NBA Power Rankings Update: Risers and Fallers
Welcome to the season debut of our NBA Power Rankings breakdown. For this first edition, we will examine the start of some of the biggest movers so far.
A little over a week into the season and we have plenty of movement on our power rankings from the preseason. Teams like the Jazz and Pistons have climbed much higher than we previously anticipated while playoff stalwarts Houston and Memphis have seen their stock slide.
As most teams have played only four or five games, each misstep or victory is greatly amplified exaggerating the volatility. As we move deeper into the grind of the regular season, expect these rankings to stabilize.
Our power rankings here at numberFire are not subjective or influenced by the latest hype; we put our faith and trust in our algorithms. Each week, we’ll list all 30 teams in the Association from worst to best based on our nERD metric, which is a predictive measure to help define what the team's winning percentage ultimately will be.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 18.1, Record: 0-4, Preseason: 29)
29. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 25.4, Record: 0-5, Preseason: 25)
Even after making the playoffs last year, albeit with a 38-44 record, the Nets knew they would be taking a step back this season as they shed payroll and started rebuilding. But after five games and with them still looking for win number one, the season is quickly becoming a disaster. Granted, the schedule has not done them any favors either as their first five opponents all made the playoffs last season (Chicago, Memphis, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Atlanta).
The offense has been a trainwreck as they rank 29th with 89.8 points per game. The defense has not been much better as they have given up 104.4 points per game. Brook Lopez has been the lone bright spot on the team as he leads the way with 20.0 points per game on 57 percent field goal shooting. No one wants to see a repeat of 2009-10 when the Nets lost their first 18 on their way to a 70-loss season. Getting the chance to face the also-winless Lakers on Friday, may be what Brooklyn needs to grab a W.28. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 33.3, Record: 0-4, Preseason: 23)
27. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 34.2, Record: 0-4, Preseason: 13)
26. Orlando Magic (nERD: 36.4, Record: 1-4, Preseason: 27)
25. Milawaukee Bucks (nERD: 37.1, Record: 2-3, Preseason: 18)
24. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 38.7, Record: 2-3, Preseason: 19)
23. New York Knicks (nERD: 39.0, Record: 2-3, Preseason: 30)
22. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 39.2, Record: 2-2, Preseason: 26)
21. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 40.7, Record: 1-4, Preseason: 24)
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 42.6, Record: 2-1, Preseason: 28)
With five of their top six leading scorers 25 years old or younger, the youth movement is in full swing in Minnesota. Led by Karl-Anthony Towns, the T-Wolves' offense ranks in the top 10 with 102.7 points per game. Towns' fast start gives Minnesota a low post presence missing since the trade of Kevin Love. While Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Zach LaVine still have time to grow their game, as they are all 20 years old, Ricky Rubio's resurgence, especially on opening night, is the real reason for the Wolves' rise in the ranks.
Rubio averaged 10.2 points and 8.2 assists per game his first four seasons, all while shooting a horrific 36.7 percent from the field. Maybe with all the time he has had off, due to injury, the 25-year-old hit the gym working on his jumper. Even with a small sample size of three games, Rubio is hitting 45.7 percent of his field goals, including 53.8 from 16 to 24 feet. That is nearly double his career rate (28.2) from that distance. No wonder he is crushing career-highs with 17.3 points and 10.3 assists per game so far. His 11.5 nERD rating gives him a top-12 rank and leaves Minnesota with high hopes for the season.
19. Houston Rockets (nERD: 43.1, Record: 2-3, Preseason: 5)
18. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 44.6, Record: 3.-2, Preseason: 8)
A perennial playoff squad since 2011, five straight playoff appearances and a 62.9 winning percentage, the Grizzlies have looked strong in their wins this season. 105.3 points scored and an average of victory margin of 11 points per game against Indiana, Brooklyn, and Sacramento, reaffirms their status as a postseason contender. Their losses, however, makes Memphis look like a lottery team.
In their losses to Golden State and Cleveland, the Grizzlies have shot 30.9 percent from the field on the way to an average of 72.5 points scored. In the opener against the Cavs, they started off 5-for-33 as they were embarrassed at home by 30 points. If they thought it could not get worse, they would be dead wrong. They were dropped by the Warriors 119-69 on November 2 for the worst loss in franchise history. Lucky for Memphis, they get their chance at revenge quickly, as they face off with the Warriors again on November 11.17. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 45.2, Record: 1-3, Preseason: 21)
16. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 47.5, Record: 3-2, Preseason: 17)
15. Boston Celtics (nERD: 49.2, Record: 1-3, Preseason: 16)
14. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 50.6, Record: 3-2, Preseason: 20)
13. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 52.3, Record: 3-1, Preseason: 22)
Since we discussed the Pistons' fast start, Detroit has turned in a mixed bag, going 1-1, defeating the Bulls but losing to the Pacers. Still, for a team projected to finish 37-45, standing 3-1 in the Eastern Conference makes them look like legit playoff contenders for the first time in seven seasons.
The Pistons have a top five ranked defense in terms of scoring and efficiency, which they have needed due to the intense struggles on the offensive side of the ball. Their 38.6 percent shooting percentage ranks them dead last in the NBA. All those missed shots have led the Pistons to the top of the offensive rebounding charts and a top five position in second chance points. Leading the way on the glass is 22-year-old Andre Drummond. The Big Penguin is averaging 20.3 points and 19.5 rebounds per game. In the midst of a breakout year, Drummond has also managed to keep his free throw shooting at 58 percent, a minor miracle considering his career rate is under 40 percent.
The real test for the Pistons comes in the next 10 days as they embark on a long west coast road trip with six games against Western Conference foes, including the Warriors and the Clippers.
12. Washington Wizards (nERD: 53.3, Record: 3-1, Preseason: 12)
11. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 54.5, Record: 3-2, Preseason: 11)
10. Miami Heat (nERD: 54.7, Record: 2-2, Preseason: 14)
9. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 59.9, Record: 5-1, Preseason: 10)
8. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 61.4, Record: 2-2, Preseason: 7)
7. Utah Jazz (nERD: 61.7, Record: 2-2, Preseason: 15)
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 64.6, Record: 3-2, Preseason: 6)
5. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 66.2, Record: 5-0, Preseason: 9)
Except for our resident Canadian, Russell Peddle, no one believed the Raptors would start the season this hot. Even he would warn you about getting excited over fast starts; the Raptors went 15-4 last year before the Wizards swept them in the first round just last year. However with a top-five offense in terms of scoring and efficiency and finally a defense worthy of their high-powered offense, the Raptors have much to be excited about as one of two undefeated teams in the NBA.
A slimmed-down Kyle Lowry looks like a man determined to be the hometown hero as the All-Star game makes its way north of the border this season. He is putting up 19.2 points, 4.8 boards, and 6.6 assists per game and his 13.9 nERD and 23.6 PER leave him in the top 10. Add in leading scorer DeMar DeRozan having the best defensive start, with a 99 Defensive Rating, to his career and you have a backcourt duo to rival anyone not residing in Oakland. However, the true breakout star for Toronto is Jonas Valanciunas. The 23-year-old is posting career-highs with 15.8 points and 10.4 rebounds on 60 percent field goal and 81 percent free throw shooting. Finally, it looks like Valanciunas may earn his status as the fifth overall draft pick from the 2011 NBA Draft.4. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 66.6, Record: 3-2, Preseason: 2)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 72.6, Record: 4-1, Preseason: 3
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 73.6, Record: 4-1, Preseason: 4)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 85.3, Record: 5-0, Preseason: 1)
What can we say about the Warriors that has not been said before? They lead the league in scoring, shooting percentage, three-pointers, defensive rebounding, assists, Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating, and on and on. With repeat MVP candidate Stephen Curry still shooting lights out, they appear unbeatable. They won their first four games by an average of 25 points. Even in their first real test, a 112-108 win over the Clippers, Curry was unconscious from deep, hitting 7-of-11 attempts behind the arc.
The Dubs appear poised for a long residence at the top of our power rankings. They also have the look of a squad not only ready for a repeat championship but as the first real challenge to the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' 72-win record.