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NBA Power Rankings: Norm, Timelord and the rejuvenated Lakers

In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, we’re normalizing Norman Powell, making a case for Robert Williams and loving the rejuvenated Lakers.

Our new look NBA Power Rankings are back, a non-traditional structure for a non-traditional era of professional basketball. The world is no longer just about wins and losses and teams are no longer the primary crucible of basketball power. So each week we’ll be dissecting how basketball power is presently distributed — between players, teams, friendships, diss tracks, aesthetic design choices, across leagues and whatever else has a temporary toehold in this ever-changing landscape.

Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?

5

Timelord in winning time

Robert Williams III is still very much a situational piece for the Celtics. But midway through his third season, he’s played 552 minutes and in the next week or two will likely surpass the minute and field goal attempt totals from his first two seasons combined. He’s playing more and getting more opportunities to make a difference when he’s on the floor. And he’s delivering.

Williams has averaged 16.0 points, 13.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.0 steals and 3.7 blocks per 36 minutes this season, shooting 72.7 percent from the field. Those minutes are heavily skewed by matchup and game situation — he’s played just 25 minutes all year classified as high- or very-high-leverage by PBPStats.com. That may not seem like a ton but it’s about the same as Anthony Davis or Rudy Gobert, and what Williams has done in those minutes has been kind of incredible.

In those high- and very-high-leverage minutes, Williams has racked up a total of five blocks and two steals, which works out to a rate of 10.1 stocks per 36 high-leverage minutes. That puts him miles ahead of any other player this season — Joel Embiid is second with an average of 7.1, Gobert and Facundo Campazzo are the only other players over 5.0. Williams is also 5-of-5 from the field with 12 rebounds and 2 assists.

Those numbers may be inflated by the small sample and his playoff opportunities are, again, going to be heavily influenced by matchup and circumstance. But it seems like he’s earned an opportunity to see if he can be on the floor making winning plays at winning time.

4

The Embiid-less 76ers

Yes, they lost to the Bucks. Yes, their two wins were over the Knicks and Spurs, not exactly championship contenders. Still, going 2-1 in their first three games without Joel Embiid is a fairly big deal, especially as they fight to hold off the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Embiid is expected to be out for at least two weeks, but likely longer than that and it’s imperative that the 76ers keep up in the win column and develop a rhythm without him.

So far, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris have risen to the challenge helping carry the load at both ends. Harris is averaging 24.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals per game since Embiid went down. Simmons has chipped in 14.3 points, 9.3 assists, 9.0 rebounds and typically stout defense, and even knocked down a 3-pointer. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast has been great, with Seth Curry, Danny Green and Furkan Korkmaz combining to hit 44-of-63 from beyond the arc (44.4 percent).

The 76ers may be looking to make a deal at the deadline and get themselves some extra help but right now they’re doing what they need to do and keeping their heads above water.

3

Normalizing Norman Powell

On Wednesday night, Norman Powell dropped 43 points on just 18 shots, a stunning new personal best from a 27-year-old guard in his sixth NBA season. It was a loud ping from a player who has spent most of his career well-below the radar.

Powell has started less than a third of his career games and didn’t break 20 minutes or 10 points per game until last season when he became, fully, the Raptors’ sixth man and third guard. But his 43-point game didn’t come out of nowhere. This was his sixth 30-point game of the season, the same number as Paul George, DeMar DeRozan and Jaylen Brown. His 19.7 points per game are just tenths of a point behind Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet for the team lead. He’s hitting a career-high 44.6 percent of his 3-pointers and a career-high 50 percent of his shots in general. In fact, if just four of the 19 free throws he’s missed this season had gone in, it would be enough to push his 87.5 free-throw percentage into 50/40/90 territory.

You might have missed it, there’s a lot going on in the NBA every night. But there’s a new normal for Norman Powell.

2

Bucks’ championship stock

Things are certainly looking up in Milwaukee. They paid a steep price to acquire P.J. Tucker but he’s a proven veteran who fits a need and absolutely makes them better on paper, even with his shooting struggles this season. And there may be more trade deadline moves on the horizon. But even more importantly, Tucker and any future additions are joining a team that’s already surging.

The Bucks are 4-0 since the All-Star Break, with wins over two playoff teams (New York and Philadelphia) and a plus-12.9 points per 100 possession point differential. Stretch things back a month and Milwaukee is 10-1, outscoring opponents by an average of 7.9 points per 100 possessions.

Over that span, Giannis has been absolutely phenomenal — 31.9 points, 12.6 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.5 blocks, 1.2 steals per game, shooting 58.1 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from beyond the arc. Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo have all been working through bouts of inconsistency but together they’ve delivered enough support for Giannis. The defense is looking better. Outside shots are falling. And, per 538’s prediction model, the Bucks’ odds of winning a title have now passed every team in the Western Conference.

1

The rejuvenated Lakers

Unfortunately for the Bucks, the only team that is looking hotter than them right now is the rejuvenated Lakers. They’ve won three straight coming out of the All-Star break, by a combined 52 points. LeBron has a little pep in his step, Montrezl Harrell is in beast mode, Kyle Kuzma can’t miss and Talen Horton-Tucker is carving out an increasingly permanent place for himself in the rotation. They still have the best defense in the league and look more than ready to weather the absence of Anthony Davis and roll into the playoffs firing on all cylinders.