Monday, February 17, 2014

How Solid Are the Spurs? (Power Rankings, Week 16)

Even with this week's abbreviated schedule due to the All-Star Game, we saw some great games and one of the signature moments of the season so far. In Sunday's showcase of stars, we winessed an East victory (Who knew???) despite the continued dominance of Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin.

Below are the complete power rankings, followed by deeper looks at the business-as-usual San Antonio Spurs and the rejuvenated Charlotte Bobcats.

Here are my Week 16 Power Rankings, with all records current through All-Star Weekend:
30. Milwaukee Bucks (9-43)
29. Philadelphia 76ers (15-39)
28. Los Angeles Lakers (18-35)
27. Sacramento Kings (18-35)
26. Boston Celtics (19-35)
25. Orlando Magic (16-38)
24. New York Knicks (20-32)
23. Utah Jazz (19-33)
22. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-33)
21. Denver Nuggets (24-27)
20. New Orleans Pelicans (23-29)
19. Detroit Pistons (22-30)
18. Charlotte Bobcats (23-20)
17. Atlanta Hawks (25-26)
16. Washington Wizards (25-27)
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-28)
14. Chicago Bulls (27-25)
13. Toronto Raptors (28-24)
12. Brooklyn Nets (24-27)
11. Golden State Warriors (31-22)
10. Memphis Grizzlies (29-23)
9. Dallas Mavericks (32-22)
8. Phoenix Suns (30-21)
7. Portland Trail Blazers (36-17)
6. San Antonio Spurs (38-15)
5. Los Angeles Clippers (37-18)
4. Houston Rockets (36-17)
3. Miami Heat (37-14)
2. Indiana Pacers (40-12)
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-12)

San Antonio Spurs
Patty Mills dropped a career-high 32 points in a win over Charlotte on Feb. 8. (Photo via sportal.com.au)
The most well-run franchise in the NBA somehow holds the second-best record in the loaded West despite weathering a recent injury to Kawhi Leonard, a mediocre 5-5 mark in its last 10 games, and the continued aging of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

The Spurs are incredibly balanced, ranking fifth in defensive efficiency and seventh in offensive efficiency. San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the only teams ranked that highly in both statistics, and the Thunder have benefitted from Kevin Durant transforming into a demigod in 2014. The Spurs, on the other hand, have done it while resting their stars for substantial amounts of time.

Gregg Popovich has played Tim Duncan fewer than 30 minutes per game, but Duncan is still posting higher rebound and point totals than he did in 2010-11 or 2011-12. The superstar portion of The Big Fundamental's career looked like it was on life-support after that 2011-12 campaign, and his resurgence the past two seasons has been beautiful to watch. He's still capable of putting up 23 points in a half like he did on Wednesday night in Tony Parker's absence (DNP: REST). 

For his part, Parker has had another outstanding season, but Popovich has been able to keep his minutes down as well. The solid play of backup point guard Patty Mills has made that possible. Mills has the fourth-best player efficiency rating on the team, behind only Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili.

The Spurs have also gotten significant contributions from Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Tiago Splitter. San Antonio's second unit, led by Ginobili, could probably beat the starting lineups from several of the East cellar-dwellers in a seven-game series. That's a testament to the putridity of the Eastern Conference, but also to San Antonio's ability to constanly replenish and develop its talent base.

Charlotte Bobcats
The Big 'Cat (Photo via bleacherreport.com)
Charlotte has a very good defense, which allows the seventh-fewest points per 100 possessions. However, the Bobcats offense is basically The Al Jefferson Show featuring Kemba Walker. Jefferson is putting up his best stats, on a per-game basis, since his oustanding 2008-09 season with Minnesota. Big Al is such a force that he's pouring in 21.3 points per 36 minutes despite seeing constant double-teams in Charlotte's otherwise anemic offense. 

When Jefferson doesn't play well, as in Charlotte's loss to the Nets on Wednesday, the Bobcats pretty much have to keep teams under 90 points in order to win. It's a good thing, then, that Jefferson usually puts up at least 20, as he did in 14 of the 15 games before the defeat in Brooklyn. Charlotte was 8-7 in those contests, a respectable winning percentage in this year's Eastern Conference.

Overall, Michael Jordan's boys sit in the East's final playoff spot, just a haf-game ahead of Detroit. They'll resurrect the Charlotte Hornets name next season, but not before looking to make the playoffs for just the second time since they were established as the Bobcats in 2004. They don't exactly have a storied history, and the final chapter will likely end in a first-round playoff sweep.      


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