League Pass power rankings: Warriors back on the radar

Published January 31, 2023, 3:30 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

The Warriors aren’t as fun as they used to be but they’re still one team we should keep tabs on.


5. New York Knicks

Last season, the Knickerbocker brand of basketball was painfully boring. All they did was give the ball to Julius Randle and watched him work. In true Tom Thibodeau fashion, their offense was bland and their defense was solid.

This season, the Knicks have an actual playmaker! That one offseason addition has not only made them a more competitive team but it’s also made them more entertaining. With Jalen Brunson running the show, the Knicks now have more flavor to their offense. They’re in the mix for a playoff spot and are scoring six points per 100 possessions better than last season.

The Knicks can now play any style of basketball. In their last two wins, they were able to grind one out against the defense-first Cleveland Cavaliers and keep in step with the explosive offense of the Boston Celtics. That’s what makes them so fun this season. They’re more fluid and adaptable. That’s a brand new concept for the people of New York who have been used to the rigid style of Thibs.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

There are just some teams that aren’t built to tank. The Thunder is one of them. Even with a prize like Victor Wembenyama up for grabs, they still won’t sink to the bottom of the standings. In fact, they’re 8-4 in their last 12 games and are just a game away from the sixth seed in the West.

What’s interesting about the Thunder is their unpredictability. Just this month they beat the top team in the East, the Boston Celtics, and in the West, the Denver Nuggets. They also lost to the struggling Orlando Magic and mediocre Atlanta Hawks. They can beat one of the best teams in the league and then lose to a tanking team on succeeding nights.

That unpredictability also extends to their rotation. Besides Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, the rest of the lineup is always in flux. Earlier in the season, they relied heavily on Alexander Pokusevski and Darius Bazley. With Poku out due to an injury and Baze in the doghouse new players have emerged to take their place. Rookie Jalen Williams is now the team’s starting four and putting up solid numbers. Kenrich Williams also earned the backup forward role because he’s willing to do the dirty work. 

This team just makes the right plays. It also helps that SGA is playing like an All-Star this season.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

Losing a player like Karl-Anthony Towns is never easy. It takes a while for everyone to adjust their games to compensate for the loss of someone so integral to the team. After a rough patch midway through the season, it looks like things are falling into place for the Timberwolves. There’s now clarity within the team and players are understanding the new roles they have to live up to.

Anthony Edwards is now the clear-cut top dog of the team. Early in the season, with Towns still leading the way, Edwards struggled to find his place on offense. He was passive and couldn’t fully play his preferred style of basketball. It took a while but Edwards is finally leading the team like everyone expected him to. In the past six games, he’s averaging a well-rounded 34.0 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists.

With Edwards now leading the pack, the rest of the team has fallen in place. D’Angelo Russell is setting the table while Rudy Gobert is content with protecting the paint and hauling down the boards. Jaden McDaniels and Kyle Anderson have emerged as all-around forwards who can fill in holes when needed. As a team, they’re running and gunning, using their young legs to their advantage (5th in Pace).

The Timberwolves have only lost five of their last 16 games in 2023. They’ve risen from the bottom of the West, right into the thick of the playoff battle at 27-26. With no timetable yet for Towns’ return, it looks like this Minny team is here to stay.

2. Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid is making it hard for MVP voters to ignore his case this season. He’s finished second to Nikola Jokic in the past two seasons and it looks like the MVP award will be between the two again. This time around, Embiid is making sure his case is bulletproof.

He had a monster stretch at the tail-end of November and early part of December which was stifled by an injury early in January. After returning from injury midway through the month, Embiid has turned it on once again. In the past nine games, he’s only failed to score 30 points once, averaging 34.1 points during that stretch.

More importantly, the Sixers have only lost twice this month. They’re third in the East and are only half a game away from the second seed with a 33-17 record. That’s the best thing about Embiid’s case this season - the Sixers are winning games just like the Nuggets are. A lot of those wins are because of Embiid’s heavy lifting.

That’s why their last win over the Nuggets was a statement game for Embiid. He outplayed Jokic, exploding for 47 points, grabbing 18 rebounds, and dishing out five assists. He also had three steals and two blocks to boot. What more does he have to do to earn the MVP votes this year?

1. Golden State Warriors

The Stephen Curry-era Warriors are always a must-stream team. They just exude fun. Steph pulls out his turnaway 3-pointers at least once a game. Klay Thompson can go Human Torch at any time. Draymond Green will talk, and talk, and talk. Which he always backs up with big plays.

When they were lording it over the league, that fun could sometimes feel boastful, callous even. It’s like they were playing around at the expense of the competition. Those turnaway threes aren’t as entertaining when you’re at the receiving end of a 30-point barrage.

This season, it’s different though. The Warriors aren’t world-beaters anymore. They started the season out slow like they had a championship hangover. Because of that, they’ve had to pull themselves out of the bottom of the standings, having to earn every win along the way. Golden State isn’t out of the woods yet. They’re currently fifth in the West and a game away from 10th place.

Because of how the season has gone, it’s forced the Warriors to actually care. They’re desperate for wins and can’t fool around anymore. They can’t afford to spend a few seconds gloating after a big shot because they need to hustle right back on defense.

Since they’re also not “light years” away, they need every ounce of production from everyone on the roster, especially Curry. He’s starting to heat up after returning from a shoulder injury, averaging 35.7 points and 5.3 triples per game in their last three wins. 

It looks like the Warriors will need a lot of special performances from Curry if they plan to stay out of the play-in tournament. And that makes them must-see TV.