2014 NBA Power Rankings, first edition
The NBA season is close to a quarter complete, and with teams beginning to establish themselves, it seems like a fitting time to dive into some power rankings.
These rankings will be updated weekly. The first edition, which takes into account each team's full season up to this point, is below:
1. Golden State Warriors (22-3): The Warriors have been nothing short of impressive in their first season under Steve Kerr. In addition to possessing the league's most potent backcourt, Golden State is also the league's most efficient defensive team, and is only the ninth team in NBA history to start a season 21-2. It's been a great start to the season in Golden State.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (22-6): The Blazers are getting it done on both sides of the ball so far this season. The have the league's third-stingiest defense along with the eighth-most potent offense, and arguably the NBA's best inside-out pairing in Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
3. Memphis Grizzlies (21-6): The Grizzlies play an efficient brand of basketball on both ends of the floor, as they are in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They possess one of the league's best frontcourt duos in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and they have greatly benefitted from the emergence of Mike Conley as one of the game's better clutch players.
4. Toronto Raptors (22-6): Heading into the season, many expected Cleveland and Chicago to battle it out for the East's first spot, but so far Toronto has been the conference's top team. The Raptors possess the league's second-most potent offense, averaging over 111 points per game, as they have been the beneficiaries of all-star level play from Kyle Lowry.
5. Houston Rockets (19-7): The Rockets may still be a piece away from true title contention, but don't tell them that. Led by offensive dynamo and MVP-candidate James Harden, Houston has jumped out to a 19-7 start, despite centerpiece Dwight Howard missing over 10 games with injury issues. They have the league's second-stingiest defense; a big improvement over last season's squad.
6. Dallas Mavericks (20-8): Dirk Nowitzki's pay cut paid off, as the Mavericks were able to add all-star Rajon Rondo to their already-potent starting line. Rondo should provide Dallas with some defensive depth at the point guard position, and he will have his hands full on a nightly basis. The Mavericks already boast the league's best offense pre-Rondo, and if he is able to fit in and contribute Dallas could become downright dangerous.
7. Atlanta Hawks (19-7): After a shaky start to the season, Atlanta has been playing some of the league's best ball as of late. They have won 13 out of their last 14 games, including three straight victories over Chicago, Cleveland, and Houston. Although it may be too early to label the Hawks as true contenders, the return of all-star center Al Horford should only help their cause.
8. Washington Wizards (19-7): John Wall continues to stake his claim as one of the best young point guards in the game. Wall is doing an excellent job of getting his teammates involved so far this season, averaging a career-high 10.5 assists per game. On the other side of the ball, the Wizards give up the fifth-fewest points per game, holding opponents to 99 points per 100 possessions.
9. Los Angeles Clippers (19-8): The Clippers can put up points with the best of them. They have the league's third-most efficient offense, scoring 110 points per 100 possessions, due in part to Blake Griffin's continued expansion on the offensive end. The Clippers also have the league's second-best assist-ratio. However, depth may prove to be an issue down the road.
10. Chicago Bulls (17-9): The Bulls are a solid team on both sides of the ball, ranking in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The emergence of Jimmy Butler has been a great surprise for a Chicago team that has been searching for perimeter production. Also, when he's on the court, Derrick Rose's play has been promising. If he is able to stay healthy for the playoff push, the Bulls will be serious players.
11. San Antonio Spurs (17-11): The defending champions have not gotten off to a blazing start, but everyone knows that this team can't truly be evaluated until playoff time. They will rest key pieces continuously throughout the regular season in preparation of the playoffs. Still though, despite the 11 early losses, the Spurs have the fourth-most efficient defense league-wide, and their bench continues to be one of the league's most productive.
12. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-10): It is somewhat strange to see a LeBron James-led team land this low, but the reality is that it has not been all smooth sailing in LeBron's return to Cleveland. While the offense has been producing as expected – it is the league's fourth-most efficient – the Cavs rank near the bottom in defensive efficiency, and they also have the league's least-productive bench. It is starting to seem like LeBron James may need some more help if he hopes to deliver that title to Cleveland as promised.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-15): Don't look now, but the Thunder are quickly climbing back into the playoff picture after the extended absence of their two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Since their return, the Thunder have won eight out of their last 10 games and are quickly returning to form. While they may have dug themselves too deep of a hole to come back and claim one of the West's top spots, come playoff time they may well serve as the lower-seeded team that no higher-seeded team wants to play.
14. New Orleans Pelicans (14-13): The Pelicans score a lot of points, but they also give up a lot of points. They have the league's fifth-worst efficient defense, and they end up on the losing end up games because of their inability to defend down the stretch. However, as bad as they are on the defensive end, they are that good on the offensive end. They have the sixth-most efficient offense, and the continued emergence of Anthony Davis as a superstar is a solid sign. While they currently sit in the West's eighth spot, the Thunder are hot on their heels. It may only be a matter of time until New Orleans drops out of playoff positioning.
15. Phoenix Suns (15-14): In the Eastern Conference, the Suns would be firmly entrenched in the playoff picture. Unfortunately for them, they are in the Western Conference, and are currently on the outside looking in. The three point-guard experiment has not panned out as expected leaving the franchise's future somewhat uncertain.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (14-14): It has been an extremely impressive turnaround for the team that finished with the league's worst record just a season ago. Jason Kidd has done a good job coaching up some of the younger guys, especially protégée Brandon Knight at point guard. The Jabari Parker injury was a big bummer, but the Bucks have kept fighting. They may make the playoffs, albeit in the East, this season, but even if they don't the franchise's future is bright.
17. Miami Heat (13-15): The Heat have been doing their best to stay competitive in the first season post-LeBron, but injury issues have already taken their toll. Chris Bosh has missed the past five games, and at this point in his career, Dwayne Wade can't string together an entire healthy season. Without those two in the lineup, the Heat are just limping along, their outlook much different from last season's.
18. Sacramento Kings (12-15): The Kings came out of the gate hot with an impressive start to the season, but then-centerpiece Demarcus Cousins went down with viral meningitis, and things spiraled out of control. A Mike Malone-firing later, the Kings now have a few talented pieces, and a lot of uncertainty.
19. Denver Nuggets (12-15): After a rough start that saw them start 1-6, the Nuggets have rounded out into mediocrity. They just lost Danilo Gallinari again when they could ill-afford it and Kennith Farried hasn't produced as expected. Denver is only 3-7 away from the Pepsi Center, and unless they can turn things around appear headed for the lottery.
20. Brooklyn Nets (11-15): The Nets technically have playoff position in the Eastern Conference currently as the eighth seed, but are nonetheless looking to basically blow it up. Virtually everyone on the roster is reportedly on the trading block, and no one knows exactly what this team is going to look like in two months' time.
21. Boston Celtics (10-15): With the trade of Rajon Rondo, the only remaining piece for the 2008 title team, the Celtics are in full-fledged rebuilding mode. There's a good chance that Jeff Green will be moved before the deadline, as the rest of the season will be equal parts development and time-biding.
22. Orlando Magic (10-20): Orlando has built itself into a nice young, talented team that is probably only a year or two away from true playoff contention. Nik Vucevic, Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, and Tobias Harris provide them with a great young base to build upon, even though they are taking their lumps in the present.
23. Los Angeles Lakers (8-19): Also known as 'The Kobe Show,' The Lakers have been a bit better since the return of Nick 'Swaggy P' Young, but remain far from formidable. They have the league's worst defense, and are only average on the other end. Despite his scoring output, Kobe Bryant is no longer efficient on either end of the ball, as both him, and the only franchise he has ever played for, have seen better days.
24. Indiana Pacers (9-19): A year ago, the Pacers had championship expectations. This year, the lottery looms. Injury issues have killed the Pacers this season, who never really had a fair shot at the season after losing Paul George in the offseason.
25. Charlotte Hornets (8-19): Plenty of people predicted the Hornets to be a playoff team after the Bobcats' improbable playoff push last year. The opposite has occurred however as the team has gone backwards in its first year back in purple-and-teal. The Lance Stephenson experiment has been a failure, and a shakeup might be in order.
26. Utah Jazz (8-20): With the league's third-least efficient defense, the Jazz struggle to get stops, and it shows in their record. The Jazz have several nice young pieces, and for the team, the rest of the season will be dedicated to their development.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-21): Minnesota wasn't going to be a playoff team this year anyway, but they've been hit hard by injury issues. Nevertheless, the Wolves have a couple of shiny, promising pieces in Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine, and with them can begin to build themselves back into a playoff contender.
28. Detroit Pistons (5-23): The Pistons are a mess. They just released Josh Smith, the guy who signed a $54 million deal before last season, and look the opposite of cohesive in the first year under Stan Van Gundy.
29. New York Knicks (5-25): Even Phil Jackson hasn't been able to help this Knicks team, which has only two more wins, and two more losses, than the widely-criticized Sixers. Outside of Carmelo Anthony, there is little for Phil and first-time head coach Derek Fisher to work with. While Knicks fans continue to hope for a bright future, the present is bleak.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (3-23): The Sixers' struggles this season were expected, as they are again bartering the present in order to fortify the future. This season for the Sixers is all about developing the young assets they have amassed – Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel – while testing out others. Game outcomes are secondary.