NBA Power Rankings Update: Early-Season Surprises
Wow! What a start to the NBA season. We are only 10 days into the new year, and we already have had plenty of surprises.
The newly formed Golden State Warriors' "super team" got trounced by the San Antonio Spurs on Day 1. The Cleveland Cavaliers have stayed on top of their game, staying unbeaten. The New Orleans Pelicans are still searching for their first win, despite Anthony Davis' otherworldly efforts.
In this first edition of the Power Ranking Update, we will take a closer look at three of the most exciting starts to the season and three of the clubs who have laid an egg so far.
For the first few releases of our power rankings, expect to see much volatility as teams establish their pecking order in the Association. By the time we get to January, clubs will have settled in, and we won't see as much movement as we will these first few weeks.
Our power rankings here at numberFire are not subjective or influenced by the latest hype; we put our faith and trust in our algorithms. Each week, we’ll list all 30 teams in the Association from worst to best based on our nERD metric, which is a predictive measure to help define what the team's winning percentage ultimately will be.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 19.2, Record: 0-4)
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like the last three seasons, the 2016-17 campaign begins with the Philadelphia 76ers at the bottom. The club is still searching for their first win of the year and have lost their games by an average of 14 points, an NBA-worst.
Only four games in, but Philadelphia's offensive woes are a cause for concern. Their offense ranks dead last in the NBA with a putrid 89.8 offensive rating, while scoring only 90.8 points per game. They commit the fourth-most turnovers and own a horrific true shooting percentage at just over 50%. Compounding their troubles, they rank 30th in offensive rebounds, leaving them virtually no second-chance scoring opportunities.
It is not all doom and gloom for Philly, as rookie Joel Embiid has finally made his mark in the NBA and looks like a potential superstar. Despite playing only 21 minutes per game, the center is averaging a ridiculous 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks per game.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 26.6, Record: 2-3)
28. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 28.2, Record: 1-4)
27. New York Knicks (nERD: 30.5, Record: 1-3)
26. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 31.3, Record: 2-3)
25. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 34.5, Record: 0-5)
With Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans out of commission to start the year, the Pelicans have struggled to find anyone to support their stud, Davis. The Brow is fifth in the NBA with an average of 31.6 points per game, accounting for nearly one-third of New Orleans' points scored. Davis' output is more than fellow starters Tim Frazier, E'Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, and Omer Asik combined.
The team as a whole is struggling to drop buckets as they rank 29th in the league with a 49.7% true shooting percentage. The farther they get away from the basket, the worse things get. Despite taking nearly 25 three-point shots per game, the Pels are shooting them at an embarrassingly low 26% rate.
Fortunately, help may be on the way soon as the Pelicans are hopeful that Holiday can return from his family leave and back to the club in mid-November.
24. Orlando Magic (nERD: 36.5, Record: 2-3)
23. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 37.0, Record: 2-4)
22. Washington Wizards (nERD: 40.5, Record: 0-3)
21. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 40.6, Record: 3-2)
20. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 42.5, Record: 2-2)
19. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 45.5, Record: 0-4)
For 15 of the last 16 seasons, the Dallas Mavericks have made the playoffs. After a marginal offseason, which saw them bring in former Warriors Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, our projections had them finishing back in the playoffs once again, albeit as the 8 seed. However, after their 0-4 start, the Mavs have started to fall down the standings.
For one, their age is already starting to catch up with them as 38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki has missed two of the first four games. Even when he has been on the floor, Nowitzki has struggled, shooting 36.4% from the field. He is not the only one either.
Last season, Wesley Matthews shot a career-worst 38% from the floor and 36% from three. We chalked that up to the guard working through his recovery from an Achilles tear in March 2015. However, with Matthews continuing to miss at a horrific rate, 31% from the field and 23% from deep, there are legitimate worries in Big D about their offense and prospects this season.
18. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 47.1, Record: 2-3)
17. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 49.0, Record: 3-2)
16. Miami Heat (nERD: 49.4, Record: 2-2)
15. Houston Rockets (nERD: 50.4, Record: 3-2)
14. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 51.4, Record: 2-3)
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 52.6, Record: 1-3)
12. Utah Jazz (nERD: 53.5, Record: 3-2)
11. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 54.3, Record: 3-1)
Before the season started, many of us were skeptical on how the Chicago Bulls would perform this season. Adding in Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo seemed like square pegs being forced into round holes. Our algorithms had Chicago winning only 38 games and finishing on the outside looking in at the playoffs.
Through four games, the Bulls' offense has been on fire. They are averaging 110.3 points per game, good for fifth in the NBA. With Rondo, Wade, and Jimmy Butler entering the season as sub-par three-point shooters -- Wade and Rondo shoot under 30% with Butler at 32% -- the biggest surprise has been the success rate of their long-distance shots. The Bulls are third in the NBA, dropping threes with an over 40% accuracy. Wade, who made only seven three-pointers all of last season, has already gone 5-for-12 from beyond the arc so far.
The real question will be if Chicago can maintain their elite-level efficiency for the entire season. They currently rank second with an 111.4 offensive rating.
10. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 57.0, Record: 3-2)
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 57.2, Record: 4-1)
8. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 59.0, Record: 3-1)
7. Boston Celtics (nERD: 60.2 Record: 3-2)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 64.6, Record: 3-1)
5. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 67.7 Record: 3-1)
The loss of Al Horford and transition to Dennis Schroder as the full-time point guard left many to question how well the Atlanta Hawks would perform this season. After nearly a week-and-a-half, the answer may be a positive one.
Showing extreme efficiency on both sides of the ball, Atlanta ranks sixth in offensive and second in defensive rating. Their net rating of 13.8 is tops in the Association. One key has been the play of Horford's replacement, Dwight Howard.
The 30-year-old big man can not fully replicate the Horford's overall efficiency but what he brought has been stout rim protection -- 2.5 blocks per game -- and elite level rebounding, 12.0 boards per game. After finishing near the bottom in rebound percentage for the last few years, the Hawks currently are fourth, grabbing over 53% of the available rebounds.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 72.0 Record: 3-1)
3. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 74.1, Record: 4-1)
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 78.6, Record: 5-0)
After the Warriors defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, there remained only one unbeaten team in all of the NBA. That would be your defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. After a 29-point romp over the New York Knicks on opening night, LeBron James and company announced they were again the team to beat in the East and a real threat to repeat.
Leading the way so far has been Kyrie Irving. The point guard is averaging 26.0 points and 3.6 threes per game -- both would be career-highs. Irving's 18 made three-pointers ranks second behind only Stephen Curry. His newfound range has the Cavs first in the league with 13.2 made threes per game. The extra long-distance makes have directly contributed to the team owning the second-highest scoring offense, averaging 114.4 points per game through five games.
With seven of their next nine games coming against playoff teams from last year, Cleveland will be tested early and often. If they can maintain their health, expect the Cavs to remain near the top of these ranks all year long.
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 82.4, Record: 4-1)