Ranking teams before they've played a single game is tough. Ranking them after just a few games has proven to be even tougher. The very top and very bottom are pretty straightforward. In between, you've got probably-great teams who've sputtered to open the year, probably-terrible teams who've started hot, teams that merely benefited from a weak schedule, cold teams that suffered from a difficult schedule, teams struggling with injuries and all other manner of uncertainty. Painstaking efforts were made to weigh preseason expectations with performance-to-date, but that approach is ruined by the fact that some preseason expectations will prove to have been wildly wrong while some performance-to-date is meaningless and some marks the beginning of trends.
In short: If you see a team that strikes you as way too high or way too low, you're right. Relax. Give it a few weeks to sort itself out.
Here are the NBA Power Rankings following about half a week of basketball. Please don't hurt me.
|SB Nation Blog
|San Antonio Spurs
|W: NOH, OKC, UTA
|Pounding the Rock
|I overlooked San Antonio in my preseason rankings, and here we are. Most of the league's best teams have made changes, and they're all scrambling to adapt on the fly. Those cheeky Spurs hardly did anything (besides apparently pump Tim Duncan full of steroids and caffeine and possibly mongoose blood. What the hell has gotten into that guy? How is this allowed?) and they're just calmly going about their business destroying folks. And now Manu Ginobili is back? The Spurs are the worst, man.
|W: BOS, DEN; L: NYK
|Hot Hot Hoops
|They're 2-1, but the Heat defense has been eerily bad, and not just "bad for the defending champions" bad. Regular bad. The Knicks lit Miami up from downtown, which happens, but the Nuggets nearly beat them by pounding the ball inside and recycling their own misses.
|Los Angeles Clippers
|W: MEM, LAL; L: GSW
|Yeah, they seem to be as deep as they looked. Vinny Del Negro's still figuring out how to employ his depth (that may not be as much of an ongoing, forward process as I'm making it sound), but they're cruising along so far, slip-up against Golden State notwithstanding. Jamal Crawford's played nicely so far, which makes me instinctively nervous for whatever's coming next.
|Oklahoma City Thunder
|W: POR; L: SAS, ATL
|Welcome to Loud City
|The Thunder are one of several very good teams pausing to reestablish roles with a slightly warped roster. Kevin Durant's been a bit too generous, Russell Westbrook perhaps a bit too hyper. Kevin Martin just wants to run around and shoot things. The defense needs to recalibrate a bit. They'll be okay. (I say that like I know anything. The Thunder could lose the REST of their games this year and I'd just be over here shrugging.)
|New York Knicks
|W: MIA, PHI
|Posting and Toasting
|The absence of Amar'e Stoudemire forced Mike Woodson to change his lineup, and that's benefited the Knicks in several ways. Starting at the four, Carmelo Anthony's opened the season on a defiant, do-everything tear. With both Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd in the lineup, the ball's been happily zipping around the perimeter (balls love to zip). New York's defending and hitting threes, too, while playing at an astoundingly slow pace. Whether any of the above maintains in games three through 82 remains uncertain, but the Knicks haven't looked this thoroughly dominant to open a season in over a decade.
|W: OKC; L: HOU
|Al Horford has risen, and the Hawks looked a lot better when they featured him against the Thunder. It'll be important to keep him fed inside once Josh Smith is back on the floor.
|W: GSW; L: LAC
|Straight Outta Vancouver
|Sort of a Spurs-lite situation in terms of personnel status. The Grizzlies kept things as is, and they look like themselves. Granted, "themselves" describes a team still figuring out how to make pieces fit snugly, but early on, Memphis doesn't look prone to the hysterics we're seeing from another likely playoff contenders.
|W: DET, ATL; L: POR
|The Dream Shake
|Three games in, the Rockets seem like the most "as [player] goes, so goes [team]" team ever. James Harden (and Jeremy Lin, but holy shit, Harden) is everything over there. He and Lin run and gun and manage pick-and-rolls with their friends and with each other and with various spectators and referees and the occasional scorekeeper. The average Rocket's job is to finish when called upon, inhale rebounds and otherwise get out of the way, and it's worked out pretty nicely so far. Meanwhile, you can thank Harden's off night against Portland for this summary not being typed in caps lock.
|Los Angeles Lakers
|W: DET; L: DAL, POR, LAC
|Silver Screen and Roll
|Yes, it was against the Pistons, but the Lakers finally looked like they were accomplishing objectives on offense and defending as a unit and all that. Still sticking them down here mostly so we can look back at this and remember how truly dismal they were for a moment. In the meantime, Steve Blake ought to keep playing like that, eh?
|W: WAS; L: MIA, MIL
|The old Celtics have been fine, but Boston's had an especially difficult time getting its new guys to mesh, particularly on defense. One can only assume it's a matter of time and experimentation, or maybe something about hyenas or whatever, but Boston's looked especially miserable, even for a team in progress
|L: PHI, ORL, MIA
|W: SAC, CLE; L: NOH
|Blog a Bull
|Not gonna lie to you, babe: I don't have even an inkling of a sense of who the Bulls are this season. I can reasonably surmise that they'll play some defense, but I don't know much else. There's been a lot of Nate Robinson action going on here and it's throwing me off.
|W: BOS, CLE
|I've no idea what to make of a team that dismantled the Celtics, then barely beat the Cavaliers. (If we're being honest, I've no idea what to make of any of these teams, but let's keep that between us.) In any event, Brandon Jennings has been lively up to and including the game-winner versus Cleveland, and Milwaukee's Random Young Big Man Party Generator has given us one Tobias Harris breakout boogie celebration and one Larry Sanders techno rave party extravaganza. Might we enjoy an Ekpe Udoh zany balloon parade in the near future?
|Hard to slot these kids when they've only played one game. They really ought to play more games next week. But hey, there was plenty to like in that one win over the Raptors. Brook Lopez was an indomitable, foul-drawing monster, Deron Williams looked fully engaged, and the bench -- C.J. Watson! -- showed its potential. We'll see how that interior defense holds up against better teams, but it was a fine start to the Brooklyn era.
|W: LAL, CHA; L: UTA
|Dallas had a particularly tasty start to this Dirk-less portion of the season, shredding the Lakers before that even became cool. Darren Collison and Rodrigue Beaubois are giving them drive-and-kick looks they couldn't even imagine during the Jason Kidd era, and beyond that, they seem well staffed with guys who can create their own shots if need be. And with no Dirk, need be. On the other hand, even with Chris Kaman ready and Brandan Wright looking sharp in an increased role, this group can be pushed around a bit inside (ask the Jazz). Oh, and I'm pretty sad the Eddy Curry thing didn't pan out.
|W: TOR, SAC; L: CHA
|Without Danny Granger, the Pacers played down to the wire of three sloppy, unsightly games. They survived two of them, but the one they lost was to the Bobcats. In Granger's absence, David West has stepped forward as the guy the Pacers can lean on in big possessions. Also: Lance Stephenson? Yeah?
|W: DEN; L: NYK
|The defense looked terrific against the Nuggets, but it's going to be unclear from one game to the next where the points are coming form without Andrew Bynum out there. Doug Collins has a lot of shooters and cutters who work nicely as satellites, but without anybody around which they can orbit, it's kinda like "okay hey why don't I shoot now oh wait did you wanna shoot oh okay Nick Young will shoot go for it Nick."
|Golden State Warriors
|W: PHX, LAC; L: MEM
|Golden State of Mind
|Poor, poor Brandon Rush. That was nauseating. Thankfully for the Warriors, they're genuinely deep and otherwise healthy as of the completion of this sentence.
|W: DAL; L: NOH, SAS
|We were all over here like "yo, this is Gordon Hayward's breakout year and watch out for Alec Burks" and stuff. Naturally, it's been Mo Williams and Randy Foye running things with aplomb in the Utah backcourt.
|Portland Trail Blazers
|W: LAL, HOU; L: OKC
|Yo, Damian Lillard is really good. LaMarcus Aldridge has had a productive though not especially efficient start, and Nicolas Batum's earning his paycheck so far, at least in Portland's two wins. That bench is worrisome, though. One worries about the reserves' ability to generate points and also about Will Barton's ability to walk around outside without falling through a sewer grate.
|New Orleans Hornets
|L: SAS; W: UTA, CHI
|At the Hive
|With all this Eric Gordon weirdness and Anthony Davis head bonking going on, one might miss that Al-Farouq Aminu has been coming alive, Robin Lopez, has been producing, and the Hornets have been competing with -- beating, even -- pretty good teams.
|W: DEN, PHX
|Orlando Pinstriped Post
|They've already been beset by injuries and pushed into starting various DeQuans and E'Twauns ... and yet they've defended well, had nice stretches from the perimeter, and after coming back to beat the Suns, gone 2-0. On paper, the Magic look like a candidate to be the worst of teams. On the court so far, they've looked like a fun little outfit with a balanced, varied attack. Not especially good at anything, but oddly pleasant. Anyway, I suggest they continue to play games on a court rather than on some paper.
|W: MIN; L: IND, BKN
|It feels like there's something to the Raptors -- that they've got an actual team coming together here -- but hasn't amounted to much yet, and it might very well take them this whole season to coalesce. In the meantime, DeMar DeRozan made the wise choice of reeling off a few solid games after signing an extension that gave most Raptor fans googly eyes, and the "let Kyle Lowry do whatever he damn well pleases" offense works better than plenty of history's grand schemes.
|W: SAC; L: TOR
|Brandon Roy's play has been less inspiring than expected and Nikola Pekovic may be missing Kevin Love's magnetic pull, but this team looks prepared to be pretty decent once they're healthy. It might be tough to tread water between now and whenever that is. Hopefully, JJ Barea's concussion doesn't put him out too long.
|W: WAS; L: CHI, MIL
|Fear the Sword
|Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao are each splendid enough to win this team some games, but good lord, is that bench gruesome. Just unseemly. And yet Byron Scott doesn't seem to mind letting that group infest the court en masse for minutes at a time, at least thus far.
|W: DET; L: GSW, ORL
|Bright Side of the Sun
|They're not even thaaaaaat bad so far, just super flaky and unreliable, which, when you look at who's getting minutes, kind of makes sense. Regardless of context, watching Luis Scola in his new home has been fun.
|L: CHI, MIN, IND
|You know, the Kings are losing, but they're defending pretty well and hanging around in these losses. Oddly, a major weak point thus far has been that frontcourt. DeMarcus Cousins seems a little disengaged -- I swear every time I switch to the Kings game, Cousins is coiling to fling a jumper off the rim -- and Thomas Robinson's been a bit jittery to start the season. Not jittery: Marcus Thornton. Not ever. Marcus Thornton doesn't blink.
|W: IND; L: DAL
|Rufus on Fire
|They won! They beat the Pacers! That zone-heavy defense actually survived the first game before getting poo'd upon by the Mavericks. Mike Dunlap's been playing around with some small lineups so far, which makes sense since his bigs haven't given him much.
|L: CLE, BOS
|On one hand, they look pretty awful as currently composed. On the other hand, I love living in a world where Kevin Seraphin is a team's foremost threat. And yeah, I'm saying that somewhat snidely, but the guy's genuinely a whole bunch of fun and has already come a long way.
|L: HOU, PHX, LAL
|Detroit Bad Boys
|Yoooo, Pistons backcourt. Guys. You've got to start hitting your shots, guys. This is not a good strategy.
|Well, the FrostDonkeys have yet to actually play a game after scheduling conflicts with the local yak rodeo rendered the Donkey Dome unavailable for opening night. Meanwhile, guard DuDaphne Maurier is already out 3-4 weeks following a fractured ulna suffered while karate chopping a bus and canine head coach Marv Biscuits ate the organization's only whistle.