NBA Power Rankings Update: Settling in for the Long Haul
As we sit three weeks into the season and only an eighth of the way through, we are coming to the reality of how long an 82-game season is and how streaky teams can be.
Just a week into the season, Toronto surprised us all with a white hot start. They were 5-0 and gave us visions of knocking the Cavs off their perch as Eastern Conference front-runners. Two weeks and six losses later, the Raptors have fallen back to the middle of the pack, more or less where we expected them to be.
So as we wade through the regular season, let us keep a level head and recognize how much of a grind the regular season is and that each team will inevitably have their own intense swings.
For this edition of the Power Rankings Update, we put the spotlight on a handful of teams making noise in the association for their current winning ways, or lack thereof.
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: 10.3, Record: 0-12, Last Week: 30)
29. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 20.9, Record: 1-11, Last Week: 28)
28. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 24.3, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 27)
27. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 25.1, Record: 2-10, Last Week: 29)
26. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 26.2, Record: 2-9, Last Week: 26)
25. Houston Rockets (nERD: 28.5, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 25)
24. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 35.2, Record: 5-6, Last Week: 22)
23. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 35.9, Record: 4-8, Last Week: 24)
A 1-7 start and talks of dysfunction in the locker room prompted Kings star DeMarcus Cousins to call a player's only meeting after an 18-point loss to San Antonio on November 9. The meeting evolved to include coaches and other prominent members of the organization. What was said is unknown, but it seemed to have spark something with the club.
In their last four games, the Kings are 3-1 only narrowly losing to Atlanta in the final seconds Wednesday. The offense has surged, scoring 104.0 points per game while hitting 46.7 percent of their shots, good for fourth in the league over the last week.
Besides emerging as a team leader off the court, Cousins continued to be the dominant force on the hardwood. Against Brooklyn, he posted a season-high 40 points, with 30 coming in a crucial second-half as the Kings held on for the two-point victory. In the last four games, the Sacramento big man is averaging 33.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He is also making good on his promise to add a three-point shot as he has made 10-of-20 from deep in the past week.
The Kings' recent success has Cousins to thank for a lot of it, but it would be an absolute mistake to overlook the resurgence of Rajon Rondo. Posting four triple-doubles in his last six games, Rondo has returned to relevancy in Sacramento. With fellow point guard Darren Collison coming back from injury Wednesday, following a five-game absence where Rondo averaged a ridiculous 45.4 minutes, everyone will be curious how coach George Karl will split up the minutes between the two and how Rondo will react.
22. Washington Wizards (nERD: 38.8, Record: 5-4, Last Week: 18)
21. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 39.5, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 23)
20. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 44.9, Record: 4-9, Last Week: 11)
With the mass exodus out of Oregon this summer, the Blazers 4-2 start shocked the world. They averaged over 110 points per game in their victories. It looked they had a breakout star in the making with C.J. McCollum as he torched the Pelicans in the season opener, going 6-for-9 from behind the arc to the tune of 37 points.
In reality, their game was nothing more than fool's gold. For the first six games, they were shooting lights out hitting 46.8 percent of their shots, good for fourth behind perennial offensive powers Warriors, Clippers, and Thunder. Yet in the last 10 plus days, the truth has emerged in Rip City.
Losers of their last seven games, Portland has fallen to the bottom 10 in both field goal and three-point shooting percentage. Not coincidentally, they have struggled to put points on the board, averaging 97.9 points per game in their seven-game slide all while giving up over 107.0 points.
On the plus side, while the 24-year-old McCollum has regressed in regards to his three-point shooting, the 24-year-old is still averaging 19.4 points per game over his last five contests, giving the Blazers a potent one-two punch with he and Damian Lillard for the long-term future.
19. Orlando Magic (nERD: 45.5, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 20)
18. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 47.4, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 19)
17. New York Knicks (nERD: 48.4, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 17)
16. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 50.1, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 21)
For the first three games of the year, it looked like coach Frank Vogel would convert to the uptempo small ball style promised by Larry Bird. The Pacers boosted their pace to over 100 possessions per 48 minutes but struggled to capitalize, as they were outscored by an average of 12.3 points in the three losses.
Since November 3 though, the Pacers have slowed their pace and have been arguably the hottest team in the NBA winning seven of nine. Even in their two losses at the hands of the top two teams record-wise in the East, Cleveland, and Chicago, the Pacers were in it until the final seconds. They ultimately lost the two contests by a total of five points.
The reason for the hot streak is two-fold. In their last nine games, Indiana has reverted to the defensive masters of a couple seasons ago. Their 93.7 Defensive Rating and 91.9 points allowed the last two weeks both rank second in the NBA.
Their offense has bounced back too, as they have put up 99.3 points per game. They have a now healthy Paul George to thank for most of that. He started hot, but in the last five games, PG13 has taken his game to another level as he is putting up MVP caliber numbers. His averages of 28.4 points, 7.6 boards, 4.8 assists, and 3.6 threes per game have the Pacers thinking playoffs again after a brief hiatus last season.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 51.4, Record: 5-7, Last Week: 15)
14. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 52.4, Record: 8-3, Last Week: 16)
Winners of four straight, the Bulls surprisingly sit first overall in the Eastern Conference with an 8-3 record. While no one in Chicago will pound their chest for leading the way three weeks in, it is a far cry from where they were two weeks ago after a 130-105 pounding at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets. After allowing over 100 points in their first seven games, the Bulls have tightened the screws, allowing only 94.3 points per game in during their winning streak.
Helping limit opponents to an NBA-best 38.3 percent shooting since November 9 is the aggressive play of one-time Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah. Despite leaving the bench for only 20 minutes per game, Noah is averaging over 11 rebounds per game while posting a 92.5 Defensive Rating during the win streak. His stellar play combined with the shooting struggles of Nikola Mirotic could have coach Fred Hoiberg second-guessing his decision to bring Noah off the bench.
With Derrick Rose sidelined with an ankle injury, Jimmy Butler took charge of the Bulls' offense with his 32-point outburst in a big time win over the Suns. With Rose's shaky injury history, Pau Gasol's career-low 45.1 percent shooting, and Mirotc's 8.9 points per game in November, Butler will be leaned on heavily to keep the offense producing at the rate Hoiberg expects and the Bulls on top.
13. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 53.0, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 10)
12. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 55.0, Record: 8-4, Last Week: 12)
11. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 57.1, Record: 6-6, Last Week: 13)
10. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 58.7, Record: 9-5, Last Week: 9)
9. Boston Celtics (nERD: 59.1, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 14)
8. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 61.4, Record: 6-4, Last Week: 3)
7. Utah Jazz (nERD: 63.0, Record: 6-5, Last Week: 4)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 63.3, Record: 7-6, Last Week: 6)
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 69.1, Record: 7-5, Last Week: 7)
4. Miami Heat (nERD: 69.8, Record: 6-4, Last Week: 8)
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 71.8, Record: 8-3, Last Week: 2)
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 75.0, Record: 9-2, Last Week: 5)
All of the talk about who is the best team in the NBA revolves around Golden State. Rightfully so. But quietly, as they usually operate, the Spurs have a solid hold on the second spot and are poised to be the biggest threat to dethrone the Warriors this postseason. Sitting at 9-2, and in the midst of a six-game win streak, San Antonio has been rolling as they have won their games by an average margin of 14.1 points. Their two losses to the Thunder and Wizards were narrow defeats as they lost by a total of nine points.
Since they beat Charlotte on November 7 to start their run, San Antonio has upped their game and put up numbers that top or rival the Warriors. The Spurs have scored the sixth-most points (104.5), allowed the second least (90.7), have the best Offensive Rating (109.5), have had the most success from the field (49.0) with the most assists (30.2) and second fewest turnovers (11.7). There is not much the Spurs are doing wrong at the moment.
The epitome of a team, the Spurs are the fifth-best rebounding unit but do not have a player in the top 10 of total rebounds. They are second in the league with an average of 26.4 assists per game, but the team-high is only 4.3 per game by Tony Parker who barely registers in the top 50. They have seven players with at least two assists. They have a balanced rotation with eight players playing more than 19 minutes per game with only Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge playing over 30 per game. Their integration of free-agent signee Aldridge into the fold exemplifies the leadership and selflessness taught by coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs and Warriors are playing at a ridiculous level right now, but sadly we have to wait over two months, until January 25, to see them face off.
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 95.6, Record: 12-0, Last Week: 1)