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NBA Power Rankings: Mavericks Closing in on Contender Status; A Standout Player from Every Team


NBA Power Rankings: Mavericks Closing in on Contender Status; A Standout Player from Every Team

Believe it or not, I like at least one player on every single NBA team — yes, even the Wizards. That even applies to your favorite team you believe I hate. For this week on ye olde Power Rankings, I thought it would be a nice, positive experience to highlight one of those players and tell you what I’ve liked about them this season. Not every player will be the obvious pick or the star of the team, but we’re going to be positive and highlight those players I enjoy. Also, we’ll flawlessly rank all 30 teams without any comments saying otherwise for the 24th straight week.

Reminder: The Power Rankings don’t just rank the 30 teams. We divide these teams into tiers, which teams can move in and out of. We currently have the tiers broken into seven new categories:

Eliminated – They’ve been eliminated from the Play-In race.
Season is over, just not mathematically — They haven’t started tanking yet, but it’s on the table this season.
Looking to make the Play-In — They’ve been rebuilding/retooling and think they can crack the top 10 in their respective conference.
Play-In Tournament teams or better — They should be in the mix unless something disastrous happens.
Playoff teams — Probably don’t have to worry about dropping down to the Play-In Tournament.
On the brink of contention — A piece away from us believing they can win the title.
Contenders — They are contending for the championship, barring a massive injury.

As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.

Here’s how the Power Rankings work:
It’s up to my discretion how the rankings shake out. For some teams, they’ll be hit in the short term. Others will be given the benefit for the long term. Yes, it is entirely subjective.
If I have a team ahead of another team, there’s no reason to ask why they’re ranked above the team you like. The answer is pretty simple: I think that team is set up better for success.
Yes, I watch the games. And yes, I watch your favorite team.
This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have fun.

With all that said, let’s dive into Week 24 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings. Stats and records are through Monday’s action.

Tier 1 – The Contenders

Boston Celtics
My favorite Celtics of the season: Derrick White
White isn’t the best player on the team by any means, but I simply love watching him play basketball. The leap he took this season is kind of crazy too. He was always a very good role player, and everybody knew he’d be better suited for a team like this, rather than trying to lift a mediocre Spurs squad. White’s ascension to a borderline All-Star is tremendous. He’s a dog on defense and a reliable shooter, and you always expect him to make the right play.

Oklahoma City Thunder
My favorite Weather of the season: Jalen Williams
This is not a knock on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has the shiftiest game this side of Kyrie Irving. SGA has been unreal all season long, and he is right there with Nikola Jokić for the league MVP debate. But Williams is my favorite Thunder player this season. I thought he should’ve been heavily considered for the All-Star Game. Everybody talks about Chet Holmgren boosting this team, and it’s well-deserved praise. But Williams is the second-best player on this team and someone the Thunder go to at the end of games to show everybody you can’t prepare to counteract all they can do. He makes you just pray you can stop them in that moment.

Minnesota Timberwolves
My favorite Wolf of the season: Anthony Edwards
Ant might be my favorite player in the league. It’s not just his personality, the unflappable confidence or the spectacular highlight plays that leave us trying to figure out new superlatives for what we just witnessed. The 22-year-old Edwards has also added world-class defense to his repertoire. He was a good defender before and could lock down when needed. But he’s made it far more consistent this season, which leads you to wonder what he’s going to add to his game next.

Denver Nuggets
My favorite Nuggets of the season: Nikola Jokić
It’s pretty hard to go against the two-time MVP and reigning Finals MVP with this one. I do love me some Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but what Jokić continues to do is too much fun. He’s also played the best defense of his career as he possibly locks up his third regular-season MVP in four years. Even Jokić’s bad games give you moments of absurdity on the court and leave you with a stat line that connotes success. He’s truly approaching the top-10 of all-time status right in front of our eyes.

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Dallas Mavericks
My favorite Mav of the season: Kyrie Irving
Luka Dončić is the obvious choice, and after what he’s been doing lately, I probably should pick him. He makes the most impossible stuff look routine. But I want to highlight the way Irving has played because it’s a reminder of why everybody has been begging for him to be able to find a way to stay on the floor. When Irving is healthy, the stuff he does with the ball is just baffling. I’m so impressed with the way he’s meshed his game with Luka’s and helped the Mavericks become such a force lately.

New Orleans Pelicans
My favorite Pelican of the season: Zion Williamson
The midseason change in Williamson has been borderline transcendent. We’ve seen the point forward version of Williamson that was flirted with in the past come into fruition. He’s improved his defensive capabilities well enough to remind you of the highlight blocks and plays we saw from him at Duke. And he’s been remarkably consistent and available for a Pelicans team that is trying to secure home-court advantage in the first round. If this is the Zion we see for the next few years — and he’s healthy — that’s potentially a top-five player in the league.

LA Clippers
My favorite Clipper of the season: Kawhi Leonard
He’s the reason to believe in the Clippers if you’re going to believe in the Clippers. We’ve seen him mostly healthy this season, and the results have spoken for themselves. Leonard is still an impossible scorer to stop because his patience and skill set are hard to match. His consistent presence allows guys like Paul George and James Harden to concentrate on excelling in other areas. And he’s still a nightmare to deal with when he’s on defense. If the two-time Finals MVP is healthy, anything is possible with this squad.

Milwaukee Bucks
My favorite Buck of the season: Bobby Portis
I know this feels like a bit of a hipster pick, and maybe it is subconsciously. Obviously, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best and most entertaining player on this team. And Damian Lillard hasn’t lived up to the standard he set for himself in Portland. Not even I could be a big enough idiot to pick Thanasis here for his podcast exploits. I genuinely think Portis has been my favorite player for them this season. He’s been so integral off the bench and provides a real toughness and presence opponents don’t really want to try. He’s such a good scorer and a reliable shooter. And he helps them play small when Brook Lopez isn’t the right matchup or needs some rest.

New York Knicks
My favorite Knickerbocker of the season: Josh Hart
Jalen Brunson could be the easy and correct answer, but I genuinely love what Hart brings to the table. He just makes tireless, winning plays pretty much every game, and he’s a hilarious personality. The podcast he has with Brunson is actually good beyond the social media clips. And Hart has become someone Tom Thibodeau can’t afford to have on the bench – it’s not like he’d make any subs most of the time anyway. Hart is as much the heart and soul of this team as Brunson is, and he’s a reason the team chemistry is off the charts.

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

Phoenix Suns
My favorite Sun of the season: Kevin Durant
What can you say about Kevin Durant at this point that hasn’t been said? We know the scoring is historic. We know he can (and is willing to) make plays for teammates. But the defense he’s played this season has been as important as anything else he can do for the Suns. This is not a deep team, and it’s still trying to figure out how to get the most out of whatever rotation Frank Vogel feels comfortable throwing out there. Durant’s ability and willingness to play the five for stretches saves them a lot more often than it hurts them. He’s one of the greatest ever for a reason.

Sacramento Kings
My favorite King of the season: Malik Monk
It sucks that Monk is essentially done for the season, or at least may not be able to come back until later in the first round of the playoffs. I expect him to win Sixth Man of the Year. He’s been as important to the Kings as any other player since about December. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis are deservingly seen as the stars, but Monk’s scoring and playmaking off the bench kept his team dangerous all game. And his energy permeated throughout the roster. His injury is a massive blow to them, and you saw that in the second loss to Dallas this past week.

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Los Angeles Lakers
My favorite Laker of the season: LeBron James
I mean … yeah. LeBron is still ridiculous! Sixty years into his NBA career, and he’s still performing at an unreal level. He just went for 40 against the Nets, tying his career high of nine 3-pointers in the process. This season, LeBron (39 years old) is making 41.5 percent of his 3-pointers on over five attempts per game. His athleticism is still there. He’s still smarter than everybody on the floor. And he’s still dragging the Lakers to most of their success.

Orlando Magic
My favorite Magician of the season: Paolo Banchero
There’s so much impressive young talent in the NBA that Paolo Banchero kind of gets lost in the shuffle, but he’s been fantastic for this Magic team. At times, I think people harp too much on his inefficiency, which I believe is overblown. He’s a solid 3-point shooter but definitely should be a better free-throw shooter. However, Orlando doesn’t really have dynamic guard play on offense, so Banchero ends up having to set up so much on his own. And he’s still this good. Imagine him with a proper lead guard executing a two-man game. Banchero is a bully on the court and only getting better.

Indiana Pacers
My favorite Pacer of the season: Tyrese Haliburton
I am not deterred by the struggles with his shot and play since the hamstring injury. I believe Haliburton is the guy we saw before the injury. His play is so interesting. Everybody focuses on the unorthodox shot, but his pace of the offense, especially in the half court, is the stuff so many of us nerd out on. He rarely gets sped up by the defense, and he almost always makes the correct read. When he’s healthy, I’m not sure how you even game plan for him. You just have to try to cover everybody else and hope he doesn’t torch you to a loss.

Golden State Warriors
My favorite Warriors of the season: Draymond Green
It should be Steph Curry because he’s one of my favorite players to ever watch. He’s still near the top of his game and putting on unreal scoring displays. Not to mention, he’s been playing the best defense of his career on top of it. At the same time, Green has been an endless source of content on and off the court. From the Rudy Gobert choke to the Jusuf Nurkić strike to claiming Adam Silver talked him out of retirement to wrestling Patty Mills to his latest ejection and getting into it with Grant Williams, Green has been a great circus on top of the good play he still exhibits on the floor.

Cleveland Cavaliers
My favorite Cav of the season: Donovan Mitchell
When he’s on, Mitchell is as fun as just about anybody. I’ve been super impressed with how he helped the Cavs get through some big injury stretches this season, and we saw Mitchell playing some of the best basketball of his career. Unfortunately, he isn’t immune to the injury bug. From December through February, Mitchell averaged 28.1 points, 6.5 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals with a ridiculous 61.5 percent true shooting mark. Since the end of February? He’s played in only four games.

Houston Rockets
My favorite Rocket of the season: Jalen Green
Green has been my type of player since high school. I love an athletic gunner who mostly concentrates on getting buckets. It’s the type of play I enjoy watching, even though it’s not always best for the team. Green has really struggled with consistency and production that matters in his career so far. That was until about a month ago, when he started absolutely shredding the competition. He’s averaged close to 30 points per game on close to 50 percent shooting from the field since March 12, lifting the Rockets after Alperen Şengün went down. Green is the main reason they still have a chance at the Play-In.

Miami Heat
My favorite Temperature of the season: Jaime Jaquez Jr.
Normally, this answer would easily be Jimmy Butler because I love the way he approaches each game, but he hasn’t played nearly enough this season, and Bam Adebayo’s offense hasn’t quite resembled what I hope his next leap to be. Fortunately, Jaquez has taken South Beach by storm. It didn’t take long for people to realize the rookie is a main component for the Heat. And if you want to nerd out on a player’s footwork, he’s already one of the most impressive in the league at it.

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Atlanta Hawks
My favorite Hawk of the season: Jalen Johnson
Some of this is selfish! I was super high on Johnson going into the 2021 draft and confused/frustrated about him not really playing his first couple years. He proved in a short amount of time this season that he was more than capable of replacing John Collins. I love the impact Johnson has on the floor. He’s been exactly what they needed at the position on both ends of the floor when he’s healthy. Plus, he’s unleashed some pretty fun dunks and athletic plays at which to marvel.

Chicago Bulls
My favorite Bull of the season: Coby White
I don’t know if he’s going to win Most Improved Player this season, but I think he embodies the spirit of the award. I don’t think anybody outside of White and his family envisioned this level of ascension. The Bulls lost Zach LaVine early, leading to White jumping into the lead guard role and making them better. He understands and executes his role much better, and he’s become a guy the Bulls have to have on the court to be successful.

Philadelphia 76ers
My favorite Sixer of the season: Joel Embiid
I’m torn on whether I want to see Joel Embiid again this season. I don’t see an actual pathway toward the Sixers winning the East with him coming back from a meniscus operation roughly two months prior. After that, it just becomes a matter of risking his health for at-best a second-round exit we’ve already seen from the 76ers. But at the same time, Embiid has been superbly dominant in his time on the court this season, and I love watching elitism in the NBA. He was unstoppable before his injury, which is the kind of entertainment we truly love.

Tier 6 – Season is over, just not mathematically

Brooklyn Nets
My favorite Net of the season: Cam Thomas
Again, we love gunners here at the Power Rankings, and Thomas is a gunner. He’s a scorer who gets buckets and doesn’t apologize for it. This season, while playing nearly twice as many minutes, Thomas doubled his shot attempts and scoring average from his first two years without really sacrificing much efficiency while rarely turning the ball over — probably because you can’t turn it over if you shoot it. There needs to be a balance between his game and the team concept, but he’s perfect for a team just getting through the season (for now). We’ll see big numbers from him a lot of the time, and he always puts on a show.

Tier 7 – Eliminated

San Antonio Spurs
My favorite Spur of the season: Victor Wembanyama
I mean … obviously. We’ve been obsessed with him for a couple years now, the hype was out of control, and he’s somehow exceeded all of it. The only thing he hasn’t been able to do is make the Spurs winners (yet), although it’s hard to do that when you get outscored by 11 points per 100 possessions without him on the floor. Wemby is the future of the NBA in a ridiculous way. He’s doing stuff we’ve never fathomed before. And I remind people this is the worst he’s going to be for the next 15 years or so. There is no ceiling with him, and that’s not just because of his height. I can’t remember the last time a rookie made me obsessively track every single minute they’re on the court.

Memphis Grizzlies
My favorite Grizzly of the season: Ja Morant
I know he only played nine games, and I do genuinely enjoy seeing what GG Jackson is doing with these opportunities. But the nine games of Morant was a fun reminder why we don’t want him to be hurt or do stuff that gets him suspended. He is pure entertainment and really good at his job. He was electric in those nine appearances and immediately tried to dunk on Wembanyama (and succeeded). It’ll be exciting to get him back fully healthy and available next season. Also, side note: The Grizzlies should’ve never waived Kenneth Lofton Jr. for a roster spot complication. He’d be killing right now.

Tier 7 – Eliminated

Utah Jazz
My favorite Jazzman of the season: Keyonte George
This rookie lead guard is showing why everybody loved him at Baylor. The stretch he’s been on lately has been exactly what you want to see. He’s been running the show in Utah and making big shots. The latter is something he struggled doing at Baylor and for half of this season. It shows a lot of confidence that Will Hardy trusted George to do the job pretty quickly, and he rolled with the ups and downs quite well. George could be a massive matchup problem for perimeter defenders in the very near future.

Detroit Pistons
My favorite Piston of the season: Jalen Duren
I’m not sure how many players on this basketball team actually know what they’re supposed to do, but I feel confident Duren is one of them. I’ve been super impressed by his body of work this season. He’s a rebounding machine and great around the rim. I think Duren projects as a fantastic defensive anchor once he gets enough guys around him to funnel properly. The coaching and teammates have been bad, but the 20-year-old was a beacon of hope all season long. They have their big man of the future right there.

Charlotte Hornets
My favorite Hornet of the season: Brandon Miller
Maybe I would’ve been a hipster and talked about Mark Williams if he got to more games this season, but Miller is the easy pick, considering the other Hornets’ scattered availability. Miller had a lot of questions coming into his rookie season, most of which I shared. He’s answered all of them with resounding success, except for whether he can be a star in this league. I think his floor is an awesome player with a ceiling for star potential. We just need a little more to know which one is more likely.

Washington Wizards
My favorite Wizard of the season: Tyus Jones
Entering the season, I thought Jordan Poole was going to be a wonderful mess to watch. In a way, he still was. But he didn’t gun for big scoring nights like I expected him to. And Bilal Coulibaly didn’t quite get enough opportunities to overtake Jones for me. He’s one of my favorite point guards because he reminds me of those super solid 1990s point guards. Jones doesn’t turn it over, gives effort on defense, sets everybody up, and knocks down shots. He should get a monster payday this summer. If it’s with the Wizards, I hope they give him some teammates to help him out.

Toronto Raptors
My favorite Raptor of the season: Scottie Barnes
I sort of wanted to cheat and say Immanuel Quickley because he was one of my favorite players on the Knicks, but his time with the Raptors hasn’t been quite the same, though still good. Barnes being out for the rest of the season has reminded me how watchable he made this Raptors mess all season long. Granted, they’re no longer trying to put a winnable product on the floor because they want to protect their pick. But Barnes is so good at so many elements of the game that he’s just so entertaining.

Portland Trail Blazers
My favorite Blazer of the season: Anfernee Simons
I really wanted this to be Scoot Henderson, but it will probably have to wait until next season. The chaos agent in me wanted it to be Deandre Ayton because he got iced in and couldn’t attend a game, and we later found out that “Domin-Ayton” was sleeping on an air mattress for months. But the answer here is Simons. He’s been an even better playmaker while remaining the same scorer despite Damian Lillard not being around. Simons is so good and so fun.

These rankings provide a comprehensive look at each NBA team and highlight a standout player from each team. From rising stars to seasoned veterans, there is talent and excitement on every roster. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how these players continue to make their mark in the league.

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