NBA Power Rankings Update, Presented By Knightfall: Look What Happens When You Trust the Process

Despite minor injury issues with Rookie of the Year favorite Ben Simmons, the Philadelphia 76ers made a quantum leap in our power rankings. Who else is trending up?

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"Trust the process" is one of the great phrases in modern sports history.

Quick backstory for the uninformed: Between 2013-2017, the Philadelphia 76ers, in a word, stunk, compiling a record of 75-252. It was a classic bottoming-out job, with the front office populating their starting lineups with such luminaries as Tony Wroten, JaVale McGee, and Spencer Hawes. The roster was a revolving door, especially in the 2013-14 season, when a whopping 23 players donned a Sixers uni.

Philly hoops fans were understandably cheesed off. And as a former resident of the city, I can state with authority that you don't want to be within 10 miles of a cheesed off Philly hoops fan.

Sam Hinkie, the Sixers general manager at the time, insisted he had a plan and came up with the mantra about trusting the process. (For specifics about said process, check out this definitive article from Bleacher Report. Essential reading.) The concept (and phrase) took hold, and this season, the patience has paid off.

Rookie Ben Simmons and second-year man Joel "The Process" Embiid are destroying stat sheets on a nightly basis, Robert Covington is on the cusp of stardom, and coach Brett Brown has evolved into one of the slicker coaches in the league. This all explains why the Sixers sit at 11-7, hold the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference, and have put together a nERD of 52.5, earning them an eight-spot jump in our power rankings. (For the uninitiated, nERD is our proprietary 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. For more about nERD, check out our glossary.)

In the land of nERD, for every up, there's a down -- or, as is the case this week, multiple downs. Let's check out this week's good, bad, ugly, and really ugly.

Teams Ranked 30th to 21st

Newsflash: the Chicago Bulls and Sacramento Kings are still bad at basketball.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
30 Chicago Bulls 4-12 9.4 29 -1
29 Sacramento Kings 5-14 13.9 30 +1
28 Phoenix Suns 7-14 25.7 27 -1
27 Dallas Mavericks 5-15 27.7 28 +1
26 Atlanta Hawks 4-16 30.9 26 Even
25 Brooklyn Nets 7-12 38.9 25 Even
24 Miami Heat 10-9 3 24 Even
23 Milwaukee Bucks 9-9 43.5 20 -3
22 Los Angeles Lakers 8-11 43.9 21 -1
21 Orlando Magic 8-12 44.7 13 -8

The Expected

On Sunday afternoon, the Bulls and Miami Heat were clearly suffering from a case of post-Thanksgiving tryptophan overload, as witnessed by the fact that score after the first quarter of their game was 13-7. (Doesn't matter who scored what. The embarrassing point total is all you need to know.). Little surprise that this week, nERD had nothing good to say about either of them.

Then again, the Heat have won three of their last four, so maybe nERD should check itself. Miami has a brutal schedule over the next couple of weeks -- we're talking homers with Golden State and Charlotte, and roadies against Cleveland, San Antonio, and New York -- so don't be surprised if next Monday, their nERD is a scootch closer to the Bulls.

The Unexpected

For a hot minute in early-November, the Orlando Magic were a thing. They'd won 10 of their first 16 games, they were hovering near the top-third of the nERD rankings, and for the first time in forever, there was optimism in Florida. That was before they dropped 8 in a row and 10 of their last 12. Their tumble down the nERD ladder is ugly, and with games this week against nERD darlings Indiana and Oklahoma City, the slide could continue.

The Los Angeles Lakers are an efficiency conundrum. They rank 6th in the Association in defensive efficiency at 101.0, but they're 28th in offensive efficiency at 99.2. nERD finds the whole thing baffling, thus their slight drop in the rankings. With games this week against Golden State and Houston, they'd better up the offensive ante, or we might be looking at a Chicago/Miami-esque seven-point first quarter.

Teams Ranked 20th to 11th

Orlando fans (and players) aren't the only basketball minds who are wincing right about now. There are a whole bunch of nervous hoops watchers down in Tennessee and up in Michigan.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
20 Utah Jazz 9-11 45.8 23 +3
19 Los Angeles Clippers 7-11 47.1 14 -5
18 Cleveland Cavaliers 12-7 47.2 22 +4
17 New York Knicks 10-9 47.5 17 Even
16 Memphis Grizzlies 7-12 48.1 11 -5
15 Minnesota Timberwolves 12-8 49.2 16 +1
14 New Orleans Pelicans 11-9 49.9 18 +4
13 Detroit Pistons 12-6 51.8 8 -5
12 Denver Nuggets 11-8 52.4 12 Even
11 Philadelphia 76ers 11-7 52.5 19 +8

The Expected

After a nasty stretch of 3-7, the Cavaliers found their mojo and have won their last seven. Their relatively modest four-spot climb in our rankings is a fair representation of their recent play -- yes, they're winning, but it hasn't been easy. During their win streak, three of the victories came by five or less points, and their defensive efficiency (101.9, 29th in the league) is still dreadful. After tonight's roadie against the surging Sixers, Team LeBron gets to beat up on five consecutive cupcakes, those being Miami, Atlanta, Memphis (more about them in a sec), Chicago, and Sacramento. Don't be shocked to see Cleveland in our top-10 by the end of the calendar year.

As for those Sixers, they trusted the process and man, did they get good. A win over the Cavs tonight will land Philly in the third spot in the East, and considering that during their current three-game winning streak, they're boasting a point differential of +16.6, a victory against a team as hot as Cleveland isn't out of the realm of possibility. The fact that LeBron has career averages of 27.1 points, 6.9 boards, and 7.7 assists against Philly won't faze the young Sixers a bit. Or will it?

The Unexpected

The Detroit Pistons and the Memphis Grizzlies were two of the sweeter early-season stories. Without any high-impact off-season movement (sorry, Avery Bradley), the Pistons were looking at another year of stagnance. As for the Grizz, they closed the book on the Grit 'n' Grind era by jettisoning Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, so a lost season in a tough Western Conference seemed inevitable.

When the season tipped, both teams defied expectations. Detroit kicked off the season grabbing wins in 10 of their first 13, while Memphis took W's in 5 of their first 6, both squads winning games in exceptionally efficient manners, as demonstrated by their top-10 appearances in these very rankings.

Since then, Memphis has crashed and burned big time, suffering through an eight-game losing streak that includes L's at the hands of Brooklyn (ugh), Dallas (double ugh), and Chicago (infinite ughs). Don't expect things to improve over the next couple of weeks, what with a home/road back-to-back against the Spurs followed by clashes with Cleveland, Minnesota, New York, Toronto, and OKC.

Things seem a tad more hopeful in Detroit where, despite losing three of their last five, the Pistons still sit in the East's two-spot, a half-game ahead of the Cavs. They rank top-13 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, so their five-spot drop here doesn't quite reflect where they're at, especially since their two most recent wins came against quality opponents in OKC and Minnesota. It'll be interesting to see what nERD has to say about the whole thing after tonight's Pistons/Celtics clash in Boston.

Teams Ranked 10th to 1st

nERD is having a bromance with the Hornets and Thunder, both of whom again find themselves in the top 10 despite sub-.500 records.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
10 Indiana Pacers 11-9 53.3 15 +5
9 San Antonio Spurs 12-7 54.7 10 +1
8 Charlotte Hornets 8-11 57.7 9 +1
7 Portland Trail Blazers 12-8 57.9 7 Even
6 Washington Wizards 10-9 58.7 6 Even
5 Oklahoma City Thunder 8-11 62.5 4 -1
4 Toronto Raptors 12-7 68.0 5 +1
3 Boston Celtics 18-3 70.0 2 -1
2 Houston Rockets 15-4 73.5 3 +1
1 Golden State Warriors 15-5 82.3 1 Even

The Expected

The Rockets are the hottest team in the league, winning 10 of their last 11, with all but one of those victories coming by double-digits. Tonight, they're hosting the Nets, losers of five out of seven. (Avert your eyes, people, avert your eyes.) All of which is why Houston's nERD score is now 3.5 points higher than Boston's.

The Warriors are still numero uno by a wide margin. Never saw that coming. #Sarcasm

The Unexpected

Coming into the season, we had a hunch the Eastern Conference would be Parity Central, but what with the loss of Paul George, we didn't have a hunch that the Pacers would be in the parity mix. Turns out Indiana is legit, scoring the sixth-most points in the East, while sporting a respectable (for the East) +1.1 point differential. They rank top-17 in both offensive and defensive efficiency and have won five of their last six. The next two weeks will be a telling stretch, with games against Houston, Toronto, and New York. On the plus side, those three tough contests are sandwiched by home games against Orlando and Chicago, so Indiana has that to look forward to.

As for nERD's season-long Charlotte/OKC love affair, we'll keep filing that under "Unexpected" until further notice.