Two weeks are in the books for the 2019-20 season, and we’re beginning to see some early-season trends that should hold throughout the season. The Sixers defense is dominant, good enough to challenge Utah for the league’s best defensive rating. The Rockets fall on the opposite side of the spectrum, entering Monday night No. 29 in the metric. A bottom-third finish is likely. LeBron James remains an All-NBA talent, and Luka Doncic should earn his first All-Star appearance. The season’s storylines are beginning to emerge a few weeks before Thanksgiving.
So as we parse the real trends from the misleading, The Crossover used this week’s power rankings to detail the most notable metric for all 30 teams entering Monday night.
30. Knicks – Frank Ntilikina’s minutes share will likely dwindle despite protestations from the Knicks’ fans. He entered Sunday’s loss to Sacramento with a 92.7 offensive rating in 107 minutes, a disastrous mark for a point guard, even a defensive ace. Ntilikina went 1-3 with a minus-11 in 15 minutes on Sunday. David Fizdale’s patience must be running out.
29. Warriors – 57.9% of Golden State’s points last year came from three players currently not on the floor as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson rehab and Kevin Durant heals in Brooklyn. It’s no wonder the Warriors are currently closer to a G League squad than last year’s Finals team.
28. Cavs – Collin Sexton was among the least efficient guards in basketball as a rookie last season. Darius Garland should suffer a similar fate in 2019-20. 19 made shots and 16 turnovers in six games isn’t a winning formula, but the growing pains are necessary for the lottery-bound Cavs. At least Sexton has shot it well from deep to start the season.
27. Wizards – Davis Bertans is thriving in Washington after San Antonio ditched him from the presumed addition of Marcus Morris, and the Wizards have found a dynamic frontcourt duo with the sharpshooter next to rookie Rui Hachimura. Washington is bound for at least the middle of the lottery, but this year’s frontcourt should provide more fireworks than last year’s plodding group.
26. Grizzlies – Ja Morant is clearly driving the car in Memphis. He has a 29.8% usage rate through six games, and he could challenge the high-mark for a rookie, set by Ben Gordon in 2004-05 and Luka Doncic last season. There will be plenty of turnovers, but Morant is the likely favorite for Rookie of the Year.
25. Bulls – Losing to the Knicks and Cavs in one week is anything but encouraging. Can we at least get excited about Wendell Carter? The second year forward is averaging 14.6 points per game, and he’s the lone bull with a positive net rating. He’s been far more effective than $27 million man Otto Porter.
24. Pelicans – The Pelicans will likely fall toward the bottom of the West, but their record should stabilize if Jrue Holiday rebounds from a slow start. New Orleans’ point guard has a minus-10.8 net rating through six games, including a 116.7 defensive rating. One of the Western Conference’s best defensive point guards should get back on track sooner than later.
23. Hornets – Charlotte is friskier than expected, largely thanks to an impressive clip from three to start the year. P.J. Washington appears to be a late-lottery gem, and his smooth stroke is a premier reason for optimism after a widely-panned offseason.
22. Kings – There’s the temptation for Luke Walton to go small and pair De’Aaron Fox with Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Maybe that idea should be nipped in the bud. The trio has allowed 125.6 points per 100 possessions in 46 minutes, with Sacramento’s best lineups involving bigs Richaun Holmes and Nemanja Bjelica. Walton may need to go the traditional route to save Sacramento’s season.
21. Pistons – Shoutout to contract year Andre Drummond. The UConn product is firmly atop the league’s rebounding leaderboard, and he leads the NBA in blocks. Only four players have more points. The Pistons remain uninspiring and dribble-heavy with Derrick Rose and Markieff Morris soaking up much of the offense. Drummond 20-20 watch is a lone reason to tune in as long as Blake Griffin is out.
20. Orlando Magic – Terrence Ross has made just 18 of 66 shots and eight of 41 threes to start the season. Orlando’s primary long-ball threat will have to progress to the mean for the Magic to reach the playoffs in a semi-respectable Eastern Conference.
19. Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young could lead the league in usage rate as the Hawks sport only Evan Turner as a secondary point guard option. He should at least break the record for his age. LeBron James holds the usage record for a 21-and-under player at 33.6%. Young’s 36.6 pace should hold steady through 2019-20, potentially powering the Hawks toward the playoff race if Atlanta can hold steady through November.
18. Thunder – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has rapidly morphed into a true lead guard in Oklahoma City, and he’s been Chris Paul-esque from the mid-range. SGA is hitting 83% of shots from 10-16 feet, and he’s made 60% of shots from 16-23 feet. Those numbers will regress, but they suggest a promising future for Gilgeous-Alexander leading OKC into the next decade.
17. Nets – I understand DeAndre Jordan was apparently a missing piece in Brooklyn’s free agency puzzle, but his four-year deal is looking downright terrible thus far. A career-low 55.2% field goal percentage and his lowest rebounding rate in five seasons should lead to increased time for Jarrett Allen in this odd timeshare.
16. Pacers – Any skepticism regarding Malcolm Brogdon’s $85 million contract has been quieted through six games. The Virginia product is averaging 22.5 points and 9.7 assists per game through six contests, keeping the Pacers afloat early without Victor Oladipo. Indiana could have an imposing backcourt if Oladipo can return healthy after the All-Star Break.
15. Phoenix Suns – Ricky Rubio can’t shoot a lick, but it’s amazing what even competent point guard play will do for a roster. Rubio is plus-8.5 points per 100 possessions and Phoenix is over .500 entering the season’s third week. 30 wins is certainly in play.
14. Portland Trail Blazers – Is there any chance Damian Lillard pulls off a surprise MVP campaign? The numbers support such a case thus far. Lillard is scoring 29.8 points per game and banging home 40.7% of threes, keeping the Blazers afloat amid a slate of new rotational players. Portland’s record will likely fall short of landing Lillard in the MVP conversation, but the Weber State product deserves a mention among the league’s best players.
13. Utah Jazz – Sunday’s loss to the Clippers marked another rough evening for Mike Conley, who entered the game with a paltry 100.9 offensive rating. His shooting numbers should stabilize, but it’s worth wondering if his decreased playmaking role will take a bigger adjustment than originally assumed. Utah will need better production from its $32 million offseason addition.
12. San Antonio Spurs – Dejounte Murray’s minutes restriction must be maddening for Gregg Popovich. Murray is averaging 13 points in just 23 minutes per game, and he leads San Antonio in assists and steals. San Antonio has found its next building block. His health is of chief concern as we approach 2020.
11. Houston Rockets – Russell Westbrook finished with a career-worst minus-46 in Sunday’s loss to the Heat. He’s regressed over the last two games after a torrid start during Houston’s four game homestand, and the Rockets have allowed an average of 136.7 points in their last three contests. Houston’s fast start has ended quickly.
10. Toronto Raptors – Pascal Siakam blossoming into a lead scorer is encouraging, though his improved playmaking should provide the greatest reason for optimism. Siakam has posted a career-best 19.4% assist rate this season. The number could rise if the Raptors ship Kyle Lowry to a title contender.
9. Dallas Mavericks – Luke Doncic has 11 career triple-doubles before his 21st birthday, zooming past Magic Johnson for the all-time record. Let’s extrapolate Doncic’s numbers. He’s racked up 11 triple-doubles in 77 games, good for a triple-double in 14.3% of outings. He’s currently on pace for 118 triple-doubles by his 826th game, the current number of career games for Russell Westbrook and his 140 triple-doubles entering Monday night. Perhaps Luka won’t be the triple-double king, but he’s on a torrid pace nonetheless.
8. Denver Nuggets – Gary Harris appears lost in the Nuggets’ offensive shuffle with a points per game dip for the third consecutive season. Denver should be happy entering Monday at 4–2 despite a slow shooting start for Harris and Nikola Jokic.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns’ three-point dominance has been well documented, but the former top pick has been a tremendous post force as well. Towns is averaging 1.15 points per post possession, the third-best mark of all 26 players to tally 15 paint touches thus far in 2019-20. Towns is scoring inside at a clip similar to Anthony Davis while putting up three-point numbers that dwarf Dirk Nowitzki’s career highs. Towns is a delight to watch each night.
6. Boston Celtics – Second-year center Robert Williams has been a relevation at center, posting a team-best plus-18.2 net rating through five games. His ability to stretch the floor vertically should give him a minutes edge over Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis as the season continues.
5. Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks are the lone team with seven players attempting at least 20 threes entering Monday. Mike Budenholzer’s message is clear once again in 2019-20: Spread the floor for Giannis and let it fly.
4. Miami Heat – Relegation to the bench also apparently sent Goran Dragic to the fountain of youth. The 33-year-old is posting improved shooting numbers across the board, and his PER is up to 16.7 from last year’s 13.9 mark, his worst since 2011. The Heat rotation is flush with quality players, and Dragic appears to be a perfect anchor for their second unit.
3. Los Angeles Lakers – What late career dip? LeBron is averaging over 10 assists per game for the first time of his career while shooting a better mark from three than in 2018-19. The Lakers are cruising at 5–1 after Sunday’s win over San Antonio. They can thank an engaged James.
2. Los Angeles Clippers – Kawhi Leonard is handling additional playmaking duties with ease. He’s scoring over a point per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler, posting a 52% eFG. Leonard’s mid-range shot has been established for a half decade. His improved vision is a new trick for perhaps the game’s best player.
1. Philadelphia 76ers – The Sixers’ size is overwhelming and the metrics back up the eye test early. Philadelphia is fourth in defensive rating while allowing the fewest rebounds and fewest assists. Only one team has allowed fewer threes. It’s hard to get a clean shot off against Philadelphia, especially from beyond the arc. The Sixers’ length is unmatched.