NBA Power Rankings Week 4: Clippers climb into top spot
These power rankings are not a projection of the future, they are a snapshot of what is happening right now — and right now, no team is playing better than the Clippers, which is why they take over the top spot. Can they sustain this play and stay healthy are questions for another day.
1. Clippers (9-1, Last Week No. 2). On a six-game win streak as they continue to be carried by the best defense in the NBA and an offense that has found its groove the past week. What are they doing right on D? Smothering the pick-and-roll ball handler, who are shooting just 31.4 percent against L.A (via Synergy Sports). Also they are closing out and contesting on spot up shooters very well. Fun game against the Bulls Saturday.
2. Cavaliers (8-1, LW 1). Cleveland keeps on winning and their offense keeps on firing away, but the team has a lot of games where a strong half of defense is all they produce (and against everyone but Atlanta that was enough). You can see the lack of commitment sometimes in their pick-and-roll coverage, which has been spotty this season (at best). Look for a better effort Tuesday night when Toronto comes to town, that should snap them out of their slumber.
3. Warriors (8-2, LW 4). About Stephen Curry getting fewer threes this season: Through 10 games Curry has hit 48 three pointers, which puts him on pace for 394 threes this season (he had 402 in 79 games last season). He’s very close to his old pace. Not surprisingly, with Curry hitting threes the Warriors now have the best offense (statistically) in the NBA. Four games on the road this week, including at Toronto and Boston, tough places to play.
4. Raptors (7-2, LW 6). They picked up quality wins on the road last week at Oklahoma City and Charlotte. DeMar DeRozan now has eight 30+ point games this season and he’s doing it hitting midrange jumpers off the dribble at a high rate (that may not be sustainable, but so far he just keeps draining them). Rough week ahead with Cavaliers and Warriors are on the schedule.
5. Hawks (7-2 LW 7). They handed Cleveland its lone loss this season thanks to a stifling defense (second in the NBA), holding the Cavs to less than 40 percent shooting. The other thing the Hawks have going for them this season is fantastic bench play so far this season, statistically the best in the NBA. Best test on the schedule this week is at Charlotte.
6. Spurs (7-3, LW 3). Already three losses at home this season, after having just one all of last season. Part of that may be due to Tony Parker missing time with a sore knee — he’s not the dynamic player he once was, but he’s still a strong floor general that gets San Antonio into good actions. He’s working his way back into the rotation. Kawhi Leonard continues to be an absolute beast this season.
7. Jazz (7-4, LW 10). That they went 3-1 on the road without George Hill speaks to how much better this team plays with Gordon Hayward on the floor. That poor first week defensively seems a long time ago as the Jazz are locking teams down and now have the fourth-best defense in the NBA. Fun clash of styles game this Saturday when Utah travels to Houston — how does their defense deal with James Harden?
8. Hornets (6-3, LW 8). Tough losses to Toronto and Cleveland this week shouldn’t put a cloud over how well Charlotte has started the season. The most interesting thing is they are fourth in the NBA in percentage of shots with an assist, there with the Warriors, Celtics, Rockets, and other teams moving the ball around. Kemba Walker has played brilliantly and is carrying the Charlotte offense (he had 40 against Toronto but it was not enough).
9. Bulls (6-4, LW 15). The Bulls offense is coming back to earth, despite a couple monster games (39 and 37 point nights) from Jimmy Butler last week. The hot three point shooting of earlier in the season was not going to last — in the last five games the Bulls have shot 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. That makes them defendable. Tough road swing out West this week with the Trail Blazers, Jazz, Clippers, and Lakers.
10. Trail Blazers (7-4, LW 11). Damian Lillard’s play this season has been fantastic, and it’s helped carry the Blazers through the end of tight games (all but one of their wins have been relatively close games). This is a team still getting outscored by their opponents on the season, but that is skewed by the fact they’ve had three games against the Clippers/Warriors and gotten thumped. Still, the defense is bottom 10 and that will hurt them if it doesn’t improve.
11. Thunder (6-4, LW 5). They have lost three in a row and the reason isn’t Russell Westbrook (who had another triple-double Sunday), it is their defense that has stumbled. The Thunder were one of the best defensive teams in the NBA to start the season but have been torched during this losing streak (including by a not-great Orlando team on Sunday). Bet the over when Westbrook and the Thunder take on Harden and the Rockets Wednesday.
12. Celtics (5-4, LW 14). Still no Al Horford (concussion) or Jae Crowder (ankle) but give them credit for picking up wins over the weekend against struggling teams in the Knicks and Pacers. Horford should return this week, and they could use him when they face Golden State and Detroit, that said the Celtics enter a soft part of the schedule and should be able to put together some wins, if the defense starts to come around.
13. Lakers (6-5, LW 12). The Lakers are getting little out of their big off-season signings — Timofey Mozgov has been passable, but Luol Deng’s picture could show up on a milk carton soon. The biggest surprises with the Lakers this season go: 1) Nick Young playing defense; 2) Julius Randle’s all-around improvement; 3) the bench being one of the better ones in the league, scoring more than 50 points a game, and when the starters are out the Lakers have outscored opponents by 7 points per 100 possessions.
14. Bucks (5-4, LW 13). Both the Pelicans and Mavericks got their first wins of the season against the Bucks last week, not a great sign. They are getting enough offense out of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo (especially at home), but it’s not a balanced attack. The Bucks have struggled on the road and are out there again this week against the Hawks and Heat, then they get the Warriors at home.
15. Rockets (5-4, LW 16). Patrick Beverley should return this week, providing more shooting, defense, and depth in the back court. They need it — when James Harden sits this team’s offense drops by 30 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets split a home-and-home last week with the Spurs, which they will take. More good tests with Oklahoma City, Portland, and Utah on the schedule this week
16. Pistons (5-5, LW 9). They went 1-3 on the road last week, including a loss in Phoenix, but they were able to pound a big Denver team inside, which is a promising sign. The Pistons continue to struggle with consistency on offense, but that’s to be expected with Reggie Jackson out injured, he is at the heart of what they do on that end. Tough schedule ahead this week with the Thunder, cavaliers, and Celtics.
17. Grizzlies (4-5, LW 19). They have the point differential of a 3-6 team (according to basketball-reference.com), but this is a team that knows how to grind out close wins. The Grizzlies’ offense still needs spacing, it gets 19.3 percent of its shots on spot ups but his hitting an eFG% of 48% on those, not high enough. On contested catch-and-shoots they are hitting just 27.7%.
18. Timberwolves (3-6, LW 23). The opposite of Memphis, Minnesota has the point differential of a 5-4 team. Andrew Wiggins is shooting 54.8 percent from three but what was most impressive Sunday against the Lakers was the way he attacked the rim. Rookie Kris Dunn’s up-and-down play in a big role shows why Tom Thibodeau might night be that eager to move Ricky Rubio once the Spanish point guard gets healthy.
19. Nets (4-5, LW 24). That this team is pushing .500 with this roster (and Jeremy Lin still out) is a credit to what coach Kenny Atkinson is doing. Granted, the Nets have yet to beat a team over .500, but they are beating teams closer to their level, which is more than was expected. Tough week ahead with the Clippers, Lakers, and Thunder all on the road, then the Trail Blazers at home.
20. Pacers (4-5, LW 18). Think they don’t miss Frank Vogel and George Hill? The Pacers have the third worst defense in the NBA this season. The Pacers split a home-and-home with Philly and both games went to overtime — they were evenly matched. Not a good sign. On offense, the Pacers need Paul George back (he was out Sunday) and to get Myles Turner more touches.
21. Kings (4-5, LW 22). Mike Malone had the Kings playing deliberately (and winning, until DeMarcus Cousins got sick), then the owner wanted to run, and they got George Karl. Now Dave Joerger has them playing slowly again, but that only works well for a good defensive team, and the Kings are 25th in the NBA on that front. Cousins trade rumors are swirling around the league, how the players (including Cousins himself) handles that will have a lot to do with if they can start to get wins.
22. Magic (4-6 LW 21). Their record is better than they are actually playing, they have the point differential of a 2-8 team, and they still have the second worst defense in the NBA (which has to be gnawing at Frank Vogel). If the Serge Ibaka that showed up against the Thunder can show up every night that would help. Winnable games this week (Pacers, Pelicans, Mavericks) and they kind of games they need to win if they fancy themselves a playoff team.
23. Mavericks (2-6, LW 27). Dallas picks up a couple of wins with Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams sidelined, in part because Harrison Barnes continues to earn that massive paycheck with great play. Nowitzki is expected to return this week (possibly Monday) and how Barnes adjusts his game to fit with the future Hall of Famer will determine if Dallas can get enough offense to get wins (their defense has been okay).
24. Nuggets (3-7, LW 17). They have lost four in a row and most of the games haven’t been close. Mike Malone is still searching for the big man rotations that work for him (he has ended the Nikola Jokic/Jusuf Nurkic starting combination). Rookie Jamal Murray is starting to put up some points outside the paint for Denver (19 points Sunday. Denver is at home but will be challenged by the Raptors, and Jazz this week.
25. Knicks (3-6 LW 25). All the talk about how much triangle offense they are running, if they are running it right, and how happy (or not) people are about it is moot — if they can’t get stops they will lose. And the Knicks still have the worst defense in the Association. Part of the problem is the Knicks foul a lot, and that’s not just on Tony Brothers.
26. Heat (2-6, LW 20). They have lost four in a row, their offense is struggling, and now Goran Dragic will be out for a while with an ankle injury. Dion Waiters has some NBA skills, but he’s no point guard and now he’s forced to play it some in Miami. Things don’t get easier with the Spurs and Hawks on the schedule this week.
27. Suns (3-8, LW 26). While Devin Booker is scoring 20.2 points per game (second on the team) he is shooting just 27.5 percent from three (he shot 34.3 percent last season). Phoenix gave up 17 straight points during a loss to Brooklyn on Saturday, then played better Sunday but were no match for Golden State. They are playing teams close but struggle to finish. The are on the road this week in Denver, Indiana, and Philly.
28. Wizards (2-7, LW 28). They picked up a nice win against Boston, but then lost two over the weekend (Chicago and Cleveland) as Bradley Beal missed the games with a sore hamstring. Marcin Gortat created a controversy saying the Wizards’ bench was one of the league’s the worst — but he was right. Statistically they are the third worst bench in the NBA this season. It’s just one of many problems for this team.
29. Pelicans (1-9, LW 29). It’s great to see Jrue Holiday set to return this week — not because the Pelicans need him (although they do) but because it means his wife and baby are healthy enough for him to get back into the grind of the NBA. Holiday’s playmaking should help improve a bottom-five offense, but have the Pelicans dug too deep a hole already to make the playoffs this season in the West?
30. 76ers (1-8, LW 30). They pushed Indiana to overtime in two games and picked up their first win of the season. That’s the good news. Brett Brown can’t wait to get the minutes restriction off (or at least increased) on Joel Embiid — you could see how much they need him when Brown brought him back in overtime anyway to get the win last week. He’s the focal point of their offense and their defense is vastly better with him on the court.