NBA Power Rankings Update: The Clippers Make Their Move

The Clippers move up in the rankings thanks to underrated seasons from their stars. Who else changed spots?

Each week, I'll be translating numberFire's NBA power rankings into words. The rankings are driven by our nERD metric, which is a predictive statistic to help define what the team's winning percentage ultimately will be.

Let's take a look at this week's rankings.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 13.0, Record: 2-22, last week: 30)
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 20.4, Record: 5-19, last week: 29)
28. New York Knicks (nERD: 28.9, Record: 5-22, last week: 27)
27. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 30.0, Record: 5-20, last week: 26)
26. Utah Jazz (nERD: 31.9, Record: 6-19, last week: 23)
25. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 32.0, Record: 8-17, last week: 28)
24. Orlando Magic (nERD: 32.6, Record: 10-17, last week: 25)
23. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 33.2, Record: 6-18, last week: 24)
22. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 34.5, Record: 8-17, last week: 22)

The Pacers have struggled to replace the two major pieces they lost from last season, as Lance Stephenson and Paul George scored 37% of the team's points per game a year ago. George is still recovering from an horrific summer knee injury, while Hornets fans are still recovering from their summer signing of Lance Stephenson.

Indiana's offensive rating has dropped from 23rd (104.1 points per 100 possessions) last season to 27th (100.7 points per 100 possessions) this season. Not terrible, but noticeable. Their team defense has suffered a lot more though. Last season they ranked 2nd, and this year they're 10th.

If George is able to recover in time for a late season playoff push, he'll help offensively, but his biggest impact will be felt on defense -- he's the best perimeter defender in the league. A freak athlete whose listed at 6'9" with a wingspan over 6'11", he's longer and has more lateral quickness than everyone he guards. His athleticism is unmatched, and he fights over the top of every screen. The stats back that up, too. In fact, over the last two seasons, he's first in the league in total wins added on the defensive end of the floor.

SeasonSPG (rank)Defensive Win Shares (rank)Win Shares (rank)D Rating (rank)
2012-131.8 (8th)6.3 (1st)9.0 (20th)97 (3rd)
2013-141.9 (5th)6.4 (2nd)10.8 (12th)97 (3rd)

One bizarre result of the George and Stephenson-less Pacers has been the redistribution of minutes. Last season, the Pacers' starting five of George Hill, Paul George, Lance Stephenson, David West and Roy Hibbert led the league in minutes as a five-man unit. They started all but nine games together and played 1,467 minutes.

This season, coach Frank Vogel is distributing his minutes very evenly. The Pacers have already used eight different starting lineups, and 13 players are averaging more than 16 minutes per game while 10 players are averaging at least 9 points per game. This is partially due to early injuries to David West and George Hill, but the change is remarkable.

Has Vogel adopted Spurs coach Gregg Poppovich's conservationist approach that focuses on saving his best players legs for a playoff push? If so, maybe he's optimistic for Paul George's return, resulting in a sneaky eight seed and ensuing run in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

21. Miami Heat (nERD: 38.9, Record: 12-13, last week: 21)
20. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 42.0, Record: 13-12, last week: 18)
19. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 42.6, Record: 10-13, last week: 20)
18. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 43.2, Record: 10-14, last week: 16)
17. Boston Celtics (nERD: 44.6, Record: 8-14, last week: 17)
16. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 48.9, Record: 11-14, last week: 15)
15. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 48.9, Record: 12-14, last week: 13)
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 51.1, Record: 12-13, last week: 19)
13. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 52.9, Record: 12-12, last week: 14)

The Pelicans have Anthony Davis, a transcendent star who's this generation's Tim Duncan. Check out the Brow's current season compared to Duncan's first MVP season:

PlayerYearPPGRPGBPGFG %O RatingD Rating
Anthony Davis2014-1524.310.22.757.4127102
Tim Duncan2001-0225.512.72.550.811496

They're almost identical. Sure, Duncan grabbed a few more boards, but he was 25, while Davis is still just 21. The difference, of course, is each team's success at the time. Duncan's '02 Spurs went 58-24 and won their division. Davis' Pelicans will likely miss the playoffs.

The Pelicans are poorly constructed, as they stacked their roster with mid- to high-priced veterans right when Davis was coming into his own. In the summer of 2013, they signed Tyreke Evans to a four-year, $44 million deal. They flipped a top defensive prospect (Nerlens Noel) and this year's first-round pick (essentially Dario Saric for point guard Jrue Holiday. Then, over this past summer, they traded for Omer Asik to play alongside Davis in the post. Now they're $14 million over the salary cap and zero games over .500.

All this was likely an attempt to keep Davis happy and avoid the bi-annual Kevin Love/Dwight Howard/Carmelo Anthony "big star demands a trade from a small market" saga.

One issue with the roster is the lack of three-point shooting. The NBA is dominated by teams that can penetrate, make layups, and hit open threes. New Orleans is flush with ball handlers that can create shots, but they lack those who can make shots. Check out the three-point percentages of the six Nola players who share the most floor minutes with the Brow.

PlayerPositionMinutes Played with Davis3 Point %
Jrue HolidayPoint Guard64437%
Tyreke EvansSmall Forward63133%
Omer AsikCenter368N/A
Ryan AndersonPower Forward36433%
Eric GordonShooting Guard33934%
Austin RiversShooting Guard25631%

Nobody is even shooting 38%. Heck, they only have one primary player shooting above the league average of 35%. Granted, power forward Ryan Anderson is supposed to be the premier 'stretch four' in the league, but he's exhibiting a lengthy shooting slump to start the season.

Even without shooting, the Pelicans currently boast the league's fifth-best offense. That's the effect of Anthony Davis. But just imagine if they had saved money the last two offseasons and instead of signing Asik, Holiday and Evans, went after less expensive options like Darren Collison or Isaiah Thomas, filling out their roster with cheap long-range bombers a la the Houston Rockets. They'd be out of the luxury tax and might be able to lure an actual big name free agent to come play fun up-and-down ball with the best forward prospect since Grant Hill.

12. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 60.5, Record: 15-9, last week: 12)
11. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 61.2, Record: 14-9, last week: 10)
10. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 62.1, Record: 17-7, last week: 11)
9. Houston Rockets (nERD: 63.5, Record: 18-5, last week: 9)
8. Washington Wizards (nERD: 65.8, Record: 18-6, last week: 8)
7. Portland Trailblazers (nERD: 66.4, Record: 19-6, last week: 7)
6. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 69.1, Record: 17-8, last week: 6)
5. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 70.3, Record: 20-4, last week: 4)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 70.6, Record: 17-7, last week: 3)

On November 5th, the Clippers got stomped 121-104 by the rival Warriors in Oakland. In that nationally televised game, Draymond Green thoroughly outplayed dark-horse MVP candidate Blake Griffin, and did his best to rub it in. Blake played 31 minutes, scored 14 points, grabbed only 1 rebound and his team was outscored by 23 points while he was on the floor.

Well, Griffin's righted the ship (pun intended.) Since that night, he's averaging 22 points and 8 boards a game, and the Clippers are 14-5. But this season feels different for Griffin. He's no longer the relentless crasher of the offensive glass that he was as a rookie. Here's a chart showing the distribution of his shots according to distance from the hoop.

Season0-3 feet3-10 feet10-16 feet16+ feet

In five years, Blake now takes almost three times as many shots from beyond 16 feet as he did when he was Rookie of the Year. He's also grabbing just two offensive rebounds per game, more then one per game fewer than his first two seasons in the league.

There are a few possible explanations for his transformation. One, coach Doc Rivers prefers rebound vacuum Deandre Jordan in the post. Two, Blake is more focused on preserving his body. Three, the Clippers are obsessed with spacing and want Chris Paul to have more space to drive to the hoop. Either way, it's working, and the Clippers are third in the league in offensive rating, down from first last season.

If Blake Griffin can continue to improve his jump shot and Chris Paul can continue his MVP-caliber season, this offensive minded team will be a contender in late May and June.

3. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 71.6, Record: 19-6, last week: 5)
2. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 74.3, Record: 18-8, last week: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 80.7, Record: 21-3, last week: 1)