Power ranking NBA teams is always a tricky beast, but that's especially the case early in the season. Too often we are creatures of the moment, reacting to limited sample sizes and ignoring the droves of data we spent the entire preseason touting.
It's a flawed process and is ultimately why pundits' rankings fluctuate so heavily during the season's first couple of months.
However, by the season's midpoint, we have enough data to have a statistically significant sample size. For the most part, the teams that have been good thus far will stay good the remainder of the season, and we can essentially throw out most preseason biases. Luckily, that makes things like power rankings process a whole lot easier for folks like me.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the latest batch of power rankings from around the Association.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (27-8)
The Clippers and Thunder are so close at this point that I nearly went 1a. and 1b. with the rankings, but decided against a cop-out. Oklahoma City won out for one simple reason: consistency.
The Thunder have lost consecutive games just once and have fallen to only one below-.500 team all season long. They almost never play down to their competition, which is a testament to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of a select few superstars who never take a night off.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (28-8)
Chris Paul has been another one of those never-takes-a-night-off guys this season. After looking a little hampered by a knee injury during 2011-12, CP3 is back to full strength this year and it's paid massive dividends. He has the highest win shares per 48 minutes of his career, per basketball-reference.com, and has injected his tenacious personality into the Clippers.
The outward appeal may be the Lob City hysterics, but it's the man throwing the passes who is leading the show.
3. Miami Heat (23-11)
They're coasting. There's no other explanation for LeBron James and Co. losing consecutive games to the Pistons and Bucks, needing overtime to beat the Mavericks and Magic or getting beaten down by the Pacers as they have in recent weeks.
For now, Miami gets the championship pass. But OKC and the Clippers look hungrier at this juncture (which they should).
4. San Antonio Spurs (28-10)
Once again, the Spurs are quietly among the most exciting teams to watch play. They don't captivate with jaw-dropping athleticism like the Clippers nor do they ascend with individual greatness like a motivated Miami.
Instead, San Antonio simply plays the best team-basketball in the entire league.
5. New York Knicks (23-12)
After an early-season run had the Big Apple dreaming of Carmelo Anthony hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy, the Knicks have settled into what they will likely be for the remainder of the season: a good, but extremely thin basketball team.
Anthony, when he's not arguing with Kevin Garnett about a certain brand of cereal, has been nothing short of MVP-worthy this season. He's averaging a career-high 29.0 points per game, which has been spurred by a vast improvement in jump-shooting efficiency. Melo is shooting 44.7 percent on jump shots this season, per basketball-reference.com, which is right around five percent better than his previous career high.
Jump shots are obviously a shaky foundation to be laid upon, but Anthony and the Knicks will need those to keep falling to have any shot at individual and team awards this season.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (23-10)
If the Grizzlies trade Rudy Gay during the season (a reported possibility from Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski), we may have found the absolute definition of a panic move. Though the team is just 9-7 since starting 14-3, Memphis is still fourth in the Western Conference. Built on a foundation without many weaknesses, the Grizzlies are a team that very few contenders want to see in the postseason.
If the Grizzlies trade Gay, who wouldn't get nearly the same value during the season as he would in the summer, they're opening potential weaknesses they didn't previously have. Pray tell, Chris Wallace and John Hollinger, who would you get in a trade that would be better than Gay?
That's what I thought. Moving Gay would be change (roster movement) for the sake of change (money) done in a season where Memphis is still very much a contender.
7. Golden State Warriors (22-12)
The Warriors rank inside the top 10 in defensive and offensive efficiency and still have the return of Andrew Bogut to look forward to. The seven-footer's ankle has limited him to four games this season and hopes to return to the floor sometime soon (per the Australian Associated Press).
If he does, Golden State could be a team to be reckoned with in the first round of the playoffs.
8. Houston Rockets (21-15)
James Harden has been playing unbelievable basketball all season and deservedly gets all the praise, but he cannot do it alone. Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, the former of which I spent the entire offseason mocking, have stepped up their games and have been critical to the Rockets' recent run.
After a boorish start to the season, Lin has ascended back to the mean shooting-wise and has been great at distributing of late as well.
Houston is still very young and could very easily go on a skid against its upcoming schedule, but Daryl Morey has definitely started something that could be special.
9. Indiana Pacers (22-14)
They still miss Danny Granger's scoring punch, but the Pacers have done an admirable job reinventing themselves without their top scorer. Paul George still isn't the guy you want taking 15 shots and the Lance Stephenson-Gerald Green combo is cringe-worthy, but the team has made the best out of a bad situation.
That's about all you can ask.
10. Atlanta Hawks (20-14)
Atlanta and Dallas are essentially going with the same one-year stopgap roster strategy, but the Hawks are doing it better.
Well enough to keep Josh Smith in the offseason? That remains to be seen.
11. Denver Nuggets (21-16)
The Nuggets desperately need shooting before anyone should take them seriously as a playoff contender. If the Orlando Magic are interested, Denver would be a perfect destination for a guy like J.J. Redick.
12. Chicago Bulls (19-14)
Derrick Rose's return is getting so close that the Windy City excitement has reached its saturation point. Though it's unclear when the 2011 NBA MVP will return to the lineup, the moment he's first introduced at the United Center will be the loudest moment in any arena this season.
Until then, Tom Thibodeau continues coaching his tail off while Joakim Noah makes a run at the Defensive Player of the Year award.
13. Brooklyn Nets (20-15)
One Phil Jackson quote and four straight victories later and it's starting to look like P.J. Carlesimo will be the Nets coach for the remainder of the season (h/t Chris Sheridan of Sheridanhoops.com).
I'm not a huge fan of his coaching style over the long term, but it seems like Brooklyn's players have responded well enough for everyone to back away from the panic button.
14. Boston Celtics (18-17)
Doc Rivers' squad is slowly coming out of its funk on the defensive end, but scoring and rebounding are still two massive problems. The Celtics rank 29th in rebounding rate and 19th in offensive efficiency, which pretty much puts their pursuit of DeMarcus Cousins in perfect perspective (h/t ESPN.com's Marc Stein).
One has to wonder at this point whether that's a pipe dream and if Danny Ainge would be better served calling a team like Utah to try to rent an Al Jefferson type.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (20-15)
Their bench is bereft of depth, so the Blazers are exactly one injury to Damian Lillard or LaMarcus Aldridge from finding the lottery. However, until that injury happens, Portland can score with just about any team in the league on the strength of its starting five.
16. Los Angeles Lakers (15-20)
I'm finally completely off the Lakers' bandwagon. It took nearly a half-season's worth of sub-.500 play, infighting and controversy to make it happen, but this Lakers team doesn't have depth and their star players aren't performing well enough to atone for their less-talented surrounding parts.
They may wind up going on a run and sneaking into the playoffs, but hanging a banner seems out of the question at this point.
17. Utah Jazz (19-18)
Eventually, Utah is going to have to decide whether it is trying to compete for a playoff spot now or if it's in rebuilding mode. If they're going to rebuild for the future, the Jazz need to trade Jefferson and/or Paul Millsap and start giving Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter regular minutes.
As it stands now, this is just a team chilling in NBA's version of the Bermuda Triangle, stuck between the early lottery (where they should be) and a first-round playoff exit.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-16)
Kevin Love was an inefficient shell of his 2011-12 self shooting the ball this season, but the Timberwolves aren't going to be able to replace his 14 rebounds a night for another two months. It's a shame because a fully healthy Minnesota team could have been a top-five seed in the Western Conference.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (18-16)
Though Scott Skiles has denied it, there's a reason no one was exactly shocked when Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the former Bucks coach 'hated' his team. Abundantly talented and inherently frustrating, the team's backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis could drive anyone up a wall, and Larry Sanders may lead the league in both brilliant and utterly abhorrent plays.
20. Philadelphia 76ers (15-22)
Jrue Holiday's ascent definitely speaks well for the Sixers' future, but they still have an Andrew Bynum-sized cloud lurking over their season. They're not a playoff team without the seven-footer in 2012-13 and his contract status lingers over the franchise's future.
Until Bynum returns (if he even does), the City of Brotherly Love is on a lottery-bound holding pattern.
21. Toronto Raptors (13-22)
Those in the Great White North have to be absolutely sick that this wasn't the Raptors team that showed up in October. Since a 4-19 start, Toronto is 9-3 and playing like the team many thought would contend for a playoff spot this season.
22. Dallas Mavericks (14-23)
Even with Dirk Nowitzki coming back to the starting lineup, the Mavericks just aren't very good this season. They're 24th in defensive efficiency, 25th in offensive efficiency and have very few tradeable pieces that could make them better. With O.J. Mayo descending back to earth, the second half of the season could be a long one in Dallas.
23. Orlando Magic (12-23)
Roundly criticized throughout the offseason, Magic general manager Rob Hennigan is an underrated Executive of the Year choice. While Moe Harkless is a work in progress (to put it nicely), just about every other acquisition he made this offseason has panned out.
Arron Afflalo started slow but has been red hot lately from the field and seems to be growing into his role as a top scoring option. Essentially a forgotten piece of the Dwight Howard deal, Nikola Vucevic has averaged a double-double this season and should be Orlando's starting center for the foreseeable future. And with Andrew Nicholson looking fantastic in limited minutes, Hennigan may already have his future frontline on the roster.
There is obviously still a ton of work to do. The Magic need to choose which veterans are going to be around for the long haul and ship out the ones that aren't before losing some (namely Redick) in free agency.
Other than that, the future's bright for a team that many spent last summer mocking during the Dwightmare.
24. Detroit Pistons (13-23)
For as long as Lawrence Frank continues to play Andre Drummond less than 20 minutes a game, the Pistons will be my favorite team in the league to hate-watch. Once Frank gets the good sense to start playing Drummond more, Detroit may actually be an interesting team worth watching long term.
25. New Orleans Hornets (10-25)
Eric Gordon admittedly looks extremely rusty since returning from a knee injury. However, his presence alone is enough to vault the Hornets a few spots simply by virtue of permanently keeping Austin Rivers out of the starting lineup.
I'm of the school of thought that you don't judge a draft pick until midway through his second season, but boy it's tough to find redeeming qualities in Rivers' game.
26. Sacramento Kings (13-23)
Problems with the roster continue to be glaring, but at least the Kings are making one correct roster move by not trading DeMarcus Cousins. He's a certainly a troubled player. No one denies that. But Cousins has superstar talent and could wind up developing into the best center in the league someday.
That type of player is such a rare commodity that the Kings—or should I say the Seattle Supersonics?—cannot panic and make a move already. Let the season play out and if Cousins continues to be a malcontent, start a bidding war during the summer months.
27. Phoenix Suns (12-25)
Most expected the Suns to be bad this season. They were moving on from the best player their franchise has ever known and there tends to be an adjustment period.
Unfortunately, there are no positive building blocks Phoenix can point to for the future. Goran Dragic has been solid as a starter and Marcin Gortat is talented, but the former is ultimately replacement-level and the latter may not be long for the franchise according to AZCentral.com.
The Steve Nash-Mike D'Antoni pairing may not be working in Los Angeles, but Suns fans would gladly run it back one more time if given the chance.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-28)
The plan may ultimately have been to keep Anderson Varejao all along, but the Cavaliers are stuck with the big man now. His latest injury will almost certainly keep him out past February's trade deadline, which leaves just about every big-needy team in the league frustrated.
On the bright side, Tristan Thompson is emerging as a very good player.
29. Charlotte Bobcats (9-25)
Charlotte is 2-20 since starting the season 7-5, so there's not exactly much to celebrate. But Michael Kidd-Gilchrist looks like a burgeoning star and they have already avoided breaking their own record for worst win percentage in NBA history.
30. Washington Wizards (5-28)
Their season is over and they're over the cap for next season, but John Wall is coming back from injury this weekend.
When you're 5-28, it's the little things that get you through the day.
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