09 Dec NBA Power Rankings: Top-5, Bottom-5
1. Golden State Warriors (17-3)
- This star-studded team will never go under the radar, and were favored to make a third-consecutive trip to the NBA Finals before the eventual signing Kevin Durant. After last season, where they surpassed the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ for the most wins in the regular season (73), they admittedly put some onus on the effort it took to break said record when losing to the Cavaliers after being up 3-1 in the Finals. They were unable to give rest to their core players because they needed to basically win out the final handful of games to break the record. They started off winning 24 straight games, and just as a comparison they have three losses this season, which they did not receive their third loss until the middle of January last season. Akin to when LeBron “took his talents to South Beach” to form the Big-Three, it is taking some time for Durant and his new team-mates to form some chemistry and commodore. The biggest difference you could argue is the loss of Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, who gave the Dubs dominating forces in rim protection. ZaZa Pachulia was a great signing for them at his low cost, but he certainly does not offer the rim protection that Bogut and Ezeli brought to the team. In turn, the Warriors have to rely more on their offensive firepower to win them games. Well, that has not been a problem as they have already scored over 125 points seven times; which no team in the NBA has done since the 1990-91 season. Tonight they will get a tough test against the Clippers, who will be another team featured in this list. In conclusion, unless this team gets decimated by injuries to two-or-more of their stars, they should find themselves competing for yet another title.
2. San Antonio Spurs (18-4)
- San Antonio has had to continue basketball operations sans the “Post Duncan Era.” You know arguably one of the best big-men to ever step foot on the hardwood? Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli are another year older, seemingly another step slower. What do you know? The Popovich led Spurs are still among the elite, and find themselves 11-0 on the road. It’s a juxtaposition to last season where they were so dominant on their home court only losing one game all season; fast forward to this year where all of their losing efforts have been in San Antonio. The only worrisome aspect I see in this team is their overall defense, seeing as their two big-men Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge are a minus 4 together this season. Pop’s system and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard should easily lead this team to home-court advantage in the postseason (which may be a scary proposition looking at the early results to their season.)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (16-6)
- The Clippers seem to be giving their core players one last chance to make a NBA Finals run. Rumors swirled during the offseason of possible pieces like Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan being traded to shake up this roster. Blake had his health and anger management problems that really put a hamper on their 2015-16 season, but he has come back with a vengeance. The team got off to an incredible start, but has had a recent tough stretch losing to Detroit, Indiana, and then Brooklyn in double overtime. They will get a chance to redeem themselves and get back on the right track facing off against the Warriors at home. Regardless of the outcome in this prime match-up, as long as this team stays healthy they are a sure-fire top-four team in the West. Remember not too long back they beat the Spurs in a seven-game playoff series, just reminding us that they have the firepower to beat anybody when they are playing well.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (15-5)
- There did not seem to be any hangover for the reigning champion Cavaliers. That was until J.R Smith forgot he was actually playing basketball against the Bucks, which led to a Jason Terry uncontested bucket. This was the start of a three-game skid, with the first two being 17 point blowouts, making the Cavs’ the first defending championship team since the Three-Peat Lakers to lose back-to-back games by that much. They quickly reminded us there should be no pause for concern as they beat the Raptors in Toronto, who are playing as well as anybody in the league at the moment (spoiler alert.) Being a LeBron fan, I have continually mulled over the idea of how much better the team would have been if they had kept Andrew Wiggins, instead of trading him for Kevin Love. Obviously, Love was playing with a myriad of injuries over that span, but it seemed as if he had just become a spot up shooter behind the arc. This was a guy in Minnesota who was revered as one of the league’s best rebounders, with a solid low-post game. A player that once put up a 31 point, 31 rebound game. It was not until this season that he was utilized properly, and this team has taken their game to a whole other level, one where Love averages a double-double (21-10) looking much like he did during his MVP caliber seasons in Minnesota. This team seems poised to make another championship run, as the Eastern Conference does not have any major stumbling blocks. If one team could take them to a seven-game series in the East, it most likely would be number five on this list.
5. Toronto Raptors (14-7)
- As mentioned, this team has many experts, analysts, and enthusiasts being the only team in the Eastern Conference that could possibly dethrone Cleveland and represent the East in the Finals. The Raptors are second in offensive rating only sitting behind the obvious offensive juggernaut that is Golden State. When shots are falling and the offense gets cooking, this team can be extremely dangerous, and very exhilarating to watch. DeMar DeRozan has taken his game to another level this season as he currently tied for fifth in scoring (28.0) with Damian Lillard, only behind All-Star studded talents like Harden (28.5), Cousins (28.8), Westbrook (31.0), and Davis (31.6). Kyle Lowry brings tenacity on both ends of the floor, and despite not be as offensively gifted as some other point-guards, his leadership and relentless effort puts him as a top-10 player I would start a franchise with. Intangibles can not be taught, and we have seen that effect the trajectories of players careers like Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Josh Smith, and Rajon Rondo, just to name a few. The biggest red-flag with this team is the lack of talented big-men. Jonas Valanciunas has been a middling level center over his five-year career averaging 11.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 0.9 blocks per game. During the off-season they signed Jared Sullinger away from the Celtics, but he has yet to play due to injury. Currently, Toronto sits dead-set in the middle for defensive efficiency and will have to improve in that area, specifically rebounding (25th), to threaten for an NBA title in my eyes.
26. Sacramento Kings (8-13)
- The Kings’ issues with slow starts have become no less of a talking point that Minnesota’s well-chronicled struggles after halftime. It happened again Sunday night in Gotham, where Sacramento fell into a deep hole early, scrambled back to make a game of it and then looked raggedy down the stretch in an eventual loss to the Knicks that dropped the Kings to 1-3 on what was billed as a crucial road trip entering Wednesday’s final stop at Dallas. DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points in the defeat, but his 21 missed shots were a career high. Boogie has played like his usual self to begin this season averaging 28.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game. Darren Collison was suspended for the first eight games of the season, and has filled in admirably with the hole left by Rajon Rondo leaving for Chi-Town. There have been rumors that Rudy Gay wants out of town, and we always hear about the back-and-forth notion of Sacramento trading Cousins. The management has missed on some draft picks over the years, most recent being in 2016 where they took Willie Cauley-Stein at number six, and in 2013 where they selected Ben McLemore at pick seven. This team has been stuck in neutral ever since Chris Weber retired, and they may be best served to trade Boogie for a nice package of players and picks for a true rebuild.
27. Phoenix Suns (6-16)
- Well let’s make a list of accomplishments for the Suns this season: rookies Marquess Chriss and Dragan Bender may end up being solid NBA talents,
and they just beat the Atlanta Hawks at home.Now that Atlanta is struggling mightily that makes for a pretty short list. While they do have some promising young talent like Bledsoe, Booker, Knight, Len, and Warren, coach Earl Watson is apt on relying on aging mediocre veterans like P.J Tucker, Jared Dudley, and Tyson Chandler. They have dealt with some injuries throughout the early portion of the season thus far, but there really was not any playoff expectations for this team this season. This will be a process, and not “The Process,” but a process nonetheless.
28. Philadelphia 76ers (4-18)
- Speaking of “The Process,” and innovator of it all, Sam Hinkie, will not be around for it finally to be taking place. Although they sit a 4-18 which is the worst record in the league, the reason they do not sit last on my list is because the bevy of talent they have accumulated. All of the early draft-picks over the years, some of whom were injured before even setting foot in an NBA game (Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons), and some of whom were hit with the injury bug early on in their bright careers (Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor). We finally were able to witness how exceptionally talented Joel Embiid is this season, after sitting two full years out due to a foot injury. While on the floor this season, Embiid is second in the NBA in raw usage (36.8%), only behind you know who, Russell Westbrook (40.4%). Philadelphia’s two best players (Embiid, Okafor) have had a hard minutes cap around 25 minutes, and when the team is scheduled back-to-back games, they are usually forced to sit out one of the two. For the first time in about a month (76ers second game of the season), Philly finally gave us what we wanted to see; that being Embiid and Okafor being on the floor at the same time. A contest versus the Magic on December 2nd, where the two coincided on the floor for 12 minutes and 54 seconds. A quick synopsis of the game looks like this: Embiid (25 points, 10-21 FG, 3-5 3PT, 10 rebounds, 4 assists in 26:56) and Okafor (16 points, 8-10 FG, 13 rebounds, 2 blocks in 27:54), and the team was +3 while the duo was on the floor together. The other 35 minutes and 6 seconds of the game were atrocious, especially when Embiid was not on the floor. Brett Brown will have a tough predicament when Nerlens Noel, another 7-footer becomes healthy enough to play. The team has been rumored to be shopping Noel around, because their front-court (Embiid, Okafor, Simmons, Ilyasova, Saric, and Noel) is too crowded to allocate minutes efficiently enough for all players to see significant time. They really could use some outside shooting and a better point-guard than the likes of Jerryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez, and T.J McConnell. Until their roster evens out in that respect, they should be in line for another lottery pick.
29. Brooklyn Nets (6-15)
- There is not too much to talk about here with Brooklyn. At least Philadelphia has a bunch of young blossoming talent, even if it is all at the same position. The front office has hampered the immediate future of this team when they traded for two-thirds of the aging original “Big-Three” (Pierce, Garnett). They mortgaged their future for two players who are no longer with the organization, and now they are left without a first-round pick seemingly until the year 3017 (no, that’s not a typo). Brook Lopez is still a skilled center offensively, but he is only getting older and likely will not be around for Brooklyn’s next playoff appearance. I will attest to a good move I believe they made when they brought in young bright head-coach, Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson was an assistant coach on the Knicks when “Linsanity” took place, and was an integral part in making that whole craze happen. The best piece of information I can give you about these Nets, is the story of how Lin and Atkinson created the insanity in New York by reading this awesome story – http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2672061-linsanity-a-memory-nets-offering-second-act-for-jeremy-lin-and-kenny-atkinson. Otherwise, they recently came back from 13 points down to beat the Griffin-less Clippers in double overtime. The first time that Brooklyn has come back from that many points to win a game since March 2012, losing 77 consecutive times in such circumstances.
30. Dallas Mavericks (4-17)
- Some people just looking at records only may think that this four-win Maverick team is an anomaly. Nevertheless, the only anomaly about Dallas is that all four of their wins are by double-digit points. This team has just been ravished by injuries. Currently, there is no timetable on Dirk Nowitzki’s health situation. When you are forced to start Seth Curry for a handful of games, yes you read that right SETH Curry, you know your team is in trouble. Deron Williams has missed significant time already, J.J Barea who was arguably their best player in the early goings of the season has suffered a multi-week injury. When your starting-five goes as follows: PG Seth Curry, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Harrison Barnes, PF Dorian Finney-Smith, C Salah Mejri, four wins seems as if the team has overachieved given their injury plagued roster. In conclusion, this team when healthy was not winning any titles, and with their franchise player (Dirk Nowitzki) getting older, finishing as a bottom-feeder comes with the caveat of a lottery-pick, so it may not be all that bad when all is said and done.