Posted: Tuesday April 3, 2012 1:20PM ; Updated: Tuesday April 17, 2012 11:19AM
Britt Robson
Britt Robson>NBA POWER RANKINGS

Thunder take top spot for first time

Story Highlights

The Thunder rise to No. 1, the Spurs inch up to No. 2 and the Bulls fall to No. 3

There's a clear divide between the top four (including the Heat) and the rest

The Clippers and Celtics have caught fire, while Orlando and Utah have cooled off

With their potent offense and underrated defense, the Thunder have climbed to the top of the Power Rankings for the first time this season. San Antonio, which has won seven in a row and 10 of 11 as the league's hottest team, also moves up one spot, from third to second. Chicago has fallen from first to third after its first back-to-back losses all year, with Miami remaining fourth.

This is your NBA elite. None of this quartet has lost more than 14 games. The other 26 teams have dropped at least 20. From fifth to 19th on this list is a vast and volatile middle class of teams with a shot at the playoffs but little hope of supplanting the top four. And with about three weeks to go in the regular season, the jockeying continues in earnest.

(All stats and records are through Monday, April 2.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 2
After the Thunder beat the Heat, Lakers and Bulls, it makes sense that they would be caught exhaling by the Grizzlies on Monday; Memphis is fighting for a playoff spot and has the memory of last year's playoff elimination against OKC as motivation. Even with the loss, the Thunder seem primed for a long playoff run and look at if they could peak at just the right time. Each of their top three players has improved substantially over the course of the season: Kevin Durant is performing like a veteran leader who takes his own shots and point production for granted; Russell Westbrook has cut his turnovers without a corresponding dip in his aggressiveness; and James Harden is taking full advantage of the greater latitude he has been given to run the offense, whether or not Durant or Westbrook is on the court. All three are getting the big men more involved in the offense, and the return of Thabo Sefolosha and the sterling play of Nick Collison -- if there were a Seventh Man of the Year award, he would win it -- have solidified the defense again.
 
2San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 3
More than any of the other elite teams, the Spurs have the capacity for instant improvement in the playoffs, simply by extending the minutes for their Big Three. Coach Gregg Popovich has made the unique majesty of Manu Ginobili the NBA's best-kept secret this season -- the 34-year-old guard is fifth on the team with 23.8 minutes, his lowest average since his rookie season in 2002-03 -- both to protect him from further injury and, one suspects, to enhance the ambush factor in the postseason. The Spurs are 16-5 when Ginobili plays, and he is setting career highs in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and assists per minute. Add that to 36-40 minutes of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in the postseason, and San Antonio is going to be a very tough out.
 
3Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 1
The Bulls have finally shown signs of physical and mental fatigue, with just one game in their last seven -- a 21-point rout of Atlanta -- in which their suffocating intensity seemed fully engaged and sustained. Luol Deng, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver are all shooting below 40 percent in their last 10 games, and Joakim Noah is way below his average at 42.5 percent. After those consecutive losses on Sunday (to OKC) and Monday (Houston), Chicago catches a break with only six games in the next two weeks, starting with the Celtics on Thursday and a home-and-home with the Knicks on Sunday and next Tuesday. Two more games with the Heat loom later in April. And it has become a legitimate question whether MVP Derrick Rose can recover from his groin injury and work himself into prime condition in time for the playoffs.
 
4Miami Heat
Last Week: 4
Miami Heat (37-14)
It is time for coach Erik Spoelstra to provide LeBron James with an extra four or five minutes -- if not a game or two -- of rest. With a six-game lead over third-place Orlando, the Heat are essentially locked into no worse than the No. 2 seed in the East. (They trail first-place Chicago by one game in the loss a column, a team they defeated in last year's playoffs without home-court advantage.) James is averaging 39.5 minutes since the All-Star break while battling a slew of nagging injuries. He hasn't played with his usual perspicacity since being hit in the head on a collision while going for a steal against Phoenix two weeks ago. In Sunday's loss to Boston, he was held without an assist for only the second time in his career. His shooting percentage has declined from 54.7 to 51.4 in the second half, and on three-pointers where you need your legs, the drop-off is from 41.3 to 27.3. Resting James would mean more minutes for Dwyane Wade to be the alpha dog the next three weeks, and more time for the game's best player to gather himself physically and mentally for a playoff run that will either quell all the doubts about his ability to thrive in the clutch or set them to a level that could impact his career.
 
5Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 11
The Clippers have won six in a row with Randy Foye doing his best Chauncey Billups imitation, launching an average of eight three-pointers a game during the streak and making 45.8 percent. Foye sank 8-of-15 from beyond the arc in a 19-point thrashing of Dallas on Monday. That performance boosted his percentage to 37.2 for the season, slightly above his career mark of 36 percent, which is elevated by the 38.7 percent he made during his first two years in the NBA with Minnesota. With Blake Griffin forcing double teams and Chris Paul collapsing defenses with penetration, Foye will continue to get open looks. And because he's regarded as a better defender than newly acquired Nick Young or veteran Mo Williams (who will be out another week or more with a toe injury), the 6-4 guard is likely to hold on to his starter's status even when he cools off. Just ahead is a Wednesday matchup with Kobe Bryant as the two Staples Center tenants play for first place in the Pacific Division.
 
6Boston Celtics
Last Week: 12
After a loss to Philadelphia, the Celtics have won five in a row since Ray Allen was sidelined with a sore ankle. Mickael Pietrus also has been out since suffering a concussion in the first half of that Sixers game. The elixir has been the insertion of Avery Bradley into the starting lineup, bolstering Boston's identity as a more fluid, athletic team that began when Kevin Garnett was shifted to center after the All-Star break. Bradley is an ace on-ball defender who allows Rajon Rondo to freelance more frequently on defense as well as offense. The second-year guard lacks Allen's perimeter game, but Bradley is adept at scoring off cuts to the basket. According to Basketball Value, the Rondo-Bradley backcourt paired with the Garnett-Paul Pierce-Brandon Bass front line generates 115.4 points per 100 possessions while allowing just 88 per 100, for a robust plus-27.4 differential.
 
7Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 6
Despite a 3-1 week, dysfunction continues to forestall any momentum for the Lakers. Controversy and second-guessing fill the air when coach Mike Brown rests Kobe Bryant without the superstar's permission and temporarily benches Andrew Bynum for poor shot selection and a lack of hustle. Last Thursday against Oklahoma City, the offense hums in the first quarter, then wilts in the face of the Thunder's energy. On Saturday against the West-worst Hornets, Bynum attempts just one shot in the first half against the likes of Jason Smith, Chris Johnson and Lance Thomas while Kobe goes 3-for-21 stubbornly shooting jumpers over the zone scheme. Bryant rebounded with 40 points on 16-of-28 shooting in Sunday's victory against Golden State, but Bynum departed in the first quarter with a sprained left ankle. The good news is that point guard Ramon Sessions and forward Pau Gasol are playing well. Sessions, in particular, has been impressive in his first 10 games with the Lakers, averaging 6.8 assists, showing a knack for ambushing opponents with coast-to-coast layups and making 10-of-18 three-pointers.
 
8Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 10
The Pacers are poised to seize the third seed from Orlando. They play 10 of their final 14 games at home, and only one of those four road contests is against a winning team (April 17 in Philadelphia). They continue to be remarkably healthy -- the total time missed by their five starters is two games from Danny Granger -- and will benefit from the familiarity developing between second-unit guards George Hill and the recently acquired Leandro Barbosa, two players who need to provide an offensive spark off the bench. To move up in the standings, they need to halt the slow but steady decline in their defense, which has allowed more field goals on fewer attempts and thus more total points for three months in a row now. Meanwhile, Granger has led Indiana's 6-3 run over the last nine games, averaging 21 points while shooting 21-of-39 (53.8 percent) from three-point range and 48-of-51 (94.1 percent) from the free-throw line. As Sunday's OT win in Houston reaffirmed, the 2009 All-Star is Indiana's go-to scorer late in close games.
 
9Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 13
The most remarkable thing about Monday's win at Oklahoma City is how little Zach Randolph had to do with it. Randolph was the NBA's most reliable low-post scorer in the regular season and playoffs last year. But since tearing a ligament in his knee on Jan. 1 and rehabbing until mid-March, his conditioning remains a work in progress. Coming off the bench again Monday, he was just 1-for-1 at the rim, and 2-for-9 overall, with one offensive rebound. The most notable number in his stat line was three assists -- he may be most effective as a decoy right now. Can he regain enough lower-body strength to establish and retain his customary position in the low block come playoff time? If not, Memphis will have to gamble and scramble more often, and ride center Marc Gasol, who came up large to form an effective inside-outside tandem with O.J. Mayo against the Thunder. As good as Gasol is, however, vintage Randolph is what would make Memphis most dangerous.
 
10Orlando Magic
Last Week: 5
The conventional wisdom over the past few seasons has been that if point guard Jameer Nelson is playing well, the Magic are in good shape. But with Nelson shooting better than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from distance while averaging 16.5 points in the last 10 games, Orlando is just 4-6 and has dropped three in a row. Possible reasons for the downturn include a slightly tougher schedule, an emotional decompression after Dwight Howard wasn't dealt at the trade deadline and poor three-point shooting. Nelson and Ryan Anderson are hitting the deep ball, but Jason Richardson (21.1 percent), Hedo Turkoglu (27.5) and J.J. Redick (33.3) are all stone cold in the last 10 games. Can Orlando hold on to the No. 3 seed with its two best players hobbling? Howard sat against Denver on Sunday because of back spasms, and Anderson left with a sprained ankle in the final minute.
 
11Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 14
After an embarrassing loss to Washington on Friday, the Sixers desperately needed Saturday's victory over Atlanta to stay just behind the Celtics in the Atlantic Division race. But they still have a losing record over the last two months and continue to struggle getting points in the paint. Elton Brand has been the star of their last two significant wins, including his first game in nearly five years in which he registered at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, against the Hawks. For the Sixers to avoid a gruesome first-round matchup with either Miami or Chicago, they need bench scorers Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young to get back on track. Williams is shooting only 38.5 percent over his last 10 games. Young needs to look for his shot more often. After taking 10 or more shots in 19 of 21 games from late January to early March, he has attempted that many in only five of his last 11 games. That's not enough for the team's third-leading scorer and second-most-accurate shooter.
 
12Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 7
Cracking open the mystery of Atlanta's peaks and valleys is a pretty thankless task. But the enigmatic Hawks do provide a few clues. They allow only 4.8 more points in their losses compared to their wins, but score an amazing 18.2 fewer points (85.3, compared to 101.5) in defeat. The biggest culprit here is Joe Johnson, who scores 15.8 points and shoots just 31.6 percent on three-pointers (42.2 overall) in losses but averages 21.7 points and makes 44.1 percent (45.8 overall) from deep in wins. Jeff Teague tails off considerably, too, shooting 39 percent in losses and 51.4 percent in wins. The often-criticized Josh Smith is relatively consistent by comparison, declining from 47.3 percent and 20.1 points in wins to 41.5 percent and 17 points in losses. Bottom line, if Johnson is nailing his long-range jumpers, Atlanta has an excellent chance of winning.
 
13Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 15
TV commentators again raised the idea over the weekend that Lamar Odom has turned a corner with his play, with precious little evidence to support such wishful thinking. They also speak as if Odom is going through some significant life crisis and ordeal beyond his control. While I appreciate his sensitivity, sympathize with the family tragedies he has endured and love his game when he is firing on all cylinders, his situation needs to be put in context. Odom asked to be traded from the Lakers. The forward is making $8.9 million for his wretched production this season, and he voluntarily agreed to be part of a reality show with his wife that he knew would air during the season. Dallas is better off banking on the defense of Brendan Haywood, who did a yeoman job against Dwight Howard last Friday; the toughness of Delonte West, who doesn't shy away from big moments and is an ideal complement to Jason Terry in the backcourt; and the timeless shooting of Dirk Nowitzki, who has some fire left in his belly.
 
14Houston Rockets
Last Week: 18
With point guard Goran Dragic's steady maturation, the Rockets have playoff hopes even if their best player, Kyle Lowry, can't recover fully from his bacterial infection before the end of the season. When Dragic filled in for the then-injured Lowry in January, he was prone to crunch-time jitters, short-arming shots and turning the ball over during key possessions. But he's been a stalwart down the stretch in the 14 games he's started since Lowry went out in early March. Dragic is averaging 17.6 points and 8.7 assists in his 16 starts, shooting 53.4 percent from the field and 44.1 percent on three-pointers. If Lowry returns, Houston would be well-served going with a three-guard rotation that includes Courtney Lee, making injured shooting guard Kevin Martin that much more expendable.
 
15New York Knicks
Last Week: 16
Jeremy Lin's knee injury makes Tyson Chandler the most important Knick the rest of the season. It was just a year ago that his defense changed the culture in Dallas and led to a championship. His constant, mostly successful effort to transform the team of Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire into a group that prides itself on winning games at the defensive end is the not-so-secret reason the Knicks are still in the playoff hunt. And Chandler's influence needs to intensify to prevent the sort of "hero basketball" that attracts New York's shooters like the proverbial moth to the flame. Sure, it seems like a team with Anthony, Stoudemire, J.R. Smith, Steve Novak and Baron Davis should be a scoring dynamo. But we're less than a month away from the playoffs and the Knicks rank 21st in free-throw percentage, 22nd in field-goal percentage, 26th in three-point percentage and 22nd in offensive efficiency (they're fourth in defensive efficiency). And they've lost the one player in Lin who seemed to be able to facilitate a flow for his teammates on offense. Keep an eye on Iman Shumpert, a sparkling talent and team barometer, who yearns to jack it up like Anthony and shut 'em down like Chandler.
 
16Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 17
The Nuggets really miss Danilo Gallinari. By the numbers, the 6-10 small forward wasn't enjoying a distinctive third season before being sidelined by a sprained ankle in early February and then a broken thumb in mid-March. But he and Andre Miller are among the few Nuggets comfortable both running and working in more deliberate half-court sets, and as the long-range shooter opponents fear most, he helps spread the floor. He also improves the defense: The Nuggets, 19-14 when he plays and 10-10 when he doesn't, have allowed fewer points per possession when Gallinari is on the court than anyone besides little-used DeMarre Carroll. He also magnifies the virtues of Denver's two best players this season. Denver is being outscored when Ty Lawson is on the court without Gallinari, and Al Harrington's plus/minus goes from plus-0.6 per 36 minutes without Gallinari to plus-10.3 per 36 when they are paired. Gallinari is expected back in the next week or two, and the Nuggets will need him to knock the rust off quickly as they push for the playoffs.
 
17Utah Jazz
Last Week: 8
Utah Jazz (28-26)
The need to get more playing time for Derrick Favors has been more pressing since the 20-year-old second-year player filled in so admirably when starting center Al Jefferson missed two games last month. The crowded frontcourt epitomizes coach Ty Corbin's season-long juggling act between vying for a playoff berth and developing the team's young talent a year after the Deron Williams trade signaled the start of rebuilding. With the team on a three-game losing streak and down double digits in the second quarter at Portland on Monday, Corbin boldly accommodated the present and the future by going to a huge lineup that had Favors beside Jefferson while 6-9 Paul Millsap slid down to small forward and 6-8 Gordon Hayward became the shooting guard. That quartet stayed on the floor for 13 straight minutes over the second and third quarters, going plus-16 to turn around the game and end the skid. The alignment obviously won't work in all matchups, but the key is the versatility of Millsap, a three-time rebounding champ in college who is nevertheless quick enough to rank among the league leaders in steals and defend a tough, rangy small forward like Portland's Wes Matthews.
 
18Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 9
Phoenix Suns (26-26)
The Suns lost their top defender, Grant Hill, to knee surgery last week in the midst of a bruising stretch that has them playing 12 of 15 on the road (it's now seven of eight) before finishing the season with five of six at home. Despite 32 points in his first game replacing Hill, Shannon Brown can't duplicate Hill's value at both ends of the court. Of perhaps greater concern is a sore back that has reduced Steve Nash to just 7.4 points and 1-of-8 shooting from three-point territory in the last 10 games. On the plus side, Channing Frye continues his second-half makeover into a more active, physical two-way player instead of a soft three-point specialist, and fellow forward Jared Dudley remains solid while bearing more of the load for stopping an opponent's top perimeter threat in Hill's absence.
 
19Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 20
Now is the time for the Bucks to make their push. They are two games behind the short-handed Knicks and play six of their next seven at home, beginning with Cleveland and Charlotte. At the risk of repeating myself, Milwaukee needs to downplay the gun-slinging backcourt duo of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis and entrust more of the offense to Mike Dunleavy, who is averaging 15.7 points in 28.5 minutes while shooting 55.3 percent shooting from the field and 52.4 percent from three-point range in 19 games since the All-Star break. It also wouldn't hurt to sit center Drew Gooden more often in favor of Ersan Ilyasova and Ekpe Udoh. Going up against the Cavs' and Bobcats' porous frontcourt defenses will tempt Gooden into reckless shot selection, a bad habit that will be tough to shake when the Thunder and Knicks come to town next week.
 
20Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 21
Most observers expected the Blazers to be tanking by now, but they are playing hard and auditioning talent while going a respectable 5-6 since unloading Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby and firing coach Nate McMillan. Among the young players getting a long look are forwards Luke Babbitt and J.J. Hickson and guards Nolan Smith and Jonny Flynn. Hickson is by far the most experienced of this group and the most promising so far, averaging 14.1 points and 6.2 rebounds in 27.7 minutes in the seven games since he was released by Sacramento and picked up by the Blazers. Babbitt has shown three-point range, but at 6-9 and 225 pounds, he may be too much of a tweener forward to be effective on defense. In the backcourt, Smith hasn't been impressive and Flynn, while occasionally sparking the offense, remains inconsistent and is a liability on defense. With Raymond Felton's contract expiring after the season, point guard will be an offseason priority.
 
21Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 23
Terrence Williams seemed like a terrible fit with Sacramento, which signed him to a 10-day contract two weeks ago after his release from Houston. Didn't the Kings have enough players whose skills and athleticism were hindered by immaturity and a lack of court awareness? But through six games, Williams has exceeded expectations and helped Sacramento. His unrefined game is well-suited to the freelancing that necessarily occurs when you play at the league's fastest pace, and he's had at least three assists in each of the last four games. He's also performing with the scrappiness of someone eager to reward his new team for playing him nearly as many minutes in two weeks as the Rockets had given him in more than two months. In Monday's victory over Minnesota, Williams played a season-high 32 minutes and finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the year. Sacramento signed him for the rest of the season Saturday, and with the recent calf injury to Marcus Thornton, Williams figures to keep getting regular minutes.
 
22Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 19
The air is rapidly leaving the balloon in Minnesota, where a once-thrilling season has been buried under the interlocking weight of numerous injuries, horrendous defense and deflated attitudes. The Wolves have lost 10 of 14 since Ricky Rubio tore two knee ligaments in early March. As much as Rubio's passing wows the crowd, his less-heralded prowess on defense is equally valuable, and Minnesota has yielded more than 100 points nine times since he went down. Meanwhile, injuries have cost the Wolves four of their top six scorers over the past week. They welcomed back center Nikola Pekovic on Monday after a nine-game absence, only to have starting point guard Luke Ridnour helped off the court with a sprained ankle in the third quarter of a loss at Sacramento. To replace Ridnour, the team is hoping J.J. Barea can return after being out 10 days with a bruised thigh. But with the Wolves' slide to 12th in the West, talk has moved from their playoff chances to whether Kevin Love's absurd stats should put him in the MVP conversation despite the team's lousy record.
 
23Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 22
At the start of the season, new coach Mark Jackson predicted the Warriors would make the playoffs. Failing that, it was reasonable to expect Golden State to start shedding its image as a team that was more spectacular than solid and better at producing highlights than victories. But even by that standard, the results have been unsatisfying. The impetus is there: Golden State signed defensive-oriented center Kwame Brown to a $6.8 million deal (he has played only nine games because of injury) and finally removed the redundancy from their backcourt by trading Monta Ellis (a doppelgänger to fellow guard Stephen Curry) to Milwaukee for top-notch center Andrew Bogut. But looking ahead, it is hard to see how the essential character of the team will change. Curry will now team with rookie Klay Thompson, who, like Curry, is a deadly outside shooter and suspect defender. David Lee, the defensively challenged, offensively gifted power forward, will most likely return. Even the defensive upgrade of Bogut is mitigated by the fact that the Warriors traded their best defender, center Ekpe Udoh, as well as Ellis in order to obtain him. Add in the checkered injury history of Curry and Bogut, and next year's prognosis looks remarkably similar: a potentially dynamic offensive team that needs to dodge injuries and gain defensive discipline in order to be genuinely competitive.
 
24New Jersey Nets
Last Week: 29
It has been a rough season for Deron Williams and the Nets, but his best stretch of floor games this season has led to three consecutive victories and four of five. Granted, the inaccurate volume shooting continued in the last five games (33-of-88, or 37.5 percent), lowering his season mark to 41 percent, but it was accompanied by 69 assists and 18 turnovers. On Friday at Golden State, Williams found four different players at least four times en route to 20 assists, one short of his career high and his sixth career game with that many. The next night at Sacramento, he divided his 15 assists among eight teammates. If Johan Petro was able to convert seven assists from Williams in the last two games, imagine what Brook Lopez -- or Dwight Howard -- could accomplish.
 
25Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 25
Is DeMar DeRozan finally starting to put it together? The 6-7 swingman assembled enough potent scoring efforts last season to hint at stardom, but his shot selection and accuracy were awful to begin this season, which, coupled with the calf injury to Andrea Bargnani, torpedoed Toronto's offense. But since the All-Star break DeRozan has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio, backed off some on his three-point attempts (he's a career 19.9 percent shooter from distance) and gotten to the free-throw line more often. In each of his last four games (a stint interrupted for two games by an ankle injury), he's attempted between nine and 11 free throws (39 overall) and averaged 22.5 points. Not coincidentally, the offensively challenged Raptors averaged more than 100 points and won three of those four. DeRozan still attempts too many long two-pointers, and his defense needs work, but he's just 22 and with Jerryd Bayless out for the rest of the season with a torn oblique, the Raptors can use his scoring punch in the backcourt.
 
26Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 24
While Tayshaun Prince is valuable for the veteran stability and versatility he brings, his play has suffered from uncharacteristically poor shot selection for most of the season. He is taking his fewest shots at the rim in at least six years (as far back as these Hoopdata numbers reach) while attempting more low-percentage jumpers from 16-23 feet. But with Rodney Stuckey and Ben Gordon both in and out of the lineup because of injuries lately, Prince has become more aggressive. The 32-year-old forward is going to the basket and shooting three-pointers at his highest frequency of the season over the last 10 games while actually improving on his season percentages. This is especially true in the last four games, three of them victories, when Prince has averaged 21.3 points on 47.9 percent shooting and made 5-for-8 from three-point range. The implication is that he accepts a more complementary role when the top backcourt scorers are healthy. But it might be better for the team if Prince kept his aggressiveness.
 
27New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 27
The Hornets can't close out opponents -- six teams have worse point differentials but only two have won fewer games. They were tied with Portland with three minutes to play last Thursday and then folded after Carl Landry missed a free throw, Jason Smith went too strong on a very makeable layup and the defense allowed two three-pointers down the stretch. The Hornets led most of the fourth quarter against the Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant had missed his first 15 shots, but they were outscored 8-0 in the final two minutes and lost 88-85. After that game, coach Monty Williams praised the eight members of his injury-riddled squad who suited up, and added, "The thing that is disappointing to me is we have got some guys on our team that could give us more but who are sitting there watching." One of those players is Eric Gordon, an obvious choice as the go-to guy when healthy. He has played just two games but is expected back from a knee injury before the end of the season.
 
28Washington Wizards
Last Week: 28
The Wizards are clearly staking their future on John Wall. But as the 6-4 point guard enters the final month of his second season, he hasn't proved he merits that level of commitment. Point guards should be judged on ball distribution, defense and scoring. Because Wall leads the NBA in turnovers, his assist-to-turnover rate is 1.98 to 1, which puts him near the bottom of the NBA's starting point guards. He is also below-average on defense. Washington allows 8.3 more points per 100 possessions when Wall plays compared to when he sits, according to Basketball Value, the second-worst impact on the team. The third category, scoring, is a relative strength, but even here, Wall's inability to incorporate the three-point shot into his arsenal -- he is 3-for-33 this season -- pushes his true shooting percentage below the league average. The Wizards are hoping that these lackluster statistics are a function of immaturity and lack of talent elsewhere on the roster -- that Wall's teammates are dragging him down. But since the Wizards dealt JaVale McGee and Nick Young and acquired Nene, Wall's numbers haven't improved noticeably.
 
29Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 26
The Cavs have lost 10 of 11, the last six by double digits, including a 37-point blowout to Milwaukee on Friday. The defense has been atrocious, in part because coach Byron Scott has decided to give raw, 6-9 rookie Tristan Thompson a crash course in being overmatched in the paint. Earlier in the season, Thompson played power forward in a second-line frontcourt that included Samardo Samuels at center and Alonzo Gee at small forward. But two weeks ago Cleveland waived Ryan Hollins, the 7-footer filling in for the injured Anderson Varejao, and rather than sub in the larger and heavier Samuels into the void at center, Scott went with Thompson. The No. 4 pick is clearly bigger than his listed 227 pounds, he's but still woefully undersized for most of his matchups. And with power forward Antawn Jamison as his frontcourt mate, Thompson doesn't get a lot of help in jousting for position.
 
30Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30
A lineup with 7-footer Byron Mullens at power forward and 6-9 rookie Bismack Biyombo at center received its most extensive playing time during Saturday's overtime loss to Detroit. The pair combined for 30 points on 13-for-23 shooting, but Biyombo had only two rebounds in 34 minutes and the Pistons exploited Charlotte for 62 points in the paint. The pairing came at the expense of sixth-year power forward Tyrus Thomas, who has been relegated to reserve status again despite being paid like a franchise cornerstone since signing a five-year, $40 million contract in 2010. The team will soon have to decide whether to make a similar commitment to Gerald Henderson. The third-year swingman has blossomed into the Bobcats' best all-around player this year, but he doesn't have the inherent skills to become much more than a solid role player on a very good team.

 
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