NBA Power Rankings: Andrew Wiggins, Jaylen Brown and Alex Caruso’s new nickname

Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, Andrew Wiggins is doing stuff, Jaylen Brown is controlling time and space and Alex Caruso has a new nickname.

Our new look NBA Power Rankings are back, a non-traditional structure for a non-traditional era of professional basketball. The world is no longer just about wins and losses and teams are no longer the primary crucible of basketball power. So each week we’ll be dissecting how basketball power is presently distributed — between players, teams, friendships, diss tracks, aesthetic design choices, across leagues and whatever else has a temporary toehold in this ever-changing landscape.

Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?

. . . Cole Anthony's shooting touch. 5. player. 38

His game-winner against the Minnesota Timberwolves was the high-water mark, but Cole Anthony is one right now. Since Jan. 18, he’s made 12-of-18 from beyond the arc really stepping into what as presumed to be the most translatable piece of his rookie skill set. (He started the season 9-of-44 from beyond the arc before this stretch). Watch all 12 makes in a row and you can see the tide of confidence rising.

The first few are catch-and-shoot opportunities, defenders giving him plenty of space and Anthony taking a beat to collect himself before each shot. His motion is slowed, each step exaggerated as he consciously runs through the mental checklist, hoping that this is the one that gets him on track. After a few, he’s pulling up off the dribble, then firing up stationary spot-ups with a defender right in his face. His motion speeds up, gets more compact but somehow looser. You can feel the intentional effort ebb as the familiar warmth of muscle memory takes over. He starts hunting, shaking a defender with a pass fake to get himself open. Setting his defender up to run under a screen, leaving himself alone at the top of the key.

It’s invigorating to watch a player rediscover themselves like this. Now if he could just do the same thing with his finishing around the basket…

. . . Alex Caruso's new nickname. 4. player. 20

Alex Caruso’s Basketball-Reference page lists and impressive seven nicknames (Bald Mamba, Bald Eagle, Carushow, GOAT, A.C., White Mamba 2.0, The Accountant) but Bald/White Mamba were the only ones I had ever heard mentioned on Twitter or a broadcast. Regardless, they can all be retired. Pardon the language here, but Alex Caruso is now officially Caillou.

. Andrew Wiggins, making plays. 3. player. 41. .

For most of his time in Minnesota, Andrew Wiggins had a way of becoming invisible. He was capable of explosive scoring performances but on those, unfortunately frequent, occasions when his shot wasn’t falling he’d recede into the background. Glance at his box score and as your eyes scrolled from points through the rest of the columns, he’d fade out like a picture of Marty McFly’s parents.

In Golden State, Wiggins has made himself tangible. He’s scoring (17.8 points per game) and his shot is falling (46.2 percent from the field, 40.7 percent from beyond the arc, both career-highs). There are still moments where he misses openings that former Warriors’ wings like Shaun Livingston or Andre Iguodala would have felt in their bones, dribbling into traffic, or drawing defenders right into the space where Stephen Curry should have been springing free. But he’s active and his impact is unspooling across those other columns in the box score.

Add Wiggins’ rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per 100 possessions this season and you get 13.7. It still feels like a meager sum but it’s a huge improvement over the 11.4 he averaged across six seasons in Minnesota. There’s always room for growth, but Andrew Wiggins isn’t disappearing anymore.

. Jaylen Brown changing speeds. 2. player. 18. .

Jaylen Brown is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to. The man is never in a hurry. He’s always been self-possessed, confident and in control of his mind, his words, his presentation. But in the past, the game would occasionally get the best of him. Overeager, he’d jump a passing lane, cut into a lane before it had opened, flip reverse on his crossover before the defender had fully committed their momentum in the opposite direction. He’d run through a brick wall instead of giving the wall a half-beat to be carried out of his path. Or he’d pause when the moment didn’t allow it. Thinking a half-second too long about a catch-and-shoot 3 that would no longer be open by the time he was ready to shoot it. Watching the ball and realizing a moment too late that his man had edged into the danger zone.

No more.

Brown is in the midst of a breakout season and perhaps no single element has been as impressive as his sudden new command of time. He changes speeds effortlessly, fluidly, as the situation demands. Now he’s the one exploiting patience and anxiety, always a half-step ahead drifting into open space at the precise moment it expands. For Jaylen Brown, time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.

The drive-and-kick Jazz. 1. player. 118. . .

No team is hotter than the Utah Jazz right now, who extended their nine-game winning streak with a 108-94 win over the New York Knicks Tuesday night. They’ve re-established the suffocating defense that helped bring them to prominence a few years ago but this run has been powered by a blistering offensive pace. Over this win streak, they’ve averaged 118.6 points per 100 possessions, the best mark in the league over that time span.

What’s been most incredible about their offensive surge is that, finally, with everyone healthy and in rhythm, they’ve found a devastating balance. Six different players are averaging double-figures during this run, with two more (Royce O’Neale and Georges Niang) coming in at 8.7 and 8.2. Seven different players are averaging at least four 3-point attempts per game and all of them are hitting better than 37.1 percent (with four players shooting better than 40). And it’s all been fueled by relentless ball movement with six different players averaging at least two assists per game.

It’s a good bet that some of those shooting numbers will regress towards the mean as the season goes along. But right now, the Utah Jazz’s offensive ecosystem looks healthier than it has in years.

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