NBA Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands After 2 Months

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVDecember 16, 2022

NBA Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands After 2 Months

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 11: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles the ball during the game against the Phoenix Suns on December 11, 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

    Time to put the "small-sample-size warnings" to bed for the rest of this NBA season.

    We're now two months into 2022-23. Numbers have stabilized. MVP candidates (a lot of them) are rising above the crowd. The title contenders' tier is forming.

    There's still plenty of time for teams and players to change course, but we now have enough material for some educated takes. And more importantly for this space, well-informed power rankings.

    With all the games, data and tape now available, it's time to dive in to take another look around the league, with teams put in order by the same factors we've used since Week 1: championship chances, numbers, recent play and loads of subjectivity.

30. Charlotte Hornets (7-21)

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    CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - DECEMBER 14: LaMelo Ball #1 of the Charlotte Hornets brings the ball up court against the Detroit Pistons at Spectrum Center on December 14, 2022 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 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 Jensen/Getty Images)
    David Jensen/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 28
    Net Rating: -7.1

    LaMelo Ball's return from a second extended absence couldn't have gone much better on Wednesday.

    Ball went for 23 points and 11 assists in 34 minutes. He shot 50 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from three. And the Charlotte Hornets were plus-16 when he was on the floor.

    And yet, Charlotte strengthened its pursuit of top-three lottery odds and a chance to add Victor Wembanyama by losing to the Detroit Pistons in overtime.

29. San Antonio Spurs (9-19)

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 8: Fans celebrate with Keldon Johnson #3 of the San Antonio Spurs as he makes his way up the court after a three point basket on December 8, 2022 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, 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 (Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 30
    Net Rating: -10.0

    It's pretty remarkable that the San Antonio Spurs wrapped up a three-game winning streak this week and still have the worst net rating in the NBA. And it's really not close.

    The Charlotte Hornets' 29th-ranked net rating is 2.9 points better than San Antonio's.

    On the bright side, 23-year-old Keldon Johnson appears to be getting back on track after something of a scoring slump in mid-to-late-November.

    Over his last five games, Johnson is averaging 25.2 points and shooting 50.0 percent from the field.

28. Detroit Pistons (8-22)

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    DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 11: Alec Burks #5 of the Detroit Pistons drives to the basket during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 11, 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: 26
    Net Rating: -6.7

    The Detroit Pistons started Cade Cunningham's absence with six straight losses, but turning much of the offense over to a couple of veterans seems to have stabilized things.

    After Wednesday's overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit is now 5-7 in its last 12 games, and Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks have almost certainly boosted their respective trade values in that span.

    In the relevant time period, Bogdanović has averaged 22.0 points and 2.7 threes, while shooting 46.9 percent from deep. Burks, meanwhile, is putting up 13.8 points and 2.0 threes with a 40.7 three-point percentage.

    If the Pistons want the best possible shot to draft Victor Wembanyama, there will almost certainly be some suitors for both wings.

27. Washington Wizards (11-18)

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    INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 09:   Kristaps Porzingis #6 of the Washington Wizards against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on December 09, 2022 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. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 24
    Net Rating: -2.9

    With Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porziņģis both out, the Washington Wizards managed to put up a whopping 128 points on the road against the Denver Nuggets.

    And yet, they still lost by 13 points (thanks in large part to the 98 points in the paint they surrendered).

    Washington has lost 11 of its last 12 games. And in that stretch, the Wizards are giving up a league-worst 119.8 points per 100 possessions.

26. Houston Rockets (9-19)

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    HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 15: Jabari Smith Jr. #1 and Kevin Porter Jr. #3 of the Houston Rockets high five during the game against the Miami Heat on December 15, 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: -5.3

    Jabari Smith Jr. got off to a bit slower start than expected, but he seems to have turned a corner recently.

    In his last 12 games, Smith is averaging 14.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 threes with a 43.1 three-point percentage.

    And these aren't just empty numbers. During this stretch, Houston is 6-6 with wins over the Phoenix Suns (twice), Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.

25. Orlando Magic (9-20)

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    ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 11: Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic celebrates during the game against the Toronto Raptors on December 11, 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: 27
    Net Rating: -4.4

    Someone break up the Orlando Magic, who are suddenly on a four-game winning streak behind the dynamic one-two punch of Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero.

    During this stretch, the former is averaging 24.0 points and 2.3 threes with a 42.9 three-point percentage, while Banchero is going for 21.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

    With two 6'9"-plus players who can break down wings, forwards or guards from the perimeter, Orlando can create all kinds of matchup problems for opponents. And that could be even more true upon the return of Wendell Carter Jr., whose playmaking from the post can free up the positionless forwards for more off-ball opportunities.

24. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-17)

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    CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 10: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder is introduced before the game before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 10, 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: 25
    Net Rating: -1.9

    A four-game losing streak has the Oklahoma City Thunder further below .500 than they'd been at any point this season, but nothing is slowing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander down on an individual level.

    After going for 27 points in Wednesday's loss to the Miami Heat, Gilgeous-Alexander has now eclipsed 25 points in 21 of his 26 games. He's got 20 or over on 24 occasions.

    And that remarkable consistency has SGA over 30 points per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Prior to this season, only 13 players in league history had eclipsed both marks over a full season.

23. Los Angeles Lakers (11-16)

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    DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 11: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers high-fives teammate LeBron James #6 during the game against the Detroit Pistons on December 11, 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: 20
    Net Rating: -1.3

    This season has brought its share of disappointment to the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans, but nothing hit quite like Tuesday's loss to their longtime rival, the Boston Celtics.

    In a roller coaster of a game that saw the Lakers trail by 15 at halftime, they rode a monster second half. 37 points for Anthony Davis, 33 points and nine assists for LeBron James gave them a 13-point lead with less than four minutes to play in regulation.

    When LeBron missed a three-point attempt with 3:52 left in the fourth quarter, L.A.'s win probability was 99.1 percent. However, he and AD's make-believe fuel gauges probably read E.

    The two stars had willed their team to what probably should've been a win, only to watch a furious rally from the Celtics force overtime. By the end of the 122-118 loss, it was abundantly clear they need more help.

    Yes, L.A. had been much better through the latter end of November and the first few games in December, but it's now lost four of five. And with 37-year-old LeBron and oft-injured AD carrying the kind of load they did on Tuesday, the Lakers are almost begging for fatigue to take over at some point.

    After trade season unofficially opens on December 15 (when significantly more players will be eligible to be moved), L.A. may have to finally pull the trigger on a deal that unloads the long-discussed "Russell Westbrook and picks" trade package.

22. Chicago Bulls (11-16)

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 11: Zach LaVine #8 speaks with DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls prior to the game against the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on December 11, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. 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 Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
    Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 23
    Net Rating: -0.4

    With a recent report from ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski casting doubt on Lonzo Ball returning at any point this season, the Chicago Bulls may have to entertain something of a teardown.

    DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević are both in their 30s, Chicago has lost five of its last seven and the top of the East features some contenders the Bulls almost certainly can't compete with (healthy or not).

    Right now, the team is minus-1.1 points per 100 possessions when both are on the floor. If they can be used to fetch some longterm assets (as they would in the rumored framework that brings back Russell Westbrook's expiring contract and some picks), the Bulls might have to pull the trigger.

21. Minnesota Timberwolves (13-15)

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 14: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Minnesota Timberwolves looks on during the game against the LA Clippers on December 14, 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: 21
    Net Rating: -1.2

    There's still time for a season-changing surge from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but this week's road trip is making it a little tougher to imagine.

    The T-Wolves picked up an emotionally charged win in Rudy Gobert's return to Utah on Friday, but they followed that with three straight losses to the Portland Trail Blazers (twice) and Los Angeles Clippers.

    And after nearly a decade as one of the game's most positively impactful players (the reason he went for such a massive trade haul), Gobert hasn't been able to lift Minnesota the way he did the Jazz.

    From 2015-16 through 2021-22, Utah was plus-8.6 points per 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor and minus-0.9 with him off. For context's sake, that 9.5-point swing matches LeBron James' over the same period.

    This season, though, the Wolves are actually better when Gobert is out of the game. Outside the pick-and-roll and three-point-heavy scheme former Jazz head coach Quin Snyder tailored to the big man, it's more difficult for Gobert to help an offense.

20. Atlanta Hawks (14-15)

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    ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 11: Trae Young #11 celebrates with AJ Griffin #14 of the Atlanta Hawks who shot the game winner with 0.5 seconds remaining in overtime against the Chicago Bulls on December 11, 2022 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 16
    Net Rating: -2.2

    This week featured the good vibes of a game-winning (and alley-oop-twirling) layup from AJ Griffin.

    Atlanta Hawks @ATLHawks

    AJ GRIFFIN AT THE BUZZER IN OVERTIME FOR THE WIN<br><br>AGAIN <a href="https://t.co/zDy02jm2yL">pic.twitter.com/zDy02jm2yL</a>

    But it also ended with back-to-back losses and brought the Atlanta Hawks closer to a panic-worthy record.

    On top of the drama between Trae Young and coach Nate McMillan, Atlanta has now dropped five of its last six and eight of its last 11.

    On the bright side, this summer's prized acquisition, Dejounte Murray, has missed the last four games. And the Hawks are still plus-0.9 points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor (compared to minus-7.1 without him).

    The team might be able to talk itself into things stabilizing once he returns, and we're already about halfway through the initial two-week timetable for his return.

19. Toronto Raptors (13-15)

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    TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 14: Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors dribbles the ball during the game against the Sacramento Kings on December 14, 2022 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Vaughn Ridley/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 12
    Net Rating: +0.9

    The Toronto Raptors are suddenly in a tailspin. On top of losing six of their last eight games, they dropped back-to-back contests against the rebuilding Orlando Magic this week.

    And after winning Rookie of the Year in 2021-22, Scottie Barnes failed to take the leap Toronto may have needed from him to solidify themselves as a contender this season.

    Barnes' points and rebounds per game, two-point percentage, true shooting percentage and box plus/minus are all down significantly.

18. Indiana Pacers (15-14)

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    INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 10: Tyrese Haliburton #0 of the Indiana Pacers celebrates during the game against the Brooklyn Nets on December 10, 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: 18
    Net Rating: -0.8

    The Indiana Pacers have certainly cooled off after their 10-6 start, but Tyrese Haliburton has almost certainly done enough to earn his first All-Star selection.

    After going for 29 points and six assists in Wednesday's win over the Golden State Warriors, Haliburton is averaging 19.8 points and 10.6 assists on the season, while shooting 40.2 percent from deep.

    Prior to this season, there had been 40 individual seasons with at least 19 points and 10 assists per game. Only five weren't selected as All-Stars.

17. Miami Heat (15-15)

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    HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 15: Tyler Herro #14 of the Miami Heat smiles during the game against the Houston Rockets on December 15, 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: 19
    Net Rating: -1.4

    The Miami Heat will almost certainly continue to go as Jimmy Butler goes, but they are getting something of a star turn from Tyler Herro of late.

    Will Manso @WillManso

    Note from the Heat: Tyler Herro became just the 3rd player in NBA history to hit at least 9 three's in consecutive games (joins only Curry and Harden) and the first ever to do it on a back-to-back.

    After dropping 41 in Thursday's win over the Houston Rockets, Herro is averaging 26.7 points and 5.3 threes while shooting 54.2 percent from deep over his last six games. And that stretch includes an eight-point dud against the Indiana Pacers.

    The Heat being .500 through 30 games should probably be seen as a bit of a disappointment, but they probably won't stay at that level if Herro can keep this (or something like it) up from here on out.

16. New York Knicks (15-13)

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    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 14: Julius Randle #30 of the New York Knicks prepares to shoot a free throw during the game against the Chicago Bulls on December 14, 2022 at United Center 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 22
    Net Rating: +1.0

    Things are really starting to click for the New York Knicks, who are suddenly getting a Julius Randle revival alongside Jalen Brunson's continued strong play.

    The real key to more consistent winning may simply be the recent upgrade at the 2, though. New York is 7-5 since Quentin Grimes entered the starting five. And after Wednesday's overtime win on the road against the Chicago Bulls, the Knicks are on a five-game winning streak.

    During the streak, Randle is averaging 28.6 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists, RJ Barrett is adding 21.0, Jalen Brunson is putting up 18.0 points and 6.2 assists and Grimes is averaging double-figures while shooting 42.3 percent from deep.

15. Golden State Warriors (14-15)

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 05: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors stands on the court during their game against the Indiana Pacers at Chase Center on December 05, 2022 in San Francisco, 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: 10
    Net Rating: +0.5

    The Golden State Warriors are back under .500 after Wednesday's loss to the Indiana Pacers, but that's far from the worst news of the week.

    In the second half of a game in which Stephen Curry was cooking, the two-time MVP had to leave early after injuring his left shoulder.

    Anthony Slater @anthonyVslater

    This is the play where Steph Curry came up grabbing his left shoulder. He's still in the locker room as fourth quarter is about to begin. <a href="https://t.co/NDKEbHfuho">pic.twitter.com/NDKEbHfuho</a>

    He's set to miss a "few weeks," per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, with a subluxation. That could mean a tailspin is incoming.

    The Warriors are plus-8.4 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the floor and minus-9.8 without him.

14. Dallas Mavericks (14-14)

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    DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 9: Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks celebrates during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks on December 9, 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

    Previous Rank: 6
    Net Rating: +1.1

    Whether it's coaching or the roster construction around Luka Dončić, it's hard to look at a .500 record for the Dallas Mavericks and not sense underachievement.

    We've probably grown numb, to a certain extent, to Luka's otherworldly production, but a team with a perennial MVP candidate putting up 33.0 points, 8.7 assists and 8.4 rebounds per game should be better.

    Now that December 15 has come and gone, and nearly nine out of every 10 players in the league are eligible to be traded, Dallas should look for ways to reshape the supporting cast.

    Of course, the obvious target is another creator. Spencer Dinwiddie has done a respectable job of filling Jalen Brunson's old role. The Mavericks still need someone to pick up Dinwiddie's 2021-22 responsibilities.

13. Utah Jazz (17-14)

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    SALT LAKE CITY, UT - DECEMBER 15: Mike Conley #11 of the Utah Jazz dribbles the ball against the New Orleans Pelicans on DECEMBER 15, 2022 at vivint.SmartHome Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 11
    Net Rating: +2.4

    Every time it starts to feel like the Utah Jazz might slide outside play-in range, they come up with a win (or two) to remind us all that they're legit.

    This week, following division losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets, Utah knocked the New Orleans Pelicans out of first place with back-to-back wins on Tuesday and Thursday.

    The Jazz also moved to 13-7 with Mike Conley in the lineup (compared to 4-7 without him), up to third place in offensive rating and up to eighth place in assist percentage.

    This team moves the ball, puts up loads of threes and is getting breakout seasons from Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson. Even if it eventually flames out (or Danny Ainge trades more of the veterans), this is one of the funnest stories of the season.

12. Sacramento Kings (15-12)

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    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings dribbles the ball during the game against the New York Knicks on December 11, 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: 9
    Net Rating: +1.9

    A long road trip (that's still not over) stymied a lot of the momentum the Sacramento Kings had built up for themselves, but it also includes wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors.

    And though they aren't lighting the beam quite as consistently as they were earlier this season, it's safe to say that at least the offense is here to stay.

    Sacramento is scoring 114.5 points per 100 possessions (a mark that ranks in the top five), and that mark climbs to 118.7 when Domantas Sabonis and Kevin Huerter are on the floor.

11. Los Angeles Clippers (17-14)

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    Los Angeles, CA - December 12: LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, posts up on Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart during the first half at Crypto.com Arena on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA.(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
    Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 17
    Net Rating: -1.0

    The week ended with a blowout at the hands of the Phoenix Suns, but that was expected when it was announced that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would both be out for rest.

    Over the three games prior to that, the Los Angeles Clippers showed a glimpse of a contender's ceiling with three straight wins, including a blowout against the Boston Celtics.

    During that little stretch, Paul George put up 26.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists. And in the Celtics game, Kawhi looked like his pre-torn ACL self, with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting.

    If the Clippers can hang around the playoff mix and keep Leonard and George healthy by the time the playoffs start, and then the team makes a run toward a title, the league may have a real conundrum about the value of the regular season.

10. Phoenix Suns (17-12)

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    SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 4:  Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns celebrates a three against the San Antonio Spurs with Cameron Payne #15 in the first half of the game at AT&T Center on December 4, 2022 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
    Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 7
    Net Rating: +4.6

    The Phoenix Suns got a much-needed win over the Kawhi Leonard-less and Paul George-less Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, but they entered that game on a reality-checking five-game losing streak.

    And while he's dealt with his share of injuries over the course of a storied career, this may be the first time we've really seen signs of age from Chris Paul.

    On the season, he's shooting 30.2 percent from three and putting up a career-worst field-goal percentage of 37.5. During the aforementioned losing streak, his field-goal percentage was 36.2.

    If this version of CP3 is here to stay, it will be even tougher for the Suns to attempt to make the Western Conference Finals than it was in 2021 (when they made the NBA Finals) and 2022 (when they flamed out in the conference semis).

9. Portland Trail Blazers (16-12)

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    PORTLAND, OREGON - DECEMBER 12: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers sits on the bench during player introductions for the Portland Trail Blazers against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Moda Center on December 12, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. 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 Soobum Im/Getty Images)
    Soobum Im/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 14
    Net Rating: +0.9

    Damian Lillard is playing out of his mind right now, and the Portland Trail Blazers are predictably racking up wins while he does.

    After Wednesday's road win over the previously streaking San Antonio Spurs, Portland is now 4-1 since Damian Lillard returned from injury, and his numbers are positively absurd in that stretch.

    Over these five games, Lillard is averaging 34.4 points, 7.4 assists and 7.0 threes (yes, seven) with a 50.7 three-point percentage.

8. Philadelphia 76ers (15-12)

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers high fives James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers during the game against the Sacramento Kings on December 13, 2022 at the Wells Fargo Center 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
    David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 15
    Net Rating: +3.4

    It's far from ideal to have a star player on the shelf for any amount of time, but James Harden's recent 14-game absence may have come with a silver lining.

    After there was some question about the division of labor between him and Joel Embiid early in the season, Embiid averaged 34.2 points, 12.0 free throws and 6.2 assists while Harden was out. The stretch of games served as a clear reminder that this is Embiid's team, and everything seems to be falling into place now.

    Harden has only been back for four games, but his usage percentage is down from where it was earlier, and he's averaging 12.5 assists in those contests. Meanwhile, Embiid is putting up 40.3 points over the same span.

    And most importantly, the Philadelphia 76ers are 3-1 with both stars back in action.

7. Brooklyn Nets (17-12)

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 09:  Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets reacts after scoring during the 1st half of the game against the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center on December 09, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 13
    Net Rating: +1.7

    Maybe it's because so much of the non-basketball activity from the Brooklyn Nets is loud. Maybe it's because the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have both had stretches in which they looked like juggernauts.

    Whatever the reason, the Brooklyn Nets' steady rise to the top four in the East has somehow felt pretty quiet. Given the talent on the roster, though, it's not surprising.

    Kevin Durant has looked like one of the game's best scorers this season, particularly over his last nine appearances, in which he's put up 32.4 points and 5.9 assists while shooting 60.5 percent from three.

    Kyrie Irving is adding 25.3 points; Nic Claxton is in double-figures too this season. And shooters like Royce O'Neale, Seth Curry, Joe Harris and Yuta Watanabe have pushed the team's three-point percentage into the top 10.

    Even Ben Simmons is seemingly settling into a role with Brooklyn, with a 72.5 field-goal percentage and averages of 11.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists over his last 10 games. Throughout the whole season, when he shares the floor with KD and Kyrie, the Nets are plus-6.1 points per 100 possessions.

6. Denver Nuggets (17-10)

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    DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 14: Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets arrives to the arena before the game against the Washington Wizards on December 14, 2022 at the Ball Arena 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 8
    Net Rating: +2.0

    Most in the national media have moved heaven and earth to keep Nikola Jokić out of this season's debate, but resistance to his campaign for a third straight MVP feels increasingly futile.

    After he dropped 43 points on 17-of-20 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds, handed out eight assists and swiped five steals in a win over the Washington Wizards, Jokić is averaging a Sombor Double (either one rebound or one assist shy of a triple-double).

    NBA @NBA

    43 PTS (season-high)<br>14 REB<br>8 AST<br>5 STL<br>17/20 FGM<br><br>Nikola Jokic did it ALL in the Nuggets W. <a href="https://t.co/svywgmbFEt">pic.twitter.com/svywgmbFEt</a>

    For the season, he's putting up 24.6 points, 10.3 rebounds and 9.0 assists in 32.5 minutes per game, but that doesn't come close to articulating his MVP case.

    Jokić leads the NBA by pretty significant margins in both Basketball Reference's box plus/minus and FiveThirtyEight's RAPTOR (two of the internet's more accessible catch-all metrics).

    He's also the leader in Basketball Reference's MVP Tracker ("based on a model built using previous voting results") and has the biggest net rating swing (the difference between a team's net points per 100 possessions when a given player is on or off the floor) in the NBA.

    Denver has a point differential around that of a 66-win team when Jokić is on the floor and one around that of a 10-win team when he's off.

5. New Orleans Pelicans (18-10)

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    NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - DECEMBER 09: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans reacts after being fouled during the third quarter of an NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Smoothie King Center on December 09, 2022 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. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
    Sean Gardner/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 3
    Net Rating: +5.6

    Prior to back-to-back losses to the Utah Jazz, the New Orleans Pelicans had ripped off seven straight wins and briefly ascended to first in the Western Conference.

    And with Brandon Ingram out since the start of that streak, it's easy to give credit for the surge to Zion Williamson.

    As the clear No. 1, and with more playmaking responsibility than he was given earlier in the season, Zion has been dominant. Over his last 11 games, Williamson has averaged 28.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (18-11)

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    CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 10: Darius Garland #10 and Evan Mobley #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers talk on the court during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 10, 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: 4
    Net Rating: +6.1

    Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland seemingly struggled to work together for roughly the first month of the season (a stretch that included an eye injury for Garland). Through November 17, the Cleveland Cavaliers were minus-3.6 points per 100 possessions when both were on the floor.

    They seem to have each other figured out. Since then, Cleveland is plus-4.6 points per 100 possessions with the two All-Star guards playing together. And the driving factor for that second net rating is actually the defense.

    The formula that gives the Cavs a seemingly impenetrable back line of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen and just enough offense from Garland and Mitchell is pushing them closer to the top of the East.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (20-8)

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    MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - DECEMBER 13: Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks participates in warmups prior to a game against the Golden State Warriors at Fiserv Forum on December 13, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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 Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 2
    Net Rating: +3.3

    Every team is allowed a letdown here and there, and the Milwaukee Bucks certainly had one on Thursday, when they shot 37.2 percent from the field and lost 142-101 to the Memphis Grizzlies.

    This week also included a loss to the Houston Rockets. And though you have to get a little nitpicky to feel concerned about the Bucks, there may be at least one slump worth noting.

    Khris Middleton has now been back for seven games, and he's shooting just 32.5 percent from the field (and 26.8 percent from three). He's also the only starter with a negative plus-minus.

    It's probably just rust, of course. And there's plenty of time for Middleton to shake that off, but this stretch is a reminder that even Giannis Antetokounmpo needs a little help. If Middleton isn't 100 percent, Milwaukee is beatable.

2. Boston Celtics (22-7)

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 10: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics shoots a free throw against the Golden State Warriors on December 10, 2022 at Chase Center in San Francisco, 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 1
    Net Rating: +7.0

    The Boston Celtics showed signs of mortality with back-to-back losses to the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers this week. Then, they narrowly avoided an alarm-raising meltdown on Tuesday.

    They were up 15 at halftime against the sub-.500 Los Angeles Lakers. About 20 minutes of game time later, Boston was down 13. From that point to the end of regulation, the dominant offense that had seemingly been dormant for much of the week came alive in brilliant fashion.

    NBA TV @NBATV

    JT IN THE CLUTCH 🥶 <a href="https://t.co/WTulz8pLr3">pic.twitter.com/WTulz8pLr3</a>

    After a 17-4 run sent the game to overtime, the Celtics mostly cruised through the final five minutes and avoided a winless week.

    Jayson Tatum went for 44 points on 15-of-29 shooting in the game. Jaylen Brown added 25 points and 15 rebounds.

    For at least Tuesday night, the course seemed to have corrected, but Golden State and Los Angeles showed Boston isn't invincible. Rosters that have the ability to play switch-heavy schemes, pressure the three-point line and rebound when the Celtics are off have a shot.

    Those aren't terribly common, of course. That's why Boston has been so dominant this season, but they're certainly not the only title contender.

1. Memphis Grizzlies (19-9)

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    MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 9: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies dribbles the ball during the game against the Detroit Pistons on December 9, 2022 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. 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 Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 5
    Net Rating: +5.0

    The Memphis Grizzlies had a statement win on Thursday, when they crushed Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks by 41 points.

    The game got out of hand so quickly that Memphis didn't have a single starter log over 26 minutes. And the one who got there, Ja Morant, recorded a 25-point triple-double.

    That Memphis is winning games like this and flying up the standings with a seven-game winning streak without getting a single minute from all three of the core pieces (Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane) on the floor together should be alarming for the rest of the league.

    If they ever get (and stay) fully healthy, the Grizzlies should be considered among this season's bona fide title contenders.

Stat of the Week

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    MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 2: Brook Lopez #11 of the Milwaukee Bucks blocks Wenyen Gabriel #35 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the game on December 2, 2022 at the Fiserv Forum Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 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 Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images).
    Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

    We're not even to the halfway point of the NBA season, but debates and takes on individual awards, especially the MVP, are already hitting the internet, podcasts and TV shows.

    Defensive Player of the Year is one honor that could be a runaway by the time voting gets going.

    Several common indicators are pointing to Brook Lopez, who leads the league in blocks per game (2.9), ranks in the 97th percentile in defensive estimated plus-minus and has a huge impact on his team's defensive rating.

    The Milwaukee Bucks rank second in defense, and their mark for points allowed per 100 possessions drops by 6.6 when he's on the floor.

    But the number we're really concerned with for Stat of the Week's purposes is the whopping 17.7 shots he contests per game. That doesn't just lead the league; it's 4.9 more than second-place Ivica Zubac. And among players with at least 10 games played, that distance between Lopez and Zubac is the same as the distance between Zubac and 36th.

Who's Getting Moved in the Next Two Months?

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 13: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on before the game against the Boston Celtics on December 13, 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 Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
    Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

    We passed one of the more significant dates on the NBA calendar this week. On December 15, most of the players who were signed to deals this past offseason became trade-eligible, thus giving us the unofficial start of trade season.

    Between now and February 9, we're sure to see several players change teams. Let's take a stab at who's most likely to move.

    • Russell Westbrook: He's been better since moving to the bench, but L.A.'s season-long net rating is still far worse with Russ on the floor, and LeBron and AD need to be surrounded by as much shooting as possible (which a couple draft picks and Westbrook's expiring deal might be able to fetch).
    • DeMar DeRozan: If the Bulls continue to hover around mediocrity (or worse), buzz will get pretty loud on the possibility of a rebuild. And though he doesn't bring the most modern offensive game, DeRozan has played well enough to command a decent return in a trade.
    • Jakob Poeltl: Outside of decreasing odds for landing Victor Wembanyama, there isn't a ton of purpose for a veteran on the rebuilding Spurs, but with his solid defense and underrated passing, Poeltl could be a difference-maker for most contenders. And his $9.4 million salary makes him a pretty painless potential acquisition.
    • Myles Turner: Few players embody "three-and-D" from the center position quite like Turner, who's averaging 2.3 blocks and 1.7 threes while shooting 43.2 percent from deep. Unlike San Antonio, though, the Pacers have showed the potential to stay in the playoff hunt all season. That might decrease the odds of Turner being dealt a bit.
    • Buddy Hield: The same caveat applies to Hield, but he's been in trade rumors for years, and his ability to take and make threes in volume should intrigue plenty of teams. Over the last four years, he's averaged 9.5 three-point attempts per game while shooting 38.4 percent from deep. Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard are the only other players in league history to exceed nine three-point attempts and a 38 three-point percentage over a four-year span.
    • Bojan Bogdanović: With averages of 21.1 points and 2.6 threes and a 43.2 three-point percentage, Bogdanović should be one of the hottest commodities potentially on the market this season. Detroit may not be "eager" to move him, but if someone offers a first-rounder, after all it took to acquire him this summer was Kelly Olynyk, Saben Lee and cash, the rebuilding Pistons will have to think about pulling the trigger.
    • Jae Crowder: Maybe the most obvious candidate of all, Crowder demanded to be traded before the season started, hasn't played a single minute for the Phoenix Suns and has been popping up all over the rumor mill lately. He's now 32 and probably won't change anyone's world with his production, but I'd expect Crowder to end up on a contender who'll benefit from his hard-nosed, positionless defense and streaky outside shooting.
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