NBA POWER RANKINGS
We’re right around the quarter mark of the NBA season, as most teams have played somewhere between 18 and 20 games. This means that there have been enough games to draw some conclusions about how the league will stack out this year. With that in mind, and in honor of Thanksgiving, we’re going to take a look at one thing that each NBA team should be thankful for so far this season.
- Golden State Warriors (4-16)
Last Week: 30 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Thunder (L, 97-100), Bulls (W, 104-90), Heat (L, 105-122)
Next Week’s Games: @Magic, @Hawks, @Hornets, @Bulls
The Warriors should be thankful for Eric Paschall. The rookie from Villanova has stepped up with all of the injuries around him. He’s averaging 17 points and 5.2 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field. Paschall is second among all rookies in points per game, fourth in rebounds per game, and fifth in field goal percentage. He’s also third in PER, and he should be a part of Golden State’s rotation going into the future. This is a lost year for the Warriors in terms of wins and losses; they’re really, really bad. The progress they make will come in player development, and Paschall’s start has been very promising in that regard.
- New York Knicks (4-15)
Last Week: 29 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Spurs (L, 104-111), Nets (L, 101-103), Raptors (L, 98-126), 76ers (L, 95-101)
Next Week’s Games: Celtics, @Bucks, Nuggets
The Knicks don’t have much to be thankful for, so we’ll look at the third-year emergence of Frank Ntilikina. At 6.7 points, 3.6 assists, and 2.3 rebounds in 27 minutes per game, Ntilikina isn’t exactly putting up numbers, though he is averaging a solid 1.5 steals per game. Still, the advanced stats show a clear jump. After offensive ratings of 88 and 89 in his first two seasons, Ntilikina is at 103 so far this year. After posting negative win shares in his first two seasons, Ntilikina is already at a positive 0.5 this year. The Knicks are 10 points better per 100 possessions with Ntilikina on the court. They’re still losing by 2.8 points per 100 possessions when he’s playing, but that’s better than losing by 12.8 points per 100 possessions.
- Memphis Grizzlies (5-13)
Last Week: 28 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Lakers (L, 108-109), Pacers (L, 114-126), Clippers (L, 119-121), Jazz (L, 94-103)
Next Week’s Games: @Timberwolves, Pacers, @Bulls
The Grizzlies should be thankful for Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke, who have been incredibly promising in their rookie seasons. Morant is leading all rookies in points (18.7), assists (6.4), and alpha moments (45 by my unofficial count). He’s also second in steals (1.35) and PER (17.06). Clarke has been wildly efficient, leading all rookies in PER (17.18) and field goal percentage (64.34%) and ranking second in 3PT%, hitting 47.62% of his deep attempts. He’s also seventh in scoring (12.5) and first in rebounding (6.2). Morant and Clarke should be fixtures in Memphis for years to come.
- Atlanta Hawks (4-15)
Last Week: 25 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Raptors (L, 116-119), Timberwolves (L, 113-125), Bucks (L, 102-111), Pacers (L, 104-105 OT)
Next Week’s Games: @Rockets, Warriors, Nets
The Hawks should be thankful for their youth, which offers a reason for hope during this rough on-court season. Atlanta has lost 15 of 17, and 9 in a row, after a 2-0 start. On the bright side, there’s reason to believe the future is bright. Trae Young has been fantastic, averaging 27.9 points and 8.4 assists per game on improved shooting numbers. Cam Reddish, Bruno Fernando, De’Andre Hunter, and Kevin Huerter are all 21 or younger. Jabari Parker is only 24, and he’s had a very promising season, averaging 17.1 points and 6.7 rebounds. John Collins has also missed the last 14 games, so the Hawks probably aren’t this bad right now, either.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (5-13)
Last Week: 26 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Trail Blazers (W, 110-104), Nets (L, 106-108), Magic (L, 104-116), Bucks (L, 110-119)
Next Week’s Games: Pistons, Magic
The Cavs should be thankful for Colin Sexton and Darius Garland, who are taking steps towards being the backcourt of the future in Cleveland. Sexton has been continually improving his scoring efficiency over the first season plus of his career. He’s averaging 17.8 points per game and has shown signs of being a better passer and defender this season. Garland has struggled at times early, but he has also flashed a lot of potential as a scorer, shooter, and playmaker.
- Chicago Bulls (6-14)
Last Week: 24 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Hornets (W, 116-115), Trail Blazers (L, 94-117), Warriors (L, 90-104), Trail Blazers (L, 103-107)
Next Week’s Games: @Kings, Grizzlies, Warriors
The Bulls should be thankful for the hope they have left with their youth. It’s been a wildly disappointing season for the Bulls, who have really struggled out of the gate in what was supposed to be a promising year. Lauri Markannen has not taken a step at all, and Zach LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr. have not been enough to get wins despite decent starts. There is still plenty of youth in Chicago though, so hope remains.
- Detroit Pistons (6-13)
Last Week: 21 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Bucks (L, 90-104), Magic (W, 103-88), Hornets (L, 101-102), Hornets (L, 107-110)
Next Week’s Games: Spurs, @Cavs, Bucks, Pacers
The Pistons should be thankful that they only have one more game against the Hornets. In three games against Charlotte this year, the Pistons are 0-3 with losses of 3, 1, and 3. The other 16 games haven’t been great either, but the 3 games against the Hornets have been especially painful.
- Charlotte Hornets (8-12)
Last Week: 27 (↑4)
Last Week’s Games: Bulls (L, 115-116), Heat (L, 100-117), Pistons (W, 102-101), Pistons (W, 110-107)
Next Week’s Games: @Bucks, Suns, Warriors, Nets
The Hornets should be thankful for close games. 9 of their 20 games have been decided by 5 points or less. In those games, Charlotte is 6-3. In games decided by 5 or more, Charlotte is 2-9. That’s not a sustainable method of success, but the Hornets should enjoy it while it lasts.
- Washington Wizards (6-11)
Last Week: 23 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Kings (L, 106-113), Nuggets (L, 104-117), Suns (W, 140-132), Lakers (L, 103-125)
Next Week’s Games: @Clippers, Magic, 76ers, @Heat
The Wizards should be thankful for Bradley Beal, who showed a strong commitment to the franchise this offseason when he signed a long-term contract to stay in Washington. Beal is averaging 28.3 points, 7.1 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game, making him one of 6 players in the league averaging more than 25 points and 7 assists. With Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura, Mo Wagner, and others showing promise this season, the Wizards will be interesting with the return of John Wall next season.
- New Orleans Pelicans (6-13)
Last Week: 20 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Clippers (L, 109-134), Lakers (L, 110-114), Thunder (L, 104-109)
Next Week’s Games: Thunder, Mavs, Suns
The Pelicans should be thankful their playoff chances are still alive. Zion Williamson hasn’t played a game (he’ll be back in December). Derrick Favors, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Jahlil Okafor have all missed at least 7 games. Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick struggled early. The Pelicans are still only 2.5 games out of the playoffs. It’s not over yet, and there’s plenty of reason to believe they can get better from here.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (7-11)
Last Week: 22 (↑2)
Last Week’s Games: Warriors (W, 100-97), Trail Blazers (L, 119-136), Pelicans (W, 114-109)
Next Week’s Games: @Pelicans, Pacers, Timberwolves
The Thunder should be thankful for the Clippers and Rockets, who gave them 7 combined first-round picks and an additional 4 pick swaps this summer in respective trades for Paul George and Russell Westbrook. The haul didn’t stop there either, as OKC also received Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul, and Danillo Gallinari. Those three have made the Thunder respectable this year (16th in net rating and T-15th in average point differential). Gilgeous-Alexander figures to be a foundational piece well into the future, and Paul and Gallinari are potential trade chips to add to the stash of picks that the Thunder can use to build a team around Gilgeous-Alexander.
- Orlando Magic (7-11)
Last Week: 16 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Pacers (L, 106-111), Pistons (L, 88-103), Cavs (W, 116-104), Raptors (L, 83-90)
Next Week’s Games: Warriors, @Wizards, Suns, @Cavs
The Magic should be thankful for Jonathan Isaac, who has been a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing start. Isaac has taken another step offensively, averaging 13 points per game. He’s still not great on that end, but a team that’s last in the league in offensive rating will take what it can get. Isaac is also averaging a career-high 7.3 rebounds per game to go with an elite 4.1 stocks (steals + blocks). He is second in the league in block rate, blocks per game, and defensive box +/-, eighth in defensive rating, and twelfth in defensive win shares. His defensive potential was always there, but he could be elite with a decent offensive game. He’s taking steps in that direction right now.
- San Antonio Spurs (7-13)
Last Week: 19 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Knicks (W, 111-104), Lakers (L, 104-114), Timberwolves (L, 101-113), Clippers (W, 107-97)
Next Week’s Games: @Pistons, Rockets, Kings
The Spurs should be thankful that they’ve made the playoffs the last 22 years because they might not make the playoffs this year. San Antonio is currently the 12 seed in the West, 2 games back of the 8 seed. Additionally, the Pelicans are sitting in the 13 seed, and they’ve been dealing with injuries all year. There’s reason to believe that the Pelicans will improve just by getting healthy. The Spurs have had no injury issues. Any improvement will need to come from the guys that have been playing all year. It’s a tall order, but if anyone can figure it out, it’s Gregg Popovich.
- Sacramento Kings (7-10)
Last Week: 17 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Wizards (W, 113-106), Celtics (L, 102-103), 76ers (L, 91-97)
Next Week’s Games: Nuggets, Bulls, @Trail Blazers, @Spurs
The Kings should be thankful for the Warriors, Trail Blazers, and Spurs. The struggles of these 3 teams, all expected playoff teams headed into the year, has opened the door for Sacramento to recover from their own poor start. The Kings are currently sitting only half a game out of the playoffs despite a 7-10 start. The West is not quite as deep as it seemed, at least right now.
- Portland Trail Blazers (8-12)
Last Week: 18 (↑2)
Last Week’s Games: Cavs (L, 104-110), Bulls (W, 117-94), Thunder (W, 136-119), Bulls (W, 107-103)
Next Week’s Games: @Clippers, Kings, Lakers
The Trail Blazers should be thankful for the Bulls and Thunder, who have given them 4 of their 8 wins so far. Against all other teams, Portland is 4-12. That’s not good, and it makes it hard to believe that this 3-1 week was a sign of future success.
- Brooklyn Nets (10-9)
Last Week: 15 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Knicks (W, 103-101), Cavs (W, 108-106), Celtics (L, 110-121), Celtics (W, 112-107)
Next Week’s Games: Heat, @Hawks, @Hornets
The Nets should be thankful for a weak Eastern Conference, which will likely guarantee them a playoff spot if they can just hit 41 wins on the year. Considering that the Hornets, at 8-12, are currently in the 8 seed, they might not even need that many wins. Kyrie Irving has missed 8 games in a row. Caris LeVert has missed more. The Nets are still chugging along because they’re mediocre. That’s enough in the East. Spencer Dinwiddie has recovered from a rough start to average 20.2 points per game so far this season, and he gets an honorable mention here.
- Phoenix Suns (8-10)
Last Week: 12 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Timberwolves (W, 100-98), Nuggets (L, 104-116), Wizards (L, 132-140), Mavs (L, 113-120)
Next Week’s Games: @Hornets, @Magic, @Pelicans
The Suns should be thankful for Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes, who have been a big part of the team’s improvement. Phoenix has lost 6 of 7, but Rubio and Baynes have only combined for 5 games played across those 7 games. When two key pieces miss a combined 9 games in a 7-game stretch, that stretch likely won’t go all that well. Both Rubio (13.5 points, 7.8 assists, 38% from deep) and Baynes (14.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 44% from deep) are back now, and the Suns should start to win a few more games here.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (10-8)
Last Week: 14 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Suns (L, 98-100), Hawks (W, 125-113), Spurs (W, 113-101)
Next Week’s Games: Grizzlies, @Mavs, @Thunder
The Timberwolves should be thankful for Andrew Wiggins, who has been more than an empty calorie scorer for the longest stretch of his career early on this season. Wiggins is averaging a career-high 25.3 points on improved shooting numbers, and he’s also posting career-highs in rebounds (5.4) and assists (3.3) per game. His PER of 20.1 is 3.6 points higher than his previous high, which has to mean something. If the Timberwolves are going to stay in the playoff field, Wiggins will need to keep it up.
- Indiana Pacers (12-6)
Last Week: 13 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Magic (W, 111-106), Grizzlies (W, 126-114), Jazz (W, 121-102), Hawks (W, 105-104 OT)
Next Week’s Games: @76ers, @Grizzlies, @Thunder, @Pistons
The Pacers should be thankful for their easy schedule and a weak Eastern Conference. Indiana has had the weakest schedule in the league so far, and it’s allowed them to go 12-6 despite injuries to Victor Oladipo (missed 18 games), Jeremy Lamb (missed 9 games), and Myles Turner (missed 8 games). The weak East should help the Pacers stay in the playoffs even as the schedule gets harder. The Hornets, at 8-12, are currently in the 8 seed.
- Miami Heat (13-5)
Last Week: 8 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: 76ers (L, 86-113), Hornets (L, 100-117), Rockets (L, 108-117), Warriors (W, 122-105)
Next Week’s Games: @Nets, @Raptors, @Celtics, Wizards
The Heat should be thankful for Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson. Nunn is averaging 16.4 points and 3.2 assists per game on 40% shooting from deep after spending last year in the G League. He might be the best rookie not named Ja Morant, though RJ Barret certainly has something to say about that. Herro has been a bucket so far, averaging 15.1 points per game on 41% from deep. He’s not far behind Nunn in the Rookie of the Year chase. Robinson has turned into a solid player in his second year, averaging roughly 11 points per game on 42% from deep. These three were not expected to produce anywhere near their current numbers, and their emergence has turned the Heat from a playoff contender to a clear playoff team with a chance to reach higher.
- Philadelphia 76ers (13-6)
Last Week: 11 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Heat (W, 113-86), Raptors (L, 96-101), Kings (W, 97-91), Knicks (W, 101-95)
Next Week’s Games: Pacers, Jazz, @Wizards
The 76ers should be thankful that most of the media picked them to win the East. That means that all of those people are going to do whatever they can to avoid talking about Philadelphia’s disappointing start. On the bright side, the Sixers have talent. They just need to teach that talent how to shoot.
- Dallas Mavericks (12-6)
Last Week: 9 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Rockets (W, 137-123), Clippers (L, 99-114), Suns (W, 120-113)
Next Week’s Games: @Lakers, @Pelicans, Timberwolves
The Mavs should be thankful for Luka Doncic. He recently became the third player in NBA history to average a 30 point triple-double over a full month. He’s also 20. Don’t need to say anything more than that. Doncic should be a star for a long, long time. Dirk was an absolute legend, and it takes another legend to move on from him. Luka can be that legend.
- Houston Rockets (12-6)
Last Week: 7 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Mavs (L, 123-137), Heat (W, 117-108)
Next Week’s Games: Hawks, @Spurs, @Raptors
The Rockets should be thankful for the end of the Warriors dynasty (for this year at least). Golden State has been the one big thing keeping Houston from the Finals over the last few years. New powers have emerged on the West Coast, but the mental block provided by the Warriors won’t be there this summer. Houston has the opposite of an easy path to the Finals, but they can rest easy knowing that path won’t include Golden State.
- Utah Jazz (12-7)
Last Week: 5 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Pelicans (W, 128-120), Bucks (L, 118-122), Pacers (L, 102-121), Grizzlies (W, 103-94)
Next Week’s Games: @Raptors, @76ers, Lakers
The Jazz should be thankful for Bojan Bogdanovic, who has been very good. This is in sharp contrast to their other big offseason addition, Mike Conley, who has not been very good. Bogdanovic is averaging a career-high 22.1 points per game on 47% from three, another career-high. The Jazz are 14.3 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor. He’s been everything Utah expected him to be. Conley hasn’t been terrible, but he’s fallen well short of expectations.
- Toronto Raptors (14-4)
Last Week: 10 (↑4)
Last Week’s Games: Hawks (W, 119-116), 76ers (W, 101-96), Knicks (W, 126-98), Magic (W, 90-83)
Next Week’s Games: Jazz, Heat, Rockets
The Raptors should be thankful for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, who helped to make a winning culture a championship culture, won a Larry O’ Brian trophy, and then left the Raptors with no expectations or pressure after their offseason departures. Toronto has responded with a fantastic start, coming into the weekend with the 2 seed in the East. They’ve won 10 of 12 despite injuries to Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, and they’ll be getting both of those guys back soon. Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, and OG Anunoby have been leading the charge, with a deeper than expected bench backing them up.
- Boston Celtics (13-5)
Last Week: 6 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Kings(W, 103-102), Nets (W, 121-110), Nets (L, 107-112)
Next Week’s Games: @Knicks, Heat, Nuggets
The Celtics should be thankful for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who have both taken steps this year. Tatum has hit the 20 points per game mark, and he’s averaging a career-high 7.2 rebounds per game. Brown is averaging clear career highs in points (18.7) and rebounds (7.3) while hitting a career-high 48.4% of his shots. These two have allowed Boston to stay afloat with injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker. When Hayward comes back, the Celtics will have a chance to make some noise down the stretch and into the playoffs.
- Los Angeles Clippers (14-6)
Last Week: 4 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Pelicans (W, 134-109), Mavs (W, 114-99), Grizzlies (W, 121-119), Spurs (L, 97-107)
Next Week’s Games: Wizards, Trail Blazers, @Bucks
The Clippers should be thankful for Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, who are the key to Los Angeles’s chances to take home a title. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are stars, but Williams and Harrell provide the secondary production that this team needs. They are the only players other than George and Leonard to be averaging double digit points (40.3 points per game combined). Williams leads the team is assists per game, and Harrell is second to Leonard in rebounds per game. With Leonard’s rest program, these two will also be key in the playoff seeding battle. They’ve both played in each of the 20 games so far this season (Leonard and George have played in 23 combined).
- Denver Nuggets (13-3)
Last Week: 3 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Suns (W, 116-104), Wizards (W, 117-104)
Next Week’s Games: @Kings, Lakers, @Knicks, @Celtics
The Nuggets should be thankful for Paul Millsap and Will Barton, two veterans that have been huge parts of Denver’s hot start. Millsap is putting up solid numbers, but his shooting (49% from three) has been especially important. He’s posting the highest offensive rating (126) of his career, and the Nuggets are 19.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. Barton is averaging 15.5 points (2nd highest in his career), 3.4 assists (T-2nd) and 7 rebounds (1st) while shooting 46% from the field (1st) and 45% from three (1st). He is posting the best offensive rating, defensive rating, win shares per 48 minutes, and box +/- of his career, and the Nuggets are 22.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. Denver is not anywhere close to 13-3 without Millsap and Barton.
- Los Angeles Lakers (17-2)
Last Week: 1 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Grizzlies (W, 109-108), Spurs (W, 114-104), Pelicans (W, 114-110), Wizards (W, 125-103)
Next Week’s Games: Mavs, @Nuggets, @Jazz, @Trail Blazers
The Lakers should be thankful for LeBron’s genetics, which have allowed him to hold off Father Time in a way that we rarely see. At 34, James is averaging 25.7 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds per game. Karl Malone and Michael Jordan are the only guys to have won an MVP at the age of 34 or older (both were 35). LeBron might not win it this year because of the wealth of stars in the league, but he’s clearly playing at that level. The Lakers need him to, as Kyle Kuzma has struggled to find his role out of the gate while Anthony Davis hasn’t taken steps as a shooter or passer. Davis is still a top-10 player, but the Lakers aren’t the Western Conference favorites if LeBron isn’t playing like this.
- Milwaukee Bucks (16-3)
Last Week: 2 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Pistons (W, 104-90), Jazz (W, 122-118), Hawks (W, 111-102), Cavs (W, 119-110)
Next Week’s Games: Hornets, Knicks, @Pistons, Clippers
The Bucks should be thankful for Giannis. I’ll just leave this here.