The 2013-14 NBA regular season is nearly one week in. That hardly offers enough time for an evaluation of a team's legitimacy, but multiple squads have offered a glimpse at what we should expect as the season rages on.
The question is, what's the current state of the NBA after this brief period of time?
30. Utah Jazz
PPG: 91.7 (26th)
Opponent PPG: 97.3 (12th)
If there's one team in the NBA that I believe has the best chance of sustaining success over the next 10 years, it's the Utah Jazz. Utah has a potentially elite interior with Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, a future star at point guard with Trey Burke and a well-rounded weapon in Gordon Hayward is on the perimeter.
Unfortunately, if you asked me which team is in the best position to earn the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2014, I'd also choose Utah.
Alec Burks is displaying mountains of upside as a scorer, but Utah doesn't have enough depth or experience to consistently win games. Burke's potential return from injury will breathe some life into this team, but the postseason is an unrealistic dream.
Utah's front office has done a marvelous job of building for the future, but the present isn't as bright.
29. Charlotte Bobcats
PPG: 85.7 (29th)
Opponent PPG: 95.0 (7th)
The Charlotte Bobcats have a better roster than they're given credit for. Al Jefferson ensures competition and Kemba Walker is a borderline All-Star at point guard, and that's enough to believe that the Bobcats will be better in 2013-14 than in 2012-13.
Unfortunately, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still can't shoot, Cody Zeller is promising but unproven and the bench is thin.
The Bobcats have been playing strong defense, but teams are focusing on Walker and Jefferson. This is forcing other players to step up and score, and thus far, that just hasn't happened.
Charlotte will be better than expected, but not until the players it's invested draft picks in can live up to their potential.
28. Sacramento Kings
PPG: 92.7 (24th)
Opponent PPG: 98.7 (17th)
The Sacramento Kings have finally built up a roster that displays promise for future seasons. Rather than valuing name value over ability, the Kings appear to be headed in a direction in which system takes precedence above all else under head coach Mike Malone.
That doesn't mean Sacramento will win in 2013-14, but the upside is undeniable.
DeMarcus Cousins has superstar-caliber ability, scoring out of the post, attacking off of the bounce and shooting from the perimeter. Ben McLemore is a stud shooter, Isaiah Thomas is playing at a high level and Marcus Thornton is embracing the sixth-man role.
Sacramento still hasn't received strong play from Greivis Vasquez, but if these young players can come together, this could be a perennial postseason team.
27. Milwaukee Bucks
PPG: 92.7 (24th)
Opponent PPG: 95.0 (7th)
The Milwaukee Bucks are going to be competitive. Milwaukee has high defensive potential with center Larry Sanders protecting the rim, and it could come together on offense with promising playmakers.
That latter statement depends on how well rookie Nate Wolters continues to play and whether or not O.J. Mayo can live up to his star potential.
Wolters has quietly averaged 10.0 points and 6.7 assists through three games, dishing out 10 dimes in his most recent outing. Mayo came to life in that same game, and that's where Milwaukee's upside exists under head coach Larry Drew.
If Wolters, Mayo and Sanders can play as their abilities suggest, Milwaukee will be fun to watch.
26. Boston Celtics
PPG: 87.3 (28th)
Opponent PPG: 95.0 (7th)
I'll be the first to admit that I underestimated just how bad the Boston Celtics are without point guard Rajon Rondo. Jeff Green is a star in the making, and the quality role players are in place for a star to lead this team to the postseason.
Unfortunately, that star is out with an injury.
Rondo's return will change everything for the Celtics, but until then, Boston should be aiming for .500. There isn't a facilitator in place who can bring this team together on offense, and that's the ultimate undoing of a Celtics squad that can scrap on defense.
Rondo will make this team a postseason contender, but it will be too little, too late if Boston can't find direction without him.
25. Orlando Magic
PPG: 104.8 (8th)
Opponent PPG: 98.3 (15th)
The Orlando Magic have one of the better young rosters in all of the NBA. General manager Rob Hennigan has pieced together a crop of effort players who all seem to bring the best out of their under-25 teammates.
Don't be surprised to see Orlando pull out some upsets in 2013-14.
A healthy Arron Afflalo is averaging more than 20 points per contest, and the likes of Tobias Harris, Maurice Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo all have All-Star potential. Jameer Nelson is still playing at a high level, and Kyle O'Quinn is quietly providing quality work down low.
The postseason is a long shot, but Orlando has loads of potential.
24. Phoenix Suns
PPG: 95.7 (16th)
Opponent PPG: 92.7 (4th)
The Phoenix Suns have started hot, and it's all about the rise of new point guard Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe is averaging 22.0 points, 8.7 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals after three games, improving and earning his teammates' trust with every passing outing.
It doesn't hurt that Bledsoe's partner in crime in the backcourt is Goran Dragic.
It's unclear whether or not Miles Plumlee can continue posting double-doubles or the defense can further dominate the opposition. What is easy to see, however, is that the Suns are playing with energy and effort that simply wasn't there in 2012-13.
Bledsoe has star potential, and if he continues to live up to it, Phoenix will be a tough team to beat.
23. Washington Wizards
PPG: 99.0 (14th)
Opponent PPG: 108.3 (29th)
The 2013-14 NBA regular season hasn't started the way that the Washington Wizards would've hoped. Randy Wittman's crew is currently 3-0 with a lack of defensive chemistry and a disappointing level of effort on the glass.
Don't underestimate how much losing Emeka Okafor will hurt this team.
John Wall is a borderline superstar, Bradley Beal is a lights-out shooter and Marcin Gortat is a well-rounded player at center. The role players have performed well, but Washington has been lost on defense as it lets up baskets that should've been easy to stop.
The Wizards' season is far from lost at 0-3, but for a young team, this start is relatively concerning.
22. New Orleans Pelicans
PPG: 95.0 (17th)
Opponent PPG: 96.3 (10th)
The New Orleans Pelicans haven't started strong, but the potential this team possesses has been flashed. Anthony Davis is displaying his world-class abilities on both ends, Jrue Holiday is learning to jell with Eric Gordon, and both Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson are finding their roles.
When it all comes together, New Orleans will flash postseason upside.
Davis has been the star, dominating on both ends with averages of 23.7 points, 12.3 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 2.7 steals. Keep in mind, it was Davis, and not Damian Lillard, who led all rookies in rebounds, blocks, steals, player efficiency rating, estimated wins added and value added.
Monty Williams' crew is going to be a scary team.
21. Philadelphia 76ers
PPG: 110.0 (4th)
Opponent PPG: 105.3 (24th)
I'm not oblivious to the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers have the least amount of depth of any team in the NBA. I'm also well aware of the fact that a 3-0 start is close to meaningless in an 82-game regular season.
The truth of the matter is, the teams at this point and worse are separated by so little that a hot start actually does matter in the power rankings.
The Sixers have a 6'6" point guard who's shining, a former No. 2 overall draft choice who's playing well-rounded and brilliant basketball, and a hybrid forward with a history of balanced success. That's Michael Carter-Williams, Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young.
There isn't much depth behind them, but all three players are doing what they're supposed to be doing. Should you be that shocked that the Sixers are competitive? No.
Will they continue winning at this rate? That's unlikely, but until it stops, it's what's happening.
20. Cleveland Cavaliers
PPG: 85.3 (30th)
Opponent PPG: 91.0 (2nd)
The Cleveland Cavaliers received a major boost when center Andrew Bynum surprisingly played in the first game of the season. As Bynum gets into game shape and becomes available for more minutes, Cleveland will be a force to be reckoned with.
Keep in mind, Bynum was the only player who even came close to rivaling Dwight Howard when he was last healthy.
Kyrie Irving isn't playing extraordinary basketball, but Tristan Thompson is reminding people that he's the best power forward on the roster. That's not a shot at Anthony Bennett, but instead an acknowledgement of Thompson's approaching star-caliber skills.
Cleveland has balance and star power. As Bynum goes, so too will this team.
19. Toronto Raptors
PPG: 95.0 (17th)
Opponent PPG: 93.0 (5th)
The Toronto Raptors have crafted a promising roster over the course of the past few seasons. There's defensive upside at every position, two respected scorers along the perimeter and an improving team chemistry that suggests postseason upside.
Keep an eye on Toronto in 2013-14.
DeMar DeRozan is flashing a significantly more well-rounded game than he had in previous seasons, specifically as a scorer. Rudy Gay is benefiting by receiving easier looks at the basket, and the defensive-minded interior of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas is smothering opponents.
As long as Kyle Lowry can remain healthy, the Raptors will win games.
18. Los Angeles Lakers
PPG: 100.0 (13th)
Opponent PPG: 105.5 (25th)
Thus far, it's been all about balance.
Xavier Henry has scored in double digits in three of the first four games, which is surprising considering he did it three times during the entire 2012-13 season. Steve Nash and Steve Blake have paced the team at the guard spots, Jordan Farmar has provided a punch off of the bench and the team's youth is shining.
L.A. isn't a title contender, but if it can remain at .500 until Kobe returns, the Lakers could be better than expected.
17. Atlanta Hawks
PPG: 104.7 (9th)
Opponent PPG: 106.0 (26th)
The Atlanta Hawks are one of the most underrated teams in the NBA. Al Horford and Paul Millsap form a skilled interior tandem, Kyle Korver is an elite marksman and Jeff Teague is a rising star at point guard.
The question in Atlanta is, how far can Mike Budenholzer lead this team?
Atlanta has the look of a postseason team, and its personnel certainly has the potential to jell due to its team-oriented styles of play. The absence of an elite perimeter scorer could be this team's undoing, but Budenholzer is a product of the San Antonio Spurs.
If anyone can maximize the abilities of the players on this team, it's the current head coach.
16. Detroit Pistons
PPG: 102.7 (11th)
Opponent PPG: 96.7 (11th)
In case you've been sleeping for the past decade or so, having Josh Smith and one other star on a roster guarantees a postseason berth. After watching it happen with J-Smoove and Al Horford with the Atlanta Hawks, it's going to happen again for Smith and Greg Monroe with the Detroit Pistons.
It's early in the season, but Detroit is flashing that potential.
The Pistons' interior trio of Smith, Monroe and Andre Drummond is one of the most powerful units in the entire NBA. Smith rivals LeBron James as the most well-rounded defensive players in the game, Andre Drummond is a menace on the boards and at the rim, and Monroe is a dynamic offensive threat.
The key for Detroit will be the progression of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the controlled attack of Brandon Jennings. If those two things come together, the Pistons will be a dark horse in the East.
15. Portland Trail Blazers
PPG: 106.3 (6th)
Opponent PPG: 102.3 (22nd)
According to HoopsStats.com, the Portland Trail Blazers led the NBA with 79.0 points scored per game by their starting lineup in 2012-13. The Trail Blazers also ranked dead last with 18.5 points per game by their second unit—5.6 worse than the No. 29 team, per HoopsStats.com.
Portland now has a bench, so its time to respect it as a postseason team.
Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum form one of the most dynamic perimeters in the NBA, shining on both ends of the floor. LaMarcus Aldridge is, arguably, the most consistently productive power forward in the NBA today.
As long as the second unit can put up points, and the quality of the recently added personnel suggests it will, the Trail Blazers will be one of the better teams in the league.
14. Dallas Mavericks
PPG: 111.3 (3rd)
Opponent PPG: 107.0 (28th)
When it comes to postseason contenders, the Dallas Mavericks have flown under the radar. Despite having a future Hall of Fame power forward in Dirk Nowitzki, a championship-caliber head coach in Rick Carlisle and a dynamic scorer in Monta Ellis, few are jumping on Dallas' bandwagon.
Soon enough, that will change.
Dallas was 28-18 during its final 46 games of the 2012-13 regular season, and that holds a direct correlation with Dirk getting healthy. Now, Nowitzki is playing with one of the game's best scorers, Ellis, and one of the top all-around offensive point guards in Jose Calderon.
Dallas may not be a title contender, but it'd be downright shocking if it missed the playoffs.
13. Memphis Grizzlies
PPG: 101.3 (12th)
Opponent PPG: 106.7 (27th)
The Memphis Grizzlies have made a series of very, and I mean very, questionable decisions. After winning a franchise-record 56 games and making its first-ever Western Conference Finals appearance, Memphis let head coach Lionel Hollins walk.
More puzzling, the Grizzlies targeted their league-worst three-point shooting attack—4.7 three-point field goals per game in 2012-13—by signing the injury-plagued Mike Miller. And no one else.
All in all, Memphis has gone from a championship contender to one you shouldn't believe in.
The elite defensive core of Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will make this team competitive. In terms of having enough firepower to go the distance, however, that just isn't a realistic dream.
Memphis took a number of steps in the wrong direction this offseason, and it will show in 2013-14.
12. Denver Nuggets
PPG: 93.0 (23rd)
Opponent PPG: 101.5 (20th)
The Denver Nuggets starting 0-2 shouldn't concern too many people, because this team still has one of the greatest home advantages in all of professional sports. Its interior is overrated and concerning, but Denver will win games at the Pepsi Center and be in the postseason hunt because of those victories.
New head coach Brian Shaw will even give them a chance to make it out of the first round.
The key for the Nuggets will be to play a more consistent brand of defense, because come the playoffs, things will slow down. That's been Denver's undoing in each of the past two seasons, and early in the year, it looks like the same thing will happen again.
Shaw is the perfect man to make this team what it's supposed to be, but it's going to take some time for things to jell.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves
PPG: 109.7 (5th)
Opponent PPG: 98.7 (17th)
If and when the Minnesota Timberwolves make the postseason—yes, that's a prediction—the masses will turn to the core of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. What those evaluators will ignore, however, is the fact that Minnesota is a postseason squad because it finally added a secondary scorer.
Kevin Martin's importance cannot be overstated.
Martin is an elite three-point shooter whose presence will maximize the efficiency of every player on the roster. Love is the individual who will receive the most direct benefit, as defenses will be unable to consistently collapse on him and his three-point shooting ability will not be confused with marksmanship.
Minnesota is the real deal, and in 2013, it will make the playoffs if it can remain healthy.
10. Brooklyn Nets
PPG: 93.7 (20th)
Opponent PPG: 101.7 (21st)
The Brooklyn Nets have the type of roster that is built to contend for the NBA championship. Unfortunately, Brooklyn also has a first-year head coach who has no prior coaching experience.
The ability is in place, but Brooklyn will be dealing with chemistry issues for the second consecutive season. That resulted in a first-round exit in 2013.
With a starting lineup that consists of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez, the sky is the limit for Brooklyn. Each one of those players is a former All-Star and all can take over a game in their own way or manner.
The question is, how well will Kidd balance a deep bench that includes Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry?
9. New York Knicks
PPG: 90.3 (27th)
Opponent PPG: 91.3 (3rd)
The New York Knicks have built up a roster with depth, name value, potential and two-way firepower. New York is led by the reigning scoring champion, has multiple All-Stars along the interior and trusts a head coach that has transformed the culture of the organization.
As long as the Knicks can stay healthy, they will contend.
Carmelo Anthony is one of the most versatile scorers in the league, and Tyson Chandler can take over on defense. The question marks for the Knicks have to do with health more than anything else, as players such as Chandler, Amar'e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani and Iman Shumpert have all battled injuries.
Depth is present, but New York has a major question mark due to the questions about its ability to remain healthy.
8. Chicago Bulls
PPG: 93.7 (20th)
Opponent PPG: 98.3 (16th)
The Chicago Bulls were a 45-win team without an established scoring threat during the 2012-13 regular season. With or without Derrick Rose, Chicago is an elite defensive unit, and it will be in position to win 50-plus games because of that.
It's now time that we stop blaming D-Rose's supporting cast and talk about the facts: Three games in, it doesn't look like he did enough work on his jump shot.
Rose is shooting 28.8 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from three-point range, and that's more on him than anyone else. Chicago clearly has other voids, such as the absence of a shooting guard who can create his own shot, but this is a defensive-minded team that will keep things close until the final minutes of games.
It's on Rose to develop consistency as a scorer if Chicago wants to fulfill its title aspirations.
7. Golden State Warriors
PPG: 112.7 (2nd)
Opponent PPG: 102.3 (22nd)
The Golden State Warriors are the most dangerous offensive team in the NBA. Not only can they shoot the three-ball at a higher rate than anyone else in the league, but when the game slows down, Golden State has an elite interior scorer, David Lee, to maintain the scoring pace.
If that doesn't convince you, try the fact that Golden State now has the necessary personnel to play defense.
Andre Iguodala is one of the top perimeter defenders in the NBA, Andrew Bogut has been infectious with his energy and Klay Thompson is making underrated progression on that end. Stephen Curry and Lee, meanwhile, are two of the top all-around offensive threats in the game.
A weakened second unit offers cause for concern as this injury-plagued team pursues a championship, but when healthy, Golden State can play with anyone.
6. Houston Rockets
PPG: 104.3 (10th)
Opponent PPG: 93.7 (6th)
The Houston Rockets' potential greatness was incredibly undersold during the 2013 offseason. That's surprising considering Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA, and there isn't a close No. 2, and the Rockets possess one of the game's best scorers in James Harden.
Three games in, it's already coming together.
Howard is dominating the paint, Harden is working the pick-and-roll as both a facilitator and a scorer, and Jeremy Lin is coming into his own along the perimeter. Most importantly, Chandler Parsons has been a force at small forward, providing quality defense and a quality scoring punch.
D-12 may not be the most popular player right now, but he's still one of the top five most influential stars in the league. Houston will be a contender.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
PPG: 95.0 (17th)
Opponent PPG: 98.0 (13th)
On Sunday, Nov. 3, the Oklahoma City Thunder received an early Christmas present when point guard Russell Westbrook returned from knee surgery. It was earlier than expected, but that didn't stop Westbrook from topping 20 points in his first appearance of the season.
There isn't much depth on this roster, but Westbrook and Kevin Durant can lead any team to 50-plus wins.
Westbrook and Durant are the key for a Thunder team that doesn't have another player on the roster who has proved capable of consistently scoring in double figures. Serge Ibaka can knock down mid-range jumpers, but that's the extent of OKC's established supporting cast on offense.
Until another player emerges as a reliable scoring option, I'm hesitant to believe in OKC's title chances.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
PPG: 113.0 (1st)
Opponent PPG: 110.7 (30th)
The Los Angeles Clippers lost on opening night, but the fact that some are already backtracking on their support for Doc Rivers' club is absurd. Aside from the fact that it's only three games into the season, L.A. has a star-studded roster with a former champion at head coach and the game's most dynamic point guard.
The Clippers are still an NBA championship contender.
The key moving forward for L.A. will be the development of J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley as sharpshooting wings. Chris Paul is playing at a legendary level, Blake Griffin is silencing the critics, DeAndre Jordan is posting monster stat lines and Jamal Crawford is scoring per usual, but L.A. needs consistent shooting to survive half-court dry spells.
If Redick and Dudley are able to step up, L.A. will show the world why it's the Western Conference front-runner.
3. Indiana Pacers
PPG: 93.7 (20th)
Opponent PPG: 83.7 (1st)
The Indiana Pacers finished the 2012-13 regular season with ranks of No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 1 in opponent field-goal percentage and opponent three-point field-goal percentage. Indiana is picking up where it left off in 2013-14, and it has a dramatically better roster while doing it.
If you think Indiana has nothing more than an outside shot at beating Miami, you're dead wrong.
After reaching the Eastern Conference Finals with the second-worst second unit in the NBA last season, why isn't Indiana getting more respect? It certainly deserves to.
2. San Antonio Spurs
PPG: 99.0 (14th)
Opponent PPG: 98.0 (13th)
The San Antonio Spurs don't have the most star-studded roster, nor do they possess a second unit with extraordinary name value. For that reason, many are quick to drop the Spurs down in power rankings because the roster doesn't have the look of a contender.
How many times have you heard that before?
San Antonio will rest its stars throughout the regular season and, even still, will be in position to win more than 50 games. That's the Gregg Popovich way, and after watching the Spurs reach the NBA Finals in 2013, there's no reason to bet against that approach.
It can be unconventional, but San Antonio will stick to the system that has won it four NBA championships since 1999.
1. Miami Heat
PPG: 105.0 (7th)
Opponent PPG: 100.8 (19th)
The Miami Heat haven't started the season as many expected, dropping to 2-2 with losses to the Nets and 76ers. There aren't many who have hesitated to criticize Miami, but we're still talking about the two-time defending NBA champions.
If 2-2 is enough to drop out of the top spot after that level of success, I must be missing something.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have struggled to get on the same page, and the second unit isn't doing much of anything. With two titles and a bench that's led by Ray Allen, however, the Heat are bound to turn things around.
I don't deal much with what could be, but the Heat have earned that luxury after winning two straight championships with this very core.
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