NBA POWER RANKINGS
In celebration of Finals Week here at Michigan, we’re going to grade each NBA team on their performance so far this year. The season is a little past the quarter mark, and the grades will be based on the expectations of the team rather than actual on-court performance. For example, the Grizzlies and Warriors do not have good records, but their season goals, at this point, have little to do with wins and losses. Their grade will reflect that. Additionally, these grades are solely based on the beginning of this season. Atlanta’s grade, for instance, is based on their early season failures and not a lack of belief in their future. An F means total failure. A C means you’re putting up some incredibly boring results. An A means things are going about as well as possible. If you’re confused about a grade, then it’s probably because these are completely arbitrary. Let’s get to it.
- Golden State Warriors (5-22)
Last Week: 29 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Grizzlies (L, 102-110), Knicks (L, 122-124 OT), Jazz (L, 106-114)
Next Week’s Games: Kings, @TrailBlazers, Pelicans
The Warriors get a C. Based on preseason expectations, this grade would obviously be much lower, as Golden State came into the year looking at a lower playoff seed with the potential to make some noise in the playoffs. When Steph broke his hand, those expectations went down the drain, and the Warriors really can’t be faulted for that. Throw in well over 30 combined absences from D’Angelo Russell, Draymond Green, and Kevon Looney, and you’ve got a basketball team that’s not going to win many games. The Warriors haven’t been as bad as they could be, as they’re only bottom 5 in net rating and point differential rather than last, but this team hasn’t exactly been inspiring either. A C seems appropriate.
- New York Knicks (6-20)
Last Week: 30 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Pacers (L, 103-104), Trail Blazers (L, 87-115), Warriors (W, 124-122 OT), Kings (W, 103-101)
Next Week’s Games: @Nuggets, Hawks, @Heat
The Knicks get an F. I don’t know if a dumpster fire can really underperform its expectations, but if any dumpster fire can, it’s this one. The Knicks are last in the league in offensive rating, net rating, and average point differential. Shoutout to their defense, which is thriving at 24th in defensive rating.
- Atlanta Hawks (6-20)
Last Week: 27 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Hornets (W, 122-107), Heat (L, 121-135 OT), Bulls (L, 102-136), Pacers (L, 100-110)
Next Week’s Games: Lakers, @Knicks, Jazz
The Hawks get a D+. Trae Young deserves better, but he’s not getting it right now. The Hawks were an “if everything goes right” playoff contender this year, so being out of the playoff chase isn’t the end of the world. The problem is how they’ve fallen. Atlanta has lost 20 of 24, with 14 of those losses coming by double digits. Two of those double digit losses came in overtime, which doesn’t really make them seem any better. No one from the (very) young core outside of Young has really stepped up this year. De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish have single digit PERs (15 is league average), Kevin Huerter has struggled with injuries, and John Collins was suspended for 25 games for PED use. He’ll return in 10 days, and the Hawks will likely be better as a result, but his suspension is part of a larger problem in Atlanta. This is still a young team with a ton of potential, but they need a lot to go right to make good on it. That’s the problem with potential. There’s only so much that you can do to set it up. At some point, it actually has to happen. No one should be worried quite yet, and there’s still plenty of reason to believe the Hawks will be contenders very soon. But this season has really opened the door to the possibility of this team failing to reach the places it could go.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (6-19)
Last Week: 26 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: 76ers (L, 94-141), Celtics (L, 88-110), Rockets (L, 110-116), Spurs (W, 117-109 OT)
Next Week’s Games: @Bucks, @Raptors, Hornets, Grizzlies
If the Hawks get a D+, the Cavs get a C-. Like the Hawks, the Cavs are a young team that has time to improve before their expected window of competition opens. Also like the Hawks, the Cavs have done some things this year that puts that window at risk. To start with, they’ve lost seven games by 20 or more points, with an additional three losses coming by 17-19 points. That’s not an encouraging sign for a team that is supposed to be producing optimism. The controversy around new coach John Beilein after anonymous criticism from within the locker room isn’t a good luck either, as this team will need Beilein’s development skills to get to where they want to be with their young pieces. Here’s why the Cavs grade is a little different than the Hawks – their future roster is very much in flux. Even though the Hawks are really young, they have a lot of the pieces that are expected to take them to the next level already on the roster (Collins, Young, Hunter, Huerter, Reddish, Bruno Fernando, etc.). The Cavs have three young guards (Colin Sexton, Darius Garland, and Kevin Porter Jr.) and a solid but unspectacular 24 year old forward in Cedi Osman. Dylan Windler, a rookie stretch big, hasn’t seen the court yet this year. It’s not clear that anyone else will be in Cleveland when (if?) the Cavs are good again. Because of that, the Cavs had slightly lower expectations heading into this season, and their failure to produce positive results should sting a little less as a result.
- New Orleans Pelicans (6-20)
Last Week: 24 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Pistons (L, 103-105), Bucks (L, 112-127), 76ers (L, 109-116)
Next Week’s Games: Magic, Nets, @Timberwolves, @Warriors
The Pelicans get a D-. They’ve dealt with injuries and absences, as Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors have combined to play 10 games while a variety of other players have dealt with smaller injury issues, but the Kings are in a similar spot and are 5.5 games ahead of New Orleans. The Pelicans have now lost an inexcusable 11 in a row to spoil what was supposed to be a promising season. There’s still reason to believe in the future here, but that future was supposed to start this year. It hasn’t.
- Memphis Grizzlies (8-17)
Last Week: 28 (↑3)
Last Week’s Games: Jazz (L, 112-126), Warriors (W, 110-102), Suns (W, 115-108), Bucks (L, 114-127)
Next Week’s Games: Wizards, Heat, @Thunder, @Cavs
The Grizzlies get a B+. They’re not playing particularly well, but their young core has been good. That was the only goal coming into the year. Ja Morant is looking like the Rookie of the Year so far, averaging 18.7 points and 6.4 assists per game while shooting 43% from deep. Brandon Clarke is making 50% of his threes and 64% of his shots. Jaren Jackson just dropped 43 on the Bucks, is still only 20, and has rebounded nicely after a slow, inconsistent early stretch. It’s been a good start in Memphis.
- Chicago Bulls (9-18)
Last Week: 25 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Heat (L, 105-110 OT), Raptors (L, 92-93), Hawks (W, 136-102), Hornets (L, 73-83)
Next Week’s Games: Clippers, @Thunder, @Wizards
It looked like the Bulls had made the right moves heading into the season. They had their young core, they added solid veterans in Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young, and Tomas Satoransky, and they seemed ready to compete for a playoff spot. Here are the bright spots – Chicago is only 3 games out of the playoffs right now, ranks 19th in net rating and average point differential, and boasts a top 10 defense. The mood around this team is much darker than those numbers would suggest though. Lauri Markkanen has stagnated and those veterans haven’t done what they were expected to do. The offense is really bad, and it’s still not clear that Jim Boylen and the guys in the front office are the right people for their jobs. It’s been a dreary start to the year in Chicago. D+.
- Washington Wizards (7-16)
Last Week: 22 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Clippers (L, 119-135), Hornets (L, 107-114)
Next Week’s Games: @Grizzlies, @Pistons, Bulls, @Raptors
The Wizards get a C+. Things are going better than expected in Washington despite the 7-16 start. Bradley Beal is committed long term. Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, and Moe Wagner have been promising. Isaiah Thomas has been fairly productive. Davis Bertans is the new Steph Curry, hitting 46.5% of his threes on 8.6 attempts per game. The Wizards have a top 5 offense, though that unfortunately comes with the worst defense in the league.
- Charlotte Hornets (12-16)
Last Week: 23 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Hawks (L, 107-122), Wizards (W, 114-107), Nets (W, 113-108), Bulls (W, 83-73)
Next Week’s Games: @Pacers, Kings, @Cavs
The Hornets were supposed to be at the bottom of the league this season, so sitting at 12-16 and 24th in net rating and average point differential is, believe it or not, a pleasant surprise. The emergence of DeVonte’ Graham has been an even better surprise, as the second-year guard is averaging 19.9 points and 7.6 assists per game while shooting 38% from deep after a very poor rookie season. That alone is worth a B-.
- San Antonio Spurs (9-15)
Last Week: 18 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Cavs (L, 109-117 OT)
Next Week’s Games: @Suns, @Rockets, Nets
San Antonio gets a D. This was supposed to be a solid playoff team. It is not. The defense is a mess, the offense has fallen to mediocre after a hot start, and the Spurs are 22nd in both net rating and average point differential. There’s no clear fix, and Gregg Popovich hasn’t been able to work any magic so far.
- Detroit Pistons (10-15)
Last Week: 21 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Pelicans (W, 105-103), Mavs (L, 111-122)
Next Week’s Games: @Rockets, Wizards, Raptors, @Celtics
The Pistons get a C-. It feels like it’s been a wildly depressing start in Detroit, but it actually hasn’t been all that bad. Despite injury issues for Reggie Jackson and Blake Griffin, the Pistons are 15th in both net rating and average point differential. If anyone says they saw the Pistons seriously outperforming that number heading into the year, they’re probably lying. This was a mediocre team last year. It’s a mediocre team this year. The record doesn’t look great, but the Pistons are only being outscored by 0.1 points per game. The Hornets, who sit half a game ahead of Detroit, are being outscored by 6.1 points per game. That’s luck, and it will balance out over the rest of the season.
- Orlando Magic (11-14)
Last Week: 17 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Bucks (L, 101-110), Lakers (L, 87-96), Rockets (L, 107-130)
Next Week’s Games: @Pelicans, @Jazz, @Nuggets, @Trail Blazers
The Magic get a C- too. They’re a few games under .500 and hold the East’s 8 seed, which is maybe a little below preseason expectations. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz have exceeded expectations, but Aaron Gordon, Nic Vucevic, and DJ Augstine have failed to meet theirs. As a result, Orlando has a bottom 5 offense to go along with their above average defense. One of those things will likely need to improve for the Magic to make a convincing run at the playoffs.
- Portland Trail Blazers (10-16)
Last Week: 16 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Thunder (L, 96-108), Knicks (W, 115-87), Nuggets (L, 99-114)
Next Week’s Games: @Suns, Warriors, Magic
Portland was not supposed to be 10-16 through 26 games, but they were supposed to get more than 3 games from Zach Collins. Because of that, they deserve some injury sympathy, so I’ll give the Blazers a D+. They shouldn’t be let completely off the hook here though. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have only missed 2 games combined, and Portland is 18th in net rating and average point differential. Zach Collins is a good young piece, but he probably shouldn’t be the difference between meeting expectations and falling well short. Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony, for all of their shortcomings, are still putting up numbers, and Rodney Hood’s injury only happened 4 games ago. Portland’s issues are more complicated than injuries. The Blazers were easily a top-10 team last year. They made some moves after the Jusuf Nurkic injury to try to stay there, and it just hasn’t happened. Either Nurkic is vastly underrated, or last year’s success was a flash in the pan.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (10-15)
Last Week: 15 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Lakers (L, 125-142), Suns (L, 109-125), Jazz (L, 116-127), Clippers (L, 117-124)
Next Week’s Games: Pelicans, @Nuggets
The Timberwolves get a C+. There have been some encouraging signs here. Karl Anthony-Towns has been elite, putting up 26.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. Giannis (31, 13, and 5.4) is the only player in the league averaging at least 25 points, 10 boards, and 4 assists. Joel Embiid (22.8, 12.3, 3.3) is the only other player averaging at least 20 points, 10 boards, and 3 assists. That’s good company to be in. Andrew Wiggins is on the most productive run of his career, and is consistently doing more than inefficiently putting the ball in the basket. On the other hand, Minnesota has lost 7 straight and 9 of 11, which has them behind their 36-win pace from last season. The positives from Wiggins and Towns slightly outweigh that, but not by much.
- Sacramento Kings (11-14)
Last Week: 20 (↑4)
Last Week’s Games: Mavs (W, 110-106), Rockets (W, 119-118), Thunder (W, 94-93), Knicks (L, 101-103)
Next Week’s Games: @Warriors, @Hornets, @Pacers
The Kings get a C+. At the end of the day, they’re sitting half a game out of the playoffs through 25 games. Sacramento would have taken that at the start of the season, though they likely wouldn’t have predicted the way they got here. They started 0-5. The West has faltered. Marvin Bagley III has played in 3 games. De’Aaron Fox has played in 9. Dewayne Dedmon, who signed a $40 million deal this offseason to become the starting center, is averaging 5 points and 4 boards per game, shooting 23% from three, committing turnovers on over one-fifth of his offensive plays, and now receiving the dreaded DNP – coach’s decision. 11-14 isn’t the worst place to be for Sacramento right now.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (11-13)
Last Week: 19 (↑4)
Last Week’s Games: Trail Blazers (W, 108-96), Jazz (W, 104-90), Kings (L, 93-94)
Next Week’s Games: @Nuggets, Bulls, Grizzlies, Suns
The Thunder get a B. It’s not a huge surprise that they’re sitting around .500 a quarter of the way into the season with the on-court pieces they got in return for Paul George and Russell Westbrook (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari). Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, and Nerlens Noel have been solid as well. It is surprising to see an 11-13 team sitting in the 7 seed out West, but that’s not really something that the Thunder get credit for. Heading into the season, this was supposed to be a competitive team that would be sellers at the trade deadline regardless of their record. That may still be the case, but as long as the Thunder stay around an even record, they’re having a solid year.
- Phoenix Suns (11-13)
Last Week: 13 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Rockets (L, 109-115), Timberwolves (W, 125-109), Grizzlies (L, 108-115)
Next Week’s Games: Spurs, Trail Blazers, @Clippers, @Thunder
The Suns get a B+. After a great start that had them exceeding expectations more than anyone, Phoenix has fallen back to Earth a little bit. A decent amount of that dropoff can be attributed to injuries to Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio, who have been key pieces for the Suns so far, but those two have been back for a few games now and Phoenix just lost to the Grizzlies. Still, pretty much everyone on this team, with the clear exception of DeAndre Ayton (don’t take PEDs folks), has exceeded expectations. Even if the Suns sit around .500 for the rest of the season, this year would be a resounding success considering where this team appeared to be heading into the season. If they manage to sneak into the playoffs (more than possible given the current layout of the West), there needs to be a parade in Phoenix this summer.
- Brooklyn Nets (13-11)
Last Week: 14 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Nuggets (W, 105-102), Hornets (L, 108-113)
Next Week’s Games: @Raptors, 76ers, @Pelicans, @Spurs
The Nets are having a weird year. They’re two games over .500 and sitting in the 7 seed in the East, which would have sounded just about right two months ago. On the other hand, they’ve done it while only getting 20 out of a possible 48 games from Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert. They’re now 9-4 without Irving, though their average point differential in those 13 games is only +2.2, less than a point above the differential of the 11-13 Suns. The last few years have put some serious doubts on Irving’s ability to lead a team as the primary star, so it’s not entirely clear that Brooklyn would be better record-wise with him. They still deserve some credit for what they’ve done so far, especially given the added loss of LeVert. I’ll give them a B-.
- Utah Jazz (15-11)
Last Week: 11 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Grizzlies (W, 126-112), Thunder (L, 90-104), Timberwolves (W, 127-116), Warriors (W, 114-106)
Next Week’s Games: Magic, @Hawks
The Jazz get a D+. Their ability to save themselves from their free fall this week against bad competition is enough to keep them above a D, even if it might not mean much about their prospects down the line. The bottom line for Utah is that they are currently nowhere near where they wanted to be. They went all-in this offseason, bringing Mike Conley and Bogdan Bogdanovic to bolster an offense that tended to falter in the playoffs. Bogdanovic has been very good. Conley has not. To be fair to Conley, pretty much everyone in Utah not named Donovan, Rudy, or Bogdan has struggled so far, but Conley stands out as the biggest, most prominent misfire. This was supposed to be a championship-level team. 26 games in, the Jazz are in the bottom 10 in offensive rating and are 11th in defensive rating. Those numbers are not anything close to championship-level. There’s time to turn this thing around, but the first quarter was a mess in Utah.
- Indiana Pacers (17-9)
Last Week: 12 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Knicks (W, 104-103), Clippers (L, 99-110), Celtics (W, 122-117), Hawks (W, 110-100)
Next Week’s Games: Hornets, Lakers, Kings
The Pacers get a B. Regardless of their soft schedule, they’ve done well considering the injuries that they’ve dealt with in addition to Victor Oladipo’s. Malcolm Brogdon has missed 4 games, and Jeremy Lamb and Myles Turner have missed close to 10 each. The 17-9 record is inflated by the schedule, but the Pacers have still taken care of business, something that wasn’t guaranteed even if Oladipo was the only key piece to miss games. I’m still far from sold on Indiana as a contender this season, but the Pacers deserve credit for what they’ve done up to this point.
- Denver Nuggets (15-8)
Last Week: 8 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Nets (L, 102-105), 76ers (L, 92-97), Trail Blazers (W, 114-99)
Next Week’s Games: Thunder, Knicks, Magic, Timberwolves
The Nuggets haven’t been bad, but they have underwhelmed. They get a C+ because of it. Denver went 54-28 last year. They’re on pace to go 53.5-28.5 this year. Maintaining a mid-50s win pace is the mark of a solid team, but the goal of this season wasn’t to be good. The goal was to win a championship, and, if the playoffs started today, the Nuggets would have to go through Houston, Dallas/Los Angeles, and then Los Angeles again. Right now, I don’t know if anyone would pick this team to win any of those series, nevermind all three. The margins here aren’t big, and the Nuggets could very easily earn some home-court advantage with a little uptick in performance. That being said, as we talked about last week, Nikola Jokic has taken a huge step backwards offensively, and until that changes, having an elite defense likely won’t be enough in Denver.
- Toronto Raptors (16-8)
Last Week: 7 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: 76ers (L, 104-110), Bulls (W, 93-92), Clippers (L, 92-112)
Next Week’s Games: Nets, Cavs, @Pistons, Wizards
The Raptors deserve a B here. They’re on pace to finish with a 55-27 record, which is better than most expected. Despite that, Toronto is in a close fight with the Pacers for the 5 seed. They’re within three games of the 2 seed, but the 3-5 range is right about where they were expected to be seeding wise. The success of other Eastern teams obviously isn’t Toronto’s fault, so they got more than a “meets expectations” grade. Pascal Siakam should be a clear All-Star after taking another step, and the emergence of Terance Davis and Chris Boucher has made a rotation with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, OG Anunoby, Norm Powell, and Marc Gasol a little deeper. One concerning issue for Toronto that keeps them from a slightly better mark – they’re 3-8 against teams above .500.
- Miami Heat (18-7)
Last Week: 10 (↑2)
Last Week’s Games: Bulls (W, 110-105 OT), Hawks (W, 135-121 OT), Lakers (L, 110-113)
Next Week’s Games: @Mavs, @Grizzlies, @76ers, Knicks
The Heat get an A. Duncan Robinson (11.8 points per game, 45% from three), Kendrick Nunn (16.2 points and 3.4 assists per game), and Tyler Herro (13.9 points per game, 38% from three) have been huge for Miami, playing big roles on a team that appeared to lack depth coming into the season, and Bam Adebayo (15.2 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game) has taken a significant step. Because of those four, the Heat have gone from a confusing quasi-contender to a real force in the East. They’ve done it despite Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic, two primary ball handlers, missing over 20 games combined. Miami is sitting in the three seed heading into the weekend.
- Houston Rockets (17-8)
Last Week: 6 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Suns (W, 115-109), Kings (L, 118-119), Cavs (W, 116-110), Magic (W, 130-107)
Next Week’s Games: Pistons, Spurs, @Clippers
The Nuggets got a C+. Based on that, it would be fitting to give the Rockets a B-. Both teams held the same expectations coming into the season, and the Rockets have the slight edge in performance over the first quarter. Houston is right in the thick of the 2-5 seed chase in the West right now with the Nuggets, Mavs, and Clippers, which is a solid spot to be in. Unlike Denver, they’ve seen their star continue to thrive this season, as James Harden is still scoring at an absurd rate. After Friday’s win over the Magic, Harden has scored 50+ in consecutive games twice this season, which means he is now responsible for 5 of the 39 times that has happened in NBA history. Only Wilt Chamberlain (23) has more. Against the Pistons, Harden will try to score 50+ in three straight games for the 14th time in NBA history. Only Wilt (10), Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Elgin Baylor have done it. The problem for the Rockets has been succeeding without Harden, as they’re -8.1 per 100 possessions when he sits, compared to +9.4 when he’s on the court. That will need to change.
- Dallas Mavericks (17-7)
Last Week: 5 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Kings (L, 106-110), Pistons (W, 122-111)
Next Week’s Games: Heat, @Bucks, Celtics, @76ers (Wow)
The Mavs get an A+. This one isn’t very complicated. Dallas was considered a borderline playoff team at the start of the season. They’re now the 3 seed in the West, with an edge over both the Rockets and Nuggets. Luka Doncic has been spectacular and is a clear top-4 MVP candidate, and Rick Carlisle has been working some magic with his rotations. Dwight Powell, Delon Wright, Jalen Brunson, and Justin Jackson are all posting on-court point differentials of +9.2 or better per 100 possessions. Doncic, for reference, is at +9.0. The Mavs must also be very happy about how poorly the West has played to start the season. This isn’t a knock on Dallas’s own start, but the conference has been nowhere near the brutal gauntlet it looked to be a few months ago. The Warriors, Spurs, Trail Blazers, and Pelicans have all been disappointments for various reasons, and the Nuggets and Jazz aren’t exactly lighting the world on fire. Going into the weekend, the West has more teams under .500 (9) than the East (8). Overall, the East is 191-190. The West is 188-189. It’s fine to say that those numbers don’t tell the full story, but the “they play in the East” argument won’t fly this year. The conferences just aren’t all that different.
- Boston Celtics (17-7)
Last Week: 4 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Cavs (W, 110-88), Pacers (L, 117-122), 76ers (L, 109-115)
Next Week’s Games: @Mavs, Pistons
The Celtics get an A- for their start to the season. They’ve turned into legitimate contenders after being seen as a step below contention before the season. Kemba Walker has stepped up to fill Kyrie Irving’s production, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are having the best seasons of their careers, and Gordon Hayward, when he hasn’t been sidelined with a broken hand, has looked like his old self. Boston can boast a top-10 defense and offense, something that only a rotating group of 4-5 teams have been able to claim. Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have been solid at the 5 spot, though it’s probably not in Boston’s best interests to run those two out as their primary defensive centers in the playoffs. We’ll see what happens on that front.
- Philadelphia 76ers (20-7)
Last Week: 9 (↑5)
Last Week’s Games: Cavs (W, 141-94), Raptors (W, 110-104), Nuggets (W, 97-92), Celtics (115-109), Pelicans (W, 116-109)
Next Week’s Games: @Nets, Heat, Mavs
A few weeks ago, the Sixers were looking at a mark similar to the C+ that Denver ended up receiving. They weren’t a disaster, but they weren’t looking like Finals contenders either. That has changed quickly, and they now deserve a B. Philadelphia has won 5 straight, 9 of 10, and 13 of 15. They beat three top-10 teams in a row this week. They’re not, record-wise, in a significantly better place than what was expected heading into the year, but a decent piece of that is due to the opening stretch. That opening stretch, along with remaining concerns about shooting and depth, are enough to keep the Sixers away from a higher grade, but they now appear ready to chase after their goals. Unfortunately, they’ll have to go through the Bucks to get there.
- Los Angeles Clippers (20-7)
Last Week: 3 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Wizards (W, 135-119), Pacers (W, 101-90), Raptors (W, 112-92), Timberwolves (W, 124-117)
Next Week’s Games: @Bulls, Suns, Rockets
I’ll give the Clippers a B. They’re 20-7. They’re top 10 in both offensive rating and defensive rating, and top 5 in both net rating and average point differential. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have missed about 20 games combined, and Landry Shamet has missed almost 20 by himself. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have been just as good, if not better, than they were last year. Los Angeles was expected to be one of the best teams in the league, and they’ve made good on that expectation. It’s hard to find much to complain about here. There’s not much the Clippers can do about the Lakers and Bucks until they meet in the postseason.
- Los Angeles Lakers (23-3)
Last Week: 2 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Timberwolves (W, 142-125), Magic (96-87), Heat (W, 113-110)
Next Week’s Games: @Hawks, @Pacers, @Bucks
The Lakers get an A+. They’re 23-3. They’ve won 16 of 17. LeBron has been incredible, and his passing, even better than usual, has allowed Anthony Davis to play to his own strengths and thrive. The rest of the Lakers, as a whole, have been better than expected despite struggles from Kyle Kuzma. Los Angeles visits Milwaukee on Thursday.
- Milwaukee Bucks (23-3)
Last Week: 1 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Magic (W, 110-101), Pelicans (W, 127-112), Grizzlies (W, 127-114)
Next Week’s Games: Cavs, Mavs, Lakers
The Bucks get an A+ too. They’re also 23-3. They’ve won 17 straight. They’re on pace to finish with the highest average point differential in NBA history by over a point. Giannis has been incredible, and the Bucks are +15.8 per 100 possessions when he’s on the court. The edge that Milwaukee has over other top teams right now is largely due to their play with Giannis on the bench. When Giannis is not on the court, the Bucks are +7.6 per 100 possessions. That would be the 4th best average point differential in the league, and the average NBA game has about 105 possessions. That’s impressive. The Lakers visit on Thursday.