ALTHOUGH we didn’t get a blockbuster of a deal on deadline day itself, the 2017 trade deadline certainly shook up the landscape of the NBA.
We’re skipping our usual power rankings this week, basketball friends, because there have been just six games since the last time we met. Instead, we’re ranking every team’s overall talent level at this point in the season.*
*When fully healthy; players expected back from injury this season were included in the rankings, while those who will miss the rest of the year were not.
Here’s a look at where every team stands now that the dust has settled and the push for the playoffs is right around the corner.
30. SACRAMENTO KINGS
Three most-talented players: Darren Collison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Ty Lawson
DeMarcus Cousins was the glue holding this team together. Without Boogie — and with Rudy Gay sidelined by a torn Achilles tendon — the Kings are unquestionably the least talented team in the NBA.
29. BROOKLYN NETS
Three most-talented players: Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker
The Nets are bad. They’re awful. Putrid, really.
Yet Brooklyn has two starting-caliber players on the roster, which is more than the Kings can say. For once, the Nets aren’t professional basketball’s very worst team.
28. ORLANDO MAGIC
Three most-talented players: Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Bismack Biyombo
What does a loose collection of semi-talented players, a couple of tweeners, an old school big man who doesn’t play defence and a new school big who only plays defence get you?
If you’re Orlando, the answer is a 21-37 record.
27. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Three most-talented players: Joel Embiid, T.J. McConnell, Dario Saric
No. Not Jahlil Okafor.
Deal with it.
26. LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Three most-talented players: Nick Young, Larry Nance Jr., Julius Randle
Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo Russell have a ton of talent too, of course. But for now, they’re more potential than actualised production. Ask us about the Lakers again in a couple years once the core has developed (or once Magic Johnson has traded everybody for a star).
25. PHOENIX SUNS
Three most-talented players: Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, Tyson Chandler
Phoenix has reason for hope with an assortment of young, skilled players like Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Tyler Ulis and the aforementioned Booker — and reason for despair because there’s no real direction or development with this team these days.
24. DALLAS MAVERICKS
Three most-talented players: Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes
Combine those three Dallas stars with Nerlens Noel and Yogi Ferrell, and you have the makings of an actual playoff contender. We’re happy that the Big German will be able to wrap up his career alongside actual NBA players.
23. MIAMI HEAT
Three most-talented players: Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Tyler Johnson
The Heat seemed destined to part ways with Dragic before a mid-season surge pushed Miami right back into playoff contention. The Dragon’s continued presence buoys a roster that has solid talent without any real stars.
22. CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Three most-talented players: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller
You’ll probably scoff at Zeller’s inclusion on that list, but you’d be wrong. His absence was one of the biggest reasons the Hornets fell off a cliff earlier this season.
21. DETROIT PISTONS
Three most-talented players: Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris
Drummond’s a tad overrated at this point, especially on defence. He’s still the Pistons’ best player, though, which says a lot more about Detroit than Stan Van Gundy would like to hear.
20. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Three most-talented players: Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, JaMychal Green
One of my biggest takeaways from this exercise is how ridiculous this Grizzlies season is. After Gasol and Conley, this team is a bunch of cast-offs, D-League superstars, wise veterans and unproven young guys … and I love every bit of it.
GRIT ‘N’ GRIND FOREVER.
19. DENVER NUGGETS
Three most-talented players: Nikola Jokic, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler
Jokic might be one of the most talented players in the entire league — a big man channelling the spirit of Magic Johnson on a nightly basis.
And don’t forget Kenneth Faried, who’s quietly had a bounce-back year for a Nuggets team that’s criminally overlooked at this point.
18. CHICAGO BULLS
Three most-talented players: Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Robin Lopez
Trading Taj Gibson on Thursday made the Bulls a lot less talented for now. Cameron Payne could develop into a decent rotation player, but he has a long way to go on that front.
17. INDIANA PACERS
Three most-talented players: Paul George, Myles Turner, Jeff Teague
Kudos to the Pacers for holding onto George for now. They can always move him after the draft lottery, or on draft day, or during the off-season, or … well, you get the picture.
George staying lets Turner develop without having to take over the offensive burden, and Teague looks closer to his former All-Star form with every passing week. There’s just not a whole lot of depth here.
16. ATLANTA HAWKS
Three most-talented players: Paul Millsap, Dwight Howard, Dennis Schroder
The days of having four All-Stars are long gone in Atlanta. Instead, the Hawks have two talented big men, a decent pick-and-roll point guard, and a handful of 3-and-D wings of varying capability, none of whom would make a real impact for a title contender.
15. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Three most-talented players: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic
Portland’s back-court is one of the best in the NBA, although Lillard (26) and McCollum (25) are older than you think. Nurkic is an intriguing addition as well. The rest of the roster, though? Meh.
14. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Three most-talented players: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Greg Monroe
Milwaukee would be quite a bit higher on this list were it not for Jabari Parker’s knee injury, but at least Middleton is back — and the Greek Freak remains his amazing self.
13. OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Three most-talented players: Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter
Speaking of Gibson, Oklahoma City added some nice depth on the frontline at the deadline. The former Bulls power forward will fill in nicely until Kanter is back to full health and provide a steady veteran presence off the bench in the postseason.
12. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Three most-talented players: Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday
Boogie and The Brow are two very special players who still need a lot of help in New Orleans. You don’t have to take my word for it — just ask Cousins.
11. NEW YORK KNICKS
Three most-talented players: Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis, Derrick Rose
Talent isn’t the issue for the Knicks. Organisational stability, an injury to Porzingis, an awful offensive system, and a coach who doesn’t have the freedom to install his own game plan — those are problems.
10. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
Three most-talented players: Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine
Rubio takes LaVine’s place as the Wolves’ third-best player until the latter is back from injury, but either way, this is a skilled young team with an incredibly high ceiling and a lot of work left to do to reach it.
9. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Three most-talented players: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter
Beyond a collection of highly skilled starting guards and wings, the Wizards have one of the best screen-setters in the NBA, Marcin Gortat, and a versatile power forward who can get hot in Markieff Morris. That very well might be enough to earn an Eastern Conference finals appearance in 2017.
8. TORONTO RAPTORS
Three most-talented players: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Serge Ibaka
Ibaka was one of the biggest non-Boogie trade upgrades of 2017, giving the Raptors a much-needed defensive presence — assuming his return to form this season is for real and that he won’t regress to last season’s struggles.
7. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Three most-talented players: Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills
Honestly, the Spurs might not be as talented as I’ve rated them here. This is just a sign of how damn good Leonard is. Every night, he does something on offence that blows me away while playing his usual stellar defence. He won’t win the MVP, but there’s no harm in including him in the conversation.
6. UTAH JAZZ
Three most-talented players: Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, George Hill
Because the Jazz aren’t skilled in the traditional sense, they get overlooked by most NBA observers. Hayward isn’t your typical leading scorer, and both Gobert and Hill make most of their impact on the defensive end.
Throw Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson into the mix and you have the NBA equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys — and one of my favourite teams in 2017.
5. BOSTON CELTICS
Three most-talented players: Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder
Brad Stevens get a lot of credit for working his magic on the mismatched assemblage of parts the Celtics call a roster, as he should. But if you think Boston is all smoke and mirrors, you’re not paying attention. The Celtics’ rotation players do their jobs in a way that would make Bill Belichick proud — and being able to follow directions well is a skill in itself.
4. HOUSTON ROCKETS
Three most-talented players: James Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon
As good as The Beard is, the Rockets are much more than just Harden. Anderson, Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell — this is a really deep team led by an MVP candidate, and they could put the fear of God into the Warriors come the playoffs.
3. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Three most-talented players: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
You can overlook the CP3-Griffin combination at your own peril. With Jamal Crawford coming off the bench, J.J. Redick firing away in the starting line-up, and Paul Pierce’s janky old man game, I’ll take Doc Rivers’ crew as the most-talented team outside of the real Finals contenders.
2. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Three most-talented players: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love
The gap between the Cavs and No. 1 isn’t as wide as one might assume, mostly because LeBron James remains the best player in the NBA. At full strength, I’d also argue the Cavs are deeper than the first-place squad — it’s just tough to top the Warriors’ firepower at the top of the roster.
Oh, oops. Spoiler: The Warriors are No. 1
1. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Three most-talented players: Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson
The only debate with the Warriors is over their third-best player. The way I parse it, Thompson is behind Durant and Curry in terms of overall skill, while Green takes that prize in importance and all-around play.
You can pick your favourite. No matter how you look at it, though, the Warriors are the most talented team in the NBA.