Monday, January 20, 2014

How Other-Worldly Is Kevin Durant? (Power Rankings, Week 12)

In the past few days of NBA action, Kevin Durant went off, Paul George turned it on, Mark Cuban had to be muted, and the Manimal cranked up the volume.

In this week's power rankings, the Pacers hold firmly to the top spot while the Grizzlies move all the way up to No. 11 on the strength of a five-game winning streak.

Following the complete rankings, we'll take a deeper look at Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder and the rejuvenated Toronto Raptors.

Here are my Week 12 Power Rankings:
30. Milwaukee Bucks (7-33)
29. Orlando Magic (11-30)
28. Boston Celtics (14-28)
27. Philadelphia 76ers (13-27)
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (15-25)
25. Los Angeles Lakers (16-25)
24. Utah Jazz (14-28)
23. Sacramento Kings (14-25)
22. Charlotte Bobcats (17-25)
21. Detroit Pistons (17-23)
20. New York Knicks (15-25)
19. New Orleans Pelicans (15-24)
18. Brooklyn Nets (16-22)
17. Chicago Bulls (19-20)
16. Atlanta Hawks (20-19)
15. Washington Wizards (19-20)
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (19-21)
13. Toronto Raptors (20-19)
12. Denver Nuggets (20-20)
11. Memphis Grizzlies (20-19)
10. Dallas Mavericks (24-18)
9. Phoenix Suns (23-17)
8. Houston Rockets (27-15)
7. Los Angeles Clippers (28-14)
6. Portland Trail Blazers (31-9)
5. Golden State Warriors (26-16)
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (31-10)
3. Miami Heat (29-11)
2. San Antonio Spurs (32-9)
1. Indiana Pacers (32-7)

Oklahoma City Thunder

In early December, I wrote a post called "How Good Is Kevin Durant?" I discussed Durant's improved passing and effieciency this season. I also talked about how Russell Westbrook's return lightened the load for KD. Well, Westbrook's injured again, and Durant has really shown fans what he's capable of.

In Friday's ridiculous nationally-televised performance against the Warriors, Durant made Stephen Curry's 37-point outburst a total afterthought. Durant dropped 15 in the first quarter, and it was obvious that he was going to put on a show. He did just that, becoming the first player to surpass 50 points this season.

No. 35 has notched three of his five highest-scoring career games in January, absolutely dominating opponents despite his sidekick's injury.

Even in Sunday's win over the Kings, in which Durant scored "only" 30 points, he completely controlled the game. He dished out nine assists and shot 66 percent on very efficient shots.

So how good is Kevin Durant? It seems like we're really starting to find out, as Westbrook's absence forces him to constantly push his ceiling upward.

Toronto Raptors 

Before the Raptors lost to the woeful Lakers on Sunday night, they had been playing pretty good basketball. They're 14-7 since trading Rudy Gay, a move that many people thought would cause them to plummet to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.

DeMar DeRozan has been playing very well since the trade. He's averaging 22.5 points and -- more importantly -- 5.2 assists over the last 10 games. DeRozan is just 24, and he looks like he'll grow into one of the best two-guards in the league.

DeRozan's backcourt-mate, Kyle Lowry, has also benefited from the addition-by-subtraction Gay trade. Lowry is scoring 18.1 points per game in January. Like DeRozan, he's dishing out a lot more assists than he was earlier in the season.

Lowry and DeRozan look very comfortable playing together, and they might help make the Raptors the least-qualified three-seed in NBA history. With Al Horford injured, the Hawks have begun to falter, so it looks like Toronto will end up in the top half of the East standings. 

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