NBA Power Rankings: Timberwolves back at No. 2; how did the trade deadline affect teams?

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The Athletic

All-Star 2024 in Indianapolis is this weekend, but we still have much to discuss from the past week or so. So, let’s review the approach each team used at the trade deadline — active or inactive — and how the buyout market can affect each team.  

Afterward, as usual, we’ll flawlessly rank each team! 

Reminder: The Power Rankings don’t just rank the 30 teams. We divide these teams into tiers, which teams can move in and out of. We currently have the tiers broken into seven new categories:

  • Incomprehensibly bad – These guys are historically inept right now.
  • Not tanking but maybe someday — They haven’t started tanking yet, but it’s on the table this season.
  • Looking to make the Play-In — They’ve been rebuilding/retooling and think they can crack the top 10 in their respective conference.
  • Play-In Tournament teams or better — They should be in the mix unless something disastrous happens.
  • Playoff teams — Probably don’t have to worry about dropping down to the Play-In Tournament.
  • On the brink of contention — A piece away from us believing they can win the title.
  • Contenders — They are contending for the championship, barring a massive injury.

As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.

Here’s how the Power Rankings work:

  • It’s up to my discretion how the rankings shake out. For some teams, they’ll be hit in the short term. Others will be given the benefit for the long term. Yes, it is entirely subjective.
  • If I have a team ahead of another team, there’s no reason to ask why they’re ranked above the team you like. The answer is pretty simple: I think that team is set up better for success.
  • Yes, I watch the games. And yes, I watch your favorite team.
  • This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have fun.

With all that said, let’s dive into Week 17 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings. Stats and records are through Monday’s action.


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Tier 1 – The Contenders

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Absolutely. The Celtics made small moves by acquiring Xavier Tillman Sr. and Jaden Springer, but both of those deals could be exactly what the team needed. Boston’s top talent is as good as any team’s, but its overall roster lacked depth. Springer adds a very active defender on the perimeter. More importantly, Tillman gives great depth for their interior. He can defend and rebound. Tillman can also help keep Kristaps Porziņģis and Al Horford fresh. Phenomenal pickups for the Celtics.

Offensive Rating

120.3 (2nd)

Defensive Rating

110.8 (3rd)

Eastern

Tier 1 – The Contenders

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Absolutely love what the Wolves did at the deadline with next-to-nothing to trade in terms of assets. This team struggles with the offense declining when Mike Conley or Anthony Edwards aren’t on the floor, and the Wolves keep turning the ball over too much. Getting Monte Morris should help with both of those things. He missed a lot of time with injuries this season, but he’s one of the best backup point guards in the NBA and takes care of the ball.

Offensive Rating

114.9 (17th tied)

Defensive Rating

108.5 (1st)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

Did the trade deadline serve them well? It did not, but the Clippers already made their trade deadline deal in the first couple weeks of the season. That’s when they acquired James Harden, and they gave themselves a lot of extra time to make sure they fit him into what they wanted to do. The Clippers and Sixers getting that deal done so early might be the difference between the Clippers making a deep playoff run and not feeling comfortable in high-pressure situations because of a lack of continuity. Lawrence Frank set this team up to have a real shot.

Offensive Rating

119.6 (3rd)

Defensive Rating

114.2 (13th)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Denver didn’t do anything at the deadline to affect its roster construction amid its first-ever title defense. And the Nuggets will probably be fine despite that deadline inactivity. They believe in their starting five, and why not? It’s dominant. They’re also quite comfortable with the young guys contributing off the bench. Peyton Watson has developed so much, and Christian Braun showed what he could do last playoff run.

Offensive Rating

117.5 (11th tied)

Defensive Rating

114.0 (11th)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Thunder made two important moves. They traded Vasilije Micić, Tre Mann and Davis Bertāns for Gordon Hayward. While Hayward may not be the player he once was, having him in the mix as depth on the wing and as a forward could be massive for them. Then, they picked up Bismack Biyombo for some much-needed depth on the inside. Biyombo isn’t a great option for heavy minutes at the center position, but he’ll be extremely necessary for them in a potential playoff series with Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. This Thunder team set themselves up for an even deeper rotation.

Offensive Rating

119.1 (5th)

Defensive Rating

112.0 (5th)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Cavs didn’t do anything at the deadline, and they haven’t done anything in the buyout market yet. They also don’t need to do anything with the way they’re playing. They rolled with the punches with major players missing for weeks. Two of their best players (Evan Mobley, Darius Garland) getting healthy hasn’t disrupted any of the great play we’ve seen lately. And the Cavs believe this team is better set up to make a deeper playoff run than last year.

Offensive Rating

116.2 (15th)

Defensive Rating

110.3 (2nd)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Small upgrade for the Bucks by getting Patrick Beverley for Cameron Payne, which is a move I like for them quite a bit. Payne wasn’t bad, but he didn’t help any of their problems. Beverley might not be a defender who can impact an entire team defense, but he can help create resistance on the perimeter that hasn’t been there. The Bucks could still be a player in the buyout market too.

Offensive Rating

119.5 (4th)

Defensive Rating

115.8 (17th)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Despite having almost nothing to trade, the Suns still found a way to land a 3-and-D wing they desperately need. Royce O’Neale for some minimum deals from the summer is a pretty good haul. They’re going to need him to be at his best defensively in this playoff run. The Suns also set themselves up for a couple of buyout-market options, but nothing has materialized yet.

Offensive Rating

118.0 (7th)

Defensive Rating

114.8 (14th tied)

Western

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Other than moving on from Kira Lewis Jr, the Pelicans didn’t really do anything. I’m not sure they need to either, although losing Dyson Daniels due to his knee injury sucks. The Pelicans are always going to be judged based on their health and availability. They should still have a full rotation without Daniels. The Pelicans could be out after one round or put a real scare into the West with a deep run.

Offensive Rating

116.9 (13th tied)

Defensive Rating

112.5 (6th tied)

Western

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Absolutely. I love the moves the Knicks have made this season, and I think it sets them up to truly challenge for an Eastern Conference finals berth. The OG Anunoby deal gave them an incredible weapon for both ends of the floor. Then, getting Alec Burks for the bench and Bojan Bogdanović for scoring in the second unit creates an incredible rotation when they’re healthy.

Offensive Rating

117.9 (8th tied)

Defensive Rating

112.7 (8th)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Mavericks arguably had the best moves at the deadline – either them or the Knicks. The Mavs grabbed Daniel Gafford to improve their interior, and then they took a chance on P.J. Washington to see if he can be more of a difference-maker at the forward spot than Grant Williams was. These are great moves to help round out the roster and the balance of this rotation. If the Mavs are healthy, they may be the team in the West nobody wants to play.

Offensive Rating

117.7 (10th)

Defensive Rating

116.7 (21st)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Magic didn’t do anything at the deadline, and it’s a little disappointing. Point guards like Kyle Lowry, Monte Morris and Tyus Jones were all there to trade for. Maybe they could’ve gotten aggressive with going after Dejounte Murray. Instead, the Magic decided to stick with what they’ve got. Maybe they will make another big move this summer. They’re in a great spot, though.

Offensive Rating

112.6 (24th)

Defensive Rating

111.7 (4th)

Eastern

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Kings opted to do nothing at the deadline other than trade for Robin Lopez so they could waive him. I don’t mind this approach for the Kings because they still have a very good roster, and there wasn’t anything readily available to fix their defensive issues. Roll with this group again and see if you can fight through to the second round of the playoffs. If they get stuck again, then maybe you’re looking for a decent-sized change to the roster this summer.

Offensive Rating

116.9 (13th tied)

Defensive Rating

116.4 (20th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Did the trade deadline serve them well? It’s hard to really judge what the Sixers did at the deadline because of Joel Embiid’s injury. They’re hoping he’s back by the playoffs, but I wouldn’t expect the impact of their main deadline deal to be felt until next season. I didn’t love going for Payne by trading Beverley. But they signed Kyle Lowry in the buyout market to have insurance there. I love the deal of going to get Buddy Hield. Assuming they re-sign him, he’ll really help space around Embiid and Tyrese Maxey next season.

Offensive Rating

118.8 (6th)

Defensive Rating

114.1 (12th)

Eastern

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Is Doug McDermott and a bunch of second-round picks a better haul than just keeping Hield? Possibly. But the Pacers made their move with the Pascal Siakam trade back in mid-January. They now just have to figure out if they can cobble together enough defense most nights to move them up a tier. The Pacers made a great step forward this season and will hope to see long-term results starting this postseason.

Offensive Rating

120.5 (1st)

Defensive Rating

119.2 (26th)

Eastern

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Did the trade deadline serve them well? All the Heat did at the deadline was grab Terry Rozier for Lowry a few weeks ago, and then they decided to stand pat with their roster. The Heat would rather go swing for the big-whale acquisition, but that type of thing happens in the offseason. This Heat team seems less locked in to the mantra it painted on the court. We’ll see if that changes now that Jimmy Butler will miss some time for personal reasons. The Heat need to find the level of execution that gets them to surprise so many teams because they don’t have it consistently right now.

Offensive Rating

113.1 (23rd)

Defensive Rating

113.4 (9th)

Eastern

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Lakers did nothing at the trade deadline, opting not to send out too much of their future or their “depth” to go get someone like Dejounte Murray. Instead, they sign Spencer Dinwiddie in the buyout market and will see if they can avoid the offense cratering when LeBron James isn’t on the floor anymore. Personally, I think the Lakers should worry about future first-round picks much later on and sell out those assets to chase another Finals run. But it’s also possible they look at this team and just don’t think it’s possible to make that run.

Offensive Rating

114.0 (19th)

Defensive Rating

114.8 (14th tied)

Western

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Other than sending Cory Joseph out of town to save on some luxury-tax money, the Warriors decided they had one more ride in them. Pretty bold with them barely hanging onto a Play-In Tournament spot right now, but they have played a lot better as of late. Everybody is saying the right things, and we’re seeing growth from Jonathan Kuminga. It just feels like the Warriors need to be aggressive to maximize the last couple elite years of Steph Curry’s career. Unless he’s another LeBron who is just going to continue this for a decade.

Offensive Rating

117.5 (11th tied)

Defensive Rating

116.1 (18th)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Jazz moved on from Simone Fontecchio, Kelly Olynyk and Ochai Agbaji for essentially a first-round pick and a high second-round pick in the upcoming draft. That’s pretty good value in return for what they sent out. The Jazz decided to hang onto Jordan Clarkson once again and seem content with competing for the Play-In Tournament, even if it ends up being an uphill battle. The Jazz didn’t send out as many veterans as we saw the year before. Let’s see if they move some of those assets for another significant player this summer.

Offensive Rating

115.5 (16th)

Defensive Rating

118.2 (25th)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Bulls kept up their streak of not trading any players since 2021. That’s an insane stat. I just don’t get it with the Bulls. I know I’m a broken record by now, but this team is not good enough to be anything other than what it is. The Bulls should have moved Alex Caruso or DeMar DeRozan, if not both. They need to start grabbing some young players to build with or some draft picks to go get those guys, but they’re fine with the status quo.

Offensive Rating

113.6 (21st)

Defensive Rating

115.0 (16th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Turns out the Hawks are perfectly content with being a Play-In Tournament team as currently constructed and maybe lucking into some postseason success beyond that. They didn’t find a deal for Dejounte Murray because they couldn’t recoup enough of what they gave up to get him. We’ll see them enter the summer, possibly looking to move on from Clint Capela, Murray, De’Andre Hunter and who knows else. The Hawks needed a big change and refused to seek it before the deadline.

Offensive Rating

117.9 (8th tied)

Defensive Rating

119.9 (28th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The only move the Rockets made around the deadline was trading for next season. If Steven Adams can come back healthy, that’s a phenomenal addition to the roster. He can play big alongside Alperen Şengün and/or Jabari Smith Jr. He can be a solid defender and a good rebounder. He’s an underrated playmaker for others and one of the best screen-setters in basketball. The Rockets are set up for another big step forward next season and still have a ton of flexibility with the roster to go chase the Mikal Bridges-type players of the world.

Offensive Rating

113.2 (22nd)

Defensive Rating

112.5 (6th tied)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Did the trade deadline serve them well? It did. Nothing major here for the Nets, as they’re still trying to figure out if they can make the Play-In Tournament. Dennis Schröder and Thad Young for Spencer Dinwiddie was a smart value play, even with waiving Young. Schröder will be a steadier hand in the backcourt. Sending Royce O’Neale out for second-round picks and Keita Bates-Diop is good enough value. Let’s see if they can get some continuity on the court as this team gets healthy.

Offensive Rating

114.9 (17th tied)

Defensive Rating

116.2 (19th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Raptors have been sending guys out all season. Schröder, Young and Otto Porter Jr. joined Anunoby and Siakam as veterans Toronto decided it didn’t want anymore. The decision to not trade Bruce Brown Jr. is fine because his contract is still very tradeable around the draft, if they want to make another move. The Raptors are figuring out how to put players around Scottie Barnes as their primary future. I like bringing Olynyk and Agbaji aboard.

Offensive Rating

113.7 (20th)

Defensive Rating

117.5 (23rd)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Grizzlies had a bit of an exodus in the weeks leading up to the deadline, and it was the right move. Adams, who is out for season, moved on to Houston. They got rid of Tillman Sr. to Boston and then sent David Roddy to Phoenix. They got back a bunch of second-round picks and a reunion with Yuta Watanabe. Maybe Lamar Stevens does something for them. The rest of the season will be about developing GG Jackson and Vince Williams Jr. for next season.

Offensive Rating

107.3 (30th)

Defensive Rating

113.6 (10th)

Western

Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

Did the trade deadline serve them well? The Blazers didn’t do anything other than acquiring Dalano Banton from the Celtics for a second-round pick. There were questions about whether or not they’d move Malcolm Brogdon or even Robert Williams III, even with the injuries. Instead, the Blazers are sticking with this squad and will play out the season once they get healthy. Even though the results have been rough at times, Portland does have a good rotation with Brogdon starting and Scoot Henderson getting to pick his spots off the bench.

Offensive Rating

108.8 (29th)

Defensive Rating

117.1 (22nd)

Western

Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Most importantly, they stopped keeping Killian Hayes around to take minutes from their other guards, so waiving him was a big move. The rest of it was pretty solid. They acquired four second-round picks in all of their trades. Getting Quentin Grimes and Simone Fontecchio will help them with guys who compete on both ends of the floor. The Pistons got some players who can help them now on their quest to not being one of the worst teams ever.

Offensive Rating

111.5 (25th)

Defensive Rating

120.1 (29th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

Did the trade deadline serve them well? Not really, and I didn’t expect them to do much at all. They sent Doug McDermott out for essentially a second-round pick in 2029 and the right to waive Marcus Morris Sr. into the buyout market. Everything about this season is still seeing what players can do and develop into. Then, this summer, they get more serious about putting players around Victor Wembanyama.

Offensive Rating

109.3 (27th)

Defensive Rating

117.6 (24th)

Western

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

Did the trade deadline serve them well? It actually did. In moving Rozier and Washington over the last month, the Hornets acquired two first-round picks for the future. And they’re investing in fewer players that don’t help this team win. With new ownership taking over and the hunt for a new front office, the Hornets need to do all of this housecleaning and probably a lot more. Maybe Mann can develop for them or Williams can be a decent role player, but this was a good start to clearing it all out.

Offensive Rating

109.2 (28th)

Defensive Rating

120.7 (30th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

Did the trade deadline serve them well? It is humorous to me that the Wizards didn’t get a first-round pick directly for trading either Bradley Beal or Kristaps Porziņģis. But they did get one for Daniel Gafford. I think Gafford is one of the more underrated big men in the league and is on a great contract. They acquired Marvin Bagley III a month ago, so they’re developing elsewhere with their interior. They probably should have moved Kyle Kuzma and Tyus Jones too, unless they think these guys are staying long-term.

Offensive Rating

110.8 (26th)

Defensive Rating

119.4 (27th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

(Top photo: Michael Reaves  /  Getty Images)