NBA Power Rankings Update: It's Sunny in Philadelphia
Just last season, the Philadelphia 76ers posted one of the worst seasons in NBA history by winning only 10 games all year.
After a 4-18 start this season, it seemed like 2016-17 would be more of the same in Philly. However, after a seemingly innocuous win over the Denver Nuggets on December 30, the 76ers have begun a turnaround unforeseen by anyone, except maybe former general manager Sam Hinkie.
Philadelphia finally has the look of a properly built NBA team. With the strength of Joel Embiid in the paint and the high basketball IQ of T.J. McConnell running the point, plus the wild card that is the potential return of Ben Simmons, the Sixers are a team to be feared in the second half.
This week, we will take a closer look at the 76ers, along with four other teams in the Eastern Conference who are creating buzz -- good or bad -- in the NBA.
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, weâ€™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. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 22.8, Record: 9-36, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 28.1, Record: 16-34, Last Week: 28)
28. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 30.5, Record: 17-27, Last Week: 29)
While NBA Twittersphere has been obsessed with Embiid not being named to the Eastern Conference All-Star squad, the 76ers continue to climb the standings. At 17-27, not only is Philly no longer the worst team in the NBA -- there are eight teams with a worse winning percentage -- they are only 4.5 games away from the eighth spot in the East and a trip to the playoffs.
For a team that went nearly three years without winning a game in October or November, the 10 wins in their last 13 games seem magical. Sorcery aside, the one reason the Sixers have seemingly changed their losing ways is with their defense.
Since December 30, they rank fifth in points allowed and third in defensive rating. They held two top 10 scoring offenses -- the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers -- to under 92 points and 40.0% shooting each.
In their last two games, with Embiid sitting on the bench, the defense has suffered, allowing 109.5 points per game. The offense, however, somehow found a way to put up 117.5 points per game without their leading scorer. Six different players had at least 10 points, while shockingly, Nerlens Noel led the collaborative scoring effort with an average of 17.5 points per game.
27. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 36.0, Record: 15-31, Last Week: 27)
26. Orlando Magic (nERD: 36.1, Record: 18-29, Last Week: 25)
25. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 38.8, Record: 18-27, Last Week: 24)
24. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 39.5, Record: 16-30, Last Week: 26)
23. New York Knicks (nERD: 41.7, Record: 20-27, Last Week: 23)
22. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 43.6, Record: 20-27, Last Week: 22)
21. Miami Heat (nERD: 45.0, Record: 16-30, Last Week: 20)
On January 17, the Miami Heat were fresh off a six-game road trip where they won one game. In fact, in their past 15 games at that point, the team had gone 2-13. They owned the second-worst record in the NBA (11-30), and their offense was a complete mess (100.5 offensive rating and 98.3 points per game).
Over the last five games, though, the team has turned a corner. They are 5-0 after having beaten some stiff competition in the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. The defense has stepped up, allowing an average of 100.6 points per game, the third-best mark in the association.
The offense has also started to click, as they put up over 106 points per game, thanks to the best three-point shooting (41.7%) in the NBA since January 17. Dion Waiters is the person to thank for that.
In his last three games, the former Syracuse product has averaged 30.0 points per game while shooting 61.4% (35-of-57) from the field and 68.4% (13-of-19) from three for a 71.4% true shooting percentage. A remarkable turnaround for someone who owned a 47.4% true shooting percentage the last two seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 45.2, Record: 17-29, Last Week: 19)
T-18. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 45.5, Record: 18-28, Last Week: 18)
T-18. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 45.5, Record: 20-25, Last Week: 21)
17. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 46.0, Record: 23-22, Last Week: 17)
16. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 48.1, Record: 21-25, Last Week: 15)
15. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 48.2, Record: 23-24, Last Week: 16)
14. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 50.4, Record: 27-20, Last Week: 12)
13. Washington Wizards (nERD: 51.4, Record: 25-20, Last Week: 14)
12. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 51.7, Record: 27-19, Last Week: 12)
In the last four weeks, only the Warriors have as many wins as the Atlanta Hawks. With 12 wins in their last 15 games, the Hawks have surged to only one game out of second place in the Eastern Conference. While regaining their defensive intensity has been key to the revival, the offense has also played much better lately.
In their first 31 games, the Hawks were scoring only 101.5 points per game with a 101.9 offensive rating. They committed the third-most turnovers per game (16.1) and were the second-worst three-point shooting team (32.8%) in the NBA, and that's with top-eight all-time three-point shooter, now Cleveland Cavalier, Kyle Korver on the roster.
Since December 28, though, the offense has been humming.
Scoring is up by nearly five points per game, turnovers are down to 13.1 per game, and the three-point shooting has jumped to 39.3%. In the Hawks' thrilling 119-114 win over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, Dennis Schroder and Tim Hardaway Jr. went 8-for-12 from beyond the arc while the team shot 56.7% on threes as a whole.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 52.8, Record: 28-19, Last Week: 11)
10. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 53.1, Record: 21-24, Last Week: 10)
9. Boston Celtics (nERD: 54.6 Record: 27-18, Last Week: 8)
8. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 56.8, Record: 23-23, Last Week: 8)
Since the start of 2017 -- actually stretching back to December 31 -- the Charlotte Hornets have been piling up the losses. They are 4-9 for a .308 winning percentage, and only the Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic, and New York Knicks have won less.
When at home, the offense has been plugging away. They put up at least 100 points in six of their seven home games, including 123 points in a win over the Thunder. However, when they have gotten away from the friendly confines of the Spectrum Center, the shots just aren't falling.
In their six road games in 2017, the Hornets are 0-6 while making only 42.6% of field goal attempts. In a 102-93 loss to the 76ers, Kemba Walker and crew had their chances to win, but shooting only 32.9% derail any opportunities. Walker was 7-for-23 from the field in that game, including just 2-for-9 from three. His teammates haven't been much better either.
During the same period of time, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeremy Lamb, and Marco Belinelli have combined to go 58-for-175 (33.1%) from the field and 9-for-44 (20.5%) from beyond the arc, leaving too much of the scoring responsibility on the shoulders of their lone All-Star.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 60.7, Record: 30-14, Last Week: 7)
6. Utah Jazz (nERD: 64.5, Record: 30-18, Last Week: 6)
5. Houston Rockets (nERD: 65.2, Record: 34-15, Last Week: 5)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 66.9, Record: 30-17, Last Week: 4)
3. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 67.7, Record: 28-18, Last Week: 3)
While everyone focuses on the poor play of the Cavs, the Eastern Conference's other 'elite' team has been stumbling harder. In the past 10 days, no team has lost more games than the Toronto Raptors, who have gone 0-5. No team has shot worse, either.
In their past five games, the Raptors have made only 40.1% of their shots, including a dismal 25.7% from long distance. While missing their leading scorer in DeMar DeRozan for the past two games doesn't help, the team's other All-Star, Kyle Lowry, has been in a funk since getting a rest day on January 17, the day of the Raptors' last win.
In the first four games back from his one-day hiatus, Lowry has made only 36.6% of his attempts. The struggles haven't stopped him from firing away either, as he has launched 8.5 three-point tries per game, but with only a 23.5% success rate.
Consider that before the point guard got that off day, Lowry was making over 44% of his threes. Fortunately, for Toronto, he got back on track with an 11-for-21 night against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday and DeRozan has a good shot at suiting up on Friday.
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 77.1, Record: 36-9, Last Week: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 83.5, Record: 39-7, Last Week: 1)