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    NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (2/9/18)

    By Mark Dankenbring @MarkDank
    NBA Power Rankings – Risers and Fallers

    Welcome to the 13th edition of Risers and Fallers for this season's NBA Power Rankings. Our Power Rankings are developed using players on the active depth chart, which causes fluctuation week-to-week based on injuries and who is in and out of the lineup. To see a full description of how our Power Rankings are created, as well as this week's full list of rankings, please visit NBA Power Rankings - 2/8/18. Within our rankings every week, there are noticeable risers and fallers throughout. The goal of this article is to identify who has gained or lost the most ground in the Association, whether it be due to injury, roster changes, or just a decline in team performance. Each article will include the top three risers and fallers in the rankings, despite their initial position.

    After a few relatively stagnant weeks in our power rankings, the trade deadline provided just the shakeup we needed. Every team in our top five moved at least one spot this week, the first time that's happened all season, and due to all the roster moves throughout the week, only the 76ers (sixth) and Clippers (21st) remained in their same slot for this week's rankings. The Houston Rockets regain the top spot amidst another scorching hot stretch. Mike D'Antoni's squad has won six in a row and 10 of their last 11. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors have lost three of five and are limping into the All-Star Break. Steve Kerr attributes it to apathy from his players, which is understandable given all they seek is the Larry O'Brien trophy, but the Rockets are just one game behind in the standings and will push as hard as possible to earn the #1 seed. The Raptors, Timberwolves, and Celtics fall in behind those top two to round out our top five, with the Raptors and Celtics both enjoying winning runs of late. Toronto has secured six of their last seven and Boston five of six, with their only loss coming against the Raptors. They've essentially made it a two-team race in the East at this point, as they're both at least 6.5 games clear of the third seed Cleveland Cavaliers. The new-look Cavs will take on the Celtics in their first game since acquiring four players at the deadline, as they'll face off in Boston this Sunday. With so much other action going on in this week's rankings, let's get into our three biggest risers and fallers of the week.


    Portland Trail Blazers - #13 up to #9

    The Blazers hurdle their way up into the top 10 this week, as they perform addition by subtraction in swapping Noah Vonleh for cash and the rights to Milovan Rakovic. Vonleh has been underwhelming in all three seasons since he was drafted as a lottery pick in 2014, and was posting one of the worst player efficiency ratings (PERs) on his team this go around. Portland also continues to rise due to their on-court performance as well. The Blazers currently rank 15th in offensive efficiency and tenth in defensive, and are 8-4 since mid-January. Damian Lillard continues to lead this team with 25 points and 6.7 assists per game, and owns a top 20 PER in the league. Lillard will be the lone representative for the Blazers in the All-Star Game, but CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic have been great second and third options thus far. Nurkic showed his ceiling last night with a 24 point, 14 rebound, and 4 block performance against Dwight Howard and the Hornets. Terry Stotts insists on playing him fewer than 30 minutes a game, but it seems to have preserved his health. Nurkic has started and played all 52 games, closing in on his career high mark of 65 games in a season (only started 48). If he can stay healthy down the stretch and into the playoffs, I'm sure we'll see him with some extended minutes, which would only help the prospects of the Blazers.

    Cleveland Cavaliers - #16 up to #13

    Cleveland clearly made the most noise on Thursday, performing three trades that resulted in six players leaving and four returning. It remains to be seen how successful this new assortment of players can be, but it certainly seems to help Cleveland on paper, especially on the defensive side of the ball. George Hill has been looking to get out of a poor situation in Sacramento all season, and will be a major upgrade defensively from Isaiah Thomas, who was the worst-rated defender in the league last season. Larry Nance grades out as the best defender they received yesterday, posting a top 10 DRPM among power forwards of 2.07, ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo and just two spots behind the reigning DPOY in Draymond Green. Cleveland had been sporting the second-worst defense in the league this season, which is higher than it should've been thanks to Isaiah Thomas playing in just 15 games. Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood will be looked to for consistent scoring off the bench, roles they've held and succeeded in for their previous teams. LeBron James already looked rejuvenated in his 37 point, 15 assist, and 10 rebound triple double over the Wolves on Wednesday, so I imagine we'll see similar performances in the near future. The departure of Isaiah Thomas should allow LeBron more time as the primary ball handler, a role he's always excelled in.

    Utah Jazz - #20 up to #14

    The hottest team in the league is our biggest riser this week, as the Jazz move up six spots and into the top 15. Utah has enjoyed a perfect last two weeks, having won seven games in a row while handling the likes of the Raptors, Spurs, and Warriors along the way. Utah's hot stretch has vaulted them up to tenth in the West, where they're currently just 2.5 games back of the Pelicans for the eighth spot. Ricky Rubio has been the leader of this heat wave, averaging a stout 20.7 points, 7.7 assists, and 5.9 rebounds in their current winning streak. Donovan Mitchell has been the most impressive player on the Jazz all season, however, as his 40-point performance against the Suns last Friday made him the first player in Jazz history with two 40-point outings in his rookie year. The departure of Rodney Hood will likely open up even more run for Mitchell, as well as the offensive-minded Alec Burks off the bench. Hood's return of Derrick Rose (expected to be released) and Jae Crowder don't seem like much, but Crowder was one of the better 3-and-D guys that could guard positions 1-4 when he was in Boston. I imagine he'll fit right into the Jazz's seventh ranked defense, and will give them a more athletic body to run at the three or four in place of Joe Ingles or Derrick Favors.


    San Antonio Spurs - #8 down to #12

    It's been a relatively rocky 2018 for the Spurs, having gone just 10-9 since the calendar flipped. Kawhi Leonard has still played in just nine games on the season, and the intrigue continues to build surrounding his happiness and role in the organization as he remains on the sidelines. San Antonio suffered some more injury news this past week, as their talented sophomore Dejounte Murray left Wednesday's game with an ankle injury and is out indefinitely. Murray had taken over the starting role from Tony Parker towards the end of January and averaged a solid 11 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 1.1 steal per game in his eight starts since then. Murray's defense is clearly his top asset, however, as the 21-year-old leads all point guards in DRPM on the season. Perhaps the most intriguing storyline in San Antonio is whether or not they'll reach 50 wins for the 18th consecutive season. With just 26 games remaining, the Spurs will need a 15-11 record to accomplish the feat.

    Milwaukee Bucks - #9 down to #16

    Malcolm Brodgon's torn quadriceps suffered last Thursday results in the Bucks' drop in our rankings this week. Brogdon was averaging the third-most minutes on the team and had started the last 20 games for Milwaukee, so it's a tough blow for them. The Bucks are 3-0 since his injury, but two games were against the Knicks and one against the Nets, so we shouldn't think Brogdon's absence is beneficial despite the short-term success. It doesn't make matters any better that Tony Snell has replaced him in the starting lineup, as Snell is ranked 312th of 348 players in terms of PER and is ranked 91st of 107 in DRPM among shooting guards. Now that he's playing around 30 minutes a game without Brogdon, it becomes a detriment to the entire team. Hopefully Joe Prunty will start to insert Sterling Brown more frequently, as the rookie from SMU currently boasts the fifth-best DRPM among shooting guards. The best option for them is subject to time, however, as they're waiting for Jabari Parker to return to full strength before re-inserting him into the starting lineup. This would create a starting five of Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and John Henson. A rather formidable group if you ask me.

    Indiana Pacers - #11 down to #19

    Indy suffered a tough blow with Darren Collison needing arthroscopic knee surgery, and they fall in the rankings this week as a result. Collison was scoring a solid 12.8 points, dishing out a team high 5.3 assists, and snagging 1.44 steals per game before the injury, as well as boasting the team's second-best PER behind Victor Oladipo. His replacements will be Cory Joseph and Joe Young, who both currently rank outside the top 250 players in terms of PER, so it's a noticeable downgrade at the position. Oladipo will now assume more ball-handling responsibilities, as his usage rate goes up by 3.8% with Collison off the floor this season. Bojan Bogdanovic will shoulder some of the leftover offensive load as well, and is currently in the midst of a hot streak that has vaulted him to second on the team in scoring. He's dropped at least 18 points in four consecutive games, including torching the Wizards for a season-high 29 points on Monday. Myles Turner is finally back in the starting lineup after missing the majority of January, but doesn't move the needle much since he's pretty much a lateral move off of Domantas Sabonis at this point in his career. Indy still has a very real shot at the playoffs, as they currently sit sixth in the Eastern Conference.
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    NFL GameChangers: Divisional Playoff Edition (1/14/18)

    In this edition of GameChangers, we will utilize our Live ScoreCaster technology to review the game-changing plays from 2018 Divisional playoff matchups.

    EXW% = expected win percentage

    The Situation

    What-if Stefon Diggs was tackled at the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds left?

    The Take

    Unfortunately, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams won't be remembered for picking off Case Keenum late in the third quarter - a turnover that led to a Saints touchdown - but rather whiffing on a tackle of Diggs, which resulted in the Vikes receiver scoring the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

    However, had Williams made the tackle, Diggs would have been down around the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds remaining and the Vikings would have burned their final timeout.

    Trailing 24-23, Minnesota would call on Kai Forbath to attempt the game-winning field goal. When we run that scenario through our NFL engine tens of thousands of times, the Saints' EXW% is 48.2%.

    It was a hell of a catch by Diggs. It was a hell of a game by both teams. This one isn't solely on Williams.

    The Situations

    The Steelers' pair of failed 4th-down play calls.

    The Take

    Pittsburgh converted 4-of-6 fourth downs against the Jaguars. However, it was the missing two that really cost them.

    Trailing 14-0 with 1:07 remaining in the first quarter, the Steelers faced 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 21-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% before the fourth-down play call was 31% (assumed field goal attempt), but after they failed to pick up the one yard, it dipped to 23.6% - a win expectancy swing of 7.4%.

    The NFL gurus of Twitter believe Ben Roethlisberger should have used his size to pick up the measly one yard. Had he done that and picked up the first down, Pittsburgh's EXW% would remain 31%.

    Fast forward, Jaguars now lead 28-21 with 12:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Steelers now face 4th-and-1 from Jaguars' 39-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% is 24.4% right before Roethlisberger THROWS an incomplete pass *thud* EXW% dips to 16.7%.

    Now, if Ben snuck for the first down at this point in the game, the Steelers' EXW% jumps to 30.4% - a difference of nearly 16%.

    Bonus: a lot of chatter on social media regarding Pittsburgh's decision to onside kick down 42-35 with less than 3 minutes to go in the game. After the onside (and penalty), the Steelers' EXW% was 7.8% versus 8.1% had they kicked off normally.

    The Situation

    With the Patriots pinned back and in punt formation, a questionable neutral zone penalty on Tennessee.

    The Take

    In case you missed it, the penalty was originally a false start against the Patriots, but changed to a Titans' neutral zone infraction. Watch …

    So, to recap, instead of the Patriots leading 14-7 and about to punt from their own end zone, the neutral zone infraction handed New England a first down, which they parlayed into a 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-7 lead.

    Before the punt, the Titans' EXW% was 16.6%. Had they received the punt – with presumed great field position – their odds improved to 21.8%.

    After the Patriots scored their third touchdown of the first half, Tennessee's EXW% dipped to 5.9% - a swing of 15.9% - and the momentum they enjoyed early on was gone.

    The Situation

    Instant replay reversed a “running into Atlanta's kicker penalty” on Philadelphia before halftime.

    The Take

    To review, with Atlanta leading 10-6 and under a minute remaining in the first half, Falcons' punter Matt Bosher punted the ball to the Eagles. Philadelphia was called for roughing the kicker, which should have resulted in an Atlanta first down, but instant replay indicated that the Eagles got a finger tip on the ball and, thus, no roughing the kicker infraction applied.

    The punt counted and it was 1st-and-10 Eagles from their own 28-yard line and Atlanta's EXW% is 56.7%. Nick Foles and Co. picked up 37 yards in a jiffy and Josh Elliott booted a 53-yard field goal as the 2nd-quarter clock hit triple zeroes. With the Falcons up 10-9 at the break, Atlanta's EXW% fell to 50.5%.

    What-if the roughing the kicker counted and the Falcons picked up a first down at the Eagles 45-yard line with 55 seconds before halftime?

    Their EXW% would have soared 10% to 66.8%.

    Now imagine if the roughing the kicker counted and the Eagles would NOT have kicked the last-second field goal to end the first half. The Falcons would have trailed 13-10, instead of 15-10, on their final drive.

    For as bad as that shovel pass play call to Terron Ward was, if Atlanta had the option to attempt a field goal on 4th-and-2 from the 2-yard line instead of roll Matt Ryan right and try to jam it into Julio Jones for the game-winner, Atlanta's EXW% would have improved by more than 20% (EXW% 46.0% down 13-10 vs. 25.7% down 15-10 on 4th-and-2).

    It's one of those cases where replay did its part, corrected the call on the field and the benefiting team wound up with improved odds before ultimately winning the game.

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