NBA Power Rankings: Breaking Down This Season's Biggest Surprises Thus Far
With the Los Angeles Lakers flailing and the New York Knicks soaring to the top of the Eastern Conference, the 2012-13 season has already been filled to the brim with surprising performances.
That fact becomes most obvious when taking a gander at the weekly power rankings. It seems that each week one or two teams matriculate ahead of teams thought to be NBA Finals favorites.
As for this week's team rankings, keep in mind that they still aren't simply based on who has played the best thus far. We're only at the quarter mark in the season, meaning we don't have enough of a statistically significant sample size that we can throw all preseason assumptions out the window.
For now, the rankings are based partially on preseason assumptions, how teams have played and the seven-game series corollary. In other words, the Lakers will be higher than expected, and the Heat will be above the Knicks.
Just warning you ahead of time.
With that said, here's a look at the latest batch of NBA power rankings, where we'll highlight the biggest surprises of the 2012-13 season thus far.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (16-4)
It's been truly impressive how the Thunder have moved right along since the James Harden trade to sit within a half-game of the best record in the NBA.
Nevertheless, Harden's loss truly won't be felt until playoff time, where he picked up the offensive slack on multiple occasions—particularly against the Spurs.
2. San Antonio Spurs (17-4)
If I had a vote for Coach of the Year, I would probably just write Gregg Popovich's name in permanent marker atop the ballot until he retires. Absolutely remarkable what he does every season.
3. Miami Heat (13-5)
Can someone please remind Dwyane Wade he's supposed to be in the passenger seat of this Batmobile? The Heat shooting guard has struggled this season against top opponents, including eight points against the Grizzlies, six against the Clippers and 13 against the Knicks on Thursday night.
The defending champs are still barely clinging to top billing in the Eastern Conference, but it's up to Wade to keep it that way.
4. New York Knicks (14-5)
Alright, Knicks fans, I'm finally on board. After rampant skepticism about the team's age and ability to keep winning long-term, Thursday's win against Miami sealed the deal.
It took 18 three-pointers, seven of which were unassisted (a four-year NBA high), but New York without Carmelo Anthony soundly beat the Heat and is easily the league's most pleasant surprise.
Anthony in particular has been fascinating. Transitioning to a full-time power-forward role with Amar'e Stoudemire out of the lineup, 'Melo is averaging 26.5 points per game (his highest rate since 2009-10) and setting a career high with a 23.95 PER.
Others have cases, but Anthony is easily the 2012-13 NBA MVP through the season's first quarter.
5. Memphis Grizzlies (14-4)
They move back just because of the Knicks' ascent, but Memphis might have the most-complete starting five in the NBA.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (13-6)
After struggling to start the season, Blake Griffin has been back in superstar form and the Clippers have won five straight games as a result. They may be deep, but without Griffin and Chris Paul both being Top 15 players, the Clips won't contend in June.
7. Los Angeles Lakers (9-11)
The Lakers' season has been an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. They fired Mike Brown after five games—a move that only proved the team made a mistake bringing him back in the first place. And with injuries to Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, new coach Mike D'Antoni cannot even begin implementing his system correctly to see if the personnel fits.
All that said, the Lakers are still just two games below .500 and have the fifth-best point differential in the Western Conference.
This unquestionably isn't the way anyone involved with the organization saw this season going. However, all the underlying numbers point to this being a very salvageable mess.
One may quibble with their ranking, but is there any squad below them you would take in a seven-game series? Don't worry, I'll wait.
8. Atlanta Hawks (12-5)
Joe Johnson leaves, and suddenly the Hawks reinvent themselves into a defensive juggernaut full of guys who give their best effort on a nightly basis.
9. Golden State Warriors (13-7)
More impressive than Mark Jackson's reinvention of the team into a hard-nosed rebounding squad is the fact that the Warriors have done it without Andrew Bogut.
The oft-injured center has played just four games all season, none of which has come in the past month. Instead, Golden State has relied on offseason signee Carl Landry and David Lee to fill the void in the middle, and both have done so admirably.
With Lee, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson all scoring more than 15 points per game, Jackson has molded one of the more surprisingly well-balanced teams in the NBA. They may not be championship contenders, but the Warriors should wind up as a back-half playoff team in the Western Conference.
10. Brooklyn Nets (11-7)
Simply put, Brooklyn is a completely different team with Brook Lopez out of the lineup.
11. Boston Celtics (11-9)
Doc Rivers' club desperately needs help on the boards, so how Kenyon Martin isn't wearing green and white is beyond logical comprehension. Until the Celtics bring in Martin or a similarly skilled player, their ceiling is extremely limited.
12. Chicago Bulls (11-8)
Even with Derrick Rose out of the lineup, the Bulls keep chugging in the middle of the Eastern Conference. Joakim Noah is a bona fide star and may be the third-best center currently not wearing a suit on a nightly basis.
13. Denver Nuggets (10-10)
The Nuggets are among the NBA's deepest teams, but they're desperately lacking a top-scoring punch. Neither Danilo Gallinari nor Andre Iguodala is equipped to handle that role, so Denver could be in the trade market as the season progresses.
One more note: Please stop playing Kenneth Faried at center, George Karl.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-9)
Considering he's still recovering from a broken hand, Kevin Love has been nothing short of sensational this season. With Love, Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic, Minnesota has one of the strongest front lines in the league.
If Ricky Rubio is the same player he was last season upon return, the Timberwolves could be an interesting second-half club.
15. Utah Jazz (11-10)
Like Minnesota, Utah's strength is in the frontcourt. However, four different players are competing for minutes with vastly different agendas. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are in contract seasons, while Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are trying to develop into the future faces of the franchise.
Something has to give eventually.
16. Philadelphia 76ers (10-8)
Jrue Holiday is way better than anyone thought. Nick Young? Not so much.
17. Houston Rockets (9-10)
The Rockets are a mess most nights defensively, but on nights when the offense is firing on all cylinders, they're one of the NBA's more captivating League Pass teams. James Harden already has locked up the league's Most Improved Player Award, and Omer Asik is proving Daryl Morey right in the middle.
Jeremy Lin, on the other hand, is a little more concerning.
18. Dallas Mavericks (10-10)
With the relative success in Atlanta and Dallas, could the one-year stopgap team become a normal thing in the NBA? O.J Mayo is playing like $50 million is on the line every night (because it is), and the rest of the roster is a balanced group of hungry players.
Once Dirk Nowitzki returns, the Mavericks could become a team few want to play come May.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (9-9)
This is a column that is emphasizing surprises, and the Bucks may be the least surprising team in the NBA. They're a thoroughly middling team in every facet of the game, just like we all expected.
But, hey, Larry Sanders is absolutely fascinating to watch play basketball.
20. Indiana Pacers (10-10)
Remember when the Pacers traded Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones for Ian Mahinmi so that they could sign Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin?
I'm sure Kevin Pritchard does, too.
21. Portland Trail Blazers (8-12)
The Blazers' starting five is an interesting mix of strong young players who play well together and can score in bunches. Damian Lillard has been an absolute revelation as a rookie, with stats that are comparable to Kyrie Irving's from last season and J.J. Hickson is finally on the cusp of reaching his potential.
On the other hand, Portland has one of the three worst benches in the league.
22. Orlando Magic (7-12)
For a team that was supposedly going to be active in the trade market all season, Orlando has been conspicuously quiet thus far.
So that's a surprise, I guess.
23. Phoenix Suns (7-14)
Losers of six straight games. Things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better in Phoenix.
24. New Orleans Hornets (5-14)
Until Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon walk on the floor together, it's impossible to judge this roster's composition accurately. At this rate, don't hold your breath, Hornets fans.
25. Detroit Pistons (7-15)
Don't get me wrong, Greg Monroe is a very, very good young player. But am I wrong to wonder when (or if) he'll take the proverbial leap? Monroe is on a team where he should be the unquestioned No. 1 option every time down the floor, but he's noticeably passive at times. It's detrimental to his growth and the Pistons.
Remember, it was never his skill set that people questioned coming out of Georgetown. It was his willingness to be the alpha dog and penchant for disappearing for large stretches.
Just something to keep in mind going forward.
26. Charlotte Bobcats (7-12)
Remember when the Bobcats were 7-5 and hyperbolic fans were hopping on the "our team isn't that bad" bandwagon?
Ball don't lie, Charlotte. It's an improved squad, but one with cavernous talent deficiencies.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-17)
Irving's injury has the Cavs' record worse than what it should be and is overshadowing an absolutely brilliant season from Anderson Varejao. When the second-year guard comes back, look for Cleveland to bounce back and move closer to a middling team than one of the worst in the league.
28. Sacramento Kings (7-12)
29. Toronto Raptors (4-16)
Of the league's worst teams, Toronto is the one that stands out. Equipped with an All-Star-level point guard in Kyle Lowry, a mid-level scorer in DeMar DeRozan and solid surrounding pieces, the Raptors should have a better record.
They go 10 deep with legitimate NBA players and have played nearly all of their games down to the wire. The biggest problem is that the team has no legitimate star who can handle the late-game scoring duties and pick up the slack for guys who have an off night.
If there's one team that should throw its hat into the Pau Gasol trade winds, it's Toronto.
30. Washington Wizards (2-13)
While most of us may not be surprised with the Wizards' putrid play with John Wall out of the lineup, their management must be flabbergasted. Built to bring respectable play back to the nation's capital, Washington has somehow been worse to watch than anyone expected.
On the bright side, at least the team isn't locked into about $60 million worth of guaranteed salaries for 2013-14.
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