NBA Power Rankings: Dame Time and Steph-Draymond mind-meld

In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, Ja Morant can pass, Steph and Draymond have a mind-meld and it’s always Dame Time.

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?

5

This Ja Morant lob

Apropos of nothing, I just love the audacity to throw a lob here, making that decision before Clarke’s head is even fully turned and then the accuracy to put it in the only place the defender can’t touch it but Clarke can get his mitts on it.

Moar Ja Morant please.

4

This Ja Morant bounce pass

The context here doesn’t really matter at all. Just look at the patience from Morant here as he gets Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Mike Muscala to commit their attention to him while Brandon Clarke sneaks behind them.

Moar Ja Morant please.

3

The Draymond-Steph chemistry

Draymond Green and Steph Curry have a psychic link at this point. They can anticipate each other as well as any pair of teammates anywhere in the league. And as the Warriors have been heating up, their chemistry has been front-and-center. As of this week, Draymond to Steph is the most common assist combination in the league — connecting a whopping 76 times in the TK possessions they’ve been on the court together. It doesn’t go the other direction nearly as often, but Curry has also served up 19 assists to Draymond. That means they’ve assisted each other, one way or the other, on roughly 6.5 percent of the Warriors’ offensive possessions this season.

Check out the team’s assist network, courtesy of PBPStats.com and you can see the centrality of their connection.

2

Dame Time

The Portland Trail Blazers are on a six-game winning streak and they’ve had to earn every single one. Three of those six have come by four points or less and for those crunch-time victories, they can thank Damian Lillard. Across this stretch, he’s played 17 clutch minutes and scored … 28. That comes on 9-of-13 from the field, 5-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc and he’s chipped in five assists as well.

Coffee is for closers and right now, Lillard is well-caffeinated.

1

A rising juggernaut

These power rankings are meant to be non-traditional but the Jazz have been so dominant they’ve been working their way onto the list every week from different angles. Last week, we looked at the challenges in their upcoming schedule and noted how it could solidify their status as legit contenders or reveal them as a flawed team riding an unusual hot streak. All the Jazz did was go out and record four straight double-digit wins, over the Bucks, Heat, 76ers and Clippers.

They’ve now won 19 of their last 20 and the distance between them and the rest of the league is only growing by statistical measures. They’ve passed the Lakers in NBA Finals probability by 538’s projection model and they’re 4-0 against the two teams ahead of them in the model — the Bucks and Clippers. And their league-leading point differential (plus-9.5 points per 100 possessions) is leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

And they’re continuing to creep higher in historical measures of regular-season strength as well. Last week, their SRS (strength-of-schedule adjusted point differential) was the 16th-best of all-time. This week it’s up eighth, trailing only the 1970-71 Bucks, the 1971-72 Bucks and Lakers, the 1996 and 1997 Bulls and the 2016 and 2017 Warriors. Of that group, the only two teams who did not win the championship were the 1972 Bucks (who lost in the Finals to the equally historic 1972 Lakers) and the 2016 Warriors with their infamous blown 3-1 lead.

The Utah Jazz have been the best team in the league by a wide margin this season and, to this point, even better than teams like the recent 60-win Bucks who folded in the playoffs. They are legit, folks.