- Memphis Grizzlies (2-7)
Last Week: 29(↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Suns (L, 105-114), Rockets (L, 100-107), Timberwolves (W, 137-121), Magic (L, 86-118), Mavs (L, 122-138)
Next Week’s Games: @Spurs, @Hornets, Jazz
The Grizzlies are not a good basketball team. They are last in the league in both net rating and average point differential. Memphis more than cancelled out their great win over the Timberwolves in the middle of the week by losing by 32 to a struggling Magic team in the next game. Not a whole lot went right against Orlando. Jonas Valanciunas, Brandon Clarke, and Jaren Jackson Jr. combining for 42 points and 20 rebounds isn’t much of a silver lining. On the bright side, the first three games of the week showcased Memphis’s potential despite the 1-2 record. Dillon Brooks averaged 21.3 points per game, Ja Morant averaged 24.3 points, 5.7 assists, and 4 rebounds per game, Jonas Valanciunas averaged a double-double, and Brandon Clarke came close. The one sore spot in terms of player development has been Jaren Jackson Jr, whose numbers have been down pretty much across the board. He had 23 against the Mavs, but everyone should watch him closely over the next few weeks to see if his early season slump is a real thing. Neither Morant nor Clarke played against Dallas, though Ty Jones impressed with 14 points and 8 assists.
- New York Knicks (2-7)
Last Week: 28 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Kings (L, 92-113), Pistons (L, 102-122), Mavs (W, 106-102)
Next Week’s Games: Cavs, @Bulls, Mavs
The Knicks aren’t a good basketball team either, but a nice win against the Mavs was enough to keep them out of the bottom spot. The beginning of the week wasn’t as nice, as the Knickerbockers got smashed by the struggling Kings and crushed by the Pistons, who were playing without Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin. RJ Barrett continues to score, outside of a 3 point performance against the Mavs, and he has looked better in other areas of the game as well. It’s a little hard to measure his impact on the game because he’s a rookie on the Knicks, but he’s been off to a very promising start regardless. Mitchell Robinson continues to struggle with injuries and has yet to make much of an impact this season. Kevin Knox hasn’t produced all that much and is playing 6 minutes per game less than last year despite better shooting percentages. A limited role for Knox was one of the major concerns after New York’s power forward heavy summer, and those concerns seem legitimate right now. At least those power forwards are producing, as Marcus Morris continued his hot start by averaging 25 points per game. Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, and Julius Randle combined for 47 points and 28 rebounds in the win over Dallas, and Randle dropped 20 on the Pistons. Frank Ntilikina also had a strong week, averaging 12.5 points, 4 assists, and 3.5 rebounds across the last two games. Further progress for him would be huge for the Knicks.
- Golden State Warriors (2-8)
Last Week: 27 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Hornets (L, 87-93), Trail Blazers (W, 127-118), Rockets (L, 112-129), Timberwolves (L, 119-125 OT), Thunder (L, 108-114)
Next Week’s Games: Jazz, @Lakers, Celtics
The Warriors just don’t have the firepower to consistently win games right now. They have enough to win some games, as they showed this week, but there’s just not a lot of healthy talent on this roster. Rookie Eric Paschall has been fantastic, averaging 22.5 points per game this week before missing the Thunder game. Fellow rookies Ky Bowman and Jordan Poole have also shown promise, and their ability to continue to develop will likely be the main takeaway from this year. The other takeaway might be the next level emergence of D’Angelo Russell, who went off for 52 points, 5 assists, and 9 boards in his return from injury against Minnesota before dropping 32 points and 7 assists in OKC. The league wide assumption, for the most part, has been that Russell would be traded at some point this year. Last night offered plenty of reason to see him as a major part of Golden State’s future. Veterans Alec Burcs and Glenn Robinson III also had solid weeks, and Draymond Green and Kevon Looney will be back eventually. This might be a lost year in terms of wins for the Warriors, but there’s still plenty to be gained from it.
- New Orleans Pelicans (2-7)
Last Week: 17 (↓10)
Last Week’s Games: Thunder (L, 104-115), Nets (L, 125-135), Raptors (L, 104-122), Hornets (W, 115-110)
Next Week’s Games: Rockets, Clippers
This was a terrible week from the Pelicans, who have a top 10 offense by net rating but one of the worst defenses in the league. Injuries have certainly been an issue, with Derrick Favors limited this week and Zion Williamson still out for a few more weeks, but at some point New Orleans is going to need to win some games. Brandon Ingram had 40 against the Nets, and his numbers are still up across the board. He’s one of the frontrunners in the MIP race right now, but his personal success hasn’t translated to wins. There are a variety of reasons for that. Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick are still underwhelming with their play, despite a few decent performances this week. They will need to be much better for this team to turn it around. Other younger players like Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have impressed at times, but they need to develop more consistency. The Pelicans were always going to need great seasons from everyone in their rotation to reach the playoffs. It seemed like a decent possibility going into the year, but only Ingram, and, for the most part, Hart, have delivered so far. That’s why the Pelicans are sitting at 2-7.
- Sacramento Kings (3-6)
Last Week:30 (↑4)
Last Week’s Games: Knicks (W, 113-92), Raptors (L, 120-124), Hawks (W, 121-109)
Next Week’s Games: Trail Blazers, @Lakers
The Kings had a very good week, showing that they will have a chance to reverse their poor start to the season. I’m not quite sold yet, but this week offers two big chances to prove me wrong. Sacramento got more production across the board this week. De’Aaron Fox averaged 19.3 points and 8.3 assists, Buddy Hield averaged 21.7 points, Harrison Barnes averaged 20.3 points, and Richaun Holmes averaged 8 points and 9 boards. Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 20 twice, and Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph, and Nemanja Bjelica all stepped up. Dewayne Dedmon is still really struggling, but the Kings will take what they can get after almost everything went wrong over the first 5 games of the year.
- Chicago Bulls (3-7)
Last Week: 26 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Pacers (L, 95-108), Lakers (L, 112-118), Hawks (W, 113-93), Rockets (L, 94-117)
Next Week’s Games: Rockets, Knicks, @Bucks
The Bulls are not particularly good at basketball. They beat the Hawks in impressive fashion, but John Collins missed due to suspension and Tomas Satoransky dropped 27 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds in what could end up being his best game of the season by a decent margin, as he’s averaging just under 9 points per game with the 27-point performance included. There’s just not a whole lot of production going on in Chicago so far this season. Wendell Carter Jr. looked good in losses to the Pacers and Lakers, averaging 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He continued the odd trend of showing up in losses with a 13 point, 17 rebound effort against Houston. Zach LaVine averaged 23.5 points per game against Indianapolis and LA. Lauri Markannen had 17 against the Hawks. Coby White had 18 against the Lakers. Otto Porter Jr. also had 18 against Los Angeles, but he and the rest of the bench veterans have mostly disappointed. There was a lot of hope in Chicago going into the season, but that hope has faded fast and it’s not looking like it will come back anytime soon.
- Washington Wizards (2-6)
Last Week: 22 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Timberwolves (L, 109-131), Pistons (W, 115-99), Pacers (l, 106-121), Cavs (L, 100-113)
Next Week’s Games: @Celtics, @Timberwolves
Going into this week, the Wizards looked better than their 1-3 record with a -1 point differential. Then they went out and went 1-3 again, this time with a -34 point differential. They’re now well into the bottom third of the league in both net rating and average point differential. What happened? The pieces around Bradley Beal stopped contributing with consistency. Against the Timberwolves, Beal went for 30. Moe Wagner, Isaiah Thomas, and Admiral Schofield combined for 45. Seven other guys combined for only 34, with Thomas Bryant also pitching in 10 boards. Against the Pistons, in the lone win of the week, Beal got his help. Seven other Wizards scored 9 points or more. Against the Pacers, Beal again went for 30, also throwing in 5 assists and 5 boards. Thomas Bryant went for 20 points and 11 boards, and CJ Miles, Isaiah Thomas, and Davis Bertans combined for 36. Five other guys combined for only 20. Against the Cavs, Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura had great games and Isaiah Thomas had 11. The six other rotation players not named Bradley Beal combined for 25 points. Isaiah Thomas was the only Wizard other than Beal to score in double-figures across all four games. For this Wizards team to be competitive, they will need contributions from top to bottom. That didn’t happen this week.
- Charlotte Hornets (4-5)
Last Week: 25 (↑2)
Last Week’s Games: Warriors (W, 93-87), Pacers (W, 122-120), Celtics (L, 87-108), Pelicans (L, 110-115)
Next Week’s Games: @76ers, Grizzlies, Pistons
If the season ended today, the Charlotte Hornets would be in the playoffs. Do not let this convince you that the Hornets are good. They have somehow gone 4-4 despite coming into the weekend in the bottom 5 in net rating and average point differential. They’ve gotten their four wins by a combined 16 points against the Bulls, Warriors, Kings, and Pacers. Four of their losses have come by a combined 77 points. This might be the first .500 team with a -61 point differential in NBA history. On the bright side, the young guys have continued to show promise. Devonte’ Graham went for 35 against the Pacers, PJ Washington and Miles Bridges had solid weeks of production, and Dwayne Bacon had 25 against the Warriors. Terry Rozier averaged 21 points, 5.5 assists, and 5 boards per game against the Warriors and Pacers, which was good to see as he works towards showing that he is someone to build around in Charlotte. He has a very long way to go, but games like those are a good place to start. The Hornets play the Grizzlies and Pistons this week, so we might be looking at an inflated record yet again next week. Charlotte is passing with D minuses across the board right now, and it has to end eventually. Right?
- Cleveland Cavaliers (3-5)
Last Week: 23 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Mavs (L, 111-131), Celtics (L, 113-119), Wizards (W, 113-100)
Next Week’s Games: @Knicks, @76ers, Heat
The Cavs had a below average week. The Cavs are a below average team, coming in right around the top of the bottom third in both net rating and average point differential. As long as they have Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, they should stay competitive. Love averaged 20.7 points and 9.7 rebounds this week to continue his great start, and he will likely be a major piece of trade discussions in the coming weeks and months. Thompson is averaging 16.5 points and 11.6 boards per game. Jordan Clarkson, Cedi Osman, and Larry Nance have also been solid and relatively positive. Collin Sexton has gone from a terrible defender to an okay one, and he hasn’t really done much else in terms of improvements. It may be a few years before he starts to reach his potential. The same is likely true for Darius Garland, who has shown flashes during a rough start to the season. Kevin Porter Jr. continues to get minutes, and he has flashed his potential as well. As I’ve said the last couple weeks, this season is all about giving these guys as much experience as possible. Bonus Cavs stat: John Henson has played 8 minutes and grabbed 2 steals this year. The Cavs need to unleash him because he’s averaging 9 steals per 36 minutes right now. The greatest defensive weapon in the league needs more minutes Coach Beilein.
- Orlando Magic (3-6)
Last Week: 18 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Nuggets (L, 87-91), Thunder (L, 94-102), Mavs (L, 106-107), Grizzlies (L, 86-118)
Next Week’s Games: Pacers, 76ers, Spurs
This year’s Magic have an incredible ability to lose close, low-scoring games. Outside of a big loss to the Bucks, Orlando has lost all of its games by 9 points or less, with the winning team scoring under 110 points. It happened three times this week, and the Magic will continue to lose games until they find a way to make a few more offensive plays down the stretch. On the bright side, the defense has been great, ranking third in the league by defensive rating. Jonathan Isaac has turned into a full-fledged monster on that end, averaging 3 blocks per game and leading the league in defensive box +/-, and there is plenty of defensive talent around him. The problem, again, is the offense, which ranks last in the league by offensive rating. The win against the Grizzlies means very little in terms of progress on that end, and pretty much everyone has struggled. Two positives – Aaron Gordon had a good week, averaging 19 points per game after struggling to start the year and Isaac has shown some major improvement offensively this year. On the other hand, Nic Vucevic, Evan Fournier, DJ Augustine, and Terrence Ross have all struggled to produce consistently. Markelle Fultz has been solid considering where he was last year, but he’s not moving the needle offensively. Mo Bamba hasn’t made a difference yet either. The Magic will need a few of these guys to step up, and there’s reason to believe that will happen given Vucevic’s history. The Magic are still very much alive.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (4-5)
Last Week: 24 (↑4)
Last Week’s Games: Pelicans (W, 124-115), Magic (W, 102-94), Spurs (l, 112-121), Warriors (W, 114-108)
Next Week’s Games: Bucks, @Pacers, 76ers
The Thunder continued their solid play, beating the Pelicans and Magic before falling to the Spurs. They are in the middle of the pack in both net rating and average point differential and boast one of the better defensive rating in the league. The offense is on the other side of things, but, for now, the defense is enough to make Oklahoma City a mediocre basketball team. There are obviously few complaints to be made about the Thunder’s defense, especially given that Andre Roberson has yet to play a game, so we’ll look at the offense for a bit. The two biggest offensive bright spots have been Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari. Gilgeous-Alexander continued his great scoring form, averaging 22.7 points per game against the Pelicans, Magic, and Spurs before scoring 12 against the Warriors. He still needs to work on rounding out his game, but he has made some very promising progress to start the year. Gallinari also kept his good form going, averaging 20 points and 4.5 boards per game this week. The rest of the team has struggled, but there is room for some hope. Chris Paul has begun to pick it up, dropping 17.5 points and 7.3 assists per game over the last four games. His ability to distribute the ball is going to be key to any offensive improvements. Steven Adams has struggled with injuries to start the year, so there is hope that he will be able to produce more in the coming weeks. The rest of the team, unfortunately, is probably going to be pretty inconsistent offensively all year. Hamidou Diallo, Dennis Schroder, Terrance Ferguson, Darius Bazley, and Nerlens Noel have all had their moments, but this group isn’t exactly the face of consistent offensive production. Bazley and Diallo are both very young and could become something more, but as far as this season goes, the Thunder might be stuck as an athletic, defensive-minded team. As their early results have shown, that’s not a terrible place to be.
- Atlanta Hawks (3-5)
Last Week: 16 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Spurs (W, 108-100), Bulls (L, 93-113), Kings (L, 109-121)
Next Week’s Games: @Trail Blazers, @Nuggets, @Suns
The first game after the John Collins suspension went well for Atlanta. The next two did not, and their three games this week might be just as rough. Trae Young struggled against the Bulls, but he averaged 29.5 points and 12.5 assists per game against San Antonio and Sacramento to keep his hot start going. Jabari Parker averaged 20.7 points and 7 boards per game this week to continue his own impressive start. He’s still not playing defense, but the Hawks don’t seem to care all that much. Pretty much everyone else for the Hawks is still developing and working on their consistency, which is the main short term impact of the Collins suspension. Outside of Young, he provided the most consistent production on this team. While he’s out, we’ll likely see a lot of highs (Spurs game) and a lot of lows (Bulls and Kings games) for Atlanta.
- Detroit Pistons (4-6)
Last Week: 21 (↑3)
Last Week’s Games: Nets (W, 113-109), Wizards (L, 99-115), Knicks (W, 122-102), Pacers (L, 106-112)
Next Week’s Games: Timberwolves, @Heat, @Hornets
The Pistons played without Reggie Jackson, Derrick Rose, rookie Sekou Doumbouya, and Blake Griffin this week. 2-2 is solid, and Rose and Griffin are both day-to-day heading into this upcoming week. The guys that have been healthy have been playing well, which should have Detroit feeling good about their playoff chances. Luke Kennard is another MIP candidate, averaging 18 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.7 boards per game. Andre Drummond had a fantastic week with all the injuries around him, averaging 20.5 points, 17.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. Bruce Brown Jr. averaged roughly 14 points and 6 assists this week, showcasing his potential for growth, and Tony Snell, Markieff Morris, and Langston Galloway all put up solid numbers. The Pistons are in a solid spot.
- Brooklyn Nets (4-4)
Last Week: 20 (↑3)
Last Week’s Games: Pistons (L, 109-113), Pelicans (W, 125-115), Trail Blazers (W, 119-115)
Next Week’s Games: @Suns, @Jazz, @Nuggets
The Nets had a good week, ending it with a big win against the Trail Blazers despite Damian Lillard’s 60-point outing. Kyrie Irving averaged 30.7 points and 8.3 assists per game this week, including a triple-double against the Pistons, and the guys around him finally stepped up. Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, and Caris LeVert combined for 78 against the Pistons, with Jordan going for a double-double. Against the Pelicans, Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince had double-doubles, and along with LeVert, Harris, and Garrett Temple, combined to produce 85 points. Against Portland, Dinwiddies had 34, Harris had 14, and LeVert, Allen, and Nicolas Claxton all had solid games. The Nets will be in a good spot if they can continue to get production across the board like they did this week.
- Indiana Pacers (5-4)
Last Week: 19 (↑3)
Last Week’s Games: Bulls (W, 108-95), Hornets (L, 120-122 OT), Wizards (W, 121-106), Pistons (W, 112-106)
Next Week’s Games: @Magic, Thunder, @Rockets
The Pacers had a good week record-wise, but don’t forget about their weak schedule up to this point. They have played one game so far against a team better than 20th in net rating, and it was against the middle-of-the-league Nets. To go 5-4 in that stretch is concerning for a team that was supposed to make the playoffs without too much difficulty in the weak Eastern Conference. On the bright side, TJ Warren has continued to pick it up after a slow start, averaging 24.3 points per game this week. Malcolm Brogdon had a solid week as well, averaging 19 points and 7.5 assists per game. The rest of the roster chipped in more often this week as well. Additionally, Myles Turner missed the whole week, Domantas Sabonis missed the first two games, and Jeremy Lamb missed the last two games. This was really their first week with non-Oladipo injury issues, so they’re not an excuse for the relatively slow start. Still, Indianapolis had a much more promising week after disappointing over the first week and a half.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (5-3)
Last Week: 15(-)
Last Week’s Games: Wizards (W, 131-109), Bucks (W, 134-106), Grizzlies (L, 121-137), Warriors (W, 125-119 OT)
Next Week’s Games: Nuggets, @Pistons, Spurs, Wizards
The Timberwolves had a very up-and-down week. They crushed the Wizards without Karl Anthony Towns, then got crushed by the Bucks in the second game of Towns’s suspension. They lost to the Grizzlies by 16 before outlasting the Warriors despite D’Angelo Russell going off for 52. Towns was fine in his return, averaging 22.5 points and 13.5 boards per game but struggling from the field. Andrew Wiggins had a great week, averaging 29 points, 4.8 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. If, big if here, he plays like that consistently, the Timberwolves will have a good shot at the playoffs. Jarrett Culver also showed some very promising signs this week, reaching 15 points twice and contributing in a variety of areas. Robert Covington averaged 16.3 points per game, and Josh Okogie, Jake Layman, and Treveon Graham had solid weeks. Towns will be someone to watch over the next couple games. If he can’t keep up his red hot pre-suspension pace, then Minnesota is all but guaranteed to fall short of the playoffs regardless of how the rest of the team plays.
- Portland Trail Blazers (3-6)
Last Week: 8 (↓6)
Last Week’s Games: 76ers (L, 128-129), Warriors (L, 118-127), Clippers (L, 101-107), Nets (L, 115-119)
Next Week’s Games: Hawks, @Kings, Raptors
Simply put, the Blazers have been decimated by frontcourt injuries, and they fell just short of a victory in every game they played this week. We knew going into the year that they would have to survive without Jusuf Nurkic. Then Zach Collins went down, and he likely won’t be back for 4 months after shoulder surgery. Hassan Whiteside missed the Sixers game, and Pau Gasol is 39 and has yet to play a game this year because of his own injury. Both Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere went down against the Nets, though it doesn’t appear that either will be out for long. Unlike the Pacers, Portland has faced a difficult schedule, and the injuries have been hard to overcome. On the bright side, Anfernee Simons averaged 14.8 points per game this week, making good on his spark plug potential. Damian Lillard is still doing Damian Lillard things, dropping 60 on the Nets, but it just hasn’t been enough to this point. Part of the reason for that, in addition to the injuries, have been the early struggles of CJ McCollum, whose numbers have dropped slightly from last year, but the big issue is that the injuries have taken away Portland’s margin for error. It led to four close losses this week, and if that continues in future weeks, then the Blazers will likely have to look into making a trade.
- Dallas Mavericks (6-3)
Last Week: 10 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Cavs (W, 131-111). Magic (W, 107-106), Knicks (L, 102-106), Grizzlies (W, 138-122)
Next Week’s Games: @Celtics, @Knicks
The loss to the Knicks, along with continued strides from the Suns, Heat, and Celtics, led to Dallas’s drop here. The Knicks game was not good, as Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic scored 65% of the 102 points the Mavs scored. Only Tim Hardaway Jr. joined them in double digits, and the other 8 players combined for 22 points. The good thing is that Porzingis (28 points and 9 boards) and Doncic (38 point triple-double) shined. Doncic has been doing this all year, but Porzingis has struggled to produce consistently. Games like this are a very promising sign for him. The rest of the rotation was more productive against the Cavs and Magic, and the Mavs will need those guys to produce decent numbers to stay competitive. They have been producing for most of the year, so there’s little reason to believe the Knicks game was anything more than a clunker. Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr, Dwight Powell, Jalen Brunson, and Justin Jackson all scored in double figures to end the week against Memphis with Porzingis out to further confirm this idea.
- San Antonio Spurs (5-4)
Last Week: 9(↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Lakers (L, 96-103), Hawks (L, 100-108), Thunder (W, 121-112), Celtics (L, 115-135)
Next Week’s Games: Celtics, Grizzlies, @Timberwolves, @Magic
The Spurs lost a close game to the Lakers, collapsed in the fourth against Trae Young and the Hawks, beat the Thunder with a strong third quarter, and got beaten pretty badly by the Celtics. As is typically the case with the Spurs, a lot of guys contributed. Dejounte Murray had 18 points and 11 rebounds against the Lakers and 17 points, 10 assists, and 8 boards against the Thunder. LaMarcus Aldridge dropped 39 on OKC. DeMar DeRozan averaged 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game against the Lakers, Hawks, and Thunder and dropped 22 on the Celtics. Trey Lyles averaged 8 points and 8 rebounds against Atlanta and Oklahoma City. Bryn Forbes averaged 14.3 points, Patty Mills averaged 12.5 points, and Rudy Gay went for 16 points and 10 rebounds against the Lakers. Some guys have struggled out of the gates. Derrick White is scoring more efficiently, but still needs to improve his all-around game. Jakob Poeltl has been pretty ineffective, and Marco Bellinelli has been bad, with Lonnie Walker so far unable to take his minutes. It wasn’t a great week for San Antonio, but it’s not the end of the world. After a quick start, they’ve ended up right around the 8 seed, where they will likely be for most, if not all, of the year.
- Houston Rockets (6-3)
Last Week: 6 (↓5)
Last Week’s Games: Heat (L, 100-129), Grizzlies (W, 107-100), Warriors (W, 129-112), Bulls (W, 117-94)
Next Week’s Games: @Pelicans, Clippers, Pacers
The Rockets have the best offense in the league by net rating. They have the third worst defense in the league by net rating. As a result, they’re in the bottom half of the league in total net rating and average point differential. We’ll start with the great offense, which is happening despite a variety of struggles. Due to slowly updating statistic pages, all of these stats are based on pre-Bulls numbers. James Harden had a disastrous shooting start. Russell Westbrook is hitting 25% of his threes. Eric Gordon has been abysmal. Clint Capela’s offensive rebounding rate is noticeably down, as he grabbed 14.4% of available offensive rebounds last year (very good) but is only at 9% so far this season (pretty average). Despite all of that, Harden is averaging 36.5 points and 8.1 assists per game and shot 43% from the field and 39% from deep this week. Westbrook has been very good offensively, averaging 20.7 points and 8.7 assists per game to go with 9.6 rebounds and improved overall shooting despite struggling from three. Capela is almost averaging a double-double and is shooting 61.3% from the field. Danuel House has been excellent, hitting 46% of his threes, and PJ Tucker, Austin Rivers, Chris Clemons, and Ben McLemore have all pitched in offensively. The offense is in a great spot. The defense is another story, as 5 of 8 teams have easily outperformed their season scoring averages in games against Houston. The Warriors topped theirs too, although by less than a point. The only teams that haven’t are the young Grizzlies and the Bucks, in an incredibly sloppy opener. Last year’s team wasn’t great defensively, finishing 17th in defensive rating, but they were at least average. So what happened? Gordon, McLemore, Rivers, and Clemons have terrible individual defensive ratings this year. Harden, Tucker, and Westbrook have all seen their defensive ratings drop too. This likely isn’t on them as individuals; for example, Draymond Green’s terrible defensive rating is mostly an indicator of terrible team defense in Golden State, and the odds of Gordon, Rivers, Harden, Westbrook and Tucker all becoming significantly worse defenders in a single offseason are low. One likely explanation for the poor defense is the change in pace of play, as Houston is the second fastest team in the league this season after being one of the slowest last year. Going into the Chicago game, the Rockets were allowing 19 points per game in transition in road games, which would be the most per game overall. Losses to the Nets and Heat, as well as the 159-158 win over the Wizards, happened on the road. There have been plenty of holes in the halfcourt defense as well, and that could be an issue with conditioning and effort. Whatever the reasons for the defensive struggles are, Houston needs to find a fix sooner rather than later. They looked to make some progress late in the week, but the Bulls and Grizzlies aren’t offensive juggernauts. We’ll see.
- Toronto Raptors (6-2)
Last Week: 12(↑2)
Last Week’s Games: Bucks (L, 105-115), Kings (W, 124-120), Pelicans (W, 122-104)
Next Week’s Games: @Lakers, @Clippers, @Trail Blazers
The Raptors didn’t have a particularly impressive week, but they took care of business. They’re 4th in the league in both net rating and point differential. They still don’t have a signature win this year, as they’ve come up short against both the Bucks and Celtics, but they will have the chance to prove they belong here this week. Pascal Siakim (44), OG Anuoby, and Norm Powell (18) carried Toronto past the Pelicans. Against Sacramento, the effort was a little more well-rounded. Siakim had 23 points and 13 boards, Anuoby had 18 points, 5 assists, and 6 boards, Kyle Lowry had 24 points and 6 assists, and Serge Ibaka had 21 points and 6 boards. Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol were also solid. Lowry scored 36 against the Bucks, which gave the Raptors a shot late in the game, but they didn’t have quite enough to beat Milwaukee. To be taken seriously as a contender, they will need to win games like that. With Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka both getting hurt against the Pelicans, that will be difficult.
- Phoenix Suns (5-3)
Last Week: 14 (↑5)
Last Week’s Games: Grizzlies (W, 114-105), 76ers (W, 114-109), Heat (L, 108-124)
Next Week’s Games: Nets, Lakers, Hawks
Phoenix continued their surprising start with a win over the 76ers. They were outgunned by the Heat to close the week, but that’s an easily forgivable loss at this point. The Suns are 6th in average point differential and net rating. There’s no disputing how good this team has been to this point. Aron Baynes is vastly improved and has been one of the best free agent additions of the summer. He’s averaging 16 points and 6 boards on 47% from three, and is ranked in the top 10 among all players in TS%, eFG%, offensive rating, offensive win shares, win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, offensive box +/-, box +/-, and VORP (value over replacement player). Ricky Rubio has been fantastic at the point, providing necessary playmaking on the way to 12.4 points, 8.1 assists, and a career-high 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting a respectable 35% from deep and playing great defense. Devin Booker kept up his improved efficiency this week, averaging 27.7 points per game on an incredible 64.4% shooting from the field and 73% from deep. Kelly Oubre Jr. continued to produce. Dario Saric, Tyler Johnson, Frank Kaminsky, and Jevon Carter played solid minutes, and Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges both contributed this week. Of course, there’s a chance that all of this comes crashing down, as the players Phoenix depends on have never really produced at their current level. I hope they keep it up, because the underdog Suns are really easy to root for right now.
- Miami Heat (6-3)
Last Week: 13 (↑5)
Last Week’s Games Rockets (W, 129-100), Nuggets (L, 89-109), @Suns (W, 124-108), @Lakers (L, 80-95)
Next Week’s Games: Pistons, @Cavs
The Heat had a crazy week, splitting 4 games against good teams, with all of them decided by 15 points or more. They’re fifth in net rating and average point differential. This is a good basketball team. Jimmy Butler is averaging 19 points, 6.5 boards, and 5.5 assists per game. Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro are still averaging over 16 and 13 points respectively despite week-long slumps. Bam Adebayo continued to produce in a variety of areas, Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson, and the bench continued to shine, and Justise Winslow only played one game this week. The Heat are clearly one of the top 5 teams in the East right now, and they should be there to stay.
- Boston Celtics (7-1)
Last Week: 11 (↑4)
Last Week’s Games: Cavs (W, 119-113), Hornets (W, 108-87), Spurs (W, 135-115)
Next Week’s Games: Mavs, Wizards, @Warriors
Going into Saturday, I was going to focus on how Gordon Hayward, my preseason MIP pick, was back. He went into San Antonio averaging 20.3 points, 8 rebounds, and 4.6 assists while shooting a career-best 56% from the field and a career-second-best 44% from three. He was playing defense as well as he ever has, and he dropped a career-high 39 on the Cavs. Then he fractured his hand after running into LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s a nightmare scenario for the Celtics, who will now be left without the man who had been their best player this season. Jayson Tatum has made noticeable improvements in his scoring, perimeter shooting, and rebounding, but is still under 2 assists per game. His overall field goal percentage has dropped as well. Jaylen Brown has made jumps in his scoring, overall efficiency, and rebounding. He dropped 30 on the Spurs, but he is shooting very poorly from three, and is also still under 2 assists per game. These two have still been doing fairly well, and there have been a lot of other positives so far for Boston. Kemba Walker is adjusting fairly well and still has room to grow. Marcus Smart is doing Marcus Smart things, and young guys like Brad Wanamaker, Carsen Edwards, Robert Williams, and Grant Williams are quickly gaining experience. The Celtics are tied with the Lakers for the best record in the league and are second in both net rating and average point differential. It is worth noting that their 7-1 start has featured 4 wins against the Knicks, Cavs, and Hornets. This is a good team, but it’s still not clear that they’re great, especially with Hayward sidelined.
- Philadelphia 76ers (5-3)
Last Week: 1 (↓5)
Last Week’s Games: Trail Blazers (W, 129-128), Suns (L, 109-114), Jazz (L, 104-106), Nuggets (L, 97-100)
Next Week’s Games: Hornets, Cavs, @Magic, @Thunder
The Sixers went on a four-game Western road trip, and it didn’t go all that well. Joel Embiid missed the first two games of the trip after he fought Karl Anthony Towns. Ben Simmons went down against the Jazz and will likely miss a few more games. The on-court play wasn’t great this week either. Obviously the schedule played a part in that, but the Sixers showed this week that they are not the best team in the East. Simmons struggled against the Suns (6 points, 6 assists, 5 boards) after a solid performance against the Trail Blazers. Al Horford averaged 28.5 points per game against Portland and Phoenix before only scoring 15 total points over the last two games of the week. Josh Richardson had an up-and-down week as well. Embiid and Tobias Harris were the lone consistent members of the starting lineup. Embiid played well (23 points and 15.5 rebounds per game) when he did play and Harris was solid all week. The bench wasn’t all that productive either, and a good percentage of their impact came from spot starts in place of Embiid and Simmons. A bad road trip isn’t the end of the world, but this was still a disappointing week for Philadelphia.
- Denver Nuggets (6-2)
Last Week: 5 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Magic (W, 91-87), Heat (W, 109-89), 76ers (W, 100-97)
Next Week’s Games: @Timberwolves, Hawks, Nets
The Nuggets won three out of three this week, and that’s enough to keep them in the 5th spot despite underwhelming net rating (12th) and point differential (10th) rankings. Paul Millsap averaged 11.3 points and 8 boards per game, Nikola Jokic put up 20 twice with solid rebounding and passing numbers, Jamal Murray put up 21.7 points per game and threw in 11 assists against the Sixers, and Will Barton averaged 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds after returning from injury against the Heat. Denver is deep, and they got solid performances from a variety of players this week. It still feels like they could be better, and that’s a good thing for a 6-2 team early in the season.
- Utah Jazz (6-3)
Last Week: 7 (↑3)
Last Week’s Games: Clippers (L, 94-105), 76ers (W, 106-104), Bucks (W, 103-100 OT)
Next Week’s Games: @Warriors, Nets, @Grizzlies
The Jazz have the 2nd best defense by defensive rating and the 27th best offense by offensive rating. They’re so high because of just how good the defense is and because of the room for improvement the offense has. This was the first week of the season with complete health for Bogdan Bogdanovic, and he was great, averaging 24 points per game and hitting the game-winning buzzer-beater against the Bucks. Donovan Mitchell one-upped him averaging 26.3 points and 6.7 assists per game. Rudy Gobert and Royce O’Neal had solid weeks. Mike Conley Jr. continued to show signs of emerging with the Jazz, and Joe Ingles also showed signs of returning to form. The Jazz are in a good place right now, and like the Nuggets, it feels like they have plenty of room for improvement.
- Milwaukee Bucks (6-3)
Last Week: 3(-)
Last Week’s Games: Raptors (W, 115-105), Timberwolves (W, 134-106), Clippers (W, 129-124), Jazz (L, 100-103 OT)
Next Week’s Games: @Thunder, Bulls
The Bucks are third in average point differential and net rating, sixth in offensive rating, and eighth in defensive rating. The Raptors and Celtics are the only other teams in the league to place in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Milwaukee had the top spot locked down before an unfortunate night in Salt Lake City that saw them score under 40 points in the first half before coming all the way back just to fall at the buzzer in overtime. As losses go, this one isn’t a bad one despite how it felt as it happened. The Bucks outclassed the Raptors, destroyed the KAT-less Timberwolves, and handled the Kawhi-less Clippers on the road. During the Clippers game, Giannis became the first player ever to record 200 points, 100 rebounds, and 50 assists in the first 8 games of the season. He followed that accomplishment with 30 points, 13 boards, and 4 assists against the Jazz despite a poor first half. He is the best, most complete player in the league right now. Eric Bledsoe looked great this week, putting up 19.5 points, 4.5 assists, and 7.8 boards per game. Khris Middleton has struggled in the clutch this year, and his passing numbers are down. He’s doing slightly better as a scorer, however. Brook Lopez has continued to find his groove from deep, George Hill has thrived off the bench, and Donte DiVincenzo and Sterling Brown have broken into an already strong and deep rotation. The Bucks are in a great spot, and the schedule gets a little easier over the next couple weeks.
- Los Angeles Clippers (6-3)
Last Week: 2(-)
Last Week’s Games: Jazz (W, 105-94), Bucks (L, 124-129), Trail Blazers (W, 107-101)
Next Week’s Games: Raptors, @Rockets, Pelicans
The Clippers are 6-3 without Paul George. Two of their three losses have come with Kawhi Leonard sitting out for rest. Regardless of how you feel about Leonard’s rest program (anyone who can average 29 points, 8 boards, 5 assists, and 2 steals per game is healthy enough to play every game), it’s really hard to see the Clippers as anything but a very strong title contender. Leonard is a monster. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are the most productive bench duo in the league (44 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists per game combined). Patrick Beverly is playing as well as he’s ever played defensively, and his 20 points against the Bucks means he could soon emerge from his early season offensive slump. Landry Shamet hit 40% of his threes this week after struggling early. The bench is deep, and a team that has already beaten the Lakers, Blazers, Spurs, and Jazz is getting Paul George back any day now. George is coming off a year in which he averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game on 39% shooting from deep while leading the league in steals (2.2 per game). He is, more or less, another Kawhi. I would not want to play these guys when he’s back to full strength.
- Los Angeles Lakers (7-1)
Last Week: 4 (↑3)
Last Week’s Games: Spurs (W, 103-96), Bulls (W, 118-112), Heat (W, 95-80)
Next Week’s Games: Raptors, @Suns, Warriors, Kings
The Lakers deserve the top spot for now. They have the best defense in the league by defensive rating, and their dominant showing against the Heat showed why. They lead the league in net rating and average point differential. Lebron James had two more triple-doubles this week. Anthony Davis still isn’t making threes, but he had his best passing performance of the year against the Heat. He averaged 22 points and just under 9 boards per game this week. Dwight Howard has continued to look rejuvenated, and JaVale McGee has been doing pretty well in limited minutes. Wing guys like Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Danny Green have done just enough, and Kyle Kuzma should provide a boost as he works his way back into game shape. The offense is very dependent on Lebron right now, but he’s shown so far that he can still handle it. It’s good to be a Los Angeles Laker right now.