NBA Week 2 Power Rankings: Thunder and Cavaliers dip as Rockets push for #2
30: The Phoenix Suns
This was an eventful week for Phoenix, and it was exclusively bad. The week began with the worst fate for the league’s worst team, the season started. For Phoenix, it only took three games for them to produce the all-time league’s worst point differential. What does a fantastic achievement such as that award win? Well, the firing head coach Earl Watson is one such way. Your best player and best trade asset Eric Bledsoe tweeting statements such as “I Don’t wanna be here” is another. I didn’t think it’d ever be possible, but somehow Phoenix overtook Chicago as the league’s worst team. There is good news, however! Phoenix is only the 29th worst offensive team in the League! That makes their average margin of defeat only 26 points rather than the 30 it’d be if they played with Chicago’s defense.
29: The Chicago Bulls
But don’t worry, Chicago is still the SECOND, worst team in the league. Kay Felder started taking ill-advised heat checks. Lauri Markkanen looks better than expected, but for all the rebounds that he got, almost none of them are on the offensive glass. Chicago couldn’t keep pace with the Toronto Raptors throughout their entire contest without any even semblance of a comeback.
I also think now’s a good time to mention the whole Bobby Portis situation. Portis fighting Mirotic, even if openly everyone says it’s not so, likely caused major chemistry issues amongst the team itself. At least we still can watch Late Night Snack with Henry when things get real down. I love those timeout gags.
28: The New York Knicks
The New York Knicks are talent void, and really bad. In any normal year, that would be a “good” thing, with the Big Apple’s feature franchise awarded with the league’s top draft pick. Unfortunately for New York, there are somehow two teams even more talent void and really bad behind them. Even worse, those young few players that might actually show promise aren’t getting time off the bench. Kristaps Porzingis looks ready to lead this franchise, scoring 33 points in 34 minutes, yet New York seems insistent on driving him out with really bad play, poor coaching, and lackluster management. I just really wanted this season to work out for new point guard Frank Ntilikina, but right now it’s not looking great.
27: The Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Dirk Nowitzki’s really need to quickly transition into the Dallas Dennis Smith Jr.’s otherwise this season will get even messier than it already is. A team that openly admitted it’s tanking this year, Dallas has looked poor in all its outings, and their supposed savior in rookie point guard Smith Jr. hasn’t looked great himself. Going 3/11 shooting for 10 points doesn’t tend to inspire confidence in his debut, though it was against the Warriors. As of now, Dallas is floundering without any semblance of success on the horizon.
26: The Sacramento Kings
I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. I really want to believe that the game after Phoenix fired its coach, and their best player announced he wanted out, that Sacramento, who had home court advantage, could pull it together and win this one. They didn’t.
25: The Atlanta Hawks
Are the Atlanta Hawks the most boring team to watch in the NBA? This is a conversation I’m having with my housemate as I write this. John Collins doesn’t even play in the starting line-up (he should), most of their decent players are injured. I just really can’t find any reason I’d want to watch these guys. I’m sorry Atlanta fans.
24: The Los Angeles Lakers
I think I have a pretty embarrassing dad. Take, for example, several years ago when touring colleges, my father spent the entire time talking to the tour guide, asking questions, and pointing out that I was his son and was very interested in all these things (for the record I was mildly interested, but too busy turning bright red as every other family on this tour glared at the parent asking questions). That was irritating, but in the end there were no real major ramifications, I’d never see those people again, and in two days pretty much any memory of the embarrassment washed away. Well clearly almost any memory. Now imagine you’re Lonzo Ball, you keep your mouth shut for the most part, really just want to hoop and are ready for the NBA. Why would you ever deserve NBA players saying things such as Marcin Gortat’s statement that the Wizards’ “will torture” the kid. Jeez dad. That said, their victory over Washington does deem them worthy of a spot outside of the bottom 5.
23: The Brooklyn Nets
Let’s talk about sunk cost fallacy. This concept explains that feeling you have when doing work, and there’s a piece of this work that you sunk a decent amount of time and effort into. Now it turns out, that for the final product to be better, that part of the work needs removal, but you spent so much time, so much effort, that it just seems more logical to just fix it, further damaging the whole product and costing more in the future to finally remove. This is what happened with Timofey Mozgov and DeMarre Carroll. Both players cost their teams a decent amount to unload, thinking that they were sunk costs and couldn’t add any value left to their franchise. Turns out, all these two needed was a change of scenery.
Now don’t get too excited. The Nets are still bad. But they’re not first overall pick bad. If anything, this team is closer to making playoffs than it is the worst record in the league. This is mostly a product of their high pace, and D’Angelo Russel playing surprisingly well. This team is somehow a lot of fun. Way to go Nets!
22: The Indiana Pacers
So, somehow since the start of writing this article, Indiana was able to take a game off the Western Playoff Contender Minnesota Timberwolves. This mainly came off a hot night from the former Oklahoma City Thunder players Victor Oladipo and Damontas Sabonis, who combined put up 43 points and 14 rebounds. The Pacers seem to be trending towards average, with an increased pace and play decent defense, though time will tell if the young core actually can win more than one-off games.
21: The Detroit Pistons
Detroit remains the most boring team in the league. Sorry Pistons fans. Here, I’ll throw you a bone. Andre Drummond looks like he fixed his free throw shooting. As of writing this, he’s 8/10 from the stripe. That’s nice, maybe he’ll be worth a high first in a trade.
20: The Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte surprisingly enough impresses on the defensive end. With the 4th best defensive field goal percentage rating in the NBA, I doubt Clifford could expect anything better. It’s the other end of the ball that’s disappointing. The Hornets just can’t seem to score, just like me at any bar I’ve ever been to. They turn the ball over on average 18 times a game and are tied with Phoenix for the 26th worst offensive efficiency in the league. Maybe once their injuries return to the court (lookin’ at you Batum) they’ll improve.
19: The Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons is the Rookie of the Year if voting happened after only three games. Luckily for the money I have riding on Dennis Smith Jr., we have plenty of time. Have they only one win? Sure, but every game they play tends to come close. I think we’re still in for another year of “The Process”, but in their matchup against Detroit (the team that I have pegged to fight with Philly for the 8th seed) showed a competent team above the level of their opponents.
Here are some things that are still some issues. Fultz will be out for the next three games because the 76ers doctors decided to let him play while he couldn’t move his shoulder without pain. Embiid still isn’t cleared to play back to backs. But for the most part, the Sixers are trending upwards.
18: The New Orleans Pelicans
Let’s talk about some cool and unique stats. During their game against Golden State, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins both averaged 35 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 1 block. That’s a lot of identical stats. Those are also both incredible stat lines, and the consistency of those sort of lines over the first three games of the season inspire confidence that these two might both actually average 25 points a game. Signing Jameer Nelson was premier, adding another point guard in Rondo’s absence that can serve as a full-time backup if Jrue Holiday moves exclusively to the 2. Here, however, is where the good stops.
NOLA struggles from the same issues that constantly plague them, lack of a true three. E’Twan Moore did an impressive job closing out the game and could genuinely look to slot into the closing line-up, though against a larger true three (see LeBron James and co) he’ll absolutely get blown by. Still, a performance that good against the Warriors might signal potential playoff potential.
17: The Denver Nuggets
So… maybe I was wrong about the Nuggets. Not super wrong, I still think they’ll make playoffs, maybe even make some noise in the first round, but my assumption that they’d come roaring out the gate just might be incorrect. Jokic wasn’t playing particularly well in his first two games, averaging only 3.5 points throughout. By his third game, he upped that average up to 12. That’s pretty nice. This drop was a big one for week one, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see these guys crawling back up the latter over the next few months.
16: The Miami Heat
Still really like the Miami Heat. They’re not playing great basketball to be perfectly honest, but that’s not a huge deal, they’re still 2-1. Miami really hasn’t faced any sort of true test, losing to the over-performing Orlando Magic, and beating up on the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers. Their roster still looks somewhat lost, without Hassan Whiteside and a still seemingly somewhat injured Dion Waiters, but who knows. I don’t have much to say about these guys until we see what they have full strength.
15: The Utah Jazz
You know who’s a real dark horse rookie of the year candidate? The Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell. While Ben Simmons still looks to be the runaway favorite, as he provides a net positive on both the offensive and defensive end, Mitchell’s position on a decent under the radar team might eventually command some attention. Averaging 8 points and 3 assists a game for his first week of NBA play, Mitchell has helped Utah as a capable rotation player. He doesn’t really take bad shots, and shows hustle on the defensive end. Overall, he might go down as the steal of the draft.
Oh, also, Utah’s playing pretty well. At 2-2, there’s nothing really to write home about and they’re clearly worse than the Clippers at the moment, but this team should look to fight for the eighth playoff spot. Both of their wins came against quality opponents, and they kept it close against the Timberwolves. I believe in Quinn Snyder to pull together an impressive run at some point this season, but when you lose a player like Gordon Hayward, the first few months are just about getting your sea legs back.
14: The Boston Celtics
Losing Gordon Hayward to injury pretty much defines why Boston slipped this far in the rankings. Boston’s best player and arguably their most versatile passer, Hayward will be missed by everyone on the court and has forced Boston to completely revamp their offensive scheme. Thus far it’s worked, with a thrashing win over the New York Knicks and a somewhat large win against the 76ers, though there are still some serious concerns. Kyrie Irving still doesn’t seem too interested in defense, there are a bunch of Rookies playing real minutes for this team, and most notably, the team still has a rebounding problem.
Marcus Morris is on track towards a return, though with their next two games on the road against Milwaukee and Miami, Boston might still be in for some tough times. Don’t be surprised if by the midpoint of the season Boston isn’t looking like the dominant force they were projected as.
13: The Orlando Magic
Now here’s a big surprise. Vucevic is playing like a complete center, putting up 23/7/5 and three blocked shots against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando looks like a potential playoff team. They have a few obvious flaws; Vucevic isn’t exactly a first option, and playing against a team that plays at a very high pace (such as their first bout against the Brooklyn Nets) doesn’t tend to boost confidence either.
BUT THEN AARON GORDON RETURNED. Wow was he good. 40/10 lines are always notable, but returning for the first game from injury might finally provide the evidence Orlando needs that they found a star. Evan Fornier also played impressively to close out Orlando’s win over Brooklyn. Folks we’re living in a world where the Orlando Magic are 3-1, and surprisingly enough I’m alright with this.
12: The Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have played a stifling defense since the start of the season and with their first real win over the Jazz, Los Angeles might genuinely start solidifying themselves as a playoff contender. Blake Griffin isn’t producing at an MVP caliber, but a 22/9/6 statline isn’t anything to scoff at. Danilo Gallinari looked excellent with an impressive couple of defensive plays, and DeAndre Jordan grabbed 18 boards in one setting.
The Clips still have some backcourt depth issues and don’t really have the assets to trade for someone like Eric Bledsoe, but the addition of a disgruntled starting quality point guard would likely solidify their position as a true playoff contender. Also, with Milos Teodosic falling to injury indefinitely I, unfortunately, cannot make any more spicy Teodosic takes for a while. Bummer.
11: The Portland Trailblazers
How good are the Portland Trail Blazers? Their wins against predicted bottom-feeders in the Suns, Pacers and Pelicans shouldn’t necessarily warrant an 11th place ranking, especially if Orlando did the same and didn’t even break the top 15, but Portland has something Orlando doesn’t. Portland is winning their games against bad opponents by significant margins. Against the Suns, they won by 48. The Pacers? 18 points. Even the Pelicans who might challenge for the 8th seed in the west were dismantled by 10. Their only loss of the season came on the back of a Giannis MVP performance, and even then Portland only lost by 3.
Portland’s role players are their stars of the season. Even if they’re not going off for insane scoring explosions, the squad has a bevy of individuals that play efficiently in limited minutes. Jusuf Nurkic has continued his play as a defensive anchor, and this team’s run and gun style seems to be paying dividends.
10: The Oklahoma City Thunder
Does Oklahoma City really deserve this big a slide after only three games? Probably not, but as a reactionary, I’ll choose to completely ignore any sound logic and immediately jump to conclusions. Just kidding, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Oklahoma City is struggling with their rebounding game, dropping their average rebound rate from 1st in the league over the past two years, all the way down to 24th. This is likely a result of their offense switching to a smaller line-up, featuring Melo, PG13 and Robertson. That said, this drop in rebounding is only sacrificing around 4 points a game in lost opportunity. What would those 4 points have done? Well win the game against the Timberwolves and put the Utah loss within 5. Both of these issues could possibly have been avoided if OKC had an additional rebounder on the court.
Now let’s look at the positive. Oklahoma actually would have won their game against the Wolves barring a false call. Oklahoma City still has a lot of talented players trying to mesh. Oklahoma City plays the Pacers and Bulls as two of their next three. I’m not all that concerned.
9: The Toronto Raptors
Speaking of surprising Eastern Conference teams, these Toronto Raptors also snuck under the radar. Adding only C. J. Miles as their major offseason moves, Toronto was looking slightly underwhelming. Turns out, continuity works quite well for the North. Their first few wins were unsurprising, beating out bottom feeder Chicago Bulls and currently injured Philadelphia 76ers by significant margins was expected, but their loss against San Antonio might actually impress the most. Staying within 4 points against one of the league’s best on the road isn’t easy and the performance each of their premier players exhibits shows little sign of regression. Toronto has a gruelling 6 game road trip ahead of them (with game one already completed against San Antonio) featuring Golden State, Denver, Utah, Portland and Los Angeles. This first test should really show if Toronto is a contender or pretender.
8: The Washington Wizards
If Milwaukee looks like the second best team, then Washington is acting like it. Sure, their wins against the 76ers, Pistons and Nuggets, but this team is getting to the line, and capitalizing on that. In only three games, Washington has already attempted 101 free throw attempts, making 85 of these. That’s wild! Additionally, John Wall leads the East with 30 assists in 10 games, and Otto Porter leads the NBA in steals at 11. Bradley Beal is topping 20 points a game in each of his matches.
Washington plays Golden State and Cleveland as two of their upcoming 5 matches so this dominance might come to a head (barring Cleveland underperforming or Golden State players getting thrown out) however their current success warrants lauding. Washington keeps chugging on and the so-called lackluster East keeps pulling out surprises.
7: The Milwaukee Bucks
All hail the Greek Freak. Many pundits were concerned that Giannis (I’m not even going to try typing his last name over and over) would remain the same, or even suffer some minor regression. They were very wrong. A 44 point career high night might inspire awe alone, but paired with two back to back saving defensive plays in a poke steal and block, Giannis has become a monster.
The rest of the team isn’t too shabby themselves. Malcolm Brogdon doesn’t seem to have fallen into a sophomore slump, Khris Middleton still scored 20 and looked like a genuine 3-D wing and Greg Monroe continues his resurgence with 6th man of the year whispers. On top of that, this team continues to wait on Jabari Parker’s return, and is in whispers of an Eric Bledsoe trade. If the early season is any indication, Milwaukee looks like the second best team in the East.
6: The Memphis Grizzlies
Another year, another underrating of Memphis. Starting their season 3-0 with wins against both Golden State and Houston show these Grizzlies might just be giant killers. Notably, Memphis is looking into selling the team to one of its minority owners. This likely is a product of low revenue but, change is exciting! That last bit really didn’t have anything to do with their performance.
I’ll be frank, I haven’t really watched many Memphis games, but, statistically their success is coming from the bench. Memphis’ bench of reclamation projects such as Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore outscored opponents 94-26 in their first two games. Additionally, Gasol has played up to his first team caliber and if this Western Conference dark horse keeps it up, just might find themselves solidified as a playoff lock.
5: The Minnesota Timberwolves
It’s early in the season, and I’m not going to let a three game sample size blow my expectations out of proportion, but this team looks really good. They’re currently 14th in offensive rating despite playing the 3rd, 6th, and 8th best defences in the nation. Their 19th best defence isn’t anything to write home about, but should improve with increased effort from Karl Anthony-Towns. Wiggins looks as if he took another step this year and the Butler/Wiggins/KAT core seemingly is gelling. Losing to the Spurs in a somewhat tight battle is acceptable this early, and a big win against Oklahoma City gets the ball rolling on what should finally bring Minneapolis success.
Update: This brief was written before their loss to Indiana, that’s pretty unacceptable. This will be reflected in the next power rankings.
4: The Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland could show up as number 18 on these rankings, and you know what, I’d still pick them as the East’s representative in the NBA Finals. Cleveland doesn’t use the NBA regular season for anything besides testing line-ups and Cavalier fans heartstrings. If anything LeBron seems to take joy in not caring about the regular season (see, that time he flipped a water bottle on the side-lines).
There are some things to look up towards. Cleveland’s starting lineup with Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose (Which lacked serious amounts of three-point shooting), averaged a -9 plus/minus stat, with line-ups that used Smith or Korver far outperforming this mark. Cleveland isn’t truly ready for judgment, regardless how much stock you take in regular season play until Isaiah Thomas returns in January/February/December? Until then, Cleveland is just going to float around the top ten barring any major setbacks.
3: The San Antonio Spurs
Last week I stated that “San Antonio looks like a prime candidate for regression.” Turns out I was absolutely wrong. Rudy Gay spent his entire NBA career carrying the nametag of a volume scorer that stops ball movement and doesn’t put in effort on the defensive end. Now, Gay looks completely changed. No one expected Gay to return from an Achilles tear this early in the year, nor did anyone expect that Gay would change to a pass first, second unit playmaker. There’s something in San Antonio’s water.
In all seriousness, the LaMarcus Aldridge contract looks as if somehow, once again, San Antonio knew something the rest of the league didn’t. LMA looks like an All-Star without Kawhi, Pau Gasol doesn’t look terrible either. I think the most impressive spectacle thus far this season is the emergence of Dejounte Murray. In his second year, Murray opened the season with a 16 point, 5 rebound, 2 assists, 2 steal night against the staunch Timberwolves defense. Even when Tony Parker returns from injury, there is a good chance Murray will just keep the spot. Concerns regarding their ability in the playoffs still remain, however, this is a very good team.
2: The Houston Rockets
If a win against the Warriors doesn’t propel a team right up the rankings, I don’t know what will. Houston played an NBA classic in their home opener against the Warriors, winning at the buzzer. PJ Tucker dropping twenty was fun, but really the embrace of “Position-less basketball” is what might just propel them past Golden State. Running Tucker, Paul, Gordon, Harden, and Ariza doesn’t just constitute small ball, but an entire system based around five premier defensive and offensive players able to run switches to maximize each’s skills.
Houston currently sits as the West’s premier team according to record (though so too do the Clippers). A 60+ win season wouldn’t surprise the NBA community. Chris Paul going down to injury for the next month or so shouldn’t be a major issue, seeing this team won 55 last year without him. Jameer Nelson signing with the Pelicans does take the best option off the table, but leave it to Houston to somehow swing an Eric Bledsoe for the lint in Daryl Morey’s pocket trade before I even finish this piece.
1: The Golden State Warriors
I love the beginning of the season because how easy it is to make snap judgments. Also, there have been three games so I get to put a sub .500 team as the best team in the league. Both of Golden State’s losses were somewhat suspect. They wouldn’t have lost the Memphis game if it weren’t for Steph and KD getting ejected. Houston wouldn’t have won if there were around half a second more in the game. Golden State has some real question marks, New Orleans had a significant lead forcing the Warriors to act on the defensive. I assume Golden State will likely right the ship, and they’re still the best team in basketball. Though another week of finding their sea legs might actually constitute a fall in the rankings.
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