NBA Power Rankings: Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics Separating Themselves

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVDecember 2, 2022

NBA Power Rankings: Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics Separating Themselves

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    BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 30: Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics high fives Jayson Tatum #0 during the game against the Miami Heat on November 30, 2022 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE  (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

    With another week of NBA action complete, sorting out the power rankings really didn't get any easier.

    That is, with the exception of where to place the Boston Celtics.

    While parity reigns supreme through much of the league, the Celtics are playing like a juggernaut and seemingly separating themselves from the pack. And they're doing that without getting a single minute from Robert Williams III (who recently started scrimmaging).

    Questions abound for just about everyone else. And answers—as well as where each team stands based on title chances, recent play and plenty of subjectivity—can be found below.

30. San Antonio Spurs (6-16)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20: Keldon Johnson #3 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on November 20, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 30
    Net Rating: -10.0

    The San Antonio Spurs got a little gift from the schedule-makers and the Oklahoma City Thunder this week.

    San Antonio had lost 13 of 14, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was out for Wednesday's game. It should've been an easy Spurs win. At halftime, up 17, it seemed like it would be.

    Then, the Spurs were obliterated by Josh Giddey, rookie Jalen Williams and company in the second half and somehow managed to lose by eight.

    They've now dropped 14 of their past 15 and look as committed to the hunt for Victor Wembanyama as anyone.

29. Houston Rockets (5-16)

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    HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 18: Alperen Sengun #28 and Jabari Smith Jr. #1 of the Houston Rockets looks on during the game against the Indiana Pacers on November 18, 2022 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 29
    Net Rating: -6.7

    The Houston Rockets are coming off back-to-back thumpings at the hands of the surging Denver Nuggets, but there's plenty of reason for optimism surrounding this young core.

    Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. aren't the most intimidating defensive backcourt, but they're combining for over 40 points and 10 assists per game, and both are under the age of 23.

    The key to this group reaching its ceiling may be in the hands of Alperen Şengün, though.

    After the first loss to the Nuggets, two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokić raved about the Turkish big man.

    "I think he's really talented," Jokic told reporters. "Maybe this is going to sound weird, but I think they need to play a little bit more through him. Sometimes they look a little bit more stagnant…with all their threes. This guy has the talent. He can pass the ball. He can post up. He has the touch around the rim. You can see some different moves that he’s made."

    On the season, Şengün is averaging 20.8 points, 12.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists per 75 possessions, marks matched only by Jokić (one of Şengün's "idols"), Arvydas Sabonis and Joel Embiid among second-year pros.

28. Detroit Pistons (6-18)

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    DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 1: Killian Hayes #7 of the Detroit Pistons dribbles the ball during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on December 1, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 28
    Net Rating: -8.0

    The overwhelming majority of the attention paid to Killian Hayes during his first two seasons in the NBA was negative.

    During those years, he was an underrated playmaker, passer and defender, but a 37.4 field-goal percentage and a 26.8 three-point percentage were impossible to gloss over.

    Now, with Cade Cunningham out indefinitely, Hayes may be saving his career.

    In Thursday's upset over the Dallas Mavericks, Hayes went off for 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting and eight assists. He hit back-to-back threes in overtime that sealed the 131-125 victory.

    In his 12 games since Cunningham left the rotation, Hayes is averaging 11.8 points and 6.3 assists while shooting 43.2 percent from the field and 37.0 percent from deep.

    Those aren't star numbers, but when combined with solid defense, they're also not bust numbers. Confidence for the former No. 7 pick could be a very real silver lining to Cunningham's absence.

27. Orlando Magic (5-17)

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    ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 2: Bol Bol #10 of the Orlando Magic and Paolo Banchero #5 stand on the court during the game against the Golden State Warriors on November 2, 2022 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 26
    Net Rating: -6.1

    The Orlando Magic have one of the worst net ratings in the NBA, but their supersized starters are actually among the league's best and most intriguing units.

    When Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Bol Bol are on the floor, the team's net points per 100 possessions soars to plus-5.2. Add Wendell Carter Jr. to the mix, and the mark climbs to plus-13.6 (though that one also warrants a small-ish sample size warning).

    With the amount of passing, shooting (which is more theoretical for everyone outside Bol, who's shooting 40.9 percent from deep), playmaking and length on defense that this foursome brings, Orlando has one of the better young foundations in basketball.

26. Charlotte Hornets (6-15)

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    BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 28  LaMelo Ball #1 of the Charlotte Hornets looks on from the bench during a game against the Charlotte Hornets at TD Garden on November 28, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
    Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 27
    Net Rating: -6.5

    With LaMelo Ball in the middle of his second extended absence with an ankle injury and Gordon Hayward out indefinitely with a shoulder fracture, it's probably safe to assume the Charlotte Hornets are officially in on the hunt for Victor Wembanyama.

    Per tankathon.com, Charlotte has an 11.5 percent shot at the top pick in the lottery, but they're mere percentage points from a bottom-three record and a 14.0 percent chance.

    All of that probably equates to some mighty conservative timelines for Ball, Hayward and any other veterans that might go down with injuries from here on out.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder (9-13)

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    WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates after hitting the game winning shot against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on November 16, 2022 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 25
    Net Rating: -1.5

    As previously mentioned, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed Wednesday's win with a hip injury, but his push for an All-NBA nod stayed on track this week.

    SGA eclipsed 30 points in each of his appearances since the last version of the power rankings went live, and his high-volume scoring has been about as consistent as anyone in 2022-23.

    He's gotten to at least 30 points in eight of his past nine games, and he's tied with Luka Doncic for the league lead in total 30-point outings with 15.

24. New York Knicks (10-12)

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    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27: Jalen Brunson #11 high fives RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies on November 27, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 24
    Net Rating: -1.2

    The New York Knicks are 2-5 in their past seven, with the only wins coming against the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder and Detroit Pistons.

    It may be a bit reductive, but the Knicks are 28th in three-point percentage and in the bottom third of the league in threes per game. They only had the edge in three-point makes in one of those five recent losses.

    If they ever want to push for a top-six finish in the East, the Knicks will almost certainly have to be better from the outside.

23. Chicago Bulls (9-12)

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - NOVEMBER 21: Zach LaVine #8 and DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls look on against the Boston Celtics during the second half at United Center on November 21, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Michael Reaves/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 22
    Net Rating: -1.0

    The Chicago Bulls seem destined to remain in the throes of mediocrity this season, at least until Lonzo Ball returns from another knee surgery (which should hopefully happen in 2023).

    Despite having two 20-point-per-game scorers in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, the Bulls have a bottom-third offense.

    That may be attributable to ranking 28th in the league in threes per game and having one of the least efficient shot profiles in the NBA.

22. Washington Wizards (11-11)

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    WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28: Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Washington Wizards talks with Anthony Gill #16 during a second half timeout against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Capital One Arena on November 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 20
    Net Rating: -1.2

    The Washington Wizards are dishing out a little nostalgia this season by starting strong and eventually sliding toward the middle of the pack.

    Now, the 10-3 record Washington put together out of the gate in 2021-22 is better than their 10-7 start in 2022-23, but losing four of five is reminiscent of last season's team.

    Of course, there's at least one source of hope on the roster now that wasn't around last October, and he continued his strong play in Wednesday's loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

    After going for 27 points, 19 boards and two blocks, Kristaps Porzingis' averages are up to 21.6, 8.7 and 1.6. respectively.

21. Los Angeles Lakers (8-12)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 28: Los Angeles Lakers teammates LeBron James #6, Anthony Davis #3, and Russell Westbrook #0 stand on the court during the game against the Indiana Pacers on November 28, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 23
    Net Rating: -1.0

    The Los Angeles Lakers suffered a monumental collapse against the Indiana Pacers this week—they had a 99.1 percent win probability in the fourth quarter—but things are generally looking up for this team.

    They've won six of their past eight, LeBron James is back and Anthony Davis is performing at an All-NBA level during this stretch of improved play.

    Since the start of this run, AD is putting up an eye-popping 31.3 points, 16.1 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 2.7 assists and 1.6 steals.

20. Miami Heat (10-12)

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    MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 25: Bam Adebayo #13 of the Miami Heat looks on during the game against the Washington Wizards on November 25, 2022 at FTX Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 19
    Net Rating: -1.2

    Some concern should maybe be creeping in over the absence of Jimmy Butler (who's now missed nine games), but the Miami Heat have grown accustom to playing without him in the regular season. And prior to a loss to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, they'd won three straight.

    During Butler's latest extended absence, Bam Adebayo is averaging 24.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists. If the team doesn't fall too far below .500, the potential boost in confidence for Bam may be worth the time off for Butler.

    Miami needs its big man to play like a star to reenter the title contenders' tier.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-11)

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    WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 28: Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves is helped off the court by teammate Rudy Gobert #27 after being injured in the third quarter against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena on November 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 15
    Net Rating: -0.2

    Karl-Anthony Towns is set to miss several weeks with a calf strain, and the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Memphis Grizzlies in his first absence.

    Rudy Gobert didn't have a monster individual stat line, but he was plus-13 and things generally looked a little more open with only one traditional big on the floor.

    One game is far from enough of a sample for broad takeaways, but if the Timberwolves suddenly get on the right track during KAT's absence, Minnesota might be in need of some introspection.

18. Portland Trail Blazers (11-11)

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    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: Jerami Grant #9 of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on during the game against the New York Knicks on November 25, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 14
    Net Rating: -1.7

    According to Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes, Damian Lillard is reportedly targeting December 4 for a return to action. And that date can't come soon enough for the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Despite excellent play from Jerami Grant (28.5 points and a 46.5 three-point percentage) and Anfernee Simons (26.8 points and a 39.4 three-point percentage), Portland is 1-5 during Lillard's current absence.

    The biggest concern may not be immediately addressed by Lillard either. The Blazers have given up at least 111 points in each of those six games, and the legendary point guard is 32 and has never been known as a stopper.

    The more important (at least on the defensive end of the floor) return might actually be that of Gary Payton II, whose reason for being out was recently upgraded to "Return to Competition Reconditioning".

17. Brooklyn Nets (12-11)

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 28: Kevin Durant #7 and Joe Harris #12 of the Brooklyn Nets in action against the Orlando Magic at Barclays Center on November 28, 2022 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Brooklyn Nets defeated the Orlando Magic 109-102. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 21
    Net Rating: +1.0

    Given calls to fire the coach and general manger, a suspension for star point guard Kyrie Irving and inconsistency on the floor, the Brooklyn Nets being over .500 feels like a minor miracle. And the deliverer is clearly Kevin Durant.

    In Wednesday's win over the Washington Wizards, KD went for 39 points on 13-of-20 shooting. On the season, he's up to 30.4 points with a 66.5 true shooting percentage.

    In his MVP season of 2013-14, Durant went for 32.0 points with a 63.5 true shooting percentage. Recapturing that form nearly a decade later is remarkable.

    And if two or three members of his supporting cast (including, of course, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons) start to play up to their potential, the Nets may be able to climb back into the title picture.

16. Indiana Pacers (12-9)

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 23:  Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Indiana Pacers handles the ball during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on November 23, 2022 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 16
    Net Rating: +0.2

    He's only 22 years old, and Tyrese Haliburton is already doing things that no player in NBA history had done before.

    NBA.com/Stats @nbastats

    Since individual turnovers have been tracked (1977-78), Tyrese Haliburton is the first player with 40+ assists and zero turnovers over a three-game span. <a href="https://t.co/TPQl7QkqEN">pic.twitter.com/TPQl7QkqEN</a>

    Haliburton has the vision and decision-making abilities of a multi-time All-Star point guard, and having him as the table-setter for veteran-laden lineups may have already taken Indiana out of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.

    Indiana is up to a 23 percent chance to make the playoffs (according to FiveThirtyEight's projection system), and when Haliburton is on the floor with Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, the Pacers are plus-2.3 points per 100 possessions.

15. Los Angeles Clippers (13-10)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 27: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers sits on the bench during the game against the Indiana Pacers on November 27, 2022 at Crypto.Com Arena in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 18
    Net Rating: -0.4

    Kawhi Leonard has only played 112 minutes this season, and there doesn't seem to be any indication of when he might be closer to an everyday player.

    It's a shame for the Los Angeles Clippers, who have a point differential around that of a 77-win team (not a typo) when he's on the floor and one around that of a 30-win team without him.

    Role players like Ivica Zubac (who had a 31-point, 29-rebound performance this week), Marcus Morris Sr. and John Wall deserve plenty of credit for keeping L.A. competitive without its best player, but it's hard to take the team seriously as a title contender until we get some consistency from Leonard.

14. Dallas Mavericks (10-11)

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    DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 1: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks looks on during the game against the Detroit Pistons on December 1, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 11
    Net Rating: +1.6

    After Tuesday's win over the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd told reporters to stop asking him about what has to be the biggest story of his team in 2022-23.

    Isaac Harris @IsaacLHarris

    “You guys can stop asking about the starting lineup…it’s just a waste of time” -Kidd

    In terms of raw talent, Christian Wood is almost certainly the Mavs' second-best player. In terms of skill set, the floor-spacing big seems like an ideal fit alongside Luka Dončić.

    And yet, Wood hasn't started a single game with Luka. Kidd continues to insist on starting games in a hole, and that's a big part of why his team is sub-.500.

    Wood was a minus-nine in Dallas' loss to the now 6-18 Detroit Pistons on Thursday, but that's far from representative of how things have gone this season.

    The Mavs are generally better when Wood is on the floor, and that's especially true when he gets to play with the team's superstar playmaker.

    Dallas is plus-2.8 points per 100 possessions when Luka plays without Wood and plus-9.2 when they're together.

13. Atlanta Hawks (12-10)

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 28: John Collins #20, De'Andre Hunter #12, and Dejounte Murray #5 of the Atlanta Hawks look on against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on November 28, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 8
    Net Rating: -0.1

    Just when it started to seem like the Atlanta Hawks were gaining a little traction in the standings and on the stat sheet, they churned out a 1-3 week that started with an embarrassing loss to the rebuilding Houston Rockets.

    Lee Harvey @MusikFan4Life

    All this showboating &amp; they still lost? Wow <a href="https://t.co/gBLk2CN2m4">https://t.co/gBLk2CN2m4</a> <a href="https://t.co/HSBIdVls49">pic.twitter.com/HSBIdVls49</a>

    And for a team that was 15th in threes and tied for fourth in three-point percentage over the course of 2020-21 and 2021-22, it's fair to start worrying about the outside attack of the team this season.

    Overall, Atlanta is 27th in three-point percentage in 2022-23, and Trae Young, Dejounte Murray and John Collins are shooting a combined 30.2 from deep.

12. Philadelphia 76ers (12-10)

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    CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 30: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on November 30, 2022 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)
    David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 17
    Net Rating: +2.6

    While plenty of media outlets and analysts seem intent on keeping the top two finishers in MVP voting in each of the past two seasons out of 2022-23's conversation, Joel Embiid's production has exploded in recent weeks.

    Over his past seven games, Embiid is averaging 34.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.1 blocks.

    His three-point percentage is down and turnovers are a problem again (as they were prior to his top-two MVP finishes). Philadelphia's less-than-stellar record is blunting the amount of attention he gets, too.

    But look at those numbers again. If they remain that gaudy (or even close to it) after James Harden returns and the Sixers go on a little run, there will be buzz for Embiid to win the game's biggest individual honor.

11. Toronto Raptors (11-10)

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 30: Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball during the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on November 30, 2022 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 13
    Net Rating: +1.5

    It felt like the Toronto Raptors taking another step toward contention depended on whatever leap Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes had in him.

    About a quarter of the way into the season, that expected leap is looking more like a half-step back.

    He's doing a solid job with the extra playmaking responsibility (as evidenced by his 5.2 assists), but a plummeting true shooting percentage has sort of negated his gains in other areas of the game.

    Barnes is a little better from three than he was as a rookie, but he's still below average there. And his marks around the rim and in the mid-range have fallen off cliffs.

    With his versatility as a point forward and defender, Barnes is still making the Raptors better, but gaining much separation from a .500 winning percentage might depend on him figuring out his shooting woes.

10. Utah Jazz (13-11)

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    SALT LAKE CITY UT- NOVEMBER 23:  Walker Kessler #24 of the Utah Jazz passes the ball against the Detroit Pistons during the first half of their game November 23, 2022  at the Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Chris Gardner/ Getty Images)
    Chris Gardner/ Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 12
    Net Rating: +2.1

    Losing has shifted the vibes for the Utah Jazz over the past couple weeks.

    NBA on ESPN @ESPNNBA

    The Jazz have moved from first in the West to ninth in a week 😳 <a href="https://t.co/A5sKYShhnZ">pic.twitter.com/A5sKYShhnZ</a>

    But they've beaten the Los Angeles Clippers since ESPN posted that graphic, and before the season started, few could've expected them to be two games over .500 at this point.

    Better-than-anticipated performance from much of the roster can be credited. And in the case of players like Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson and other veterans, it has been.

    One of the less heralded reasons for Utah's record is Walker Kessler. Among players with at least 300 minutes, no one tops Kessler's block percentage. And when he's on the floor, the Jazz allow a whopping 8.2 fewer points per 100 possessions.

9. Sacramento Kings (11-9)

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    SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 28: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after he made a basket against the Phoenix Suns at Golden 1 Center on November 28, 2022 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 7
    Net Rating: +2.4

    If not for the Boston Celtics' potentially historic offensive rating, the Sacramento Kings would be very much in mix for the league's top attack. They're currently putting up 116.0 points per 100 possessions, just shy of the second-place Phoenix Suns' 116.5.

    And while Tyrese Haliburton's performance with the Indiana Pacers makes it hard to say Sacramento "won" the trade, it's also impossible to ignore Domantas Sabonis' role in Sacramento's surge.

    The Kings' offensive rating, effective field-goal percentage and free-throw rate all climb when Sabonis is on the floor. And his 6.4 assists have pulled his average over the past four seasons up to 5.7.

    Nikola Jokić, Wilt Chamberlain and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the only 6'11"-plus players in league history who averaged more over a four-year stretch.

8. Memphis Grizzlies (12-9)

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 27:  Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies walks onto the court after a timeout during the game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on November 27, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 10
    Net Rating: +0.7

    Considering the number of injuries the Memphis Grizzlies have had to battle, being a few games over .500 is actually pretty encouraging.

    Jaren Jackson Jr. missed the first 14 contests of the season. Right before he came back, Desmond Bane went down, and he hasn't been available since mid-November. Ja Morant has missed three games, too.

    Without a single minute logged for that trio, it's tough to get a real good read on this team, but we're getting close to the original timeline given for Bane's toe injury.

7. Golden State Warriors (11-11)

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 27: Klay Thompson #11 and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors celebrate a three-point basket by Thompson against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the fourth quarter at Target Center on November 27, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Warriors defeated the Timberwolves 137-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
    David Berding/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 9
    Net Rating: +0.1

    A road loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday cooled them off a bit, but the Golden State Warriors had won five of six prior to that, and we now have a sustained stretch to suggest Klay Thompson may have shaken off his early season struggles.

    Even with a five-point dud against the Mavs, Thompson has averaged 20.8 points and 4.8 threes while shooting 51.8 percent from deep over his last six games. His season-long three-point percentage is up to 39.2, much closer to his pre-injury levels.

    He probably can't keep this up all season, but being closer to that level makes the Warriors dangerous. Thompson has only eclipsed a 43 field-goal percentage in six games this season, and Golden State is 6-0 in those games.

6. Denver Nuggets (14-7)

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    DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 28: Jamal Murray (27) of the Denver Nuggets works en route to scoring 22 points against the Houston Rockets in the first half during the second quarter at Ball Arena in Denver on Monday, November 28, 2022. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
    AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 6
    Net Rating: +2.6

    Nikola Jokić should be in the thick of the MVP race, and Aaron Gordon is playing better than ever—he's on track for, by far, his career highs in box plus/minus and true shooting percentage.

    But the real key to the Denver Nuggets being bona fide title contenders might be Jamal Murray finding his pre-injury form. And after a couple big performances against the Houston Rockets, it's starting to feel like Murray is getting close.

    Over his past six appearances, he's putting up 22.0 points, 5.3 assists and 2.7 threes, while shooting 42.1 percent from three.

5. New Orleans Pelicans (13-8)

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 30: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans is introduced before the game against the Toronto Raptors on November 30, 2022 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 5
    Net Rating: +5.9

    It seems impossible given the player and his average of 22.5 points heading into Wednesday's action, but Zion Williamson has actually had a relatively quiet 2022-23.

    Prior to the New Orleans Pelicans' win over the Toronto Raptors, Zion was 22nd in the league in points per game, and he'd only had one 30-point outing.

    With Brandon Ingram out of action, Williamson looked a lot more like the 2020-21 version of himself, with 33 points on 12-of-15 shooting.

    New Orleans Pelicans @PelicansNBA

    ZION WILLIAMSON.<br><br>BACK TO BACK. <a href="https://t.co/gjVYYRZT3N">pic.twitter.com/gjVYYRZT3N</a>

    Of course, that might raise a concern about New Orleans not getting this version of Zion when Ingram is in action, but he's actually scoring more often (and more efficiently) when sharing the floor with his fellow All-Star.

    The Pelicans simply have far more scoring talent around the superstar than they had two years ago. And while that might lead to a slightly less gaudy individual line for Zion, it's clearly leading to more consistent winning for the team.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (14-8)

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    CLEVELAND, OHIO - NOVEMBER 30: Evan Mobley #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers brings the ball up court during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on November 30, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the 76ers 113-85. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 4
    Net Rating: +6.8

    A 1-2 road trip may have dampened the excitement for the Cleveland Cavaliers, but they closed out the week with a 113-85 drubbing of the Philadelphia 76ers (who had Joel Embiid in action).

    That and the third-best net rating in the league should have Cavaliers fans feeling pretty good, but there are still nits to pick.

    Evan Mobley maybe hasn't taken the leap some anticipated (his averages for assists and blocks are down, while he's at the same mark for points per game), and the team is significantly better when he's off the floor.

    Of course, that doesn't mean it's time to sell your Mobley stock. Cleveland is playing well when he's at the 5, and he's put up 18.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks over his past three games.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (15-5)

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    NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 30: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks looks on during the game against the New York Knicks on November 30, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 3
    Net Rating: +4.7

    Giannis Antetokounmpo quietly had a stretch of six straight games with a sub-50 field-goal percentage earlier this season. Of course, for just about any other player in the league, that run wouldn't be notable at all. For Giannis, it's weird.

    But after Wednesday's 109-103 win over the New York Knicks, it's safe to assume Antetokounmpo is back to his MVP form.

    Giannis has connected on more than half of his attempts in each of his past five games, and he's averaging 35.6 points in those contests.

    Just as he's hitting his stride again, more help may be on the way too.

    Shams Charania @ShamsCharania

    Sources: Two notable injury updates:<br><br>- Bucks star Khris Middleton is nearing his season debut, potentially as soon as Friday vs. Lakers.<br>- 76ers star James Harden is targeting return on current three-game road trip, likely in Houston on Monday.

    With Giannis at this level and Khris Middleton back in action, the Milwaukee Bucks should look like one of the league's most dangerous teams.

2. Phoenix Suns (15-6)

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    PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 30: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns and Deandre Ayton #22 look on during the game against the Chicago Bulls on November 30, 2022 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 2
    Net Rating: +7.4

    The ascension of Devin Booker reached new heights on Wednesday.

    Without playing a second of the fourth quarter in a blowout win over the Chicago Bulls, Booker went for 51 points on 20-of-25 shooting. His 33.1 single-game box plus/minus was a career high among appearances in which he logged at least 30 minutes.

    And with this performance coming while Chris Paul remains out with an injury, it's now abundantly clear this is Booker's team.

    In the 11 games since CP3 left the rotation, Phoenix is 8-3 with Booker averaging 30.7 points, 6.4 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 threes.

1. Boston Celtics (18-4)

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    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 09: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics low-fives Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics as he enters the court during the first quarter of the game against the Detroit Pistons at TD Garden on November 09, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
    Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 1
    Net Rating: +9.1

    After finishing first in defense and posting a defensive rating 5.1 points better than the league average in 2021-22, the Boston Celtics have remained a juggernaut by sort of flipping the script this season.

    They're middle of the pack on defense, but their offensive rating is a mind-bending 9.4 points better than the league average. That's on pace to break the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks' all-time record of plus-9.2.

    There may be a regression coming at some point, but Boston is also on pace to break the all-time records for effective field-goal percentage and threes per game.

    After experiencing the pain of a Finals loss and an offseason that saw head coach Ime Udoka suspended for the season after engaging in a relationship with a female subordinate and reportedly making crude comments to her, the Celtics have returned with loads of ball and player movement, lights-out shooting and major title-favorite energy.

Stats of the Week

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    DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 29: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on November 29, 2022 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

    Let's spend a minute on the absurdity of Stephen Curry's 2022-23 campaign.

    He's averaging 31.4 points and 5.2 threes while shooting 43.6 percent from deep. It's his fourth season with an average of at least five threes per game. No one else in league history even has one.

    If we drop the threshold to four threes per game, Curry's total climbs to seven seasons. The rest of the list combines for six.

    Put another way, he's on pace for around 384 total threes this season (his average for threes per game multiplied by the number of games he's on pace to play).

    The current record for threes made in an age-34 (or older) season is the 240 J.J. Redick made in 2018-19.

Unexpected Highlight of the Week

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    DENVER, COLORADO - NOVEMBER 30: Vlatko Cancar #31 of the Denver Nuggets goes to the basket on a fast break against the Houston Rockets in the first quarter at Ball Arena on November 30, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    This week, Denver Nuggets reserve forward (and longtime benchwarmer) Vlatko Čančar gave us one of the wildest and least expected highlights of the season.

    NBA @NBA

    Cancar takes off from just inside the free-throw line!<br><br>Catch the best of tonight's action on NBA CrunchTime<br>📲 <a href="https://t.co/l0hlhl5oOi">https://t.co/l0hlhl5oOi</a> <a href="https://t.co/ANvhRd976T">pic.twitter.com/ANvhRd976T</a>

    Why yes, that's a 25-year-old forward with fewer than 1,000 career minutes casually taking off from just inside the free-throw line for a jam previously reserved for legends and the dunk contest.

    After the game, Altitude's Vic Lombardi walked through the similarities between this finish and Julius Erving's from the 1984 NBA Slam Dunk Contest with Čančar himself.

    "Don't disrespect Dr. J like that, man," Čančar said, but Lombardi had a point. Air Slovenia took off from the very same distance as Erving (and a little inside where Michael Jordan took off from in the 1985 Slam Dunk Contest).

    And given that absurd play, recent lockdown defense on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (yes, you read that right) and a 44.4 three-point percentage, it's starting to feel like Čančar might have to stay in the rotation, even after Michael Porter Jr. and Jeff Green return from injuries.

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