NBA Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands Heading into Week 12
The playoff picture is emerging, and it's submerging hopes of certain fanbases. If the Los Angeles Lakers are your team, you're coming to grips with the prospect that your superteam might be a long shot for the postseason.
If you're a New Orleans Hornets fan, you're tamping down expectations after they were ratcheted up on draft night. If you're a Charlotte Bobcats fan, you're coming to the sad realization that your team is awful yet again.
It could be worse, though. You could be a Sacramento Kings fan. Perhaps your team's staying in town, and maybe it's been sold to Seattle.
Regardless of how poorly your squad is doing in the standings, be thankful if it's staying in your city through next season at least.
Stats, records and trends are accurate as of Sunday, Jan. 13.
30. Charlotte Bobcats
The Charlotte Bobcats stink, but there's still time to build a case for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist as Rookie of the Year. It will be hard to catch up to Damian Lillard, but MKG has been better than many realize.
Kidd-Gilchrist has been averaging 14.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per 36 minutes, claiming an above-average PER of 16.61. The ability to shoot and dribble remains a question mark for the rookie, but if he can be a decent player already without such skills, the future looks bright.
If it weren't for Kemba Walker, Kidd-Gilchrist would be Charlotte's best player. That says a lot about the season, and not much of it is positive. An underrated 19-year-old is the second-best guy on the team.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Sometimes it appears as though the Cavs are waiting for permission to build around Kyrie Irving. You can begin, guys. Trust us.
Saddled with the likes of Luke Walton and Kevin Jones, Irving continues to toil in futility. To make matters worse, Dion Waiters either seems unaware of Irving's presence or unwilling to shoot less.
Waiters' determination to shoot and dominate the rock has become a problem. I'd be ringing alarm bells about Irving leaving town, but the draft has him in Cleveland until 2016. You'd be an optimist to think this organization will successfully surround its star with the proper pieces.
28. Washington Wizards
The Wizards are so bad on offense that their league-worst efficiency is several notches below the second-worst Indiana Pacers offense. Actually, the gap between the Wiz and Pacers is wider than the offensive efficiency gap between Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Oddly, Washington is quite good at defense this season, ranking out at No. 11 in efficiency. Seeing as its roster is replete with the young and untalented, you would assume that the team would defend horribly. Not so, thanks in part to Emeka Okafor's play down low.
Some analysts have a different theory on Washington's defensive output, though. Aaron McGuire believes that all those missed shots lead to easier-to-defend scenarios. Whatever the case, Washington's offense doesn't really give the team a chance, even when the defense is playing well.
27. Sacramento Kings
It's hard to even assess this team without acknowledging that all of it pales in comparison to the madness surrounding it. How can you analyze a roster when the team could be gone at any moment?
There are conflicting reports on where the Sacramento Kings are heading and when, but we do know this: Their defense is awful.
The listless Sacramento/Seattle Kings gave up a historic 10 three-pointers to Mario Chalmers on Saturday night. Mario's effective field-goal mark (field-goal percentage with threes taken into account) was 106 percent.
Considering how Keith Smart coached the Golden State Warriors, it's no wonder that this is a league-worst defense. Even if Smart were a defensive mastermind, the talent isn't there.
26. New Orleans Hornets
Eric Gordon appeared a little slow and shaky in a 100-87 Sunday afternoon road loss to the New York Knicks. Then, in the second half, he turned on the jets and reverted to old, bowling-ball form.
When Gordon's healthy, the contrast between him and other Hornets guards is vast, even with Greivis Vasquez having a career year.
With Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon finally back on the court, this is starting to resemble an actual NBA team. Austin Rivers is seeing less floor time, which is also helping the team's cause.
25. Orlando Magic
J.J. Redick continues to be everyone's favorite trade chip, as he combines smart team defense with deadly off-the-catch shooting. According to John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com, Orlando GM Rob Hennigan has said several teams have expressed interest.
The Magic have likely all but eliminated themselves from the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how this team handles the trade deadline.
24. Phoenix Suns
Haven't they already been down that road with Michael Beasley? Granted, Beasley is a poor-man's version, but it's hard to see why Phoenix is eager to gamble on low-efficiency volume scorers.
On the bright side, their 97-81 road trouncing of the Chicago Bulls was one of the more surprising results of the season.
This team is in the bottom third in offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency and rebound rate. It's difficult to know what Phoenix does well.
23. Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers were in a tailspin before grinding out a Saturday win against the Houston Rockets. Jrue Holiday is putting up the same numbers as he was early in the season, but his All-Star buzz has faded with Philly's declining win percentage.
This team is far worse than last year's because the defense isn't the same. Andre Iguodala was crucial for Doug Collins' team D. What's so strange is that Iguodala hasn't really helped Denver prevent other teams from scoring.
This might be one of those circumstances where Iguodala was more valuable to the 76ers than he was to any other team. Sometimes the scheme and situation fits a player.
22. Toronto Raptors
On Sunday, the Toronto Raptors racked up a huge lead against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks, only to lose by double digits. In the game before this one, Milwaukee had all but melted into the floor against the Detroit Pistons.
The Bucks found their footing, and the Raptors found yet more frustration in a frustrating season.
Kyle Lowry was supposed to be the star of this team, but he hasn't helped much since returning from his ankle sprain. Lowry now appears stuck in something of a quarterback controversy with Jose Calderon.
21. Dallas Mavericks
The real Dirk Nowitzki is back, and you're all on notice.
Nowitzki has shot better than 47 percent from three over his last five games, and one gets the sense that he's been dying to get back on the court. He's always had a palpable affection for the game, but it's best appreciated after a long layoff like this.
It's enough to make you forget about how O.J. Mayo came crashing back to earth or about how the team mortgaged its future for nothing in return yet. Hey, at least Dwight Howard could be available in the offseason.
20. Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons are slowly positioning themselves for a run at the playoffs. That's all well and good, but I'd rather focus some more on their incredible rookie Andre Drummond.
While Damian Lillard should take home the Rookie of the Year Award, Drummond is the highlight king. You're bound to produce some incredible footage when you're 270 pounds and jump like this:
The hops aren't all that impress. Drummond's timing is often impeccable. At this point, I've moved on from lamenting Lawrence Frank's underuse of Andre Drummond. It's so much more fun to just enjoy the time he's actually on the court.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Minnesota Timberwolves have stumbled since losing (a hobbled) Kevin Love, contrary to what I would have expected. The wacky theory went that a hurting Love had been hurting the Wolves.
Well, Love's gone, and Minnesota still can't hit a three-pointer. The Wolves are now under 30 percent on the season, which isn't exactly what you would expect from a Rick Adelman team.
Ricky Rubio has not looked good since returning. That's more of an observation than a criticism. The guy is on the comeback from a torn ACL, and it's not an easy process.
18. Los Angeles Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers are on a win streak! Sure, it's only one game, and it came at the expense of the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers. But the win was decisive, and it featured a returning Dwight Howard.
If we're trying to build an optimistic narrative around this team, Earl Clark should be featured prominently. He's been great in the past four Pau Gasol-less games, averaging 12.5 points and 10.3 boards.
Clark was a high-upside draft prospect in 2009, and he hasn't exactly lived up to the potential. For all his faults, Mike D'Antoni has a talent for making tweeners flourish in his system. Could Earl Clark become the Lakers' Shawn Marion-lite?
17. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks looked like a mess after Scott Skiles left. They got blown out at home by the Detroit Pistons and appeared defensively clueless.
It's incredible how important Skiles was to their defensive cohesion. Without his influence, guys are just standing still, not rotating to open shooters for reasons that are as of yet unclear.
Last year, they were on pace to make the playoffs. Then they traded for Monta Ellis, and the operation got derailed.
A Sunday night road win over the Toronto Raptors inspires some hope, but I'm nursing the sense that Milwaukee's lottery bound again.
16. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard is an incredible rookie, and all who saw the second half of Warriors-Blazers can bear witness. His best quality is an ability to balance himself and launch upward after jumping quite a great distance backward.
Right now, Lillard has the most pronounced step-back jumper in the league, right in front of Kemba Walker.
The Trail Blazers aren't especially good at anything as a team, but they're competent offensively. I wouldn't be shocked if Portland made it to the playoffs.
15. Utah Jazz
Alec Burks has played over 20 minutes in three of the last five games. That might not sound like a substantial development, but it is welcome news for certain Jazz fans.
Burks has a smooth handle and serious hops. In some ways, he can remind you of a shooting guard version of Paul George. As of now, Burks gets to the rim ably, but he needs more time to smooth out his game.
The depth chart remains curiously crowded ahead of Burks. Randy Foye, despite below-average play, stands in the way for reasons that elude me. In a perfect world, the Jazz would embrace the youth movement and play Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter a lot more.
14. Brooklyn Nets
Teams sure do love to fire coaches right before an easy patch of the schedule. The Brooklyn Nets are winners of their last six, but four of those wins came against the Wizards, Kings, 76ers and Suns.
Over his past five games, Deron Williams is over 47 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point range.
You can fault him for having a rough shooting night against the Indiana Pacers, but then again, everyone has a rough shooting night against the Indiana Pacers.
13. Atlanta Hawks
For a little while, it looked like Jeff Teague would have a breakout year. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore.
Al Horford has been having a very solid year, but Josh Smith looks to have regressed. The role players—Lou Williams, Kyle Korver, Zaza Pachulia, Devin Harris—are playing like role players.
That said, this team has played above expectations after dealing Joe Johnson, and the Hawks look to be a lock to make the postseason.
12. Boston Celtics
Since Avery Bradley's return, the Boston Celtics have won five of six.
Bradley may solve Boston's defensive issues, but he won't help the team offensively.
The Celtics are undoubtedly a playoff team, but they need role players like Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass to step up on the offensive end of the court.
11. Indiana Pacers
If you don't love Indiana Pacers basketball, haters to the left. I'm coming around on this team, racing to their defense after they upset Twitter by defensively grinding out the Knicks in a TNT Thursday night matchup.
People hated the "all defense, no offense" game, but that's what Indiana does to opponents. Contested shots go begging, possessions run into a screaming shot clock.
That's how Indy does it, and it'll be a top Eastern Conference seed in the end. If the Pacers ever get Danny Granger back, this team will start producing points at an above-average clip.
10. Chicago Bulls
Is this the odd Tom Thibodeau team that paces itself? His squads are notorious for their constant grind-it-out style of play.
Well, it would seem that these Chicago Bulls are liable to get up for certain opponents and not show up for others. Against the Knicks and Heat, the Bulls are a (victorious) supernova of energy. Against the Suns and Bucks, the Bulls look lethargic and lose.
If Derrick Rose comes back as Derrick Rose, this team is dangerous again. The Knicks look vulnerable, and Chicago is well-positioned to make a run at the No. 2 spot.
9. Houston Rockets
The once-surging Rockets have lost their last three, two of which came against sub-.500 teams.
Peaks and valleys are to be expected from a team that slings so many three-pointers, so the lull is likely no cause for real alarm. Omer Asik might need some help on the defensive end, though.
Kevin McHale was forced to play his big man 39 minutes in a loss against Philadelphia. This is an issue, but Houston should make the playoffs on the basis of raining threes and James Harden being James Harden.
8. New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are regressing. They're playing like the basketball version of an airborne Wile E. Coyote after he looked down.
It's hard to gauge where these Knicks are headed as they try to incorporate Amar'e Stoudemire back into the fold.
I still think they're capable of winning any playoff series due to the copious amount of threes they make. They could also lose in the first round, because that defense is quite spotty.
7. Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors were, in large part, fueled by their depth. We might be witnessing what happens when that depth gets compromised.
Jarrett Jack might not officially be hurt, but since tweaking his elbow lifting weights (via Ric Bucher), he is 1-of-10 on his three-pointers. He's also visibly worse on the court, and he sports a large bandage after games.
There's likely a correlation between that and the Warriors losing three of their last four games. There isn't enough top-level talent on this squad to suffer what might be peripheral losses on another team.
6. Denver Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets look absolutely terrifying when they feast off turnovers and beat opposing teams in transition. The Warriors were leading for much of Sunday night's game in Colorado. Then, in the fourth quarter, the complexion of the game changed.
I loved the analogy David Lee made on Bill Simmons' podcast regarding Kenneth Faried. "The Manimal" is more of a speed-rusher than a power-rusher.
This means that Faried leverages his athleticism to get rebounds from all over the court and also from trailing in transition. We tend to think of board work as an around-the-rim activity, but speed can also be of use.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies are brutal to watch on the offensive end, but their defense is delightful. There's a real thrill in watching Tony Allen and Mike Conley rush at ball-handlers with Road Runner speed.
That's not the best part, though. I would encourage anyone watching the Grizzlies to keep an eye fixed on Marc Gasol. He's currently the best defensive big man in basketball, and he does it in such a subtle, strange way.
Gasol grazes and touches the opposing players who rush by him, as though keeping track of them via some sort of Marc Gasol echolocation. He does this while simultaneously shouting instructions to his teammates and skulking to whichever spot he's needed.
4. Miami Heat
Mario "(redacted)" Chalmers! It has little to do with Miami's chances, but let us examine Chalmers' incredible game against the Sacramento Kings. It's become apparent that the Heat are going at half speed, so we might as well indulge in the novelty that crops up along the way.
On Saturday night, Mario Chalmers smacked the Kings for 34 points on 16 shots. That might not sound incredible until you factor in that Chalmers did not attempt a single free throw to get to that point total.
Instead, he claimed a 106 percent effective field-goal mark (field-goal percent with threes included) by nailing an absurd 10 three-pointers in the game.
This was the night when Mario Chalmers finally played as well as he thinks he always does. Now that he owns the Kings, I hope he keeps them in Sacramento.
3. San Antonio Spurs
What's it going to take to keep Manu Ginobili healthy? I'm willing to pitch in some money if that would help.
Ginobili was quietly building a nice season after beginning the year looking like he might retire at any moment. Then, in a blowout win against the Minnesota Timberwovles, he had to exit the game with a hamstring strain.
We're not sure how long he will be out, but knowing the Spurs, they'll play this one cautiously. He will surely be needed in the playoffs.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Orlando Magic in a curious kind of game where the Clippers only drew six free throws. Whatever happened to "Flop City"?
I won't overanalyze what the home loss means because the other indicators are good for this team. Players like Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes have been consistent all year.
Grant Hill has returned to the lineup, but I'm not sure what he brings at this age. I suppose the Clippers could use more wing defense, but it's an open question as to whether the elder statesmen can provide it.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
My memory tells me that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers have played roughly one million fantastic games against one another. Sunday night was no exception.
Kendrick Perkins (a favorite punching bag in these parts) actually defended LaMarcus Aldridge quite well, even though he went off for 33 points. For all his faults, Perkins is a good defender against the proper matchup.
Kevin Durant remains brilliant, but he needs help. Against the Blazers, Durant scored roughly 38 percent of his team's points. The burden is shifting to Durant because Kevin Martin has cooled down, going only 33.9 percent from the field over his last five games.