With a bigger sample size, it has now become clear which teams may contend this season and which teams likely will not. 10 weeks of play into the season, here are our NBA Power Rankings.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers: (23-7)
While the defending champs may not have the best record in the league, they recently defeated the Warriors on Christmas to reclaim their spot at the top of the rankings. Obviously the injury to J.R. Smith, who is out for ten to twelve weeks, will be a setback for the Cavs. However, Kevin Love’s scoring surges, which were not present last year, along with LeBron and Kyrie Irving’s dominance have continued to carry this team. LeBron will continue to take nights off to rest throughout the year, which may result in a few disappointing losses, but this team should be able to cruise to the playoffs as the top spot in the East, barring any more significant injuries taking place.
2. Golden State Warriors: (28-5)
Losing a heart-breaker on Christmas day to the team they will likely face in the Finals was nothing but a minor hitch for the Warriors moving forward. What should scare every other team in the league is not necessarily the four All-Stars on this team, but the fact that this team is putting up 117.2 points per game and are also second in the league in defensive efficiency. Golden State is playing a high brand of basketball at both ends of the court, and with two previous league MVP’s in their lineup; they are clearly the favorites to win the Western Conference.
3. San Antonio Spurs: (26-6)
The Spurs seem to be the best option to take down the Warriors in the West. Kawhi Leonard is the best two-way player in the league, averaging 24.4 points per game, and LaMarcus Aldridge continues to put up big numbers. What is even more impressive is the impact the role players have had on games. San Antonio again has proven to have the most depth in the league, with a game winner from backup point guard Patty Mills against Houston last week, and improved play from Dewayne Dedmon and rookie Dejounte Murray.
4. Houston Rockets: (24-9)
Behind the Warriors, the Rockets have been the league’s best offensive team, scoring about 113 points per game. James Harden at point guard seems to be working, as he is fourth in the league in scoring with 27.7 points per game, and first in assists with an astonishing 11.9 per game. Houston also has been relying on the three ball, setting records for threes attempted in a game, along with three pointers made in a game. However, turnovers and injuries have plagued this team, which could limit their future success rate.
5. Toronto Raptors: (22-9)
Along with the Cavaliers, the Raptors seem to be the only team in the East that actually has a chance at making the Conference Finals. DeMar DeRozan has been spectacular so far this year, scoring 27.5 points per game. Kyle Lowry has continued to play at an All-Star caliber rate, and has improved his efficiency, as he is shooting 45% from the three point line. If these two can continue to score at such a consistent clip, this team could win a few games against the Cavs in the playoffs.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder: (20-12)
No Kevin Durant? No problem. Or so it would seem. The Thunder remain a top tier team in the West and have won four in a row; however, their dependence on Russell Westbrook and lack of a second scoring option has become relevant. While Westbrook may be having a historic year (he’s still averaging a triple-double), he can only take this team so far. When he is off the court, the teams scoring numbers drop off at an extreme rate. So for the time being, the Thunder can hold a great spot in the power rankings, but the question is for how long.
7. Boston Celtics: (19-13)
After acquiring Al Horford, the Celtics felt that they could make a push at the top of the Eastern Conference. After a shaky start filled with injuries, it appears that Boston may just be developing into a contender. When the team has its starting lineup active, it is 12-4. Isaiah Thomas and Horford are both playing at an All-Star level, and Avery Bradley is having arguably the best year of his career, scoring 17.8 points per game. If they can stay healthy and continue to improve, this team could make a splash in the playoffs.
8. Los Angeles Clippers: (22-12)
The Clippers are used to missing Blake Griffin, who missed most of last year. But now with both Griffin and Chris Paul on the sidelines, this team has began to slide. They have lost three in a row, including a loss on Christmas day to the Lakers, and have fell from first in the conference to fourth. If most other teams lost their two best players to injury, though, they would be in a similar – if not worse – position than the Clippers are.
9. Utah Jazz: (19-13)
Despite a three game skid, the Jazz remain an up and coming team in the West, and have a much easier schedule coming up with games against teams like the 76ers and the Nets. A depleted backcourt may be a cause for concern, but George Hill is likely to return soon. Utah may be a ways away from competing for a title, but with Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert having All-Star caliber seasons, the sky is the limit for this team.
10. Memphis Grizzlies: (20-14)
Memphis remains one of the top defensive teams in the league, giving up just 98.1 points per game. However, they are the second lowest scoring team in the league, averaging just 97.7 points per game. There is no doubt this is one of the best teams in the West, but their lack of consistent scoring could keep them at the bottom of the Western playoff standings.
11. Charlotte Hornets: (18-14)
Charlotte has remained relatively towards the top of the East all season, and have been very inconsistent in doing so. They have had multiple losing streaks that have dropped them down to the middle of the conference, but they have constantly counteracted that with a few winning streaks. While Kemba Walker has been a consistent scoring threat, their other prominent player, Nicholas Batum, has had the worst shooting start to his career. The Hornets have six players that are averaging double figures, meaning they have consistent scoring options every night. Watch out for this team to make a push in the playoffs.
12. New York Knicks: (16-15)
The Knicks have shined in the spotlight of Madison Square Gardens, winning 11 out of 16 games there so far this season. New York’s starting lineup has no problems scoring, with Carmelo Anthony and Porzingis both scoring over 20 points per game, but their lack of bench scoring has been an issue all season. New York also ranks second to last in the Easter Conference in points allowed per game, which will have to change if the Knicks hope to remain in playoff contention.
13. Atlanta Hawks: (16-16)
Atlanta has been simply average this season compared to the success they had two years ago. Obviously the injuries of recent to Dwight Howard, Kyle Korver and Tim Hardaway Jr. have not helped their cause, but the Hawks have not been able to figure out a way to string together consecutive wins. After starting the season out 4-0, their longest win streak has been two games, and that has only happened one time. However, Atlanta seems to be rising in the standings due to consistent play of Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroder.
14. Milwaukee Bucks: (15-15)
The Eastern Conference has nine teams hovering right around .500, and the Bucks are right in the middle of the action. One day they could be the 4th seed, and the next day they could fall to the 10th spot. The Bucks have two potential first time All-Stars in the Greek Freak and Jabari Parker, but more importantly Milwaukee’s role players have been stepping up. Greg Monroe has been contributing off the bench, averaging almost 10 points and seven rebounds per game. Also, Malcolm Brogdon has been one of the top rookies in the league, and four years of college experience are showing in his leadership and basketball I.Q. Don’t expect the Bucks to be competing with the Cavs anytime soon, but if they finish off the season strong, they could compete for more than just the 8th seed in the playoffs.
15. Sacramento Kings: (14-18)
The Kings could not be in a better position heading into the new year, as they currently hold the 8th spot in the West. This is big news for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006. Sacramento is on a four game win streak, but has a tough schedule coming up, as they’ll have to play the Warriors, Cavs, and Thunder in the next two weeks. If they can continue to defeat the sub-.500 teams, the Kings could maintain their position as a playoff contender.
16. Chicago Bulls: (16-16)
December has not been a kind month for Chicago, as they have dropped from third in the conference down to a .500 team. The most memorable moment from the month was the back-to-back blowout losses to the Milwaukee Bucks, where the Bulls’ effort on the court was put into serious question. The Bulls have a nice lineup on paper with Jimmy Butler leading the way and Wade, Rondo, and Robin Lopez to back him up. But this lineup has proved to be very ineffective due to their lack of shooting and inconsistency.
17. Indiana Pacers: (15-18)
Indiana has been a hit-or-miss team all season. For example, they had a four game stretch earlier in the season where they defeated the Clippers by 21 points, then went to Portland and got spanked by 22, only to go back to L.A. and defeat the Clippers again by 10 and then lose to Golden State by 34 points. They have not been able to pull away from the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference, and continue to hover right around .500. This should be seen as underachieving for a team with a perennial All-Star in Paul George, and an up and coming star in Myles Turner. Indiana could be a dark horse in the East to upset a team like Cleveland or Toronto, but they will have to make the playoffs in order to have that opportunity.
18. Washington Wizards: (15-16)
The Wizards had a horrendous start to the season, but have now won seven of their last ten, and appear to be ready to compete in the Eastern Conference again. While they dominate at home with eleven wins on the year, they are just 3-10 on the road. Most of the Wizards struggles come from their lack of depth. With Bradley Beal finally beginning to find his shooting touch and John Wall continuing to put up double doubles with assists, watch for the Wizards to rise in the standings.
19. Detroit Pistons: (15-19)
Despite getting Reggie Jackson back, the Pistons have not returned to the same state of basketball they were playing at the end of last season. Andre Drummond may be great for rebounds and blocking shots, but he is just fourth on the team in scoring, averaging just 13.9 points per game. This team doesn’t have a dominant scoring threat, as no one on the team averages more than 17 points per game. While they did just beat a Cavaliers team without LeBron James, Detroit has had several games recently where they failed to even put up a fight (as exemplified by their 31 point loss to a struggling Bulls team). They will need to pull together behind Jackson and Drummond to compete for a playoff spot.
20. Orlando Magic: (15-19)
Orlando is at the bottom of the pit in terms of mediocre teams that are fighting for a playoff spot in the East. They have been able to compete against other sub .500 teams, but have failed to show up against the better teams in the league. The Magic clearly have lineup issues as Elfrid Payton has been moved to the bench, and the Magic’s three big men (Biyombo, Ibaka, and Vucevic) all compete for minutes. It is safe to assume that at least one or two of these players to be gone before the trade deadline, and that the Magic will continue to hope that Aaron Gordon will continue to improve.
21. Denver Nuggets: (14-18)
Like most other struggling teams in the league, Denver has issues playing defense. Their new starting lineup has allowed opponents to shoot 58 percent from three, and has struggled to protect the basket due to a lack of a rim protector. However, the offense has been clicking with Jokic beginning to thrive in the post. This team is filled with young talent, and is tied for the 8th seed at this point. If their defensive efficiency can pick up, Denver could be looking at their first playoff appearance since 2012.
22. New Orleans Pelicans: (13-21)
After starting off as the worst team in the league, the Pelicans have actually won six of their last ten games. New Orleans is beginning to figure out their lineup issues, as Terrance Jones has thrived alongside Anthony Davis. The Pelicans will need to consider moving Omir Asik to the bench and starting Jones in order to help Davis continue to thrive. With Tyreke Evans getting back into the lineup, this team could continue to put together solid games against lower-level teams.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves: (10-22)
Outside of the Blazers, Minnesota may be the next most disappointing team of the season. After a difficult year last year, this team was projected to be in position to not only make the playoffs, but have a high seed in the Western Conference. The talent is all there as Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are both in the top 25 in the league in scoring. However, the team’s youth is evident in their inability to close out games and lock down defensively. Give the Timberwolves another year or two and they should be in position to compete with the top teams in the West.
24. Los Angeles Lakers: (12-23)
Luke Walton seemed to have this team riding high, as they held the 8th spot in the West just a few weeks ago. However, this team has fell apart, and is just 2-8 in their last ten games. The Lakers have all sorts of potential with Russell and Ingram beginning to find their scoring groove, but their leading scorer is Lou Williams, who isn’t even in the starting lineup. Los Angeles is only four games out of the playoffs at this point in the season and has plenty of time to turn in around, but the current losing stretch they are on appears to reflect on the type of season they will have.
25. Miami Heat: (10-22)
Expectations for the Heat were not very high coming into this season after the news that Chris Bosh likely wouldn’t play was released. The question is, how will Miami rebuild? Goran Dragic is on the trade market, and the Heat will attempt to build around Whiteside and Justice Winslow. The only bright side about this season has been the success of Tyler Johnson, who was given $50 million dollars this off-season that could’ve went to re-signing Dwayne Wade. Johnson is second in bench scoring in the league this year, averaging 13.4 points per game.
26. Portland Trail Blazers: (14-20)
Portland has been the biggest disappointment of the year. After last year’s success despite losing the majority of their starting lineup, the Blazers had high expectations coming into the 2016 season. However, they have lost their last six games and have lost nine of their last ten. They have relied on Lillard and McCollum for scoring options, but Lillard has been suffering with ankle injuries, and the Blazers don’t have another scoring option outside of their top two players. The 8th seed in the West is open for the taking, but if Portland’s backcourt can’t carry the team like they did last season, the Blazers might be in trouble.
27. Dallas Mavericks: (9-23)
The Mavericks are at the bottom of the West, but are playing much better basketball than the were earlier in the year. They finally got the face of their franchise back, as Dirk Nowitzki attempts to remain healthy for as long as possible to help contribute. Harrison Barnes continues to take over the team, scoring 20.4 points per game, and Deron Williams remains a veteran presence on the court. Dallas is still missing out on Andrew Bogut, and will need major improvement to make a playoff run this year. For the time being, the Mavs should look to the future and figure out how to replace Nowitzki’s scoring presence when he retires.
28. Philadelphia 76ers: (7-23)
While the Sixers may have the worst record in the league, they have clearly improved since last year, as they only need three more wins to have as many as they had in 2015. Philly’s problem is figuring out how to use the talent they have. Joel Embiid is on pace to win Rookie of the Year, as he is averaging 18.7 points per game in limited minutes. However, previous first round pick Nerlens Noel has been taken out of the lineup, which appears to be an obvious waste of talent. Jahlil Okafor and Embiid also have struggled to find a rhythm on the court together, which brings into question if these two can both remain on the same team.
29. Phoenix Suns: (9-23)
Phoenix has plenty of scoring options with Bledsoe and Booker hovering around 20 points per game, but this team has been unable to defend and has only been able to defeat bottom-tier teams. They are 1-9 against teams that are over .500. This will not get any easier playing in a conference that has seven teams well over that mark. The Suns have plenty of potential to compete for a playoff spot, they just have been unable to put the pieces together.
30. Brooklyn Nets: (8-23)
There isn’t much hope for a team that gives up the most points in the league, 114.8 per game, and also has the worst differential in points per game, scoring 8.2 less points than their opponent per game. Unlike other bottom-feeding teams, the Nets don’t have much player potential outside of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, so look for this team to be bad for a long time.