NBA Power Rankings: Clippers take top spot; All-Star Weekend hopes for each team


All-Star Weekend in Indianapolis is right around the corner! While we gear up for the final stretch before the Feb. 8 trade deadline passes, I thought I would use Thursday’s All-Star reserves announcement as a galvanizing element to go over potential All-Star Weekend involvement. 

For each team, we’ll go through any options and likelihoods for the Skills Challenge, 3-point Contest, Dunk Contest and All-Star Game, respectively. For the Skills Challenge, we’re going off the revised format starting in 2022, with teams of three competing. (They should go back to guards versus big men in a tournament style, but I digress.) Everything else is self-explanatory for the competitions.

And then, as always, we’ll flawlessly rank all 30 teams.

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 15 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings. Stats and records are through Monday’s action.


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Tier 1 – The Contenders

Skills Challenge I would love to see Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden doing this challenge as a trio. We could have this while Russell Westbrook just glares at them during the competition because he didn’t make the squad. Or have him tap in for Leonard, who can sit out for load management.

3-point Contest: They are the best 3-point shooting team in the league so far this season (39.2 percent). Leonard, George, Harden and Norman Powell are all over 40 percent from deep.

Slam Dunk Contest: You could talk me into George doing it again, but I don’t think the Clippers have anybody to throw into the mix.

Any All-Stars? Leonard is a lock, and George will be tough to keep off the reserves list too. Harden has had a good enough season, but the guard competition is too much.

Offensive Rating

119.6 (4th)

Defensive Rating

113.6 (11th tied)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Skills Challenge You could talk me into them having two different trios in it, with their top six of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kristaps Porziņģis, Derrick White, Al Horford and Jrue Holiday separated in some manner.

3-point Contest: White is around 40 percent from deep and will probably get squeezed out of the reserves list. Is this enough involvement in the weekend to get him to eschew a vacation?

Slam Dunk Contest: JD Davison needs to be in the contest. He did insane athletic stuff in high school, and Mac McClung has set the bar low for résumé involvement.

Any All-Stars? Tatum is already in. Brown, Porzingis and White all have a case to make the reserves, and the Celtics deserve at least two.

Offensive Rating

120.3 (2nd)

Defensive Rating

110.7 (2nd tied)

Eastern

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Skills Challenge If you promise Nikola Jokić this contest’s winner gets a horse, he’d agree to do it, right? A trio of Jokić, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon would be a lot of fun. I just want to see Jokić do the passing portion while blindfolded.

3-point Contest: Murray and Michael Porter Jr. would both be excellent options to have some defending champs in there.

Slam Dunk Contest: I doubt Gordon would do it again because he feels he’s been robbed of every contest he’s been in. He could still do some insane stuff though.

Any All-Stars? Jokić is already in. Murray has a shot at making it as a reserve, but the West guard pool is very deep.

Offensive Rating

118.1 (7th)

Defensive Rating

113.6 (11th tied)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Skills Challenge I would pay an insane amount of money to watch Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns be a trio in the challenge. It would be an incredible spectacle, and I want Edwards mic’d up in the arena’s PA system.

3-point Contest: Towns has won it before, and he should be in it pretty much every year. He’s a phenomenal shooter.

Slam Dunk Contest: Give me Edwards in this competition. I want to see what kind of a show he can put on.

Any All-Stars? Edwards should be a lock for the reserves, and Gobert has a great case to make for being a frontcourt selection.

Offensive Rating

114.2 (19th)

Defensive Rating

109.0 (1st)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Skills Challenge Yes, please. Give me Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams as a trio. This Thunder team is so young and fun. It would be awesome if the league can involve them as much as possible.

3-point Contest: Williams should be in it. I’d love for Holmgren to be in it. But Isaiah Joe would win this thing.

Slam Dunk Contest: I don’t think they have anybody, but maybe let’s put Aleksej Pokuševski in it just for fun.

Any All-Stars? SGA is already a starter. I believe Williams is deserving, but he probably gets squeezed out of the final cut.

Offensive Rating

119.2 (6th)

Defensive Rating

111.3 (4th)

Western

Tier 1 – The Contenders

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Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

Skills Challenge Julius Randle’s shoulder injury probably tanks any chance at a trio involvement, but throwing him with Jalen Brunson and OG Anunoby would be a great way to remind people the Knicks are now officially good.

3-point Contest: Put Brunson in the mix. He’s destroying from 3-point range this season (career high 42.4 percent). He needs to be featured as much as possible.

Slam Dunk Contest: I don’t think we’re doing the Jericho Sims thing anymore, so probably not.

Any All-Stars? Brunson should absolutely be an East reserve. The fan voting let him down for making it as a starter. Randle also has a case for a reserve.

Offensive Rating

118.0 (8th)

Defensive Rating

111.9 (5th)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Skills Challenge We saw the trio of Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley win it two years ago. Garland has been injured, so you could throw Donovan Mitchell into the mix for it.

3-point Contest: Sam Merrill has been on fire from 3-point range (42.8 percent on 5.7 attempts per game), but I don’t think we’ll see any Cavs in the competition.

Slam Dunk Contest: Mitchell won it in 2018, but I’m guessing his contest days are over. We might be light on Cavs’ representation Saturday night despite their incredible season.

Any All-Stars? Mitchell should make the reserves in the East, but that’ll be it. If Mitchell doesn’t make it, we’ll all be very confused.

Offensive Rating

115.1 (16th)

Defensive Rating

110.7 (2nd tied)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Skills Challenge No offense to Giannis Antetokounmpo and the great story of him and his brothers, but I can’t do another Antetokounmpo trio with one of them not being in the NBA. Give me Giannis, Damian Lillard and Brook Lopez doing this challenge in Indianapolis.

3-point Contest: I don’t care what he’s shooting: Lillard should always be in it, if he wants to, and he’s the defending champ.

Slam Dunk Contest: They don’t really have any high-flyers who give you confidence in them pulling this off.

Any All-Stars? Giannis is the captain in the East. Lillard is a starter as well. Nobody else is getting there from Milwaukee.

Offensive Rating

120.1 (3rd)

Defensive Rating

116.3 (19th)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Skills Challenge I’d love to see Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid in something like this. But who would be the third Sixer? Tobias Harris? Kenneth Lofton Jr.? Kelly Oubre or Patrick Beverley? That actually could be pretty fun with one of those two trying it.

3-point Contest: No crazy sharpshooters on the Sixers this season. Nicolas Batum (46.7 percent) has killed it from 3, but he doesn’t have that many attempts.

Slam Dunk Contest: I still think Kenyon Martin Jr. Martin could put on a show. Is Mac McClung still eligible as a Sixer? Was he ever? He is the defending champ after all. Ricky Council IV can also fly.

Any All-Stars? Embiid is already in as a starter. It will be hard for Maxey to not make it, but coaches have four excellent guard options to choose from.

Offensive Rating

119.3 (5th)

Defensive Rating

112.4 (7th tied)

Eastern

Tier 2 – Brink of Contention

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Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

Skills Challenge It’s in Indianapolis, so I’d expect heavy Pacers involvement. You can have a fun three-man grouping of Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner.

3-point Contest: Haliburton has to be a lock. He participated in last year’s contest for the first time in his career.

Slam Dunk Contest: Obi Toppin can obviously fly and do some fun stuff. Maybe they’d try to throw Bennedict Mathurin into the contest instead to get some new blood in there.

Any All-Stars? Haliburton is a starter. Is it possible to get Siakam into the mix as a frontcourt reserve?

Offensive Rating

121.2 (1st)

Defensive Rating

119.4 (26th)

Eastern

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Skills Challenge You could have a lot of fun with a three-man run of De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and either Keegan Murray or Malik Monk. Monk’s personality injected into the event would be incredibly entertaining.

3-point Contest: They have so many guys to throw in here. Fox has been stellar. Murray has picked it up after a slow start. Harrison Barnes is well over 40 percent. Kevin Huerter participated last season. Dark horse option? The whole team talks about how ridiculous of a shooter Sasha Vezenkov is.

Slam Dunk Contest: Fox or Monk could probably do fun stuff, but they’re more in-game dunkers.

Any All-Stars? Fox and Sabonis are going to be in the mix. I don’t know if the team has been good enough to get two guys, but Sabonis has an easier pathway in the frontcourt.

Offensive Rating

116.8 (13th tied)

Defensive Rating

115.9 (18th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Skills Challenge Shouldn’t the Suns’ big three be forced to be in the mix for this one? They built this trio to win titles. What about Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal warming up by going for the Skills Challenge trophy?

3-point Contest: Durant is shooting a career-high 45.4 percent from 3-point range. He hasn’t been in the contest since 2012. It’s time to bring him back. Also, Grayson Allen is shooting a league-best 49.8 percent from deep. He needs to be in it too.

Slam Dunk Contest: If you’re desperate, maybe Josh Okogie, but they don’t really have these dunkers.

Any All-Stars? KD is a starter already. Booker is obviously deserving, but the West guards are going to be tough to crack.

Offensive Rating

117.5 (10th)

Defensive Rating

115.2 (16th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Skills Challenge Give me Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum for this one. The Pelicans have a ton of options, but this would have the most star power.

3-point Contest: McCollum has been in it three times and not won. Herb Jones (39.6 percent) and Trey Murphy III (35.9) would also be worthy options.

Slam Dunk Contest: Let’s not pretend we want to see anybody but Zion in the dunk contest, although I doubt he’ll ever do it.

Any All-Stars? Ingram and Zion have great cases to be involved, but the West is a traffic jam of options. I think they get squeezed out.

Offensive Rating

116.9 (12th)

Defensive Rating

113.2 (10th)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Skills Challenge Luka Dončić, Kyrie Irving and Tim Hardaway Jr. would be an excellent three-man group. The Mavericks have watched those three kill it all season, and we know they’d put on a show.

3-point Contest: I want to see either Kyrie (41.1 percent) or Luka (37.5 percent, second in total 3s) in this one — if not both.

Slam Dunk Contest: I will never say no to Derrick Jones Jr. getting another showing in the dunk contest.

Any All-Stars? Dončić is already in; I don’t think Kyrie is going to make the cut.

Offensive Rating

117.9 (9th)

Defensive Rating

117.6 (22nd tied)

Western

Tier 3 – Playoff Teams

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Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Skills Challenge Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and either Mo Wagner or Jalen Suggs is a fun way to go for the Magic, should they get a team. With both Wagners, you have the brother angle. With Suggs, he might go defend other teams trying to compete.

3-point Contest: Maybe you’d say Joe Ingles (39.3 percent)? The Magic haven’t shot well enough to get a guy here.

Slam Dunk Contest: Cole Anthony tried a couple years ago. I don’t think Orlando has a guy here.

Any All-Stars? Banchero has a decent case, but there are better frontcourt players for this year.

Offensive Rating

112.6 (24th)

Defensive Rating

112.0 (6th)

Eastern

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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Skills Challenge Give me Alperen Şengün, Jabari Smith Jr. and Fred VanVleet in the Skills Challenge. Or maybe throw Jalen Green into the mix if VanVleet wants the vacation? Go full villain mode and invite Dillon Brooks?

3-point Contest: Brooks (career-high 38.8 percent) has shot really well, but I don’t know if he’s seriously considered.

Slam Dunk Contest: I’d love to see Amen Thompson battle his brother Ausar in the dunk contest. Green tried it before.

Any All-Stars? Şengün should be in the mix as a frontcourt option. But as a new kid on the block, he may get squeezed out for more veteran choices by the coaches.

Offensive Rating

113.6 (20th)

Defensive Rating

112.4 (7th tied)

Western

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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Skills Challenge The reigning Skills Challenge champions! Make the trio of Walker Kessler, Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton run it back! That should be mandatory.

3-point Contest: Lauri Markkanen is a 40 percent 3-point shooter and should absolutely make another appearance in the shootout.

Slam Dunk Contest: We’ve done the John Collins thing before. Maybe it’s time to try Ochai Agbaji?

Any All-Stars? Markkanen has a case in the frontcourt, but I fear he’s going to get snubbed. Did the Jazz do enough to get him back there?

Offensive Rating

115.3 (15th)

Defensive Rating

117.6 (22nd tied)

Western

Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

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Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

Skills Challenge LeBron James. Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves. The Lakers could make this Skills Challenge the most-watched ever. Or maybe they wouldn’t. I think we’re just legally obligated to mention the Lakers possibly winning something.

3-point Contest: D’Angelo Russell (career-high 42.1 percent) has shot the lights out from deep this season. LeBron is hovering around 40 percent? Get him in there.

Slam Dunk Contest: I demand 39-year-old LeBron finally enters the contest.

Any All-Stars? LeBron is the captain of the West. Davis is going to make it. Nobody else should.

Offensive Rating

113.4 (21st)

Defensive Rating

114.6 (14th tied)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Skills Challenge The Heat, if they took it seriously, would have really entertaining options for the Skills Challenge. Jimmy Butler is always fun. Bam Adebayo won the thing in 2020. And either Tyler Herro or Jaime Jaquez Jr. could be great options.

3-point Contest: Herro (40.3 percent) and Duncan Robinson (40.4) have both shot the lights out this season. I’d opt for Robinson.

Slam Dunk Contest: It’s rumored that Jaquez is going to be in the dunk contest. There’s some surprising video from his time in high school with dunk contests.

Any All-Stars? Adebayo and Butler have impressive seasons when they have played. I think Adebayo should be among the frontcourt options, but their latest slide is troubling for any of that.

Offensive Rating

113.0 (22nd)

Defensive Rating

114.3 (13th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Skills Challenge The Bulls have some good options here, but DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vučević and either Zach LaVine or Coby White would be entertaining. White probably deserves the nod with his play.

3-point Contest: White is near 40 percent on the season at 7.1 attempts per game. He’d be their best bet.

Slam Dunk Contest: Is LaVine available and willing? Is he healthy enough to do it? I’ll never say “No” to him in the dunk contest.

Any All-Stars? DeRozan is probably in the mix, especially since coaches like him, but the Bulls probably don’t get anybody.

Offensive Rating

112.9 (23rd)

Defensive Rating

114.6 (14th tied)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Skills Challenge Dare I say it? Give me a trio of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and … Ben Simmons! It’s time to put this Nets triumvirate to work on the big stage. Maybe Cam Thomas is the better option here?

3-point Contest: Cameron Johnson (40.4 percent from deep) can shoot the lights out, and he’d be really good in this situation.

Slam Dunk Contest: We know Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV can both really throw it down.

Any All-Stars? Bridges has an interesting case, but the Nets aren’t getting anybody.

Offensive Rating

115.0 (17th)

Defensive Rating

115.7 (17th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Skills Challenge No offense to the Grizzlies, who have been battling since Ja Morant went down for the season, but without their star guard in the mix, it’s hard to find a trio I’d want here. With that said, Jaren Jackson Jr, Desmond Bane and maybe Marcus Smart could be a thing.

3-point Contest: Bane (38.3 percent) and Luke Kennard (43.2) could both be good competitors.

Slam Dunk Contest: Can Vince Williams Jr. do some crazy stuff at the rim? Again, we miss Ja here.

Any All-Stars? They do not. Bane (career-highs in points and assists) has had an excellent individual season though.

Offensive Rating

107.8 (30th)

Defensive Rating

113.0 (9th)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Skills Challenge Most years? Yes. This year? Would it be terribly awkward to have Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green as a trio? Maybe as a final sendoff? Maybe this could rekindle the magic and get them rolling again?

3-point Contest: Always put Curry (40.3 percent on 3s this season) into it. He’s won it twice. Put Thompson (38.5 percent ties career low) in there too, no matter what he’s shooting. He’s also won it before.

Slam Dunk Contest: I bet Jonathan Kuminga can do some dynamite stuff in a dunk contest.

Any All-Stars? Curry didn’t make the starters, but he’ll make the reserves. They don’t deserve anybody else.

Offensive Rating

117.2 (11th)

Defensive Rating

117.9 (24th)

Western

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Skills Challenge I want to see an all-guard edition of this with Trae Young, Dejounte Murray and Bogdan Bogdanović all participating. Maybe you throw Jalen Johnson into the mix instead?

3-point Contest: Young (36.1 percent) has participated twice and hasn’t won. Murray (38.8) and De’Andre Hunter (40.3) have both shot the ball well, but we’d want to see Young put them up.

Slam Dunk Contest: Bigger guys in the competition can be tricky, but what about Jalen Johnson? Can he do it?

Any All-Stars? Young is obviously deserving of it, but I wonder if their poor record and the deep options might squeeze him out.

Offensive Rating

116.8 (13th tied)

Defensive Rating

119.8 (27th)

Eastern

Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In

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Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

Skills Challenge This was easier to figure out when Siakam was on the team, but what about throwing Scottie Barnes, RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley into the mix for the Raptors? That could be a lot of fun.

3-point Contest: Quickley has shot the lights out in Toronto (44.4 percent in 12 games, 41 percent overall this season), and Gary Trent Jr. (41.8) has been excellent from deep.

Slam Dunk Contest: I think Barnes with his athleticism and personality could do some fun stuff to really put on a show.

Any All-Stars? Barnes is deserving, but their record is so bad that he might be one of the snubs.

Offensive Rating

114.6 (18th)

Defensive Rating

116.8 (21st)

Eastern

Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday

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Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

Skills Challenge Give me a trio of Victor Wembanyama, Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan. But I’m going to need Wemby staring Sochan down during the passing portion of the competition. Like he’s a detective in a 1990s cop show in an intense interrogation scene.

3-point Contest: You’re damn right I want a 29.9 percent 3-point shooter like Wemby in the 3-point contest. I don’t care about the risk of oversaturation.

Slam Dunk Contest: Of course, I want to see Wemby here just because it would be so weird. Can you get a 50 on a standing windmill dunk?

Any All-Stars? This is the last year Wemby won’t be in the All-Star Game. And if the West wasn’t so loaded with options, he might make it as a rookie.

Offensive Rating

109.7 (27th)

Defensive Rating

118.1 (25th)

Western

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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Skills Challenge Maybe someday we’ll see the trio of Cade Cunningham, Ausar Thompson and Jaden Ivey in the Skills Challenge. That someday would have to be long down the road, in years when they are highly competitive and not setting records for losing.

3-point Contest: He won’t get the call, but Bojan Bogdanović (41 percent from deep) is a great shooter. He could absolutely be in most years.

Slam Dunk Contest: I’d love to see Ausar in the mix here. He can really fly and has had some monster in-game dunks this season.

Any All-Stars?

Offensive Rating

110.6 (26th)

Defensive Rating

120.0 (29th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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Skills Challenge I actually think you could create a really fun Skills Challenge trio with the Wizards. Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Poole and Tyus Jones would be a formidable squad. It would be hilarious to see Poole navigate the passing portion.

3-point Contest: Jones has been lethal from 3-point range this season at a career-best 41 percent, but he’s probably not going to get picked. Maybe Corey Kispert (36.4 percent) or Poole (31.2 percent) could be options in different years, but the Wizards have been one of the worst shooting teams from deep (ranked 26th entering Tuesday).

Slam Dunk Contest: They recently employed Hamidou Diallo on a 10-day deal, but he’s gone now. So, nobody on this roster will get the call.

Any All-Stars? Absolutely not.

Offensive Rating

111.6 (25th)

Defensive Rating

119.9 (28th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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Skills Challenge If Scoot Henderson was killing it as a rookie, he could round out a fun trio with Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant.

3-point Contest: Grant (40.5 percent), Simons (38.4) and Malcolm Brodgon (41.9) have all been killing it from deep this season. But I’m not sure they have a high enough Q rating to get the nod.

Slam Dunk Contest: I need Shaedon Sharpe in the dunk contest — in every dunk contest. He could do some seriously spectacular things with his athleticism.

Any All-Stars? Unfortunately, no. Maybe someday Simons can get there.

Offensive Rating

108.3 (29th)

Defensive Rating

116.7 (20th)

Western

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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Skills Challenge LaMelo Ball would be a fantastic player to show off his skills in the old format, but we’re not going to see them go with three Hornets on one team outside of the weekend happening in Charlotte.

3-point Contest: Maybe some years we’d think Ball (35.5 percent) could be in the mix here, but the Hornets don’t have anybody killing it from deep this season.

Slam Dunk Contest: Brandon Miller has given us some pretty fun dunks so far this season, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a chance to throw down in the contest.

Any All-Stars? Not this year. Ball is always a guy capable of making it, but he missed a ton of time, and the Hornets are the least competitive team in the NBA currently.

Offensive Rating

109.4 (28th)

Defensive Rating

121.4 (30th)

Eastern

Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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(Photo of Kawhi Leonard: Brian Babineau / Getty Images)





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