Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: The Sad Case of Larry Sanders


marijuanaIt’s been a brutal season for the Milwaukee Bucks. As of this writing, they’re sitting on 14 wins and 63 losses, a league-worst clip despite the Sixers’ recent 26-game losing streak.

But unlike Philadelphia, which began this season with a nakedly obvious quest to bottom out, Milwaukee actually chased the playoffs. They (rather questionably) signed O.J. Mayo and Zaza Pachulia and traded for Wisconsin native Caron Butler, who is the only player in NBA history ever excited about getting shipped to the Bucks.

Safe to say, these moves bore precious little fruit.

More significantly, they also signed center Larry Sanders, who finished third in 2013’s Most Improved Player voting and 7th for Defensive Player of the Year, to a four-year, $44 million extension. The young, ridiculously athletic, often charismatic big man-made major strides on both sides of the ball last season, and seemed like a natural candidate to peg as the franchise face.

The ensuing results have been nothing short of disastrous.

Larry Sanders BucksA November bar brawl resulting in a torn thumb ligament and several weeks missed. (Sanders in the police blotter also raised awareness of an otherwise largely unknown animal cruelty charge.) Heads butted with new coach Larry Drew and teammates. Subpar play. A February orbital fracture that cost the remainder of his season.

As a cherry on the poop sundae, Sanders was hit Friday with a five-game drug suspension for using marijuana. And because Y.O.L.O., he used the banishment as an opportunity to stump for marijuana legalization.

Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

“It’s something I feel strongly about, just to let you know something personal about me. I will deal with the consequences from it. It’s a banned substance in my league. But I believe in marijuana and the medical side of it. I know what it is if I’m going to use it. I study it and I know the benefits it has. In a lot of ways we’ve been deprived. You can’t really label it with so many other drugs that people can be addicted to and have so many negative effects on your body and your family and your relationships and impairment. This is not the same thing. The stigma is that it’s illegal. I hate that. Once this becomes legal, this all will go away. But I understand for my work it’s a banned substance. I will deal with the consequences and I apologize again to my fans for that.”

On one hand, the suspension remains five games whether Sanders speaks out or shuts up, so he might as well double down. And I happen to agree with Sanders from a political/worldview sense.

spicoli1Full disclosure, I don’t use marijuana. (I have on many occasions eons ago, but ultimately decided I don’t like the effect.) I don’t like to be around marijuana. (I hate the smell and potential contact high.) I often find stoned people annoying and stupid. (Do I really need to explain this one?) But I also think the drug isn’t nearly dangerous enough to justify the energy, financial resources, and prison cells devoted its criminalization. There are also legitimate healing benefits from marijuana for those suffering from cancer or other diseases, and athletes besides Sanders have spoken about marijuana alleviating aches and pain from the rigors of professional sports. Even if you’re skeptical Sanders was partaking for that honorable reason, the point isn’t any less potentially valid.

America is collectively shifting toward the legalization of marijuana, and I suspect that will eventually be the case in all 50 states.

However, the fact remains Sanders is an athlete who draws a salary from a private business that prohibits marijuana use, which makes him less than ideal as a grassroots (pun intended) spokesperson for this fight. Particularly when you consider how Sanders has fallen apart on and off the court immediately upon receiving long-term security. Like, the minute after. I imagine Milwaukee’s front office has already lost sleep over Sanders this season. This incident will only result in more Ambien. (Purchased legally, with a prescription, of course.)

Sanders can obviously rebound next season, and has all the motivation in the world to get back on track. But again, he’s the Bucks’ face and for the time being, the embodiment of everything gone wrong for Milwaukee this season.

Onto the rankings.

The streak is over, but the Spurs can cruise through April and still easily hold the overall #1 seed. Not that they were pushing players with heavy minutes, anyway. 1
2 THUNDER(54-19) Thursday’s win over San Antonio likely means more to them than it did the Spurs. Meanwhile, KD’s 25+ streak (41 and counting) seems like the final piece of his MVP resume. 3
Wednesday’s game vs. OKC might (might) have some implications, but the LAC’s biggest need is to keep Griffin, Redick, and Co. healthy. 2
Blew a chance to create space on Indiana, and de-emphasize their game on April 11. Bad for the Heat, good for viewers at home. 7
Dwight’s ankle is a concern, but good security in the 4th seed and relatively soft (though road heavy) finish means they can play it safe down the stretch. 4
Among the more surprising 50-win teams of recent memory. Can they advance, given their defensive issues? Probably not, but in Oct. nobody thought they’d have the opportunity. 14
Looking more and more like they’ll finish sixth, hooking up with the Clips in the first round. Be sure to make your thank you offering to the Basketball Gods. 7
The NBA’s fifth-best offense over the last month still drags along an average D, but they shape up as a major pain for any top-3 squad in the West. 10
Had a huge week, with wins in Portland and over OKC. Finish with four of five on the road, including Saturday in Dallas. 8
10 GRIZZLIES(45-32) Begin the week on the outside looking in, but finish the season at Phoenix and hosting Dallas. 9
Among the teams with better efficiency differentials since the All-Star Game: Cleveland, New York, Washington, Minnesota, Brooklyn, Toronto, and Charlotte. 5
The Nets went 14-5 without K.G., and now get him back just in time for the playoffs. Otherwise known as “The Part of the Year Where You Really Want K.G..” 13
The league’s third-worst offense before the break has been the ninth worst after, paired with the NBA’s most stifling D. Is that enough scoring for the Bulls to advance? 12
They’ve won six of seven, and finish with the Sixers, Pistons, Bucks, and two against New York. Shouldn’t be too hard to tune up for the postseason. 11
Six weeks ago, the idea of dropping into a first-round matchup with Indiana seemed like suicide. Now, if it happens, Washington could be better off. 16
Seven wins two seasons ago. This year, over .500 and in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history. Gotta get Steve Clifford in the COY chatter. 17
It’s a shame the computers don’t dictate playoff seeding, since the Wolves have the 10th best expected W/L record as calculated by Basketball Reference (45-30). 16
J.R. Smith is finally making himself useful (beyond volume 3-pt. shooting). 24.4/4.8/3.2 over his last five, and 44 percent from the floor since the break. 19
Sure, it’s a mid-pack offense, but it’s an egalitarian mid-pack offense. No squad in the league generates more buckets off assists. 21
Aaron Brooks is averaging over 30 minutes a night over Denver’s last six. Tells you all you need to know about how things have played out from October to now. 20
Anthony Morrow over his last five games: 18.4 points on 60 percent from the floor, 63 percent from downtown, and 89 percent from the line. 18
Kyrie says the media have treated him unfairly, constantly questioning whether he wants out or not. Totally get that. But seriously, are you staying or going? 23
Sure. they’re 23rd, but honestly it’s hard to differentiate between the last eight teams on most days. 22
Shouldn’t Pistons fans be the most annoyed? This team is expensive, has talent, was trying to be good, and still hasn’t defeated a +.500 team in nearly two months. 30
Whispers Mike D’Antoni might return next season have fans sharpening their pitchforks. Jim Buss explores building a moat around his office. 23
Friday’s victory over the Pelicans notwithstanding, the Jazz have quietly been on the NBA’s biggest disasters of late. Only three wins since March 1. 26
Jeff Green hasn’t had a month shooting over 40 percent from the floor since December. 31% from 3-point range since the break, taking over five a game. Crikey. 25
It took a while, but Tobias Harris has come around. 16.9/6.8 on 51 percent from the floor since the All Star break. 27
You know, take away the 26-game losing streak, and they’re 17-34! 29
Faced with the threat of losing their prime ping-pong ball status, the Bucks are finishing strong. Kudos. 28

OTHER RANKINGS: MVP | Rookies | Most Improved Sixth Man

Andy Kamenetzky is a regular contributor to SheridanHoops.com. Follow him and his brother, Brian, on Twitter.

Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: The Wild, Wild West Race Between Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix


wild wild westIt’s been a while since the Western Conference wasn’t jam-packed with high-end teams, and this season is no exception. If anything, it’s been even more absurdly competitive.

Five teams will almost certainly finish with 50 wins, and at least one team with a win total in the mid-40s is guaranteed to miss the playoffs. We know this because as of this writing, the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies own the 7-9 seeds with identical 43-30 records. Last I checked, only eight teams make the postseason.

The race is getting down to the wire, and it’s a helluva lotta fun to watch.

Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: Examining the Slippage of Pacers and Heat

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NaismithIt’s not necessarily that things are getting tighter atop the standings – Indiana and Miami remain a country mile ahead of their Eastern Conference brethren – but with less than a month to go before the playoffs, things are growing a whole lot more competitive.

Once an affront to James Naismith, Massachusetts, and peach baskets, the bottom 3/4ths of the playoff ladder has taken on a totally new look since the All-Star break.

Specifically: Records since the circus left New Orleans:

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Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: The Phil Jackson Effect … On Both Coasts

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Phil_Jackson_3In the eyes of many, the unbridled mess that is the New York Knicks just received the most drastic makeover this side of Ally Sheedy in “The Breakfast Club” upon hiring Phil Jackson as team president and Zen Master Extraordinaire. Hopes are high in the Big Apple, but plenty of question marks linger, even for a man with 11 rings.

It remains to be seen whether Jackson’s arrival provides enough confidence and stability to convince Carmelo Anthony to re-up. (A cynic, however, might suspect Jackson provides the Knicks cover should Melo bolt.) It remains to be seen whether Jackson has the acumen to build a team from the ground up with no front office experience. It remains to be seen whether Jackson, nearly 70 years old, has the energy for this gig’s daily grind and the patience to build the right way.

Most importantly, it remains to be seen whether Jackson can work under owner James Dolan, famously viewed as an egomaniacal and idiotic lunatic seemingly out to destroy Madison Square Garden’s biggest attraction. (He does play a mean guitar, though.)

Still, Jackson oozes gravitas, and that alone could be enough to lure A-list free agents, which is half the battle. Plus, that basketball brain ain’t inconsiderable. A turnaround is hardly a given, but it’s certainly easy to understand why New York would roll the (very expensive) dice.

kobeIn the meantime, Jackson hasn’t held a position with the Los Angeles Lakers since retiring as coach in 2011 and was unlikely to become their employee again. But for some Lakers front office types, players and fans, it feels like an asset and a member of the family has left them.

And that’s precisely why this development might actually be a positive for the Lakers in the long run.

To a very palpable degree, Jackson’s presence has been a paralyzing element for the Lakers. Internally, he’s been a point of contention between Jim and Jeanie Buss (who’s often passive-aggressively exacerbated the situation), and between Jim Buss and Kobe Bryant.

Externally, he is the prism through which fans and media evaluate every decision. Had the front office not foolishly allowed expectations for Jackson’s third stint as coach, Mike D’Antoni likely would have been warmly received. Instead, he became regarded as the guy who should have been P.J.

Jackson’s absence has been blamed for Dwight Howard’s departure, as if other factors (namely, Bryant’s presence) weren’t obvious deterrents as well. And with Jackson theoretically available to be brought into the front office, Buss has been continually crushed for not hiring him. Never mind that Buss would likely have had to surrender his own job for The Zen Master, not to mention alter plans set by the late Dr. Jerry Buss.

If you want to argue keeping Jackson at arm’s length is foolish, fair enough. But it’s nonetheless impossible to deny how the setup is inherently problematic.

Thus, if Jackson wasn’t going to be hired by the Lakers, it’s actually best for him to be officially off the table as an option. For better or worse, he is no longer available to serve as a wedge, and all the important principals have no choice but to truly move forward.

Kobe has a responsibility to support the owner who gave him an exceptionally generous (and cap-clogging) extension. Jeanie has a responsibility to put the franchise first and avoid taking this development personally. And with Jackson no longer casting a shadow, Jim has a responsibility to deliver. Even as someone who thinks Jim has taken some unfair lumps, there’s no question he’s got a lot to prove.

Time for everybody to get to work.

On to the rankings.

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Kamenetzky Bros. Power Rankings: The Curious Case of the Pelicans


AnthonyDavisSH1At this time of year, it’s common practice to categorize teams into tankers and non-tankers, but where a team is in mid-March isn’t necessarily where they were in October.

You have your teams who started the year constructed to be historically atrocious, now rounding spectacularly into form (Philadelphia). Some expected to be bad, but turned out pretty good (Phoenix, Toronto). Some hoped to be maybe-we-scrape-the-playoff-ladder-if-all-goes-well-but-we-know-it’s-a-rebuilding-year competent, then saw everything go straight to the terlit (Lakers).

Then there is the curious case of New Orleans.

Few teams were as aggressive last offseason as the Pelicans. Coming off a 27-win season, New Orleans traded the sixth pick in last summer’s draft (Nerlens Noel) and this year’s first-rounder for Jrue Holiday, then engineered a pricey sign-and-trade for Tyreke Evans. They went from a slow build to win-now almost instantly.

It hasn’t worked, and in the worst possible ways. First and most obviously, they haven’t won many games, but aren’t likely to lose enough to trigger the 1-5 lottery protection on the pick they owe Philly. Meanwhile, injuries – most prominently to Holiday and Ryan Anderson – have made it tough for them to know exactly what they have going forward.

It’s been tough, coach Monty Williams acknowledges, but not without a silver lining.

“For one, Anthony (Davis). I don’t think Anthony would be where he is if we had Jrue and Ryan and [other injured players] on the floor. I just don’t think that would have happened,” he said earlier this week. “I think this has been a blessing in disguise, in that he’s been able to stamp his claim as the franchise player, and now when those guys come back I think they know they have to adapt to his game.”

As will the rest of the league. Only 20 (for one more day), Davis has become a 20-10 player, is swatting almost three shots a game, sports the league’s fifth best PER and has lifted virtually all of his advanced metrics from his rookie season.

Particularly remarkable have been the consistently of his splits. Month-to-month, he hasn’t averaged fewer than 19.3 points or more than 21.6, no fewer than 9.4 rebounds or no more than 11.0. In no full month has his shooting percentage dropped lower than 51.3.

Davis buys Williams’ theory about circumstances accelerating his development.

“With Jrue and Ryan out, and Jason (Smith), it made me mature fast and try to become a leader faster. To learn how to handle situations faster. So there’s a lot of truth to that, and each and every day I’m more prepared for it,” he said. “It’s coming faster. teams are staring to key into me a lot faster than I expected. I have no choice but to figure it out.”

The problem for New Orleans is figuring out what to do going forward. Without two key rotation pieces available, GM Dell Demps doesn’t have the sample size to say definitively what the Pelicans will need to crack the top eight in an absurdly deep Western Conference. He probably won’t have a pick to work with, nor any real cap flexibility. To some degree, whatever tweaks he is able to make will be done with imperfect information.

“I don’t think we have to start over,” Williams says, but there’s a good chance the Pelicans will have to use next year as a do-over for this one.

At least they can be confident in Davis.

“One thing we can go into the summertime and say,” said Williams, “we know he’s the guy.”

To the rankings!

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