NBA Power Rankings: Mavericks near contender status; one favorite player on each team – The Athletic

Zach HarperApr 2, 2024

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. 

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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.

Conference Eastern WesternTier Tier 1 – The Contenders Tier 2 – Brink of Contention Tier 3 – Playoff Teams Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In Tier 7 – EliminatedExpand allCollapse allLoadingTry changing or resetting your filters to see more.Tier 1 – The Contenders1

Boston Celtics

4Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord52-22Offensive Rating118.7 (4th)Defensive Rating111.5 (4th)Net Rating7.2Rank over timeWinsat Pelicans119-112Suns128-103at Knicks113-112LossesRockets132-126 OTWesternTier 1 – The Contenders3

Minnesota Timberwolves

2Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord52-23Offensive Rating117.7 (7th)Defensive Rating112.7 (10th)Net Rating5.0Rank over timeWinsCavs130-101LossesSuns104-97Wolves111-98WesternTier 1 – The ContendersTier 2 – Brink of Contention5

Dallas Mavericks

5Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord45-30Offensive Rating116.6 (12th)Defensive Rating111.7 (5th tied)Net Rating4.9Rank over timeWinsBucks107-100LossesThunder119-112Celtics104-92Suns124-111WesternTier 2 – Brink of Contention7

LA Clippers

6Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord47-27Offensive Rating118.4 (5th)Defensive Rating115.0 (14th tied)Net Rating3.4Rank over timeWinsat Hawks122-113LossesLakers128-124 2OTat Pelicans107-100EasternTier 2 – Brink of Contention9

New York Knicks

12Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord44-31Offensive Rating117.3 (9th)Defensive Rating114.5 (13th)Net Rating2.8Rank over timeWinsat Nuggets104-97at Pelicans124-111Lossesat Thunder128-103WesternTier 3 – Playoff Teams11

Sacramento Kings

14Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord42-33Offensive Rating115.1 (15th)Defensive Rating115.0 (14th tied)Net Rating0.1Rank over timeWinsat Bucks128-124 2OTat Grizzlies136-124at Nets116-104Lossesat Pacers109-90WesternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better13

Orlando Magic

13Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord43-33Offensive Rating120.0 (2nd)Defensive Rating117.6 (24th)Net Rating2.4Rank over timeWinsLakers109-90Nets133-111Lossesat Bulls125-99EasternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better15

Golden State Warriors

16Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord45-30Offensive Rating114.7 (17th)Defensive Rating111.8 (7th)Net Rating2.9Rank over timeWins76ers117-114Lossesat Hornets118-111at Nuggets130-101EasternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better17

Houston Rockets

15Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord41-33Offensive Rating113.1 (21st)Defensive Rating111.7 (5th tied)Net Rating1.4Rank over timeWinsBlazers142-82at Wizards119-107LossesWarriors113-92EasternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or BetterTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In19

Atlanta Hawks

21Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord36-40Offensive Rating113.7 (19th)Defensive Rating115.6 (19th tied)Net Rating-1.9Rank over timeWinsPacers125-99at Wolves109-101Lossesat Nets125-108Hawks113-101EasternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In21

Philadelphia 76ers

22Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord29-46Offensive Rating113.0 (22nd)Defensive Rating115.6 (19th tied)Net Rating-2.6Rank over timeWinsat Wizards122-119 OTBulls125-108LossesLakers116-104at Pacers133-111EasternTier 6 – Season is overjust not mathematicallyTier 7 – Eliminated23

San Antonio Spurs

25Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord25-50Offensive Rating106.8 (30th)Defensive Rating113.9 (11th)Net Rating-7.1Rank over timeWinsat Pistons110-108LossesLakers136-124at Magic118-88WesternTier 7 – Eliminated25

Utah Jazz

29Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord13-62Offensive Rating109.5 (27th)Defensive Rating118.3 (26th)Net Rating-8.8Rank over timeWinsat Wizards96-87Lossesat Wolves106-91Grizzlies110-108EasternTier 7 – Eliminated27

Charlotte Hornets

27Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord14-61Offensive Rating109.9 (25th)Defensive Rating118.9 (28th)Net Rating-9.0Rank over timeLossesNets122-119 OTPistons96-87Heat119-107EasternTier 7 – Eliminated29

Toronto Raptors

28Last Rank

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.

Key StatsRecord19-55Offensive Rating108.2 (29th)Defensive Rating117.1 (23rd)Net Rating-8.9Rank over timeLossesat Hawks120-106at Heat142-82at Magic104-103WesternTier 7 – Eliminated

(Top photo: Tim Warner / Getty Images)

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Zach Harper is a staff writer for The Athletic, covering the NBA. Zach joined The Athletic after covering the NBA for ESPN.com, CBS Sports and FRS Sports since 2009. He also hosts radio for SiriusXM NBA and SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio. Follow Zach on Twitter @talkhoops

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