First impressions lead to shakeup in Power Rankings

Monday November 4th, 2013

Thanks to Dwight Howard, who is averaging 15 points and 17 rebounds per game, the Rockets are 3-0.
Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

It's early -- like really, really early -- but the first week of the NBA season already has us second-guessing what we thought we knew.

NBA Power Rankings
1 Houston Rockets
Preseason Rank: 7
Since: 3-0
Things are going exactly as planned in Houston: James Harden looks like the best shooting guard in the league; Dwight Howard is playing with a gigantic chip on his gigantic shoulders and rebounding everything in sight (career-high-tying 26 on opening night); and the Rockets are getting contributions not only from the likes of Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons but also Francisco Garcia, who has made 10-of-20 three-pointers. Now comes the hard part: keeping it up against a contender. Houston plays the Clippers twice this week.
2 Indiana Pacers
Preseason Rank: 4
Since: 3-0
Paul George and the Pacers have picked up where they left off after taking the Heat to a Game 7 in the conference finals. The NBA's reigning Most Improved Player might be the first person to win the award in back-to-back seasons if he keeps this up. George is leading the Pacers in points (25.7), rebounds (tied at 8.3), assists (4.3), steals (1.7) and free-throw attempts (7.3). With the rest of the starting lineup also clicking, the Pacers aren't exactly counting down the days until Danny Granger's return.
3 Philadelphia 76ers
Preseason Rank: 30
Since: 3-0
The basketball world, including me, owes the 76ers an apology. But in our defense, how could we have seen this coming? As much as the opening-night win over the Heat felt like an anomaly, Philadelphia followed it up with impressive wins at Washington and at home against the Bulls. Heaping mounts of credit go to first-year coach Brett Brown and the dynamic backcourt duo of Evan Turner (23.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 4.0 apg) and rookie Michael Carter-Williams (20.7 ppg, 9.0 apg, 4.7 rpg). We won't be surprised if the Sixers fall back to earth this week, but for now we're giving them the props they deserve.
4 San Antonio Spurs
Preseason Rank: 2
Since: 2-1
The Spurs have 11 players averaging double-digit minutes, a testament to their depth. San Antonio's newest addition, Marco Belinelli, has given Gregg Popovich yet another talented option off the bench. With such a deep roster, expect San Antonio's stars to pace themselves while young players like Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills and Jeff Ayres (the artist formerly known as Jeff Pendergraph) get chances to show what they can do.
5 Los Angeles Clippers
Preseason Rank: 3
Since: 2-1
Doc Rivers and the new-look Clippers got off to a rough start by falling to the Lakers, but bounced back to rattle off solid wins over Golden State and Sacramento. New additions J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley look like quality role-playing starters, and DeAndre Jordan, Rivers' pet project, is averaging a double-double and adding two blocks per game. Oh, and it doesn't hurt that Chris Paul boasts a league-leading 37.7 Player Efficiency Rating.
6 Minnesota Timberwolves
Preseason Rank: 14
Since: 3-0
So this is what a (mostly) healthy Timberwolves team looks like? Minnesota got off to its first 3-0 start in 12 years by outrunning the host Knicks on Sunday. With the ball moving and the offense fluid, Minnesota will be tough to slow down as long as it stays healthy. Kevin Love is averaging 29.6 points and 13 rebounds, Ricky Rubio has dished at least 10 assists in every game and Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer are having an impact already. Life is good for Wolves fans for the first time in awhile.
7 Oklahoma City Thunder
Preseason Rank: 6
Since: 2-1
Russell Westbrook was supposed to miss the first 4-6 weeks of the season while recovering from knee surgery, but he was back in the lineup after only two games. He looked a lot like his old self in Sunday's victory over Phoenix: Westbrook had 21 points and seven assists and displayed his trademark aggressiveness by consistently getting to the line (11-of-14 from the stripe).
8 Golden State Warriors
Preseason Rank: 9
Since: 2-1
Is there a better starting backcourt than Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson? The two sweet-shooting guards have been almost unstoppable to start the season. Thompson is averaging a team-best 25 points and shooting 65.1 percent from the field, while Curry is putting up 23.3 points and hitting 5.3 threes per game on 59.3 percent shooting from deep. The Warriors are pulling off the impressive feat of leading the league in both field-goal and three-point shooting.
9 Miami Heat
Preseason Rank: 1
Since: 2-2
Well, that was unexpected. The Heat looked like the two-time defending champions on opening night against the Bulls, but back-to-back flops against the 76ers and Nets showed some cause for concern. Dwyane Wade even admitted Miami's stars are having some chemistry issues. We're not exactly worried about the Heat, but we've got to dock them for their first losing streak in almost 10 months.
10 Phoenix Suns
Preseason Rank: 29
Since: 2-1
The Eric Bledsoe Show is even better than imagined in Phoenix. Three games into his first opportunity as a full-fledged starter, Bledsoe is averaging 22 points, 8.7 assists and 6.3 rebounds. He's excelling as a No. 1 option and giving opponents fits with his energy on both ends. Bledsoe and Co. are showing that Phoenix -- which was widely predicted to be the worst team in the Western Conference -- has no plans to roll over for a lottery pick.
11 Dallas Mavericks
Preseason Rank: 13
Since: 2-1
We already have an idea of what the burning question in Dallas will be this year: Can the Mavs' sharp offense compensate for its sagging defense? If Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis prove to be as potent of a one-two punch as they have been in their first three games, the answer will be "yes" on most nights.
12 Portland Trail Blazers
Preseason Rank: 16
Since: 2-1
You can go ahead and pencil the Blazers into the playoffs if LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard are going to continue to average a combined 50.7 points. After a head-scratching loss to the Suns on opening night, the Blazers rebounded to beat two playoff teams from last season, Denver and San Antonio, in impressive fashion. With a horde of shooters and a fortified second unit, Portland ranks second in offensive efficiency and has the makings of being a top-10 unit all season.
13 Detroit Pistons
Preseason Rank: 17
Since: 2-1
The Pistons' forest of big men overpowered the Wizards and Celtics and gave the Grizzlies' talented frontcourt of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol a run for its money, but the key for Detroit this season will be guard play. The Pistons got Brandon Jennings back against the Celtics and saw a promising 31-minute effort. Jennings had four assists to just two turnovers and will need to be judicious with the ball for Detroit to be a winning team.
14 Brooklyn Nets
Preseason Rank: 8
Since: 1-2
Beating the Heat proved that the new-look Nets are capable of taking down the best, but losing to the Cavaliers and Magic showed that there is plenty of work to do. Kevin Garnett hasn't looked very comfortable in black and white, failing to total double-digit points in a game yet, and his new teammates haven't looked at ease playing around him, either. Joe Johnson had just two points in Sunday's loss, his lowest total since February 2011. If that weren't enough, KG made his frustrations known after Jason Kidd's coaching debut.
15 Chicago Bulls
Preseason Rank: 5
Since: 1-2
It's been an inauspicious start for Derrick Rose, who looks exactly like an NBA player who hasn't played a game in a year. He's second in the league in turnovers (5.7 per game) and shooting a ghastly 28.8 percent. Rose has plenty of time to knock off the rust and shape the Bulls into contenders, but he needs to play better for Chicago to re-establish itself as an elite team. Don't worry, Bulls fans, this will just make Rose's eventual rise that much more compelling.
16 New York Knicks
Preseason Rank: 11
Since: 1-2
It took Knicks fans only one quarter to start booing Andrea Bargnani, but the big man is going to have to keep shooting (while neglecting the boards) until New York gets J.R. Smith back. Carmelo Anthony (37.7 percent shooting) is off to a cold start, leaving the Knicks in search of offense, something they had an abundance of last year. Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. has been an unlikely source of production, but New York is in trouble if it has to rely on his efforts all season.
17 Memphis Grizzlies
Preseason Rank: 10
Since: 1-2
The Grizzlies haven't displayed much bite, edging the Pistons in overtime to avoid an 0-3 start. After ranking second in defensive efficiency last season, Memphis is 28th early this season. On the other side of the ball, Memphis isn't getting much production from their small forward platoon of Tayshaun Prince and Mike Miller. The two 33-year-olds will need to give the Grizzlies more if they want to rank among the West's elite.
18 Toronto Raptors
Preseason Rank: 23
Since: 2-1
The Raptors got off to a respectable start despite offensive struggles from Rudy Gay, who is shooting 32.7 percent, and Jonas Valanciunas, who is shooting 40.9 percent. Toronto is reportedly open to trading anyone but Valanciunas, and the highly compensated Gay is one name to keep an eye on as new general manager GM Masai Ujiri continues to evaluate the roster.
19 Los Angeles Lakers
Preseason Rank: 19
Since: 2-2
The Lakers' surprising start doesn't have anyone forgetting about Kobe Bryant, but Mike D'Antoni has to feel good about manufacturing some wins with a hodgepodge roster. D'Antoni's squad, freed of trying to keep Dwight Howard happy, is back to its gunning ways, launching triples, spacing the floor and playing up-tempo basketball. If the Lakers can keep this up with Kobe out, they'll at least have a shot at the playoffs when he returns.
20 Orlando Magic
Preseason Rank: 25
Since: 2-2
The Magic sneaked up on a contender for the first time Sunday, throttling the veteran Nets in a 21-point rout. No Orlando player caught Brooklyn more off guard than rookie Victor Oladipo, who scored 19 points in 21 minutes off the bench and threw down a 360 dunk as the Nets hopelessly watched. With the Clippers, Spurs and Heat (twice) later this month, we'll see if other elite teams learn from the Nets' mistake.
21 New Orleans Pelicans
Preseason Rank: 20
Since: 1-2
The future is now for 20-year-old Anthony Davis, who already looks like one of the best players in the league. Last year's top pick is averaging 23.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and four blocks. New Orleans' three-pronged backcourt is a work in progress, particularly Tyreke Evans, who is shooting only 25.8 percent after signing a four-year, $44 million deal this offseason.
22 Atlanta Hawks
Preseason Rank: 15
Since: 1-2
How far can the Hawks get leaning heavily on two players -- Kyle Korver and DeMarre Carroll -- best suited for complementary roles? By starting both of the swingmen, the Hawks are asking Korver to do a lot more than shoot and Carroll to do a lot more than defend -- which isn't ideal. Even when Lou Williams returns, the Hawks will be shallow on the wing.
23 Charlotte Bobcats
Preseason Rank: 28
Since: 1-2

Still think the Bobcats are tanking? If Michael Jordan's denial wasn't enough for you, how about the fact that Josh McRoberts has started their first three games over lottery pick Cody Zeller? Playing veterans doesn't necessarily mean Charlotte will win more games, but you have to admire their effort. Things will get better when Al Jefferson (sprained ankle) returns. The Bobcats need 20-plus points per game from their big man to inject some life into their drowsy offense (29th in efficiency).

24 Sacramento Kings
Preseason Rank: 27
Since: 1-2
The Kings appear ready to cut ties with Jimmer Fredette after declining his option and playing him a grand total of three minutes in their first three games. Sacramento's decision not to commit to Fredette is fair, but starting 34-year-old John Salmons (4.7 ppg on 22.7 percent shooting) on a rebuilding team is baffling. The Kings would be better served trying to find minutes for their 24-year-old shooting guard rather than trying to squeeze some semblance of production out of Salmons. Fredette might not belong in the starting lineup, but he doesn't belong at the end of the bench of a rebuilding squad either.
25 Cleveland Cavaliers
Preseason Rank: 21
Since: 1-2
Encouraging: Andrew Bynum playing in two of three games. Discouraging: No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett failing to make a basket in his first three games as a pro (0-for-12). Even more discouraging: Cleveland ranking last in offensive efficiency. Sure, it's early, but even the Cavs would have to admit they're off to a disappointing start.
26 Milwaukee Bucks
Preseason Rank: 24
Since: 1-2
How bad have the Bucks? Well, Zaza Pachulia (13.0 ppg) is the team's leading scorer and Larry Sanders is averaging more fouls (3.0) than points (2.7) and being outrebounded by O.J. Mayo. Larry Drew has his work cut out for him with his new team, which, to its credit, has shown fight after falling behind by large deficits in all three games.
27 Denver Nuggets
Preseason Rank: 12
Since: 0-2
For the first time in recent memory, it's not clear where the offense will come from in Denver. Brian Shaw is searching for it, going 11 deep in his first two games but coming away with little (22nd in offensive efficiency). Ty Lawson is averaging 20.5 points, but the next two leading scorers, Nate Robinson (12.0) and Andre Miller (11.0), are ball-handling guards like Lawson. Danilo Gallinari can't come back soon enough.
28 Washington Wizards
Preseason Rank: 18
Since: 0-3
Coach Randy Wittman's chair is quickly growing hotter. The addition of Marcin Gortat will make losing even more inexcusable in the eyes of the Wizards' front office. Washington still desperately needs a power forward to emerge (Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Al Harrington don't offer much), but the Wizards have enough talent to do better than this.
29 Utah Jazz
Preseason Rank: 22
Since: 0-3
Utah Jazz (0-3)
Jazz fans should do themselves a favor and forget about their team's record and focus on the development of their youngsters instead. Utah has been competitive in its first three games, including a close call against the Thunder, and gotten promising play from Alec Burks (team-leading 18.0 points off the bench) and Enes Kanter, who has averaged 16.7 points and 10 rebounds while looking like a beast in the paint.
30 Boston Celtics
Preseason Rank: 26
Since: 0-3
How about those Red Sox? Boston fans should bask in the glory of their baseball team while their basketball team enters a serious rebuilding phase. The lowlight of an 0-3 start was blowing a 22-point second-half lead at home to the Bucks. With Gerald Wallace calling his teammates "selfish" just two games in, Brad Stevens is truly going to be tested right out of the gate.

The 76ers and Suns put an end to Andrew Wiggins jokes (for now) with their stunning start. Philadelphia, which rises from No. 30 to No. 3 in the rankings this week, in particular shocked us by knocking off the Heat then validating their strong start with two more impressive wins. Speaking of the two-time defending champions, they raised some eyebrows by dropping back-to-back games for the first time since January. And let's not forget Derrick Rose, who has struggled mightily out of the gate as he begins his return campaign.

Will all of these early trends continue? It's unlikely. But some could be signs of things to come. It's pointless to draw too many conclusions from such a small sample size of games, but it would also be senseless to ignore our first batch of NBA action in months.

With that said, let's examine where all 30 teams rank in this week's Power Rankings, led by three 3-0 teams.

(Note: All statistics and records through Nov. 3).

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