New year, new rankings. The start of 2017 means that things are going to start getting interesting around the NBA. Players making a push to be All-Stars, teams shuffle to give themselves an advantage at the trade deadline, and we get to see what early season trends are legitimate. With that being said, let’s dive into this week’s rankings:
- Cleveland Cavaliers last week 1
The Cavaliers have only four losses this season when LeBron James plays and their winning percentage in those games would put them at 71-11 in those games. They require some depth, but they are on another level this season.
- Golden State Warriors last week 2
The Warriors are also a fine tuned machine, but the scariest part is they still have a considerable amount of room to improve. Steph Curry should be getting more touches for his team and his observation that they need to get back to more pick and roll play is on the money.
- Houston Rockets last week 5
James Harden has been the MVP so far this season. While people get all excited about the triple doubles that Westbrook puts up, Harden is just two rebounds per game shy of averaging a 29 point and 12 assist triple-double (with much better efficiency). If the Rockets made a team effort to surrender boards just for Harden, as OKC does for Westbrook, maybe he would get the same credit. But the team is prioritizing winning games instead of just elevating their star.
- San Antonio Spurs last week 4
The Spurs fell to the Hawks on Sunday in an overtime loss. It was a bit of a surprise, given the success the team has had as of late. They have a top ten offense and defense and continue to prove that they’ve solved the NBA’s regular season.
- Toronto Raptors last week 3
Outside of Harden and Westbrook, you can make the argument that no point guard has played better than Kyle Lowry so far this season. Lowry is averaging 27.8 points and 7.2 assists per game while shooting nearly 48 percent from the floor and 46 percent from three. Despite his play, the team has only gone 2-2 over their last four games. The Raptors are a team that must figure out how to stop the bleeding defensively.
- Utah Jazz last week 11
Rudy Gobert has been an absolute force so far this season. The Jazz currently have the third best defense in the NBA and are finally starting to get healthy. Alec Burks will make his season debut for the team on Monday and George Hill will eventually be back, once he has cleared the concussion protocol.
- Boston Celtics last week 7
The Celtics managed to close the gap against a Cavs team that took its foot off the gas, and even had a chance to take the lead late. Then the following night Isaiah Thomas went bonkers, scoring 52 to help the Celtics get past a struggling Heat team. Boston still has no wins against the best teams in each conference, but they are still a very good team that’s one piece away from elevating themselves to the next level.
- Memphis Grizzlies last week 6
The Grizzlies bounced back from their losses to the Magic and Celtics with a 34-point rout of the Thunder (with Westbrook being ejected), as well as a win over the Kings. The Grizzlies are currently on a seven game road trip that ends with games against the Clippers, Warriors, Jazz, Thunder, and Rockets. We’re going to find out a lot about this team over the coming weeks.
- Charlotte Hornets last week 8
The Hornets continue to ride the strong play of Kemba Walker and the league’s sixth most stingy defense to a strong start to this season. They’ve gone 4-2 over their last six games with the latest loss coming to a Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers team.
- Oklahoma City Thunder last week 10
The Thunder are just behind the Hornets in offensive and defensive efficiency, although their schedule has been a lot easier. Things will get a little tougher in January and the test will be just how high Westbrook can elevate his team. His MVP race with Harden is one of the most compelling stories of the 2016-17 season.
- Atlanta Hawks last week 12
The Hawks have won three straight games, including an overtime thriller against the Spurs. Despite their recent success, the story right now is whether or not Paul Millsap will opt out of his contract this summer. If there’s a chance he could leave, Millsap may be the biggest name moved at the trade deadline.
- Washington Wizards last week 15
The Wizards are finally converting the strong play of John Wall into wins. The team has gone 7-3 over their last ten games and are finally up to .500 for the season. Despite a weak bench, the Wizards have more than enough talent to be a playoff team this season.
- Milwaukee Bucks last week 13
The Bucks aren’t as hot as the Wizards, but they received some good news this week as Khris Middleton came out and said he expects to play this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are one of the most dynamic duos in the league and adding the team’s best player from the last few seasons could make the Bucks dangerous come playoffs.
- Indiana Pacers last week 16
Despite the strong play of Paul George, the Pacers remain one of the most inconsistent teams in the league. While it feels like they could be dangerous if they put it all together, this may just not be a roster that works.
- L.A. Clippers last week 9
The Clippers have lost six straight games. They are losing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. I don’t think you can read into it too much, seeing as those two are basically the heart, soul, and motor of this team. But they aren’t exactly a “power ranking threat” until they start to get healthy.
- Denver Nuggets last week 18
Like the Pacers, you never know what you’re going to get from the Nuggets. Although unlike Indiana, the Nuggets can point to their young players figuring it out. Their loss to the Sixers was an unfortunate step back in their pursuit of the eighth seed.
- Sacramento Kings last week 17
The Kings currently hold the tiebreaker over the Nuggets and are in possession of the eighth seed. Both teams are 6-4 over their last 10 games. I’m not sure if it’ll be the Nuggets, Kings, Blazers or Pelicans that stumble into the playoffs, but at least they will be granted a swift death from the Warriors.
- Detroit Pistons last week
Detroit only has two wins in their last eight games, one of which came against a resting Cavs team. Reggie Jackson appeared to have a breakthrough performance against the Heat on Sunday night, which would go a long way towards getting this team back on track.
- New York Knicks last week 14
The Knicks have lost four straight games. As I pointed out last week, the team was 11th in point differential in the East and it seemed like a matter of time before they slid in the standings. Despite some good pieces, this just isn’t a very good team.
- Portland Trail Blazers last week 20
The Blazers have looked better recently with Damian Lillard out of the lineup. While Lillard obviously is a positive for this team, they need to figure out how to maximize both him and McCollum, who has excelled in his absence.