and the Warriors are setting the internet on fire with GIFs again. Now the annual question. Will they look as good in a postseason atmosphere as they did in the regular season? The last time they legit impressed, even with two Finals appearances, was the first round in 2015. Can they find that dominance in a playoff series again, having just got Durant back?||--||44-14|
|2||Spurs||San Antonio's regular season was phenomenal. You can point to so many players who had good, really good seasons, but none outside of Kawhi Leonard, who had an unforgettable season. They just all bought in, played disciplined, smart basketball, and were led by an elite talent. Gregg Popovich continues to mold his team structures around whatever he has to work with, and that flexibility, more than anything, is what makes him such a great coach.||1||35-24|
|3||Raptors||Dwane Casey deserves more recognition for keeping this team together, down the stretch, when the schedule got tough, without their best player. DeMar DeRozan carried the load, but Casey made sure the cargo was packed right. Toronto secures another 50-win season and will have every opportunity to return to the conference finals for a second straight year. This franchise is no longer a sidenote or an afterthought, they are a powerhouse, and GM Masai Ujiri, Casey, DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have made them such.||2||41-16|
|4||Clippers||The Clippers' best net ratings this season were in the first 10 games of the year ... and the last 10 games. They are finishing about as well as they began, and flying completely under the radar. This bodes well for them.||2||30-26|
|5||Jazz||Utah's been buckling under the pressure the last month or so, and are in danger of losing homecourt. This season is a success no matter what, but the Jazz have had opportunities for an even better one that have floated away from them.||4||30-28|
|6||Celtics||The Celtics got smacked with a cold splash of Cavs reality the same week they clinched the No. 1 spot in the lottery via Brooklyn. There's always good news with the bad. Now we have to find out if they're ready to face down those playoff demons.||4||40-19|
|7||Rockets||James Harden's wrist pretty clearly isn't right, and it's getting to be more and more of a concern. He's shooting just 41 percent from the field and 30 percent from three in the last 10 games.||3||44-13|
|8||Thunder||Russell Westbrook's season has shifted the standards for production in every phase of the statistical axes. And he may still not win MVP. That's how good this season has been. His performance Sunday -- 50 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists with just two turnovers -- was flawless.||--||33-26|
|9||Bucks||Their defense gets better, their offense gets worse. Their defense gets worse, their offense gets better. It's a coin flip for which version of the Bucks show up in the playoffs.||2||32-25|
|10||Wizards||Can the Wizards flip the defensive switch? If not, they're going to be the ones dealing with the shocker upset instead of causing one this season.||3||33-24|
|11||Trail Blazers||A return to the postseason for Portland two years in a row is an accomplishment ... but one that should be couched with how bad the back half of the West has been in both situations. Nurkic vs. Draymond Green will be must-see TV in the first round.||4||32-26|
|12||Hawks||The Hawks have made the playoffs for 10 years in a row. That's not going to get talked about, but a standard the franchise has managed to hold, and that should matter, even if postseason success has eluded them.||11||18-41|
|13||Cavaliers||I had them fourth before the collapse to the Hawks Sunday. If they're not going to care enough to compete in the regular season as they should, I'm not going to care enough to rank them where they probably should be.||3||34-22|
|14||Grizzlies||Look, I get that they seem like the same Grizzlies team, and they wasted opportunities for a better bracket lie. But Memphis is 14th in made 3-pointers this season, the most made in franchise history. They have a little different configuration. Whether that will matter or not ... that's tougher to say but it seems unlikely vs. the mighty Spurs.||2||18-38|
|15||Pacers||Paul George is averaging 33-9-4 and shooting 51 percent from the field and 44 percent from deep in his last five games. He is dragging this team to the postseason kicking and screaming out of sheer will.||4||33-25|
|16||Bulls||They had literally the easiest schedule in the league with 10 days left, and they might miss the postseason. This team is just infuriating. They're the NBA team version of the protagonist in the bad rom-com who can't get their life together that you're supposed to root for but just wind up wanting better things for the supporting characters.||--||20-37|
|17||Nuggets||Denver lost its season four times: a nail-biter home loss to the Blazers in October, a nail-biter loss to the Thunder at home in November, a blowout loss to the Sixers at home in January and a nail-biter loss to the Thunder on Sunday. The Nuggets failed to make the playoffs but they were anything but boring this season. Their offseason should be equally compelling.||1||32-26|
|18||Heat||It's like Pat Riley bet Erik Spoelstra he couldn't make Rodney McGruder, James Johnson, and Wayne Ellington into rotation players in the same season. And if that's the case, Riley better get ready to pay up. Just an amazing job to salvage this season ... which could wind up doing nothing but wasting their draft pick. A fascinating three days await the Heat.||4||30-28|
|19||Hornets||Charlotte needs to improve its bench, remember how to win close games and hope that Marvin Williams' expiration date hasn't passed. Other than that, this season was more bad luck than anything.||4||24-33|
|20||Pistons||The exit meetings with Stan Van Gundy are going to feel like those meetings with the vice principal about how you weren't living up to your potential and were going to wind up working at Burger King.||2||28-29|
|21||Mavericks||If you ever ask "Is there anything Rick Carlisle can't do?" Remember that the answer is "Take a team with Harrison Barnes as its best player and starting Yogi Ferrell to the playoffs" is the correct answer.||1||18-40|
|22||Nets||The Nets will hit their over on win total next season. No, that's not a joke. There's a culture in place that will pay off, even if they struggle to add to their talent. There are good things happening in Brooklyn.||1||19-40|
|23||Pelicans||They're going to be criticized if they let Jrue Holiday walk. They're going to be criticized if they give Holiday a huge new contract. There's no win here, but Holiday has been more than good enough for the Pelicans to retain at market cost.||6||31-26|
|24||Magic||Did you know Elfrid Payton is shooting 47 percent from the field this season? That's better than Ricky Rubio has ever shot. There's a good player hidden somewhere deep, way deep down inside.||--||18-39|
|25||Lakers||The lottery gods have been merciful upon them, but they are either ruining their mojo with the gods with all this winning when they need to preserve their pick, or encouraging favor by never quitting. Either way, you have to think this team will be a little bit better next season, and that might be good enough to not be terrible.||3||23-34|
|26||Timberwolves||The Minnesota Timberwolves taught us a hard lesson we should be loathe to forget. Never get ahead of yourself with a team anchored by kids under 22. This league is too good to win with kiddos. The failure was not theirs, but ours for forgetting this is a grown-up's league.||1||36-25|
|27||Knicks||I'm trapped between thinking that Melo deserves Phil and Phil deserves Melo ... and thinking that the fans deserve better than both.||2||23-36|
|28||76ers||Next season will be the season that doesn't try and take five years off Brett Brown's life. I just know it. But hey, if they can just get their two multi-injured top-three draft picks back on the floor, they could be great. Why is every good thing with Philly cloaked in bad news?||2||30-25|
|29||Suns||Not a fan of the Suns first fouling to get Devin Booker to 70 points and then fouling to keep Westbrook from his triple-double. They just seem caught up in things other than the things that will help them win games. Always ask yourself, "Would the Spurs do this?"||1||18-41|
|30||Kings||The Kings have a roster and coach that could really improve next season with a top-six pick. The pieces are there, despite everything. But ownership is going to have to get management in a good place and then get out of the way. It's the only path forward for the franchise. Until that happens, the Kings will continue to be the team who I warn all other teams not to be like.||1||18-39|
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