NBA Power Rankings: Celtics, Bucks and Suns Lead a Crowded Field of Contenders
Another week is in the books, and ranking the NBA's 30 teams has only gotten more difficult.
There appears to be a level of parity in the league that we rarely see. The Boston Celtics lead the league in net rating (net points per 100 possessions), but their 7.7 in that category lags well behind leaders in previous years. And there are 11 other teams over 2.0.
There really aren't many bad teams, either. Only five squads have net ratings worse than minus-5.0. Twelve are between plus-2.0 and minus-2.0.
Looking at it through another lens, FiveThirtyEight's projection system gives Boston a 27-percent chance to win the title, while 13 others teams are between 12 and 2 percent.
The talent pool is deep, and it's spread wider through the league than it has in recent memory.
That makes for exciting, high-end basketball on the schedule every night, but it also brings a lot of volatility to the power rankings.
With the typical criteria as our guide (title prospects, recent play and a hearty helping of subjectivity), plenty of teams will be moving up or down from their spots in last week's edition.
30. Detroit Pistons (3-13)
Previous Rank: 29
Net Rating: -9.3
Cade Cunningham being out for the last four games (all losses) has given Jaden Ivey a bit of a chance to showcase himself. And the results aren't too shabby.
During this stretch, the rookie is putting up 18.8 points (compared to 15.4 before then) and 5.0 assists. And while the shooting percentages (41.3 from the field and 31.6 from deep) leave plenty to be desired, you can see why Ivey was a top-five pick.
He's quick, plays with loads of competitiveness and has a knack for getting to the paint.
Detroit Pistons @DetroitPistons
The <a href="https://twitter.com/iam_killian?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@iam_killian</a> x <a href="https://twitter.com/IveyJaden?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@IveyJaden</a> backcourt is in full effect to start things off👏 <a href="https://t.co/5kqY3XF0EJ">pic.twitter.com/5kqY3XF0EJ</a>
If Cunningham can ever rediscover the shooting upside he displayed in college and helped get him drafted first overall, Ivey's slashing will be even more dangerous.
If backcourts are forced to show more respect for Cunningham's range, driving lanes should widen for Ivey, who can score inside or spray out to teammates.
29. Houston Rockets (3-12)
Previous Rank: 30
Net Rating: -7.5
Rookies (especially starters) deserve long runways. It's too early to panic, but Jabari Smith Jr. is struggling mightily at what was supposed to be his offensive calling card coming into the NBA.
After going 3-of-10 from the field and 2-of-5 from three in Wednesday's win over the Luka Dončić-less Dallas Mavericks, Smith is now shooting 31.5 percent overall and 30.4 percent from deep.
Lonzo Ball and Jordan Poole are the only two players in NBA history who took at least as many shots as Smith and had a worse field-goal percentage in their first 14 games.
Of course, both of those players figured things out over the next few years (including as shooters). Smith could be on a similar trajectory.
28. San Antonio Spurs (6-10)
Previous Rank: 26
Net Rating: -8.0
The San Antonio Spurs are officially trending in the direction plenty expected before the season started.
After losing by 18 to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday, San Antonio has now dropped eight of their last nine.
The slide probably means it's time to start considering Doug McDermott or Jakob Poeltl trades (more on that later), but there are still sources of hope on the roster beyond the veterans.
Keldon Johnson has understandably gotten a lot of the attention, but Devin Vassell may be every bit as intriguing. After going for 29 points and four threes against the Kings, Vassell is up to averages of 20.4 points and 3.2 triples.
With his length and quick release, he has the potential to be a longtime three-and-D specialist.
27. Charlotte Hornets (4-12)
Previous Rank: 27
Net Rating: -5.9
LaMelo Ball has now been back for three games, and he hasn't been the instant salve some may have expected for the Charlotte Hornets.
The team is 1-2 in his appearances, but he's been on the wrong side of the plus-minus ledger in all three games and is now minus-28 overall.
In his first two games, he averaged fewer points (16.0) than shot attempts (18.0), but Wednesday's loss should provide at least a little hope.
Despite the loss, LaMelo looked a bit more like himself with 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting and six assists.
26. Los Angeles Lakers (3-10)
Previous Rank: 28
Net Rating: -6.0
This week may have offered a glimmer of hope for Los Angeles Lakers fans, despite the fact that their lone win in the last seven days came on the heels of a five-game losing streak.
On Sunday, L.A. managed a double-digit win over Kevin Durant and a Brooklyn Nets team that was seemingly rounding into form. And Anthony Davis looked like his old All-NBA-caliber self in the victory.
Davis had 37 points on 15-of-25 shooting. He also grabbed 18 boards and didn't attempt a single three. With as poorly as he's shot from deep over the last two-plus seasons (23.1 percent), any indication that he may be more intent on dominating inside the arc is good.
Perhaps even more encouraging, sending Russell Westbrook to the bench seems to be paying dividends.
Since he became a reserve, Russ has averaged 18.3 points, 8.1 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 1.9 threes while shooting 41.5 percent from deep.
25. Orlando Magic (4-11)
Previous Rank: 24
Net Rating: -3.3
The Orlando Magic have now been without Paolo Banchero for four games due to an ankle injury, and they've actually performed pretty well without him.
Following Wednesday's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, they're 2-2 in this stretch, and Franz Wagner is starting to live up to the expectations he set for himself coming out of EuroBasket 2022.
Even before Banchero went down, Wagner was starting to figure things out inside the three-point line. He's averaged 22.3 points over his last six games, but the more exciting development might be the playmaking evidenced by his 4.8 assists.
If Orlando can consistently get creation from him, Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr. and Jalen Suggs, the offense should reach a new level of unpredictability.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-8)
Previous Rank: 25
Net Rating: -0.4
Forget an All-Star selection. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander keeps this up, he's going to get some All-NBA consideration.
On Wednesday, he went off for 42 points on 14-of-21 shooting in a win over the Washington Wizards. And oh, it wouldn't have been a win without this.
SGA is now averaging 32.3 points, 5.9 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.4 blocks. And while those numbers are bonkers enough on their own, they don't quite do his season justice.
In an era dominated by three-point shooting, Gilgeous-Alexander is annihilating his competition by playing more like a '90s shooting guard (specifically, one you have to be real careful about comparing players to).
SGA leads the NBA in total twos made. The only players to top his average of 10.6 in the last 30 years are Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber and Hakeem Olajuwon. In 1997-98, Michael Jordan averaged 10.4 (he cleared 13 in seasons prior to the 30-year sample in question).
23. Chicago Bulls (6-9)
Previous Rank: 15
Net Rating: -1.2
Even with star power in the form of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević (hey, he has made two All-Star teams), the Chicago Bulls' starting five has been one of the very worst in the league.
DeRozan, LaVine, Vučević, Patrick Williams and Ayo Dosunmu all have negative point differentials on the season. And believe it or not, when those five are together, the problem isn't the defense.
In terms of points per 100 possessions, this lineup brings one of the worst attacks in the league. And it's easy to point to the absence of Lonzo Ball as a reason for that.
DeRozan, LaVine and Vučević are all decent playmakers for their positions, but none of them can set the table or engineer possessions quite like Ball. Without something closer to a true point, the offense often looks stagnant or devolves into far too much isolation play.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-8)
Previous Rank: 20
Net Rating: +0.2
Fewer than 20 games into an experiment that everyone knew would require an adjustment period, analysts all over the internet were writing (or podcasting) their best Chicken Little impersonations on the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Has it looked bad? Absolutely. The fit between the four stars (if we can still go that far for D'Angelo Russell) is clunky, at best. Rudy Gobert is finishing fewer plays as a pick-and-roll roll man than he has in the past. And as good as he is, let's face it, there's not much more to his offensive game. Expecting him to produce outside a heavy pick-and-roll attack will take time.
The biggest hurdle, though, may be the one in front of Anthony Edwards. After a breakout postseason in which he averaged 25.2 points, Edwards was suddenly asked to play in a much different context. Navigating space (or lack thereof) with Gobert around led to some rough performances (he was under 40 percent from the field in seven games), but there are also some hints that he's coming around.
On Friday, he scored 28 points and went 3-of-4 from deep. In Wednesday's win over the Orlando Magic, he scored 35 points and hit seven threes. With Gobert potentially clogging things up, Edwards may have to be the one who provides the spacing he desires.
21. New York Knicks (8-7)
Previous Rank: 23
Net Rating: -1.3
Just when it felt like New York Knicks fans might succumb to the annual feelings of doom and gloom that have generally accompanied this franchise for two decades, the team had a 3-1 week that included an impressive two-game winning streak at altitude.
The Utah-Denver trip can be a bugaboo for any NBA team, especially when both squads are playing well and the schedule squeezes them into just two days.
Yes, the Denver Nuggets were missing Nikola Jokić and Aaron Gordon on the second leg of the back-to-back, but New York overcame second-half deficits in each contest. Regardless of who was available, that's the kind of resilience that should inspire some confidence.
20. Brooklyn Nets (7-9)
Previous Rank: 19
Net Rating: -0.6
There's still plenty of chaos to work through for the Brooklyn Nets. Kyrie Irving remains out (though it looks like he's on track to play Sunday), and Kevin Durant just called out the lack of talent on the roster in an interview with Bleacher Report.
"Look at our starting lineup," KD told Chris Haynes. "Edmond Sumner, Royce O’Neale, Joe Harris, [Nic] Claxton and me. It’s not disrespect, but what are you expecting from that group? You expect us to win because I’m out there."
Yikes. It's hard to imagine the "it's not disrespect" caveat doing the intended trick there, but that lineup may have just proved something to the future Hall of Famer.
Thanks to a last-second tip-in by Royce O'Neale (who finished with a triple-double), the Nets just scored a road win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
And the most encouraging sign coming out of that game might actually have come from the bench.
Ahead of Thursday's game, Ben Simmons was averaging 5.8 points, 3.7 fouls and 2.2 turnovers per game. The team's point differential was significantly worse with him on the floor.
But he was plus-15 in the win, with a peak Simmons-esque line of 15 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists and a block. He went 6-of-6 from the field and even hit 3-of-4 free throws.
If this was the spark Simmons needed to get his confidence back, and Irving does indeed return this weekend, the Nets might finally get some forward momentum.
19. Indiana Pacers (7-6)
Previous Rank: 22
Net Rating: +0.9
You're forgiven if you were among the many who figured the Indiana Pacers would steamroll their way toward one of the worst records in the NBA this season.
The Domantas Sabonis trade that landed them Tyrese Haliburton signaled a desire to go younger. Constant talk of Buddy Hield and Myles Turner being available this past summer added to that notion.
Both of those veterans are still around and contributing. With averages of 20.6 points, 10.4 assists and 3.0 threes, Haliburton is playing like an All-Star. And perhaps most importantly, Bennedict Mathurin already looks like an NBA starter (even if he somehow hasn't cracked Indiana's starting five).
The first-year guard is probably behind Paolo Banchero on the Rookie of the Year ladder, but he can't be more than a few rungs below. Mathurin is averaging 19.9 points and 2.7 threes while shooting 45.5 percent from deep.
18. Washington Wizards (8-7)
Previous Rank: 18
Net Rating: -1.4
We could have a bit of a Ewing Theory situation developing with Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards.
They went 4-1 in the five games he missed. After dropping his return game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday, the Wizards are now 4-6 when he's in the lineup. Overall, they're minus-2.4 points per 100 possessions when Beal is on the floor and minus-0.2 when he's off.
And it's not like Washington just happened to hit a soft patch of the schedule while Beal was out. That 4-1 stretch included quality wins over the Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies.
It's obviously too early to declare the Wizards better off without their star and highest-paid player (they're likely not), but there may be something to the more balanced approach they can bring when Beal is off the court.
17. Miami Heat (7-8)
Previous Rank: 16
Net Rating: -0.2
The Miami Heat had a three-game winning streak snapped on Wednesday by the Toronto Raptors, but there are some caveats on both of those things.
The three wins included two against the Charlotte Hornets and one that came down to the wire against a Phoenix Suns team missing Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson. In Wednesday's loss, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro both sat.
Players being in and out of the lineup and Miami only offering brief glimpses of their ceiling have made this one of the league's tougher teams to get a handle on.
Still, the key components of a team that went to the Finals in 2020 and nearly returned in 2022 are there. When Adebayo and Jimmy Butler are on the floor, they're a very strong plus-9.8 points per 100 possessions.
And though the depth behind those two may not be quite what it was in the past, Miami has a knack for finding and maximizing guys. Herro should still be on the rise, and Nikola Jović getting to double-figures in his first NBA start on Wednesday suggests more help could be on the way (or developing).
16. Golden State Warriors (6-9)
Previous Rank: 14
Net Rating: -1.2
In Phoenix on Wednesday, Stephen Curry pulled his scoring average up to 32.8 with 50 points on 17-of-28 shooting. He also had nine rebounds, seven threes and six assists. He even had a block.
And the Golden State Warriors still lost by double-digits to the Phoenix Suns.
This is rapidly becoming the story of the Warriors' underwhelming season.
According to box plus/minus, Curry is playing at about the same level he did in 2015-16 (arguably the greatest individual offensive season in NBA history), but he's getting almost no help outside Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney.
Underwhelming offense from Draymond Green and terrible shooting from Klay Thompson are factors, but the bigger issue appears to have been turning the bench over to the youngsters.
Last season, Otto Porter Jr. and Gary Payton II were tied with Green for second on the team in wins over replacement player (value over replacement player times 2.7). Both, of course, are gone. And the bulk of their minutes have been replaced by Jordan Poole, James Wiseman, Moses Moody, Donte DiVincenzo and Jonathan Kuminga, who have combined for minus-0.2 wins over replacement player this season.
15. Los Angeles Clippers (9-7)
Previous Rank: 13
Net Rating: -1.2
The Los Angeles Clippers just wrapped up a ho-hum 2-2 week that included a 15-point loss to the sub-.500 Brooklyn Nets and a squeaker of a win over the lowly Detroit Pistons.
Given how the rest of their mostly Kawhi Leonard-less season has played out, those results really weren't all that surprising.
Until their best player is back and playing consistently, it's hard to see the Clippers as much more than solid. The problem, of course, is that its getting increasingly difficult to imagine that "until" coming true.
He returned for Thursday's win over the Pistons, but played only 25 minutes and went 2-of-8 from the field. After sitting out all of last season rehabbing a torn ACL and only logging 67 total minutes so far in 2022-23, any playing time is suddenly cause for celebration, but it hardly answers questions or inspires confidence in his long-term prospects.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (7-7)
Previous Rank: 17
Net Rating: +2.3
After two straight seasons in the heart of the MVP debate, Joel Embiid had had a relatively quiet start to 2022-23. Luka Dončić, Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo were grabbing plenty of national headlines, while Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers were stumbling to a below-.500 record out of the gate.
At least, that was the case until Embiid pulled the Sixers to an even record with one of the greatest individual performances in league history.
Against the Utah Jazz on Sunday, Embiid totaled 59 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, seven blocks and a steal. It was the kind of performance the NBA hasn't seen since Wilt Chamberlain was dominating in the 1960s.
Micah Adams @MicahAdams13
Blocks became official in 1973-74.<br><br>Officially, Joel Embiid is the 1st player with 50 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks in a single game.<br><br>Unofficially, Wilt Chamberlain did it 22 times... at least.<br><br>Shout out <a href="https://t.co/EVHjUZDtx8">https://t.co/EVHjUZDtx8</a> Wilt's entire unofficial game log.
With or without James Harden (who's still out with a foot injury), this version of Embiid makes Philly a contender. The goal now should be making sure that version is still around when Harden returns, even if that means the former MVP takes a slight step back.
13. Atlanta Hawks (9-6)
Previous Rank: 9
Net Rating: +0.4
Last week, we acknowledged Trae Young's early-season shooting woes. This week, it's time to nudge the panic meter up a notch.
During Atlanta's 2-2 week, Young added four more performances in which he shot worse than 50 percent from the field. For the season, he's only hit at least half his shots in one game.
Needless to say, the Hawks can't reach their peak if Young stays below 40 percent from the field.
12. Sacramento Kings (8-6)
Previous Rank: 21
Net Rating: +3.6
After starting 0-4, the Sacramento Kings have now won five straight and eight of their last 10. And their ritual of "lighting the beam" after wins is taking over NBA Twitter.
Sacramento Kings @SacramentoKings
Mezie does the honors and LIGHTS THE BEAM! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/KingsFTW?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#KingsFTW</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/Chimezie_Metu?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Chimezie_Metu</a> <a href="https://t.co/MU8q6vy1BT">pic.twitter.com/MU8q6vy1BT</a>
Toward the end of Thursday's win over the San Antonio Spurs, the crowd broke out in a "light the beam" chant. WorldWideWob puts up a different Kings-ified, "light the beam" video after each win. And the gimmick is backed up by one of the game's most exciting offenses (they're second in offensive rating).
There's plenty to highlight. Kevin Huerter is having a breakout season. Domantas Sabonis' versatility seems to unlock everyone's potential. And De'Aaron Fox appears to be back on an All-Star trajectory.
What we'll focus on here is Fox's chemistry with his college teammate, Malik Monk. When those two are on the floor, Sacramento scores 120.8 points per 100 possessions. And each seems to have a preternatural sense for where the other is.
With these two playing as well as they are, the rest of the core clicking and plenty of development seemingly en route for Keegan Murray, it's getting pretty easy to buy in on the Kings.
11. Utah Jazz (10-6)
Previous Rank: 6
Net Rating: +3.8
After a 10-3 start that included plenty of quality wins, it was beginning to feel like the pluckier-than-expected Utah Jazz would never come back to earth.
A winless week that ended with a home dud against the New York Knicks changed that.
The mini-slide nudged the Jazz closer to play-in range in the standings and pushed the defense outside the top 10.
Utah gave up 118 to the Knicks and 121 to the Washington Wizards. And in between those two contests, Joel Embiid dropped 59 on them.
The team's ball and player movement makes Utah a tough cover (and probably should all season), but its overly aggressive defensive scheme could make it ripe for exploitation on that end.
10. New Orleans Pelicans (9-6)
Previous Rank: 12
Net Rating: +4.6
CJ McCollum is emerging from a pretty gnarly slump at the perfect time.
Over four games from November 7 to November 12, McCollum averaged 9.5 points on 13.8 shots per game. Then, with Zion Williamson missing the New Orleans Pelicans' last two games, McCollum put up 26.5 points in back-to-back victories over the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls.
It still feels like there's some jelling to come for McCollum, Zion, Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valančiūnas, but getting CJ's jumper back is a heck of a start.
If Zion and Valančiūnas are going to share the floor, New Orleans will need as much shooting as possible at the other three spots (or it might have to unleash Jonas from three). McCollum and Ingram can provide plenty.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-6)
Previous Rank: 5
Net Rating: +5.1
After starting 8-1, the Cleveland Cavaliers suddenly find themselves in a bit of a tailspin.
They can probably be forgiven for the loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves that Donovan Mitchell missed, but he's been available for every other contest in this five-game losing streak.
And this slide may force the Cavs to think about more aggressively staggering his and Darius Garland's minutes.
On the year, Cleveland is minus-4.8 points per 100 possessions when Mitchell and Garland share the floor. It's plus-2.4 when Garland plays without Mitchell and plus-13.7 when Mitchell plays without Garland.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (10-5)
Previous Rank: 10
Net Rating: +2.0
After starting 4-0, the Portland Trail Blazers have leveled off a bit, but we're far enough along to buy this team's chances to remain in playoff contention all season.
The turnover that began with the CJ McCollum trade last season is paying dividends (particularly in the form of Jerami Grant, who's averaging 20.1 points), but their season will still be decided by the lone superstar.
After struggling to 24.0 points on 40.2 percent shooting in 29 appearances last season, Damian Lillard appears to be all the way back. After dropping 25 in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, he's now averaging 27.6 points while shooting 44.3 percent from the field.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (9-6)
Previous Rank: 7
Net Rating: 0.0
The Memphis Grizzlies went 1-2 this week, but their biggest loss came from a sprained toe that will keep Desmond Bane out for two to three weeks.
And that massive swing isn't just the result of the stellar floor spacing that Bane has provided in the past (though he's still doing that). Bane's doing more as a creator for himself and others than he ever has. His absence will tax Ja Morant, who's already shouldering a heavy burden.
On the bright side, Jaren Jackson Jr. made his season debut in Tuesday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. And while his shooting line of 3-of-14 from the field and 0-of-7 from deep suggests he has a lot of rust to knock off, his five blocks were a reminder of the defensive impact he can have.
Assuming he's still available whenever Bane returns, we should finally get a chance to see what the fully actualized 2022-23 Grizzlies look like.
6. Dallas Mavericks (8-6)
Previous Rank: 11
Net Rating: +2.7
We got a good look at the Luka Dončić-less Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night. And, uh, it went about as you probably expected.
Against the Victor Wembanyama-chasing Houston Rockets, Dallas lost and didn't have a single starter get to double-figures. Spencer Dinwiddie, ostensibly in the Luka role, had 10 assists but went 3-of-18 from the field and was minus-10.
Any team would look rough without its best player, but it's more pronounced for the Mavericks, who might need a little more ball-handling even when Dončić is available.
Right now, Luka currently leads the league in time of possession and average seconds per touch (and both by pretty significant margins).
5. Toronto Raptors (9-7)
Previous Rank: 8
Net Rating: +2.9
It feels like the Toronto Raptors have the talent to be better than two games above .500, but it's still early and Pascal Siakam has now missed seven games. There's plenty of time for things to coalesce.
One of the keys to that happening might be Scottie Barnes focusing a bit more on creating for others (as he did in college). So far this season, he seems to be pressing a bit as a scorer.
NBA University @NBA_University
Scottie Barnes dribbling 10 times to clank a contested 12 footer…<br><br>He’s currently generating 0.72 points per possession in isolation, which is 5th worst in the NBA among players who use at least 2 ISO possessions/g. Need some more creativity from Scottie and Toronto’s offense. <a href="https://t.co/TAMdwTFfs8">pic.twitter.com/TAMdwTFfs8</a>
Toronto is still significantly better when Barnes is on the floor, thanks in large part to his defense and versatility, but a dip in field-goal percentage isn't ideal. And the Raptors reaching their ultimate potential is probably tied to Barnes reaching his.
4. Denver Nuggets (9-5)
Previous Rank: 4
Net Rating: +2.2
Even with Nikola Jokić (health and safety protocols) and Aaron Gordon (non-Covid illness) both out, the Denver Nuggets reached a 94.7 percent win probability in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's loss to the New York Knicks, per ESPN.
They didn't have the juice to close out the game, but playing that competitively without the two-time MVP and arguably the team's second-best player so far this season was encouraging.
If Jamal Murray can keep up his recent play after those two get back, Denver will be able to push for the top spot in the West. Over his last eight games, Murray is averaging 19.1 points, 5.5 assists and 1.9 threes while shooting 38.5 percent from deep.
3. Phoenix Suns (9-5)
Previous Rank: 2
Net Rating: +6.7
The Phoenix Suns are 3-4 in their last seven contests, and two of those losses came without Chris Paul in the lineup (he missed his fourth straight game Wednesday with heel soreness).
The lack of his steady hand and playmaking has been apparent, but this opportunity for Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Payne to stretch could pay off in the long run.
During CP3's absence, Booker is averaging 25.3 points and 7.5 assists, Payne is at 20.8 points and 6.0 assists and Bridges is adding 19.3 points and 5.5 dimes. All three are over 40 percent from deep in this stretch.
Maintaining this playmaking and confidence after Paul returns could take a lot of responsibility off the 37-year-old's shoulders.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (11-3)
Previous Rank: 1
Net Rating: +5.1
Spells like the one Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently in are rare. Over the last couple weeks he's actually looked, dare we say, mortal?
He's missed three of the Milwaukee Bucks' last six games with knee soreness. He's been below 50 percent from the field in each of the last five games he's actually played.
Still, Milwaukee is third in the league in net rating. Khris Middleton has yet to play a second and the team is 8-1 when Giannis, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez are all available.
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are more than fine.
1. Boston Celtics (12-3)
Previous Rank: 3
Net Rating: +7.7
There are plenty of things you could focus on with the red-hot Boston Celtics. Jayson Tatum's MVP candidacy is the most obvious talking point. Jaylen Brown is averaging a career high in points. On Wednesday, they beat the Atlanta Hawks at home without Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon.
When you're 12-3 (and 4-0 over the week in question), there is a lot to talk about.
Here, we'll focus on the contributions of a little-known role player (often a key for contenders reaching that status).
In Wednesday's win, Sam Hauser was plus-35 in 27 minutes and went 5-of-6 from three. On the season, he's now shooting 48.5 percent from deep. Boston is plus-24.0 points per 100 possessions with Hauser on the floor and minus-0.3 when he's off. It's plus-29.9 when Hauser shares the floor with Tatum.
Stat of the Week
The league average offensive rating is currently 112.4, which is the highest mark on record. The average of 112.7 points per team per game is the highest mark since 1969-70.
And while the slight increase in pace from last season and a years-long trend of increased three-point volume certainly helps, there are other offensive skills at play here.
The NBA is also on pace to have its highest average free-throw percentage at 78.3. The 24.9 assists per game is as high as that number has been since 1989-90.
As explained by Thinking Basketball's Ben Taylor, rule changes have certainly helped with this offensive revolution, but there's no doubt players are also more generally skilled than they've been in the past.
Regardless of position, all players are increasingly expected to be able to dribble, pass and shoot. And the wealth of skill on the floor has led to varied, dynamic attacks that would be difficult to stop in any era.
Fake Trade of the Week
The Deal: Danilo Gallinari, Noah Vonleh and a top-10 protected 2026 first-round pick for Jakob Poeltl
Better-than-expected starts from the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Utah Jazz may have changed the approach of each when it comes to their remaining veterans.
Before the season started, trades involving Jakob Poeltl, Doug McDermott, Myles Turner, Buddy Hield, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay felt like foregone conclusions.
Any of the above moving now is at least a little farther from certain, but Poeltl's name was connected with the Boston Celtics this week.
"So the question is, ‘does this team need to go out and try to get another big man who can defend?’" ESPN's Brian Windhorst asked on The Hoop Collective podcast. "The name that has come up in ways people have speculated has been Jakob Poeltl from the Spurs."
With Robert Williams III still without a timeline for a return, going after Poeltl makes sense for the Celtics, who are currently 16th in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions (after finishing first in 2021-22).
He's not as mobile on the perimeter as Williams, but Poeltl takes up even more space inside, has high-end defensive instincts around the rim and might be underrated on the other end.
Since the start of last season, Poeltl is averaging 13.4 points, 3.8 offensive rebounds and 3.0 assists in just 28.9 minutes. There are only eight players in league history who matched or exceeded all three of those marks in a two-year span, and five of them are Hall of Famers. Add Poeltl's 62.5 field-goal percentage and he's the only player on that list.
The extra possessions, ball movement and decent touch in the paint would make Poeltl an instant fit alongside the Celtics' starters or bench. And while the frontcourt rotation might be a little crowded upon Williams' return, his injury history might make that an acceptable challenge.
For the San Antonio Spurs, moving Poeltl will obviously signal a greater desire to head to the bottom of the standings, improve lottery odds and increase the likelihood of landing Victor Wembanyama this summer. In that case, they probably won't want any win-now talent in exchange for their starting five.
This deal is all about the first-round pick for them. And while other teams may be able to offer San Antonio that and another young talent, putting that pick on the table with salary filler in the form of Danilo Gallinari (who'll miss the entire season recovering from a torn ACL) and Noah Vonleh (playing on a one-year, non-guaranteed contract) should at least get Boston in the conversation.