NBA Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands After Week 1
Hey, it's a small sample size, but let's try to figure the NBA out. We want to overreact to what we see early on, but not to overreact. It's a difficult balance for a pundit indeed.
In these tough pundit times, it is important to remember that some events can be so extraordinary as to transcend their small sample size ("signature significance" is Bill James' technical term for such phenomena).
Such significant events could be Carmelo Anthony killing it at the power forward spot. It could be James Harden dominating for his new team. For Laker fans, early struggles could speak to ominous times ahead. Just how are we weighing these first few games? Click on through and find out.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30th
Some might take Charlotte out of the ranking cellar on account of its last victory against Indiana. I'm not budging, seeing as how it lost by 27 points after its surprising win. As it stands, the Bobcats still have the worst point differential in the league.
There is a faint glimmer of hope, though, and his name is Kemba Walker. The speedy UConn product was quite inefficient in his rookie season, lowering previously high expectations. A tire-jack in the form of a 30-point game may reboost those expectations.
The Bobcat defense remains atrocious and the team is too young to compete for anything other than a top lottery spot. But if the younguns are rounding into form, that's the first round to watch Charlotte basketball in some time.
29. Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 26h
Well, on the upside, the Kings didn't offer an extension to Tyreke Evans. It is not that I'm anti-Reke—I'm more anti-Reke on the Kings. Also, I cheer anything that appears like a semblance of restraint from Team Maloof.
On the downside, the Kings are still the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins still shoots a lot, and shoots inefficiently.
He has a world of talent, but I fear for any talent that relies on Kingdom Maloof for cultivation. Sacramento is rudderless, and the best its fans can hope for is that this awful team stays in town.
28. Washington Wizards
Last Week: 27th
But, while I came away impressed with the emerging Kevin Seraphin, I came away rather unimpressed with D.C.'s late-game management. Down by one, with a four-second gap between game and shot clock, the Wizards elected to let Rajon Rondo dribble out the possession.
Sure, Boston missed the shot, but Washington had little time to respond with one of its own. That squandered chance, combined with an unseemly Wall-less, Nene-less roster, lands the Wizards here at 28.
27. Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 28th
It's just hard to be impressed by a team that narrowly beats the Pistons (guess who's next on this list) for its lone victory. Luis Scola and Michael Beasley have had their offensive moments, which is a kind way of saying that nobody's been all that impressive.
Despite the bad Sunday night defense, this team does have some defensive potential. Marcin Gortat and Goran Dragic could add up to something on the defensive end. This low down the list, a mere something counts for something.
26. Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 22nd
Confession time: I feel terrible about this ranking. Detroit deserves to be lower after this horrendous three-game start.
The Pistons are feeble defensively—Greg Monroe has a claim for worst defensive frontcourt starter. They just got humiliated by Dwight Howard and the suddenly animated Lakers. They also don't really have anyone even close to stardom in the backcourt.
I guess I just don't want to give up on Monroe's potential. He's such an offensive force and so gifted of a passer that it seems a little early to react harshly to a terrible start. If this course doesn't correct, they'll be the bottom-ranked team next week.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 25th
Against Milwaukee, Cleveland was beaten by a Brandon Jennings miracle shot with 0.7 seconds left. Sure, the Cavaliers defense is out of sorts at times, and sure, there are some young guys on this team who don't quite have their bearings.
The Cavs also have a future All-Star in Kyrie Irving and an elite role player (there's an oxymoron for you) in Anderson Varejao. This is a bad squad, but they retain a playoff ceiling.
24. Orlando Magic
Last Week: 29th
Wait, wasn't the idea to tank in Orlando? I mean, that is the reason you ostensibly trade Dwight Howard for Arron Afflalo.
Perhaps the Magic didn't get the memo. They've looked shockingly great in their first two victories. I still don't trust it, but odd Orlando competence is a situation to monitor.
23. Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 21st
Jonas Valanciunas does not seem as ready as I would have liked to have hoped. The long rookie will be key to implementing Dwane Casey's defensive schemes going forward, and he controls the ceiling on this squad's D.
22. Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 18th
Sure they're 2-1, but the Warriors also got handled at home by Memphis, and Andrew Bogut's getting yo-yoed out of the lineup due to health concerns. While this team is deep, the Warriors don't have the frontcourt depth to withstand their starting center missing time.
Also, Brandon Rush is out for the season with a brutal knee injury. Rush shot threes and played excellent defense. Such players have been quite hard to come by in GSW world.
21. Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 16th
Uh-oh, where's Andrew Bynum? The season is under way, and still no sign of the big guy.
It is difficult to envision Philadelphia going for it, unless its massive trade acquisition comes back soon. While Doug Collins' team had an impressive home opener win against Denver, the Sixers had an equally unimpressive loss to New York on Sunday morning. My main takeaway is that the offense looks gummed up—just like last year.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 12th
This is quite a rankings tumble for a team that only lost one game. Well, some other Western Conference teams made moves while Kevin Love still sits on the sidelines. That, and their most recent loss to Toronto was very ugly.
Nikola Pekovic hasn't filled in for Love's absence quite the way he did last season. The burly center needs to be more of a focal point for the Wolves down this stretch. Andrei Kirilenko looks like his old self in the first two games, which is pleasantly shocking.
19. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 19th
Milwaukee has no losses, but you can thank Brandon Jennings' ridiculous 0.7-second heave for that. Speaking of which, Jennings has played well in the early going. Let's see if the famously streaky point guard can keep it up.
As a slight aside, I love some of the defensive bench players on this team. When Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders play together, it's a delight. Few bench frontcourt combinations are as defensively impactful.
18. Portland Trailblazers
Last Week: 20th
Well, Damian Lillard looks like the truth. Portland's new point guard has, in three games, three 20-point performances.
The core of LaMarcus Aldridge, Nic Batum and Lillard could be lovely as it grows. Portland is still thin on the bench and ever-dependent on a rookie point guard. Fortunately, it looks like he might be just the man for the job.
17. New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 24th
Aside from an Anthony Davis concussion, I like what I see from this squad. I still have my doubts about how their guards play, specifically Austin Rivers. But Monty Williams' team has played well, and Greivis Vasquez has flashed moments of competence.
When Davis returns, he'll be a big help. You don't say that for many rookies, but he's ready to go from the jump. Davis was offensively refined in his first game against the Spurs. He might be further along there than he is on defense, oddly.
16. Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 15th
Rick Carlisle has this team playing hard without Dirk Nowitzki, most notably when the undermanned crew absolutely handled the Lakers in the home opener. There isn't a lot of talent on this roster, but it's a well-coached squad. I may have dropped the Mavs a ranking just because they ended the fun Eddy Curry experiment.
15. Houston Rockets
Last Week: 23rd
Hi world, I'd like you to meet James Harden. The Houston shooting guard has been on fire since joining his new team, taking advantage of the opportunity to the tune of a 26.28 PER and career-high 45-point game against the Atlanta Hawks.
It's not just Harden who loves his new digs. Jeremy Lin has averaged 15 points and seven assists. Omer Asik isn't killing it in the box score, but his defense and screens have been a revelation in the early going.
14. Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 14th
It's hard to judge this team when it's only played once. Hurricane Sandy has delayed the Brooklyn Nets' rollout, we'll soon see what they're capable of.
It is difficult to know what one makes of a home victory against the Raptors, but Brook Lopez looked back to (offensive) form. There were seven turnovers between Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, who might still be trying to work out the kinks in their high-powered offense.
13. Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 17th
"I have underestimated these Bulls," I think to myself, right before they lose to the Hornets. New Orleans didn't have Anthony Davis for that game, by the way.
That's a blemish, but Chicago has been good otherwise. The Bulls are playing typical stingy Thibodeau defense and might be more of a playoff contender than I'm giving them credit for.
I'm not sure how good they are without the vaunted "bench mob" of old, but it looks like there's no tanking in Chi-town. Thibs wants back in the playoffs, where perhaps Derrick Rose can come back and help.
12. Utah Jazz
Last Week: 11th
The Jazz are 1-2, but with a positive point differential. Plus, there's no shame in losing to the Spurs. Actually, based on the early going, there may be no shame in losing to the New Orleans Hornets.
Utah has many decisions with this young, veteran frontcourt. Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are waiting in the wings behind Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
Jefferson provides offense for Utah, but his defense is very poor. Perhaps the correct rotation going forward would be Millsap and defensively able Derrick Favors (that is if it's possible to trade Jefferson).
11. Boston Celtics
Last Week: 7th
The Celtics suffered two tough losses and then eked out a close win against the Washington Wizards. This isn't a great start, but we've come to expect seasonal lulls from a team that tends to go harder in the postseason.
The concern would be this: The revamped, supposedly "deep" Boston bench might be a mirage. Carrying four shooting guards isn't "depth"; it's carrying four shooting guards. Unless the NBA passes a rule where you must play four SGs at once for various parts of the game, I fail to see the grand advantage of playing Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa and Avery Bradley.
On the upside, Courtney Lee looks wonderful on defense. On the downside, Jason Terry looks like last year's Jason Terry. On the further downside, Jeff Green looks like Jeff Green. I'm not sure why there was so much preseason hyping of Green, a player who's currently older than Rajon Rondo. It's not like he's a second-year player just looking to break out.
10. Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 4th
C'mon, Nuggets. Make us geeks look better. We had such high hopes for you!
Analytics-minded types (and myself, I suppose) figured Denver would win many games this year on account of superior depth. Though the Nuggets almost beat Miami, it hasn't gone that way so far.
The problem is, as deep as Denver is, Andre Iguodala can't make them good on defense overnight. The Nuggets have been hideous on D, though playing Miami certainly can hurt your numbers there.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 9th
When the OKC/Rockets trade happened, followed by L.A.'s early struggles, teams like the Grizzlies emerged as more than fringe Western Conference contenders. Two games in, Memphis hasn't had much of a track record to establish, but its chances feel improved in a more open West.
The Grizzlies handled the Warriors, as they always seem to, which succeeded a loss against the Clippers. They have yet to play a home game yet, so I will save harsher criticisms (should they exist) for later. Right now, the well-balanced, ball-hawking Grizz are a functional offense away from making some real noise.
8. Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 8th
This is a default rankings hold, because the Pacers haven't exactly blown Toronto, Sacramento and Charlotte off the floor. Actually, they even lost to the Bobcats, which is a near-federal offense.
I'm not overreacting (sample size, sample size, sample size). Danny Granger is missing games with knee issues, but that could open up some time for Paul George.
George determines Indiana's fate. In him resides superstar ability. For the "pretty good" Pacers to seize greatness, their long, dexterous dribbling wing must take something of a leap this season.
7. Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 10th
Hey, take a look at the Atlanta Hawks, winners of a tough road game against the Thunder. The most impressive aspect of the victory was that they lacked Josh Smith (he's out with an ankle sprain). Smith will be back soon enough to quell issues like giving up 45 points to James Harden.
This oft-forgotten playoff team has a talented, experienced frontcourt. When it needs some low-strategy offensive creativity, Lou Williams is happy to play the microwave.
This might seem too high for these Hawks, but consider that they have two All-Star caliber frontcourt players (Smith hasn't made an ASG yet, but he's always on the cusp). It's hard to envision anything past the second round for Atlanta, but this should be a good regular-season team.
6. Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 3rd
Did we just witness a coming-out party? Or was it that Detroit is that bad? Or is it that Dwight Howard's back only acts up for certain games?
Regardless of the reason, L.A. looked incredible while throttling the Detroit Pistons. It was a needed win after three consecutive ugly losses that had Los Angeles talk radio screaming for Mike Brown's job.
In the early going, the Laker issue has been defense. If Howard is back and fully healthy, this should cease to be an issue.
5. New York Knicks
Last Week: 13th
Holy Knicks! Isn't this team supposed to perpetually be overrated? Shocking as it seems, expectations may have been too low for New York.
The Knicks look fantastic in the early going. The newly svelte Raymond Felton is splitting double-teams that he once would have gotten lodged in, like a panda in a dog door. Jason Kidd has been useful, especially when playing at the shooting guard spot.
In their first two games, the Knicks easily beat Miami and Philadelphia, spacing the floor effectively with Carmelo Anthony at the 4-spot. It's quite early, but with Melo at the power forward position and Tyson Chandler capably manning the middle, the Knicks look like a decent bet for second seed in the East.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 5th
How does a team go 1-2 and move up to a top-four ranking? Well, losing on a buzzer beater to San Antonio is part of the story. The other part is that Kevin Martin is meshing well with teammates so far.
K-Mart will never be Harden, but his instant jelling with this offense bodes well for the future. Credit to Martin for scoring efficiently without dominating the ball.
Russell Westbrook will have to turn all this new responsibility into better results. He remains a breathtaking, superior talent, but his choices are maddening. And make no mistake: These aren't mistakes. When Russ fires off a contested three, early in the shot clock, without passing to a soul, that's a choice. For the Thunder to improve, Russell needs to choose wiser.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 6th
"Clippers or Thunder?" is a fun question, from where I'm sitting. On the face of it, it seems like it should be OKC. The Thunder were in the NBA Finals after all, and many of their players are improving on account of youth.
On the other hand, this is not the same Thunder team. Though Kevin Martin has been decent enough, he's no James Harden. Also, K-Mart represents an above-average injury risk.
The Clippers dropped a close one to the Warriors, but have impressed in other ways. Jamal Crawford has been fantastic off the bench in this admittedly small sample size, and Chris Paul is his maestro self. On Saturday night, CP3 got 27 points on three made shots. Savvy player, this guy.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 2nd
So far, the worst thing about Tim Duncan's game is that Reggie Miller called him "Old Man Riverwalk." Timmy looks energized at the start of this season.
While I would prefer that San Antonio have a bit more rim protection, the Spurs soldier forth competently, refusing to foul, refusing to make mistakes. Kawhi Leonard looks like the defensive pest they'd hoped for, with 10 steals over his first two games.
The Spurs escaped with a close one against Oklahoma City in what should be a fun rivalry going forward. Both are small-market success stories, but the Thunder get all the attention. It is difficult to tell whether Spurs fans are resentful or smug over how us rubes don't pay attention to greatness.
1. Miami Heat
Last Week: 1st
Did they get killed by the Knicks? Yes. Did they almost get beaten by the Nuggets? Also yes.
But it's hard for me to judge Miami too harshly on account of New York going nuts for 19 three-pointers in a home opener. Lax perimeter defense contributed to the NYC trey-fest, but the magnitude of such an onslaught is a bit fluky.
This is still the NBA's premier offense, until proved otherwise. In the meantime, we'll see if Erik Spoelstra can cinch up the sloppy rotations around the arc.