NBA

NBA Power Rankings Update, Presented By Knightfall: Efficiency, Thy Name Is Celtics

According to our metrics, Boston is playing some astounding basketball. But who's better?


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Gordon Hayward, Schmordon Schmayward.

Okay, might not be nice to diss a guy who's working himself back from a nasty injury, but considering the basketball goodness flowing through Beantown, Hayward would probably roll with it.

Despite losing their prized free-agent signee on opening night, the Boston Celtics are in the midst of a 12-game winning streak and have evolved into the best team in the Eastern Conference. And according to nERD, it's not even close.

For the uninitiated, nERD is our in-house efficiency metric that ranks teams on a scale from 0-100, with 50 as the league average. This ranking is predictive of the team's ultimate winning percentage. To learn more about nERD, visit our glossary.

The Celtics boast a nERD score of 74.1. The second-best nERD in the East belongs to a Toronto Raptors team known for its efficiency, but they're a whopping 10.1 nERD points behind Boston.

Now even though the Celtics are undeniably balling out, there's a team ahead of them by a whopping 9.2 nERD. But there are 28 teams other teams in back of the C's who merit some discussion of their own.

Teams Ranked 30th to 21st

We're 12-ish games into the season, and this is about the time nERD becomes less volatile. It's the first week of the year that the bottom-10 hasn't been a roller coaster, or a revolving door, or, y'know, pick your metaphor.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
30 Sacramento Kings 3-9 16.9 30 Even
29 Chicago Bulls 2-9 18.2 28 -1
28 Dallas Mavericks 2-12 21.5 29 +1
27 Phoenix Suns 5-9 23.7 27 Even
26 Atlanta Hawks 2-11 27.3 26 Even
25 Cleveland Cavaliers 6-7 37.5 24 -1
24 Brooklyn Nets 5-8 37.6 25 -1
23 Los Angeles Lakers 5-8 40.2 22 -1
22 Miami Heat 6-7 40.4 23 +1
T-20 Minnesota Timberwolves 7-5 40.5 21 +1


The Expected

The Chicago Bulls and Dallas Mavericks continue to be really, really bad at basketball.

On Saturday, San Antonio beat down Chicago, 133-94, in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated. The Bulls have the least offensively efficient team in the Association by a relatively wide margin, and with upcoming games against Oklahoma City and Charlotte, things don't get much easier.

Dallas sports the worst record in the league, primarily because they rank 26th and 28th in, respectively, offensive and defensive efficiency. The fact that Nerlens Noel and JJ Barea are their only two rotation players with a player efficiency rating above 16 might play a role in their inability to compete night in and night out.

The Sacramento Kings are also really, really bad at basketball, but they upset both the Sixers and Thunder last week, so we're not going to trash them -- but nERD will gladly trash them, as proven by the fact that they hold the bottom spot for the second consecutive week.

The Unexpected

The Phoenix Suns are woefully inefficient -- 24th in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency -- yet they enter the week at 5-9, a mere 1.5 games behind the Thunder, who, as we'll discuss in a few paragraphs, are nERD darlings. On the plus side, they rank second in the league in pace, they're uber-athletic, and Devin Booker is a thing. For the first time in a long while, the Suns are watchable.

Even at age 681, and even with 4,722,692 NBA games under his belt, LeBron James is on pace for a career year. The Cavs' defense, not so much. Cleveland allows 113.4 points a night, the third-worst clip in the NBA, and their 112.0 defensive efficiency rating is the worst in the league by almost 3.0 points. Five of their next seven games are against teams with winning percentages of .500 or better, so this will be a telling stretch for the league's biggest disappointment.

Teams Ranked 20th to 11th

nERD is having trouble wrapping its head around the fact that the New York Knicks are pretty darn good. However, nERD is utterly unsurprised that Kristaps Porzingis boasts the 12th-best player nERD in the league, because the dude is bringing it.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
T-20 Utah Jazz 6-7 40.5 17 -3
19 Milwaukee Bucks 6-6 42.1 18 -1
18 Philadelphia 76ers 6-6 44.8 19 +1
17 New York Knicks 7-5 45 19 +2
16 Indiana Pacers 6-8 49.7 13 -3
15 New Orleans Pelicans 7-6 50.1 16 +1
14 San Antonio Spurs 8-5 52.1 14 Even
13 Denver Nuggets 8-5 52.2 15 +2
12 Charlotte Hornets 5-7 57.1 10 -2
11 Washington Wizards 7-5 59.1 11 Even


The Expected

The Utah Jazz franchise isn't saying "Gordon Hayward, Schmordan Schmayward," not one bit. They miss their former teammate big-time, and now they're about to miss Rudy Gobert for four to six weeks as he nurses a bone bruise in his knee. Gobert was a top-five nERD finisher last season, and without him, the Jazz will likely continue their plummet down our rankings. On the plus side, they play Chicago during Thanksgiving week, so there's that to look forward to.

After a shaky start to the season, Nuggets point-center Nikola Jokic is averaging a 19-12 double-double over his last five games, four of which Denver has won. They've played their way to the third-best record in the Western Conference, just 2.5 games behind the top-seeded Rockets. They have upcoming games against Sacramento and the Lakers, so the fun could continue.

The Unexpected

As noted, the Spurs did horrible, horrible things to the Bulls over the weekend, but nERD wasn't impressed, slotting them behind the likes of Charlotte and the Hornets' 5-7 record. With no timeline for Kawhi Leonard's return from injury, coach Gregg Popovich's crew might maintain their surprising stranglehold on our 14th spot.

As for those Knicks, their defense ain't all that (24th in efficiency, 13th in points allowed), but they've been doing cool basketball things on the offensive side of the floor (9th in offensive efficiency, 6th in the East in scoring), which explains why they find themselves in the thick of the super-early playoff race. If you claim you thought that by mid-November, the Knicks would be tied for second in the Atlantic and sixth in the East, you're lying.

Teams Ranked 11th to 1st

You'd also be lying if you claim that you said before the year that on November 13, the Warriors and the Pistons would have the same record. Both are 10-3, but their nERD numbers are wildly different.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
10 Detroit Pistons 10-3 59.5 12 +2
9 Orlando Magic 8-5 60 8 -1
8 Portland Trail Blazers 6-6 60.4 6 -2
7 Los Angeles Clippers 5-7 61.4 3 -4
6 Memphis Grizzlies 7-5 62.3 7 +1
5 Toronto Raptors 7-5 62.9 5 Even
4 Houston Rockets 11-3 63.8 9 +5
3 Oklahoma City Thunder 6-7 65.6 4 +1
2 Boston Celtics 12-2 74.1 2 Even
1 Golden State Warriors 10-3 83.3 1 Even


The Expected

Much to the chagrin of, well, pretty much everybody, the Dubs woke up. They've won 9 of their last 10 games, and 6 of those victories have come by 19 or more points. They sit atop the league in offensive efficiency and are an impressive ninth in defensive efficiency, which explains their insane -- and seemingly untouchable -- 83.3 nERD score. If you don't have Thursday circled on your calendar, make it happen, because that's when the Warriors will visit the Celtics in a potential NBA Finals preview. (For the record, Sunday's Chicago-Phoenix game will not be a potential NBA Finals preview.)

Even with Chris Paul still on the shelf, the Rockets and their +8.2 point differential are tearing it up. James Harden is performing at an MVP level, averaging 38.8 points, 12.0 assists, 5.0 boards, and 2.0 steals (holy crap, two steals for the defenseless wonder!) over his last five games. His 29.77 player efficiency rating would be a career best, and he should put up some video game numbers on Thursday when the Rockets visit Phoenix.

The Unexpected

While we're sort of on the subject of Chris Paul, a couple weeks back, the Los Angeles Clippers looked like they'd be just fine even though they shipped CP3 to Houston over the summer. Welp, they've lost 5 in a row and 7 of their last 10, thus their league-worst 4-slot dip in our rankings. The slide coincides Danilo Gallinari's pain in his butt, so if he can get back into the lineup, maybe they can make some noise on Friday in Cleveland.

Finally, as promised, let's talk about the Thunder. As has been the case since the beginning of the season, nERD is showing Russell Westbrook et al a whole bunch of love, ranking them third in the league despite their 6-7 record. Why? Turns out that the Westbrook/Carmelo Anthony/Paul George threesome doesn't like it when the other teams score. They rank second in defensive efficiency and allow 98.5 points a night, second-best in the NBA and the best in the West. Their +5.5 point differential is the fourth-best in the league, yet they can't play their way above the .500 mark. But considering their next game is a homer against the Beat-a-Bulls, .500 is just around the corner.