NBA Power Rankings Update: A Shakeup in 2016
Happy New Year! Welcome to 2016.
A new year brings renewed hope and optimism for those that need it, not just for the average man, but for the NBA as well. Many teams, like the Lakers, are glad to have 2015 in the rearview mirror. This season, the Lakers won only six games through December 31, but since New Year's Day, they already have two wins.
With the midway mark of the season coming up quickly, there has been quite a bit of shuffling in our power rankings. We even have a new top dog, as teams are settling in for the long-haul. In this week's edition of the Power Rankings Update, we will take a look at three of the hottest teams in the Association as well as a three on the opposite side of the spectrum.
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: 13.3, Record: 4-33, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 20.5, Record: 8-28, Last Week: 29)
28. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 30.5, Record: 10-25, Last Week: 27)
27. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 31.8, Record: 14-23, Last Week: 28)
26. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 33.2, Record: 13-25, Last Week: 24)
The Suns are a mess. Despite breaking their nine-game losing streak Wednesday against the equally struggling Hornets, the Suns are arguably the worst team in the NBA since December 1. At 5-16, only the 76ers and Timberwolves have fewer wins. They are allowing the second-most points, 107.0, and have fifth-worst Offensive Rating at 100.4.
Their obstacles this season have many faces: the Markieff Morris turmoil, Eric Bledsoe's season-ending knee injury, and free-agent acquisition Tyson Chandler's terrible play are the most notable. All the drama has left the team in shambles, as of late. They have only two wins in the past 13 games. In the past two weeks, they gave Philadelphia their second win of the year, gave up 142 points to the Kings in regulation, and got blown out by 20 points by the Lakers.
Coach Jeff Hornacek is unquestionably on the hot seat, even after the team fired two of his assistants. One of the few things that could save his job is the development of the young players like Devin Booker. In the absence of Bledsoe, Booker has stepped up to average 14.1 points on 50 percent shooting in his last seven games.
25. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 34.7, Record: 11-23, Last Week: 26)
24. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 34.9, Record: 13-23, Last Week: 25)
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 39.5, Record: 12-24, Last Week: 19)
22. Washington Wizards (nERD: 40.7, Record: 15-18, Last Week: 22)
21. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 41.0, Record: 14-21, Last Week: 23)
20. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 42.2, Record: 19-18, Last Week: 21)
19. New York Knicks (nERD: 42.9, Record: 18-19, Last Week: 20)
The Knicks have been one of the streakiest teams all season long. Not once, or twice, but three times they have lost four games in a row. They have also had a four-game win streak and currently have won three in a row. After an embarrassing eight-point fourth quarter in their 108-81 shellacking by the Bulls, the Knicks have rattled off the three wins by averaging 105.3 points with a 114.2 Offensive Rating.
The key in the better offensive play has been their shooting. Making over 50 percent of their field goal attempts and 90 percent of their free throws has brought them back to just a game under .500 and within two games of the 8 seed in the East. The win on Wednesday over Miami was also the 18th of the year, surpassing last year's dismal total of 17.
During the recent run, Arron Afflalo absolutely torched Atlanta. In the two victories over the Hawks, the veteran guard averaged 30.5 points while shooting a blazing 23-for-33 from the floor including 9-for-10 from beyond the arc.
18. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 43.1, Record: 15-23, Last Week: 18)
17. Houston Rockets (nERD: 43.3, Record: 17-19, Last Week: 17)
16. Utah Jazz (nERD: 46.6, Record: 15-19, Last Week: 16)
15. Orlando Magic (nERD: 48.2, Record: 19-17, Last Week: 12)
Just last week we were talking up the Magic and their surge into playoff contention, but as soon as the calendar turned to 2016, Orlando proceeded to drop their next four games and look terrible while doing so.
Scoring only 86.5 points per game and giving up over 104 in the month of January is a recipe for disaster. The current losing streak has been highlighted -- or lowlighted, if you will -- by losses to Cleveland and Detroit by 25 and 26 points, respectively. Losing to winning teams has been a habit the Magic have gotten into all year long, not just in 2016.
In their 13 games against teams with a .500 or better record, Orlando is 2-11. With 14 of their next 20 games coming against winning teams, including an eight-game stretch right before the All-Star break, the Magic better figure it out quickly, or they will find themselves in the lottery again.
14. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 52.8, Record: 21-15, Last Week: 14)
13. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 53.7, Record: 21-15, Last Week: 11)
12. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 54.3, Record: 21-12, Last Week: 15)
11. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 55.5, Record: 17-18, Last Week: 8)
A 14-8 start had the Hornets as high as fourth in our rankings and second overall in the East. It looked as though Charlotte had it all figured out and was going to be in prime position to return to the postseason. However, since December 11, the Hornets have gone 3-10, bottoming out Wednesday night with a loss to lowly Phoenix for their fifth straight loss.
In the last 13 games, the Hornets offense has been abysmal. In that stretch, they are living and dying by the three. Over 35 percent of their shot attempts, a league-high 30 attempts per game, come from beyond the arc. The problem for the Hornets is they are making only 32.8 percent. At the same time, they are allowing the second-most three-point makes and attempts and the second-highest three-point percentage. In their loss to Phoenix, they allowed the Suns to hit 19 threes.
During the current five-game losing streak, the once stout defense has slipped, allowing over 111 points per game and a league-worst 115.4 Defensive Rating. With swingman Nicolas Batum hampered by a toe injury, causing him to miss the past three games, opponents are shooting 48 percent from the field and over 47 percent from three.
10. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 57.6, Record: 20-16, Last Week: 13)
9. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 58.5, Record: 20-15, Last Week: 9)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 58.9, Record: 19-16, Last Week: 10)
7. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 59.6, Record: 22-15, Last Week: 6)
6. Miami Heat (nERD: 62.7, Record: 21-14, Last Week: 7)
5. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 64.7, Record: 23-13, Last Week: 5)
Blake Griffin missing games looked like it was going to doom the Clippers. When the power forward suffered a partially torn quad, the team had just eked out a victory over the bottom-dwelling Lakers on Christmas to end a three-game losing streak. With Griffin ruled out for at least two weeks, the future looked bleak.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Clippers have gone on to sweep the next six games to give them the longest current winning streak in the NBA at seven games. While all seven teams have a sub-.500 record, six of the seven games came on the road, not an easy feat no matter the competition. During the streak, the Clippers are not winning just nail-biters either; their average margin of victory is over 12 points per game.
Picking up the slack with Griffin out is J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan. Redick has boosted his scoring, as he has dropped 25-plus points three times with 3.5 three-pointers per game. In the last six games, Jordan is averaging 14.8 points, 14.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 66.3, Record: 24-9, Last Week: 4)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 73.9, Record: 25-11, Last Week: 3)
2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 88.0, Record: 33-2, Last Week: 1)
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 90.6, Record: 31-6, Last Week: 2)
The only team hotter than the Clippers is the Spurs. San Antonio is playing so well that they have done the impossible and knocked Golden State from their season-long perch at the top of the Power Rankings.
From December 1 on, the Spurs have dominated on both sides of the ball. They lead the NBA in both Offensive and Defensive Rating with marks of 114.0 and 93.4, respectively. The two losses in their past 19 games were by a total of 7 points; their 17 wins by an average of 21.8 points.
While the Warriors have been struggling with injuries as of late, the Spurs, even as the oldest team in the league, have avoided major health concerns so far. With only Kawhi Leonard playing over 29 minutes per game in the last month-plus, the Spurs' timeless core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili receive the necessary minutes off to be ready for the postseason and a potential showdown with the Warriors.