NBA Power Rankings: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks Surging into Final Quarter of Season

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVMarch 3, 2023

NBA Power Rankings: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks Surging into Final Quarter of Season

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo
    Giannis AntetokounmpoAl Bello/Getty Images

    The trade deadline was almost a month ago. The All-Star break is in the rearview too. That means we're officially in the stretch run of this NBA season, and a fairly substantial number of bona fide title contenders are seemingly revealing themselves.

    The Milwaukee Bucks are on a 16-game winning streak that has them in first place in the Eastern Conference. The Boston Celtics are finally whole and playing the starting five that dominated the second half of last season. Nikola Jokić continues to strengthen an already ironclad case to three-peat as MVP. The Golden State Warriors are finding their old form.

    And, oh, Kevin Durant is playing for the Phoenix Suns now.

    Sorting through the parity-packed NBA of 2022-23 is a lot trickier than it was in previous seasons, and we haven't even mentioned the Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers.

    The league is loaded, but the power rankings still beckon us to put every team in order from 30 to 1. And to do that, we'll use the same factors that have guided us since October: championship chances, numbers, recent performance and plenty of good, old-fashioned subjectivity.

30. Houston Rockets (13-49)

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    Jabari Smith Jr.
    Jabari Smith Jr.Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 29
    Net Rating: -9.2

    It's way too early to jump ship on the Houston Rockets' young core, but Jalen Green's true shooting percentage is down from last season. And for the second successive year, Houston's net rating is far better when he's off the floor.

    Rookie Jabari Smith Jr. is struggling, too. He's averaging just one more point (11.8) than field-goal attempts (10.8), and his advanced numbers are, at the very least, concerning. Despite being the third overall pick, he's currently last in his draft class in wins over replacement player.

    Still, Green has shown a bit more as a distributor this season. Forcing teams to respect his passing ability could open up some easier scoring opportunities for him. Smith looks like he has a chance to be a dynamic defender who can rack up some blocks from weakside rotations.

    But overall, 2022-23 has shown us little more than the fact that it's going to take a while for this team to be competitive.

29. San Antonio Spurs (16-47)

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    Jeremy Sochan
    Jeremy SochanPhotos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 30
    Net Rating: -9.8

    The San Antonio Spurs aren't far removed from 16 straight losses. They still have the worst net rating in the league, but stop the presses, because this team is suddenly on a two-game winning streak.

    San Antonio closed this week with back-to-back victories over the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers, and rookie Jeremy Sochan is starting to show some serious upside.

    He led the squad in assists against Utah. Then, he led the way in scoring against Indiana. And over his last 14 games, Sochan is averaging 15.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.0 threes while shooting 35.9 percent from deep.

    And of course, this tiny little surge isn't really costing the Spurs anything long-term either. They're still almost certainly going to finish the season with a bottom-three record and a 14.0 percent chance to secure the No. 1 overall pick.

28. Detroit Pistons (15-48)

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    James Wiseman
    James WisemanChris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 28
    Net Rating: -7.4

    James Wiseman has only played five games with the Detroit Pistons, but they've already seen both sides of a coin that's been difficult to read throughout his career.

    He has three double-digit scoring performances, including a 23-pointer against the Charlotte Hornets, but he's also fouled out of a game in 20 minutes. And on Wednesday, he was minus-16 with seven points and three turnovers in 29 minutes.

    There are moments when you see the fluid athleticism that made him the No. 2 overall pick in 2020, but there's clearly still a long way to go.

    For a lot of young NBA players, it takes time to attain the defensive focus necessary to succeed on that end.

27. Charlotte Hornets (20-44)

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    LaMelo Ball
    LaMelo BallAP Photo/Jacob Kupferman

    Previous Rank: 27
    Net Rating: -5.9

    Before Wednesday's loss to Kevin Durant and the Phoenix Suns, the Charlotte Hornets had cobbled together an unexpected five-game winning streak.

    But whatever good vibes came as a result of that run had to be dampened by LaMelo Ball's injury in the final win.

    After an awkward plant on his right foot against the Detroit Pistons, Ball left the game. He was later diagnosed with a fractured ankle that will keep him out for the rest of the season.

    It's obviously a big blow, as Ball has averaged 21.1 points, 7.9 assists and 3.3 threes over the last two seasons, but this isn't necessarily an issue for Charlotte's long-term prospects.

    At this point, losses are more valuable than wins. And if the Hornets emerge from this mess of a season with Ball and Victor Wembanyama, it will have been worth it.

26. Indiana Pacers (28-36)

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    Buddy Hield
    Buddy HieldPhotos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 25
    Net Rating: -2.7

    The Indiana Pacers are almost certainly headed to the lottery. After Thursday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs, they now have the sixth-worst record in the league and what would be a 9.0 percent chance to land the top pick in the draft if the season ended today.

    Chasing losses is now a legitimate course for the rest of this season.

    But Indiana has looked plucky again of late, winning three of its last five, including a revenge game for coach Rick Carlisle over the Dallas Mavericks.

    During rebuilding campaigns, little stretches like this can be a welcome reprieve that doesn't dramatically alter offseason plans and odds.

25. Orlando Magic (26-37)

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    Paolo Banchero
    Paolo BancheroGary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 24
    Net Rating: -2.7

    Paolo Banchero is going to win Rookie of the Year. And he probably should. He leads the draft class in both and points per game, but the last month has reminded us there's still plenty of work to do, specifically on shooting.

    Since February 1, Banchero is 1-of-35 from three-point range. Yes, that's 2.9 percent for an entire month of NBA basketball, and on pretty decent volume. The slump has pulled his seasonlong numbers down to 41.9 percent from the field and 27.1 percent from deep.

    His size (6'10" with a 7'1" wingspan) and playmaking chops provide more than enough to remain intrigued by his long-term upside, but the summer homework assignment should be obvious: get as many jumpers up as possible.

24. Portland Trail Blazers (29-33)

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    Damian Lillard
    Damian LillardSam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 21
    Net Rating: -0.7

    Based on most models, his team is headed to the lottery, but we shouldn't let this Damian Lillard campaign be lost to history.

    This week alone, he had a 41-point game against the New Orleans Pelicans and a masterful 71-point performance against the Houston Rockets.

    Over his past 21 games, Lillard is averaging 38.8 points, 7.0 assists and 4.8 threes while shooting 40.2 percent from deep.

    James Harden is the only player in NBA history with 21-game runs in which he matched or exceeded all of Lillard's totals for points, assists and threes during this streak.

23. Oklahoma City Thunder (28-34)

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    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderZach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 17
    Net Rating: +0.9

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played in the All-Star game and then dropped 39 in the Oklahoma City Thunder's first game after the break, but he's been out for the four games since then with ankle-, abdominal- and health and safety protocol-related absences.

    And while there's no reason to doubt the veracity of those injuries and the reporting on them, it's starting to feel very much like "conservative injury timeline" season.

    OKC has already blown past its preseason over-under and has been in range of the play-in tournament all season, but they're also just three losses from a 10.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft.

    And going 0-4 in this current SGA absence has to tempt the front office to lean into the lottery odds.

22. Los Angeles Lakers (30-33)

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    LeBron James
    LeBron JamesJustin Ford/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 18
    Net Rating: -0.7

    Just when Los Angeles Lakers fans, and plenty of media members, were getting excited about this team's prospects, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski delivered some devastating news.

    Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

    ESPN Sources: LeBron James's right foot is expected to be reassessed in two weeks to see how much progress he's made, but timeline on return expected to extend beyond that checkpoint. Where Lakers reside in standings by then could impact how soon it makes sense for him to return.

    That report, which anticipates an absence longer than two weeks, dropped on February 28. There are five weeks left in the season, and L.A. is minus-7.9 points per 100 possessions when LeBron is off the floor (and a slightly more encouraging minus-3.9 without both LeBron and Russell Westbrook).

    The Lakers are currently outside the play-in picture, and if they perform at that level for three or four weeks, we can pretty much put a fork in their postseason chances.

    On the bright side, in a game Anthony Davis also sat out, the supporting cast did pick up an unexpected win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday. But that result feels more like Clark Griswold trying to plug a leak with bubble gum than a sign of things to come.

21. Chicago Bulls (29-34)

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    Patrick Beverley
    Patrick BeverleyChris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 26
    Net Rating: +0.7

    Multiple teams around the league went to the buyout market for help with their starting lineups (unusual in itself), but it looks like the Chicago Bulls actually found it.

    Patrick Beverley was signed shortly after he was released by the Orlando Magic, and he was immediately inserted into the starting five in place of Ayo Dosunmu. After Wednesday's win over the Detroit Pistons, the Bulls are now 3-1 since the move.

    And despite averaging just 5.3 points on 4.5 field-goal attempts in his four appearances for Chicago, Beverley is clearly making an impact. He had 10 boards and 10 assists on Tuesday alone and is averaging 6.8 and 4.8 as a Bull.

    His total plus-minus of 51 is already fourth on the team.

    With plenty of scoring already accounted for from DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević, what the Bulls needed from Beverley was his patented grit and willingness to move the ball. He's bringing both, and if the shot comes around, Chicago can still sneak into the play-in tournament.

20. Utah Jazz (31-32)

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    Will Hardy and Walker Kessler
    Will Hardy and Walker KesslerMelissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 22
    Net Rating: +0.7

    Even after a trade that seemed designed to steer the Utah Jazz a bit further into a rebuild, the team has remained competitive.

    Utah is 4-3 since the deal that sent Mike Conley, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt out of town, but they closed this week with a potentially eye-opening loss to the San Antonio Spurs, which were on a 16-game losing streak headed into the game.

    And now, the Jazz will embark on a six-game road trip that includes contests against the Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder (twice). Even the Orlando Magic (21-16 since their 5-20 start) will probably be favored when they face Utah on March 9.

    That leaves one game against the LaMelo Ball-less Charlotte Hornets as the one game in this upcoming stretch that Utah probably should win. And with only four losses separating the Jazz from a 10.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick (compared to the 0.8 percent chance they have now), a 1-5 or 0-6 trip might even be preferable.

19. Brooklyn Nets (34-28)

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    Cameron Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie and Mikal Bridges
    Cameron Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie and Mikal BridgesNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 15
    Net Rating: +0.5

    There was some initial optimism that the Brooklyn Nets' new-look, highly switchable roster could at least remain competitive following the departures of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

    Mikal Bridges scoring 45 in a mid-February win over the Miami Heat certainly fueled that optimism, but Brooklyn is 0-4 since then. And a couple of the losses were ugly.

    The streak started with a 44-point drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bulls. And on Wednesday, the Nets lost by 24 and gave up 142 points to the New York Knicks.

    They're still in sixth place in the East, but suddenly, escaping the play-in tournament doesn't feel like a given (the Miami Heat are a game-and-a-half back of Brooklyn). This team is serving as a possible reminder of the importance of star power and the time it takes to develop connectivity on defense.

18. New Orleans Pelicans (31-32)

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    Brandon Ingram
    Brandon IngramSam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 14
    Net Rating: +0.9

    The New Orleans Pelicans rode the hot hand of Brandon Ingram and his 40 points to a much-needed road victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

    NBA @NBA

    Dame and BI each dropped a 40 piece tonight in Portland 👀<br><br>Lillard: 41 PTS, 8 REB<br>Ingram: 40 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST<br><br>Pelicans got the W, 121-110 <a href=""></a>

    Prior to the win, New Orleans had dropped four straight, and its spot in the play-in tournament is suddenly very much in peril. Portland, though, is one of the Pelicans' competitors for 10th place, and Wednesday's result stretched the gap between those two teams to a game and a half. The other team on their heels, the Los Angeles Lakers, are going to be without LeBron James for an indefinite period of time.

    If Ingram and CJ McCollum can merely keep New Orleans afloat until the return of Zion Williamson (who's scheduled for an MRI this week), the Pelicans could be a nightmare for the other play-in participants.

17. Toronto Raptors (31-33)

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    Pascal Siakam
    Pascal SiakamMark Blinch/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 19
    Net Rating: +0.4

    The Toronto Raptors have lost two of their last three, but they had an 8-3 February that has them currently in the mix for the play-in tournament.

    And Pascal Siakam continues to have one of the league's more underrated individual campaigns (perhaps because Toronto had underwhelmed till February).

    Despite totaling just 13 points in Thursday's loss to the Washington Wizards, Siakam is on track to be the eighth player in NBA history to have a season with averages of 25-plus points, seven-plus rebounds, six-plus assists and one-plus three per game.

16. Washington Wizards (30-32)

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    Kristaps Porziņģis
    Kristaps PorziņģisStephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 23
    Net Rating: 0.0

    The Washington Wizards are 6-3 in their last nine games, and Kristaps Porziņģis continues to have an All-Star-level season without All-Star-level attention.

    After going for 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting in Thursday's win over the Toronto Raptors, Porziņģis is averaging 26.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.8 threes and 1.4 blocks since February 1.

    And in the same stretch, he's shooting 58.0 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from deep.

    If Porziņģis can maintain this level of play (or something close to it) for the rest of the season, and the Brooklyn Nets continue to slide without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, there's still an outside chance the Wizards escape the play-in tournament altogether.

15. Atlanta Hawks (31-31)

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    Trae Young and Quin Snyder
    Trae Young and Quin SnyderAlex Slitz/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 20
    Net Rating: -0.2

    The Atlanta Hawks are 0-1 in the Quin Snyder era, but it's tough to expect swift, dramatic changes three-quarters of the way through a mediocre team's season.

    So, why bring him in right now? Why not let interim coach Joe Prunty ride it out and bring in the new voice during the offseason, as is typically the course for these things?

    Atlanta seems to have some serious organizational and philosophical issues. Much of the reporting on this team all season has revolved around (or at least touched on) the friction between star point guard Trae Young and much of the rest of the team.

    Allowing Snyder a few extra months for his intervention than most new coaches get makes sense. He helped mold a team-first chemistry with the Utah Jazz—it eventually imploded, but still—and guided Gordon Hayward, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert to All-Star campaigns.

    During his eight seasons in Utah, he managed a No. 2 defense in 2017-18 and a No. 1 offense in 2021-22. Over his last six years combined, the Jazz were third in the league in winning percentage. He made a pick-and-roll master out of Mitchell, and it's fair to expect him to lift Young as well.

    He may not have enough time to turn this ship around before the 2023 postseason, but he can at least get the wheel moving.

14. Minnesota Timberwolves (32-32)

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    Mike Conley and Kyle Anderson
    Mike Conley and Kyle AndersonHarry How/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 16
    Net Rating: +0.1

    Questions and criticism have swirled around the Minnesota Timberwolves all season, particularly related to the Rudy Gobert trade, but they've had at least one constant in their frontcourt: point forward Kyle Anderson.

    In Tuesday's win over the Los Angeles Clippers, Anderson had 12 points, 10 boards, three assists and two steals. And he cleverly cut baseline during a pick-and-roll he wasn't running and found Gobert for a game-sealing dime late in the fourth quarter.

    Minnesota Timberwolves @Timberwolves

    THE DAGGER <a href=""></a>

    Anderson is good for multiple heady plays like that every game. And he's having a comfortably positive impact on the team while executing them.

    On the season, Minnesota is plus-2.5 points per 100 possessions with Anderson on the floor and minus-1.3 with him off. More importantly, he might be the key to unlocking Gobert, who is plus-6.3 points per 100 possessions and posting a 73.0 true shooting percentage when playing with Anderson and minus-5.7 with a 66.7 true shooting percentage without Anderson.

13. Miami Heat (33-30)

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    Kevin Love
    Kevin LoveTim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 12
    Net Rating: -0.8

    Early returns on the addition of Kevin Love haven't been great.

    Like a few other buyout players, including Russell Westbrook with the Los Angeles Clippers and Patrick Beverley with the Chicago Bulls, Love was immediately entered into the starting lineup after Miami signed him. And after Wednesday's blowout loss at home to the Joel Embiid-less 76ers, the Heat are now 1-3 when Love plays.

    In his four games since the move, Love is averaging 7.5 points and shooting 23.8 percent from deep. And while it's probably too early to pull the plug on this lineup experiment, the player Love replaced, Caleb Martin, is a better defender and is shooting 36.3 percent from deep.

12. Los Angeles Clippers (33-32)

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    Russell Westbrook
    Russell WestbrookNoah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 8
    Net Rating: -0.4

    The Los Angeles Clippers seemed to be on to something with Terance Mann starting as a nominal point guard and allowing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to more or less run the offense.

    And instead of leaning into that and the kind of mostly positionless basketball that was winning them games, they signed Russell Westbrook off the buyout market, immediately put him in the starting lineup and rattled off four straight losses.

    As noted on TNT's broadcast of Thursday's loss to the Golden State Warriors, Westbrook has now lost 14 straight when starting (dating back to last season). And it's becoming increasingly difficult to understand why the Clippers have put him in this position.

    Justin W. @LAClippersFilm

    The Clippers spent so much of the season getting to a place where they could attempt to be serious. <br><br>There was just no reason to nuke the rotations this late into the season like this.

    Westbrook has been deferential to the Clippers' stars for much of his four games there, but he's still taken some questionable shots late, and he's totaled 17 turnovers in those appearances.

    Perhaps most importantly, his poor shooting is going to make things awfully cramped for the first five.


    Draymond Green's defense on Russell Westbrook 😳 <a href=""></a>

    Difficult as it might be to accept, Westbrook might have to move back to the bench.

11. Dallas Mavericks (33-31)

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    Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić
    Kyrie Irving and Luka DončićRon Jenkins/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 11
    Net Rating: +0.7

    The Dallas Mavericks were in desperate need of a win on Thursday. Before Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers came to town, they were 1-4 in games in which Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving both played.

    Against Philly, they broke out of that slump in historic fashion.

    Mark Followill @MFollowill

    Mavs have never had two 40-plus point scorers in a game until tonight, Luka with 42 and Kyrie with 40 in a 133-126 win vs Philadelphia.

    The defense gave up 126 points and a couple stress-inducing runs when the game should've been decided, but it didn't matter, thanks to the absurd offensive peaks this offense can now hit.

    Dallas will now put every opponent from here on out in one of basketball's worst imaginable pick-your-poison scenarios. Teams will have to put their second-best perimeter defender on either Luka or Kyrie, and he's almost certainly going to get dominated by either.

    On Thursday, that equation led to 82 points on 28-of-44 shooting in a win.

10. Golden State Warriors (33-30)

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    Stephen Curry
    Stephen CurryEzra Shaw/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 13
    Net Rating: 0.9

    When Stephen Curry went down with an injury in the Golden State Warriors' February 4 win over the Dallas Mavericks, things seemed pretty bleak.

    The Warriors were just a game over .500, and their season-long point differential is very much in the red when he's off the floor.

    But after blowing out the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, the Warriors are 6-4 in this latest Curry-less stretch that could've broken their season.

    Golden State didn't just survive. It put itself in a better position without Curry, who's planning to return to action Sunday against the Los Angeles Lakers, per Bleacher Report's Chris Haynes.

    The reigning champions might be hitting their stride with just over a month left in the regular season, something the rest of the league should probably be worried about.

9. Sacramento Kings (36-25)

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    Domantas Sabonis and Malik Monk
    Domantas Sabonis and Malik MonkAdam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 10
    Net Rating:

    The Sacramento Kings had a wild week in which they went 3-0 on the road and prevailed in the second-highest scoring game in NBA history against the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Malik Monk and De'Aaron Fox went off for 45 and 42, respectively, in a game that turned out to be a jump-shooting highlight factory.

    And following that up with 247 total points in back-to-back wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder has Sacramento up to a whopping 118.8 points per 100 possessions on the season.

    That's not just first this season, it's the highest mark in NBA history (and 0.5 clear of this season's Denver Nuggets).

    With high-end shooting from Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes and Kevin Huerter orbiting the two-man game of Fox and Domantas Sabonis, this attack is borderline unstoppable.

8. New York Knicks (37-27)

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    Quentin Grimes
    Quentin GrimesElsa/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 9
    Net Rating: +3.0

    The New York Knicks' seasonlong numbers are good. They're in the top 10 of the league in both winning percentage and net rating. And although Julius Randle was their lone All-Star, he and Jalen Brunson are both playing at an All-Star level.

    But even those indicators may not tell us exactly how good the Knicks are.

    Quentin Grimes entered the starting lineup for good on November 20, and since then, New York trails only the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies, Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics in net rating.

    Grimes' low-usage, high-efficiency offense and his willingness to take on difficult defensive assignments are big reasons for the surge.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers (39-26)

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    Jaylen Brown and Donovan Mitchell
    Jaylen Brown and Donovan MitchellAP Photo/Charles Krupa

    Previous Rank: 6
    Net Rating: +5.2

    After losing to the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers have dropped four of five in a funk that started just before the All-Star break.

    It's hard to blame Donovan Mitchell—or, at least, his offense—for the slide.

    Over his last eight games, Mitchell is putting up 31.6 points, 4.3 assists and 4.0 threes while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from deep.

    But in those four recent losses, Cleveland's defense has surrendered 41 points to Jayson Tatum, 59 points to Trae Young and Dejounte Murray, 25 points to Michael Porter Jr. and 12 assists to James Harden.

    Even for a team with a top-three season-long defense, the lack of perimeter stoppers has always been a concern. And that concern is now leading to some losses.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (38-23)

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    Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane
    Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond BaneJoe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 7
    Net Rating: +4.3

    Ja Morant gets most of the attention, but the perceived second and third members of what would be the Memphis Grizzlies' "big three" may be as important.

    Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane both have bigger net-rating swings than Ja. Bane has been a far more efficient scorer than Morant, and JJJ leads the team in estimated plus-minus (one of the most trusted all-in-one metrics in the NBA).

    Since February 1, both players are putting up strong individual numbers (in Jackson's case, that description probably isn't sufficient). In that stretch, Bane is averaging 20.7 points, 4.0 assists and 2.9 threes, while shooting 41.6 percent from deep, while Jackson is at 17.4 points and an eye-popping 3.9 blocks.

5. Philadelphia 76ers (40-22)

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    Joel Embiid
    Joel EmbiidGlenn James/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 4
    Net Rating: +3.9

    The Philadelphia 76ers have lost three of their last four. And oddly enough, the one win in that stretch came in the game Joel Embiid sat.

    That certainly won't fool anyone, though. Despite being minus-16 in Thursday's loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Embiid continues to be the driving force behind Philadelphia's top-six net rating.

    When Embiid is on the floor, the Sixers are plus-7.9 points per 100 possessions, compared to minus-1.5 when he's off.

    That's a continuation of a career-long trend for Embiid and the 76ers, and even the presence of James Harden for an entire season hasn't slowed it down.

4. Phoenix Suns (34-29)

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    Kevin Durant
    Kevin DurantJesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 5
    Net Rating: +1.6

    The Phoenix Suns were sent flying up the rankings last time around, based on little more than the addition of Kevin Durant. And this week, he made his debut in a 105-91 win over the Charlotte Hornets.

    In just 26 minutes, Durant went 10-of-15 from the field, scored 23 points, grabbed six boards and blocked two shots.

    He looked every bit as adaptable as he was when he joined the Golden State Warriors in 2016. Unlike plenty of other volume scorers in NBA history, his presence should be purely additive. He knows how to play with ball-dominant creators like Devin Booker and Chris Paul.

    The learning curve here shouldn't be steep.

3. Denver Nuggets (44-19)

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    Nikola Jokić and Alperen Şengün
    Nikola Jokić and Alperen ŞengünLogan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 3
    Net Rating: +4.5

    Nikola Jokić collected his 100th career triple-double in Tuesday's win over the Houston Rockets, and after the game he had a little fun with the pundits who've accused him of "stat padding."

    Vic Lombardi @VicLombardi

    Stat-padder compliments of <a href="">@AltitudeTV</a> <a href=""></a>

    The notion is absurd on several levels, but we'll settle with this one: The Denver Nuggets are 82-18 overall and 24-0 this season when Jokić has a triple-double.

    And even if he was chasing counting stats (he's not), it's certainly not coming at the expense of the team. Jokić leads the NBA in both total plus-minus and plus-minus per 100 possessions among players with at least 30 games.

2. Boston Celtics (45-18)

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    Jayson Tatum and Sam Hauser
    Jayson Tatum and Sam HauserBrian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 1
    Net Rating: +5.7

    The Boston Celtics held off the Milwaukee Bucks about as long as they could, but it's tough to stay in first place when the team you're battling is on a 16-game winning streak.

    Despite losing their spot at the top of the East, Boston is still 8-2 in its last 10 and continues to look very much like a title contender.

    In Wednesday's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are second in the league in net rating, Jayson Tatum went for 41 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

    And the starting lineup that began most of the Celtics' games in 2021-22—Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams III—is now 4-0 this season.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (45-17)

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo
    Giannis AntetokounmpoJohn Fisher/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 2
    Net Rating: +3.9

    Thanks to much of the national media debating things like the viability of an 11th-place team beating the West's top seed in a playoff series or the two-time MVP "stat padding," the recent dominance of the Milwaukee Bucks has somehow flown under the radar.

    After crushing the Orlando Magic on Wednesday, Milwaukee has now won 16 straight games to put them in first place in the Eastern Conference.

    ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

    Mike Budenholzer has 3 single-season win streaks of 15+ games in his head coaching career.<br><br>That is tied for the 2nd-most by a head coach all-time. The only head coach with more is Red Auerbach.<br><br>Red Auerbach5<br>Mike Budenholzer3<br>Mike D'Antoni 3<br>Phil Jackson 3 <a href=""></a>

    The Bucks ascended to that position despite plenty of value lost thanks to the injuries of Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and others.

    Now that the roster is mostly healthy, this team looks as dominant as its been in the Jrue Holiday era.

    When he, Giannis and Brook Lopez are all on the floor, Milwaukee is plus-11.4 points per 100 possessions. If you add Middleton to that mix, the sample size becomes too small for meaningful takeaways, but the net rating skyrockets to plus-27.9.

Stat of the Week

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    Damian Lillard
    Damian LillardCameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

    Time to check in on a record that we've been tracking for much of this season. And, well, since the last edition of the power rankings, it was broken.

    We've now witnessed a whopping 153 40-point games from NBA players this season. The old record of 142, set in 1961-62 is going to be way behind by the end of this campaign, which features 51 players with a 40-point game and 27 players with at least two.

    The four players with at least 10 40-pointers this season are Damian Lillard (13), Luka Dončić (11), Giannis Antetokounmpo (11) and Joel Embiid (10).

    The proliferation of three-point attempts over the course of Stephen Curry's career and a more recent uptick in pace are both potential factors leading to this explosion, but at this point, appreciation for the performances should trump curiosity as to why they're happening.

    The increase in skill level across the NBA over the past few years is truly remarkable. We've witnessed an average of more than one 40-point outing per night this season. Every single team has someone who can go off, which makes every night's slate of NBA games potentially interesting, at the very least, and mesmerizing, at best.

Dark-Horse Rookie of the Year Candidates

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    Keegan Murray
    Keegan MurrayRocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

    As noted in the Orlando Magic slide, Paolo Banchero is almost certainly going to win Rookie of the Year. His odds at the FanDuel Sportsbook are minus-2000. That means a $10 bet would win you 50 cents.

    But let's imagine, for a moment, a world in which this award wasn't decided almost entirely on points per game and look at a couple dark-horse (or in this case, potentially invisible horse) candidates.

    Walker Kessler and Keegan Murray are currently first and second in this draft class in wins over replacement player, and both have intriguing statistical cases outside that one catch-all.

    Kessler, who's first in wins over replacement and more than doubles Murray's total, is averaging 8.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks (11.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks since he became the full-time starter on January 10).

    And he's playing for a team with a better record than the Orlando Magic and having a pretty strong impact on wins and losses. When Kessler is on the floor, the Utah Jazz are plus-3.0 points per 100 possessions (compared to minus-1.4 when he's off).

    He'll probably never score as much Banchero is right now, but Kessler is already one of the league's most dynamic rim protectors, has solid touch for a big and isn't hopeless when switched onto a guard defensively.

    Murray, meanwhile, leads the draft class in threes, and his total of 147 obliterates second-place Jabari Smith Jr.'s 89. He's also shooting 41.4 percent from deep, starting and having a real influence on the third-place team in the West.

    The Sacramento Kings are plus-78 when De'Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes and Domantas Sabonis are on the floor, giving them the seventh highest total plus-minus of any five-man lineup this season.

    None of the groups ahead of Sacramento's include a rookie.