NBA Power Rankings: Small Ball Coming Up Big?

The Houston Rockets are using a small ball lineup to take down teams like the Utah Jazz. Did that lead to a bump in our rankings?

With nearly three-quarters of the 2019-20 NBA regular season in the books, it's time to take a look at numberFire's power rankings.

Teams will be ranked in terms of nERD, which is our efficiency metric based on in-game data. These ratings allow us to understand which teams and players are performing best. nERD is indicative of a team's expected winning percentage, so an average team will have a nERD score of 50.0.

Only eight teams moved multiple spots in our rankings, as most squads have already established their identity. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at how each team stacks up.

The Bottom 10

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
30 Cleveland Cavaliers 16-41 20.1 30 0
29 Atlanta Hawks 17-42 23.6 29 0
28 Golden State Warriors 12-46 23.9 28 0
27 Charlotte Hornets 19-38 26.5 27 0
26 New York Knicks 17-40 29.6 26 0
25 Chicago Bulls 20-39 36.0 24 -1
T23 Washington Wizards 20-36 37.2 24 +1
T23 Minnesota Timberwolves 16-36 37.2 23 0
22 Detroit Pistons 19-41 38.6 22 0
21 Sacramento Kings 24-33 43.3 21 0

- This tier didn't experience much change, as not a single team moved multiple spots. It's mostly a case of all of them sucking an equal amount.

- The Golden State Warriors have lost seven consecutive games, but only two of those losses came by more than 20 points -- progress...I guess?

- The New York Knicks have only lost twice since the All-Star break. On a totally unrelated note, New York has only played two games since the break.

- Losers of 9 of their last 10, the Chicago Bulls are the only team in this tier to drop a spot. Most of their highlights consist of Zach LaVine being pissed off at head coach Jim Boylen.

- Bradley Beal scored a career-high 53 points on Sunday and followed it up with a career-high 55 on Monday, and the Washington Wizards somehow lost both. They really are Wizards at finding new ways to suck.

- The Detroit Pistons are 0-7 since they traded away Andre Drummond. Only two teams -- the Charlotte Hornets and Warriors -- have a worse offensive rating during that stretch. Mission accomplished?

The Middle of the Pack

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
20 Memphis Grizzlies 28-29 45.4 18 -2
19 Portland Trail Blazers 26-33 45.6 14 -5
T17 Orlando Magic 25-32 46.5 19 +2
T17 New Orleans Pelicans 25-33 46.5 20 +3
16 San Antonio Spurs 24-32 47.2 15 -1
15 Phoenix Suns 24-34 47.9 16 +1
14 Brooklyn Nets 26-30 48.1 17 +3
T12 Philadelphia 76ers 36-22 57.3 13 +1
T12 Utah Jazz 36-21 57.3 7 -5
11 Indiana Pacers 34-24 57.4 12 +1

- An 0-3 week dropped the Memphis Grizzlies two spots in our rankings. Memphis still has a sizable lead for the eighth seed -- 4.0 games, to be exact -- but they have the sixth-worst net rating in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies haven't been particularly sharp on either side of the court -- coming in below-average in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

- Just when it looked like the Portland Trail Blazers were starting to make a play for the eighth seed, they go and lose four out of five. Portland's efficiency rating over their last nine games is fifth-worst in the league.

- Speaking of the eighth seed, the Orlando Magic are trying to hang on to their lead in the East. After losing eight of nine, Orlando has come out victorious in three of their last four. Unfortunately, they still lead the league in having NBA Slam Dunk Contest victories stolen from them.

- One team making some serious noise in the West is the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pels are 8-6 and have the league's seventh-best net rating since Zion Williamson's debut. Speaking of Williamson, he became the youngest player in league history to score 20 or more points in eight straight games. He's doing all of this despite weighing as much as 2.27 Spud Webbs.

- Gregg Popovich has probably been extra grumpy as of late, as his San Antonio Spurs have posted the league's sixth-worst net rating in February. A 28-point loss at the hand of the Oklahoma City Thunder certainly won't help matters.

- Never on Kyrie Irving's flat earth did he imagine that the Brooklyn Nets would have this much success without him. The Nets were 8-12 with Irving and are now .500 without him. In fact, Brooklyn's net (get it?) rating over their last eight games -- all without Kyrie -- is best in the league.

- Given that the Philadelphia 76ers played two of their three games at home this week, it's no surprise that they moved up a spot in our ranks. They play three out of four on the road -- where their net rating is 15.6 (!!) points worse -- this coming week, so a move back down is in short order.

- Our Faller of the Week Award goes to -- drumroll please -- the Utah Jazz! Utah has put new meaning to the word "streaky" this season. At the end of November, they lost six of nine, then they won 19 of 21, then they lost five in a row, then they won five straight, and now they've lost three consecutive games. In February, Utah is bottom-12 in defensive efficiency, net rating, assist percentage, and turnover percentage. They're also dead last in blocks and steals.

The Best of the Best

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
10 Miami Heat 36-21 58.3 8 -2
9 Denver Nuggets 40-18 58.3 T9 0
8 Oklahoma City Thunder 36-22 60.1 T9 +1
7 Houston Rockets 37-20 60.4 11 +4
6 Los Angeles Clippers 38-19 62.6 6 0
5 Dallas Mavericks 35-23 66.3 5 0
4 Boston Celtics 40-17 67.5 4 0
3 Toronto Raptors 42-16 70.3 3 0
2 Los Angeles Lakers 44-12 72.3 2 0
1 Milwaukee Bucks 50-8 85.1 1 0

- The most active team at the trade deadline -- the Miami Heat -- has quietly been struggling. Since the deadline passed, Miami has lost to the Kings, Hawks, and Cavaliers. That's a season's worth of bad losses in a span of seven games. Perhaps all that wheeling and dealing caused their wheels to fall off? I joke, but Heat fans probably don't find it punny.

- Over their last 16 games, the Thunder are 13-3 with the third-best net rating in the league. Since starting the season 8-12, OKC is an impressive 28-10. Like a fine wine, Chris Paul has improved with each passing month.

- Speaking of Chris Paul, his former team -- the Houston Rockets -- earned our Riser of the Week Award. Since switching to the video game-like small-ball lineup, the Rockets are 8-2 with the eighth-best efficiency rating in the league. Naturally, Houston's rebounding percentage is dead last in the league, but their offensive rating, turnover percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, effective field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage are all inside the top-10 in the league.

- The Toronto Raptors have won 17 of their last 19 contests. It's time to face the fact they're a legitimate contender. They're innovative defensively, and they seem to be trying...ummm...different...shall we say "moves" on the offensive end.

- Having won eight of their last nine, the Los Angeles Lakers are back to their winning ways. Only the team ahead of them in the rankings had a better record in the month of February. The Lakers are being led by a "washed" LeBron James, who is on pace to become the first player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists per game, while shooting 49% or better from the field.

- Was there any doubt as to who would be number one? By almost any metric, the Milwaukee Bucks are not just the best team this season but also one of the best teams in league history. In fact, the Deer clinched a playoff spot faster than any team in history. Milwaukee is led by soon-to-be two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is on pace to become the first player ever to average more than 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists in a season while shooting at least 55% from the field. Giannis is also on pace to have the highest Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in league history. Let's just sit back and appreciate greatness.