NBA Power Rankings: How Does Lakers Drama Shake Things Up?
What an incredible start to the NBA season.
Over the summer, Dwight Howard goes to the Lakers. Next, we have the monster James Harden trade. Now, we have a Mike Brown firing, followed by a lurch toward Phil Jackson that leads to a Mike D'Antoni hiring.
If you didn't notice, that's a lot of Lakers in a very small window. They've fit a decade's worth of drama into a fragment of an NBA season, much like the New York Knicks did last year.
The real question, of course, is will this ultimately help L.A.'s power ranking?
Also, is it true that other NBA teams actually exist and are playing quite well? Click and read to find out.
30. Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 26th
I had hopes for Detroit, mostly because Greg Monroe is quite possibly the head of his 2010 draft class. Unfortunately, the Pistons are awful despite this. Also, it should be noted that Monroe is a part of their problems.
As fine an offensive player as he is, he's a corrosively terrible defender at this point of his career. Detroit is last in the league at a minus-11.4 point differential.
The Pistons lack passers, and the score-first guard who's supposed to be animating this offense—Rodney Stuckey—is averaging an impossibly bad .236 from the field.
Ladies and gents, this is clearly the worst team in the league at this point in the season.
29. Washington Wizards
Last Week: 28th
This obviously isn't a good team at 0-5, but they have some dignity. Considering that John Wall and Nene aren't accounted for, you'd expect an even worse version of 0-5.
My main Wizards lament is that they're awful at developing talent.
John Wall's shot seems to only get worse, and JaVale McGee looks twice as smart upon playing for Denver. Now, Kevin Seraphin, after showing some initial promise, is seeing his minutes cut for the sake of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Booker.
The Wizards aren't an awful 0-and-5, but they remain an awful franchise.
28. Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 30th
Holy Kemba Walker!
It's possible that the Bobcats have something special in their smallish point guard. Kemba seemed overmatched last season, but we've lately been privy to the UConn version. (Note: "UConn Kemba" means something slightly more positive than "UConn Andre Drummond.")
Walker is averaging nearly 19 points and six assists in the early going. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also had a monster 25-point, 12-rebound performance against Dallas. Through the thick smog of Michael Jordan's cigar smoke, I still see a mediocre team.
But guess what? For the first time in awhile, I see a mediocre team with reasons for hope.
27. Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 29th
I could plug in a "Sacra-ficial lamb" joke in regards to what just happened versus the Lakers, except Los Angeles badly needs victories like that.
That was less a sacrifice and more a defeat at the hands of a more desperate team. Kings drama is the same as it ever was, with DeMarcus Cousins getting handed a two-game suspension due to some confrontation with Spurs announcer Sean Elliott.
Details on the matter are vague, but Sacramento's playoff prospects appear clear: They're lottery bound.
Jimmer Fredette poured it on in garbage time of the L.A. game, and his fans may grow louder in their pining for minutes. That might even be a welcome distraction, considering how the season has gone.
26. Orlando Magic
Last Week: 24th
The Magic sure have some fight in them. It looked as though they were rolling over against Brooklyn, but Orlando came surging back to make it a game.
This, despite missing all but one of 12 three-pointers. I'm not sure how Orlando is doing it, but it can hang tough.
The Magic have also lost their last four games and have perhaps the least talented roster in basketball.
25. Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 23rd
Get well soon, Kyle Lowry. Few players are more enjoyable to behold, and Lowry has the added benefit of being really good. He sprained his ankle in the Toronto loss to Oklahoma City, which is a difficult loss for the club.
Considering what they're missing, and the general thinness of this roster, it's no surprise that the Raptors are 1-5.
Lowry keys the defense with his rabid pressure on the ball, and he runs the offense with fine point guard play. Jonas Valanciunas has shown flashes of talent, but he's not quite there as a productive player yet.
24. Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 27th
I'll admit to being confused by the Suns. They're at a respectable 3-4, but they have an awful minus-7.6 point differential.
On the upside, Goran Dragic looks good. He's at a 20.8 PER, 16 points and 7.6 assists per game this season. Apart from Dragic, I don't see much else to love here.
This is a hideous defensive team that can't counter with a lot of offensive firepower. I'd say that minus-7.6 is closer to the truth than a 3-4 record.
23. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 25th
Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters are exciting, but the Cavs are giving more highlights to the opposition. At a No. 27 ranking in defensive efficiency, it almost doesn't matter what Irving does on a given night.
OK, it almost matters.
Irving is captivating, which is why it's so strange that his minute totals remain on the low side, with a mysterious 34.7 per game. Anderson Varejao doesn't appear to have the defensive impact he once did.
That could be small sample size, and it could also just be that Cleveland isn't worth playing defense for right now.
22. Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 22nd
The Warriors are half as good without a lumbering, pain-soaked Andrew Bogut. Why? Well, first, it's because Bogut's quite a good player, even when hobbled. Secondly, it's that this defense is so awful that Bogut improves it nearly exponentially.
In the trade for the Australian big man's services, the Warriors parted with their best defender in Ekpe Udoh. They're utterly defenseless without either player, as rookie Festus Ezeli is forced to play center, David Lee keeps ceding buckets and Stephen Curry keeps fouling.
Without the big Aussie ogre, it's going to be an ugly stretch.
21. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 19th
The Milwaukee Bucs dropped a home game to Boston, but other indicators have been good.
Scott Skiles has secretly built up a nice, defensive-minded bench mob, headed up by Ekpe Udoh and Larry Sanders. Sanders is the ultra-athletic shot-blocker, and Udoh is the pick-and-roll ace. So long as the two aren't facing a particularly burly frontcourt, the duo is absolutely smothering.
The question will be whether Milwaukee's disciplined, defensive bench can compensate for a flawed starting unit.
Pairing Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis just doesn't make a lot of sense. If the Bucks trade one of them (Ellis would be the favored trade choice, in these parts), look for Milwaukee to vault up the power rankings.
20. Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 8th
The Pacers are boring until Paul George asserts himself. Now is his chance, now is his test.
With Danny Granger out, George should be primed to prove he's the superstar in waiting. There are just so few players who possess a slick handle, elite leaping ability and an accurate shot at that size.
Unfortunately, it would seem that George lacks whatever component is needed to bring all of these qualities together. He's a ridiculously talented player who rarely seems able to fully possess and leverage his gifts. I suppose that being able to do so is a talent in and of itself.
19. Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 18th
Damian Lillard has such a nice three-point stroke for a rookie. Guards usually don't arrive in the league with a polished distance shot. He also has some nice chemistry with LaMarcus Aldridge on pick-and-roll.
Portland may be 2-4 thanks to some absent defense, but the trio of Lillard, Aldridge and Nicolas Batum is a lot better than what most lottery teams have going. Meyers Leonard also intrigues as a hyper-athletic, raw seven-footer.
The Blazers are more interesting than productive at the moment, but that could change soon.
18. Houston Rockets
Last Week: 15th
Aaaaand, the rocket returns to earth. This is still a promising team, but James Harden and Jeremy Lin have gone on cold streaks.
Lin continues his shaky shooting from the preseason, going .373 in his games so far. Harden is shooting an uncharacteristic .443 from the field, though he's drawing enough fouls to make up for a lot of the misses.
Early-season observation: If Harden isn't getting his scoop layup flop called, it's usually a long night for him.
Other observation: If Harden is being guarded by Andre Iguodala and Tony Allen (as he was last week), it's going to be a long week for him.
17. Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 7th
Oh, how the mighty have fallen! OK, the Hawks were only mighty in my mind and those of a few other Al Horford fans.
I still like the Hawks for an upper Eastern Conference seed, but they have not been cooperating of late, most recently getting trounced by the Clippers.
I just don't know about the recent ultra-big lineup they've been messing with (Zaza Pachulia, Al Horford, Josh Smith). In defense of the Birds, they did beat Oklahoma City on the road. That counts for something around these parts.
16. New Orleans Hornets
Last Week: 17th
Are you an NBA fan? Do yourself a favor and watch Anthony Davis right now. He missed some action due to a concussion, but otherwise, Davis has been as spellbinding as a rookie can be.
Not only is he swatting jump shots, but he's gracefully unfurling galloping scoop layups. It's fun.
The Hornets still have little quality at the guard spots, but they've cranked out a 3-2 record. Immense credit goes out to Monty Williams.
15. Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 16th
I would not have picked a Rick Carlisle team for a loss against Charlotte. I suppose you can only do so much without Dirk Nowitzki before the occasional inevitable defeats at the hands of terrible opponents.
Surprisingly, the Dallas defense has been quite friendly to the opposition, ranking out as 25th in defensive efficiency. It would seem the Mavericks miss Shawn Marion on defense, and probably Dirk, too. Nowitzki's an experienced defender, and certainly a better one than he's been given credit for.
14. Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 14th
Brooklyn has had trouble hanging on to leads.
Against Orlando, they persevered after squandering a large lead, but the Nets also coughed up a game to Minnesota. Defense is still an issue, even though Brook Lopez looks better than he has in the past. Well, I should say "looked" better, because against Orlando, Lopez went back to his old, bad ways, grabbing only three boards.
Here's a riddle: When is a win over Orlando not really a win over Orlando?
Answer: When the lightly regarded Magic hit one three-pointer out of 12 and the game is close well into the fourth quarter.
13. Utah Jazz
Last Week: 12th
The Jazz got Mike Brown fired, which factors into the power rankings somewhat. Just to add to the novelty factor in Utah, the Jazz are home to the only point differential of zero in the entire league. This is a team perpetually at a crossroads.
Young Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are trapped behind vets Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. While this is an embarrassment of riches in some ways, I suspect that they must make a choice this year and cease with the generational time share.
12. Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 21st
The Sixers are a surprising 4-2, considering that Andrew Bynum remains in a suit. In Bynum's absence, Jrue Holiday has picked up more slack than a mountain climber, claiming averages of 18 points and nine assists.
It always seemed like Doug Collins' constrained offense was holding Holiday back. Perhaps he's finally figured out a way to work within it.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 20th
Andrei Kirilenko is BACK. The former king of quirky stat lines is back to reclaim his throne. AK-47 is currently averaging 11.2 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, two blocks and 1.7 steals.
He's like a point-guard-center of a small forward. When the Wolves get Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio back from injury, this team should be formidable.
The Wolves won't be stout defensively, but Love, Rubio and Kirilenko should combine for some exciting, pass-first offense.
10. Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 13th
Just how does Tom Thibodeau do what he Thibo-does? OK, that was terrible, let me start over.
Just how does Tom Thibodeau do it? Over the offseason, the Bulls lost ace defenders Ronnie Brewer and Omer Asik.
The result so far? Chicago leads the NBA in defensive efficiency.
Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are somehow 4-2 with a plus-5.8 point differential. One of those losses came against Oklahoma City, and it was hard-fought until the end.
The league should take note that it doesn't matter who's on the team: Trifle with a Thibs squad at your own peril.
9. Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 6th
Man, I thought Mike Brown got a raw deal, getting fired at 1-4. But now Bernie Bickerstaff gets the boot at 2-0?! Of course, everyone in Los Angeles has simultaneously forgotten about Bickerstaff because they're so gobsmacked over getting Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson.
I'll admit that any team with this talent collection has a shot.
It'd be nice if L.A. had a true floor-spacing power forward option, or a semblance of a bench. Their ultra-tall frontcourt might be a vestige of the NBA past, unless offensive innovator extraordinaire Mike D manages to put a new spin on things.
The defense will remain a concern for as long as Dwight Howard rehabs back to form. Considering some of the slowness of its principles, the defense may remain a concern long after D12's at full health.
8. Boston Celtics
Last Week: 11th
The Celtics are coming off a nice recovery win over the Bucks. Before that victory, Boston's only wins were against the Wizards, and both games were uncomfortably close.
The odd thing about Boston is that the team is underperforming, but you can't really pin it on its three best players.
Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce have all been decent in the early going. The issue is the bench and some of the peripheral starters. Garnett is one of the game's best defenders, but it's a bit much to make him compensate for Jared Sullinger, Jason Terry and Jeff Green.
It's possible that the old man can manage being a nearly one-man defense yet again, but the new additions could be testing his limits. The Celtics are built on their D, and any slippage could prove costly—especially considering their balky, grind-it-out offense.
7. Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 10th
Ever so creakily, Denver is righting the ship. After stumbling 0-3 out the gate, the Nuggets have been winners of the last four.
An initially porous defense has crept up to eighth in the league, thanks in part to Andre Iguodala doing fine perimeter work against James Harden and Klay Thompson.
With the Western Conference wild and open, this team still has a great shot at a higher-level playoff seeding.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 9th
They looked spectacular when felling the mighty Miami Heat. Fun Memphis Grizzlies facts: They have the best point differential in the Western Conference, and Wayne Ellington made seven three-pointers in their last game.
The Grizzlies play the rare brand of "exciting" defense because they bring so much pressure on the ball. Lionel Hollins and Co. also do a fine job finding bench contributors. From Marreese Speights to Jerryd Bayless to Quincy Pondexter, Memphis has a valuable bench.
To quote Jeff Ross, the Grizzlies bench is a "Who's who" of "Who's that?"
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 3rd
"Man, I love them Clippers," so says the dorky writer referencing 2 Chainz.
Los Angeles is the best team in the city for now, as their defense might be catching up to that effective CP3-run offense. So why did I drop them down to fifth? Other teams stepped up, most notably OKC.
L.A. is still middle of the pack on D, for now. By many accounts, DeAndre Jordan put in a lot of work this summer. For a shot at the title, they need Jordan to improve. Jamal Crawford has been a fun addition, but when he comes back down to earth from this torrid shooting streak, they'll need Jordan and Co. to compensate on defense.
4. New York Knicks
Last Week: 5th
Our only undefeated team clocks in at number...four? Well, they have played only four games. Let's give it some time.
Let us savor and cherish this brief moment in history when a New York team is actually (gasp!) underrated.
This Knicks team just makes sense. Tyson Chandler anchors the defense, and power forward Carmelo Anthony draws defenders inside, opening up shots for New York's snipers on the perimeter.
The Knicks are a beautiful machine, for once. Not since the '90s has a New York squad had this firm an identity. Something will eventually go wrong, because this is a James Dolan team, after all. But at present, this squad is as good as the NBA has.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 4th
While I believe that James Harden is the better player and that Oklahoma City should have gotten more in the trade, Kevin Martin's production has been hard to deny. Credit to him for fitting seamlessly into a tough situation.
OKC is third in the conference in point differential, and Russell Westbrook finally woke up against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
That's nice and all, but you know what really gets me excited for OKC's prospects?
Kevin Durant is playing more power forward than ever (via NBA.com). That's a frightening prospect for the league and its many slow, defensively suspect power forwards.
2. Miami Heat
Last Week: 1st
They may have sacrificed some defense, but oh, man, is that offense humming. Miami leads the league in offensive efficiency, and it's not hard to see why.
Miami is often in the enviable position of finding Ray Allen wide open. Don't be surprised if Allen has a career year in three-point accuracy by the time this season is done.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 2nd
Lakers drama this, Lakers drama that. The Spurs just keep on humming. San Antonio has the most wins in the league at six, which surprises absolutely no one.
Manu Ginobili is out, and the Spurs keep on winning. Even though Ginobili is fantastic, this, again, surprises no one.
San Antonio is a machine, an inexorable borg-like entity that will run the motion-weak offense en route to points, no matter who's in charge, no matter who's out with an injury.
The Spurs' regular-season quality appears almost assured, as though we must wait for the playoffs to perceive any cracks in the armor.