NBA Power Rankings Update: Same Old Story
Back in the 19th century, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
In the wake of a turbulent offseason filled with coaching swaps, free agent additions, and retirements, that statement could not resonate any more than it does with the NBA this season.
This summer, Tim Duncan retired after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. Kevin Durant bolted from the midwest and joined forces with the Golden State Warriors. Significant changes for the NBA landscape, indeed.
These moves have done little to affect the standings in the Western Conference, as the Warriors and Spurs are separating themselves from the pack, much like last season. Furthermore, seven of the eight playoff teams from last year are right back on track to make the postseason again. Sorry, Dallas Mavericks.
Shift to the East and the landscape looks much like how it finished in 2015-16. The Cavs and Raptors are resuming their duel at the top again, while the Boston Celtics and Charlotte Hornets are heading up the second-tier teams, frighteningly similar to how they finished tied for third last April.
For this edition of the power rankings update, we are taking a closer look at six teams who underwent a roster or coaching change this offseason but have not seen much difference in their overall standing.
Our power rankings 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: 17.7, Record: 5-18, Last Week: 30)
Anyone who follows the NBA at all knows the plight of the Philadelphia 76ers.
For several seasons, the team has been wallowing in last place while trying to build assets for the eventual rise. After finally securing the top pick in the draft, the team felt they were finally on an upward trend. However, 23 games in, the franchise is still at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and our power rankings. They have one win in their last nine games and are 1-12 versus teams with a .500 or better record.
While Philly's defense has managed to creep out of the cellar -- they are 22nd in defensive rating and 21st in points allowed -- the offense has remained AWOL. Their offensive rating of 96.4 ranks 30th in the NBA, while they are scoring 97.6 points per game, only 0.2 more points than in 2015-16.
Long awaited new additions Joel Embiid and Dario Saric have not disappointed, but last season's leading scorer Jahlil Okafor is another story. After averaging 17.4 points per game, the big man has slid down to only 11.4 points per game this season. While Embiid has taken away some of his minutes, Okafor has not done himself any favors with his on-court play, as he holds a frustratingly low 15.2 player efficiency rating and -1.1 nERD score.
29. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 24.5, Record: 6-15, Last Week: 29)
28. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 27.5, Record: 4-17, Last Week: 28)
27. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 29.6, Record: 10-14, Last Week: 25)
26. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 33.3, Record: 6-16, Last Week: 26)
In 2015-16, the Phoenix Suns won only 23 games, their lowest mark since their inaugural season in 1968-69. Their .280 winning percentage left them as the fourth-worst team in the NBA. After doubling down on the youth movement by acquiring two of the top eight picks in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Suns are on a similar trajectory as last year, holding a .273 winning percentage through 22 games.
While they may have improved their offensive standing, their defense has been stuck in the mud. They ranked in the bottom six of both points allowed and defensive efficiency last season and are in the same spot, ranking 29th in points allowed (113.0) and 25th in defensive rating (109.8).
While their backcourt trio of Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, and Brandon Knight is perceived as a strength for the team, in reality, two of the three guards rank in the bottom 10 players regarding nERD rating. Booker (-2.3) and Knight (-2.6) are the 431st and 435th best players in the NBA, based on our algorithms. They both play tissue-paper defense and have been off the mark offensively.
Booker is shooting 28.6 percent from three over the past week, while Knight is making only 37.2 percent of his shots overall.
25. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 38.3, Record: 8-15, Last Week: 21)
24. Orlando Magic (nERD: 38.7, Record: 10-13, Last Week: 27)
23. Washington Wizards (nERD: 39.2, Record: 8-13, Last Week: 23)
22. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 40.4, Record: 11-11, Last Week: 19)
21. New York Knicks (nERD: 41.5, Record: 12-10, Last Week: 22)
20. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 41.6, Record: 8-13, Last Week: 24)
This offseason, the Sacramento Kings brought in veteran NBA head coach Dave Joerger with the hope he'd calm the chaos that has been running wild in Sac-town. Through 21 games in 2015-16, Sacramento had a 7-14 record and were 3.0 games behind the 8th seed in the West. Fast forward one year later, and the Kings are in an eerily similar position.
Under Joerger's influence, the opponents points per game may have tightened up from 30th to 15th, but that is due to the much much slower pace. Even with the different philosophies, the Kings rank 20th in defensive rating, which is nearly the same as last year's 22nd place finish. The same goes for the offense; their 15th-ranked offensive rating is now 13th.
While the team has been stuck in mediocrity, their best player, DeMarcus Cousins has continued to improve. Last season, while his surface numbers looked fat, Cousins posted a pedestrian 1.4 nERD rating. This year, through 21 games, he has ramped up his efficiency with a 3.4 nERD, good for the 12th-best mark in the NBA.
He has been rolling in the past week, too -- the big man is averaging 29.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 3.3 blocks per game.
19. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 43.8, Record: 7-16, Last Week: 16)
18. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 43.9, Record: 12-12, Last Week: 20)
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 44.6, Record: 6-16, Last Week: 17)
One of the most promising teams in the league, the Minnesota Timberwolves brought in veteran coach Tom Thibodeau to held mold this young group into a winner. However, with only six wins in their first 22 games, the T-Wolves have taken a step back.
While the offense has put up 2.0 more points per game, the defense has not made the leap expected with the veteran defensive-minded coach running the show. Their defensive rating of 108.0 puts them 26th in the NBA, virtually the same spot as last season (107.1 rating, which ranked 27th).
With only two wins in their last 11 games, the T-Wolves are on pace for 22 wins, seven less than in 2015-16. Part of the team's dynamic trio, Andrew Wiggins shoulders some of the responsibility for the recent slide.
During the first 11 games this year, Wiggins looked like he had taken the step towards All-Star status with an average of 27.4 points on an absurd 52.3 percent success rate from three. However, in the following 11 games, the third-year wing has averaged only 17.4 points on a 46.0 percent true shooting percentage. He owns an embarrassing net rating of -11.4 and a plus/minus average of -8.1 per game since November 11.
His nERD rating of -1.6 for the season, puts him as one of the 25 worst players in the league.
16. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 46.7, Record: 11-12, Last Week: 9)
15. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 47.0, Record: 16-8, Last Week: 18)
14. Miami Heat (nERD: 48.7, Record: 7-15, Last Week: 15)
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 54.8, Record: 14-8, Last Week: 13)
12. Boston Celtics (nERD: 57.0 Record: 13-9, Last Week: 11)
After steadily climbing the standings during the tenure of coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics took a big swing this offseason by adding four-time All-Star Al Horford. The move seemed like just the ticket to catapulting Boston to elite status in the Eastern Conference. However, through 22 games, the Celtics own the same record as last season (13-9). One of the issues has been the disappearance of what was a top-five defense in 2015-16.
With an offensive rating of 110.4 over the past two weeks, the Celtics have not had any trouble scoring. The defense, however, has been off, allowing five of their last seven opponents to score 104 or more points against them, including 121 by the typical offense-deficient Detroit Pistons.
With the fifth-lowest defensive rebounding percentage in the NBA, the main issue has been the sudden lack of rebounding.
While Horford alone is not to blame for the rebounding struggles, the former Hawk's declining rebounding percentage over the past four seasons is not helping. Not only is his 6.4 boards per game a career-low, but his 10.8 percent total rebounding percentage is also the seventh-best mark on Boston, behind even two-guard Avery Bradley.
11. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 57.1, Record: 11-9, Last Week: 14)
10. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 57.3, Record: 12-10, Last Week: 7)
9. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 58.2, Record: 12-12, Last Week: 12)
8. Houston Rockets (nERD: 60.9, Record: 15-7, Last Week: 10)
7. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 62.8, Record: 13-9, Last Week: 8)
6. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 64.9, Record: 18-5, Last Week: 6)
Last season, the Spurs were one of the most underrated teams of all-time as they finished with 67 wins and a 40-1 record at home. They owned the best defense in the NBA, but were wholly overshadowed by the performance of the record-breaking Warriors.
While the Spurs aren't playing up to the ridiculous level they did last season, the song remains the same in 2016-17. San Antonio is one of only four teams with a top-10 offense and defense in terms of efficiency. Their loss to Chicago on Thursday snapped an insane 13-game road winning streak.
With an 18-5 record, they are the only Western Conference team within four games of the Warriors. With Duncan's retirement, the Spurs needed a few players to step up, specifically on the glass. While Kawhi Leonard has done all he can offensively, he and veteran LaMarcus Aldridge have been boxed out too often this year.
Through 23 games, the Spurs are the second-worst rebounding team in the NBA. Leonard has never been the strongest rebounder, but a decline of nearly 1.0 boards per game while playing more minutes is not helping.
Aldridge, on the other hand, is being dominated on the glass like never before. He is posting a career-worst 6.5 boards per game. In the past two games, the power forward has collected a total of eight boards with an embarrassing 7.1 percent rebounding percentage.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 65.4, Record: 15-5, Last Week: 3)
4. Utah Jazz (nERD: 67.7, Record: 14-10, Last Week: 5)
3. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 76.7, Record: 15-7, Last Week: 4)
2. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 79.6, Record: 16-7, Last Week: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 87.3, Record: 20-3, Last Week: 1)