NBA Power Rankings: The Clippers deserve credit for their sterling start
It’s Monday, and as always, there are Power Rankings.
If the league feels especially muddled right now, it’s because it kind of is. There are a few great teams, a few good teams, a bunch of teams I’m not totally convinced are good, and a lot of teams I’m totally convinced are bad, but can’t tell which ones are actually worse. Basically, we do this task so you don’t have to. And it’s been quite the puzzle as we roll beyond the first quarter of the season (sneaks up on you, right?).
We have a new team on top this week, a look at the Grizzlies, who are still kicking, and we have the Wizards. Enjoy.
(All stats and records used through Nov. 20)
30. Philadelphia 76ers (3–10)
Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -11.0
Lost in the process: How unbelievably fun it is to watch Sergio Rodriguez pass the basketball? Alas, the Sixers haven’t held a single team under 100 points yet.
29. Dallas Mavericks (2–10)
Last Week: 26
Net Rating: -6.1
Speaking of the 100 point mark… Dallas has only surpassed it twice in 12 games. They’re also last in fast break points AND points in the paint per game, which puts the “tank” in “Shark Tank”.
28. Washington Wizards (3–9)
Last Week: 28
Net Rating: -4.0
It’s really weird to think the Wizards are this bad when the statistical sample for their starting five looks so close to what you might have expected. Let’s start with John Wall: 24 points per game, 43% shooting from three and 46.7% from the field overall are career highs, at the expense of a couple assists. Brad Beal’s shooting percentages are down, but he’s been a little dinged up and is still averaging a career high 17.8 points. Otto Porter is mid-breakout, Markieff Morris is doing what he usually does, and Marcin Gortat is averaging a double double.
Were expectations inflated? Eh, a mid-table finish in the East never felt that far off. Is the bench really bad? Yeah. Will getting Ian Mahinmi back help? Most likely. But if those stats were any indicator, Washington’s frustration has stemmed more from poor defense and consistency mixed with any lingering internal problems than it has from overall productivity. The Wizards have been in games, dropping two of them by three points or less, losing another in overtime, and they’ve beaten the Hawks and Celtics, for what that’s worth (they’ve also lost to the Sixers). There are the bones of a good team here, but it’s a disinterested one. How can the bad Wizards be this bad?
Scott Brooks probably doesn’t deserve this. There are just more questions than tangible answers at this point. It’s already sink or swim territory for the Wiz, who may have to go back to the drawing board at some point. At least we got through this ordeal without making a joke about that new “Harry Potter” movie.
27. Phoenix Suns (4–10)
Last Week: 25
Net Rating: -4.9
We always talk about the more sprightly members of this team, but Tyson Chandler looks not-that-washed right now and is averaging 12.3 rebounds per game. If only that contract wasn’t such a hefty thing to move…
26. New Orleans Pelicans (4–10)
Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -4.2
Jrue Holiday is back, the Pelicans won three games this week, and those things seem connected.
25. Miami Heat (4–8)
Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -1.0
Hassan Whiteside has been worth watching. Our video about him was also worth watching. Shameless plug of the week: watch it below.
24. Brooklyn Nets (4–9)
Last Week: 18
Net Rating: -5.8
Well, four straight losses (albeit to quality opponents) and it looks like the “Nets might be OK“ bubble has begun to burst. Still, this is way better than anyone was giving Brooklyn credit for a month ago.
23. Denver Nuggets (5–8)
Last Week: 23
Net Rating: -2.9
Nikola Jokic’s numbers are down, and now he’s coming off the bench. The Nuggets definitely have too many frontcourt players, and have probably needed to cut a deal for a while, but it’s reason for pause nonetheless.
22. Sacramento Kings (5–9)
Last Week: 21
Net Rating: -5.3
Dave Joerger says he wants to play small ball now. That seems like a worthwhile experiment, except that there are still like five centers on this roster, and one of them is going to play most of the time and is named Boogie Cousins.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (4–8)
Last Week: 20
Net Rating: +2.8
If you can, take some time to really watch Andrew Wiggins, who’s added a quality mid-post game and is shooting 48.9% from three in addition to, you know, being one of the most athletic people on this planet. I’ve been cautious in the past, but now I’m buying.
20. Orlando Magic (6–7)
Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -7.0
The idea of the Magic as a strong defensive unit appears closer to reality of late, but concerns about where points are going to come from are realer.
19. Milwaukee Bucks (5–7)
Last Week: 15
Net Rating: -1.7
Honestly, I don’t know where to look this up… but would Giannis Antetokoumpo and Jabari Parker (both 21) be the youngest pair of teammates ever to average 20 per game?
18. New York Knicks (6–7)
Last Week: 22
Net Rating: -4.1
The Knicks are already holding big team meetings, but they’re also starting to win games. They bought themselves a little time this week.
17. Detroit Pistons (6–8)
Last Week: 16
Net Rating: -1.9
It’s not clear if the Pistons have really improved, but at least it looks as if Tobias Harris (16.7 PPG, 47% FG) has. That whole Brandon Jennings and Harris ans Ersan Ilyasova thing looks very, very good for Detroit.
16. Indiana Pacers (7–7)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -1.6
On a similar note as above, the Pacers have been iffy but are far from buried. Then again, with Golden State, Atlanta and the Clippers on tap and Paul George banged up, this could feel way different in a week.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (7–7)
Last Week: 14
Net Rating: +0.2
Stay patient with Brandon Ingram (6.7 PPG off the bench). The only downside of the Lakers being kind of good is that it might make it slightly harder to start him over Luol Deng as the season rolls on.
14. Utah Jazz (7–8)
Last Week: 8
Net Rating: +2.6
Please, basketball gods, just let this team get completely healthy.
13. Boston Celtics (7–6)
Last Week: 13
Net Rating: +0.7
I just found out Avery Bradley is averaging 8.5 rebounds per game. He’s also shooting 40% from three, among other things. Amid Boston’s slow start, there’s an early Most Improved Player candidate.
12. Portland Trailblazers (8–7)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: -3.6
“We kind of suck right now.” — Damian Lillard.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (8–6)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: -0.2
Someone help me write a relevant Thunder blurb that doesn’t include the words Russell or Westbrook. He already has three 30/15/10 lines… which is more than anyone else has had over the last 30 seasons.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (8–5)
Last Week: 17
Net Rating: -1.5
I’m cheating the top tier/mid tier/lower tier exposition rule this week because I want to devote some space to Memphis, who just won four in a row including a complete victory over the Clippers on the road. They looked a lot like the Grizzlies we used to know, including lots of unnecessary physical contact to go with poised play from some familiar faces. Marc Gasol’s wacky waving tube man act is my favorite moment of the season so far. Aging Vince Carter continues to defy the usual longevity for players once so reliant on bounce. Zach Randolph off the bench is still Zach Randolph.
Let’s hope this arc continues upward for Memphis, who suffered through a historic number of injuries last season and still made the playoffs. The Randolph/Gasol/Conley core, featuring Tony Allen, perhaps doesn’t get enough credit as one of the more unique and lovable NBA groupings of the last decade or so. David Fizdale has been tinkering, they’re playing small and attempting more threes, and the defense has begun to coalesce. It isn’t always aesthetically pleasing, but the nasty is still there.
Basically, the point is that the Grizzlies deserve some appreciation when you think about the overall journey. They’re still a playoff-caliber team, they’re likely still due for more frustrating playoff losses, but the organization has remained quietly solid, and there’s not a single player on their roster who’s garnered the proper credit on a large scale of late. They have a winnable slate of games against Eastern Conference teams for the next couple of weeks. We’ll see just how hot they can stay.
9. Houston Rockets (8–5)
Last Week: 12
Net Rating: +3.3
A league-low 5.2% of Houston’s points are derived from midrange jumpers, 37.2% of them are coming off threes, and the Rockets are conceding 105.9 points per 100 possessions. Maybe Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni were made for each other. Or maybe James Harden is just great.
8. Chicago Bulls (9–5)
Last Week: 11
Net Rating: +5.1
This is really nitpicky, but can they just stop playing Bobby Portis at center? It’s funny to think Chicago may legitimately want to be buyers as the season goes on, but a better defensive bench complement could solidify this team’s standing.
7. Atlanta Hawks (9–4)
Last week: 4
Net Rating: +8.2
Given how effective the Hawks have been on whole, it kind of makes you wonder if Al Horford got a little bit too much credit the last few years. Paul Millsap remains outstanding, and Mike Budenholzer’s acumen and system have facilitated the transition. However you want to cut it, Atlanta comes out looking great.
6. Charlotte Hornets (8–4)
Last Week: 7
Net Rating: +4.9
The good news is that Cody Zeller is actually pretty good. The bad: he got elbowed in the face by Dwight Howard this week, then hurt his shoulder. Life is like that sometimes.
5. Toronto Raptors (8–5)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: +4.5
It’s getting really hard to sort out this Atlanta-Charlotte-Toronto tier of teams, but the Raptors get the nod this week after playing the Cavs and Warriors close, and with a head-to-head win over the Hornets a week ago.
4. San Antonio Spurs (10–3)
Last week: 5
Net Rating: +6.9
This week, it was pretty difficult to pick out anything exceedingly noteworthy about the Spurs. Which is to say, their season’s going great.
3. Golden State Warriors (11–2)
Last Week: 3
Net Rating: +8.1
Some regression may be in order, but if Golden State’s true shooting percentage of 60.2% holds close, it would be the highest ever registered (dating back to at least 1996), according to NBA.com. Yeah, I feel like an idiot for reasoning the Warriors into third, but this is a fluid exercise.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (10–2)
Last Week: 1
Net Rating: +6.5
Yeah, they lost to the Pacers, but LeBron sat that one out. The fall from first isn’t a critique of the Cavs, but an acknowledgement of the Clippers’ entry into the upper echelon.
1. LA Clippers (12–2)
Last week: 2
Net Rating: +13.8
It’s not often that the top spot in these rankings varies as often as it has, as we approach the one-month mark, but this is another matter of awarding full credit. The Cavs and Warriors should still be the clear conference favorites, but it’s the Clippers who have played the most dominant basketball so far.
Here are some noteworthy Clippers numbers through 14 games: they’re second in offensive rating, second in defensive rating, first in net rating, fifth in assist to turnover ratio, fourth in true shooting and first in points off turnovers. So, basically, this team and these players are in midst of quite possibly the best ball of their entire co-existence, which dates back to when we thought “Lob City” was cool, and when Donald Sterling owned the team, and when people were still mad about Chris Paul not being on the Lakers.
They’re now capable of those massive scoring runs, committed on both sides of the ball, and are fully healthy. You can point to a deeper bench as a starting point, but this is really a case of tangible improvement coming from within. You’ll hear a billion times about Chris Paul and Blake Griffin’s contract years, and the fact that this group has never made the West finals, but that’s relevant discourse. “Sense of urgency” is hackneyed, and “continuity” isn’t always a great explanation, but this is one of those situations where it just looks and feels like things have truly come together.
The overarching NBA conversation has felt like two-party politics. Even if it’s the team that still complains more than anyone else in the league, wouldn’t it be great to have another legit contender? Kevin Durant’s departure from the Thunder made a title way harder, but it flung the door open for L.A. to sneak firmly alongside the Warriors atop of the West. The Clippers will play the both the Cavs and Dubs early in December, and that’ll be our best litmus test. Right now, they’re deservedly in our top spot.