NBA Power Rankings Update: Regular Season Finale
We made it everybody! After a grueling regular season that lasted nearly six months and 1,230 games, we are finally ready for some playoff basketball. Before we dive into the frenzy that is the NBA postseason, let us use this final regular-season edition of the Power Rankings Update to look back at how we got to where we are today and take note of some of the more surprising teams this season.
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. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 18.7, Record: 17-65, Preseason: 23)
29. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 20.8, Record: 10-72, Preseason: 29)
28. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 25.1, Record: 23-59, Preseason: 17)
Our preseason projections had the Suns winning 39 games, finishing just two games out of the final playoff spot. Unfortunately for Phoenix, star guard Eric Bledsoe tore his meniscus the day after Christmas, knocking the 26-year-old out for the season and ruining any hope for playoff contention in Arizona. The Suns went 11-39 after the injury, as they had the 27th-ranked offense (98.8 points per game) and 28th-ranked defense (109.0), giving them the worst scoring margin (-10.2) in the Association over that span. A fired head coach, another injured point guard (Brandon Knight), and the Markieff Morris circus did not help matters either.
27. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 28.5, Record: 21-61, Preseason: 25)
26. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 38.4, Record: 30-52, Preseason: 13)
25. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 39.8, Record: 33-49, Preseason: 26)
24. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 39.9, Record: 33-49, Preseason: 18)
23. New York Knicks (nERD: 40.3, Record: 32-50, Preseason: 30)
After winning 17 games in 2014-15, we projected the Knicks to be the worst team in the league with only 22 wins. Not only did they top our expectation by 10 victories, they -- along with Charlotte, had the largest improvement -- record-wise, this season with 15 additional wins. The home run they hit with the selection of Kristaps Porzingis clouds the chaos in the front office and head coach. This offseason, if they can find the right coach (not Kurt Rambis), upgrade at point guard, and ditch the outdated triangle offense, maybe they can improve on their bottom-five offense (102.0 Offensive Rating, 98.4 points per game) and contend for a playoff spot once again.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 40.9, Record: 29-53, Preseason: 28)
21. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 42.2, Record: 33-49, Preseason: 24)
What a year for the Kings. Between all the DeMarcus Cousins-George Karl drama and their tremendously bad defense (109.1 points allowed, 30th in NBA) there is a lot be decided this offseason in Sacramento. After rejuvenating his career, does Rajon Rondo get signed to a long-term deal? After all, he did lead the league in assists (11.7), shot a career-high 36.5% from beyond the arc, and led the Kings to the third-highest scoring offense (106.6) in the NBA. With Karl gone, who can the Kings bring in to work with Boogie? Or do they deal one of the best -- if not the best -- scoring big men much like was rumored last summer? Keep your eye on Vlade Divac and Co., as it will be an exciting summer in Sac-town.
20. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 42.5, Record: 42-40, Preseason: 8)
19. Orlando Magic (nERD: 43.4, Record: 35-47, Preseason: 27)
18. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 43.9, Record: 42-40, Preseason: 11)
17. Washington Wizards (nERD: 48.6, Record: 41-41, Preseason: 12)
With apologies to Chicago, the Wizards were perhaps the biggest disappointment this season. We expected Washington, the 5 seed last season, to return to the playoffs, giving them a 72.6% chance of making it this preseason. Multiple injuries to Bradley Beal limited the high-scoring shooting guard to only 55 games. The new run-and-gun, fast-paced offense did not disappoint, as it put up over 104 points per game, a 5.6-point improvement over 2014-15. Ultimately, the steep decline in defense (6.8 points per game worse) cost Randy Whitman his job. Now if the Wizards can find the right coach (Scott Brooks?) who can help lure D.C. native Kevin Durant back home, all will be right with the Wiz.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 49.6, Record: 44-38, Preseason: 20)
15. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 50.1, Record: 42-40, Preseason: 7)
14. Houston Rockets (nERD: 51.0, Record: 41-41, Preseason: 5)
13. Utah Jazz (nERD: 53.6, Record: 40-42, Preseason: 15)
12. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 54.0, Record: 44-38, Preseason: 22)
For the first time in seven years, Detroit is headed back to the playoffs, despite a 40% chance and being ranked in the bottom third this preseason. Behind their dynamic duo of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, the Pistons improved by 12 wins in Year Two of the Stan Van Gundy era. Having the NBA's rebounding leader in Drummond (14.8 boards per game) helped compensate for being one of the worst shooting clubs in the league. They ranked 24th from the field (43.9%), 21st from three (34.5%), and 30th from the line (66.8%). Next up, they face the top-seeded Cavs, who they beat three out of four times this season.
11. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 55.3, Record: 45-37, Preseason: 19)
10. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 58.2, Record: 48-34, Preseason: 10)
Our projections were spot on when it came to the Hawks this season. Coming off a surprising 60-win season, we felt they would return to earth -- particularly offensively. It was a given that coach Mike Budenholzer, a Gregg Popovich disciple, would have his defense humming, especially with Paul Millsap anchoring the frontcourt. They ranked as the second-best defense for the year (98.8 Defensive Rating) and best since the All-Star break. The difference offensively was purely the ability to drop shots. Their True Shooting Percentage fell over a percentage point, down to 55.2%.The main culprit was Kyle Korver. After leading the league with a 49.2% accuracy from beyond the arc, the 35-year-old connected on fewer than 40% of his three-point shots.
9. Miami Heat (nERD: 58.6, Record: 48-34, Preseason: 14)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 58.8, Record: 48-34, Preseason: 16)
7. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 59.5, Record: 48-34, Preseason: 21)
One of the biggest surprises this season, the Hornets beat all expectations, as they won 15 more games than last season and finished in a four-way tie for the 3 seed in the East. Fueled by their improved three-point shooting (top-five in makes and percentage post-All-Star break), their 26-9 mark over their final 35 games was the third-best record in the NBA, behind Golden State and San Antonio. The breakout season of Kemba Walker paired with offseason additions of Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lin boosted the offense from the 28th-ranked unit in 2014-15 with 94.2 points per game all the up to a 103.2 scoring average this season, all while maintaining their top-10 defense (9th in points allowed and Offensive Rating)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 63.1, Record: 56-26, Preseason: 9)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 65.6, Record: 57-25, Preseason: 4)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 69.2, Record: 53-29, Preseason: 3)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 69.5, Record: 55-27, Preseason: 6)
After missing out on the playoffs entirely in 2015-16, the Thunder charged back up the standings as they finished with the third-best record in the West (fifth overall). As the second-highest scoring offense, behind only the Warriors, OKC rode a full season of having both of their two superstars, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, to a 10-win improvement and a 7.1% championship probability. If they are going to defeat the Spurs in Round 2, they are going to need more consistent play from their big men -- specifically better shooting from Serge Ibaka (47.9%) and any shred of defense from Enes Kanter.
2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 80.8, Record: 73-9, Preseason: 1)
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 82.6, Record: 67-15, Preseason: 2)