NBA Power Rankings: The Hornets Have The Down East Buzzing

Kemba Walker
Chuck Burton/AP

The first quarter of the NBA season can be a little awkward sometimes: enough has happened that we have stuff to talk about, but not enough that we have new things to discuss, and the sample sizes are significant, but still heavily influenced by hot streaks. We’ve handed out fake awards and presented the real awards, but it’s still not even Christmas yet.

We’ll get to this week’s Power Rankings in a second, but let’s start with a quick statistical tidbit—one that we can actually assert with certainty. You may have noticed just from watching a game or two, but right now, we’re looking at the most offensive-minded NBA of the modern era. All but six teams are averaging 100 points per game this season, which is on pace to be the highest-scoring campaign since 1992–93. According to the league, we’re watching the fastest average pace of play in at least the last two decades. More three-pointers are going up than ever, and you’ll find that the teams shooting them the best are generally toward the top of these Power Rankings. 

In the spirit of fast basketball, this is a fast intro. And now it’s over.

30. Brooklyn Nets (6–16)

Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -8.6

This is actually the first time this season the Nets have come in last, so that’s kind of a success.

29. Philadelphia 76ers (6–18)

Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -8.1

Philly’s not any good, but they’re starting to play teams a little closer, for whatever that’s worth. Spoiler alert: it’s not worth much.

28. Dallas Mavericks (5–18)

Last Week: 28
Net Rating: -7.9

Mark Cuban says he’ll only trade his first-rounder this year for a top-five player in the entire NBA… good luck with that one, man.

27. Miami Heat (7–17)

Last Week: 25
Net Rating: -3.9

Goran Dragic has really turned it on over his last eight games, and looks healthy, which means we’re probably in for three months of Dragic trade rumors.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (6–18)

Last Week: 26
Net Rating: -3.1

Things aren’t going great, but here’s another super-fun Wolves highlight. Anyone checked on Tom Thibodeau?

25. Los Angeles Lakers (10–16)

Last Week: 18
Net Rating: -6.8

Okay, no more benefit of the doubt, but that first month was fun. Lou Williams is going off every night right now, so… it’s still sort of fun.

24. Phoenix Suns (7–17)

Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -5.0

Eric Bledsoe turned 27 this week, which is weird, because I feel like he just left Kentucky, and that’s probably because he’s spent four (!) years toiling away in Phoenix. Point being, of the league’s less successful teams, the Suns roster the strangest potpourri of career phase. The sooner they can sort through the pieces, the better.

23. New Orleans Pelicans (8–17)

Last Week: 21
Net Rating: -3.6

It's fair to think that little four-game win streak was a mirage.

22. Orlando Magic (10–15)

Last Week: 20
Net Rating: -5.6

There were rumors this week that the Magic are looking to add offense via trade. You don’t say…

21. Denver Nuggets (9–15)

Last Week: 22
Net Rating: -4.0

The Nuggets are not that good, but this whole bottom tier of teams has been so downright awful lately that this part of the exercise is more a matter of preference. There are a few Nuggets positives: they lead the entire league in rebounds and rebound percentage, nabbing 54.1% of available boards and working both ends of the glass exceptionally well. There are young guys with a chance to be pretty good—Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay were solid prospects, neither is of legal drinking age. Wilson Chandler has bounced back fully from injury, and Nikola Jokic has looked more like last year’s player (13 points/9.1 boards/3.9 assists in his last seven should assuage some early concerns).

Obviously, little of this has translated into wins. They turn the ball over a lot and don’t force many turnovers themselves, which has a lot to do with the youth of the backcourt, but also speaks to the personnel—there’s not a name on the roster you’d really label as “defensive-minded.” Maybe Gary Harris. They’re also 3–7 at home. Maybe it’s the altitude. Much of the Nuggets commotion (if you can call it that) has stemmed more from an overloaded roster than anything else. Armchair GMs have been trading Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried for two years, and you can add Chandler to that mix. But the presence of the sorts of guys you could conceivably plug into and improve Contender X does not a contender make.

But those sorts of guy can contribute to perception. If they’re sort of on the verge of should-be eight-seed territory, is it okay for Denver to wind back up picking in the (currently good-looking) lottery? The answer is yes: literally every key player will be back on the books next season save for Gallinari, who has a player option. Should the team be playing better? That’s more debatable. But the point is this: with a host of manageable contracts and vets to eventually trade, the Nuggets do have some flexibility to cushion the patience they’ll need to sift through the development of all these first-rounders. The difference between bottoming all the way out and being patient with mediocrity isn’t as rigid as critics think. Did the Sixers going full-tank ruin the way we think about every rebuilding team for the next decade? Really, no two processes are alike.

20. Sacramento Kings (8–15)

Last Week: 23
Net Rating: -3.1

The Kings are 4–6 with a net rating just below zero over their last 10 games. It often comes down to execution with this team, and it hasn’t been happening.

19. Washington Wizards (9–13)

Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -2.0

Washington has turned to Kelly Oubre of late and has found some success committing to smaller lineups. That all underscores how vexing the big contracts for Ian Mahinmi (injured) and Andrew Nicholson (marginalized) look in hindsight.

18. Portland Trailblazers (12–13)

Last Week: 16
Net Rating: -2.3

The defensively-challenged Blazers are at a bit of a crossroads, and pull the Clippers and Thunder back-to-back, then the Warriors later this week. Things might get worse before they get better.

17. Atlanta Hawks (12–12)

Last week: 17
Net Rating: -0.7

Two wins this week is a start, but I wonder at what point it behooves them to shop Paul Millsap, who has another year on his contract and turns 32 in February. I can think of a half-dozen playoff-type teams that would benefit.

16. Indiana Pacers (12–12)

Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -2.7

The happy Pacers storyline amidst a rough start to the season has been the growth of Myles Turner, who Rob Mahoney detailed last week, expertly as usual.

15. Milwaukee Bucks (11–11)

Last Week: 10
Net Rating: +2.0

Apparently Jägermeister—yep—wants to prevent the Bucks from trademarking their very similar logo. Which is whatever, because we can all get drunk off Giannis anyway.

14. Detroit Pistons (13–13)

Last Week: 12
Net Rating: +1.9

Honestly, I was getting ready to write nice stuff about the Pistons until they lost by 18 to the Sixers on Sunday.

13. New York Knicks (14–10)

Last Week: 15
Net Rating: -2.8

I caught the Knicks and Cavs (mostly the Cavs) in Manhattan on Wednesday. I left with some thoughts, and also left in the fourth quarter after Kay Felder checked in for Cleveland, and before this happened.

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