NBA Power Rankings Update: Halfway Home
The All-Star Game is used as the benchmark for the halfway point of the season. But as we sit here in late January, still three weeks away from the midseason classic, all 30 NBA teams have played at least 41 games, meaning we are technically in the second half of the season.
Through the first half, the top of the standings look all too familiar. Cleveland, Toronto, Chicago and Atlanta occupy the top four slots in the Eastern Conference, similarly to how they finished last season. Out West, seven of the top nine teams remain the same, and Golden State continues to be the king of the standings.
While a lot has gone chalk so far, that doesn't mean we haven't had our fair share of surprises.The Pistons, Knicks, and Magic, once dregs of the East, have become relevant once again. The youthful Jazz, Blazers, and Kings are fighting for the eighth spot in the West. In this week's update, we are going to take a closer look at a few of the surprising teams this year, some good, some bad.
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: 18.3, Record: 6-38, Last Week: 30)
Don't get me wrong, the 76ers were not to be confused with a playoff hopeful this season. The surprise with this squad was how bad they performed two months of the season. Winless until December, the 76ers lost their first 18 games as they continued to be a nightmare offensively over their first 31 games. They ranked dead last by a wide margin as they scored only 91.4 points and committed 18.7 turnovers per game.
Since Christmas Eve, and the addition of Ishmael Smith to the backcourt and Mike D'Antoni as an assistant coach, the difference in the offense has been night and day. In the last 13 games, Philly has averaged 101.2 points per game (ranking 17th) as they have pushed up the pace to 99.5 possessions per 48 minutes (6th). The faster play has translated to more wins: they have gone 5-8 since the addition of Smith.
Smith has been on fire since taking over the point guard spot, averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 assists since the trade. His addition has transformed the play of the entire offense -- but Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel the most. Okafor shot 45 percent from the field with 2.5 turnovers per game his first 29 games and 58.7 percent and only 1.7 turnovers since a legit point guard entered the lineup. Noel has gone from 9.8 points per game on 45 percent shooting to 11.5 points on over 64 percent with Ish.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 18.5, Record: 9-35, Last Week: 29)
28. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 26.2, Record: 11-32 Last Week: 28)
27. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 29.3, Record: 13-30, Last Week: 27)
26. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 35.5, Record: 16-26, Last Week: 24)
25. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 37.2, Record: 19-25, Last Week: 26)
24. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 37.3, Record: 14-27, Last Week: 25)
With a new head coach, straight from the World Champions' locker room, and a 22-year-old MVP candidate, New Orleans entered the season with extremely high hopes. Things could not have gone any worse for the Pelicans so far this year; injuries have thoroughly ravaged the squad.
Injury woes have the Pelicans on pace for 28 wins this season, a 17-game drop-off from their 8 seed finish last season. With Tyreke Evans missing 19 games, Jrue Holiday playing restricted minutes, and Anthony Davis in and out of the lineup all year long, the team has struggled.
Owning a bottom five defense, in both points allowed (105.2 per game) and Defensive Rating (106.4), the Pelicans and their constant lineup changes have not been able to keep up offensively, especially on the road. With a 5-18 record outside of Louisiana, the Pels have averaged only 98.4 points per game, a 7.4-point per game difference than when at home.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 37.8, Record: 13-31, Last Week: 23)
22. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 42.7, Record: 19-26, Last Week: 19)
When it became apparent the Blazers were not going to retain the services of LaMarcus Aldridge, the franchise decided to all but blow up the 51-win squad. Letting Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, and Arron Afflalo walk out the door along with the trade of Nicolas Batum, Portland was firmly in rebuilding mode with Damian Lillard as the centerpiece. Leaving themselves with 68.9 points per game to make up somewhere, Portland was an afterthought this season. After 45 games, surprisingly, the Blazers find themselves entrenched in a battle with the Jazz and Kings for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Lillard has responded to the extra pressure by putting up career numbers with 24.3 points, 7.0 assists and 3.0 three-pointers per game this year, even as his bout with plantar fasciitis cost him his 275 consecutive game streak. The backcourt combination of Dame and Most Improved Player candidate C.J. McCollum has been deadly for the Blazers.
After averaging 6.3 points per game in fewer than 15 minutes per game his first two seasons, McCollum has broken out to the tune of 20.7 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.5 three-pointers per game. When on the court together, the backcourt duo has produced 1.105 points per possession, equivalent to a 110.5 Offensive Rating, per NBAWowy.com.
21. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 43.4, Record: 18-23, Last Week: 22)
20. Washington Wizards (nERD: 43.7, Record: 20-21, Last Week: 21)
19. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 43.9, Record: 24-19, Last Week: 20)
18. New York Knicks (nERD: 44.6, Record: 22-22, Last Week: 18)
17. Houston Rockets (nERD: 45.5, Record: 22-22, Last Week: 16)
16. Orlando Magic (nERD: 46.2, Record: 20-21, Last Week: 15)
15. Utah Jazz (nERD: 47.6, Record: 18-24, Last Week: 17)
14. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 49.7, Record: 24-17, Last Week: 13)
13. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 51.0, Record: 25-19, Last Week: 14)
When Dallas lost the DeAndre Jordan chase this summer, it appeared the Mavericks would likely find themselves in the lottery for only the second time since Mark Cuban bought the franchise in 2000. Their leading scorer Monta Ellis and top rebounder Tyson Chandler both signed elsewhere, leaving the team scrambling for help. Even after minor deals brought in replacements in the form of Zaza Pachulia and Deron Williams, no one thought the Mavericks would be where they stand today.
At 25-19 and with a six-game lead over ninth-place Utah, Dallas is all but locked into another postseason appearance. While they have had many factors to thank for their hot start, the unexpected rebounding (10.8 per game) of Pachulia and continued sharp-shooting (40% from three) of Dirk Nowitzki, in particular, has helped overcome the missed games and limited minutes of Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, and Williams.
Nowitzki, thought to be on his last legs, has stunned the league as he has continued to be the key cog in the offensive machine in his 18th season. The big German leads the team with 17.8 points per game and is second with 1.8 threes per game. With the 37-year-old on the sidelines, the offense has sputtered to a 96.5 Offensive Rating, making the health of his swollen right knee that much more crucial down the stretch.
12. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 52.3, Record: 19-23, Last Week: 12)
11. Miami Heat (nERD: 54.6, Record: 23-20, Last Week: 7)
10. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 56.7, Record: 26-17, Last Week: 11)
9. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 57.2, Record: 23-19, Last Week: 8)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 58.2, Record: 22-21, Last Week: 10)
7. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 59.3, Record: 23-19, Last Week: 9)
In the last seven seasons, the Pistons have had a 211-347 record, zero winning seasons, and six different head coaches: a far cry from the six-year run from 2003-08, where they made six consecutive Eastern Conference Finals, two NBA Finals, and brought home one championship. This season, however, the fortunes appear to be changing.
Since Day One, the defensive unit has been dialed in. Ranking ninth in both points allowed (99.9) and Defensive Rating (100.5), the defense has been keeping the team in games even as the offense is tossing up bricks, 43.2% field goal shooting, 28th in the NBA. They are third in Rebounding Percentage (52.4%), second in total rebounds per game (47.6), and first in offensive rebounds (13.7).
Spurring on the rebounding prowess is center Andre Drummond. A virtual shoo-in for his first All-Star appearance, Drummond leads the NBA in offensive (5.4), defensive (10.0), and total rebounds per game (15.4). His 21 rebounds, including 7 offensive, helped lead the Pistons to an 18-point drubbing of the Warriors less than a week ago.
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 61.1, Record: 27-15, Last Week: 6)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 65.0, Record: 29-11, Last Week: 4)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 66.3, Record: 27-14, Last Week: 5)
Through the first 15 games of the season, the Clippers were 7-8. The usually explosive offense was putting up a pedestrian 102.7 points per game. Flash forward a month later and while the record may have gotten better, 17-13, the offense was still not hitting on all cylinders at 102.1 points per game. Their True Shooting Percentage was 53.9%, (ranking 14th) and their Offensive Rebounding percentage was 21.5% (24th) even with superstar power forward Blake Griffin playing some of the best ball of his career.
Then Griffin went down on Christmas Day with a torn quad. Things looked bleak for the Clippers. To everyone's surprise, they not only have survived his absence, but they also rattled off nine straight wins. In the following 11 games, the offense returned to elite status with 111.9 points per game (second) and a 112.8 Offensive Rating (third).
Driving the offense as of late has been J.J. Redick. His otherworldly shooting of 53.7% from the field, 58.6% from three, and 97.4% from the line in the last 11 games is unheard of. Highlighting his career month was a 40-point, 9-for-12 from three, and 9-for-9 from the line performance against the Rockets on January 18.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 75.1, Record: 32-12, Last Week: 3)
2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 86.9, Record: 39-4, Last Week: 2)
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 91.1 Record: 36-6, Last Week: 1)