A. Sherrod Blakely's NBA Power Rankings: Suns rise, Sixers soar
BOSTON -- It didn’t take long for Devin Booker to establish himself as one of the best scorers in the NBA. The Celtics know how prolific he can be when it comes to getting buckets.
It was just a couple years ago that he torched the Celtics for 70 points, prompting some Boston players to grumble about him being a little too locked into scoring.
He’s still one of the game’s best at getting points, evident by him averaging 26.1 points per game, which, if he can maintain that for the rest of the season, would be a career-high.
Still, Booker is showing that he’s more than just a walking point-producer.
The Suns are winning a lot of games, knocking off some of the best teams in the process, including the Philadelphia 76ers, who were handed their first loss of the season by the Suns.
Booker's growth into a better all-around player has been essential to Phoenix’s improved play which has them among our biggest risers in this week’s power rankings.
Here’s a look at the rest of the NBA field as we begin the countdown from the back to the front of the pack.
30. New York Knicks (1-7, rank last week: 28)
College basketball is here and with it comes the annual audition by the best of the best to become a high draft pick of the Knicks next spring.
29. New Orleans Pelicans (1-6, LW: 30)
Even if Zion Williamson were good to go this season for the Pelicans, his impact wouldn’t address or help a defense that’s allowing a whopping 124.3 points per game.
28. Memphis Grizzlies (2-5, LW: 22)
The Grizzlies owe the Celtics a top-six protected draft pick in 2020. That pick looks to be on safe ground for the Grizzlies, who are well on their way to being one of the league’s worst teams this season.
27. Chicago Bulls (3-6, LW: 23)
The Bulls are off to a horrible start and are looking to rebound - literally. They allow a league-high 51.4 rebounds per game this season.
26. Golden State Warriors (2-6, LW: 19).
A rough start to the season won’t get any easier for the Warriors with three of their next four games on the road.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (2-5, LW: 26)
The losses will continue to pile up for Cleveland all season. But their ability to play gritty basketball like we’ve seen thus far this season bodes well for their future during this rebuilding phase of their organization.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-4, LW: 24)
One of the quiet scoring assassins of this still-young NBA season is Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is averaging a team-best 22.1 points along with 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
23. Sacramento Kings (2-6, LW: 29)
The Kings are looking to pass a few teams in the standings soon. The best way to do it? Become a better passing team. Right now, they average 198.6 passes per game, which ranks dead-last in the NBA.
22. Washington Wizards (2-5, LW: 27)
A decent amount of the early voting for the NBA’s Comeback Player of the Year (if there was such an award) would have to go to ex-Celtic Isaiah Thomas, who is now starting for the Wizards. In his first five games, he has averaged 13.6 points and 6.4 assists while shooting 41 percent from the field and 37.9 percent on 3’s.
21. Detroit Pistons (4-5, LW: 21)
The return of Blake Griffin will certainly help the Pistons. But in the meantime, they will continue to pound the ball inside to Andre Drummond, a big key to Detroit shooting a league-best 60.8 percent on post touches.
20. Orlando Magic (2-6, LW: 15)
The Magic’s mojo to start the season has gone poof! (Lately.) While their scoring defense for the season is No. 2 in the NBA (99.8 points allowed per game) in their past four games - all losses - they drop to No. 10 while allowing 105.7 points per game.
19. Indiana Pacers (4-4, LW: 18)
The chance to get on a nice little run is there for the taking, with the next three games against teams below-.500 with two of those games at home.
18. Brooklyn Nets (3-4, LW: 16)
We all knew Kyrie Irving would score a ton of points with the Nets, but no one saw this coming. The ex-Celtics guard has scored 222 points this season, the most ever by a Nets player after the first seven games of the season.
17. Atlanta Hawks (3-4, LW: 17)
The Hawks have to brace themselves for tough times ahead with rising star John Collins becoming the third NBA player this season to be suspended 25 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy.
16. Charlotte Hornets (4-3, LW: 25)
The Hornets have been playing great basketball of late in part because of their ability to defend without fouling. In their last three games, Charlotte has allowed a league-low 10.7 free throw attempts.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (3-4, LW: 14)
Hovering around .500 is exactly where the Blazers should be right now when you consider their three wins were by an average of 5.0 points and their four losses by an average of 5.3 points.
14. Utah Jazz (5-3, LW: 2)
The Jazz take a major slide in our rankings in part because the problems that have plagued them lately - an inability to score the ball - aren’t likely to get better anytime soon, which puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the team’s defense to play at an upper-echelon level.
13. Toronto Raptors (5-2, LW: 7)
Pascal Siakam can fill up the stat sheet -- a bit too much for coach Nick Nurse, who has not been happy with his star forward’s penchant for picking up personal fouls. Siakam is averaging 4.0 personal fouls per game, which is the 12th-highest average in the league.
12. Houston Rockets (5-3, LW: 8)
When will the Rockets learn this shoot ‘em out brand of basketball will win games, but never championships? Once again, their defense will be their demise as they rank among the league’s worst teams in a number of defensive categories.
11. San Antonio Spurs (4-3, LW: 9)
The 3-point shot has not been a friend of the Spurs this season. But to their credit, they have been able to hone in and corral many of those misses, which has factored in San Antonio being a top-10 team when it comes to rebounding.
10. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-3, LW: 13)
It’s still early, but Karl-Anthony Towns has delivered in a way where he has to be a first-month-of-the-season league MVP candidate. Through his first five games, he’s averaging a double-double of 26.8 points and 11.8 rebounds along with 3.6 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range and 51.7 percent from the field.
9. Milwaukee Bucks (6-2, LW: 10)
After a slow start, the Bucks have found a nice groove with a trio of blowout wins over quality teams (Orlando, Toronto and Minnesota) and a tight win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
8. Phoenix Suns (5-2, LW: 20)
Devin Booker arguably is the most prolific scorer in the NBA who has yet to play in an All-Star Game. Based on the increased efficiency level he’s scoring at now and the fact that the Suns are winning, that’s going to change this season.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (5-3, LW: 5)
The Clippers had a good week with a pair of wins - both at home - and should continue to find success with seven of their next nine at home.
6. Dallas Mavericks (5-2, LW: 12)
The Mavericks are doing a lot more scoring these days (they are sixth in the league in points scored through the first seven games) while keeping teams off the free throw line (only Charlotte and Cleveland send fewer players to the free-throw line than the Mavs).
5. Miami Heat (5-2, LW: 11)
The biggest surprise in Miami’s better-than-expected start to the season? Their 3-point shooting. Usually one of the worst teams from 3-point range, the Heat were second in the NBA (39.0 percent) after the first seven games.
4. Boston Celtics (5-1, LW: 6)
Last season, the Celtics had one player (Kyrie Irving) who averaged at least 10 or more drives per game. This season? They have four in Gordon Hayward (13.8), Kemba Walker (12.8), Jayson Tatum (10.8) and Jaylen Brown (10.3).
3. Denver Nuggets (5-2, LW: 3)
The Nuggets have shown great poise in “clutch” situations (when the score is within five points with five or fewer minutes to play) this season. They've won league-high four games in such scenarios.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (6-1, LW: 4)
Lost in the Anthony Davis-in-LA talk has been LeBron James playing at an MVP level. After the first seven games, he’s averaging 26.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and a career-high 11.1 assists.
1. Philadelphia 76ers (5-2, LW: 1)
You will hear talk all season about Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the keys to Philly’s season. But as we’ve seen thus far, that title should belong to ex-Celtic Al Horford. whose ability to fill in for Embiid and fill up the stat sheet has been instrumental to the Sixers’ success this season.