NBA Power Rankings: Which Teams Are Taking the Association by Surprise?

Dan Wilkins@@DanWilkinsNFLCorrespondent IINovember 15, 2012

NBA Power Rankings: Which Teams Are Taking the Association by Surprise?

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    Through just a few weeks of the 2012-13 NBA regular season, there are a few teams surprising us in both good and bad ways. Some we expected to be faring much better than they are, and the opposite is true for several teams that come in near the top of the list. 

    In any power ranking in any sport, a given team's record is important but not necessarily indicative of everything to be considered. 

    With that said, here are my NBA Power Rankings, updated as of November 15, 2012.

30. Washington Wizards (0-7)

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    Because of the Pistons’ win and the fact that Washington still has yet to get one of their own thus far, the Wizards come in at the No. 30 spot on this list. Until John Wall returns, they can likely expect these struggles to continue.

    Rookie guard Bradley Beal has looked good so far, giving the Wizards a very good back court to build around, but there is a long way to go other than that.

29. Detroit Pistons (1-8)

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    Likely the consensus worst team in the league just a few days ago, the Detroit Pistons get the No. 29 spot after grabbing their first win of the year on Wednesday night. Not only did they just get their first win, but they blew out the 76ers.

    In their losses the Pistons have actually kept the majority of their games close, but it’s winning that counts. So far, and likely to continue for the majority of the year, they have had trouble doing just that.

28. Sacramento Kings (2-6)

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    The Kings have struggled so far not being able to find much of an offensive or defensive game to speak of.

    They do have some talent, but a few more years of lottery picks are likely in order to be able to compete.

27. Orlando Magic (2-5)

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    Well, we knew it would be tough for the Orlando Magic in their first season without Dwight Howard. Struggling significantly on the offensive end, the Magic have lost five straight and could be in for a few rebuilding years.

26. Toronto Raptors (2-6)

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    If the Raptors are going to challenge for a playoff spot as they had originally hoped, they need to get a lot more on both the offensive and defensive ends.

    More specifically, a field goal percentage of .357 from Andrea Bargnani, who was supposed to be a focal point of the offense playing his natural PF spot, is not getting the job done. As promising as this young team looked, they still have a ways to go.

25. Cleveland Cavaliers (2-6)

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    We knew that the Cavaliers would likely continue to struggle, but the offensive play is coming along quite nicely thanks to Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and Anderson Varejao.

    With their young and exciting core of players, the future looks bright for the Cavs. However, as of right now, their struggles on the defensive end and lack of depth are going to be tough to overcome.

24. Portland Trail Blazers (3-5)

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    An extremely tough schedule to start the season has contributed mightily to Portland’s struggles. However, upset wins over both the Lakers and the Rockets do provide bright spots.

    Top draft pick Damian Lillard looks like a future star, averaging 18.4 PPG as well as 6.6 APG.

23. Charlotte Bobcats (4-3)

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    Seven games in, and the Charlotte Bobcats are already over half way to their win total of last season. This can probably be classified as a surprise but a very nice surprise at that.

    Yes, their defense is still an issue. But behind the play of Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon, and Ramon Sessions, they can certainly score. This young team has a long way to go still, but they are certainly making progress quickly.

22. Phoenix Suns (4-5)

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    Through a versatile offensive unit, the Suns have quietly put up the league’s eighth ranked offense. The continued struggles on the defensive end have and will often outweigh that success, but they are still rebuilding.

    The brightest spot for the Suns has to be how well Goran Dragic has stepped in for departed fan favorite, Steve Nash.

21. Golden State Warriors (4-4)

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    With the eventual return of Andrew Bogut and the continued contributions from their young stars, the Warriors could indeed work themselves into playoff contention.

    However, that won’t come without marked improvement. Right now, it is inconsistency that is this team’s biggest downfall.

20. Utah Jazz (4-5)

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    3-0 at home so far, it is the Jazz’ struggles on the road that are hurting this team. The balance of which, as well as the balance of scoring success and defensive struggles, is what will likely keep this team right around the .500 mark.

    In an extremely tough Western Conference, that likely will not be enough for the eighth seed.

19. Indiana Pacers (3-6)

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    Based on how the Pacers finished out the season and competed in the playoffs last year, their 3-6 start is surprising. Despite their impressive defensive play, when you are the NBA’s last ranked scoring team, you are not going to win a lot of games.

    In the absence of Danny Granger, the Pacers need to find a way to put the ball in the basket. If they can’t, they will continue their slide towards the lower part of the league.

18. New Orleans Hornets (3-3)

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    One of the youngest teams in the league, the addition of Anthony Davis has made the Hornets all the more interesting to follow. .500 so far is a big improvement over last season, and even in the games they have lost, they have remained competitive with some good teams.

    They are definitely headed in the right direction.

17. Denver Nuggets (4-4)

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    Denver’s four straight wins following an 0-3 start was extremely impressive. With possibly the league’s most well distributed scoring attack, the Nuggets have a number of ways in which they can put the ball in the basket.

    The next three games provide quite possibly the toughest stretch they will face all season, so we will likely have a very good idea of what to expect from them thereafter.

16. Atlanta Hawks (4-4)

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    3-4 to start the year, the Hawks have been around the .500 team that many expected. Opponents have scored over 100 points on them just twice, but they need to orchestrate some scoring of their own to take advantage of that. Until that happens, they should remain right around this spot.

15. Houston Rockets (4-4)

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    The Rockets and James Harden have cooled off a little bit since his unbelievable start with his new team. After starting 2-0, due in large part to a tough schedule, they are back at the .500 mark.

    If the Rockets can get anywhere close to what they got out of Harden in the first two games, they will be in playoff contention all season long.

14. Philadelphia 76ers (4-4)

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    The 76ers are down a little bit thanks to two straight losses, including surrendering Detroit’s first win of the year in blowout fashion. Surpassing the 100-point plateau in just one of eight games, there is work to be done on the offensive end.

    The eventual return of Andrew Bynum would help matters, but that may not be for a while yet. Until they can get some offensive production, the defense will continue to be relied upon quite heavily.

13. Dallas Mavericks (5-4)

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    Who would have thought that without former MVP Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavericks would be the league’s fourth highest scoring team and sitting at 5-4 through nine games? Leading scorer O.J. Mayo has helped to make up for the loss, adding 21.8 PPG, and has proven to be one of the top free agent signings of the year.

    Playing like this until and beyond the eventual return of Nowitzki would do wonders for this team’s chances in the Western Conference race.

12. Brooklyn Nets (4-2)

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    Heading into the season, there was a lot of hype surrounding the Brooklyn Nets. While their record is fairly good, they have yet to beat any team that posed much of a challenge to them in comparison.

    In the next few games, we should get a real idea of what to expect from this Nets team for the remainder of the season. There is no doubt that the talent and potential is there, but it is just a matter of whether it will all come together against the other top teams of the NBA.

11. Chicago Bulls (5-3)

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    The Bulls are probably right where most expected them to be without Derrick Rose. They have continued to play well defensively, but understandably, the scoring is not where it might be otherwise.

    If they can keep the same pace they are on, and Rose can return later on in the season, the Bulls could prove to be in a good position for a playoff run.

10. Los Angeles Lakers (3-5)

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    Based on their surprising 3-5 record, the Lakers probably deserve to be quite a bit lower than this. However, with the stars they have on that roster, they can and no doubt will get it going at some point. As a result, no matter their record, this is still not a team that anybody wants to come up against.

    Once the team comes together under new coach Mike D’Antoni, they’ll get back where they should be among the league’s top teams.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (5-2)

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    With their only two losses so far coming against Memphis and Boston, the Milwaukee Bucks have been impressive and surprising. Not many would have expected them to be the early favorite for the Central Division, but the plays of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are helping to see that becomes the case.

    The Bucks have certainly become a team to watch as the season wears on.

8. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-3)

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    One of the biggest surprises thus far has to be the play of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Few would have expected them to be 5-3 at this point, especially not without Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love in the lineup.

    Allowing just 88.5 PPG, good for second in the NBA, is what has led the way to victories for them. It remains to be seen whether they can keep up the pace, but it has no doubt been a story to follow so far.

7. Boston Celtics (5-3)

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    The Celtics got off to a bit of a rough start to the season, but with Rajon Rondo playing at an MVP level, this team remains right in the thick of the Eastern Conference.

    They have got to improve on the boards, but as much as people want to write off an aging Celtics team, they will not go away.

6. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-3)

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    The Thunder in this spot is likely a huge surprise based on how they finished last season, but trading away James Harden may have hurt them a lot more than they initially expected.

    After finishing third in team scoring last year, the Thunder have fallen to ninth so far this season. When Russell Westbrook is averaging more shot attempts per game than Kevin Durant, there is a problem to be addressed.

    They will continue to be a prime contender, but in a stacked Western Conference, the Thunder will have an extremely tough road to get back to the NBA Finals for a second straight year.

5. Miami Heat (6-3)

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    It may be a surprise to see the defending champion Miami Heat this low on the list. However, having lost to three of the four teams ranked above them, they cannot be any higher. The Heat lead the league in scoring as many would expect, but it is their defensive play that is letting them down.

    In six of their nine games, they have surrendered over 100 points, resulting in a 28th ranked 101.0 points against per game. The Heat will be among the NBA’s best throughout the year, but at this point, they should have a better record than they do.

4. Los Angeles Clippers (6-2)

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    Despite a few slip-ups in losses to both Golden State and Cleveland, this Los Angeles Clippers team, to the surprise of some, is for real. Among their six wins were games against the likes of Memphis, San Antonio, LA Lakers, and Miami.

    The scoring of Jamal Crawford has been a huge addition to this already supremely talented team. If there were any doubts before, they have likely subsided now. This Clippers team has established themselves as a legitimate contender in 2012-13.

3. Memphis Grizzlies (6-1)

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    Reeling off six straight victories since their opening night loss at the hands of the Clippers, including wins over both Miami and Oklahoma City, the Grizzlies have been one of the NBA’s nicest surprises thus far.

    They are succeeding in all areas of the game, among the league’s top 10 in points, rebounds, assists, and points allowed, easily making them one of the best teams in the NBA. Friday’s matchup against the now undefeated Knicks gives them a great opportunity to solidify that notion even further.

2. San Antonio Spurs (7-1)

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    The San Antonio Spurs are sitting at 7-1 and playing their yearly brand of consistent basketball. While they do have the necessary scoring ability, it is that as well as their defensive play that will continue to carry this team.

    Holding the Thunder and the Lakers to 84 and 82 points respectively is indicative of just that. It is no surprise that the Spurs remain among the NBA’s elite.

1. New York Knicks (5-0)

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    The 5-0 New York Knicks remain the NBA’s lone undefeated team. Yes, they have only played five games, but one of which was a more than convincing 104-84 win over the defending champion, Miami Heat.

    The Knicks are the league’s second highest scoring team, while allowing the fewest points per game as well. What’s most interesting about their success thus far has been that it has come without Amar'e Stoudemire in the lineup.

    The Knicks’ biggest test will come Thursday night against the Spurs, where they have an opportunity to convince the non-believers that they are indeed for real. While they would have been pinned as a contender in preseason outlooks, certainly nobody assumed that the Knicks would be in the top spot even this early on.