NBA Power Rankings: Reasons why all 30 teams should be thankful this year
There’s been a lack of Warriors hyperbole in this space for the first month of the season, mostly because there's nothing they can do to surprise me anymore. But as Thanksgiving rolls around and Golden State takes aim at the best start in NBA history, it might be time to be a little more appreciative.
The defending champions retained every key player from last season and are winning games by an average of 14.4 points this year. They lead the league in scoring, shooting percentage, three-point percentage, assists, assist rate, offensive rating, net rating and fast break points. Their dynamic ball movement has become must-see TV, giving regular-season play unusual meaning as talk of 72–10 begins to grow louder.
To be fair, the Warriors have pulled out close(ish) wins in four of their last five games. They will eventually lose one. But who’s beating this team right now? Soak in every highlight, wax poetic over Stephen Curry, and enjoy the ride. Only the lowly Lakers stand in the way of a record-breaking 16-0 start. Not bad for an encore.
So, give thanks for Golden State. And on that note, here’s the latest edition of the NBA Power Rankings. In honor of this week's holiday, we name one thing each team should be thankful for this season.
(All records and stats through Nov. 22)
Pretty much everything. One more fun tidbit: of all the lineups around the league that have appeared in 10-plus games, Golden State’s small-ball five of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Barnes and Green is the NBA’s best in both offensive and defensive rating. That group boasts a mind-boggling 70.8 net rating.
Rick Carlisle. Who else, year after year, pulls together teams like he does? He’s earning that contract extension, as the Mavs have battled roster turnover, age, injuries and a crowded West once again. They also have Zaza Pachulia, Raymond Felton and Dwight Powell as key rotation players. Their biggest test of the season comes Wednesday in San Antonio.
Good health. After 12 players totaled double-digit starts last season, the only member of Miami’s starting five to miss a game this season has been Dwyane Wade (one). If the Heat can make it to April in once piece, they could make things interesting in the East.
Genetics. Considered a work in progress, Glenn Robinson III has made a case for extended minutes in the absence of George Hill. The Big Dog’s kid has been a fit in Indiana’s perimeter-focused style and opened eyes with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting in a blowout of Milwaukee. The three-year deal Larry Bird gave him looks prudent.
Home cooking. The Raptors have played 11 of their first 15 games on the road and are 1–4 in games decided by two possessions or less. Things should get easier, with eight of their next 10 at the Air Canada Centre. A small disclaimer: that includes clashes with the Cavs, Spurs and Warriors.
Staying the course. Going 3-3 without Kevin Durant is understandable, and the former MVP is expected back from his hamstring injury this week. OKC has yet to really hit its stride, but for now, hanging with the pack will do. More convincing results should follow.
Thievery. This opportune defense features seven players averaging more than one steal, including Jae Crowder’s NBA-best 2.8 per game. The Celtics capitalize on their opponents' mistakes, leading the league in both turnovers forced and points scored off of them.
RECORD: 7-6 (2-1)
Conditioning. Detroit’s starters have logged 82 more minutes than any other lineup in the NBA, and have justified it with a 12.4 net rating when playing together. But with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond all in the top 10 in minutes per game, Stan Van Gundy might do well to find more balance going forward.
Serious question? Kristaps Porzingis might be the most obvious recipient of blind thanks in professional sports right now, and he deserves every ounce of it. Instead of a nickname, give him a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and let New York hold onto this moment forever.
Brandon Knight. Eric Bledsoe makes more headlines, but Knight put together a big week, registering his first career triple double (30 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and coming close to another (38, 11, 6) in Phoenix’s two wins. Investing in this young backcourt has paid off so far.
Signs of life. Memphis has won four of its last five, climbing back to .500 in a conference mostly in disarray. Newly-acquired Mario Chalmers has provided a spark for the team's stagnant offense since arriving and Marc Gasol has gotten his groove back (17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists) over the team's last five games.
RECORD: 5-8 (0-3)
The future. Three straight losses has this team in uncertain territory, and last season’s defensive prowess and playoff showing feels like an afterthought. But given their youth, there are going to be stretches like this.
Europe. Danilo Gallinari remains their best player, Jusuf Nurkic says he’ll be back this month and Joffrey Lauvergne was excellent in the first three games of the season before going down with an injury (he could return this week) Not to mention fellow rookie Nikola Jokic dropping 23 points and 12 rebounds against the Spurs last week.
Evan Fournier, workhorse. Somehow, Fournier now plays the second-most minutes in the league and went from “guy with questionable haircut” to “Orlando’s leading scorer.” The Magic aren’t complaining.
The road ahead, literal and figurative. Minnesota has pulled off road wins at Chicago, Atlanta and Miami but has somehow yet to win at home (luckily, Philly comes to town this week). Meanwhile, the path in front of the Wolves has never looked brighter with Andrew Wiggins (20 years old) and Karl-Anthony Towns (19) just getting their feet wet.
History. Kevin McHale’s out, so how much of the Rockets’ old identity remains? The Three-and-D philosophy has faded hard: they’re allowing the league’s most points per game and shooting at its worst clip from three. You hesitate to give up completely on a team that won 110 games the past two seasons, but the Rockets have a lot of work to do.
Ish Smith? Yeah, that Ish Smith. The journeyman engineered consecutive wins over the Spurs and Suns, with 13 assists in one and a near triple-double in the other. The scrap-heap find might be a viable piece going forward as the Pelicans try to reboot their season.
Top-three protection. Maybe Kobe’s plan all along was to help the Lakers keep their draft pick—otherwise headed to the Sixers—and be the fall guy for a lost season. Maybe Byron Scott’s in on it, too. Maybe I’m crazy.
The D-League. Who doesn’t love roster flexibility?