NBA Power Rankings: Assessing Association Landscape Early in 2013-14 Season

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NBA Power Rankings: Assessing Association Landscape Early in 2013-14 Season
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The NBA's hierarchy is skewed heavily towards the Western Conference, which entered Tuesday's short slate of games with only three teams that were below .500.

As for the Eastern Conference, only three teams had a winning record: the Indiana Pacers, the defending NBA champion Miami Heat and the Atlanta Hawks.

That shows the disparity in depth and talent between the two conferences. If the regular season were to end after Monday—preposterous and premature, but still—the Toronto Raptors would square off against the Charlotte Bobcats in a battle of fourth and fifth seeds.

Hopefully the law of averages will help restore the balance of power in the Association at least a little as the 2013-14 campaign progress, but it doesn't look promising at the moment.

In any event, let's take a look at the league landscape at this early juncture and how all 30 squads stack up.

Note: Team records listed do not include Tuesday's games. Highlighted teams are italicized and reflect those that have contradicted early expectations.

 

1. Indiana Pacers (13-1)

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

At the epicenter of the Pacers' success is the rapid rise of All-Star swingman Paul George, who is a legitimate force on both ends of the court and averages 24.3 points per game—fifth in the league.

Lance Stephenson is also playing well as a 2-guard, while the frontcourt of Roy Hibbert and David West remains solid. George's offensive improvement is a bonus for a squad that allows a current league-low 87.4 points per contest.

 

2. San Antonio Spurs (13-1)

Any notion that this aging core of the Spurs is finished has been swiftly dismissed in the early going. An 11-game winning streak has silenced the doubters for Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who are showing no ill effects after coming up short in the most recent NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard is also continuing his promising development, and the Spurs are getting 11.2 points a night from Boris Diaw, who appears revitalized in San Antonio.

Also, Danny Green, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills have emerged as three-point sharpshooters, which should come in handy for the Spurs down the stretch.

 

3. Miami Heat (11-3)

In search of the three-peat, the Heat started slowly, but they have rebounded to win seven straight. LeBron James is the early front-runner for league MVP yet again, relentless in his improvement.

The Heat are more than a sum of their parts thanks to the facilitating ability of their biggest star. They are second in the NBA with 25.1 assists per game.

Miami may have as much star power as any team in the league, but its willingness to share and play fundamentally sound basketball are big reasons why it meshes so well.

 

4. Portland Trail Blazers (13-2)

The front office may have swung and missed on Meyers Leonard in the first round of the 2012 draft, but man, did they ever hit on Weber State product Damian Lillard.

In his second year in the league, the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year's shooting percentage is a bit low in the early going. However, Lillard has been the key to Portland's massive turnaround, along with Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum, who have played exceptionally on the wing.

LaMarcus Aldridge is putting up 22 points and just under 10 rebounds per game for a team that has gotten off to the second-best start in franchise history.

With that formidable quartet in the starting five, Robin Lopez providing a defensive paint presence and backup point guard Mo Williams proving as a capable sixth man, the Blazers are on their way to a promising campaign.

 

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (9-3)

The dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will carry this club as far as it can, but whether it's enough to emerge as an NBA Finalist out of the West remains to be seen.

Westbrook still shoots with a little too much frequency. Ex-Pittsburgh one-and-done center Steven Adams has been impressive as a rookie. Young backcourt reserves Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb have played well.

That puts OKC in a deserving fifth-place spot here. A better idea of just how strong the Thunder are will be conveyed in Wednesday's showdown with San Antonio.

 

6. Los Angeles Clippers (10-5)

Now that the Clippers have a championship coach in place in Doc Rivers—along with a fresher, younger roster—they look like a title contender.

Chris Paul is on a mission to prove he's the best point guard in the game, but part of putting banners in the rafters is playing defense. That's something Paul doesn't struggle much with. The same can't be said for many of his teammates.

The Clips are the No. 27 scoring defense in the Association, which isn't going to cut it. Thankfully, it's early, and Rivers has the personnel at his disposal—namely, massive center DeAndre Jordan—to right the ship.

 

7. Houston Rockets (10-5)

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The fact that the Rockets are leading the Association in scoring should come as a surprise to no one. What is a surprise is that they are not defending well.

Dwight Howard is meant to be the anchor in the paint, keeping the opposition at bay as Houston makes a push for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. That's proven not to be the case through 15 games, but there is enough talent here to improve.

 

8. Denver Nuggets (7-6)

Perhaps he isn't underrated, but Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson is maybe one of the more overlooked players at his position. Part of that is due to the depth of talent.

Lawson, though, is averaging 8.7 assists to just 2.8 turnovers and 20.7 points. In recent road games against Houston and Oklahoma City, he put up 28 and 29 points.

Now the Nuggets are on a three-game winning streak after defeating the Chicago Bulls and sweeping a home-and-home set with the Dallas Mavericks.

 

9. Golden State Warriors (8-6)

Superstar Stephen Curry continues to be a bit of a question mark from a health standpoint, and the Warriors just lost Andre Iguodala to a hamstring injury, which thankfully won't require surgery.

Since Harrison Barnes is available to fill in as a starter, Golden State should still be fine as long as Curry and Klay Thompson remain intact in the backcourt.

 

10. Dallas Mavericks (9-6)

Glenn James/Getty Images

As it turns out, Monta Ellis was a savvy free agent signing in the offseason. Oh, and Dirk Nowitzki isn't done. Apparently, neither is Shawn Marion. Or Vince Carter. These three are in their mid-30s, but they are partying like it's 1999.

Jose Calderon has teamed with Ellis as a capable distributor, too, which has turned Dallas (105.7 PPG) into an offensive juggernaut in the early going.

 

11. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-8)

Kevin Love is an absolute beast on the boards and as a passer. He's scoring the ball at a rate of 24.6 points per game. The talent in the backcourt between Kevin Martin (22.5 PPG) and Ricky Rubio (8.6 APG, 3.1 SPG) has the Timberwolves thinking playoffs.

Here's the glaring problem: Minnesota is shooting 42.5 percent from the field. That's not efficient enough to stack up with the best in the West.

 

12. Atlanta Hawks (8-6)

Beating up on lackluster opponents has been commonplace for Atlanta early on. The Hawks are 0-4 against teams with a .500 or better record.

Having said that, the Hawks have an underrated starting five with point guard Jeff Teague as the floor general and All-Star Al Horford and Paul Millsap up front.

The concern here is depth, which Atlanta simply doesn't have.

 

13. Phoenix Suns (7-7)

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Three of Phoenix's seven losses came without emerging star Eric Bledsoe on the court, but he's expected to return Wednesday, per B/R's Ethan J. Skolnick.

Markieff and Marcus Morris have been sensational. The twins are both scoring in double figures. After being one of last year's worst three-point shooting teams, Phoenix is shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc.

 

14. Memphis Grizzlies (7-7)

Losing Marc Gasol to a left MCL sprain could prove to be devastating for Memphis, although Kosta Koufos pulled down 13 rebounds in his first start up front against the Rockets on Monday.

The offense will run almost exclusively through lightning-quick PG Mike Conley Jr. and low-post stalwart Zach Randolph. Whether that's good enough to keep the Grizzlies afloat in lieu of Gasol will remain to be seen in the deep Western Conference.

 

15. Los Angeles Lakers (7-7)

A three-game winning streak should inspire optimism for LA ahead of Kobe Bryant's impending return—whenever it might be.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni has started 10 different Lakers this season, so there are plenty of players getting solid experience to begin the year. That should help them respond when the Black Mamba's comeback increases expectations.

 

16. New Orleans Pelicans (6-7)

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2012 draft's No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis is beginning to play like it, blocking an astounding four shots per game and averaging a points and rebounds double-double in scoring nearly 20 points a night.

New faces Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have to step up, as does shooting guard Eric Gordon, who has some of the most explosive scoring ability among players at his position in the game.

 

17. Toronto Raptors (6-7)

The lack of ball movement on offense is a concern, but the Raptors are a solid rebounding team that is playing top-10 defense at the moment.

Rudy Gay can create his own shot, as can point guard Kyle Lowry in addition to being a capable distributor and perimeter defender.

Toronto needs an impact player off the bench, and second-year guard Terrence Ross has the ability to do just that. Ross provides reason for hope that the Raptors can claw up these rankings in the coming weeks; he's scored in double figures in each of the previous two games.

 

18. Philadelphia 76ers (6-9)

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Michael Carter-Williams is electric on both ends of the court. It's scary to imagine how good the 6'7" rookie point guard can be if his jumper improves even to a moderate degree.

It looked as though Evan Turner would be a bust, but he's proving critics wrong, leading the Sixers in scoring thus far. Spencer Hawes is also playing great in the early going.

Thanks to MCW and a supporting cast playing with chips on their shoulders, Philadelphia shouldn't be dismissed yet.

 

19. Detroit Pistons (6-8)

Tell Brandon Jennings to pass more, because the Pistons have won just once this season when he's taken 12 or more shot attempts.

Greg Monroe and second-year center Andre Drummond are turning into one of the scarier, most athletic big man tandems in the NBA, while free-agent acquisition Josh Smith continues to be a bit of a wild card.

Whatever happens, this Pistons team should be fun to watch for the rest of the year.

 

20. Chicago Bulls (6-7)

The devastating torn meniscus for superstar point guard Derrick Rose has the Bulls in a tough spot yet again. As sound as Chicago is defensively, it still has a shot at the postseason thanks to the conference it plays in.

However, a dire need for a dominant offensive player remains the pressing issue and will continue to hold this team back until Rose returns—and he won't this season.

 

21. Charlotte Bobcats (7-8)

Credit the job first-year head coach Steve Clifford has done in transforming this mediocre roster into a premier defensive outfit that gives up just 91.3 points per game.

But where does the offense come from? Shoot-first point guard Kemba Walker takes roughly 15.9 shots per game and scores an average of 16.5 points. New center Al Jefferson is only shooting 43.9 percent so far, and shooting guard Gerald Henderson is below 40 percent from the field.

 

22. Orlando Magic (4-9)

There is a ton of young, intriguing talent on this team, led by Arron Afflalo, this year's No. 2 overall pick Victor Oladipo and standout center Nikola Vucevic.

This young team is on a four-game losing streak, though, and there should be more growing pains before the Magic are truly competitive again. The good news is a great draft is coming up to add another piece to the team's promising foundation.

 

23. Boston Celtics (6-10)

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Head coach Brad Stevens fled Butler for the NBA and was supposed to coach a tanking team. Instead, the Celtics have played hard for him, and according to ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg, Rajon Rondo's return has been hinted to be sometime in December.

If Boston can stay afloat in the East until Rondo hits the hardwood, this could be a surprise playoff contender down the stretch.

 

24. Washington Wizards (5-8)

Grantland boss Bill Simmons reported on Monday that Bradley Beal may miss extended time with a reaggravated stress injury in his right fibula.

That drops the Wizards' stock significantly, because Beal has been their leading scorer with 20.6 points per game. Watch for a drop-off in Washington in the coming weeks.

 

25. New York Knicks (3-10)

At least Carmelo Anthony is turning into a consistent double-double producer, but he's pressing a lot on offense and his shooting percentage has sunk to .429 in the early going.

The expected return of point guard Raymond Felton against the Clippers on Wednesday—as reported by ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk—should help New York function better on that end of the court. Nevertheless, this horrid start is cause for alarm.

 

26. Brooklyn Nets (3-10)

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

This whole championship-or-bust approach seems to have backfired in Brooklyn, if the early portion of the season is any indication.

B/R's Howard Beck interviewed a veteran scout about head coach Jason Kidd last week, and the scout said Kidd "doesn't do anything."

While that's a rather harsh assessment, it seems accurate.

The Nets have ex-Boston Celtic NBA champions Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the starting five, along with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in the backcourt with center Brook Lopez down low.

But Garnett is showing his age and Lopez and Williams have struggled with ankle sprains. Brooklyn's bunch is discombobulated as a result.

 

27. Sacramento Kings (4-9)

The roster is an absolute mess, and adding 2012 No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams in a trade, per Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune, convoluted things even more.

Williams is stuck between a 3 and a 4 in the pros, and the Kings have far too many perimeter players to dole out effective minutes. Supremely gifted center DeMarcus Cousins is the only saving grace, but his volatile temperament makes him inconsistent.

 

28. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-10)

Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

If head coach Mike Brown was meant to revitalize the Cavaliers in his second stint with the franchise, he's done the exact opposite so far.

It doesn't help that general manager Chris Grant has chosen rather poorly at times in the draft, as it seems only one of his past four lottery picks, Kyrie Irving, will turn out to be an All-Star.

Cleveland is incompetent on offense. Brown's area of expertise is defense, yet the Cavs are allowing 101.6 points per game. Facing the LeBron James-led Heat on Wednesday isn't going to make things easier.

This team has some pieces in place to contend, but they aren't jelling at all at the moment. Considering how weak the East is in the early going, this is among the most disappointing teams in the Association.

 

29. Utah Jazz (2-14)

There are promising building blocks in the frontcourt with center Enes Kanter and power forward Derrick Favors, but this team is really missing Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.

But at least the void has allowed for Gordon Hayward to step up more than he has in his career to date. When the Jazz land a lottery pick in 2014's loaded draft, they should be a force to be reckoned with with a couple of other savvy roster moves.

 

30. Milwaukee Bucks (2-11)

Just because the Bucks play in the East and have less talent on the roster than the Jazz, this is where they land—at the bottom.

O.J. Mayo is the squad's leading scorer with 14.8 points per game. Zaza Pachulia leads Milwaukee with 7.3 rebounds and Nate Wolters is tops on the team in assists. Brandon Knight has returned to try to claim a spot as the starting point guard, but is that enough to drag the Bucks out of the East's basement?

Not likely.

But hey, having the best odds for the No. 1 overall pick in this coming draft could be just what this small-market team needs for a revival.

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