For a little over a month of the 2016-17 season, we were able to pretend that the Golden State Warriors might be vulnerable this year. Sadly for the rest of us, though, it took just six weeks for the Warriors to reach their true "superteam" form. The offense is firing on all cylinders, and Kevin Durant and Draymond Green have figured out how to share the burden on the defensive end of the floor. Give it a few more months, and Golden State is going to be an absolutely terrifying basketball team.
Honestly? Barring an injury (or the Cavs deciding to get their act together), it seems unlikely the Warriors will relinquish the No. 1 spot in these power rankings moving forward.
Dallas Mavericks (previous ranking: 30)
How bad are the Mavericks this season? Head coach Rick Carlisle is calling timeouts he doesn't have just to yell at his team -- and he's fine with taking the technical fouls that result from those "timeouts." When you're already losing by 20+ points, what's one more free throw here and there?
Philadelphia 76ers (29)
Now that the NBA realizes how dominant Joel Embiid can be on offense, he's already starting to experience the same "foul him at any costs" strategy from defenders that Shaquille O'Neal experienced in his day. That's flattering, of course, but it's imperative that Embiid keeps his cool through all the contact.
Phoenix Suns (27)
The Suns are certainly in wait-and-see mode with their young players. Patience is a virtue for Phoenix at this point in their rebuild. Yet with pressure continuing to mount on GM Ryan McDonough, it's possible the Suns make a panic trade before the deadline that will marginally improve them in the short-term -- at the expense of long-term growth.
New Orleans Pelicans (23)
That moment on Thursday night when Anthony Davis had an attempt at the rim absolutely rejected by Joel Embiid was a little on the nose as a symbol of the Pelicans' struggles (and how Davis already might have been surpassed by the next generation of NBA big men).
Minnesota Timberwolves (28)
FOX Sports' Dieter Kurtenbach did an excellent job breaking down the disappointing Wolves this week. To my eyes, the biggest problem is that coach Tom Thibodeau expects opponents to play the way his teams play, and he's trying to beat himself as a result. Unfortunately for Thibs, teams have continued to evolve since he coached the Bulls, and he hasn't quite caught up.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY SportsJeff Hanisch
Brooklyn Nets (26)
While Brook Lopez remains a steady presence in the middle, the Nets keep taking fliers on fringe NBA players -- this time, with PG Spencer Dinwiddie. When you have nothing else to lose, seeing if you can find a diamond in the rough is absolutely the right move. Keep it up, Brooklyn.
Washington Wizards (25)
How bad have things gotten in Washington? John Wall is openly questioning his team's effort, and we're only a quarter of the way through the season: "To still be talking about playing hard, that's something that you should be able to do after just waking up. Everybody has a job and they have to go work hard. Our job is to come here and play hard and compete. That's the easiest thing that you should do without any contracts or any money, just come in and play basketball. ... If I had the answer we wouldn't be in this situation." Ouch.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Denver Nuggets (22)
I'm not sure what it says about the Nuggets that their best way forward this season is trusting the veterans and seeing if any of the young guys are actually worth roster spots in the future. I mean, of course your veterans are going to be more successful, but when you have a roster of young players and none of them are developing, there's a pretty big problem with your decision-makers.
Orlando Magic (24)
Every time Frank Vogel talks about his young team, the only end of the court he wants to discuss is defense. And that focus is trickling down to his players, who have the same laser-focus on stopping their opponents. That's exactly what you want to hear from a team mired in a neverending rebuild.
USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
Miami Heat (21)
Defenses are really keying in on Hassan Whiteside this season, and he's taking the opportunity to show off some new wrinkles in his offensive game. From turnaround jumpers to drop-steps toward the rim, Whiteside is no longer just a pick-and-roll savant looking to dunk all over opponents.
As the Hawks spiral out of control, the hits keep coming in Atlanta. Now Kent Bazemore is sidelined for a few games with a knee injury, putting even more pressure on the Hawks' unsteady offense. On the plus side, maybe a bit of rest will help break Bazemore's current 3-point shooting slump.
Jeremy BrevardJeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Los Angeles Lakers (14)
Yes, the Lakers are beat up and fighting through a tough portion of the schedule, but coach Luke Walton doesn't want his team making any excuses for their current poor play. For Walton, Los Angeles' current struggles start and end with their transition defense, regardless of who's on the court.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
New York Knicks (18)
Carmelo Anthony doesn't want to talk about Phil Jackson. He doesn't want to hear about Phil Jackson. And he probably doesn't care much for Phil Jackson's recent criticisms, either. Either the Zen Master is trying some motivational tactics that are way over our heads, or he's burning bridges with his team's franchise player.
Portland Trail Blazers (16)
The Blazers are a solid team that doesn't quite have the talent to compete with the very best in the Western Conference, so Portland's using a secret weapon. If there's a technological advantage out there -- be it tablets to review video, cutting-edge sports science and sleep techniques, or making sure that players stay healthy -- the Blazers are willing to give it a try.
Detroit Pistons (17)
Reggie Jackson's back, and the Pistons are starting to look whole again as a result. Yet by his own admission, the Detroit point guard isn't anywhere close to 100 percent these days. Once he's healthy and confident, the Pistons might make a run as one of the top four teams in the East.
Tim FullerTim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Milwaukee Bucks (15)
The Bucks turned a frontcourt logjam into a valuable asset. Bringing Greg Monroe off the bench (plus the addition of Michael Beasley) has turned Milwaukee's reserve unit into one of the best in the NBA, and the Bucks are riding their bench to a surprising surge toward the top ten in these power rankings.
Gary DineenFotoWare FotoStation
Chicago Bulls (10)
Is anyone surprised that Rajon Rondo drew a one-game suspension for getting into it with a Bulls assistant coach? That's who Rondo is. He yells at coaches, and he gets suspended for conduct detrimental to his team. These days, you just have to hope that his on-court production is worth the off-court headaches. (Spoiler: it's not.)
Charlotte Hornets (9)
As we pointed out a few weeks ago, the Hornets continue to get the job done at the free-throw line -- on both ends of the court. Charlotte is in the top three in the NBA in free-throw attempts per game while they themselves commit the fewest fouls in the league. It's not spectacular, but the Hornets' discipline is certainly effective.
The Grizzlies are moving ahead with their current braintrust after signing most of the front office to contract extensions this week. On the court, meanwhile, Zach Randolph received an incredibly warm welcome in his return following an absence due to the death of his mother, and Memphis just keeps winning in the final minute of games, moving to 12-0 in "superclutch" situations.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY SportsNelson Chenault
Utah Jazz (8)
The Jazz got punched in the mouth by the Warriors in the first quarter on Thursday night and rolled with the punches, storming back to make things interesting in the fourth. Better teams than Utah have taken the brunt of Golden State's offensive firepower and rolled over. The Jazz's ability to stay in the game says a lot about what this team might accomplish this season.
If Donatas Motiejunas were a more important player, maybe his current contract shenanigans would be a distraction to the Rockets. Houston's already used to playing without the big man, though. One imagines James Harden & Co. aren't at all concerned with the ongoing negotiations.
The Cavaliers know they have a defense problem. LeBron James acknowledges it, and so does coach Tyronn Lue. Still, the question remains: will Cleveland actually do something about its effort on that end of the floor sooner than later, or will the defending champions keep coasting into the new year?
Bob DonnanBob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
San Antonio Spurs (3)
If you'll forgive me, Spurs fans, I'm going to be a bit of an antagonist here. I apologize in advance.
Gregg Popovich's recent quote about how life itself is so much more important than winning basketball championships was incredible, truly. On the other hand, I'm glad Pop feels that way, because his team definitely isn't winning a title this season. The Warriors are just too good.
Hey, speaking of Golden State ...
Steve Dykes-USA TODAY SportsSteve Dykes
Golden State Warriors (1)
If Kevin Durant is going to legitimately play the part of rim protector on defense, then all of Golden State's problems are solved and we might as well just wait for the playoffs.
I'm not being facetious here. The Warriors are a ridiculous basketball team, friends. The rest of us might be doomed.