PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Hawks, Pistons impressing early
It’s Golden State then everyone else right now, but after that we have some good teams from the East making noise — Detroit, Atlanta, and, of course, Cleveland. We’re still just a couple weeks into the season so still a lot of volatility in the standings, things likely start to stabilize going forward.
1. Warriors (7-0, last week No. 1). One sign of Golden State’s early dominance: It is beating teams by an average of 19.1 points per 100 possessions, which is 10.3 more than the second place team (Utah). If you’re searching for flaws, they did blow double-digit leads to the Clippers and Kings and had to hang on for wins. But they did.
2. Cavaliers (6-1, LW 4). Slow starts have not kept this team from a six-game winning streak. Kevin Love has flown a little under the radar but is averaging 17 points and 12.6 boards a game, he looks far more comfortable in their offense (at least until Kyrie Irving returns), plus his defense looks improved and more focused.
3. Hawks (7-1, LW 11). They have won seven in a row after their opening night loss, making those of us that predicted a step back look bad. Kent Bazemore has been great, and while this team is not beating the cream of the league so far, it’s beating the teams it needs to beat in the East (Charlotte twice, for example).
4. Pistons (5-1, LW 7). Stan Van Gundy looks smart for his $80 million bet on Reggie Jackson to go next to Andre Drummond right now. When Jackson and Drummond are on the court together the Pistons have an offensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions, and they are +18.8 points per 100. Drummond is averaging 20-20 through six games, which is ridiculous.
5. Spurs (4-2, LW 5). The Spurs have a top 10 offense and defense (the sign of a true contender), but that offense is living in the midrange and you have to wonder if they can sustain it at this level. It’s fine if it’s LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan taking those shots, right now Kawhi Leonard is taking a lot of midrange jumpers knocking down 50 percent of them. Can he keep that up?
6. Clippers (4-2, LW 3). Blake Griffin is not getting enough credit for a ridiculously good start to the season. He’s averaging 29.3 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 64.1 percent, he’s grabbing 9.7 boards a game, dishing out 4.2 assists, and has a PER of 32.8. He was amazing in the playoffs last season and has carried that over.
7. Jazz (4-2, LW 13). They have the second best net rating in the league, a sign that this power ranking may have them too low — and that they can sustain the fast early start. Remember that this team picked up Derrick Favors in the Deron Williams trade — Favors has been fantastic for them this season, that move looks brilliant now.
8. Raptors (5-2, LW 6). They picked up a quality win against OKC but have lost two in a row, and that come-from-ahead loss to Miami Sunday showed how much they miss DeMarre Carroll (out with plantar fasciitis, that is going to take a while to get right). Soft schedule this week should help them get back in a groove.
9. Rockets (4-3, LW 19). James Harden is back in his groove — back-to-back 40 point games — and the Rockets have won four in a row. Harden has taken over the offense again, there is less Ty Lawson. We’ll see if there is an effort to balance out the offensive load going forward (they can do it against lesser teams, the Rockets needed these wins and this Harden after the slow start).
10. Heat (4-3, LW 12). This is a deep team getting great production out of their bench, which includes Justise Winslow stepping right in and looking good on defense (teams will regret passing on him in the draft). Miami is in in a seven-game homestand, which Dwyane Wade’s knees appreciates.
11. Thunder (4-3 LW 2). They have a net rating (+7.2 per 100) that suggests OKC will climb these rankings and not have three-game losing streaks often. However, this is still a team with a bottom 10 defense and that is in large part about their bench. It has to improve to challenge the elite of the West.
12. Trail Blazers (4-3, LW 22). It’s not hard to picture how Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum could power the Trail Blazers to the league’s fourth best offense because of their ability to shoot the three off the pick-and-roll, but their defense being 11th this young season is why they are above .500 (but will teams keep missing threes against them?).
13. Bulls (4-3, LW 9). Both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler said one of the problems in their losses this season (such as the one to Minnesota) is just a lack of consistent effort, especially on defense. This isn’t Thibodeau’s world anymore, guys are going to have to be professional and motivate themselves. They are talking about starting Joakim Noah over Nikola Mitotic, who has struggled the last three games (but I still don’t like the move).
14. Timberwolves (3-2,LW 16). This team could be in the mix for a playoff spot in the West if they keep playing this way. Karl Anthony-Towns is a better defender in the paint as a rookie than expected, Ricky Rubio is underrated at that end, and their starters lock teams down. Good tests this week with the Hawks, Warriors, Pacers, and Grizzlies on the docket.
15. Wizards (3-3, LW 10). Reports are Bradley Beals injury is not serious, which is good as he’s played at a near All-Star level and losing him would be a massive blow. This team drops off badly when John Wall sits, which is an issue. By the way, some guy named Durant comes to town this week.
16. Pacers (3-4, LW 26). Paul George has put up impressive numbers the past three games — when he started at the small forward spot rather than as a power forward. They have won three of four, including over Miami and Detroit. This team could go on a run of wins when you look at the schedule ahead.
17. Suns (3-3, LW 14). A tough schedule last week (losses to the Clippers, Pistons, and Thunder) showed this team has a pretty good defense but is struggling to find spacing and put points on the board at the other end. The bench has not lived up to expectations and Jeff Hornacek is searching for rotations he likes.
18. Mavericks (3-3, LW 15). Dirk Nowitzki seems to have found the fountain of youth, scoring 17 points a game with a ridiculous 61.7 percent true shooting percentage, plus he’s shooting 50 percent from three. Dwight Powell has been a great find, averaging 11.3 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting off the bench.
19. Bucks (4-3, LW 27). Jabari Parker is back, and while he looks rusty it’s just good to see him back out on the court. Almost as importantly, John Henson is back and that has helped the Bucks’ defense look closer to last year’s levels.
20. Celtics (2-3, LW 20). Isaiah Thomas has looked good as a starter for Marcus Smart, and he showed some chemistry with Jared Sullinger. Their strong defense and good net rating (+3.1, 10th best in the league) suggests this team will climb the ladder (and I have them ranked too low).
21. Magic (3-4, LW 23). Those four losses are by a combined 14 total points, and two games have gone to overtime. Elfrid Payton’s shooting woes are still an issue dragging down the Orlando offense when he plays.
22. Grizzlies (3-4, LW 8). This team’s record is better than they have been playing — Memphis has a bottom 10 offense and defense. The bench units (with Jeff Green at the four) have been unimpressive (to put it kindly). The GM said coach Dave Joerger is not on the hot seat, but if this team keeps falling someone will pay the price. Their schedule the next couple weeks is brutal.
23. Hornets (2-4, LW 25). Quality win over the Bulls and they are the fourth best offense in the NBA at 104.6 points per 100 possessions. They are shooting the ball very well, particularly Kemba Walker, and as a team they are shooting 36.3 percent as three. Impressive, but can they sustain this is the question.
24. Knicks (3-4, LW 17). Kristaps Porzingis has provided more as a rookie than most scouts expected (even Lakers’ coach Byron Scott admitted as much). And Porzingis has mastered the putback dunk. But why is Sasha Vujacic getting so much run? I know Arron Afflalo is still out injured (he could return this week) but has Fisher actually watched Vujacic? Play Langston Galloway instead.
25. Nuggets (2-4, LW 21). They are more fun to watch and more successful going small with Danilo Gallinari at the five and Kenneth Faried at the four, but they miss Wilson Chandler in that lineup. Joffrey Lauvergne has looked good in his limited minutes per night, but they miss Jusuf Nurkic as well up front.
26. Kings (1-6, LW 18). DeMarcus Cousins missing time with injury isn’t the only issue, the Kings’ offense is 5.5 points per 100 possessions better when Rajon Rondo sits (and the defense is 11.9 per 100 better). Rondo isn’t going to lose time to Darren Collison in the short term because Collison is battling a hamstring injury.
27. Lakers (1-5, LW 28). They picked up a win against Brooklyn, Byron Scott has tweaked the rotation to get better defense off the bench (meaning some Metta World Peace, who played okay on D), but the defense is still second worst in the NBA. The Lakers need to focus on player development ahead of wins, which should be obvious but their rotations suggest it’s not the case. They are on the road a lot for the next few weeks.
28. Pelicans (0-6, LW 24). Anthony Davis is certainly playing better, but the injured Pelicans can’t get a win. Their defense is a disaster. The Pelicans will get it together at one point, but the concern remains the same — will it be too early to dig out of the hole and make the playoffs?
29. Nets (0-7, LW 29). Two things are keeping the Nets from falling to last in these rankings: They get Brook Lopez back Wednesday, plus the woeful Sixers. But the Nets have played the softest schedule in the NBA this young season and their offense is just ugly. And dull.
30. 76ers (0-6, LW 30). If you want points, Jahlil Okafor has looked good, scoring 19.7 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting. His jumper is legit, and he can put the ball on the floor. He and Nerlens Noel are showing some real potential this young season.