We’re three weeks into the NBA season, yet several teams expected to be tanking are … actually decent?
Meanwhile, a number of contenders have disappointed, and a clear top four has emerged.
Read on for the latest NBA Power Rankings.
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1. MILWAUKEE BUCKS
The scariest part about the Bucks being the last team undefeated at 9-0 is that they’ve done it without Khris Middleton. Milwaukee’s defence has been on another level to any other team, ranked first in the league in defensive rating (100.6) while ranking second in net rating. Speaking of being on another level, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the frontrunner for MVP behind absurd averages of 32.6 points per game, 12.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.6 blocks, while Jrue Holiday (21.3 points, 7.4 assists, 1.6 steals) is in career-best form.
2. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Going 5-0 during Darius Garland’s five-game absence taught us everything we needed to know about the Cavs (8-1). Donovan Mitchell is playing at a legitimate MVP level, averaging career highs across the board (31.1 points, four triples, 8.1 assists, 1.6 steals). Cleveland has the best net rating in the NBA (11.7), and ranks second in defensive rating (103.3) and ranks seventh in offensive rating (115.1). If there were any question marks over J.B. Bickerstaff’s side, two overtime wins over the Celtics last week should’ve allayed those.
Irving dropped by Nike, teammates react | 03:18
3. PHOENIX SUNS
Ranked third in the NBA in offensive rating, defensive rating and net rating, the Suns have in many ways gone under the radar three weeks into the season. Yet a win over Portland on Sunday saw Phoenix improve to 7-2 and sit first in the Western Conference. Devin Booker has the best plus/minus in the league and has really made this team his now, averaging 27 points per game (48 per cent from the field, 35 per cent from three, 88 per cent from the free throw line) and 5.1 assists. They have however been dealt a big blow with Cam Johnson, who’s emergence would largely offset Jae Crowder’s departure, set for a lengthy stint on the sidelines with a knee injury to leave a big void on the wing.
4. BOSTON CELTICS
There’s a reason the Celtics (6-3) are the equal championship favourites along with the Bucks. Despite the pre-season disruption of Ime Udoka’s suspension, this team hasn’t missed a beat under Joe Mazzulla, although it’d want to shore up defensively. Ranked first in the league last season in defensive rating, the Celtics have dropped to 21st in the same area this campaign. They will welcome back Robert Williams eventually to give them a big boost in this department. The offence remains in good hands – ranked second in the league in offensive rating (117.5) – behind Jayson Tatum (30.0 points per game) and Jaylen Brown (24.8 points) – the former in genuine MVP contention. It feels like the above four teams are in their own league right now.
5. UTAH JAZZ
It would’ve been unfathomable over the pre-season to even suggest the Jazz (8-3) to be a top five team in the league, but yet here we are. They currently sit second in the West, remain unbeaten at home and their last two losses have come against good sides in the Nuggets and Mavericks including only just falling to the latter. Utah is ranked sixth in the league in net rating continues to get elite production from Lauri Markkanen (22.2 points per game, 9.4 rebounds), who’s the early frontrunner for Most Improved Player of the Year, while Colin Sexton’s (averaging 17.5 points from his last four games) minutes are ramping up in smaller line-ups.
6. DENVER NUGGETS
Outside of a hiccup against the Lakers, who were due for a win, the Nuggets (6-3) have impressed and seamlessly piled on six wins including four of their last five and remaining unbeaten at home. It feels like Nikola Jokic hasn’t really gotten out of first gear yet and the reigning back-to-back MVP is still averaging 20.2 points per game, 11.4 rebounds and 9.1 assists. Meanwhile Jamal Murray is starting to warm up including two 20 plus point games last week. Denver would want to tighten up defensively – currently ranked 20th in the league in defensive rating (113.3), although some growing pains were to be expected with the return of Murray and Michael Porter Jr and several new players in the rotation.
7. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Ja Morant is the motor that powers Memphis — and he’s a seriously powerful motor. The star guard continues to go from strength to strength, averaging 29 points per game and seven assists for a Grizzlies team with a top five offence (115.3). A secondary breakout from Desmond Bane has further propelled the Grizzlies and offset the early season absence of Jaren Jackson Jr., who’ll help boost the league’s sixth-worst ranked offence (115.3) when he returns. Plus those consecutive losses to Utah including one by a point suddenly don’t look as bad anymore.
8. NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Yes, the Pelicans (5-4) have dropped three of their last five games, but they’ve clearly been hampered by the absences of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones. Now with the cavalry back, New Orleans will look to get rolling again after their impressive 3-1 start to the season where they looked as good as any team in the league. They remain ranked top 10 in defensive rating, offensive rating and net rating and the sky‘s the limit so long as their stars remain healthy.
Tatum heroics at both ends of the court | 00:38
9. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Another one of the big surprise packages, Portland (6-3) for most of the early parts of this season have owned the best record in the Western Conference, starting 4-1 before splitting their last two games 2-2 since Damian Lillard’s calf setback. The superstar’s absence was further compounded by a foot issue to leave the Blazers’ backcourt thin. Jusuf Nurkic has really stepped up though in a hot start to the campaign, averaging 14.8 points and 11.8 rebounds and anchoring the league’s 11th ranked defence (109.5).
10. DALLAS MAVERICKS
Nearly anything any NBA player can do, Luka Doncic can do better. The Slovenian superstar seems to get better every season, and the Mavericks (5-3) go as far as he takes them. Doncic joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to ever score at least 30 points in each of their team‘s first seven games and he’s averaging an epic 36 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.6 assists to help lead Dallas’ No. 1 ranked offence (117.5). Christian Wood meanwhile after a hot start has cooled off, and Doncic desperately needs help if this Mavericks team is to go to another level.
11. ATLANTA HAWKS
The Hawks (6-3) have bounced back from last season’s shortcomings to look a genuine contender in the Easter Conference. They still have a ways to go, but the addition of Dejounte Murray (averaging 22 points, 7.8 assists, career-best 2.4 steals) is proving to be a fruitful one to form an elite backcourt partnership with Trae Young (27.5 points, 9.4 assists). Riding a two-game winning streak, could they be the first team to knock off the Bucks when they meet on Tuesday?
Lakers finally win first game of season | 01:29
12. TORONTO RAPTORS
There’s a lot to like about the Raptors (5-4) as a dark horse in the Eastern Conference – ranked fourth in offensive rating, ranked sixth in defensive rating and ranked fourth in net rating – armed with weapons all over the court. None greater than Pascal Siakam, who’s putting up MVP numbers with 24.8 points per game, 9.3 rebounds and 7.7 to really emerge as the leader of this team. His likely upcoming absence with a groin injury will therefore be felt, but the Raptors can cover his loss by O.G. Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet picking up the slack. They’ve won four of their last six and look like a 50 plus win team.
13. CHICAGO BULLS
The Bulls have produced at the defensive end of the floor this season – ranked eighth in the league in defensive rating (108.7) – and have upside at the other end of the court if Zach LaVine can start to hit his stride. But he’s clearly hampered by a left knee issue – the same knee he had off-season surgery on – in a big red flag. LaVine is still averaging 20.7 points per game, however it marks his lowest return since the 2017-2018 season. Meanwhile, DeMar DeRozan (averaging 25.6 points per game) and Nikola Vucevic (16.4 points, 12.3 rebounds) continue to produce at an elite level.
14. LA CLIPPERS
Do you give the Clippers (5-5) credit for staying around .500 without Kawhi Leonard, or deduct points amid the uncertainty around his future? The Clippers’ fourth-ranked defence (106.2) has carried them in the early parts of this season and made up for their dead-last offence (103). There’s clearly room to improve, although it largely hinges on Leonard’s return — and right now, we don’t have a clear idea when that’ll be and what version of him we’ll get.
Landale lands 16 points in 1st half haul | 00:57
15. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
It’s been a rocky start to the season in Philly (4-6) despite it recovering from 0-3. Touted as one of the big title contenders behind the lead of James Harden and Joel Embiid, the chemistry has been way off so far and Embiid has been in and out of the team. Then the big hammer blow came with Harden, who was back to his best form, set to miss a month with a foot issue just when they were starting to turn things around. It doesn’t get any easier for the Sixers too ahead of clashes with Phoenix, Atlanta twice, Utah, Minnesota and then Brooklyn.
16. MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
The 5-5 Timberwolves are … solid? Projected as a contender in the Western Conference, Minnesota hasn’t lived up to the hype, and most alarmingly, the Rudy Gobert/Karl Anthony-Towns frontcourt line-ups have struggled offensively. Anthony Edwards admitting he functions better in smaller line-ups tells you everything you need to know. And despite adding arguably the best defensive player in the league in Gobert, the Wolves rank just inside the top 10 in defence (109.2).
17. MIAMI HEAT
A far cry from the team that finished first in the East last season, the Heat are 4-6 through 10 games and look a ways off the best teams in the conference. They’ve had issues at both ends of the floor and Jimmy Butler continues to battle ailments, while it’s become apparent the offence can’t run entirely through Bam Adebayo. However Adebayo and Tyler Herro have stepped up in recent times including Miami going 2-1 over its last three games.
Kyrie blows up at journo in wild presser | 02:00
18. OKC THUNDER
Not many would’ve expected the Thunder would be 4-5 through the early parts of the season, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is that good. The star guard is in career-best form and has carried the team at times, averaging 30.5 points per game including 96 per cent shooting from the free throw line (55-of-57 in total), 5.9 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.1 blocks. His immense play helped guide OKC to a four-game winning streak at one stage before it dropped its last two, but the return of Josh Giddey from an ankle injury will help the team get things back on track.
19. SAN ANTONIO SPURS
Widely projected to win the fewest games of any team this season, the Spurs have also surpassed all expectations so far. They stunned the NBA world early by starting the season 5-2, but have fallen back to earth in recent, dropping their last three. Keldon Johnson (averaging 23.1 points per game) has seriously impressed as the team’s number one option, while Devin Vassell, Jajok Poeltl and Tre Jones have proven to be more than capable in key roles.
20. NEW YORK KNICKS
Although the Knicks have struggled against good teams and dropped four of their last five — they’ve generally stayed competitive in games and have the nucleus of a solid basketball team that will contend for the playoffs. They’re getting their money’s worth for Jalen Brunson, who’s averaged an equal team-best 19.3 points per game to go with 7.2 assists. RJ Barrett (also averaging 19.3 points) still can’t get his shots to drop efficiently including going at a career-worst 27.5 per cent from three, although his 81.1 per cent free throw streak stroke is a career high.
21. SACRAMENTO KINGS
After a horror 0-4 start, the Kings have ignited their season, winning three of their last four including a miraculous De’Aaron Fox three from near half court to sink the Magic. Fox is playing at an All-Star level, averaging a career-best 26.3 points, two triples and 5.9 rebounds as well as 4.6 assists. Domantas Sabonis hasn’t fitted as well as they’d have hoped despite the big man averaging a cool 16 points, 10.6 rebounds and 6.1 assists, with the Kings’ bottom 10 defence (112.3) really weighing them down.
22. INDIANA PACERS
Indiana (4-5) is also unexpectedly solid, winning three of its last four including upsets over the Nets and Heat. Haven’t the rebuilding teams seen the vision of Victor Wenbamyama!? The Tyrese Haliburton trade looks better for the Pacers with each passing game, with the young gun averaging 21.9 points per game, 9.3 assists and 1.7 steals. Meanwhile rookie Bennedict Mathurin (20.7 points) has flourished in a sixth man role, Buddy Hield (18.6 points on 4.1 three-point makes) is shooting the lights out, and they’ve done it all with Myles Turner only playing four games.
23. WASHINGTON WIZARDS
The Wizards (4-6) are in a slump, with just one win from their last six games. And to make matters worse, Bradley Beal, who admittedly has dropped away from his epic heights two seasons ago, is likely to miss a few games after entering Covid-19 protocols. Washington is a fun team on its good days, but you don’t know what you’re going to get from it a lot of the time. Kristaps Porzingis is really rolling though is maybe this team’s best player now, averaging 20.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest.
24. BROOKLYN NETS
It’s been a season marred with off-court drama for the 4-6 Nets, most notably surrounding Kyrie Irving, who’s now been suspended indefinitely. But on the court, Brooklyn hasn’t been much better, particularly on the defensive end, where it’s ranked bottom 10 in the league (113), leading to the firing of Steve Nash. Ben Simmons has struggled in his return to the court, while the Aussie is now sidelined with a knee issue. The Nets have won their last two though — without both Simmons and Irving — behind dominant play from Kevin Durant, and they’ll want that trend to continue to have any hope this season and to convince the superstar to stay with the franchise.
Celtics overcome tough Bulls in Boston | 01:01
25. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Yeah … things are very bleak in San Francisco at the moment. The 3-7 Warriors, who are yet to win on the road (0-6), are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, with only the 1-9 Rockets on a worse six-game skid. Golden State’s defence has dropped off a cliff — falling from being ranked second in the league last season down to 28th. There’s only so much Steph Curry (averaging 31 points, 5.1 threes, seven rebounds, 6.8 assists) can do as the lone shining light, with the Warriors plus 33 with him on the floor and minus 62 when he goes to the bench, per StatMuse.
26. LA LAKERS
In case you haven’t heard, the Lakers (2-7) are bad, with claim to the league’s second-worst offence (103.1) in large part due to a lack of outside shooting while generally lacking any real chemistry on the court. In fairness, the move of Russell Westbrook to the bench has paid dividends for both the player and team. He’s ranked second among all bench players in the league in points per game and ranked first among bench players in assists per game, according to StatMuse, where the Lakers have gone 2-3. No matter, it’s been a rough start to the season in LA.
27. CHARLOTTE HORNETS
Putting the Hornets this low may seem a little harsh, especially given LaMelo Ball is yet to play this season and Terry Rozier has only made two appearances. But they’ve lost four on the trot including six of their last seven and there’s really not a lot to get excited about right now other than Ball’s return. Even then, they might … push for a play-in spot? It’s going to be a long season in Charlotte.
Simmons: We’ve had an honest chat | 01:18
28. ORLANDO MAGIC
Although the Magic sit dead last in the East, they’ve probably been slightly better than their record suggests, being competitive in most of their games and beating the reigning champion Warriors — not that that’s a huge accolade right now. And unlike some other lowly-ranked teams, they’ve been fun to watch for the most part, with Pick 1 Paolo Banchero (averaging 22.9 points, 8.5 rebounds) thriving as the frontrunner for rookie of the year and their young core of Jalen Suggs, Wendell Carter Jr., Bol Bol and Franz Wagner showing promising signs.
29. DETROIT PISTONS
After seemingly briefly trying to make a run at climbing the standings, the Pistons again find themselves in full rebuild mode — and frankly don’t have many exciting young players to build around outside of Cade Cunningham and maybe Jayden Ivey. They’ve dropped eight of their last nine an dhold the league’s worst net rating (-11.3), worst defensive rating (118.1) and fifth worst offensive rating (106.8). If they can’t beat OKC on Tuesday, it’s hard to see where their next win is going to come from.
30. HOUSTON ROCKETS
One of the few teams that are actually sitting where most thought they’d be, the Rockets, to no great surprise, have just one win and are prioritising development of their youngsters like Kevin Porter Jr, Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith Jr. On a positive note, they’re currently leading the race for Victor Wembanyama, who looks every bit as good as advertised.
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