NBA Power Rankings: Steph Curry Has Warriors Leading the Pack After 1 Week
Even if your favorite NBA team is still winless after our second week of power rankings, it's still technically accurate to say it got off to a fast start.
Because everyone is sprinting.
Turnover rates are at historic lows, scoring is skyrocketing, and all but one team is playing faster than the once-believed-to-be-blistering "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns, who used 97.37 possessions per 48 minutes. That's hard to process: A 2004-05 Suns team once thought of as unfathomably, dangerously, recklessly fast would be considered glacially slow today.
This is going to take some getting used to.
The Golden State Warriors, despite a merely decent start by their standards, remain atop our rankings. They're there in large part because of what we've learned about them over the past four seasons, which is to say that we know they're still the league's most dangerous team on a nightly basis. Stephen Curry proved that with 51 points in three quarters against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday.
The Toronto Raptors are gobbling up opponents, though, and even if the Houston Rockets have stumbled, there are plenty more West squads (hi, Denver Nuggets!) angling for spots near the top of our rankings.
As always, the goal is to organize all 30 teams into an order that reflects the league's power structure. Injuries are a factor, and recent play matters—even if we're still giving less weight to small early samples.
Last week's rankings in parentheses.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (26)
Cleveland is 0-5, Collin Sexton got roasted by Trae Young on Sunday, and Kevin Love is now a volume scorer in the alpha role.
Cue the "this is fine" meme.
The Cavs are in the bottom five in both offense and defense, and neither the veterans nor the youth on the roster seem capable of contributing consistently. It's going to be a long year.
29. Chicago Bulls (28)
Zach LaVine has been good for at least 30 points every night this season, and he's unveiled some breathtaking offensive flourishes. His defense remains horrendous, though, and it seems like everyone else on the roster is hurt.
Kris Dunn, the Bulls' best backcourt defender, is out four to six weeks with a sprained MCL suffered in his first game back after missing two for the birth of his child. Bobby Portis now has his own MCL sprain and will miss several weeks, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic. Add Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen to the list of the wounded, and you've almost got an entire lineup on the bench.
Chicago faces plenty of obstacles in its rebuild—atrocious defense being one—but if this health luck persists, the biggest concern might be a lack of information on several key players. It's hard to identify cornerstones when they're in street clothes.
28. New York Knicks (29)
The Knicks are 29th in assist percentage, which tends to happen when there's no established NBA point guard on the roster. Fortunately, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been a reliable source of offense. He's averaging 24.4 points per game through New York's first five contests.
Unless you really like watching Enes Kanter rebound or Frank Ntilikina turn in a handful of smothering defensive stops per game, you can comfortably stay clear of the Knicks until Kevin Knox comes back from his sprained ankle next week.
27. Phoenix Suns (22)
Deandre Ayton is going to get his numbers on offense, but the rookie has been consistently lost on D all year. Devin Booker has been little better.
The Suns are moving the ball, though, and that's huge for a team that averaged only 292.3 passes per game a season ago. Now, Phoenix ranks second in that category with 355.5 passes on average, thanks to a better offensive flow under Igor Kokoskov.
Since taking down the Mavs on opening night, Phoenix has lost three straight by an average of 22 points.
26. Sacramento Kings (30)
Revelation's a strong word, so maybe we should just say Buddy Hield has looked darn good on offense. He's added much more off-the-bounce verve, and now one of the league's top spot-up threats can occasionally get his own looks. Hield is quietly becoming a complete offensive weapon. He's giving the Kings 16.4 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from deep and 50.7 percent overall.
Sacramento held the Grizzlies to 92 points in Wednesday's win, a low total badly needed after the Kings surrendered no fewer than 120 points in their first four games.
At 2-3, the Kings embark on a four-game trip out East next week. If they return anywhere near .500, another move up the ranks will be in order.
25. Atlanta Hawks (27)
Trae Young pumped in 35 points to go with 11 assists on Sunday against the Cavs, becoming the first rookie to collect 35 and 10-plus since Stephen Curry in 2010.
Young flashed intuitive passing and creative shot-making in that one, then flexed his sneaky foul-drawing game during a 26-point comeback against Dallas on Wednesday.
With Taurean Prince averaging 21.8 points and drilling 41.9 percent of his treys, not to mention Kent Bazemore (32 points and seven assists against Dallas) playing some of his best ball, the Hawks have some firepower.
24. Orlando Magic (25)
Jonathan Isaac set new career highs with 18 points and 12 rebounds in Monday's 93-90 road win over the Boston Celtics, building on the hype that flared up on the rare occasions he was healthy last year. Isaac's productive start should come with context. This guy only played 27 games in his first year, never stringing together more than 10 games in a row.
A lot of this is new to him.
"Sometimes I still think of myself as a rookie," Isaac told Josh Robbins of The Athletic. "I love that because it just shows how much room there is for me to get better, and I enjoy taking that process on."
Orlando is 2-3, and it'll take a while until its net rating recovers from a brutal 120-88 loss to the Hornets last Friday.
23. Dallas Mavericks (24)
Luka Doncic is already Dallas' best offensive player, and as exciting as that is, it still means the Mavs are depending heavily on a rookie...which is no recipe for success.
Dennis Smith Jr. continues to make a mostly negative impact, hitting 37.5 percent of his shots while struggling to set up others—though he threw several nice passes in Wednesday's loss to the Hawks. Speaking of which, Dallas, 2-2, blew a 26-point lead in that one.
Harrison Barnes is due back Friday from a hamstring injury, and he'll provide some necessary stability, not to mention shooting. The Mavs are getting up a league-leading 42.5 threes per game, but they're only making 31.8 percent of them.
22. Brooklyn Nets (23)
Welcome to the Caris LeVert breakout. He's leading the Nets in scoring at 21 points per game while grabbing five rebounds and dishing four assists per contest. Finally, all that slithery ball-handling and craft is leading to serious production.
Not to be forgotten: Joe Harris, who's made 12 of his last 15 three-point attempts.
Brooklyn got Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Shabazz Napier back this week from groin and hamstring injuries, respectively, which will help as the Nets leave the pushover portion of their schedule. New Orleans and Golden State loom next, representing the first real test for this 2-2 squad.
If Brooklyn hopes to have any chance against those two West powers, it'll have to take better care of the ball. Nobody's turnover percentage is higher than the Nets'.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (17)
So...maybe Jimmy Butler's not off base about Karl-Anthony Towns.
KAT is shooting only 42.6 percent from the field and averaging fewer shots per game than Butler, Derrick Rose and Andrew Wiggins. Some of that owes to Minnesota's scheme, but we've hit a point where Towns deserves blame for a lack of assertiveness.
Towns seemed to ask out of Wednesday's 112-105 loss to the Raptors after air-balling a three, prompting Wolves color analyst Jim Petersen to flatly state: "KAT just has that look in his face like he doesn't wanna play tonight. So...so be it."
Not a good look for Minnesota's newly maxed young star. There's been a lot of nonsense with the Wolves since Butler's trade demand, but Towns' stature is such that he's culpable for his team's 2-3 record.
20. Washington Wizards (18)
Markieff Morris closed the game against Portland at center on Monday, and his hot shooting at least raised the possibility that Dwight Howard won't be a better option at that spot once he's healthy. For now, Howard is away from the Wizards while he rehabs a sore buttock/lower back, so Washington will get more chances to test its smaller lineups as its trip out West continues.
The Wizards are lucky Morris handled his business against the Blazers. If not for his 28 points and career-best six made threes, that one-point overtime win could have gone the other way. And in that scenario, we'd be looking at a 0-4 Washington team.
The effort has been inconsistent and chemistry concerns will persist indefinitely. Head coach Scott Brooks might want to keep his options open if the Wizards return from their trip with a 1-6 record...which is possible.
19. Memphis Grizzlies (20)
JaMychal Green could be out until late November following surgery to repair a broken jaw. That'll sting the Grizzlies, but Jaren Jackson Jr. is now a starter, which eases the pain.
Jackson has been productive even though one of his signature skills, three-point shooting, has lagged. So far, he's at just 16.7 percent from deep, and foul trouble has been an issue. Still, Jackson got to the line nine times en route to 24 points against the Hawks on Friday, and his defensive versatility remains an asset.
Better still, Mike Conley looks healthy. He's averaging 19.3 points and 5.8 assists in 31.3 minutes per game.
The Grizz took down Utah on the road, but a loss to the Kings on Wednesday effectively canceled out that quality victory.
18. Charlotte Hornets (21)
Kemba Walker earned the first Eastern Conference Player of the Week honor for the season, and it's a little scary to imagine where the Hornets might be without him. An opening schedule that featured four of their first five games on the road had the Hornets leaning on their depth. The result: a 2-3 record and a solid plus-2.2 net rating.
Maybe this is more an indication that Walker lacks help than anything else, but you could also argue that the Hornets' seven players who average between eight and 13 points make them unpredictable on offense when Walker rests.
Ball security didn't leave with former head coach Steve Clifford. Charlotte is turning the rock over on just 11.7 percent of its possessions. Last year, in a fashion typical for a Clifford team, the Hornets ranked third in the league at 12.8 percent.
17. Oklahoma City Thunder (12)
Russell Westbrook is back after knee surgery, but his return wasn't enough to prevent a dispiriting 131-120 home loss to the Kings on Sunday. A lack of player movement grinds OKC's attack to a halt whether Westbrook or Dennis Schroder is in charge, and all the underrated passing in the world won't matter if the Thunder continue to post the league's worst effective field-goal percentage.
Oklahoma City remains one of just two winless teams, thanks to an offense that hasn't come together.
16. Detroit Pistons (19)
Blake Griffin hung a 50 spot on the 76ers during Tuesday's 133-132 overtime win, setting a career high and underscoring just how impressive his transition from high-flying lob-finisher to skilled perimeter big man has been.
Philadelphia had no answers for him, as Dario Saric explained to Rod Beard of the Detroit News: "He was making problems in our defense all the time, and we couldn't find a solution for him. Some of us tried to stop him, and he just had an amazing day. We tried to do everything, but sometimes we can't, you know?"
Detroit's 3-0 start was suspect, as it included a trio of wins by three points or fewer. Thursday's somewhat easier roll over the hapless Cavs doesn't mean much either. Still, with Griffin looking good and the wins (such as they are) piling up, the Pistons climb.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (10)
The Lakers started fast, averaging 11.5 seconds per possession on Oct. 18, according to Darryl Blackport of PBPStats.com, which was lower than we saw from any team in any game last year.
Unfortunately, all that pace wasn't enough to offset the difficulties so many foresaw when this team came together. Los Angeles isn't stopping anyone, and it's struggling to shoot consistently from deep. Defensive rebounding killed the Lakers' chances down the stretch against San Antonio on Monday.
The talent of the roster (at least offensively) isn't in question, but it's clear the Lakers will need time to sort everything out.
14. Los Angeles Clippers (15)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gets into the lane whenever he wants—particularly against switches—and that triggers collapsing help from defenders. Result: good looks for Gilgeous-Alexander inside and clean shots on kick-outs.
Tobias Harris has led the Clips in scoring for every game, but Danilo Gallinari, looking healthy and trim, has been right there with him. Gallo is even shooting it better than Harris from deep: 43.5 percent to 34.8 percent.
Even though those two veterans are getting their numbers, the Clippers rank in the bottom third of the league in offense. Lou Williams' cold start can't end soon enough.
13. Miami Heat (16)
Josh Richardson posted 28 points in a one-point win over the Wizards last Thursday, and he's hitting 39.4 percent of his 8.3 triple attempts per game. The push toward stardom many envisioned seems to be happening for Miami's best player.
With Rodney McGruder averaging 16.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest, the Heat suddenly have a pair of two-way wings to head their rotation. Divvying up playing time on Miami's deep roster has always been tough, but McGruder's healthy return adds even more (welcome) difficulty.
The Heat sit at 2-2 with a soft schedule through the rest of October.
12. San Antonio Spurs (14)
The Spurs defense, reliably in the top five for roughly 20 years, is ranked last in the league. Turns out losing Dejounte Murray (torn ACL), Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard makes it harder to get stops.
DeMar DeRozan set a career high with 14 assists during Monday's 143-142 overtime win against the Lakers, and San Antonio has been scoring a ton. It ranks among the league's five best offenses. The Spurs seem to have inverted their approach, which shouldn't be all that surprising, considering Gregg Popovich has always tailored style to fit personnel.
At 2-2 and owning just one decent win (over the Lakers), San Antonio remains comfortably in the middle of the pack until proven otherwise.
11. Indiana Pacers (11)
Thaddeus Young harassed LaMarcus Aldridge into a 5-of-18 shooting night during Wednesday's 116-96 win over San Antonio, which was comfortably Indy's best outing of the season.
The ball moved, the bench helped build a lead and Indiana summoned two-way effort that had been inconsistent in its first four games. Sitting at 3-2 with the league's sixth-best net rating, the Pacers are probably getting short shrift at No. 11. But a loss to Minnesota looks bad, and wins over Memphis and Brooklyn aren't eye-openers.
The Pacers' schedule stays soft until a Boston-Houston-Philly-Miami-Houston stretch in early November. That run will tell us whether Wednesday's effort in San Antonio was sustainable.
10. Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 6
Markelle Fultz looked freer and more comfortable with Ben Simmons (sore back) out of the lineup Tuesday, scoring 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting (which included his second made three of the season) in 21 minutes. Sans Simmons, the Sixers still lost that game to the Pistons by a final of 133-132.
Joel Embiid remains an efficient force on offense, one made even more dangerous by better ball security. Turnover-prone for his entire career, Embiid committed just three giveaways against 16 assists in his three games this past week.
If he's not throwing possessions away, it's exceptionally tough to stop him.
Philly will eventually have to pull the plug on Fultz as a starter if the ugly numbers don't change. So far, the Sixers have been terrific when Simmons and Embiid have shared the floor without Fultz, regardless of the other players surrounding them. Toss the second-year guard into the mix with those two, and Philadelphia's net rating plummets from plus-19.0 to minus-7.1.
It's reasonable to empower Fultz with a starting gig, but the results haven't been encouraging. Philly is 2-3.
9. Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 13
Nik Stauskas' emergence as a valuable rotation player counts as one of the biggest early eyebrow-raisers of the season. Anyone who watched him in college at Michigan had an idea that Stauskas was more than just a knockdown shooter; they knew he could handle on the pick-and-roll, finish surprisingly well at the rim and generally do more varied and interesting basketball things than he'd shown in four professional seasons.
Maybe it's the opportunity in Portland, or maybe it's a case of late blooming. Third option: Stauskas is never going to shoot 9-of-17 from deep over a three-game stretch (which he did from Oct. 18-22) again.
For now, Portland is trusting Stauskas to play crunch-time minutes, and he's delivering. If this continues, one of the most "meh" offseason signings will start to look like one of the best.
The Blazers are basically a lucky John Wall bank shot away from an undefeated record and, ho-hum, Damian Lillard seems to have added improved foul-drawing to his game. He got to the stripe 31 times in his first three games of the year.
8. Boston Celtics
Last Week: 4
Kyrie Irving hasn't hit anything, Gordon Hayward looks a long way from recovering his confidence and lift, and Jayson Tatum isn't the otherworldly three-point shooter he was a year ago. All three of those realities were foreseeable, but it's still jarring that the deep and talented Celtics have struggled to score this badly.
Through five games, they rank near the bottom in offense, with a putrid 93-90 loss to the Magic standing out as the most troubling example of offensive anemia.
"We have a lot of work to do, but I have no doubt we'll figure it out," Hayward told Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston after Monday's loss against Orlando.
Hayward is probably right, and Boston's defense is good enough to win games on its own until the offense sorts itself out. But for a theoretical contender laden with scoring talent, the lack of scoring punch warrants some notice—even this early in the year.
7. Utah Jazz
Last Week: 5
This is a temporary slide for a team that was in consideration for a debut in the No. 2 spot last week. The Jazz just haven't put everything together yet, though their resume would look a lot better if they'd managed to preserve a 16-point lead against the Warriors on Friday.
That 124-123 loss, sealed by Jonas Jerebko's buzzer-beating tip, clearly had a hangover effect. If you've got a better explanation for how the Jazz failed to even compete during a 92-84 home loss to the Grizzlies on Monday, I'm all ears. Sure, it's early. And weird stuff happens in what amounts to the "extended training camp" portion of the NBA schedule.
But you can't drop a home game to the Grizzlies—not when you've got aspirations to contend for the conference finals.
Head coach Quin Snyder lamented the Jazz's offensive stagnation after that ugly loss, and the numbers support his criticisms. Through their first two contests, the Jazz averaged 313 passes per game. Against Memphis, thanks to a slower pace and a locked-in opponent, that number fell to 279.
Utah is too stout defensively and too well-coached for hiccups like that. Wednesday's 100-89 win over the Chris Paul-less Rockets helped counterbalance that defeat, and Donovan Mitchell broke out with 38 points in that one, but the Jazz have to take care of the teams beneath them.
6. Houston Rockets
Last Week: 2
A strained hamstring put James Ennis on the sideline, and just like that, the Rockets slid Michael Carter-Williams into the first unit. It would be difficult to find a less effective starter anywhere in the NBA, which isn't ideal for a Rockets club that hasn't exactly exploded out of the blocks.
In a way, Saturday's controversial win over the Lakers has been a blessing. Instead of focusing on the Rockets' early issues, everybody's fixated on whether Rajon Rondo spit on Chris Paul (sure looked like he did) and the fallout from the season's first fracas.
Houston's defense, particularly at the rim, has been terrible. The Rockets rank 30th in defensive field-goal percentage within four feet while allowing opponents to generate 43.9 percent of their shots from that range, which ranks 29th. It's hard to imagine that'll continue with Clint Capela around, but it could also be a sign that the Rockets didn't cover for their offseason losses (Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute) in the perimeter defense department.
Ranking in the 20s on both offense and defense and checking in at 1-3 through four games, Houston hasn't done enough to keep its second-place spot. Toss in James Harden leaving Wednesday's loss with hamstring tightness, and there's no alternative but to drop the Rockets.
5. Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 8
"You all laugh, but look at us now," Nikola Jokic told Mike Singer of the Denver Post before Tuesday's 126-112 win over the Kings. Denver's star center was talking about his team's defense, which currently ranks second in the league, a monumental improvement over last year's No. 23 finish.
Some of the progress is illusory, based on small samples and opponents simply missing shots. Denver will not finish the season with a top-five defense. Much of the growth feels real, though, and that starts with Jokic, who's enjoying more success in a Nuggets scheme that, rather than dropping him into difficult rim-protection scenarios, now demands that he hedge on the guard in pick-and-roll sets.
Meanwhile, Jokic's offense is also "look at us now"-worthy. He posted a 35-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist triple-double on the Suns, hitting all 11 of his shots from the field in the 119-91 victory this past Saturday. The only other guy to put up a triple-double without missing a shot (minimum 10 attempts) was Wilt Chamberlain.
Will Barton underwent surgery to repair core and hip muscle injuries, and he won't even be re-evaluated for six weeks. Denver was short on wings to begin with, and this absence will hurt.
Still, the quality victories—at the Clippers on opening night and against the Warriors on Sunday—are already banked, and this Nuggets team, always capable of winning games with offense, now appears ready to avoid losing them on D.
4. New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 9
Anthony Davis is predictably involved in the MVP conversation at the two-week mark of the regular season. He's averaging 30.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 3.3 blocks and 2.0 steals through three games—all wins—for the Pels.
He's led the way with a newly weakness-free offensive game. Davis now punishes opponents from everywhere on the floor after finally embracing his post-up game. AD finished 4.7 possessions per game in the post last season. Through the two games tracked on NBA.com, he's upped that number to 9.5, effectively doubling last year's average.
There's no guarantee Davis will continue wearing out all comers on the block, but at least we know he's game to try now. Throw in his dominance as a spot-up shooter out to the arc, his rolls to the rim and his fearsome sprints in transition, and you've got the most complete offensive big man in the game (sorry, Karl-Anthony Towns).
Oh, also: Davis leads all rotation regulars in defensive box plus-minus, which means in addition to his short-list MVP status, AD may also be in the driver's seat for Defensive Player of the Year.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 7
The Milwaukee Bucks took down the Knicks by a final of 124-113 on Monday, despite New York catching fire with an 8-of-9 third-quarter performance from mid-range.
That Milwaukee was nonplussed by an opponent's hot streak says everything about the team's shift to a shrewder philosophy.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is probably executing a spin move that results in a dunk right now, told Eric Nehm of The Athletic: "I feel like the other teams cannot win the game by shooting twos. We force them to shoot twos and twos and twos and twos and twos. ... We're living with that ... we know we're going to come down on the other end and it's gonna be a layup or a dunk or it's gonna be a three."
The Bucks are finally getting the math problem right. They lead the league in effective field-goal percentage because they've outlawed two-point jumpers. No team's offensive overhaul rivals that of the Bucks, who rank 29th in percentage of shots taken from mid-range. Last year, they were 14th.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 28.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.8 blocks. Undefeated through four games, Milwaukee ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That's the profile of a contender.
2. Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 3
Even with Kawhi Leonard lacking just a bit of lift, the Raptors have the league's top early resume. They downed the Celtics at home Friday, and then they took out the Wizards on the road the very next night behind 28 points and 12 assists from Kyle Lowry, who looks poised to make an All-NBA team at this extremely premature juncture.
Danny Green has defended and bombed threes, basically writing the handbook for how low-usage two-way wings should play. Pascal Siakam has sometimes gotten a little ambitious with his ever-developing skill set, but his versatility and energy help define Toronto's disruptive defense.
If there's a problem with the Raptors, it's that they've got too many good options to close games. Fred VanVleet could justifiably pair with Lowry in small finishing units that'd be nearly impossible to guard, but what about OG Anunoby's defensive contributions? Will Delon Wright get consideration when he's healthy? At whose expense? And should Serge Ibaka get high-leverage minutes over Siakam at center? If so, what's that mean for Jonas Valanciunas' role?
These are very good problems, which makes sense because the Raptors are a very good team. They're 5-0 and have already laid claim to the No. 2 spot here. With the rest of their conference's top threats looking shakier than expected, it might be a while before we rank another East team ahead of the Raptors.
1. Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 1
Anyone paying attention has known it for at least a couple of years, but the fallacy that Golden State is some quick-trigger, high-volume, trey-obsessed offense should now be understood by everyone. These Warriors don't have the weapons to bury opponents from beyond the arc.
Yes, Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter who's ever walked the earth, and he's torching everyone. Washington was the victim of his incandescence Wednesday, as Curry splashed 51 points on 11-of-16 shooting from deep in 32 minutes. He's hit at least five threes in every game so far, would have smashed his career high (54) against Washington if he'd played the fourth quarter, and he's also exploiting the fear his stroke creates by getting into the lane better than ever.
Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant are also, obviously, dynamite from deep.
Other than that, though, the Dubs don't really do much damage from beyond the arc. Through their first five games of the year, they rank 23rd in percentage of points scored via the long ball. Last year, they were 16th.
That's hard to do with three shooters as good as the ones Golden State boasts.
A close road loss to an excellent Nuggets team wasn't enough to knock the Dubs off their perch. Despite giving starter's minutes to Damian Jones at center (Jones is a fine lob finisher who can run the floor, but he's mostly lost on D), the Warriors are defending at a top-10 clip. That'll do, considering their offense is still in the top five even with Thompson's struggles and the aforementioned lack of shooting on the roster.