NBA Week 5 (and a half) Power Rankings

Posted: 12/04/2013 by levcohen in Basketball

This isn’t quite the beginning of week 5, but it is the middle of it, so I’ll call it my week five and a half power rankings.

1. San Antonio Spurs, 15-3 (1): Although the Spurs lost games against Oklahoma City and Houston last week, they stay in the top spot. They don’t have the best record in the NBA (Pacers are at 16-2), but there have still been great signs over the past week. Tim Duncan is finally waking up. He put up 23 points and 21 rebounds against the Hawks, and that reminded all of us that the Spurs have been one of the best teams in basketball even without a lot of production from their most skilled player. That’s a really good sign.

2. Indiana Pacers, 16-2 (2): After a nail biting, four point loss in Portland, the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert engaged with the Blazers’ LaMarcus Aldridge in a friendly twitter conversation. Hibbert said that the Pacers would be traveling to Portland again- in the NBA Finals. While this probably won’t happen, it probably won’t be the fault of the Pacers, who are hitting on all cylinders. In a two team Eastern Conference, they have only played David West and Hibbert 30 minutes apiece per game. That’s great news for those two, as both looked tired by the time they were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Final by the Miami Heat. Heck, they are only playing Paul George as much as they are (36 minutes) because it would be an injustice to give the Eastern Conference Player of the Month any less court time.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder, 13-3 (4): The Thunder have now won eight games in a row, and have taken up their rightful spot near the top of the Western Conference. They aren’t blowing teams out right now, with five of their wins coming by 3 points or fewer. But any team with Kevin Durant seems unlikely to lose when they take the court, especially with complementary players like Russel Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The Thunder could (and should) be playing their best lineup more often. Their four best players right now are Westbrook, Durant, Ibaka, and Reggie Jackson. Since Westbrook and Jackson are both labeled as point guards, they don’t usually play together. And since the Thunder need a prototypical center, they end up playing Kendrick Perkins eighteen minutes per game (and starting every game), nearly as many as Jackson. If they insist on playing a true center, they should trade Perkins and some assets for one; how does Perkins and Jeremy Lamb for Spencer Hawes sound?

4. Miami Heat, 14-4 (3): The Heat lost their long winning streak last night to the Pistons as Dwyane Wade sat out with an injury. If Wade’s health is the Heat’s main priority this regular season (we are all assuming that they will get at least the #2 seed, and nobody should assume otherwise), then getting LeBron James another MVP is the second priority. Last year, James won five of the six player of the month awards. This year, he lost the first month to Paul George. Eventually, voters get tired of picking the same guy, and James could really help himself by shooting more. He seems to sometimes shrink away from taking tougher shots (but ones he can still make) because he is gunning for a 60% field goal percentage (he is shooting 59.5 now). He is shooting 2.3 times fewer per game (17.8 to 15.5), and 15 shots per game isn’t a lot for a guy playing 36 minutes per game.

5. Portland Trailblazers, 15-3 (5): After beating the Pacers, I really wanted to move Portland up, but the top four are so established and good that I couldn’t find a way to. I’ll just say that the Blazers look legit and the distance between they and the top four has closed while they separate themselves from the other teams.

6. Houston Rockets, 13-6 (7): The Rockets will be considered a team in flux until they can trade Omer Asik. But they look pretty good for a team in flux. For all their supposed defensive woes (I shouldn’t say supposed, they are legit), they are fourth in the NBA in point differential. Their offense, averaging 109 points per game, is that good. They just lose at Utah, which put a dampen on their recent successes, but they should not be overlooked, especially after a recent win in San Antonio. Wins in San Antonio are pretty rare for away teams (they have 17 home losses in the last three years and change).

7. Denver Nuggets, 11-6 (9): The Nuggets are rolling. They haven’t lost a game since November 18th (seven wins in a row), and have four more games against Eastern Conference opponents coming up, so could easily move to 15-6. Not bad for a team that was floundering (and 28th in my rankings) three weeks ago. I expect them to go down from here, but they are much better than I thought.

8. Los Angeles Clippers, 12-6 (6): The Clips move down a little here, but not substantially. Their problem is clear; they have a tough time defending. They are also very reliant on Chris Paul, and their last game was a home loss (never good). Adding on to their woes is the loss of J.J. Redick (out 6-8 weeks). Still, let’s not get crazy, as the Clippers have still won twice as many games as they have lost and are led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

9. Golden State Warriors, 11-8 (8): The Warriors have played just three games against the Eastern Conference, which is a disadvantage, so we’ll cut them a little slack for losing five of their last eight games (by the way, they are 3-0 against the East). Stephen Curry is terrific, furthering increased his PER from 21 last year to 24 this year, mainly because of superior assist numbers (up from seven assists per game to nine).

10. Dallas Mavericks, 11-8 (10): No change for the Mavs, who will be fighting with a billion other good teams for the seventh and eighth seeds (all but two teams in the West have a shot at the #8 seed).

11. Minnesota Timberwolves, 9-10 (11): The Twolves have definitely cooled off after their great start, but I still prefer them to a Kobe-less Laker team, an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans team, and a Marc Gasol-less Grizzlies team. And that’s exactly what the Timberwolves are. They could make the playoffs if everything breaks for them, but it shouldn’t be a given. They score a lot of points (3rd in the NBA in points per game), but are pretty poor defensively. I get the sense that they need to make a trade to shake things up a little, because as exciting as their current roster is, it’ll be 44 wins max. Their schedule has been really tough, and they have a good point differential, so I expect them to eventually move back up. But they could use a trade (maybe Jameer Nelson, as he would be a great complement to Ricky Rubio, or Arron Afflalo, who could slide in nicely next to Kevin Martin in the starting lineup).

12. Memphis Grizzlies, 9-8 (12): Another team with no change (maybe I should to these rankings less often, as only one team has moved more than one spot). They’ll struggle and stay around .500 until Marc Gasol gets back. They’ll give good teams a tough match-up, but occasionally will have letdowns without their star center.

13. New Orleans Pelicans, 9-8 (15): If Anthony Davis hadn’t gone down, the Pellies would be #10 right now. But Davis broke his hand, and now it might be tough for the Pelicans staying in the playoff race. Luckily for New Orleans, Ryan Anderson is back now, and he is playing extremely well. He’s averaging 23 points per game (amazingly), and is hitting four and a half 3’s per game. With Davis down, he will move into the starting lineup, and the Pellies will also give Tyreke Evans more playing time now. So they can tread water with their big man down, but it’s still sad.

14. Los Angeles Lakers, 9-9 (14): Now we have a date for Kobe Bryant; if all goes well, Bryant will return to the court on Friday, and he has reportedly been playing extremely well in practice. Kobe has to like that guys like Nick Young (14 ppg), Jodie Meeks (13 ppg), Steve Blake (10 and 8 assists), Jordan Hill (9 and 9 rebounds), and Wesley Johnson (8 ppg) have all been better than expected. Kobe and Pau Gasol could have a decent supporting cast, even with Chris Kaman and Steve Nash, projected starters coming into the year, banged up.

15. Phoenix Suns, 9-9 (13): The Suns are clearly a step behind the true contenders in the West, at least talent wise. But the Suns have the Blazers’ number. They have given Portland two of their three losses on the season, which is obviously extremely impressive. They also have two wins against New Orleans and one against Denver, so they don’t shy away against more talented teams.

16. Chicago Bulls, 7-9 (21): I don’t know why I’m doing it, but I raised the Bulls five spots to a more respectable #16. Maybe because it’s because I originally overreacted to the Derrick Rose injury, but I was convinced in the last week (which included a 20 point win over the Pistons and two losses by a combined seven points against the Pellies and Cavs) that the Bulls aren’t going to phone it in. And they finished in the middle of a better Eastern Conference next year with practically the same team. I still think that they have one of the three or four best teams in the East right now, even without Rose.

17. Washington Wizards, 9-9 (19): The Wizards are rolling, as they should be in the weak Eastern Conference. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; the Wizards are extremely talented. And they are 7-5 against their Eastern Conference brethren, so it looks like they are an above average Eastern Conference team. They don’t have much depth, but their top six of John Wall (37 minutes per game), Bradley Beal (40, 2nd in NBA), Trevor Ariza (35), Nene (33), Marcin Gortat (34), and Martell Webster (31), looks pretty reliable. Now they need to find a bench.

18. Detroit Pistons, 8-10 (18): The Pistons hold steady at #18, and they are basically the same story as the Wizards. They have a ton of talent, and probably have even more potential than Washington, because they have more depth. Andre Drummond, at all of 20 years old, is turning into a superstar. He is averaging 13 and 13 with two steals and a block and a quarter per game. He is also shooting 65% from the field. But something about Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond playing together doesn’t work. Maybe Monroe can be traded? Who knows.

19. Atlanta Hawks, 9-10 (16): I still like the Hawks, but I’ve decided to drop them behind Washington and Detroit, two teams that have a lot of potential. The Hawks have a decent amount of talent, probably enough to end with a #3-#6 seed in the East, but not enough to make a real playoff run. To be honest, the Eastern Conference Finals is going to be Miami against Indiana. Period. No other team is even close.

20. Toronto Raptors, 6-11 (17): Well, so much for that. After four straight losses, the Raptors are free falling. And they probably want to tank, given that they have a smart GM and a below-average basketball team. Expect Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, and/or Demar DeRozan to get traded.

21. Boston Celtics, 8-12 (23): The Celtics are the new leaders of the worst division in the history of basketball, the Atlantic division. They haven’t been successful at tanking, but on the flip side they have a bunch of trade-able players. Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee..

22. Sacramento Kings, 4-12 (25): The Kings are 1-2 against the East, and 3-10 against the West. Once they play more games against the East, their record should improve.

The Rest (too depressing too talk about):
23. Charlotte Bobcats, 8-11 (20)
24. Brooklyn Nets, 5-13 (26)
25. Philadelphia 76ers, 7-12 (24)
26. Orlando Magic, 6-12 (22)
27. Utah Jazz, 4-15 (29)
28. Cleveland Cavaliers, 5-12 (28)
29. New York Knicks, 3-13 (27)
30. Milwaukee Bucks, 3-14 (30)

 

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Comments
  1. philabundant says:

    Is it my imagination or are there an awful lot of teams with defensive problems?

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