Nine of the greatest (aka most available) minds from around SB Nation's basketball network came together to create this season's weekly NBA Power Rankings. The rankings themselves are based on a complicated mathematic formula that makes the BCS Computer Rankings look like second grade chicken-scratch. In other words, we all vote and then count the votes.
We will be bringing you NBA Power Rankings each week and have decided to present them by conference instead of all together. While fans of a few top teams want to know how they rank up with the best of the best, we feel that more people will be served if we talk about how teams are ranked within their conferences. Each week a different author will present the power rankings but the list itself is a collaborative effort. That way, you have no one to yell at.
Records and voting do not include action from Monday night.
This might come as a shock to all of you fine fans out there, but doing a preseason power ranking is an exercise in futility. As such, its no surprise to see a fair bit of movement now that we have real basketball to learn from. In some cases, a strong or weak start has been quickly rewarded or punished. In others, the panel has decided to withhold judgment to see if our expectation comes closer to matching reality in the coming weeks.
In re-assessing the league after a week's worth of games, two things are abundantly clear. First off, we have no idea which of the bad teams in the East are really bad, and which ones are only sort of bad. That's a distinction important enough to come with a playoff spot east of the Mississippi, so we'll try our best to get it right going forward, which leaves the other thing: The Eastern Conference is bad. I mean, really bad. I'm sure I've got my fair share of bias, due to my day job covering Hollywood's team, but looking at the bottom of the East is depressing. Here are some fun early stats that mean nothing and everything at the same time: Eight of the worst 10 offensive teams (according to offensive rating) are Eastern Conference teams. Four of the six slowest teams are in the East. Six of the nine worst point differentials (including the New Jersey Nets, who have a WINNING RECORD) are in the East. Slow teams that can't score effectively and lose by large margins? Sign me up!
Here's a fun early stat that does mean something. Through Sunday, The Western Conference has eight wins against their Eastern Conference brethren. How many wins for the East? One.
Don't get me wrong, the East is still plenty top heavy, and their conference boasts more true championship contenders than the West does, but things get so ugly so fast out East that a double digit loss to the Timberwolves doesn't even make a team drop a single rank. Out west, a loss to Minnesota will actually get you banished to ... you guessed it ... the Eastern Conference.
1. The Los Angeles Lakers: Record - 3-0
Last Week's Ranking: 1, SB Nation Blog: Silver Screen and Roll
As SB Nation's resident Lakers blogger, I should have a pretty good handle on Kobe Bryant's band of merry men. And merry is exactly what they are, with the Miami Heat stealing all the headlines and a fair share of the envy/vitriol which would otherwise have been reserved for the two time defending champs. The Lakers quietly but emphatically improved the back end of their roster, and those upgrades have played a starring role in the Lakers' 3-0 start. It's early yet (aren't small sample sizes great), but this year's Lakers squad looks to be miles ahead of last year's version in outside shooting and ball movement, the two key offensive areas in which the champs struggled in early 2010.
I must admit to being pleasantly surprised that the Lakers made it through three games undefeated. An opening night victory against the Houston Rockets which required late game heroics from newcomer Steve Blake, and a road win against the Phoenix Suns, which saw L.A. do just enough to keep the Suns at arms length all night long, show that the Lakers are already in mid-season form. 100-percent effort won't make many appearances at Staples Center during the regular season, and I personally guarantee the Lakers will go through a slide that will lose them control of this prestigious spot in the power rankings at least once this season, but until then, these guys will still beat a majority of the association without red-lining, especially since they've gotten more adept at winning lazy.
Youth's turn at the top
2. Portland Trail Blazers: Record - 3-0
Last Week's Ranking: 6, SB Nation Blog: Blazers Edge
The Blazers have started the season strong, and we bloggers are buying in, with Portland jumping past the rest of the second tier into second place. Sure, their early run of opponents (wins vs. PHX, at LAC and NYK) isn't exactly a murderer's row, but you gotta give the Blazers credit for getting those three wins while leading the league (probably by a wide margin) in frequent flyer miles. From Portland to Los Angeles to New York, the team from Rip City is certainly well-traveled. It's all good though, because with a few more flights, Paul Allen will totally be able to redeem all his points to pay for Greg Oden's contract extension (or his next surgery).
3. Oklahoma City Thunder: Record - 2-1
Last Week's Ranking: 3, SB Nation Blog: Welcome to Loud City
Despite some early season warning signs, the Thunder have maintained their lofty position near the top of the Western Conference this week. Their opening night win over the Chicago Bulls got people excited enough to overlook barely squeaking by the lowly Pistons and then throwing down a real stink bomb against the Utah Jazz. Kevin Durant suddenly looks mortal again, shooting a shade under 39 percent through three games (My Solution: Shoot more threes. KD is 46 percent from behind the arc, and only 37 percent in front of it), and the spectacular defense of a year ago has really fallen off so far, as OKC currently ranks 23rd in defensive rating (from an admittedly small sample size).
4. New Orleans Hornets: Record - 3-0
Last week's Ranking: 10, SB Nation Blog: At the Hive
The Hornets clock in with this week's biggest jump, from missing the playoffs last week to having home court advantage in Round 1 this week (you know, if power rankings were in charge of such things). Just on the basis of performance and strength of schedule, the Hornets are actually the class of the league. All three of their wins came against former playoff teams, including an impressive 9 point victory in San Antonio. With Chris Paul back to breaking advanced statistics (his assist to turnover ratio is currently 7!) and David West once again playing like a second-tier All-Star, does NO have what it takes to re-capture the magic that saw them one game away from the Western Conference Finals just three short years ago?
Unwilling to kick the bucket
5. Dallas Mavericks: Record - 2-1
Last Week's Ranking: 2, SB Nation Blog: Mavs Moneyball
The Mavericks' rather steep drop seems to be indicative of the fact that nobody really knows where to place them. Ranked No. 2 last week, they were one point away from a perfect record in three games, and yet they tumble down the rankings while other teams (see OKC) remain impervious despite more embarrassing losses.
Dallas has been stunningly consistent over the past decade, always winning more than 50 games, but there is a general feeling around the panel (and the league) that this is a team which is stuck in neutral. They haven't gotten worse, but they haven't gotten better either. It's ironic that a team which chases the big move more than any other always seems to find itself right back where they started, just on the outside looking in at the true championship contenders.
6. Denver Nuggets: Record - 2-1
Last Week's Ranking: 7, SB Nation Blog: Denver Stiffs
Unlike Dallas, the Nuggets might move more than any team in the league. Swept out of the playoffs in 2008, legit contender in '09, and back again, this year's team is even more volatile than usual with 'Melo making it clear that his preference would be to seek employment elsewhere. Still, an opening night demolition of the Utah Jazz shows that, at the top of their game, these guys can throw down with just about anyone, especially with George Karl back at the helm, possibly the only guy in the world who knows how to lead this stormy team.
7. Memphis Grizzlies: Record - 2-1
Last Week's Ranking - 11, SB Nation Blog: Straight Outta Vancouver
The Grizz have to be happy with the start to their season, as a split of their first two games (vs. ATL, @ DAL) seems just about right even if the expected results and actual results got mixed up a bit. Memphis has a good, balanced lineup (Five different guys averaging 15 points per game), and early season results indicate they might be playing a little D this year (currently ranked 7th in defensive rating, AWVSSS [Albeit With Very Small Sample Size]). Plus, through three games, Rudy Gay is almost earning that ridiculous contract.
8. San Antonio Spurs: Record - 1-1
Last Week's Ranking - 5, SB Nation Blog: Pounding the Rock
Oh what a difference a year makes. Last season, the Spurs looked like geniuses for drafting DeJuan Blair in the second round, and fools by trading for Richard Jefferson. RJ is back, with a questionable new contract in tow, and so far he looks to be worth every penny. Meanwhile, Blair is barely above the Mendoza line, a term which should never come anywhere near basketball. Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker all seem to be just fine though, and it will be tough to make any judgments of the Spurs until we get to see Tiago Splitter in action.
Too much respect, or else not enough
9. Utah Jazz: Record - 1-2
Last Week's Ranking: 4, SB Nation Blog: SLC Dunk
Win or lose (mostly lose), the Jazz have been going big this season. They opened with a 22-point beatdown provided by the Nuggets, then took their suck show back home to lose by 16 to the Suns, but they rebounded with a 21 point win in OKC, a result which is fresh in the mind of the panel and qualifies them to rank ahead of some folks with better records, and the team that beat them so badly in Utah. The Paul Milsapp era has shown to be a slight improvement over the Carlos Boozer era so far, but the same thing can be said for the Al Jefferson era vis a vis Greg Ostertag.
10. Golden State Warriors: Record - 2-1
Last Week's Ranking: 14, SB Nation Blog: Golden State of Mind
It's hard to be too impressed with Golden State's fast start, as the two teams they have beaten, the Rockets and the Clippers, have yet to beat anybody else either, and both of those victories came at home. They looked far less comfortable outside of Oracle Arena, though it's not exactly embarrassing to lose to the Lakers. Monta Ellis has been slaying dragons, and his opening night 46 points on 24 shots might have been the line of the early season if not for some triple doubles out east.
11. Houston Rockets: Record - 0-3
Last Week's Ranking: 8, SB Nation Blog: The Dream Shake
Houston seems to be getting a bit of a pass, due to a tough opening slate of games. They nearly de-throned the Lakers on ring night and took Golden State down to the wire in a up and down thriller the very next night. Losing by double digits to the Nuggets at home was a disappointment, and this is clearly a team that has a lot to figure out regarding how to switch between playing with and without Yao Ming. Still, too many smart people and too many good pieces are involved with the Rockets to imagine them being at the bottom of the conference for too long.
12. Phoenix Suns: Record - 1-2
Last Week's Ranking: 9, SB Nation Blog: Bright Side of the Sun
The Suns are the opposite version of the Golden State Warriors, as their losses have come at the hands of two teams who are yet to lose a game. Kudos to them for taking it to Utah in Salt Lake (never an easy place to play). Steve Nash has been surprisingly turnover prone, Hedo Turkoglu has been unsurprisingly ineffective, but they still have one of the better benches in the Association. Alvin Gentry has got to find out if Goran Dragic can do whatever it is that he does for more than 15 minutes a game, even if it comes at the blasphemous expense of Steve Nash's minutes.
13. Sacramento Kings: Record - 2-1
Last week's ranking: 13, SB Nation Blog: Sactown Royalty
No love for the Sacramento Kings? I know their trio of opening opponents (Minnesota, New Jersey and Cleveland) is basically a who's who of potential lottery candidates, but as the only WC team to start the season with three straight road games, their 2-1 start seems more impressive on the surface than Golden State's, and certainly should earn them points when measured up against the 0-3 and 1-2 teams ranked ahead of them. But I guess the Kings will just have to play the "We don't get no respect" card until they play a team that has a prayer of sniffing playoff basketball.
Outside of last place is a good week
14. Minnesota Timberwolves: Record - 1-2
Last Week's Ranking: 15, SB Nation Blog: Canis Hoopus
When compared against pre-season expectations, any period of time in which the Timberwolves win one out of three games should be considered a rousing success. That their victory came by double digits against a team with serious playoff aspirations in the Milwaukee Bucks makes it all the more impressive. But they wouldn't be the league's most depressing franchise if that positive note wasn't accompanied by a big pile of negative, in the form of Michael Beasley admitting his team might be the worst in the NBA and the incomprehensible fact that Minny's best player can't get more than half a game of run. I know Kurt Rambis came from L.A., and that means I'm supposed to be firmly by his side, but let's just say I'm glad he didn't wait it out for Phil Jackson to retire. Looking ahead, it's tough to see any possible wins for them in the next couple weeks, and if it weren't for the complete ineptitude of the team below them, I'd feel supremely confident that their visit to not-last place wouldn't last long.
Stunningly bad, even for them
15. Los Angeles Clippers: Record - 0-3
Last Week's Ranking: 12, SB Nation Blog: Clips Nation
I guess it's fitting that both the best and worst teams in the Western Conference both reside in the same city (hell, in the same building). With three double digit losses out of three games, the Clips' plunge to the bottom of our rankings is well deserved. It's a good thing Blake Griffin is worth the price of admission all by himself, because there is literally nothing else compelling or worthy about this franchise. The Clippers are currently shooting 38 percent as a team, with Baron Davis leading the way with a 32 percent clip. Also, they are giving over 10 minutes a game to Brian Cook, and he has responded so far by posting a negative PER, which I didn't even know was possible. Maybe Griffin's season ending injury was a blessing in disguise for him, as that's one less season he'll actually have to play for this team.
HAHAHAHAHA, THEY TOTALLY STINK ... Oh
1. Miami Heat: Record - 3-1
Last Week's Ranking: 1, SB Nation Blog: Peninsula is Mightier
On behalf of NBA fans everywhere, I'd like to thank the Heat for allowing the dream of the Big Three's cataclysmic failure to survive for an extra 24 hours. That opening night defeat in Boston was the perfect opportunity for all of us to get in one last hate bomb before the expected regular season domination began, and I for one appreciated the opportunity.
Four games in, there are two abundantly clear things about the Miami Heat. The first is that their offense is less than the sum of its parts, with tons of kinks to work out. It's no coincidence that the Heat have looked at their best offensively when at least one of the Big Three is on the bench. The second thing is that the offense will not derail their dreams of regular season domination in the slightest, not with a defense that has been overwhelming throughout. The naysayers will point out that 3 of their four opponents are the exact opposite of offensive juggernauts, but the Heat's best defensive performance was saved for the one legitimately good offensive team they've faced, the Orlando Magic. The Magic, incidentally, were supposed to be one of the teams that would give Miami a ton of trouble, because they don't have anybody inside to stop Dwight Howard. If that's what the Heat look like when they are out of sync, the in sync possibility is not a fun thought for the rest of the NBA.
Good enough to beat up on each other, everybody else
2. Boston Celtics: Record - 2-1
Last Week's Ranking: 3, SB Nation Blog: Celtics Blog
Is there any better summation of this year's Celtics team than what was provided in the first two games? A dominant win over the Heat, keyed by a defensive performance which limited the Heat superteam to less points in a quarter and a half than the Miami Dwyane Wades suffered at any time last season, followed up by a loss to the very Cavaliers who were decimated by LeBron James' departure. The Boston Celtics: Good enough to beat anybody, bad enough to lose to anybody, able to turn it on, and turn it back off, in a 24 hour period.
3. Orlando Magic: Record - 1-1
Last Week's Ranking: 2, SB Nation Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post
Tough to get a good read on the Magic after only two games, both ridiculous blowouts (one in victory, one in defeat). They looked unbeatable in dispatching Washington, but that 2nd half effort (25 total points) in Miami was hardly the announcement of another year as a title contender. Also, if Magic fans were hoping last year's playoff disappearing act by Rashard Lewis was a fluke, his 11% 3 pt shooting (AWVSSS) is hardly confidence inspiring. On the plus side, keep up the good offensive work, Dwight Howard. Me likey.
4. Atlanta Hawks: Record 3-0
Last Week's Ranking: 5, SB Nation Blog: Peachtree Hoops
The only undefeated team in the Eastern Conference, Atlanta used all that momentum to jump ... 1 spot. Then again, two of those three victories came against bottom feeders Philly and Washington, and neither win was what you would call dominant. With the three big boys beating up on each other, its easy to see why Atlanta's perfect start hasn't gotten them more street cred. They do boast the best offensive rating in the league, with the slimmest of margins over the defending champs, but Larry Drew's promise of increased pace has failed to materialize so far.
Unlikely to drop no matter what their record says
5. Chicago Bulls: Record 1-1
Last Week's Ranking: 4, SB Nation Blog: Blog-a-Bull
Another lazy team in the opening week (only two games, they are such slackers), the Bulls ended up with results you'd expect, with a loss in OKC to start things off, and a win against Detroit a few nights later. With Carlos Boozer yet to see the court in a Bulls uniform, there are still a ton of unanswered questions about this team's potential. In other news, because we totally expect two games worth of stats to bare out over the full season, Derrick Rose is clearly intent on setting a franchise record for shots per game (no small feat in the house that MJ built), averaging 29 shots a game so far this year (in only 35 minutes no less). In the words of the immutable Ron Burgandy, "I'm not even mad right now. Actually, I'm kind of impressed".
6. Milwaukee Bucks: Record - 1-2
Last Week's Ranking: 6, SB Nation Blog: Brew Hoop
I'm not going to lie to you, I'm having a hard time justifying the panel's decision to stand pat with Milwaukee at number 6. There's no shame in losing to the stronger-than-expected Hornets in New Orleans, but a double digit loss to the Timberwolves? That should have been enough to kick the Bucks out of faux playoff contention. Besides, it's not as if a home win against the winless Bobcats is a real strong event to build upon. Blame an Eastern Conference that doesn't have many decent teams, I guess. But hey, triple doubles are cool. Andrew Bogut is cool. You know what else is cool? Players with negative PER, of which the Bucks have two! My apologies to Brian Cook.
Proudly providing a winning record since, well, since now
7. Indiana Pacers: Record - 2-1
Last Week's Ranking: 12, SB Nation Blog: Indy Cornrows
The first of the big movers in the Eastern Conference, the Pacers jump up 5 spots on account of them having a winning record, something which may not have been expected of this group at any time this season. One of those wins even has a tinge of impressiveness, a road win against a playoff team from last year in the Charlotte Bobcats. Then again, the NBA is clearly setting the Pacers up for success, as evidenced by letting them play the 76ers twice in the first 4 games of the season. Danny Granger has been just good enough to convince you of his All-Star credentials, and Roy Hibbert is the missing piece that has the Pacers thinking of an early exit in this year's playoffs (that's progress, people).
8. New Jersey Nets: Record - 2-1
Last Week's Ranking: 15, SB Nation Blog: Nets Daily
The Nets have the honor of being the biggest mover in this week's rankings, jumping past half the conference from bottom feeder to playoff team in one short week. Their record apparently speaks volumes, though with three home games, two against less than austere competition, it can't be considered too much of a surprise. This week's ranking is probably too high, a knee-jerk reaction to a winning record in a bad conference, while last week's ranking was probably too low, a opposite-of-knee-jerk reaction (anybody have a more descriptive suggestion?) to one of the worst records posted in a long time the previous season. Still, with Devin Harris back to looking Devin Harris-y and Brook Lopez and Derrick Favors playing at and above expectations respectively, there's certainly reason for optimism in Newark, which is a humorous statement to put into print.
Congratulations, you've won a game!
9. New York Knicks: Record - 1-2
Last Week's Ranking: 8, SB Nation Blog: Posting and Toasting
Hard to be too upset with the Knicks for losing games in Boston and at home against Portland, and a road win, even against the Raptors, is always a positive thing. Still, one would be hopeful that the additions of Amar'e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton would see the Knicks climb higher than the bottom third in offensive rating. Amar'e's turnovers per game is far too high though (a shade under 6), as is the number of apostrophes required to denote his ownership of anything. The Knicks need Danillo Gallinari to find the range, and for someone besides a small forward to lead the charge in picking up rebounds.
10. Toronto Raptors: Record - 1-1
Last Week's Ranking: 14, SB Nation Blog: Raptors HQ
The pickings get real slim, real fast at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, don't they? That's not to say that the Raptors are undeserving of the 10th spot in the conference, but how many teams would you rate lower than Toronto from the Western Conference? The Clippers, sure, and probably the Timberwolves. Anybody else? Methinks not. But hey, Andrea Bargnani has responded pretty well to being the "go-to" scorer, and Reggie Evans is cleaning the defensive glass better than anybody in the league. In a conference in which a loss to Minnesota doesn't even make you drop out of the top 6, those final playoff spots are completely up for grabs, so why not Toronto?
11. Cleveland Cavaliers: Record - 1-2
Last Week's Ranking: 13, SB Nation Blog: Fear the Sword
Good for the Cavs for leveraging all their pain and suffering into a heroic opening night win against the same Boston Celtics who ended the Cavs' previous season in such ignominy. Unfortunately, that opening night win might end up being the highlight of their season, as a blowout loss to fellow bottom feeder Toronto was followed by a home loss to the Sacramento Kings. They jumped up a couple spots (a win will do that for you in the EC), but this is a team which was built around a massive piece that is no longer part of the puzzle, and it's hard to see how they'll function properly. Then again, their best remaining player has yet to suit up this season, so labeling them as the worst EC team with a win so far is probably a bit premature.
0 for October
12. Charlotte Bobcats: Record - 0-3
Last Week's Ranking: 7, SB Nation Blog: Rufus on Fire
How do you separate a bunch of winless teams at the bottom of the conference? I guess you start with the one that made the playoffs the previous year. I mean, this team did make the playoffs last year, right? There's no shame in road losses to Dallas or Milwaukee, but that home loss to Indiana stings a bit. Plus, the defense which was their calling card last season is off to a terrible start in the current campaign, as the Bobcats currently rank 29th out of 30 in defensive rating (AWVSSS). Gerald Wallace is failing to match his awesome rebounding prowess of last season, and it's a source of real pain for the 'Cats as they don't have a single guy picking up more than 6 boards a game.
13. Detroit Pistons: Record - 0-3
Last Week's Ranking: 10, SB Nation Blog: Detroit Bad Boys
Next up in the parade of ineptitude at the bottom of the Eastern Conference is the Detroit Pistons. I can't argue with their place, as they lost the first two games by a combined 4 points, and @ NJ, home vs. OKC, @ CHI is a decently tough open to the season. Ben Gordan is rebounding nicely from his season to forget last season, but that still leaves a large group of disappointing players (Rip Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Charlie Villanueva) that are going to keep Detroit from being competitive this season. This is the NBA roster which is most desperately seeking change.
14. Philadelphia 76ers: Record - 0-3
Last Week's Ranking: 9, SB Nation Blog: Liberty Ballers
Another winless team who, if we look at the games played so far, we would half expect to be winless, so no harm done I suppose, though only one of those games was even competitive down the stretch. When the highlights of your early season are "Elton Brand isn't dead" and "Evan Turner crossed over Dwyane Wade", it's hard to get over-excited about the future.
15. Washington Wizards: Record - 0-2
Last Week's Ranking: 11, SB Nation Blog: Bullets Forever
Another amazing rookie, another horrible team. Can't we just skip the regular season with these guys and let John Wall and Blake Griffin play in the Rookie-Sophmore Challenge 82 times? The Wizards achieve worst of the worst status compliments of having the worst point differential in the league. Of course, that's pretty much all on the basis of their opening night 30 point loss to the Magic, a loss which was forgivable, even if the margin of defeat was not. A 4 point loss in Atlanta two nights later was far more respectable, as was John Wall's performance in that game, a coming out party of sorts after the disappointment of his debut. We've yet to see Wall team up with the other player of note on Washington's roster, Gilbert Arenas, so there is still reason for hope in the nation's capital. But not that much hope.