NBA Tier List: Raptors exposed as strong but flawed vs. top teams

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The second quarter of the NBA season has pseudo-officially gotten underway, and with it teams are shifting from discovering who they are to more or less knowing who they are and beginning to now come to grips if what they are currently is what they were expecting to be.

This assessment in the second quarter of the season is paramount for just about every team as it’s at about this time that the countdown to the NBA’s trade deadline (Feb. 6 this season) begins and the rumour mill picks up again.

Here’s a look at this week’s edition of the NBA Tier List as we now begin to really scrutinize each team’s chances come springtime.

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The best right now

The Milwaukee Bucks might soon have to be in a tier alone by themselves. They’ve won 14 straight games and have done so by a margin of 16.6 points. So not only are they an unstoppable winning force, they’re outright crushing opponents, including their 132-88 smashing of the New York Knicks last Monday and, far more impressively, their 119-91 dismantlement of the Los Angeles Clippers – with Kawhi Leonard, by the way.

The only thing the Bucks aren’t great at doing is three-point shooting. They currently rank 16th in the league in three-point accuracy despite taking the sixth most threes per game. So if the Bucks are going to, somehow, get even better than they already are, look to them trying to find a deadeye marksman from outside in either the trade or buyout markets.

Really good teams with apparent weaknesses

Of these eight clubs, the team that best embodies this tier are the Toronto Raptors. Losers of three straight for the first time since November, 2018 and even though the sky isn’t falling, per se, there’s a real emerging trend here that the Raptors just might not be that good against top-flight competition.

The Raptors own a sparkling 9-0 record against teams with a below-.500 record, but just a 6-7 record against teams with a record above .500 this season, including the three losses straight they suffered this past week to the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers.

And, perhaps, even more concerning is the fact Pascal Siakam’s struggled in the three straight defeats, averaging only 18.3 points per game on a grim 38.9 per cent shooting from the floor, and an outright abysmal 14.3 per cent from three-point range. Siakam’s taken a huge leap (again) this season upping his scoring average to 24.6 points per game, but it looks as if the stiffest of the NBA’s competition do have an answer for him. If he really is a No. 1 guy like the max contract extension he signed before the season started suggests he is, he’s going to have to, and will, make an adjustment to get back on track.

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Not bad, but not really good, either

The Utah Jazz are in bad shape right now.

Losers of five of their last seven games (with their only two victories coming against the hapless Memphis Grizzlies in this span), the Jazz are a team that appear to be in disarray at the moment as they’ve fallen to good team after good team during this span.

Utah has lost to Milwaukee, the Indiana Pacers, Toronto, Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Lakers during this slide. All of these games are what you might want to call a litmus test, and they’ve failed each one, seeing their vaunted defence get shredded in these loses to the tune of a dreadful 117.3 defensive rating.

The Jazz can probably turn things around, but when that happens is anyone’s guess at this point.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Bad-performing teams that show glimpses of mediocrity

Carmelo Anthony’s return to the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers has come with much fanfare, but not exactly a ton of success.

Sure, the Blazers are playing better than they used to, but that’s not saying much as they sport just a 4-6 record since Anthony played his first game this season. Additionally, the team is still a negative in net rating (minus-2.6) in those 10 games, so, again, the “Melo Effect” still doesn’t lead to much in the ways of basketball success even if it does offer a boost in media exposure.

Truly bad NBA teams

With the enticing possibilities of adding another Splash Brother to the squad in someone like Anthony Edwards, Cole Anthony or LaMelo Ball, or even a big man to help shore up a thin front-court with someone like James Wiseman or Vernon Carey, is there any reason for the Golden State Warriors to do anything but try to play for as many ping pong balls as possible?

Sure, the Dubs have a new arena that they’re trying (and mostly failing) to fill up, and yeah, Stephen Curry could return and help turn this surefire in-contention-for-a-No.-3-pick team into a late lottery team, but why would you want that as a Warriors fan?

It’s clear what path Golden State must tread at this point. To do anything else would be absolute folly.

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James Dolan’s NBA franchise

The Knicks hired David Fizdale on May 7, 2018 with the expectation that he would somehow, magically, turn around a destitute franchise whose problems go so much further beyond the team’s head coach.

Predictably, Fizdale was fired last Friday after a typically Knicks 4-18 start.

And, obviously, in the aftermath of this the rumour mill from New York – surprise, surprise – once again is stirring up how “enamoured” Knicks owner James Dolan is with Raptors president Masai Ujiri. That’s cool. Why wouldn’t other teams admire a rival executive who won it all, right? Conversely, why would championship-level executive jump from the comfortable ship he helped build straight into a tire fire?