NBA Tier List: Raptors, Bucks headline the NBA’s best right now

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) moves around Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) during second half NBA basketball action in Toronto on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. (Frank Gunn/CP)

We got nothing fancy this week, just straight tiers. Let’s get into it.

The best

Just how good are the Toronto Raptors? If a franchise-record 46-point evisceration is any indication, then really, really good.

Toronto has 13 more matchups against teams with records of .500 or better to close its season, including three more with the league-best Milwaukee Bucks starting with a matchup between the Eastern Conference heavyweights Tuesday. This is a prime opportunity to find out just how good the Raptors actually are.

And turning attention to the other two teams at this level, Sunday’s game between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers was an absolute barn-burner. It’s unfortunate the officials couldn’t get out of the way at the end of the game, but that’s the kind of quality basketball we should all expect from the game’s elite.

One thing of note to the Raptors and Bucks from that Celtics-Lakers matchup, Jayson Tatum may have just taken a superstar turn, something that will surely make the top-heavy East even more interesting.

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Very good

You might be surprised to see the Oklahoma City Thunder here in Tier 2. Don’t be.

The Thunder have been one of the most consistently good teams in the NBA all season long, having only dropped three straight games just once. They currently find themselves secure in the No. 6 seed, but are only 1.5 games back of the No. 4 and 5 spots the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz hold at the moment.

Just like seeing them here just below top tier, don’t be shocked if/when OKC moves up into one of those spots or higher.

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Meaningful mediocrity

Being mediocre can be a positive or negative thing, depending on circumstance.

In the case of the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans, being considered just alright teams is a clear sign of progress and hope for the future with super rookies Ja Morant and Zion Williamson looking to be bright stars for many years to come.

If you’re the other four teams at this level, however, being mediocre is nowhere near enough, with each club going through swoons at the moment they’ll want to correct sooner than later.

The Los Angeles Clippers have lost three straight, including a recent loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Celebrating Dwyane Wade and retiring his jersey over the weekend proved to be a nice distraction, but it’s not enough to mask the five losses and seven games the Miami Heat have had recently.

Joel Embiid probably shouldn’t declare himself the best player in the world right before taking on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, especially when his Philadelphia 76ers showed extreme ups and downs, losing four straight then winning four straight before that Bucks game.

And it looks like the Mike Conley experiment really hasn’t worked out for the Jazz. He’s been hurt for the brunt of the season, and in this 4-7 span Utah’s had in its last 11 games, the Jazz have lost five of them with Conley in the lineup.

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Worse than you likely think they are

With the exception of the Portland Trail Blazers, these are all teams holding down playoff spots and, for the most part – including Portland – have reputations that probably exceed reality.

The best example of this are the Dallas Mavericks. Luka Doncic is one of the game’s biggest young stars, and is rightfully being hailed as, perhaps, the next one take the mantle as one of the faces of the league. His talent is undeniable and during the early goings of the season his individual brilliance was carrying the Mavericks to near the top of the Western Conference standings.

That’s no longer the case though, and while the Mavericks’ offence has remained the best in the league, this is still a team that has a long way to go defensively, something that will constantly hold it back unless corrected in the future.

The reality right, now, though is the Dallas is just alright, and that’s fine, and probably not the referees’ fault – as much as Mark Cuban would like it to be it seems like.

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.

Frustratingly bad

None of these teams are very good, but that isn’t much of a reason to get upset over them. No, the real reason for the exasperation of this quintet is that there’s been flashes of pretty good in there for all of them.

The most recent example of this is the Kings’ victory over the Clippers. A contest that saw Sacramento with all five starters in double-figures, plus Kent Bazemore dropping 23 off the bench as they manage to weather a 31-point outburst from Kawhi Leonard.

This is proof that on any given night any team can beat any team in the NBA, it’s doing it consistently what’s actually difficult, and that’s been the problem for the Kings and the others at this level all season long.

Scrubs

The Golden State Warriors are slated to have Stephen Curry back by about March 1. So maybe then things will kind of turn around.

Still, they have a league-worst 12 wins to “lead” this group of teams who all haven’t even cracked 20 yet.

Scrubs, man.

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