A. Sherrod Blakely's NBA Power Rankings: Youth on the rise
BOSTON -- Luka Doncic has played like a legit MVP candidate for the Dallas Mavericks.
Jayson Tatum of the Celtics and Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks have looked and played the parts of legit All-Stars.
When you start to take a closer look at the top teams on the rise, there’s an undeniable youthfulness about them with many being led by players who are just a few years removed from high school.
Half of the NBA’s top 10 scorers this season are 25 or younger, led by Milwaukee’s 24-year-old reigning league MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
And the top rebounders?
Yup. Half of them are in the 25-and-under boat as well, with Antetokounmpo and Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis both ranked among the top three in rebounds per game.
And four of the league’s top eight assists leaders are also part of the 25-and-under youth movement with 20-year-old Doncic leading the pack.
While the NBA still has its veteran stalwarts such as LeBron James and James Harden proving they are firmly entrenched as elite talents in the NBA, don’t look now … the youngsters are coming!
Here are the latest Power Rankings, with many teams being led by their young stars:
30. New York Knicks (2-9)
Rank last week: 30
It’s looking more like it’s a matter of when, not if, the New York Knicks will fire coach David Fizdale after what has been yet another lackluster, lots-of-losing start for the Knicks.
29. Golden State Warriors (2-10)
Last week: 26
It was a given that the Warriors were going to take a step back, but off the basketball cliff? Injuries are a factor for sure. But even healthy, the Golden Era in Golden State — at least for this year — is over.
28. New Orleans Pelicans (2-8)
Last week: 29
The injuries continue to pile on to the Pelicans with Brandon Ingram (knee soreness) the latest to miss time and in doing so, continue to a downward spiral of this franchise fueled in large part by injuries to key players.
27. Memphis Grizzlies (4-7)
Last week: 28
The Grizzlies aren’t going to win many games this season, but Ja Morant is quickly becoming a must-see talent. He’s leading all rookies in scoring (17.8) and assists (5.2) per game and he’s doing it with a flair that’ll keep folks tuned in even with the losses mounting.
26. Washington Wizards (2-7)
Last week: 22
With so many losses recently, we forget how good Bradley Beal really is. Since the 2016-2017 season, only four players (James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo) have scored more than Beal, who already owns the Wizards franchise record for made 3-pointers and ranks fifth on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.
25. Orlando Magic (4-7)
Last week: 20
Scoring has been in short supply for the Magic, losers in five of their past six. In that span, they rank 29th in the NBA in points scored (99.7) per game.
24. Detroit Pistons (4-8)
Last week: 21
The good news is Blake Griffin’s back. The bad? This is still a bad team, with losses in three of their last four games with the lone win coming over the Knicks who have been nothing more than a punching bag for teams in the East.
23. Brooklyn Nets (4-6)
Last week: 18
The Nets’ struggles can be summed up in one word: defense. It’s something they are not playing much of this season, evident by them allowing 121.4 points per game, which ranks 29th in the NBA.
22. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-7)
Last week: 24
The Thunder are doing their part to make every game they play a winnable one even if they don’t have the overall talent they’ve had in past years. Of their seven losses, five were by single digits.
21. Charlotte Hornets (4-7)
Last week: 16
The roller coaster that is the Charlotte continues with them looking to get back on the right track following losses in each of their last three games.
20. Sacramento Kings (4-6)
Last week: 23
The Kings are starting to look more like the on-the-rise team many anticipated seeing this season. Although they rank among the bottom-10 in scoring this season, they are fifth (116.0) in scoring the last three games.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (4-8)
Last week: 15
When you start looking at big disappointments this season, the Blazers have to be at or near the top of such a list. Bad rebounding and too much iso-ball (they rank dead-last in assists-to-turnover ratio) a big part of the Blazers’ bad play this season.
18. Chicago Bulls (4-7)
Last week: 27
If you’re looking for a sleeper Rookie of the Year candidate, Coby White (pictured right with Zach Levine) is your guy. He’s averaging 12.5 points per game, a number that should continue to rise as his playing time will likely increase over the course of the season.
17. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-6)
Last week: 25
When you look at potential Coach of the Year candidates, John Beilein has to be on the early list along with the other college-to-pro coach, Boston’s Brad Stevens.
16. Atlanta Hawks (4-6)
Last week: 17
Trae Young gets a ton of attention for his scoring, but it’s his (grossly underrated) passing skills that will keep the Hawks in playoff contention this season. Young leads all players in the East with 8.7 assists per game and ranks fourth overall in the NBA.
15. San Antonio Spurs (5-6)
Last week: 11
So far, it has been a tale of two seasons for San Antonio, with a 4-1 start to the season followed by four losses in their past five games.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-4)
Last week: 10
The Timberwolves have not been shy about leaning on the 3-ball to score this season. They currently rank fifth in the NBA in the percentage of field goal attempts (41.9) from 3-point range.
13. Phoenix Suns (6-4)
Last week: 8
The sun hasn’t quite set on Phoenix’s quest to be among the better teams in the NBA, but recent losses to Lakers and the Heat serve as reminders that they are better but not quite on the same level as some of the league’s other above-average teams.
12. Indiana Pacers (7-4)
Last week: 19
The schedule got appreciably softer recently with four consecutive wins - all over sub.-500 teams. Games coming up against Houston and Milwaukee will be a better gauge as to where the Pacers are at this point in the season.
11. Dallas Mavericks (6-4)
Last week: 6
Defending without fouling has been a big part of Dallas’ success this season, evident by opponents averaging just 21.3 free throw attempts per game which is fifth-fewest in the NBA.
10. Toronto Raptors (8-3)
Last week: 13
Injuries have piled up recently, but that hasn’t stopped the Raptors from finding ways to win. Kudos to Fred Vanvleet, who is having a strong season which includes a double-double in two of Toronto’s past three games.
9. Los Angeles Clippers (7-4)
Last week: 7
Between Kawhi Leonard’s “load management” and Paul George nearing a return to action, the Clippers aren’t nearly as dangerous a team now as they will be when the games really count later in the season and into the playoffs.
8. Milwaukee Bucks (7-3)
Last week: 9
The Bucks have consistently given themselves a chance to win most nights in large part because of their defense which has been stingy most of the season. Milwaukee ranks third in the NBA in opponent field goal percentage (.418) this season which is better than their league-best .433 opponent field goal percentage numbers last season.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (7-4)
Last week: 1
The recent West Coast trip brought the high-flying Sixers back to earth. But make no mistake about it. The Sixers are still one of the better teams in the NBA this season.
6. Miami Heat (7-3)
Last week: 5
The Miami Heat are off to a surprisingly strong start for doing a few things they don’t normally do like shoot the ball well from the field. But their bread and butter still lies in their defense with a defensive rating of 101.6 which ranks fourth in the NBA.
5. Denver Nuggets (7-3)
Last week: 3
You hear a lot of talk about the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers out west, and here are the Nuggets lock-and-step with the best of the best. Other than a 15-point loss at New Orleans, the Nuggets have consistently been among the best teams in the NBA all season.
4. Houston Rockets (8-3)
Last week: 12
Arguably the most hot-and-cold team in the NBA, the Rockets will continue to shoot themselves in and out of games. But it’ll be a little tougher with Eric Gordon’s knee injury which will keep him out for six or so weeks.
3. Utah Jazz (8-3)
Last week: 14
They will stay in the mix as one of the better teams in the NBA because they defend at an elite level night-in and night-out. But their window for growth will remain limited if they continue to be a bottom-10 team offensively.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (9-2)
Last week: 2
The Lakers’ ability to get points in the paint both off the dribble and via post-ups, is one of the keys to their success and makes them a strong threat to come out of the West this season.
1. Boston Celtics (9-1)
Last week: 4
They have the longest winning streak at nine, rank among the top seven on both sides of the ball, commit very few turnovers … they are playing at a complete, elite level in just about every phase of the game, which is why they are the best team in the NBA at the moment.