With teams beginning to hit the midway mark, this week’s NBA Power Rankings will take a look back at our preseason rankings (for better or worse). And yes, I was very, very wrong on some teams.
You’ll notice one major change at the top, so a quick explanation there. We’re simply getting too far into the Spurs’ run of extended dominance not to acknowledge it, and advanced metrics—and in the past few weeks, the infamous eye test—have made San Antonio’s case more convincing than ever. Consider the Spurs and Warriors more of a 1A-1B situation, and when they duke it out Jan. 25, we’ll talk again.
Until then, here’s what we’re looking at.
(All stats and records through Jan. 17)
1. San Antonio Spurs
RECORD: 36-6 (4-0)
San Antonio leads the league in net rating and point differential and has straight up pummeled teams on its way to the top spot. Kawhi Leonard is a legitimate MVP candidate, LaMarcus Aldridge has been fully integrated and Tony Parker has found another on-court life. The machine grinds away.
2. Golden State Warriors
RECORD: 37-4 (2-2)
It was once hard to fathom, but the defending champions (who few picked to repeat) have gone above and beyond. Remember the 28-game win streak? Keep questioning whether the Warriors will hit 72–10 all you want, but don’t doubt the resilience of this group.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
RECORD: 28-10 (2-1)
The Cavaliers haven’t always been as downright dominant as we’d like—or as pleasing to watch—but they’re right on track results-wise and comfortably atop the East. With Kyrie Irving coming on strong, Cleveland is in excellent shape for a Finals return.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
RECORD: 30-12 (4-0)
Billy Donovan’s done well on the job, and Durant and Westbrook are as scintillating as ever. But the bench remains thin, and we may not find out the Thunder’s true worth until playoff time. The road to the Finals still runs through the Warriors and Spurs.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
RECORD: 26-14 (1-1)
L.A.’s recent 10-game win streak has largely erased a frustrating November, and the Clippers have excelled without Blake Griffin. But the Clips’ season won’t truly begin until playoff time, where they’ll take another crack at getting over the conference finals hump. Accordingly, they’ve got things to sort out once Griffin heals up.
6. Toronto Raptors
RECORD: 25-15 (1-0)
The Raptors have made out well considering they’ve yet to realize their best lineup combinations, given the time missed by Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll. Led by the East’s top backcourt, there will be pressure for this group to advance past the first round.
7. Atlanta Hawks
RECORD: 24-17 (1-2)
Life without DeMarre Carroll could be much worse for Atlanta. The Hawks’ formula remains remains effective even with Kyle Korver in a shooting swoon. Still, as solid as the Hawks have been this season, it’s hard to imagine them getting past the Cavaliers in a seven-game series.
8. Chicago Bulls
RECORD: 23-16 (1-3)
At this point there are more questions than answers for the Bulls, who have seen Jimmy Butler go full-on superstar but still remain mired in inconsistency. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that Joakim Noah may have played his last game in a Bulls uniform. Chicago remains on target for the postseason, but inspires little confidence.
9. Miami Heat
RECORD: 23-18 (1-3)
It looked like Miami had the parts to contend in the East again. On talent and experience, it still might. The Heat’s margin for error can be slim as they struggle to shoot from deep, but when the defense is playing well, Erik Spoelstra’s squad can hang with a lot of teams.
10. Boston Celtics
RECORD: 22-19 (3-1)
The Celtics’ depth has come in handy given their injuries, and three wins in a row have them back above .500. The scenario remains the same: they could use a star, and have the assets to cut a deal as the deadline nears.
11. Detroit Pistons
RECORD: 22-18 (1-2)
Stan Van Gundy has parlayed the talents of Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson into a group that can be formidable, but which leans heavily on its two stars. Still, the Pistons are now trending in a positive direction and presently on track to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
RECORD: 23-19 (2-1)
This turned out to be the season where some attrition finally caught up to the Grizzlies. That said, Memphis has been through a lot as a unit and should end up respectable in the final standings. At minimum it needs to make a convincing enough case for Mike Conley to stay, but exactly what that will take is another question.
13. Dallas Mavericks
RECORD: 23-19 (1-3)
Dallas’s off-season gambles have paid off, as Wesley Matthews continues to get comfortable and Zaza Pachulia’s career year continues. Dirk Nowitzki remains a wonderful constant, and Dallas reinvents itself yet again like clockwork
14. Indiana Pacers
RECORD: 22-19 (1-3)
They were off to an impressive start, but the Pacers are still working out kinks and wavering back and forth between bigger and smaller lineups. Larry Bird said he’s not satisfied with this team, and after what we saw them do early on, we probably shouldn’t be either.
15. Houston Rockets
RECORD: 22-20 (3-1)
I was high on the Rockets coming in. Like, really high. I was wrong. But their recent six-game winning streak offered a little hope and the West’s surprisingly substandard competition has helped mitigate Houston’s struggles. A huge second half from James Harden, and who knows?
16. New York Knicks
RECORD: 20-22 (1-2)
Perhaps no team this season has seen a turnaround quite like the Knicks. Due in large part to the early triumphs of Kristaps Porzingis, a Carmelo Anthony revival and a few lower-profile moves paying off, New York has established a foundation for whatever comes next.
17. Washington Wizards
RECORD: 19-20 (3-1)
The Wiz have been hard to peg, but now appear to be trending in the right direction while other teams in the East have regressed. After surviving one of the league’s toughest schedules so far, a second-half surge from John Wall and co. feels feasible.
18. Orlando Magic
RECORD: 20-19 (0-1)
Orlando’s another team suffering midseason doldrums, but has still outperformed projections as its talent coalesces. One point of concern: the Magic are just 3–13 against plus-.500 teams.
19. Sacramento Kings
RECORD: 17-23 (2-1)
Despite all the jokes, when the Kings decide to compete, they can be pretty tough. It’s exciting that Boogie Cousins has carried them this far, but also bizarre to think they could actually crack the postseason this year.
20. Utah Jazz
RECORD: 18-22 (1-2)
The Jazz were a popular sleeper before the season, and they’re still right in the mix for a playoff spot despite a host of injuries. They’ve drafted well in recent years and when they eventually become whole, things could get interesting.
21. Portland Trail Blazers
RECORD: 18-25 (2-1)
The full-on emergence of C.J. McCollum has helped keep the Blazers afloat after their free-agent exodus and roster restructuring. With plenty of cap flexibility and smaller parts, the future is bright for Portland and ripe for a potential second-half deal.
22. Milwaukee Bucks
RECORD: 18-25 (3-1)
After what we saw from the Bucks in the playoffs, this season has felt like a bit of a wash. Promising pieces are still in place, and seeing Milwaukee pull together a bit in the second half would offer some clarity going forward.
23. Denver Nuggets
RECORD: 16-25 (2-1)
I’ve been a little more optimistic about the Nuggets than most: they’ve got some intriguing talent and are finally at full health. Whether they hang on to Kenneth Faried and Danilo Gallinari should indicate how the front office feels.
24. New Orleans Pelicans
RECORD: 13-26 (2-1)
Ninth?! Oof. Though Anthony Davis remains talented enough to waylay even the best prognosticators, the team around him is a mish-mash of talent and has never looked as good as it does on paper. It might be time for the Pelicans to shake up their supporting cast.
25. Charlotte Hornets
RECORD: 18-22 (1-2)
The Hornets started hot, but have seen things fall apart a bit—nine losses in their last 10 games and a leaky defense have slipped them behind the pack. Steve Clifford has done an admirable job given Charlotte’s injury problems. Expect the Hornets to stay in the playoff mix down the stretch.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves
RECORD: 13-29 (1-3)
On the plus side, and it’s a major plus: Karl-Anthony Towns has exceeded all expectations. On the downside: it’s still not quite clear what Andrew Wiggins will be in the end, and especially foggy exactly what they should do with everyone else.
27. Los Angeles Lakers
RECORD: 9-34 (1-3)
Like it or not, Kobe’s farewell has mostly overshadowed what should have been a growth year for L.A.’s younger prospects. Exactly how much they’ve grown in half a season under Byron Scott is highly debatable.
28. Brooklyn Nets
RECORD: 11-30 (1-3)
What a mess. To be fair, we knew the Nets had their hands tied in the draft and lacked major pieces for the future. The real question now is whether they’ll become sellers by the deadline as ownership attempts to revive a mostly-gutted franchise.
29. Phoenix Suns
RECORD: 13-29 (0-3)
It hasn’t been a total 180 for the Suns, but injuries and locker-room discontent have flipped their season for the worse. Given what we know now, they’ll likely regret that splashy Tyson Chandler contract gamble.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
RECORD: 5-37 (1-1)
The good news: Jerry Colangelo is in, Jahlil Okafor can score, and…um…