NBA Power Rankings Update: Can Anyone Top the Warriors?

Did the Hawks and Warriors give us a preview last week of what's to come in the playoffs?

Each week, we'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.

The past week has seen relatively little change, but the worst record in the NBA belongs to a new team, while the Hawks moved up a couple spots with the defeat of the Warriors. But did the loss to the Hawks show chinks in the Warriors' armor? Find out below!

30. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 16.6, Record: 12-41, last week: 30)
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 21.9, Record: 11-41, last week: 29)

When Ricky Rubio is on the court for the Timberwolves, their offensive rating skyrockets from 101.6 to 108.9, which makes them a top-10 offense. And the offensive rating for opponents drops from 112.7 to 100.9 as well with Rubio on the court. But not only are the 'Wolves a better offense with him, they're a better shooting team, as their effective field goal percentage jumps from 46.4% to 50.4%. We also notice small increases in sharing the ball and small decreases in turning the ball over.

This isn't to say that the 'Wolves have got it all figured out, but the fact remains that Rubio is integral to their success. Plus, having the worst record in the league isn't always the best thing when it comes lottery time. Only four teams since 1985 have had the worst record in the league and held on to the top draft spot. While the odds don't always reflect this, being a top-five lottery team is sometimes better -- the Timberwolves are currently the second-to-worst team in the league thanks to their brief, but important winning streak.

28. New York Knicks (nERD: 23.7, Record: 10-42, last week: 28)
27. Orlando Magic (nERD: 29.6, Record: 16-39, last week: 27)
26. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 31.5, Record: 13-38, last week: 26)
25. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 36.8, Record: 21-30, last week: 25)
24. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 38.6, Record: 18-32, last week: 20)
23. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 39.3, Record: 19-33, last week: 24)
22. Miami Heat (nERD: 40, Record: 22-29, last week: 22)
21. Utah Jazz (nERD: 41.6, Record: 19-33, last week: 21)

The Utah Jazz are a young team with poise, but they face the disadvantage of playing in the Western Conference. While we projected the Jazz to finish dead last in the conference, the Timberwolves, Lakers and Nuggets have all underperformed, leaving the Jazz as the best of the bottom of the barrel. But there's hope for the future thanks to the re-signing of Gordon Hayward, as he has easily lived up to the massive contract he received this past offseason.

Hayward finished his first four seasons as the ninth (-1.7), third (0.5), third (0.9) and sixth (-4.6) best player on the Jazz according to our historical nERD statistics. This season, he's better than ever with a 6.3 nERD, meaning that an average team with Hayward starting would finish around 6 games above .500. Hayward's nERD is still third on his team, but he's right on the heels of teammates Derrick Favors (6.4) and Rudy Gobert (6.5).

If you need more reasons to believe in Hayward this year, let's start with his points per 36 minutes. He's currently averaging 20.3 points per 36, which is a career high, the leading number for the Jazz, and on par with players such as Kyrie Irving, Rudy Gay and Jeff Teague. Hayward is also developing into a better shooter, as his true shooting percentage is a career high 58.2%, 24th best in the league among players with at least 1,000 minutes.

So while the Jazz may be near the bottom of the West for now, if they can continue to add to the nucleus of Gobert, Favors and Hayward, they could be challenging for a playoff spot sooner rather than later.

20. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 42.1, Record: 20-33, last week: 23)
19. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 44.7, Record: 20-32, last week: 18)
18. Boston Celtics (nERD: 44.7, Record: 19-31, last week: 19)
17. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 48.2, Record: 22-29, last week: 17)
16. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 51.3, Record: 27-25, last week: 13)
15. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 53.1, Record: 29-23, last week: 15)
14. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 53.4, Record: 29-24, last week: 14)
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 54.6, Record: 27-25, last week: 16)
12. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 56.7, Record: 32-21, last week: 12)

On January 5th, the Cavaliers received J.R. Smith. On January 9th, the Cavaliers obtained Timofey Mozgov. On January 13th, LeBron James jumped back onto the court after missing eight games. The Cavs lost the first game James came back, but have since rattled off 13 wins in their last 14 games, including 12 in a row. But do the additions Smith and Mozgov give the Cavaliers their best lineup of the season?

The Smith, Mozgov, James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving lineup has only played together in 13 games, but have accumulated 187 minutes as a unit, the second most used lineup on the team. When comparing lineups of the Cavaliers that have played at least 60 minutes together, this lineup is only second offensively to a lineup of the Big Three with Shawn Marion and Tristan Thompson when we compare each lineup's offensive ratings -- defensively, both of these units perform the same. When the newest Big Three have teamed up with Mozgov and Smith, the Cavs have seen their most effective shooting lineup (57.6%) as well. While this lineup may be a little more turnover prone and not the best to crash the boards, it may give the Cavs the best shot at winning the title this year.

11. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 58.5, Record: 32-20, last week: 11)
10. Washington Wizards (nERD: 59.3, Record: 33-20, last week: 10)
9. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 59.5, Record: 33-19, last week: 8)
8. Houston Rockets (nERD: 59.6, Record: 35-16, last week: 9)
7. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 62.4, Record: 35-17, last week: 7)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 62.5, Record: 35-17, last week: 6)
5. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 64.3, Record: 38-13, last week: 5)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 68.9, Record: 34-19, last week: 2)
3. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 69, Record: 35-19, last week: 3)
2. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 69.5, Record: 43-10, last week: 4)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 83.3, Record: 41-9, last week: 1)

The Warriors took on the Hawks this past Friday in a possible NBA Finals matchup, and the result was not what Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and company were hoping for. Coach Steve Kerr was quoted as saying the team “broke down defensively” in this game, so I looked a little deeper into the stats for the Warriors to see if they are a much better team at home than on the road.

In short -- yes, the Warriors better hope they get the top seed in the Western Conference to have the best shot at making the NBA Finals. However, the true difference between their home stats versus their away stats aren’t a big deal when compared to other teams.

Let’s start with the team’s net rating, the difference between the team’s offensive and defensive ratings. An average team this year is seeing a 4.96 point drop in their net rating when they leave the friendly confines of their home court. The Warriors have the third worst difference in net rating (a 10.6 point decrease) in the league, but that doesn’t mean they are the worst road team in the league.

Since most teams have even the smallest difference in net rating when on the road, we need to look at where the Warriors rank both at home and away. The Warriors have the top net rating when playing at home with a 8.5-point difference over the Clippers, which shows off the value of their defense this year. On the road, the Warriors only have a 1.1-point difference in net rating over the Mavricks, but they are still the top team in terms of net rating in the NBA.

The biggest takeaway here is that the Warriors do seem to suffer a little offensively when they go on the road, and they maintain the status quo defensively in both home and away games. Plus, the Warriors went up against a Hawks defense that is a top-10 unit when playing at home. Here’s hoping we see both of these teams again in the NBA Finals and they stretch it out over seven games.