As we approach the second quarter of the season and the later stretch of the winter season, besides exceptions due to injuries, we have a pretty strong idea of which teams are legitimate threats in the postseason, who’s in the middle, and who should be planning their offseason vacations. As the season continues to progress, the ideas of where each team stands will only become more apparent. Here are the power rankings for this week.
30. Detroit Pistons (8-19)
From top to bottom, the Pistons have the least talented roster in the league and their 6-19 record reflects that. Jerami has been a massive bright spot as a most improved player candidate, but the rest of the roster is either filled with unready, developing young players and unfortunately descending players including Blake Griffin, who has an uncertain future in the NBA. Pistons fans, keep your head up, it looks like you guys will have a top five pick in a loaded 2021 draft, fortunes could change soon.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-20)
The Timberwolves are the only team in the league that is bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Coach Ryan Saunders has greatly struggled managing his rotations, situationally, and many Timberwolves fans are already calling for his firing. Their ranking might raise as the season goes on as they are finally getting healthy. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell have been out for stretches, especially KAT. Once those two get on the court healthy, perhaps we will see improvement in their efficiency and record.
28. Washington Wizards (7-17)
No ifs or buts about it, the Wizards have been the most disappointing team in the league. Theoretically, a Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook pairing should make them a lock for a playoff spot in the East, but that hypothesis hasn’t come into fruition. Bradley Beal has been fantastic, the leader in points per game, but everyone and everything else has been down… the Wizards right now have the worst defensive efficiency in the league, they can’t guard a soda can right now. It might be time for a rebuild in Washington.
27. Orlando Magic (10-18)
The Magic have been 3-14 in their last 17 games and are currently 29th in offensive efficiency. Besides Nikola Vucevic, who has taken a leap this year, they lack offensive options… Evan Fournier being out Markelle Fultz having a torn ACL really affects them on that end but even so, they have a very limited ceiling offensively. They have also taken a step back on the defensive end this year being only 22nd in defensive efficiency. Injuries have affected them in terms of shooting and offensive firepower, it seems like this season is going down the drain for Orlando.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-18)
After their 3-0 start, the Cavaliers have gotten back to the form most fans and analysts expected. Despite that, players like Colin Sexton, who’s averaging nearly 23 a night, and Darius Garland have emerged as major bright spots, even earning themselves the nickname; “sexland,” credit goes to teammate Larry Nance Jr. for coming up with that name. The Cavs have a surplus of bigs on the roster and not a ton of guard play, the roster balance hasn’t there yet. It does seem like they are headed in the right direction, but they’re still in the middle of a rebuild.
25. Oklahoma Cuty Thunder (11-15)
There hasn’t been a team this year more deliberate about the concept of tanking than the Thunder. At this moment, most of their biggest assets are picks, not players. They have some players greatly benefiting from the minutes that come from a rebuild such as Lu Dort, Darius Bazely and Theo Maledon. As the third least efficient offense in the league, they have a long way to go in terms of constructing this roster, as they’ve understood since the start of the season.
24. Chicago Bulls (10-15)
Chicago has shown some promise this season… Zach Lavine has emerged as a legitimate All-Star in the East that’s now able to now score at a high volume at a high efficiency rate, when healthy, Lauri has gotten back into form, and Patrick Williams is justifying his position as a top four pick in this previous draft. Chicago’s offense has been respectable as they’re 16th in offensive efficiency, they still are a bottom defense, which is a reason why they struggle so much to close games. Coby White’s inconsistency has been at a problem this season as well, at times.
23. New York Knicks (13-15)
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of having a Tom Thibadeau in your coaching staff when it comes to developing young talent, but he’s done a relatively strong job with this Knicks roster. He’s gotten them to play extraordinarily hard, which is why they’ve been a top-five defense all year. Julius Randle has also emerged into an all-star candidate and RJ Barrett has improved. This team still lacks reliable, consistent offensive weaponry, they’re dead last in scoring. Hopefully Derrick Rose provides that offensive punch they desperately need.
22. Atlanta Hawks (11-15)
The Atlanta Hawks were one of the most hyped teams after this off-season and injuries have completely plummeted that hype. Danilo Gallinari, who has been disappointing, was out earlier in the season, now they will be missing an ascending talent in De’Andre Hunter as well as Bogdan Bogdonivic for quite some time. The Hawks were never expected to do anything great defensively this year, but they’ve only been a middle of a road offense of team, scoring and efficiency wise, that’s what could hold them back from making a playoff push.
21. Houston Rockets (11-15)
After trading the disgruntled superstar in James Harden, they went 7-3 in their next ten games. They are now on a five game losing streak and have scored about 105 points only once during this stretch. No coincidence, Christian Wood has been out those five games, who has been an offensively revelation… Victor Oladipo has been out as well. Once Houston gets Wood and Oladipo back, they should start winning more games.
20. New Orleans Pelicans (11-15)
The Pelicans’ inconsistency continues. After the sluggish 5-10 start, they went on a hot 6-1 stretch, but now are on a three game losing streak, losing to three consecutive sub .500 teams. Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson are producing the way needed on the offensive end… But the pelicans continue to struggle on defense and can’t find consistency outside of those two on offense. The Pelicans should be very active in the trade market because this roster clearly has a lot of odd fits… from the surplus of point guards that aren’t consistent shooters… to the paint clogging bigs. They needed consistent shooting and defensive assistance, bad!
19. Charlotte Hornets (13-15)
The Charlotte Hornets have been one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NBA. They have a beautiful, crisp, electric offense, lead by star rookie Lamelo Ball and Gordon Hayward has gravitated fans to watch hornet games in ways that we’ve never seen. Speaking of LaMelo Ball, he’s been averaging 21 PPG, 6.6 RPG and 6.6 APG in his last 10 games, quickly emerging as the runaway Rookie of the Year. The hornets have a long way to go, but their development has been beautiful to watch and they’re firmly in the playoff conversation.
18. Sacramento Kings (12-14)
To a certain extent, the Kings are performing a lot better than expected. De’Aaron Fox is an All-Star caliber player now, Harrison Barnes is having one of the best seasons of his career… Tyrese Haliburton has also been a legit top three rookie this season.
17. Toronto Raptors (12-15)
One of the surprisingly disappointing teams this season definitely has been the Raptors. The losses of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol has been a clear issue for their interior defense and overall front court quality. Chris Boucher has broken out but he can’t make up for the losses of those two. Fred Vanvleet, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam have still been able to produce, but this is not the same defense we’ve seen in the past… at this point, it’s middle of the road, which affects them greatly.
16. Indiana Pacers (14-13)
Malcolm Bragdon and Domantas Sabonis have truly emerged as stars in this league and a punch that Indiana can build around… Myles Turner has also been the league leader in blocks, averaging 3.4 per game. They have only won one of their last five games, which plummets their standing, but they still remain a top four seed in the East and very much in play for a playoff spot.
15. Miami Heat (11-15)
The Heat or another team that we expect more from, but to their defense, Jimmy Butler was out for nearly a month due to Covid protocols. Since his return, they have been 5-3. They haven’t been a great offensive team this season and with Butler that hasn’t changed much. I do believe they end up making the postseason comfortably, but the lack of consistent offense outside of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo puts a lid on their ceiling in the short-term.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (11-11)
Props to the Memphis grizzlies, especially to their head coach Taylor Jenkins. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant have missed time, but Memphis has remain focused, which has made them competitive regardless of whoever is on the court. They have arguably the best young bench in the league, the Memphis front office has been fantastic drafting late… rookies like Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman have been positive contributors immediately, Brandon Clarke has also picked up from last year. They don’t have the star power for me to take them seriously late in the season, but their coaching, elite young depth surrounded around Ja Morant should make them exciting to follow going forward.
13. Boston Celtics (13-13)
The Celtics have been struggling lately, Jayson Tatum is on a little bit of a cold spell and Kemba Walker has been struggling since the injury. In their 1-4 record in their last five games, they’ve had a bottom four offense in the league. Marcus Smart has been hurt and that has certainly been an issue, but their defense has still been well above average. If Boston wants to get back into form, they need Kemba Walker and others to pick it up on the offensive end of the floor if they want the get back into playoff form.
12. Dallas Mavericks (13-15)
After having a record breaking offense last season, they have remained a top 8 offense, efficiency wise, but they haven’t been quite the same. Luka Doncic is really coming into form, he’s averaging 37.2 PPG in his last five and Kristaps is finally playing like the player they need. They will need to make more moves in the trade market to add more shooters and defenders around Doncic, but they are starting to look much better than they did to start out the season.
11. Golden State Warriors (14-13)
After the first two games of the season, there was major panic within the NBA community about the Warriors due to them being blown out by Brooklyn and Milwaukee. Since the start, Steph Curry has gone bananas, asserting himself to being firmly in the MVP race. Even though James Wiseman has hurt, he has looked legit and the big of the future. Andrew Wiggins has been elite defensively while efficiently offensively, as well. The Warriors have struggled competition with some of the top squads due to their lack of firepower outside of Steph and mediocre at best depth. Once klay Thompson returns next season alongside a developing James Wiseman, that could change.
10. San Antonio Spurs (16-11)
The Spurs may not have the firepower they once had, but they still know how to win games. They’ve been a top 10 in defensive efficiency, a lot of credit goes to Gregg Popovich there. Players such as Keldon Johnson Lonnie Walker IV, and Dejounte Murray have taken considerable leaps as well. Not to mention, Demar Derozan has still played at a near All-Star level and has been closing games. Sam Antonio may not be the most talented, but they have remained steady and are still a top 10 team in the league.
9. Portland Trailblazers (16-10)
After CJ McCollum, Jusif Nurkic and Zach Collins were deemed out for a long duration, I was uncertain Portland can continue winning in the tough West…. but they’ve remained dynamic. Damian Lillard has been Damian Lillard and should absolutely be in the MVP conversation, even though he hasn’t been talked about in that light. Gary Trent Jr. has also taken a massive leap as well, could be a MIP candidate if he keeps playing the way he is. The Trailblazers still can’t defend anything, but they are still one of the best offenses in the game and as they get healthier, they should get better.
8. Denver Nuggets (15-11)
The Denver Nuggets have been one of the most entertaining teams in the league. Nikola Jokic is having by far his best season of his career and the offense runs through him in such a fluid fashion. Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. haven’t taken the leaps many have wanted and that could perhaps hold them back when they play against teams with creat duos in the playoffs, but they still are top 10 in offensive efficiency, assists and three point percentage. On defense, I expected them to regress significantly after losing Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, and Torrey Craig but they’ve stayed around the middle of the pack in the league, impressively. As long as Denver has Nikola Jokic, they have a chance any night.
7. Phoenix Suns (17-9)
Following the Suns shocking the world in Orlando… going 8-0 to finish the regular season and nearly making the play-in tournament, the Suns made some bold moves, including landing All-NBA point guard Chris Paul and that has paid dividends. Phoenix is one of the only two teams in the league that’s top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency and a lot of credit goes to Chris Paul and up and coach Monty Williams for the sudden change in play in this Suns core. Devin Booker is going back to producing the way he did in other years as he’s averaged 29.6 PPG in his last five games, also winning Western Conference Player of the Week. Deandre Ayton has been the main disappointment, he hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination… he’s averaged 13.8 PPG and 12.3 RPG on the season, but his scoring has gone down by 5.5 PPG. As a firmer number one pick in only his third season, he can’t afford take a step back or to be that passive on offense, the Suns need to figure that out quickly.
6. Brooklyn Nets (16-12)
I’ll make this clear, the Brooklyn Nets have not looked like a top six team in the league this season. I have them hear fir the simple fake that they have the most offensively gifted trio in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden… and we’ve seen their offensive firepower in full display as they lead they league in points per game. They have been absolutely awful on defense, which holds them back. They’ve allowed the third most PPG this year and are bottom five in defensive efficiency. They won’t be able to contend with some of the very best teams in the league if they don’t figure things out.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (16-11)
The Bucks may have regressed the most defensively out of any team in the league. They were the top defense, efficiency wise last year…. now they sit at the middle of the pack, which is why they’re only 16-11. They still remain high because they’ve arguably had best vets offense in the league. They’re at the top in offensive efficiency, second in PPG, as well as second in three point shooting percentage. Giannis Antetokounmpo is stlll playing like the superstar he is, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday have been super efficient as well. The Bucks have a lot of questions in the postseason, but they still remain solid.
4. Philadelphia 76ers (18-9)
The 76ers have been at the top of the East nearly all season, partially because nobody else has been outstanding, but they still deserve credit for keeping their position. Joel Embiid should be at the top of the MVP race right now as he’s averaging 29.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG 2.8 APG… scoring more efficiently than he ever has while dominating on defense. Philly’s bench has really improved, they now have weapons such as rookie Tyrese Maxey, an ascending Shake Milton, and newly acquired Dwight Howard, these players have made their bench respectable which makes life easier for Philly’s stars. Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey have done a great job changing the tune and perception of the team, as a whole. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are now surrounded by competent shooters, which has opened up their games, even though Ben hasn’t been as productive as desired. If they can continue to add shooting around Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, they could make a run to the finals.
3. Utah Jazz (22-5)
The Jazz have been by far this season’s biggest overachievers. We knew their defense would be near to the top like it always is, which is has, but their offense has been super impressive. Donovan Mitchell has produced pretty normally, averaging 24.4 PPG and 5.1 APG. What’s been especially impressive is the way Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson have been playing. Clarkson is leading all bench players in scoring, averaging over 17 PPG and Mike Conley doesn’t look as washed as he did last year. I still have major doubts about this team in the postseason. You almost always need superstars to go anywhere and Utah doesn’t have one, they’ve also are on pacing for breaking the record for most threes in a season ever on a top three percentage from downtime… I don’t think that will continue. Utah has proven to be firmly in the playoff mix, I just don’t believe in them more than some of the teams ranked ahead… or even behind them, frankly. Nonetheless, they’ve played amazing and Quin Snyder should be Coach of the Year.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (20-8)
Once again, the Clippers is are near the top of the power rankings. The postseason last year was certainly a scare, but in year two with Ty Lue is the head coach, this team has a different vibe to them. The clippers are shooting the best three-point percentage and a regular season ever so far. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are playing at an MVP level. They haven’t been elite defensively but that can be turned up when they want to. The question the Clippers need to answer is if this record is based on their easy schedule or if they’re absolutely a top two team in the league. I believe they will hold their ground, which is why I have them this high still, but this position can certainly change if they don’t deliver.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (21-7)
Heartache take of the day, the reigning champions with the best player in the world while still having a top two record in a league despite a harder than average schedule is the top team in the league, crazy! In all seriousness, Lebron James hasn’t lost a step, he still looks like the king we’ve seen throughout his prime. Anthony Davis, Dennis Schroader and Montez Harrell haven’t put up quite the same volume as other years, but it’s very possible the Lakers aren’t going to go all in unless they absolutely have to. Despite being in the middle of the pack on offense this year, I have no worries about the ability to produce on that end when necessary, they have Lebron James for crying out loud! Anthony Davis is expected to be out for at least two weeks now due to an Achilles strain, it’ll be interesting to see how the Lakers hold up.