NBA Power Rankings: Lakers, Nets Sliding After 1st Full Week
A week and change into the 2021-22 NBA season, and we are primed for takes, overreactions and power rankings.
Things can still change quickly (and dramatically), but several teams and players are showing signs of long-term gains or losses.
Will Russell Westbrook figure out how to fit in with the Los Angeles Lakers? Are the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks for real? What's wrong with the Phoenix Suns?
We'll explore all that and more in this week's edition of the power rankings.
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30. Detroit Pistons
Previous Ranking: 27
As the Detroit Pistons await the NBA debut of No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, they have failed to be all that competitive in any of their four games. The winless Pistons are being outscored by 11.8 points per game, and last season's No. 7 pick continues to look dreadfully outmatched.
After shooting 4-of-11 in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, Killian Hayes' field-goal percentage is up to 27.3 percent. There are signs of life, including decent passing and defense, but if Hayes can't put the ball in the hole, he will be in trouble.
It's not all bad, though. Second-year forward Saddiq Bey is averaging 18.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. If he rediscovers his 38.0 percent three-point stroke from 2020-21 (Thursday's 4-of-9 performance was a good sign), he should be a good kick-out option for Cunningham.
Title Odds: +25000
29. Orlando Magic
Previous Ranking: 30
The Orlando Magic are 1-4, but they've been scrappy. Not long after beating a solid New York Knicks squad, they pushed the Charlotte Hornets till the last few minutes of the fourth quarter on Wednesday.
Still, 1-4 is 1-4. Though there are some subtle signs that one or two of the youngsters might develop into something, no one's really popping off the screen yet.
After going 3-of-11 against Charlotte, Jalen Suggs is now shooting 28.6 percent from the field. Cole Anthony is barely above 40 percent. On the bright side, Mo Bamba is looking more like a rotation player than he has at any point in his career, and Franz Wagner is showing flashes of Swiss Army knife versatility. At this point in a rebuild, it's all about focusing on bright sides.
Title Odds: +25000
28. Houston Rockets
Previous Ranking: 29
The race to the bottom between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder is going to be spectacular. Both teams have intriguing young talents, but they are several years away from consistent competitiveness.
For Houston, nights such as Thursday, when it was blown out by 31 points at home, probably won't be all that rare. But if the Rockets and their fans can focus on the glimpses of upside provided by Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and others, this season might be pretty fun.
Whether it's a heater from Green (like the one in which he hit eight of 10 threes against the Boston Celtics) or the wise-beyond-his-years post work and quick hands of Sengun, those moments will be there.
Title Odds: +25000
27. Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous Ranking: 28
The Oklahoma City Thunder overcame a 26-point deficit against the LeBron James-less Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, showing the pluckiness of a team that could play spoiler on random nights.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who's averaging 23.4 points, will be a huge part of those nights, but rookie Josh Giddey is already making some noise, too. After going for 18 points and 10 assists against L.A., he's up 10.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game on the season.
Unexpected wins aside, it's hard to imagine this roster anywhere but in a race to the bottom down the stretch run of this season.
Title Odds: +25000
26. New Orleans Pelicans
Previous Ranking: 20
It might be time for some mild panic for the New Orleans Pelicans, who are now 1-4 following a home loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. With no return date in sight for Zion Williamson, it's hard to imagine things getting much better any time soon.
Over the course of Zion's first two seasons, the Pelicans were plus-2.5 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor and minus-3.6 when he was off. Each and every team in the league would be hurting without its best player and leading scorer, but the absence feels even more troubling for New Orleans.
Brandon Ingram can carry the load of a leading scorer in the right situation, but this isn't it. There isn't enough firepower down the rest of the roster for the Pelicans to consistently compete with NBA offenses.
Title Odds: +13000
25. San Antonio Spurs
Previous Ranking: 25
We probably should've expected the San Antonio Spurs to be pesky, regardless of who was on the roster. And they certainly have been, but pesky doesn't always put tallies in the win column. And after starting Thursday's game against the Dallas Mavericks with a 25-5 lead, the Spurs fell to 1-4.
It looks like San Antonio has several solid sixth or seventh men. Jakob Poeltl, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White could probably start on certain teams, but there isn't a single surefire star on this roster.
The infrastructure will make the Spurs competitive on most nights, as they were Thursday, but there doesn't appear to be enough firepower for them to push any higher than the play-in tier.
Title Odds: +24000
24. Indiana Pacers
Previous Ranking: 19
All is not well with the 1-4 Indiana Pacers. The 1988-89 squad that started 0-5 is the only team in franchise history that had a worse start through five games. After five years, it might officially be time to pull the plug on the Domantas Sabonis-Myles Turner era.
The small sample size means these numbers could swing dramatically, but Indiana is plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions when Sabonis plays without Turner and minus-2.2 when they're together.
There may be an argument to bank on Turner's defense, but Sabonis is the multitime All-Star. If the Pacers could maybe flip Turner for some help on the wing, they'd have to think about it.
Title Odds: +10000
23. Toronto Raptors
Previous Ranking: 23
There will be nights when the offense feels worse than a slog, but the Toronto Raptors will be one of the toughest defensive teams in the league this season.
There is a ton of length and athleticism up and down the roster with Precious Achiuwa, OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher. Pascal Siakam still hasn't debuted, either. The switchability those players afford Nick Nurse makes Toronto a nightmare on most nights.
The biggest reason for optimism, though, might be rookie Scottie Barnes. Through five games, Barnes is Toronto's second leading scorer. He's putting up 17.0 points and 8.2 boards per game, and he's shown point-forward upside as a creator. He looks to be way ahead of schedule, and that could have the Raptors back in the playoff hunt as early as this season.
Title Odds: +13000
22. Los Angeles Clippers
Previous Ranking: 15
The Los Angeles Clippers demolished the Portland Trail Blazers by 30 points on Monday, but that's their only win on the season. Without another star to support Paul George, it's fair to wonder how far this team might fall before Kawhi Leonard returns (assuming that's before next season).
George is averaging 24 points with a 46.4 field-goal percentage. Luke Kennard and Ivica Zubac have been decent too, averaging a combined 21.8 points on 15.3 shots. The rest of the roster, though, is shooting just 38.7 percent from the field.
Without Leonard on the floor to command outsized attention from the defense, L.A.'s previously solid role players are having a harder time finding openings.
Title Odds: +1700
21. Cleveland Cavaliers
Previous Ranking: 26
The Cleveland Cavaliers aren't just 3-2. They're 3-2 with three wins coming against 2021 playoff teams. After beating the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday, the Cavs opened a Western Conference road trip with wins over the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers. And in all three wins, Cleveland held its opponent under 100 points.
With a defensive culture seemingly in place, the Cavaliers look poised to join the hunt for a play-in spot this season, and turning the corner toward competitiveness should pay dividends in the long run.
In plenty of rebuilds, the losing becomes ingrained. This team could afford Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Evan Mobley the opportunity to avoid those habits.
Title Odds: +24000
20. Phoenix Suns
Previous Ranking: 5
It's too early to write the Phoenix Suns off, but the 2021 NBA Finals are already starting to feel like a distant memory. After losing to the Sacramento Kings at the buzzer on Wednesday, Phoenix is 1-3.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker have combined to shoot 40.3 percent from the field. Despite a 21-point, 21-rebound performance against Sacramento, Deandre Ayton's scoring average and field-goal percentage are down from where they were last season. The only player who appears to have picked up where he left off last season is Mikal Bridges.
Wednesday alone did wonders for Ayton's numbers, though. Big games by any of the above would do the same. There's plenty of time for the Suns to rediscover some of their magic from 2020-21.
Title Odds: +1300
19. Sacramento Kings
Previous Ranking: 24
Over 10 years ago, Harrison Barnes was the No. 1 high school basketball recruit in the country. After two solid, though unspectacular, seasons at North Carolina, the Golden State Warriors selected him with the seventh pick in the 2012 draft.
Barnes won a title with the Warriors, but solid is probably about as positive a description you could muster for his nine NBA seasons prior to 2021-22, too.
This season, though, Barnes suddenly looks like a superstar for the 2-2 Sacramento Kings, who have looked competitive in all four of their outings. After hitting a game-winning buzzer beater in Phoenix on Wednesday, Barnes is now averaging 26.8 points and shooting 51.5 percent from three. If he maintains anywhere near this level of productivity, De'Aaron Fox will have a running mate that could keep the Kings in the hunt for a play-in spot.
Title Odds: +24000
18. Boston Celtics
Previous Ranking: 13
Scoring could be a tough task for the Boston Celtics this season. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have each put up 40-point performances, and Robert Williams III looks like a dynamic rim-runner, but everyone else sort of seems like a roll of the dice.
In theory, Dennis Schroder should be able to take advantage of reserve guards, but he's posting his eighth below-average effective field-goal percentage in nine seasons. Every Marcus Smart three-point attempt feels like a prayer. Josh Richardson hasn't been reliable from the outside since he was in Miami.
The amount of pure talent in that top two probably means the Celtics will eventually look better, but it's clunky, at best, right now.
Title Odds: +5000
17. Portland Trail Blazers
Previous Ranking: 12
Early returns from the Portland Trail Blazers' Chauncey Billups era have felt a bit like a roller coaster. In their second game of the season, they beat the Phoenix Suns by 29. Then, they lost by 30 to the Los Angeles Clippers. And finally, on Wednesday, the Blazers bounced back with a 20-point home win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
So, which team is Portland? Of course, it's too early to say definitively, but history suggests Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum will make the Blazers, at the very least, competitive. The fact that they're 2-0 with Damian Lillard shooting 33.3 percent from the field suggests they'll be headed in the right direction in no time. Lillard will undoubtedly be better.
With a bench reinforced by Larry Nance Jr., Cody Zeller and Dennis Smith Jr., Portland should at least be in the play-in mix.
Title Odds: +8000
16. Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous Ranking: 22
Something is brewing for the 3-1 Minnesota Timberwolves. On Wednesday, they overcame a 40-point performance from reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to beat the Milwaukee Bucks. Their top three of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell are fitting together beautifully within Chris Finch's system.
There are plenty of shots to go around for those three, in large part because of the rest of the roster's willingness to defer to them.
KAT, Edwards and Russell are averaging 28.0, 25.3 and 18.0 points, respectively. No one else on the roster is in double figures.
Title Odds: +12000
15. Dallas Mavericks
Previous Ranking: 11
The Dallas Mavericks are 3-1, but it's hard to ignore a serious regression in offensive efficiency. After averaging a league-best 116.0 points per 100 possessions during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons, Dallas has spiraled to a 103.0 offensive rating (22nd).
A hot streak by Luka Doncic could certainly move things in the right direction, but new coach Jason Kidd's efforts to diversify the offense look like they're going to take time to be effective (if they ever are).
For years, simply putting the ball in Luka's hands in the middle of the floor, running a high pick-and-roll and letting him spray out to shooters was a recipe for offensive success, regardless of how predictable it was.
If the Mavericks continue to struggle on that end of the floor, Kidd might have to consider giving back some control to his All-World guard.
Title Odds: +3000
14. Washington Wizards
Previous Ranking: 21
The Washington Wizards' star-for-depth trade that sent Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers is paying off.
Despite absences in separate games for each of their starting guards, Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie, Washington is 4-1 and coming off a convincing win over a 2021 Eastern Conference Finals participant in the Atlanta Hawks.
This good start is also happening in the face of shooting struggles for Beal. He had his best game of the season Thursday, but it still took 26 shots to get 27 points. Once he works through these efficiency woes, the Wizards will be even tougher.
Title Odds: +16000
13. Memphis Grizzlies
Previous Ranking: 17
The 3-2 Memphis Grizzlies have a 20-point blowout loss on their resume, but off nights are to be expected for still-developing teams. Moments such as an overtime win at the Golden State Warriors' Chase Center deserve more attention.
Morant entered Thursday's game with averages of 30.5 points and 8.5 assists, and he dropped 30 points, seven boards, five assists and four steals against Stephen Curry and Co. He wasn't often matched up with the two-time MVP, but the game still felt very much like a duel between these two guards. And Morant came out on top.
He's in the middle of a leap, and continued progression from teammates Jaren Jackson Jr., De'Anthony Melton and Desmond Bane could lead the Grizzlies to outperform expectations.
Title Odds: +8500
12. Los Angeles Lakers
Previous Ranking: 4
It's early, but most of the 2-3 Los Angeles Lakers' issues were easily predicted when they traded for Russell Westbrook and signed multiple post-prime supporting players.
None of Westbrook, Anthony Davis or LeBron James are floor-bending shooters. Playing all three of them together was always going to be dicey, and L.A. is minus-13 in the 61 minutes those three have shared the floor.
Considering the success LeBron and AD had in their first season together, it's pretty easy to point the finger at Westbrook for that number. On a team with LeBron, he has to be the one to adjust, but he's simply not doing that. Russ is averaging 17.8 points on 18.0 shots and 6.0 turnovers. He's a team-worst minus-38 overall.
Title Odds: +500
11. Philadelphia 76ers
Previous Ranking: 6
Real games have allowed the Philadelphia 76ers to mostly sidestep the Ben Simmons situation. And though they're not quite as dominant as they were last regular season, a 3-2 start should be acceptable given the circumstances.
More encouraging than the record, perhaps, is the fact that the recent rule changes don't seem to have affected Joel Embiid as much as other scorers who are heavily reliant on free-throw attempts. While James Harden is floundering without the freebies, Embiid is still taking 8.8 per game.
Another source of encouragement is the productivity of offseason pickup Georges Niang, who's shooting 54.5 percent from three. If Simmons has indeed played his final minute in a Sixers jersey, surrounding Embiid with as much shooting as possible feels like the right play. And Niang looks like a perfect fit in that mold.
Title Odds: +2000
10. Brooklyn Nets
Previous Ranking: 2
The amount of raw talent on the Brooklyn Nets roster makes it hard to put too much stock in this 2-3 start. Kevin Durant and James Harden are two of the best offensive players of all time, and the supporting cast should be a decent fit with both. The safe bet is the team is just working through early-season bumps in the road.
A more pessimistic outlook might hone in on the new foul rules and the fact that James Harden is posting, by far, the lowest free-throw-attempt rate of his career. The age of some of the role players, including Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap and James Johnson, could be another cause for concern.
And of course, with no end in sight for the Kyrie Irving situation, there doesn't appear to be much help on the horizon.
Again, most of this will likely work itself out in time, but it's fair to at least wonder about Brooklyn's former status as the prohibitive favorite.
Title Odds: +250
9. Denver Nuggets
Previous Ranking: 7
Jamal Murray's absence was impossible to ignore through the first week and change of the Denver Nuggets season. Losing your second-best player has a ripple effect, and depth looks like a major issue. With MVP Nikola Jokic on the floor, the Nuggets are plus-13.4 points per 100 possessions. Without him, they're a double-take-inducing minus-28.1.
Coach Mike Malone has to find a rotation and players who'll allow his team to at least survive in Jokic's absence, especially if the knee contusion Jokic suffered against the Utah Jazz is something that lingers.
The obvious candidate is the recently maxed Michael Porter Jr., who's struggled out of the gate with an average of 11.5 points and a 34.6 field-goal percentage.
Title Odds: +2500
8. Charlotte Hornets
Previous Ranking: 18
The Charlotte Hornets have lost one game this season, an overtime thriller in which Jayson Tatum scored 41 points. They were missing Terry Rozier and P.J. Washington for that one, so we have no problem putting more stock in a road win over the Brooklyn Nets and Miles Bridges' breakout.
The latter could be the key to Charlotte staying firmly in the playoff picture throughout the season. On Wednesday, he eclipsed 30 points for the third time in five games. And he's so much more than the highlight-reel dunker he established himself to be in his first two seasons.
Now, Bridges has a reliable pull-up game from three and a bullying dribble-drive game that few defenders have been able to slow. If he joins LaMelo Ball on a rise to legitimate stardom, the Hornets could outperform expectations this season.
Title Odds: +13000
7. Chicago Bulls
Previous Ranking: 14
The Chicago Bulls lost a marquee matchup to the New York Knicks on Thursday, but early returns on the transformation that began with the acquisition of Nikola Vucevic ahead of last season's trade deadline are good.
Chicago, of course, supplemented that move by adding Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan this offseason, and both appear to fit alongside Vuc and Zach LaVine.
All four are plus passers for their positions, and that appears to have eliminated any chance for tension among the stars regarding usage. Everybody's getting a chance to eat, and the Bulls already have a top-10 offense. As the stars continue to adjust to playing with each other, that mark should climb.
Title Odds: +4800
6. New York Knicks
Previous Ranking: 16
The 4-1 New York Knicks are tied with three other teams atop the Eastern Conference, and the upgrade from Elfrid Payton and Reggie Bullock to Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier looks significant.
If last season's biggest contributors, Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Derrick Rose, are near their 2020-21 selves, the extra firepower alongside them should keep the Knicks in the hunt for home-court advantage again.
If they can also get a leap from either Mitchell Robinson or Obi Toppin, all the better.
After two decades of almost constant below-average play, things are looking up.
Title Odds: +10000
5. Golden State Warriors
Previous Ranking: 9
The Golden State Warriors suffered their first loss of the season Thursday, dropping an overtime thriller to Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies.
And though a 4-1 start is encouraging, Golden State's lack of a bona fide No. 2 scorer was obvious as it squandered a 19-point lead at home.
With De'Anthony Melton draped all over Stephen Curry for the bulk of the second half, the Warriors superstar went ice-cold (he scored zero points in the fourth quarter and overtime), and no one filled the offensive void. Until Jordan Poole looks more like he did in the preseason or Klay Thompson returns, this issue could linger.
Title Odds: +2500
4. Atlanta Hawks
Previous Ranking: 8
The Atlanta Hawks stumbled on the road against the Washington Wizards on Thursday, but the bright spots are outshining the disappointments early this season.
Steady contributions from Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela certainly aren't surprising, but Cam Reddish's emergence as a Sixth Man of the Year sleeper could be what takes Atlanta to the next level.
After putting up 10.7 points per game and shooting 30.9 percent from three-point range in his first two seasons, Reddish has exploded with 16.2 points and a 44.0 three-point percentage. As a dynamic three-and-D threat, Reddish can raise Atlanta's ceiling by leading reserve units or comfortably fitting alongside the aforementioned top three.
Title Odds: +3600
3. Milwaukee Bucks
Previous Ranking: 1
Not having Jrue Holiday is certainly a big part of the slowish start, but a home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves and a 42-point thrashing at the hands of the Miami Heat are at least a little surprising for the defending champs.
After winning it all in 2021, though, it wouldn't be surprising if the Milwaukee Bucks finally shift down for the regular season. There could be some rest here and there. Injuries such as Holiday's may be treated with a bit more caution than they might've been in years past.
Still, even a Giannis Antetokounmpo team on cruise control will probably backpedal into a 50-win season.
Title Odds: +800
2. Miami Heat
Previous Ranking: 10
Something feels amiss with the Brooklyn Nets, but the Miami Heat still deserve credit for dominating them at Barclays Center on Wednesday. Miami shot just 38.9 percent from the field, but it still won by 13 and held Brooklyn to 93.
With four plus defenders in Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, P.J. Tucker and Bam Adebayo all starting, the Heat defense looks stifling. There will be nights when shooters like Duncan Robinson or Tyler Herro (or both) are hot enough to win some shootouts, too.
The 2020-21 campaign may have felt like a plateau after making the 2020 Finals, but this year's squad looks ready to climb over that.
Title Odds: +1600
1. Utah Jazz
Previous Ranking: 3
They haven't faced the stiffest competition, but last season's No. 1 seed in the West, the Utah Jazz, is undefeated and has appeared to be on cruise control through most of its four wins.
If there's anything to nitpick, it might be a slowish start by Donovan Mitchell, who has failed to shoot 50 percent in any game and is averaging 6.4 fewer points than he did in 2020-21. Mitchell has long been prone to lulls in efficiency, though. And the longer this keeps up, the more it will feel like a huge breakout is on the way.
With continuity, multiple All-Stars and stability on the bench, Utah should be one of the steadiest teams in the league—whether Mitchell is on a cold streak or not.
Title Odds: +1100