With slightly over a fourth of the NBA season being played, teams are starting to develop their season identity. Meaning, at this point in the season you can typically see what type of season a team will have. Thus far, some teams have overachieved: Memphis, New York, Houston and Oklahoma City. Underachieved: Dallas, Atlanta, Portland, the Los Angeles Clippers, and Washington. And some teams are right where we all assumed they would be: Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland, and Toronto.
NBA Power Rankings 1-10
- Golden State Warriors (21-4): There’s no need for discussion. The Warriors may have some minor problems that will prevent them from being the regular-season team they were last year, but they are still the clear-cut best team in the NBA.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (17-5): The Cavaliers are the defending champions, but they don’t look like the best team in the NBA right now. This probably won’t matter when the playoffs start,though. With Lebron James on the roster, they will forever be a threat. There aren’t any major weaknesses on this team and very few minor.
- San Antonio Spurs (19-5): Could easily be in second place, but the narrative has slightly changed. Unlike last season, they perform better on the road where they are (13-1) as opposed to their home court where they are (6-4). LaMarcus Aldridge has struggled in December, just averaging 13.0 points and 6.2 rebounds, significantly below his career average. For them to remain a threat to Golden State, he’ll have to step up his production.
- Houston Rockets (18-7): I know it’s hard to take Houston seriously, following abysmal performance last season in a circus show starring James Harden and Dwight Howard but they look like a new team now. Howard is gone and Clint Capella is clearly a better Robin to James Harden’s Batman. In Harden’s first year playing point guard, he’s putting up MVP-like numbers: 27.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and a league leading 11.6 assists per game. Defense is still poor, giving up 105.7 points per game but right now, their offense trumps that, averaging 111.6 points per contest. Not sure how long this will last, but they look like a possible threat at the quarter mark of the season.
- Toronto Raptors (16-7): The Raptors share the same issue as San Antonio; they are stuck behind a clearly elite team. At second place in the Eastern Conference, they are right were we expect them to be this year. The Knicks could challenge them barring a spectacular showing through the remainder of the season, but I’m afraid DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are too talented for that to actually come true.
- Los Angeles Clippers (18-7): This is a team that was secure in the seventh spot in these power rankings, but an impressive victory over the Portland TrailBlazers forced me to hesitantly propell them into sixth place. There’s just something about this team that is so intriguing, forcing us to keep them on the radar every season, but injuries, or some internal drama seems inevitable.
- Memphis Grizzlies (17-8): One of two teams that look surprisingly impressive at this juncture. The Grizzlies were a team that many people thought may not even make the playoffs this year, but now they look like a team that could fight for a top five spot. This is the epitome of team chemistry over talent.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (15-9): The second team that’s really stuck out early in the season. Everyone knows the hand they were dealt coming into the season, but Russell Westbrook has developed into that mega-star caliber of player that makes his teammates better. He’s averaging a triple-double: 31.1 points, 11 assists, and 10.9 rebounds per game. Granted, this team still needs help in the scoring department, but Westbrook has brought out the best in his teammates at a surprisingly early stage of the season. Personally, I saw this team playing at this level about 50 games into the season. They are only on game 25, which points towards even more growth in the near future.
- Utah Jazz (15-10): The Jazz look impressive. A team that had an unknown road ahead of them entering the season, but much like the Grizzlies, team chemistry has worked over individual talent for this young team.
- New York Knicks (14-10): The Knicks currently sit at third place in the Eastern Conference and that is why they sit at 10th in the power rankings. There were many questions entering this season after they aquired Derrick Rose, a player many thought (including me) already surpassed his prime years. He has, and he isn’t an MVP candidate like once before but he’s been extreemly solid, averaging 17.0 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.1 rebounds per game. Carmello Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis have been great, averaging 42.4 points and 13.8 rebounds per game combined.