NBA Power Rankings: It turns out LeBron James and Anthony Davis are all the Lakers need

NBA Power Rankings: It turns out LeBron James and Anthony Davis are all the Lakers need

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The Nuggets still have a ton of talent, but something about them looks soft. And not just Nikola Jokic’s physique. It is hard to quantify, but from careless passes to worse shot selection, their offense lacks the sort of urgency you might expect from a 54-win team returning everyone to the wide-open West, especially one that blew a Game 7 at home with a chance to reach last season’s conference finals on the line.

They own the league’s second-best net rating defensively, an improvement of almost six points per 100 possessions and eight spots in the rankings, but I’m not sure good teams are scared of many late-game one-on-one matchups, with the exceptions of an engaged Gary Harris Jr. and a 34-year-old Paul Millsap.

The Nuggets piled up some early wins at home, but their current road trip has sent them back to Earth a bit. They positioned themselves for home playoff series against both San Antonio and Portland last season, and should have won the series-deciding tilt in both of them, but they may not have that luxury this season. The Lakers and Clippers are pretty clearly the class of the conference, and the Nuggets have done little to separate themselves from the pack of four other playoff locks. They may have to play themselves into better shape, the way Jokic is. (Granted, he can still drop 30 without much effort, as he did against Boston.)

Do we have to wonder if these Nuggets peaked last season? They gave Jamal Murray a max extension that kicks in next year, and he has not taken the sort of leap you might have hoped for after the playoff run. He may reach another level, as could Michael Porter Jr. They are only 21 and 22 years old, respectively. Jokic has taken his foot off the pedal, too, but he has also yet to reach his 25th birthday. But Denver may take a hit this offseason. Millsap is a free agent, and Murray’s deal makes it hard to replace a star’s salary. A few of their best depth guys are also restricted free agents. This team is ripe for a trade, sooner rather than later.

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than he did immediately upon returning from his yearlong hiatus, and he can get hot on occasion, which is better than what Mario Hezonja was providing. More often than not, though, Melo is an inefficient offensive player and a detriment on defense. He is shooting 41 percent on 15 field-goal attempts per game, and you worry that they will have to rely more heavily on him in Hood’s absence.’ data-reactid=”82″>The addition of Carmelo Anthony is a stopgap. He looks a little quicker and slightly better adjusted to Portland’s defensive schemes than he did immediately upon returning from his yearlong hiatus, and he can get hot on occasion, which is better than what Mario Hezonja was providing. More often than not, though, Melo is an inefficient offensive player and a detriment on defense. He is shooting 41 percent on 15 field-goal attempts per game, and you worry that they will have to rely more heavily on him in Hood’s absence.

the only other guy to make 13 three-pointers in a game. (His 13-for-17 effort against Charlotte raised his 3-point percentage from a league average 35.9 percent to almost 40 percent.) And you may be right: LaVine’s 20 points per game might make him a borderline All-Star in this Eastern Conference. But I get the feeling he just shoots more. It is encouraging, however, that some of LaVine’s midrange shots have become 3-point tries this season.’ data-reactid=”113″>Serious question: Is Tomas Satoransky the Bulls’ best player? You’re going to say it’s Zach LaVine, who was among the unlikeliest players to join Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry as the only other guy to make 13 three-pointers in a game. (His 13-for-17 effort against Charlotte raised his 3-point percentage from a league average 35.9 percent to almost 40 percent.) And you may be right: LaVine’s 20 points per game might make him a borderline All-Star in this Eastern Conference. But I get the feeling he just shoots more. It is encouraging, however, that some of LaVine’s midrange shots have become 3-point tries this season.

You can make the same “Who deserves the ball more?” argument about Wendell Carter and Lauri Markkanen. That’s kind of the point with this team. I don’t know who is supposed to fill what role, I’m not sure Jim Boylen does, either, and the players are the worse for wear. The injury absence of Otto Porter Jr. hasn’t helped define a pecking order, although he too is a natural third option on a team full of them.

In 62 minutes of crunch time this season, eight different guys have played at least 17 minutes. LaVine, naturally, has played all 62 minutes and takes the bulk of the shots. He and Markkanen have attempted 64 of Chicago’s 98 shots down the stretch of close games. They have made 33 percent of them. The rest of the team is shooting 44 percent, including Satoransky and Carter, who have attempted 11 shots in 95 combined clutch minutes. The Bulls are 5-11 when the score is within five points in the final five minutes, which is a sign that they are good enough to play teams close and not equipped to close them out.

This season is one big feeling-out phase. You have to like a lot of the talent on this team. Carter, Markkanen and Coby White are all recent top-10 picks with room to grow. (Kris Dunn is, too, but I don’t know, man.) LaVine and Porter are 25 and 26 years old, respectively. Satoransky is 28 with not a whole lot of NBA wear on his tires. I’ve always liked Ryan Arcidiacono’s effort, and I like what I’ve seen from second-round pick Daniel Gafford as an energetic big off the bench. Thaddeus Young is the only one on the roster over age 30.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach‘ data-reactid=”132″>Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach



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