NBA Power Rankings: Familiar team at No. 1; First thoughts on all 30 squads
Drawing heavy conclusions from one week of games is like writing an album review off that surprisingly fire mixtape some guy handed you on the street. All based on your gut feeling, zero context, and no way to figure out where the production really came from. In addition to that, we’re working off an extremely small sample size. For example, Dion Waiters is currently in the top 10 in the league in on-court plus-minus rating. That's unlikely to hold.
And so no matter how alarming (hey, Rockets) or impressive (congrats, Pistons) some of these starts have been, it’s good to step back and let it all marinate. We’re pretty sure the Lakers are bad. We think the Pelicans are just super-injured. We're almost convinced the Knicks will be better than they were last season. Yeah, this album is super hot, but we’re still on the first minute of the first track.
Without further ado, here’s a fresh batch of NBA Power Rankings, balancing future outlook and current results while establishing a (highly) subjective order of all 30 teams.
(All statistics and records through Nov. 1)
Talk of a Warriors repeat slipped into the background this summer, and Stephen Curry has something to say about that. He’s opened up ablaze, with Saturday’s 53-point outing raising his three-game scoring average to 39.3(!), and as usual, the team goes as he does. Golden State has outscored opponents by an outrageous average of 16.7 points, owns the league’s top offense and apparently has a new bone to pick with everyone in the league. Let’s not go crowning anyone else quite yet.
The Cavaliers could be scary good. Let the first quarter of their win over Memphis serve as notice: Cleveland’s got the shooters and playmakers to rip open an early lead and seal things up quickly. Kevin Love looks spry, Mo Williams looks like a sneaky-great addition and at least for right now, there’s a little less pressure on LeBron. This team is confident and gets a feathery-soft slate of games the rest of the month. Cruise control.
Oklahoma City leapfrogs into the top five with a win over the Spurs and the league’s most explosive offense. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook came out without missing a beat, both averaging 30-plus points and coexisting just fine. They’re appointment viewing once again and maybe the most entertaining team in the league. Just wait until Durant gets a few more games under his belt.
Kawhi Leonard looks more confident than ever, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili became the NBA’s all-time winningest trio, and the season’s off to a pretty solid start for San Antonio. Incorporating LaMarcus Aldridge into their ball-movement based style is an ongoing process, but there’s plenty of time and trust for Popovich’s bunch. They’re the Spurs.
Blake Griffin is off to a fantastic start, but L.A. gets an opportunity to get off to an even better one with a showdown against Golden State on Wednesday. They’ve got a lot of off-season talk to back up as the West’s primo rivalry resumes and the shuffle at the top of the rankings begins.
Though Chicago’s biggest stars have yet to hit their respective strides, the confidence Fred Hoiberg has instilled in the rest of the roster has manifested in the win column early on. The scoring is balanced, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott are letting it fly, and Derrick Rose has managed to play through his vision issues effectively enough. Most notably for many Bulls fans, Kirk Hinrich’s days as a preferred regular appear to be over.
The experienced Grizz get thrown straight into the fire, with a key stretch of 13 conference games, beginning with the Warriors on Monday night. Though they were blown out by the fast-paced Cavaliers this week, don’t doubt the Grizzlies’ throwback approach just yet.
Following up an opening-night loss to Detroit with three wins should help re-instill confidence in a terrific team that nobody seems to think will win 60 games again. The Hawks are playing Paul Millsap additional minutes at small forward to help solve past rebounding troubles. Also of note: it’s getting harder and harder to keep Dennis Schröder off the floor.
Toronto started out hot last year and appears to be sprinting down the same path this season with three wins and the effective integration of several new players. However, their biggest off-season move may have been extending center Jonas Valanciunas, who could be a double-double guy this season and is still just 23.
Houston was an opening-week wreck, with abysmal shooting performances and disjointed play made most evident by a lackluster James Harden, who needs to get back on track quickly (22.2% FG, 9.4% from three). Their big men are dinged up and Harden is Harden, so they deserve a little time before we get too concerned.
The development of two youngsters—Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow—might be the key to how far this veteran team goes. If Whiteside’s immense talent outweighs his attitude, his shot-blocking and rebounding legitimizes them. If Winslow’s early returns hold, they’ve got another multi-position wing defender whose offense looks to be further along than anticipated. Watch closely.
I was skeptical of Washington’s off-season moves, but if Bradley Beal continues his much-awaited breakout (25.3 points per game), this team should keep up just fine. That, and if Jared Dudley refrains from angering any more superstars (see Carmelo Anthony’s 37 from Saturday’s loss to the Knicks).
Utah has played three games at the league’s slowest pace, and allowed the fewest points, accordingly. Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood look ready to take steps forward. Then again, this team played its first three games against the Eastern Conference. Maybe we should adopt a wait-and-see approach for now.
Surprise! Stan Van Gundy’s off-season moves have paid immediate dividends, Andre Drummond has looked like an All-Star, and Detroit looks like it has a chance to muck up the East’s pecking order a little bit. Marcus Morris has been a quick systemic fit, and wins over three solid teams makes the Pistons this week’s biggest riser.
Injuries spoiled their first week, but don’t panic yet. Two dates with the Warriors did them no favors, and as their role players get healthy, the Pelicans have to stay the course. When Tyreke Evans recovers from knee surgery and they’ve had a little time to figure things out, we’ll have a better feel.
Although the Mavs aren’t quite what they used to be, the early performances from Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons bode well. As long as Dirk Nowitzki has his way, his team won’t relinquish its playoff spot easily. They’re far from the West’s top tier right now, but are too well-coached and have had too much sustained success to disregard.
After a strong playoff showing last season, things haven’t started the way Milwaukee envisioned this year. Expect Jason Kidd to whip his team into shape, beginning with a leaky defense, which has allowed 115.3 points per game. On paper, they’ve got four winnable games this week. In reality, Giannis Antetokounmpo is leading this team in scoring. That excites and scares me.
The Celtics have picked up where they left off, leaning heavily on Brad Stevens’s team-first style and promising backcourt. The C’s have assisted on a league-high 70.8% of their makes, aren’t afraid to go deep in their bench, and have a legitimate late-game scorer in Isaiah Thomas. Look for them to keep punching above their weight.
This is a roster philosophically stuck between the win-now signing of Tyson Chandler and the strange assortment of wing players in a yet-to-be-ironed-out rotation. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight lifted Phoenix to consecutive wins over the new-look Blazers, but they’re unlikely to have the same success against tougher West teams.
It sure is nice to have healthy Carmelo Anthony (24.3 points per game) back, and as long as he’s on the floor, the Knicks are, well. … better off than last season. But not all is rosy in the Garden. Some immediate concerns: Sasha Vujacic is a starter and the team’s leading assist man is. … Melo.
Has the cookie begun to crumble, or is DeMarcus Cousins just day-to-day with an Achilles strain? For all the jokes surrounding the franchise, the Kings played the Clippers close twice this week and have the makings of a solid bench. But without Cousins in a four-game week, the going could get rough pretty fast.
Indiana’s total ideology shift has helped nobody so far—except for its opponents. It’ll take individual sacrifices from Paul George, Monta Ellis and George Hill, who are all at their best playing on the ball, to make this a playoff team. Even then, their current bigs are a poor fit in small lineups. We’ll see how long it takes before adjustments are made: either by the players or the front office.
The Magic are an extremely fun 0–3 after pushing Washington, OKC and Chicago to their limits in consecutive games. Victor Oladipo is blossoming into a star, Nikola Vucevic has picked up where he left off, and the team can play hyper-athletic lineups with Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon at power forward. Wins should come soon.
In an emotional week after the death of Flip Saunders, two confidence-building road wins and starry turns from Ricky Rubio and No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns made for a strong response. You won’t mistake the Wolves for a playoff team, but things continue to look bright for Minnesota’s future. At a minimum, the Wolves are early-season League Pass darlings.
They’ve got a chance to outperform expectations if Emmanuel Mudiay can limit his mistakes and get comfortable—the rookie has a chance to be a star with his size and instincts, but the speed of the NBA is a major change. Still, his growing pains bear watching—his debut against Houston, double-digit turnovers aside, was especially entertaining.
An 0–3 start against division opponents is never a great way to open the season, and the Hornets have struggled majorly to score. That includes Al Jefferson, who has somehow shot just three free throws in three games as their go-to-guy down low. The lack of offensive firepower up and down the roster is concerning.
It looks like C.J. McCollum has made significant strides next to Damian Lillard in the backcourt, which is a much-welcome development as Portland works to replace five of its six top scorers. Expect the Blazers to at least pester tougher opponents this season as they figure out their optimal style.
Wow, I just remembered this team made the playoffs last season. In the Nets’ defense, they had one of the league’s more daunting first-week schedules (Chicago, San Antonio, Memphis). Brook Lopez remains steady, but Jarrett Jack leads the team in shots and Joe Johnson is 34 and going MIA. Will they really end up missing Deron Williams this much?
It looks like L.A. has a pretty strong shot at keeping its draft pick. Anything beyond a bottom-three finish sends the choice to Philly, and since I’m out of clever ways to rephrase “Kobe, please stop shooting so much,” essentially, this looks like a mess. Julius Randle looks like a bright spot, but the whole “it’s early” performance qualifier is not a good thing here.
They are still really bad. The good news: Jahlil Okafor is the most legitimate building block of GM Sam Hinkie’s tenure. His 26-point debut marked the second-most ever by a center in his first game, although the follow-up, a 4-of-12 showing from the field, was more difficult.