Ranking All 30 NBA Teams on the Panic Meter

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2012

Ranking All 30 NBA Teams on the Panic Meter

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    Each NBA team undergoes a certain amount of stress in its pursuit of success, but some teams are panicking much more than others.

    Only a select few clubs are cruising carefree right now. The rest are already facing mounting pressure and setbacks.

    Now that the Los Angeles Lakers have a little winning streak going, where do they rank on the panic meter? What about the struggling Brooklyn Nets; how serious are their problems? And how much panic do the defending-champion Miami Heat feel?

    Find out as we rank all 30 NBA squads on the panic meter.

    *Statistics gathered from Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.com, accurate as of 12/20/12

30. Oklahoma City Thunder

1 of 30

    Record: 21-4

    Panic Meter: Low

    With apologies to other contenders such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami, the Oklahoma City Thunder are currently the best hoops outfit in America.

    Scott Brooks' squad is enjoying a 12-game win streak that includes seven double-digit victories and wins against teams from all six divisions.

    The lethal duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook is as explosive as ever, and they lead the highest-scoring attack in the association. The two are also noticeably improved on defense.

    Brooks employs a modest seven-man rotation, but he gets ample production out of each man in that rotation. We can't argue with the results.

29. Los Angeles Clippers

2 of 30

    Record: 19-6

    Panic Meter: Low

    While the Oklahoma City Thunder are clearly the team to beat in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers are putting together a winning streak of their own.

    A convincing win over the New Orleans Hornets makes it 11 wins in a row and counting. Chris Paul's crew is extremely difficult to slow down, especially because it has depth in both the frontcourt and backcourt.

    An X-factor so far is speedster Eric Bledsoe, who stuffs the stat sheet in just 18 minutes per game: 9.4 points, 2.9 assists, 1.5 steals and a 22.9 PER. Sometimes defenses have more difficulty defending him than Paul.

    There's no reason for concern in Clipper-land, especially with a reasonable schedule to finish out December.

28. New York Knicks

3 of 30

    Record: 19-6

    Panic Meter: Low

    By winning five of their last six and 10 of their last 12, the New York Knickerbockers climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference.

    For the first time since he arrived in New York, Carmelo Anthony is scoring and making plays without hindering the team's offensive cohesion. Part of it is 'Melo's improved efficiency, and part of it is his savvy veteran teammates working off him so well.

    A gratifying sidebar is the Knicks' recent pair of victories over the Brooklyn Nets, as Mike Woodson's club re-established itself as top dog in the Big Apple.

    With a calm and lighthearted 'Melo leading this dangerous group, there's no need for any panic at all in Madison Square Garden.

27. Memphis Grizzlies

4 of 30

    Record: 17-6

    Panic Meter: Low

    Lionel Hollins' Memphis Grizzlies hit a little rough patch a week ago with a three-game skid, but they've smoothed things out with wins over Utah, Chicago and Milwaukee.

    The Grizzlies are playing some mean defense so far this season, and in their last three games, opponents have scored no more than 86.

    As long as the bench keeps supplying the necessary offense by committee, Memphis' strong starting five is poised to make life difficult for opponents in the spring.

    With upcoming games against Southwest Division foes Dallas and Houston, the Grizzlies have a chance to pad their second-place status.

26. Golden State Warriors

5 of 30

    Record: 17-9

    Panic Meter: Low to Medium

    Through the first month and a half of the NBA season, the most improved team in the league is the Golden State Warriors.

    Offensively, the squad is healthy due to a strong rebounding effort and more than 22 assists per game. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are connecting from deep, and David Lee is shooting 53.5 percent from the field.

    The other side of the ball is a bit more questionable, as the Warriors are giving up around 100 points per game and could use the help of their injured center Andrew Bogut. Mark Jackson hopes he can clean things up defensively before playoff time.

    Nevertheless, Golden State is one of the top five teams in the West and a legitimate threat.

25. Miami Heat

6 of 30

    Record: 16-6

    Panic Meter: Low to Medium

    The last couple weeks haven't featured the Miami Heat's finest work.

    There are some issues to work out, but Erik Spoelstra's squad will still contend for the Eastern Conference and NBA trophies this spring.

    LeBron James and Dwyane Wade continue to compensate for deficiencies in rebounding (Miami is last in the league) and lack of low-post offense and defense. It remains to be seen how much those inadequacies will hurt them in the new-look Eastern Conference playoffs.

    James has exhibited a poised, calm demeanor through Miami's hiccups, and Heat players, coaches and fans can't get too panicked when he's on their side.

24. San Antonio Spurs

7 of 30

    Record: 19-8

    Panic Meter: Low to Medium

    A little over a week ago, the panic meter in San Antonio wasn't moving at all. The Spurs proceeded to notch four road losses in five games, something uncharacteristic of a Gregg Popovich squad.

    Tony Parker and Co. are still one of the best-run units in basketball, as they move the ball better than any team in the league and score 104-plus per night.

    Manu Ginobili is a little banged up, but is that really a surprise or reason for worry?

    A string of home games could be good medicine for the veteran Spurs, as it may help them rediscover their winning disposition.

23. Atlanta Hawks

8 of 30

    Record: 15-8

    Panic Meter: Low to Medium

    There's not much shame in losing to the Thunder when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are on fire.

    I'd be more concerned about the blowout loss to Golden State and overtime win over Washington.

    Larry Drew's Atlanta Hawks won't get hung up on any of those games, but we have to wonder if this 15-8 club is no different than the almost-great Hawks teams of recent years.

    Atlanta has yet to prove it can beat the best teams in the league. When it runs into a top-tier foe, it loses more often than not. Josh Smith and Co. have lost both encounters with the Heat, both encounters with the Warriors and a game apiece to the Clippers and Thunder.

    That being said, 15-8 keeps them in pretty good shape.

22. Chicago Bulls

9 of 30

    Record: 14-10

    Panic Meter: Low to Medium

    Tom Thibodeau's Windy City ballers are taking care of business against Eastern Conference foes lately, and they're maintaining a winning record on the strength of their defense.

    The Chicago Bulls are a different, less potent team without Derrick Rose, but they don't lack for defense and ball movement. Those two factors alone are enough to keep them close in most games.

    Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have been the major workhorses so far, as each of them logs more than 40 minutes per night. But just because they see heavy minutes doesn't mean they dominate the ball: Chicago has five players who attempt more than nine field goals per contest.

    Although they're fourth in the East, the Bulls may not have enough firepower to topple the NBA's best (Chicago scoring 92.8 points per game).

21. Orlando Magic

10 of 30

    Record: 12-13

    Panic Meter: Low to Medium

    All things considered, the Orlando Magic have to be pleased with where they are at this point in the season.

    Just one game out of the Eastern Conference playoff scene and on a four-game winning streak, the Magic are playing solid all-around basketball lately. Not bad for a team that received the rubble of the Dwight Howard trade.

    Nikola Vucevic's emergence and work on the boards has helped Orlando dictate the complexion of its games.

    A winning record is within reach for the first time since Nov. 4, as the Magic have several winnable games on their schedule this week.

20. Denver Nuggets

11 of 30

    Record: 14-12

    Panic Meter: Medium

    Aside from a couple of close losses, the Denver Nuggets have seen great results in December.

    George Karl's up-tempo bunch can score in a variety of ways and light up the scoreboard quickly. Unfortunately, they seem to give up baskets nearly as easily.

    Recent triumphs over Memphis and San Antonio—two of the West's best—showed that the Nuggets can work effectively against two solid defensive teams.

    But can they slow down the perimeter scoring of high-octane opponents? And is Danilo Gallinari a good enough scorer to carry them through the tough stretches?

19. Milwaukee Bucks

12 of 30

    Record: 13-11

    Panic Meter: Medium

    The Milwaukee Bucks have won five of their last seven games, and while that sounds like a solid record, it could actually be fool's gold.

    Only one of those wins was against a team with a winning record, and the two losses were convincing defeats to the Clippers and Grizzlies.

    Although Milwaukee's overall record is 13-11, we're keeping the panic meter at medium because it seems like every possession is a mini-panic in itself. The rest of the Bucks team lets Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis have the ball, and they hope something good happens.

    Neither Jennings nor Ellis is shooting above 40 percent from the field. That's an inefficient way to win.

18. Utah Jazz

13 of 30

    Record: 14-13

    Panic Meter: Medium

    Double-digit losses at the hands of Phoenix, Memphis and Indiana have sent the Utah Jazz back to the drawing board.

    So far this season, the Jazz have been a different team each week. One week, they're out-gunning teams and playing in the 110s. Next, they're trying to scrape together points to compete with the Suns.

    At the root of Utah's up-and-down season is their inability to consistently defend opponents and keep them off the glass.

    Allowing opponents 12.3 offensive rebounds per game makes it tough to win on a nightly basis.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves

14 of 30

    Record: 12-11

    Panic Meter: Medium

    The return of Ricky Rubio brings a new dimension and a new energy to the Minnesota Timberwolves offense.

    But does it really make them the "much-improved" team that everyone, including yours truly, thought they would be in 2012-13?

    The main area of concern is playmaking on the wing. With Brandon Roy out, can Chase Budinger and Alexey Shved score enough on the perimeter to keep the Wolves in the playoff picture?

    Without its ability to haul in rebounds and defend, Minnesota would be in bad shape.

16. Portland Trail Blazers

15 of 30

    Record: 11-12

    Panic Meter: Medium

    The Portland Trail Blazers are 5-2 in December and are developing a knack for winning the close contests.

    Terry Stott's inside-outside combination of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard is giving the Western Conference a run for its money, but there are some disquieting flaws to address.

    First, the squad is having difficulty distributing the ball, as rookie Damian Lillard and small forward Nicolas Batum are the only effective passers on the roster. Portland registers just over 19 assists per game. 

    Secondly, they're having trouble getting stops and are susceptible to the occasional 115-point landslide.

    These concerns should be viewed in the greater context that this is an improved Blazers group that can beat anyone.

15. Houston Rockets

16 of 30

    Record: 13-12

    Panic Meter: Medium

    For now, the Houston Rockets' panic meter is moderate, but let's see how they hold up over the next few weeks.

    Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Co. don't have an easy out until January, so they better hope the Rockets' up-tempo play is still enough to compete and win a few of those games.

    Houston ranks first in the NBA in pace, which helps explain the 104.8 points per game. Unfortunately, it also makes them vulnerable.

    Can Harden and Lin thrive together on the court? Up until now, the team has been most effective when they're not on the court at the same time.

14. Indiana Pacers

17 of 30

    Record: 14-12

    Panic Meter: Medium

    Frank Vogel's Indiana Pacers are doing their best to survive without Danny Granger, who will be recovering from patellar tendinosis until February.

    Will they be too far down the Eastern Conference ladder by the time he gets back?

    Without him, there aren't enough playmakers to generate a threatening offense. And that's a shame, because Indiana leads the NBA in rebounding and allows just 90.5 points per game.

    Was the 104-84 dismantling of Utah a sign of things to come, or merely a fluke?

13. Dallas Mavericks

18 of 30

    Record: 12-13

    Panic Meter: Medium

    Even though Dirk Nowitzki's return is fast approaching, the Dallas Mavericks aren't home free.

    Rick Carlisle's squad has a porous defense, and low-scoring teams such as Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto are exposing it.

    Can Dirk fix that?

    Dallas' relative lack of size and poor defensive positioning has resulted in foul trouble and free points for opponents. Mavericks opponents are hoisting 27 free throws per game.

    Another reason for a bit of panic? Check out Dallas' remaining schedule in December: vs. Miami, at Memphis, at San Antonio, at Oklahoma City, vs. Denver, vs. San Antonio.

    It isn't going to be easy to climb out of fourth place in the Southwest Division.

12. Toronto Raptors

19 of 30

    Record: 8-19

    Panic Meter: Medium

    A 4-19 start made Toronto look like the most disappointing team in the league.

    But the Raptors decided to stomp two Texas clubs and then polish off a couple Central Division cellar-dwellers.

    It doesn't make them the most relaxed team in basketball, but it does prove they can defend. Toronto has held its opponents below 100 in its last six games.

    If they played like that during the first month of the season, maybe we wouldn't be talking about the Raptors' season like it's a lost cause.

11. Boston Celtics

20 of 30

    Record: 13-12

    Panic Meter: Medium to High

    Doc Rivers' Boston Celtics haven't won a road game since November and have scored more than 89 just once in their last four games.

    Consequently, Paul Pierce and Co. are barely above .500 and look like a pushover at times.

    They're tied with the Heat for worst rebounding production per game. Only one player on the squad, Kevin Garnett, grabs more than six per game.

    Boston's inability to rebound the ball puts a premium on every possession and leaves only the slightest margin for error. That style of basketball won't get them too far in the spring.

10. Phoenix Suns

21 of 30

    Record: 11-15

    Panic Meter: Medium to High

    Alvin Gentry's Phoenix Suns have assembled a four-game winning streak, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to worry about.

    The major flaws remain: The Suns don't have a prolific scorer or a pair of productive rebounders, and that ultimately gives them a low ceiling in 2012-13.

    Because they don't have that 20-point scorer, that guy who gives the offense a boost when it needs it, the Suns are unable to out-duel disciplined teams.

    It also doesn't help that they're last in the NBA when it comes to guarding the three-point line (opponents shooting 40 percent from distance). 

9. Los Angeles Lakers

22 of 30

    Record: 12-14

    Panic Meter: Medium to High

    The Los Angeles Lakers completed the first three-game win streak in the Mike D'Antoni era, but it's small consolation considering the opponents: Washington, Philadelphia and Charlotte.

    L.A. hasn't won a game against a quality foe since November, and there are still a slew of question marks surrounding this franchise.

    Now that Pau Gasol is back and his immersion is inevitable, the biggest variable is Steve Nash.

    How effective will he be once he returns? Will he slow Kobe Bryant's progress or empower him?

    Things aren't as bleak as they were when L.A. was 9-14, but there's still a sense of unease surrounding the Lakers.

8. Philadelphia 76ers

23 of 30

    Record: 12-14

    Panic Meter: Medium to High

    "What?!? There's no cartilage in my knee?" We'll assume that's what Andrew Bynum was thinking here.

    His deplorable health situation darkens the Philadelphia 76ers entire season.

    Without the lame-kneed Bynum, the Sixers are nothing more than a scrappy team without a true low-post threat. 

    The team's current five-game losing streak is proof of its weakness on the block: Philly was unable to keep up with a group of teams in the middle tier of the league (Houston, Dallas, L.A. Lakers, Indiana, Chicago).

7. Brooklyn Nets

24 of 30

    Record: 13-12

    Panic Meter: High

    After an exciting 11-4 start, the Brooklyn Nets have dropped eight of their last 10 games.

    That's a surefire way to get the panic meter cranking.

    The absence of Brook Lopez and his slow return has certainly hampered Brooklyn's efforts to compete in the Atlantic Division. Deron Williams and Co. have been markedly inconsistent offensively, with much of the action being forced.

    The Nets' recent losses to the Knicks have highlighted two of the main problems: inefficient defensive rotations and inadequate ball movement.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers

25 of 30

    Record: 5-22

    Panic Meter: High

    Kyrie Irving's return didn't spark a winning fire for the Cleveland Cavaliers, so they are now the (not-so) proud owners of a 1-10 record in December.

    Byron Scott's group is too weak at the forward positions to match up with many teams.

    And as good as their guards are, we must remember that it's a rookie-sophomore combination still trying to figure out how to be professional ballplayers.

    We're 27 games into the season, and Cleveland's goal is to surpass the lowly Detroit Pistons.

5. Sacramento Kings

26 of 30

    Record: 8-17

    Panic Meter: High

    The second-worst record in the West belongs to the Sacramento Kings.

    When you think about the talent on the roster, that's hard to believe. But when you see how inefficiently they play and how bad the results are, it makes perfect sense.

    Head coach Keith Smart has yet to find a suitable rotation and depth chart, and that's troubling. It means that more than one player is underachieving, which is definitely the case.

    The team must drastically improve its shot selection, or else it won't give its defense a chance to slow down opponents.

4. Washington Wizards

27 of 30

    Record: 3-20

    Panic Meter: High

    There's nothing wrong with a good group effort, but it's a bad sign when your leading rebounder (Nene) grabs 5.8 per game.

    But that's not the real reason for panic in the nation's capital. The real reason for Washington Wizards fans to get stressed is that John Wall is not close to returning.

    Thus, the team will continue to fail to make plays and will threaten to have one of the worst regular-season finishes in league history.

    If they keep this pace up, they"ll be 5-35 by the time Wall returns.

3. Detroit Pistons

28 of 30

    Record: 7-21

    Panic Meter: High

    Just when we thought we were seeing Detroit's young talent play up to its capability, the Pistons went on a six-game slide.

    While there are a couple of dynamic pieces to Lawrence Frank's offense, namely Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe, there's not enough ball movement among the different lineups Frank uses.

    Only four players on the roster are truly comfortable moving the ball, which means that the roster is full of ineffective offensive players.

    Andre Drummond leads the team in PER with a 20.8, and that might be the one statistic that drives Detroit to panic more than anything else.

2. New Orleans Hornets

29 of 30

    Record: 5-20

    Panic Meter: High

    What part of a nine-game losing streak is supposed to be comforting?

    The New Orleans Hornets can't seem to win with or without Anthony Davis, which has to be disheartening after waiting three weeks for him to return.

    Speaking of returns, Eric Gordon is still weeks away from his own comeback, so Monty Williams is stuck with what he has for now.

    The Hornets don't really have any single aspect of the game they can hang their hat on, and without Gordon they lack a true go-to player. In the paint, they lack the aggression necessary to battle opponents, draw fouls and grind out wins.

1. Charlotte Bobcats

30 of 30

    Record: 7-18

    Panic Meter: High

    At Thanksgiving, the Charlotte Bobcats were grateful for a 7-5 record and a step in the right direction.

    Fast forward to today, and the Bobcats are a miserable 7-18 and suffering through a colossal 13-game losing streak.

    Mike Dunlap's crew can't defend anyone lately, as the Bobcats have given up at least 100 points in 12 of the 13 games during the skid.

    What makes matters worse is they're not intimidating at all on the glass, and they're struggling to move the ball effectively and find high-percentage shots.

    At this point, the only panicking they might be doing is worrying about going winless for all of December.

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