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    NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (3/9/18)

    By Mark Dankenbring @MarkDank


    NBA Power Rankings – Risers and Fallers


    Welcome to the 16th 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 - 3/8/18.

    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.

    With just over a month remaining in the NBA regular season, the Houston Rockets have reclaimed the top spot from the Golden State Warriors. Houston's 17-game win streak puts them a half game up on Golden State in the Western Conference standings, remarkably, as the Dubs have rattled off seven in a row and 10 of their last 11. They've completely separated themselves from the rest of the conference and the league as a whole, sitting 12 games above every team besides Toronto and Boston, who are four and six games back, respectively. The Rockets have altered their pace during their current 17-game streak, as they finished February averaging the slowest pace in the league with just 97.20 possessions per game. This is interesting to note moving forward since Mike D'Antoni has been known to push the pace as much as possible throughout his coaching career. It didn't seem to hurt their offensive efficiency, however, as their offensive rating of 116.7 in February was over three points higher than their season average of 113.5. As great as this streak and season has been for Houston, nothing really matters until they meet the Warriors come playoff time. Until then, we'll just have to enjoy James Harden's MVP season and the battle for home court advantage between his squad and the Warriors.

    Risers



    The hottest team in the league outside of Houston finds its way into our Risers section this week. Since Rudy Gobert returned on January 19th, the Jazz are 17-4 and 4-0 in the month of March. Their defense has been outstanding over this stretch, leading the league with only 98.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. The two closest teams to them during that span are the Toronto Raptors (101.4 pts/100, 17-4 record) and the aforementioned Rockets (103.1 pts/100, 20-1 record). Before Gobert returned on Jan. 195h, Utah was sporting the 14th ranked defense and allowing 105.4 points per 100 possessions. Clearly his presence changes their entire defensive structure and creates a more cohesive defensive unit. On the offensive side of the ball, Donovan Mitchell continues to lead the way averaging 19.8 points per game. If you take away his seven games to begin the season in October, however, he jumps up to 21.2 points per game, but 19.8 still makes him the highest scoring rookie by over three points per game. Utah's six-week stretch has tied them for the eighth seed in the West with Denver and the Clippers at the moment, but just four games separate eight teams in the West, so Utah will need to keep up their winning ways if they want to play come mid-April.



    The Wizards have benefitted from some injury news as well, but it's not exactly what you'd expect. Since John Wall went down on January 25th, Washington is the eighth rated offense in the league, averaging 109.7 pts/100 possessions. With Wall active, those numbers drop to 11th in the league at 106.9 pts/100 possessions. It's unusual to see this discrepancy with a player of Wall's talent on the sidelines, especially over a 17-game sample size. Washington's record has benefited as well, racking up 11 wins and just six losses since Wall's injury. Bradley Beal has shouldered most of the facilitating load for the Wiz, averaging 38.2 minutes and 6.9 assists in Wall's absence compared to 36.1 minutes and 3.8 assists beforehand. His scoring has actually gone down from 24 to 22.1 per game over that span, with guys like Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, and Kelly Oubre Jr. taking extra shots with teams focused on Beal as the primary ball handler. Washington is just 1.5 games back of Cleveland for the 3-seed in the East, so home-court advantage for at least the first round is well within their grasp. With Wall expected to return in the next week or two, it will be extremely interesting to watch their team performance and chemistry, as they've played better basketball without him this season.



    Indiana is likely the most underrated team in the association this season. They've been in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race since day one, and currently sit tied for fourth with Washington and are just 1.5 games back of Cleveland for third. Their record is awfully impressive when you take a look at their roster, as it's pretty much Victor Oladipo and a bunch of role players. Bojan Bogdanovic is their second-leading scorer, yet people still don't know the difference between him and Bogdan Bogdanovic for the Kings. Oladipo has played like a top 15 player this season, entering the weekend with a top 20 PER while sitting 13th in scoring (23.8 ppg) and first in steals (2.22 per game). Unlike the Wizards with Wall, Indiana is 0-5 without Oladipo and would likely be battling for a lottery pick instead of home-court advantage in the playoffs. Indy will get a nice boost tonight as well with Darren Collison returning from a knee injury that caused him to miss 11 games. Collison leads the team with 5.3 assists per game and is second in the NBA with a 4.14 assist to turnover ratio.

    Fallers



    It's been a tough start to 2018 for San Antonio. Their franchise player has been on the court for less than 90 minutes while the team has managed just a 12-16 record since the calendar flipped. Their 12 wins haven't been impressive, either, as eight of them came against the bottom-feeders of the league like the Suns, Grizzlies, Kings, Knicks, and Nets. Their other four have been split between Denver and Cleveland, but outside of those games they've fallen consistently to teams currently in the playoff picture. In 2017, the Spurs had the 13th ranked offense and second ranked defense in terms of efficiency, compared to the 20th ranked offense and sixth ranked defense in 2018. San Antonio's aging roster might have finally caught up to them, as well as the fact they're playing without a top five player in the league in Kawhi Leonard. There's still a bright spot Popovich and his staff can look to when planning for next season, as LaMarcus Aldridge has had by far his best season as a Spur. His PER of 23.9 is good for 16th in the NBA. Pairing him and Kawhi will surely be a huge advantage for the Spurs moving forward, but they'll need to refresh the rest of the roster with guys like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on their last legs.



    OKC lands in our Fallers section for the second consecutive week. Since writing last week, the Thunder went 2-2 with losses to the Warriors and Blazers, while both wins came against the tanking Suns. It's been a common theme this week to compare defensive numbers with and without players on the court, so we'll do the same with the Thunder and Andre Roberson. Roberson has missed all but five games since December 29th, so we'll use that as our benchmark. Up until December 29th, the Thunder boasted the fourth best defense in the league, allowing just 101.8 pts/100 possessions. Since that date, they've fallen down to 16th in the league and are allowing 107.1 pts/100 possessions. Without Roberson in the lineup over that span, the Thunder are just 13-14. OKC has tried Terrance Ferguson, Josh Huestis, Alex Abrines, and even recently acquired Corey Brewer in the starting lineup since all the others had failed to produce in that role. It doesn't appear to be the Thunder's year (again) with Golden State and Houston being the powerhouses out West, and the future could look extremely bleak if Paul George decides to walk this summer. For as much excitement as the Thunder entered the season with, they'll likely end it hanging their heads.



    Yikes. 15 losses in a row for the Griz. Mike Conley, Tyreke Evans, Andrew Harrison, and Mario Chalmers are all sidelined indefinitely, leaving Memphis with a roster full of rookies and fringe NBA players. This is a common theme in today's NBA, but it's shocking when it happens to a team like Memphis that has made the playoffs each of the last seven seasons. Let's not forget Memphis started the season 5-1 with wins over the Pelicans, Warriors, and two against the Rockets. Since that opening week, they've won back-to-back games just ONCE (three in a row in mid-January vs. Lakers, Knicks, and Kings), culminating in a 13-45 record and .224 winning percentage. One of the strangest things about the Grizzlies tanking is that they have the seventh-highest paid player in the league on their team in Mike Conley ($28.5 Mil), and Marc Gasol ($22.6 Mil) not far behind. If they were to win the lottery, their #1 pick would be slotted next to these two All-Stars, giving the Grizzlies a great shot at success in the near future. Until then, however, we get to watch them lose.
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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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