By Britt Robson
November 09, 2010
NBA Power Rankings
11 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 12
The Nuggets are playing hard through injuries and distractions, exemplified over the last week by 13-year veteran Al Harrington, whose rugged, often single-coverage defense of Dirk Nowitzki was a highlight of two Denver-Dallas games in which each team won on the road. That the Nuggets can be above .500 despite a rough schedule and copious playing time for the likes of Shelden Williams, Melvin Ely and Gary Forbes in the frontcourt probably makes their fans dream about Chris Andersen and Kenyon Martin returning for a long playoff run. But it could be February before everyone's healthy -- the month of the trade deadline and still a likely time of departure for Carmelo Anthony.
12 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 7
Depth is a problem, especially in the frontcourt, where coach Tom Thibodeau discovered last week that even small doses of James Johnson (who was productive the first few games of the season) and Brian Scalabrine was risky to the won-lost record. But watching the energy, commitment and teamwork of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson in the paint should delight any NBA purist, and with point guard Derrick Rose always capable of turning on the afterburners, the Bulls beat out the Thunder, Knicks, Jazz, Kings and Cavaliers as the most engaging 3-3 team in the league.
13 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 9
The statistic that leaps out is how they are getting murdered at the three-point line: Their own long-range shooting percentage (21.2 percent) and what they allow (41.8 percent) are both NBA worsts. The other cause of OKC's early underachievement is Kevin Durant. Is the MVP favorite simply off to a rocky start or are his woes more fundamental than the vagaries of a six-game sample size? So far, his shooting percentage and assist rates are career lows and his turnover rate is a career high. I know he's a gym rat, but maybe the accumulated stress of being the leading man at the FIBA World Championship, living up to the Thunder's unrealistic preseason hype and carrying his current playing load -- he leads the league in minutes per game -- has, at least temporarily, sapped his energy.
14 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 13
Utah Jazz (3-3)
While Al Jefferson endures a rocky adjustment period and Deron Williams struggles with his shot and turnover problems, Paul Millsap is carrying the Jazz. Millsap is shooting 60.7 percent, leads the team in scoring (20.3) and rebounding (11.3) and ranks second in assists (3.3). Speaking of assists, Carlos Boozer averaged 3.2 last season; Jefferson has six in six games. In a desperate measure early in the season, Williams played nearly 54 minutes on the tail end of a road-home back-to-back in Saturday's double-overtime win against the lowly Clippers that got Utah to .500.
15 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 14
Count me among those who hooted at Rudy Gay's $82 million deal, but the 24-year-old forward is earning every bit of his keep with his reliability and efficiency: 51.9 percent from the field, 44.4 percent from three-point range, 88.2 percent at the line and at least 21 points every game. Also count me among those who wonder why it was so important to pony up $40 million for mediocre point guard Mike Conley before the new collective bargaining agreement. He keeps improving, but that's a lot of money for unproven potential.
16 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 17
Steve Nash is relying more and more on Jason Richardson to be his new Amar'e Stoudemire, on post-ups as well as pick-and-rolls and kick-outs. Nash is still a marvel, but he's shooting more and not making as many, with fewer assists and more turnovers than in recent years. The effective Robin Lopez we saw down the stretch and in the playoffs last year has disappeared; newcomers Hedo Turkoglu and Josh Childress haven't fully found their niche; and Channing Frye has been abominable, shooting 26.2 percent. Yet with Nash, and the coaching of Alvin Gentry, you never feel comfortable counting out Phoenix.
17 New York Knicks
Last Week: 21
Ironically, the best-case scenario for the Knicks would be if they could duplicate what Alvin Gentry did last season in Phoenix (where coach Mike D'Antoni and star Amar'e Stoudamire earned their lofty reputations) and develop a hustling, physical second unit that thrives on camaraderie. It certainly felt that way as Toney Douglas, Wilson Chandler, Ronny Turiaf and Bill Walker came up big in back-to-back victories against the Bulls and Wizards. But Sunday's loss to Philadelphia demonstrates that it is a work in progress.
18 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 16
Their best player, Tyreke Evans (22.6 points on 48.9 percent shooting), is so strong off the dribble that you don't want to mess with his game too much. Still, the Kings flourish when they mix in more ball movement with isolations for Evans. Guards Beno Udrih and Luther Head have combined for 51 assists and nine turnovers; Evans has 25 assists and 16 turnovers. But Sacramento's real bugaboo is defense: Only the Timberwolves permit more points per 100 possessions than the Kings.
19 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 18
I predicted that the Bucks would underachieve compared to last season, but after tough losses to quality teams (New Orleans twice, Boston and Portland), they are still the best 2-5 team in basketball. Center Andrew Bogut is steadily returning to form and coach Scott Skiles is increasingly relying on grinders like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Carlos Delfino. The problem remains an anemic offense. If the backcourt of John Salmons and Brandon Jennings can't turn it up a notch, Skiles will have to gamble more on the defensively challenged Corey Maggette -- though he's shooting only 36.1 percent, well below his career average of 45.7.
20 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 23
Give credit to coach Byron Scott: Aside from their letdown loss to Toronto after beating the Celtics, the Cavs have been in every game and are at .500 despite missing Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison for three games apiece. Daniel Gibson leads the Cavs in assists (4.3) and steals (1.2) while grabbing four rebounds and scoring 15.3 points. He's been a fan favorite since his open letter to supporters last summer in the wake of LeBron's departure.
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