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NBA Power Rankings: The Bucks Are Growing Up Before Our Eyes

The Bucks' road trip was far from perfect, but it provided flashes of what this team can do. Big wins against the Warriors and Nuggets have Milwaukee climbing in this week's NBA Power Rankings.

Is your favorite team ready to blame one of its offseason additions for its rough start? That’s what all the cool teams are doing this season. Or maybe you root for a squad that just added a major piece and you're thinking title now. No matter where you stand, The Crossover is here to provide context about who is and isn’t up to snuff thus far. 

It’s still November, so there's no reason to get pressed just yet about where your team stands. Well, unless you were supposed to be really, really good and can't get it together. Those fans should panic now.


30. Cavaliers | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Overall Record: 1-11 | Previous Ranking: 30

The Cavaliers kept all three of their games this week within single-figures. One-possession losses to the Bulls and Magic show this team has some grit and fight and won’t just roll over and play dead. LeBron isn't walking through that door in the interim, so fans should take pride in Cleveland keeping games close and hold off on hoping for wins until LeBron James Jr. and his daddy hit the roster.

29. Wizards | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 3-9 | Previous Ranking: 28

You can look at Saturday’s win in Miami as the Wizards showing a sign of life, or you can view it as nothing more than a win against a familiar opponent. No team can lose every game, right? The losses to the Mavericks and Magic say more about the current state of this team than a 28-point, nine-assists night from John Wall.

28. Hawks | Record Last Week: 0-4 | Overall Record: 3-10 | Previous Ranking: 22

Trae Young put his last-second layup against the Lakers as high as he could, and Tyson Chandler still got a hand on. I’m not saying that was an analogy for the season so far and the season to come. I will say I had a feeling Young’s shot would be blocked the second the ball was inbounded and he decided to wait for the last shot. After a 2–2 start, Atlanta has lost eight of nine and its current road trip isn’t helping matters. 

27. Suns | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Overall Record: 2-10 | Previous Ranking: 27

The Suns ended their seven-game losing streak at the end of last week, so this week offered them the opportunity to start another long losing skid. With two games against the Thunder and a matchup with the Spurs coming up, it doesn’t seem likely the losing stops any time soon. At least Deandre Ayton is putting up big numbers.

26. Knicks | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 4-10 | Previous Ranking: 25

Getting Kevin Knox back on the court was crucial for a Knicks team trying to figure out how all their young pieces fit together. Getting eaten alive by the Magic on Sunday in Madison Square Garden was essential for a team that doesn’t want to mess up its shot in the draft. It was demoralizing to barely put up 80 points, especially in a home game. New York’s offense has been respectable at points, but Sunday was just abysmal.

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25. Bulls | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 4-9 | Previous Ranking: 29

It’s hard to take away much from wins over the Knicks and Cavaliers for the Bulls as they try to separate from the rest of the bottom of the league. Chicago could just be shooting itself in the foot and making it harder to land one of the three Duke freshmen in June’s draft. The performances of Wendell Carter Jr. and Zach LaVine this week were definitely positive, though, even if it means they have a tougher time adding an elite player through the draft to help turn things around.

24. Magic | Record Last Week: 3-1 | Overall Record: 6-7 | Previous Ranking: 24

Taking care of business against the Cavaliers, Wizards and Knicks isn’t going to turn around Orlando’s season, but those wins could keep the Magic excited for their season.

The franchise has topped 30 wins just once since Dwight Howard left, and those 35 wins in 2015–16 look even less impressive when you realize that’s fewer than the team won in the 66-game lockout season (37), which was Howard’s last ride with the squad.

The commitment to going big has paid off to some extent as the Magic have at least found decent guys to do damage on the block. However, in today's NBA, they'll need something more than a respectable four-man rotation in the frontcourt.

D.J. Augustin and Evan Fournier have been big as playmakers and each is currently averaging more assists than last season’s team-leader. However, there’s only but so much you can expect these two to bring on a nightly basis. They have the skills to step up in any given game and go toe-to-toe with most other guard duos in the league (see last week’s win over the Spurs), but they’re not shooting well enough to buy into them sustaining a level of play that makes you think the Magic can make a run. 

23. Timberwolves | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Overall Record: 4-9 | Previous Ranking: 19

Jimmy Butler is finally gone. For better or for worse. Now Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will figure out how they can incorporate Dario Saric and Robert Covington into whatever it is that is going on in Minnesota in a better way than they did Butler. Covington will likely miss Ben Simmons feeding him on the wings in transition, but Saric could have a chance to blossom now that he will have more of a chance to play with the ball in his hands and contribute as a facilitator.

22. Mavericks | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 4-8 | Previous Ranking: 26

It’s Luka Doncic’s league and the rest of these dudes just play in it.

OK, not completely but the rookie is doing all he can to make all the doubters believe in him before the year is out. Any questions or concerns about how well he could transition into the NBA were certainly valid going into the season. And if you were among the most pessimistic of critics, the Maverick’s record is enough reason to hold true to your beliefs about just how much the Slovenian prodigy can do at the game’s highest level.

But as long as he keeps averaging over 20 points on 39.5% from three, you have to admit he knows how to get a bucket. Doncic is second on the team in assists (4.5) and rebounding (6.5) per game, but his 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio is far from impressive.

21. Heat | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Overall Record: 5-7 | Previous Ranking: 23

You can’t pull out the new Miami Vice jerseys just to lose back-to-back home games. A crummy ending to the game against the Pacers was followed up by an inexplicable fourth quarter against the Wizards. Hassan Whiteside nearly had 30-20-10 (finished with 29 points, 20 rebounds and nine blocks) in a win over the Spurs, but two disheartening losses on the weekend make it hard to marvel at that amazing stat line.


20. Pistons | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Overall Record: 6-6 | Previous Ranking: 21

Winning the games you’re supposed to is a big step in becoming a playoff team. Losing to the teams you will likely compete with for playoff positioning is an easy way to make sure you don’t become a playoff team. In a week in which Andre Drummond averages 23.5 points and 19 rebounds, you have to walk away with more than two wins over the Magic and Hawks. And Blake Griffin can’t follow up a six-point performance against Atlanta with a 10-point outing against Charlotte.

19. Kings | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 7-6 | Previous Ranking: 17

The Kings were bound to start coming back down to earth. The same can’t be said for De’Aaron Fox. The second-year stud from Kentucky has had no trouble getting his own against whoever is matched up against him. It’s going to be his responsibility to make sure fellow former Wildcat Willie Cauley-Stein continues to bolster Sacramento’s post presence by keeping him involved with good lobs off picks and smart feeds in traffic.

18. Rockets | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Overall Record: 5-7 | Previous Ranking: 18

Thank God for the Pacers. And Carmelo Anthony. If it wasn’t for a pair of wins against Indiana and Melo’s ability to seamlessly transition from scapegoat in Oklahoma City to scapegoat in Houston, we might be talking about how bad Mike D’Antoni’s offense has been this season. It took a 40-piece from The Beard just to crack 100 points for the first time since Nov. 2. Until Chris Paul is shooting above 40% from the field and Eric Gordon gets back to being one of the league’s most feared catch-and-shoot threats (he’s shooting 23.1% from three in nine games), things will remain ugly with or without Melo on the roster.

17. Nets | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 6-7 | Previous Ranking: 16

Caris LeVert has been fun this season.

His second game against the Warriors was gross. But that floater was so divine and so clutch that we can look past one bad game against the defending champs. And the Nets have Joe Harris putting up 24, continuing to improve from year-to-year and showing that he may have found his role in Brooklyn.

16. Lakers | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 7-6 | Previous Ranking: 20

Is Tyson Chandler going to prove he’s really the Lakers’ biggest X-factor before the season is done? Probably not. However, his defensive prowess gives Los Angeles two reliable options at center to protect the inside, and his experience and leadership make the bench look much more like a cast of savvy veterans instead of a rag-tag group that was thrown together. He bodied up KAT with no trouble and had the game-saving block against the Hawks. The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year might already be the Lakers’ second-most important addition after last season.

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15. Pelicans | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 6-6 | Previous Ranking: 14

After losing their first five games without Elfrid Payton, the Pelicans got back on track against the Bulls and Suns. In total, they lost six games in row and desperately needed to stop the bleeding. The victories New Orleans picked up this week aren’t anything to write home about, but they were needed.

14. Pacers | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 8-6 | Previous Ranking: 7

Do you remember where you were when you first saw Domantas Sabonis baptize Joel Embiid? Did you feel like I did? Was your whole world flipped upside down?

Sabonis has been big for Indiana’s bench, both as a scorer and a strong presence in the paint. The Pacers are going to need Thad Young and Tyreke Evans to step up and help Sabonis take the pressure off Victor Oladipo. The losses this week weren’t anything to be embarrassed by, but falling behind as big as they did in Houston is something the Pacers can’t let happen.

13. Jazz | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 6-6 | Previous Ranking: 15

Everybody pitched in to get the victory in Gordon Hayward’s return to Utah. Whether or not the Jazz were as pumped up for that game as their fans cannot be determined. But Joe Ingles certainly wanted to redeem himself after three rough outings leading up to that meeting. He scored 19 combined points on 6-for-27 shooting in those contests before exploding for 27 against the Celtics.

12. Clippers | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 7-5 | Previous Ranking: 13

If you’re waiting for the Clippers to fall off, keep waiting. Doc Rivers will continue getting the most out of basically every piece on his roster as long as he has a healthy unit to manage. Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams have been two of the most reliable bench options in the league, and that will keep up unless one of them gets forced into the starting lineup. Now if only the people could get more Boban Marjanovic. There wasn’t any way to get him a few more minutes against the long-armed Bucks, Doc? At least let Giannis try to dunk on him once just so we can see what happens. For the people.

11. Celtics | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 7-6 | Previous Ranking: 4

Boston’s 21-point comeback against the Suns proved to be a much-needed win come the end of the week. It was the lone victory in a five-game road trip that started last week, and it was also the only contest on that swing against a team no one expects to be in the playoffs. It’s not time to panic, but when the starters score 13 points in the first half of the only win of the road trip, you should at least be concerned about why the team has struggled the way it has on offense.


10. Hornets | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 7-6 | Previous Ranking: 10

If you don’t love Kemba Walker, I can only assume you’re a Pittsburgh fan that refuses to move past 2011 because you have nightmares of that step-back over and over again. For those of us who aren’t haunted by old memories when we watch the UConn product get loose and put defenders in blenders, this was a great week. His fourth-quarter explosion in Philadelphia on Friday was par for the course from what we’ve seen from Walker through 13 games this season. It’s easy for a guy to insist on taking more shots as his way of proving he’s the team’s leader, but not many players will also boost their efficiency how Walker has. He’s leading the league in shots per game but he’s second in scoring, and those 27.9 points per contest are nearly five more than his career-high that he set back in 2016–17.

The issue for maintaining what’s been established in the early going for Charlotte will be figuring out who is Kemba’s main running mate. It seems like the Hornets’ second option changes from game-to-game depending on who gets hot. That will need to be addressed soon if this team plans on staying in the playoff hunt. Until Tony Parker, Malik Monk or Jeremy Lamb prove they can be a true No. 2 through, Charlotte’s hopes will rest almost entirely on it’s two-time All-Star going bonkers every chance he gets. For the time being, that is all the Hornets need.

9. Spurs | Record Last Week: 1-1 | Overall Record: 7-4 | Previous Ranking: 9

When Patty Mills is your leading scorer with 20 points on 22 shots on a night Hassan Whiteside completely dominates the interior, all you can do is move on to the next game. Doing just that and beating the Rockets to add stress to their pressure-filled start is the most Spurs thing ever. Never change, Pop. Never change.

8. Nuggets | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 9-4 | Previous Ranking: 3

Losing a close game always hurts. Losing three straight close games is beyond painful, and it might be a bit of a warning sign.

The Nuggets had a chance to win all four games they lost this season, but it's a bit unsettling for that to be the case in the three games following Jamal Murray's 48-point explosion

Murray, Nikola Jokic and Gary Harris are doing everything they can to keep the offense afloat, but until the two guards start shooting above 30% from beyond the arc, this offense will continue sit near the bottom half of the league. Those guys are too important as scorers and decoys. When your big man attracts a double team everywhere on the court, the guards need to be able to provide some help, particularly as catch-and-shoot options.

Denver’s overall shooting percentage is solid, but Juan Hernangomez can’t be the most trusted three-point option through 13 games. The third-year big man has been useful with his increased minutes, but Harris and Murray have to return to last year's form. Their numbers should regress to the mean, but you need to hope that isn’t also the case with the defense Paul Millsap is anchoring.

7. Grizzlies | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 7-4 | Previous Ranking: 11

The Grizzlies lost to the Warriors and bounced back with wins over the Nuggets and 76ers. The results make sense when you have Marc Gasol puts up eight points in Oakland and turns around to drop 20 points and stuff the stat sheet in two wins. Mike Conley also gave Philadelphia 32 points after scoring just four against Denver. While both stars had minor setbacks, the Grizzlies showed that they can compete with almost anyone in the league. 

6. Thunder | Record Last Week: 3-1 | Overall Record: 7-5 | Previous Ranking: 12

The Thunder experienced a sour ending to an otherwise impressive week. Russell Westbrook’s ankle needs to get better as soon as possible for this team to keep pace with the playoff hunt. They could survive another week without the former MVP if their defense keeps forcing turnovers the way it has so far.

5. Blazers | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 10-3 | Previous Ranking: 6

C.J. ain’t have to do White Donte like that. 

And shoutout to the person at Yahoo! Sports who dropped this gem. #LeftHandRed

McCollum going off like he did Tuesday is vital for Portland. Both to sustain the Trail Blazers through the regular season and to propel them deeper into the postseason. Sometimes C.J.’s just going to need to give Damian Lillard a night off. Sometimes both of them will have to go berserk in order to get a W. Either way, it means we need C.J. making a fool of more and more defenders.

4. 76ers | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 8-6 | Previous Ranking: 8

Dario Saric and Robert Covington will be missed in Philadelphia. Saric and Covington were two of the most impactful role players in one of the best lineups in the NBA last season according to net rating. But Jimmy gets buckets. And when you have a passer like Ben Simmons and post presence like Joel Embiid, you need to make moves to see what the ceiling on the roster could be with three elite players.

3. Warriors | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 11-2 | Previous Ranking: 1

So this is the part of the season where we tell ourselves injuries are the thing that will finally stop the Warriors.

It’s certainly possible considering how things went in 2016. At a certain point, fatigue and health are bound to catch up to them in an even more devastating way then we’ve seen these past four years, but there’s too much talent to think one key guy going down is what ends this.

Now, for those of you who want to believe this is the year it finally ends, wear and tear might be the most logical reason to hold onto that faith. Kevin Durant is the only member of this core (Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston) that hasn’t made four consecutive Finals trips. Still, prior to joining Golden State, Durant suffered a major foot injury that kept him off the court for most of the 2014–15 season, and a Western Conference finals appearance and trip to the Olympics followed. And DeMarcus Cousins coming back from the Achilles injury is still a giant question mark.

But Steve Kerr has every reason to be cautious with this group, and it’s hard to believe anything outside of something catastrophic will stop at least the returning core from being ready come May when the Warriors’ season actually starts.

So maybe the bodies finally give out on this roster. Or maybe, Klay just makes 14 threes again and you start yelling at your television about how Durant is a punk who broke the NBA.

I’ll put my money on the latter.

2. Bucks | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Overall Record: 10-3 | Previous Ranking: 5

Milwaukee’s four-game West Coast road trip was far from perfect, but it should inspire even more hope in fans that Mike Budenholzer, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton can push this team out of the first round and contend with the top teams in the East.

Plenty teams lose in Portland, but even more lose in Oakland. To come out and crack the Warriors the way the Bucks did after a 17-point loss to the Trail Blazers takes a lot of guts. And long arms.

Opponents are shooting a league-low 42.5% against a Milwaukee roster with several players who resemble the wacky, arm-flailing tube man. It all starts with the Greek Freak and Middleton on the perimeter. The Bucks chase teams off the three-point line and are forcing a league-high 22.6 attempts from mid-range. The more opponents are forced to trade twos for threes with the squad that leads the league in three-pointers made per game, the more likely you’ll see Milwaukee hosting one or two rounds in the postseason.

Brook Lopez has been pivotal in stretching the floor, and his eight triples in Denver were exactly what the Bucks needed after Lou Williams put the dagger in them with 0.3 seconds the night before. Now the Bucks return home for a six-game stand with a chance to carve out space at the top of the East.

1. Raptors | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 12-1 | Previous Ranking: 2

The league's second-highest shooting percentage and third-highest scoring offense belong to Toronto.

The addition of Kawhi Leonard is what gives this team such a great shot to get out the East. The evolution of Kyle Lowry and the bench, however, is what gives the Raptors a real chance at bringing home the title. In addition to Lowry and Leonard, there are four other Raptors averaging at least 10 points a game, and Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby are just a tick below that mark. Pascal Siakam’s major jump has been another key factor in this early-season showing. It’s a shame you can’t win titles in November.