NBA Power Rankings: All Hail The Cavaliers
- The Cavs have looked close to unbeatable, yet there's still room for improvement. Meanwhile, the Rockets are playing mesmerizing ball and the Mavs are falling apart.
Are you ready to enter a world where J.R. Smith has made more threes all-time than Dirk Nowitzki? We’re rapidly hurtling toward that future. Our friend Earl is about to pass the future Hall of Famer for 15th all time in career three-pointers. The NBA doesn’t get trippier than this.
This bizarre milestone underscores the fact that this week’s Power Rankings examine the soaring Cavs, who top the charts, and the slowly sputtering Mavs, who totally do not. The Rockets are exempt from that crummy metaphor, but also get the spotlight. Scroll down to check out this week's rankings.
(All stats and records used through Nov. 13)
30. Philadelphia 76ers (1–8)
Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -12.8
Ok, I’m pretty sure I believe in Joel Embiid. But a downhill ride by any other name is still a downer.
29. New Orleans Pelicans (1–9)
Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -7.3
Anthony Davis got hurt again. We hope he’s okay. Not much else to report.
28. Washington Wizards (2–7)
Last Week: 25
Net Rating: -4.7
“I think we’ve got one of the worst bench in the league right now.” — Marcin Gortat.
27. Miami Heat (2–6)
Last Week: 23
Net Rating: -3.9
Four straight losses and struggles to play a faster pace have left a young team fighting through the lurch.
26. Dallas Mavericks (2–6)
Last Week: 28
Net Rating: -2.7
What’s wrong with the Mavericks? Whether it’s injury Dirk, karma for Mark Cuban or a roster that just isn’t that great, Dallas has taken one of the league’s most staggering early-season hits. Rick Carlisle’s track record with reclamation projects and adjusting on the fly suggests better times are ahead. Then again, what if they aren’t? And would that be such a bad thing?
Although familiar faces remain, this is now a Mavs team that skews younger than in past years. Harrison Barnes, 24, is playing 38 minutes and leading the team in scoring. Seth Curry, Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell are all key rotation pieces. Injuries to Dirk, Deron Williams and others have forced these guys into big spots early on. Unfortunately, the returns haven’t been great.
Maybe things improve when guys get healthy, but player histories suggests the injury bug will be around. Outside of Barnes, who has been a reasonable investment, the other fresh faces don’t have a ton of upside. Anderson and Powell were good draft finds, but appeal more as fill-ins on a competitive team than as your long-term building blocks for a struggling one. Cuban’s spent creatively in the past, but this could be the last year of the Dirk era (bless his soul). And hey, it’s pretty easy to deduce the logical benefits of landing near the top of a draft that appears to skew top-heavy right now. If you’re scoring at home, the last lottery pick this franchise kept was Etan Thomas.
I hate to doubt Carlisle, but the short-term future, even with Nowitzki on the mend, looks bleak enough to warrant concern. The Mavs get four of their next five on the road. They also draw the Spurs twice, the Cavs and the Clippers before November ends. This hole can’t afford to sink much deeper.
25. Phoenix Suns (3–8)
Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -5.3
Phoenix is young and promising, yes, but has just one win in regulation and has yet to hold an opponent under 100 points. But, uh, nothing a six-game road trip can’t fix…
24. Orlando Magic (4–6)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -9.1
Nice to see Serge Ibaka get a little revenge in Oklahoma City, but this start (three two-point wins, five double-digit losses) has been far from convincing.
23. Denver Nuggets (3–7)
Last Week: 22
Net Rating: -5.9
There are a lot of somewhat iffy teams. It’s really hard to know what’s what. But the Nuggets have lost four in a row.
22. New York Knicks (3–6)
Last Week: 20
Net Rating: -7.9
There’s untapped offense here, but there’s also really bad defense, which is now under the purview of Kurt Rambis. So, not great.
21. Sacramento Kings (4–7)
Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -4.7
An apparently motivated Rudy Gay has to be taken seriously, and the Kings are competing. But in the grander scheme, it’s a little distressing that all three of their first-round picks were just dispatched to the D-League.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (3–6)
Last Week: 18
Net Rating: +4.0
The three-point shooting has been outstanding, they’ve scored the ball effectively, and yet the Wolves are regularly allowing triple-digit points. It’s exciting to watch sometimes, but it’s still mediocre so far.
19. Indiana Pacers (4–6)
Last Week: 17
Net Rating: -4.7
Paul George has been emotional, frustrated and hurt through three weeks, but there’s zero concern about his production. For what it’s worth, Indiana still has more talent to work with than most teams in this tier.
18. Brooklyn Nets (4–5)
Last Week: 26
Net Rating: +0.5
Not only have the Nets been very passable, they’re doing it while playing at the league’s second-fastest pace. We’ll see how long they can sustain it, but Kenny Atkinson’s done an incredible job out of the gate.
17. Memphis Grizzlies (4–5)
Last Week: 14
Net Rating: -6.8
Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, Mike Conley and Brandan Wright are already dealing with injuries. Let’s hope this isn’t last season all over again.
16. Detroit Pistons (5–5)
Last Week: 12
Net Rating: -0.5
Detroit’s been treading water. Reggie Jackson’s going to miss more time. Let’s hope he’s... Mr. December. (Sorry.)
15. Milwaukee Bucks (5–4)
Last Week: 16
Net Rating: +1.8
How many “Jabari Parker is extremely good” reminders does the viewing public need?
14. Los Angeles Lakers (6–5)
Last Week: 21
Net Rating: +0.9
Nick Young is having fun. Metta World Peace is having fun. We’re all having fun.
13. Boston Celtics (5–4)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +2.1
This hasn’t gone according to plan, but our favorite sushi chef Kelly Olynyk is back in the lineup. He was a vital contributor in back–to–back wins, and as long as Al Horford stays concussed, he’s all Boston has down low.
12. Houston Rockets (5–4)
Last Week: 15
Net Rating: -0.2
I just wanted to take a minute to consider how we should process this Rockets season, now that James Harden is, you know, averaging THIRTEEN ASSISTS PER GAME. I have a new fantasy where Harden and Westbrook—who are still good friends—reunite somewhere (location’s not important), somehow both average triple doubles, and combine to knock off old running mate Kevin Durant and the Golden State Super Villains.
Daryl Morey, good job, man. I don’t know if the stats suggested this or what, but pairing Harden with philosophical compadre Mike D’Antoni, removing Dwight Howard from the mix, signing some pretty good role players and just letting the pot boil was probably one of the clearer lines of thinking we saw from any team in the off-season. Of course this is working. The Rockets are still around .500, and they might be there all year, so no, Harden probably won’t get my MVP vote. But if he stays around 30 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds? He’s in the conversation.
I’d deem all of this unsustainable if the Rockets weren’t just a massive vehicle that amplifies Harden's basketball essence. Don’t ask this team to play much defense or win 50 games, just think about the synergy and simplicity driving its engine. It’s ridiculous, it’s entertaining as hell, and it pretty much works.
11. Chicago Bulls (6–4)
Last Week: 13
Net Rating: +3.9
The Chicago experiment continues to go about as well as possible, and it’s tough to ignore that red-hot week from Jimmy Butler (who averaged 29 points, seven assists, five rebounds, four steals over four games).
10. Portland Trailblazers (7–4)
Last Week: 8
Net Rating: -2.3
Shameless plug for Rob Mahoney on why C.J. McCollum is so good.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (6–4)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: -0.5
Three straight hard-fought losses, or a fall back to earth? At least Russell Westbrook isn’t coming down anytime soon.
8. Utah Jazz (7–4)
Last Week: 11
Net Rating: +5.3
The hipsters were right about everyone’s favorite preseason team: the Jazz are playing the NBA’s slowest pace, holding it down on defense and getting it done.
7. Charlotte Hornets (6–3)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: +6.5
Narrow losses to Toronto and Cleveland suggest Charlotte is still not quite among the East’s elite. But they aren't far, either. Let’s start lobbying for Kemba Walker on the All-Star team, please.
6. Toronto Raptors (7–2)
Last Week: 5
Net Rating: +6.7
The most impressive thing about DeMar DeRozan leading the league in scoring with 34 per game—other than the fact it’s happening—is that he’s made three three-pointers this season to boot.
5. San Antonio Spurs (7–3)
Last week: 4
Net Rating: +7.2
It’s worth noting the team defense hasn’t been up to San Antonio’s lofty standard. That’s the predictable effect of swapping Pau Gasol for Tim Duncan.
4. Atlanta Hawks (7–2)
Last week: 7
Net Rating: +11.2
Atlanta is the only team that’s beaten the Cavs and has been held under 100 points just once. Even Tim Hardaway Jr. (career-high 12.3 ppg) has taken on new life. Sorry I ever doubted these guys.
3. Golden State Warriors (8–2)
Last Week: 2
Net Rating: +8.3
The Dubs are starting to blow teams out comfortably again, but the bar is so high from last season that it’s harder to let your head explode. Then again, KD, Steph and Klay combined for 89 points Sunday night. Circle Dec. 7 against the Clips on your calendar.
2. LA Clippers (9–1)
Last week: 3
Net Rating: +14.8
Are they better than the Warriors? Probably not. But minute-for-minute, the Clippers have been the best team in the West so far. After the best start in franchise history, let’s give them some credit.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (8–1)
Last Week: 1
Net Rating: +7.7
The gravity of President Obama making jokes about J.R. Smith’s shirt wasn’t lost on anyone this week, but it only further underscored the fact that the Cavaliers remain on top of the world. As ESPN pointed out, Cleveland is now the first team ever to hit double-digit threes in its first nine games. They’ve got an identity and the swagger of a reigning champion. There could be even better basketball ahead, and the Cavs have been close to unbeatable already.
I’ve gone on about how the Warriors significantly diminish the target on the Cavaliers’ back. That lack of pressure can’t be discounted in the grand scheme, either. Let’s just throw more good things at the wall! The turnovers are down. Kevin Love’s having his best season since his Minnesota days. LeBron’s averaging career highs in rebounds (nine) and assists (9.3). Sample size aside, wow. And Kyrie Irving—you guessed it—is also having the best scoring year of his career (24.5 points, 40% from three). As Big Threes go, so do teams, and this group has already been to the mountaintop once.
The Warriors almost surely have yet to peak, but they’re not unassailable these days. The Clippers look great, but they’re still the Clippers. The Hawks handed the Cavs their only loss, but come playoff time, Cleveland has owned that team. It’s a long haul, but it’s going to be a good one.