DGS NBA Power Rankings – Week 8
Welcome to yet another edition of the DGS NBA Power Rankings. The Warriors and Rockets are beginning to separate themselves from the pack in the Western Conference. Same for the Celtics and Cavaliers in the East. Who are the top movers and shakers this week? Read on to find out all this and much more in our week eight NBA Power Rankings.
- Golden State Warriors (19-6) (Last week’s ranking: 1) – The Warriors stay on top but Houston is beginning to close the gap. Curry and Durant continue to shoot fireballs. On Sunday, the pair dismantled the Miami Heat in a vintage Warriors blowout. The major question for the Warriors is not how good they can be this season but if they can remain focused enough on the regular season to secure the top seed in the Western Conference. Steve Kerr recently spoke to Bill Simmons and noted that the regular season is not as important at this level and spoke to the big picture. Can the Warriors flip the switch or will taking their collective feet off the pedal end up biting them in the long run?
- Houston Rockets (18-4) (Last week’s ranking: 2) – The Chris Paul/James Harden pairing is improving an already formidable team. Paul has demonstrated an ability to toggle between scorer and facilitator next to Harden. He is playing the fewest minutes of his career but making an impact in many ways. In under 30 minutes a game, he is still averaging nearly 10 assists a game and shooting a career high beyond the arc. Both of those numbers are a function of his new role that lets him play off Harden. With all the attention paid to the Bearded One, Paul can be a secondary ball handler attacking a scrambling defense. If the Rockets continue to play like this, they could emerge as a real challenger to Golden State.
- Boston Celtics (21-4) (Last week’s ranking: 3) – The Celtics have the best record in the NBA and would be our top-ranked team if they did not play in the dreadful Eastern Conference. Over the weekend they became the first team to reach 20 victories this season. Brad Stevens is running away with the Coach of the Year Award, and Kyrie Irving deserves some serious MVP consideration. The most surprising aspect of the Celtics’ season so far is how well rookie Jayson Tatum has played in the fourth quarter of games. He is quickly turning into Irving’s wingman in close games with the absence of Gordon Hayward.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (17-7) (Last week’s ranking: 4) – Things seem to be going well in Cleveland. The Cavs have won 12 games in a row, currently own the second-best record in the East and are getting point guard Derrick Rose back after a self-imposed exile from basketball. The return of eventual starter Isaiah Thomas is also on the horizon. LeBron James being ejected for the first time in his illustrious career is noteworthy here. It took 15 seasons for an official to gather up enough courage to toss King James from a basketball game. I’m not saying it was warranted, but it’s definitely a story.
- San Antonio Spurs (16-8) (Last week’s ranking: 5) – After losing to the Thunder on Sunday, it is clear what this team is without Kawhi Leonard. They only have two wins against teams with winning records and both came in the first three games of the season. Gregg Popovich deserves huge credit for keeping the Spurs above water but concerns have to be growing about the health of Kawhi Leonard. The updates are vague and infrequent. When is he coming back? Even worse, his replacement went down with a knee injury in Sunday’s loss as well so the Spurs will need to find a new replacement without Leonard or Kyle Anderson.
- Toronto Raptors (14-7) (Last week’s ranking: 7) – The Raptors are in the middle of a quiet stretch in their season, playing just three games in a 13-day span. That doesn’t mean the young players on their roster aren’t finding the time to improve. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Cabocio and Jakob Poeltl have all played meaningful minutes for coach Dwane Casey thus far and all of the sudden, Toronto’s bench is looking much deeper than originally anticipated. The postseason hype is real, but can they do enough firepower to unseat Boston and Cleveland at the top of the Eastern Conference?
- Detroit Pistons (14-9) (Last week’s ranking: 6) – Is Detroit for real? The next stretch of games will decide. They have marginally begun to fall back to earth over the past few weeks. The highlight of the past week for the Pistons was watching Andre Drummond and Joel Embiid duke it out in their 108-103 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night. Detroit nearly pulled off a comeback win after being down by 18 points, but the Sixers held on for the victory. The Pistons are going to have to start playing a lot better if they want to hang on to their current spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (14-11) (Last week’s ranking: 8) – Who are the Timberwolves? They have been maddeningly inconsistent. Offensively, they were held under 100 points three times in six games. They lost all three. The defense is obviously the primary issue and any hope that Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns would improve defensively is fading. The traditional wisdom would suggest Butler should focus on defense but it may instead be important for Butler to take over the team. The other obvious move would be for Coach Tom Thibodeau to break up his best four offensive players. Let Wiggins, Towns, Butler, and Jeff Teague play in groups of two while the other two rest. Thibodeau has been reticent to make that change and is playing all of his starters over 32 minutes a game and two are above 36. Something needs to change in Minnesota if they want to hit their ceiling.
- Philadelphia 76ers (13-10) (Last week’s ranking: 10) – It’s been a bit of a rough week for the Sixers. They nearly blew an 18-point lead to the Pistons over the weekend before losing to the Suns at home by double-digits on Monday night. So, what is exactly wrong in Philly? For starters, the Sixers are not shooting well from deep and are turning the ball over at a higher rate. Growing pains with this young team are expected, but they need to play a much more consistent brand of basketball if they want to hang on to their playoff spot. On a brighter note, Joel Embiid on the Eastern Conference All-Star team will be a lot of fun.
- Portland Trail Blazers (13-10) (Last week’s ranking: 9) – After a good start, Portland seems primed to be a bottom three seed yet again this year. Their struggles continue to beg the question of whether Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum can play together. That question has and continues to be an oversimplification as the team simply lacks the talent of the teams above them. That said, the question of whether the two players are compatible is an important one. Portland can keep themselves in the playoffs but will they be happy being the Western Conference Atlanta Hawks?
- Washington Wizards (12-11) (Last week’s ranking: 12) – The Wizards are currently in a free fall. The low point? A 47-point drubbing at the hands of the Utah Jazz. This will either result in team turnaround or team turmoil for Washington, who will hopefully use this latest setback as a wake up call. Their next chance to redeem themselves comes on Tuesday night against the Trail Blazers, followed by winnable games against the Suns, Clippers and Nets. If the Wizards can’t get through this stretch with at least three wins, their season will continue to go down the tubes.
- Denver Nuggets (13-10) (Last week’s ranking: 13) – The loss of Paul Millsap hurts but the Nuggets have more power forwards than they could play. That should mitigate the loss of Millsap but they still seem like a team with a move to make. Denver has to think about both this season and beyond. Will Barton might not be here after this season and it is unclear how far a team led by Nikola Jokic can go. Jokic’s scoring ability makes him a difficult player to build around and necessitates two-way perimeter players given his inability to protect the rim. They have young keepers in Jokic and Gary Harris. Jamal Murray needs to improve his 28 percent shooting from deep or he could end up losing his job to Emmanuel Mudiay. With so much uncertainty on the roster, it is anyone’s best guess who will end up on the roster by the end of the year.
- Milwaukee Bucks (12-10) (Last week’s ranking: 18) – Eric Bledsoe has fit in seamlessly next to Giannic Antetokounmpo and Malcolm Brogdon, but the Bucks are still not playing at the level they are capable of reaching. Right now, Milwaukee looks like a mediocre team in a mediocre conference. The Bucks are going to need bigger contributions from their bench if they want to separate themselves from the pack in the Eastern Conference standings.
- New Orleans Pelicans (12-12) (Last week’s ranking: 14) – Anthony Davis is out yet again with an injury, which leaves the Pelicans relying heavily on DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins should be up to the task. He is leading the team in most of the major categories and has avoided the controversy he courted in Sacramento. While the Pelicans have to decide if it is worth building around their two big men, Cousins has shown he can do whatever the team needs. Shoot threes? Check. Play the best defense of his career? Check. Become an offensive fulcrum capable of creating for teammates? Check. If New Orleans decides to move on, there should be no shortage of suitors after the way Cousins has played in the early part of the season.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (10-12) (Last week’s ranking: 16) – Coach Billy Donovan’s seat is heating up by the day. Some recent wins might ease the pressure he faces but he has been unable to figure out how to make the pieces fit. The obvious answer is to move Carmelo Anthony to the bench. Anthony scoffed at that notion at media prior to the season but at this point, Anthony is not a superstar. He cannot break down opposing defenses the way he used to and unless he can adjust his game to complement Russell Westbrook and Paul George, his ball-stopping ways need to be moved to a reserve role. Patrick Patterson has been floundering on the second unit as he cannot create his own shot. Slipping him into the starting lineup should help him focus on hitting shots, defending, and rebounding. Meanwhile, Melo can get back to his gunning ways.
- Indiana Pacers (13-11) (Last week’s ranking: 11) – Thaddeus Young is doing it all for these young Pacers. He is the type of big man who fits perfectly next to budding star Myles Turner. Lance Stephenson is also turning back the clock for Indiana and all of the sudden, they find themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. They completely annihilated the Knicks at home and currently sit in the seventh spot in the East. This season will be a grind for the Pacers, but they are showing that they are more than the NBA doormat everyone expected them to be.
- Utah Jazz (13-11) (Last week’s ranking: 19) – Utah is alive! The Jazz are a reminder that tough defensive teams can survive offensive struggles when they show up every night. The defense has struggled compared to last season but their standing is incredibly impressive given the loss of Gobert.The Jazz have won five in a row thanks to their…. Offense? Utah has been winning on offense by shooting more threes. Donovan Mitchell went nuts on Saturday against the Pelicans but he has been playing better as the season progresses. The same can be said for Rodney Hood who is starting to settle into his role. The Jazz could be a dangerous team now that Rudy Gobert has returned to the lineup.
- Miami Heat (11-12) (Last week’s ranking: 15) – Miami is a model of inconsistency. One night they look like a playoff team, and the next night they look like they are bound for the lottery. Blowout losses to the Pacers and Warriors should signal that the Heat are not quite ready to contend. Injuries to Hassan Whitehand (hand) and Goran Dragic (back spasms) are not helping Miami’s cause either. If they are able to get healthy, there is still plenty of time left this season to turn things around.
- Orlando Magic (10-15) (Last week’s ranking: 21) – After a fast start, the Magic plummeted in the standings, but have played well enough to keep themselves afloat in the East. Injuries to Elfrid Payton, D.J. Augustin and rookie Jonathan Issac has kept coach Frank Vogel from having a completely healthy roster. Their recent play has also showcased many of their weaknesses. After navigating through a tough opening schedule, the games should be a bit easier on Orlando moving forward. Let’s see if they are capable of winning a few more basketball games.
- New York Knicks (11-12) (Last week’s ranking: 17) – The Knicks are fading fast. Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. are both nicked up, and they’ve showed that they cannot win games when Enes Kanter doesn’t play. Nobody really knows who the Knicks truly are. They were competitive for much of this past week until they were steamrolled by the Pacers on Monday night. If they don’t begin to figure things out soon, they will find themselves back in the Eastern Conference cellar.
- Charlotte Hornets (9-13) (Last week’s ranking: 20) – Dwight Howard is continuing his career renaissance, but the Hornets are clearly not a very good team. Kemba Walker missed two games last week, both of them losses. He returned on Monday night and helped the Hornets defeat the Magic. They also catch a break on Wednesday night when they face a Warriors team who will be without Steph Curry. Curry sprained his ankle in Monday’s win over the Pelicans.
- Brooklyn Nets (9-14) (Last week’s ranking: 25) – The Nets are starting to really compete. They are without two of their best players and they have been in almost every game they’ve played. Kenny Atkinson is a player development genius, and the results are clear as day. Brooklyn beat the Hawks on Monday night for their ninth win of the season. Last year, they didn’t win their ninth game until January 20. Rookie Jarrett Allen is also beginning to turn heads, scoring in double figures in each of his past two contests.
- Los Angeles Lakers (8-15) (Last week’s ranking: 23) – Thanks largely to injuries for other teams, the Lakers have somehow found themselves only a few games out of the playoff race. That speaks to how strange the season has been for the Lakers. People expected Lonzo Ball to run the offense and be a strong Rookie of the Year candidate on a bottom feeder. As the season progresses, both of those assumptions could be wrong. Ball looks overmatched and his jumper may need some serious work. That has to be a concern given that Ball’s shooting is critical to his value. He continues to fill the rest of the box score but his woeful shooting (just over 30 percent from the field and a ghastly 25 percent from three) could submarine his career. His play could be the key to staying where they are in the standings as they have lost five in a row and teetering on the edge of the playoff picture.
- Los Angeles Clippers (8-14) (Last week’s ranking: 24) – The Clippers’ season is ostensibly over. They headline a group of teams that could end up cashing in on a loaded draft and adding it to a talented core. The major questions center around DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is a massive asset on an expiring contract. Ditto for Lou Williams. Both can be solid rotation players on a championship contender. Williams could fit nicely on the Cavaliers if Derrick Rose cannot return. Meanwhile, Jordan could go to any number of teams. His trade value will also be an excellent barometer for the value NBA teams are placing on traditional big men. If the Clippers keep him, they could be stuck with multiple big men in a league shifting towards players with perimeter skills. Jerry West has his work cut out for him.
- Phoenix Suns (9-16) (Last week’s ranking: 26) – Give the Suns credit. They are a fun team to watch. They might not play any defense or have any defined identity but they can light up the scoreboard. They are near the bottom of the league in wins but they easily lead the league in fun players.Can someone tell TJ Warren that it is the 21st century? Warren is a cagey throwback player who is shooting under 15 percent on 1.5 attempts from three. Somehow, he has still been an offensive weapon. He scores on cuts and lives inside the arc.Devin Booker has emerged as the new Kevin Martin. Like Martin, Booker scores buckets after most east coasters have already gone to bed. Right now he is wasting away on the Suns but Coach Jay Triano has let him stretch himself. He is having his best season as a playmaker and could become a star if he can develop his passing to function as a de facto point guard on a contender. Until then, he remains one of the most flammable shooters outside of Oakland.
- Memphis Grizzlies (8-15) (Last week’s ranking: 22) – Memphis is another team that could end up benefitting from their slide down the standings. At the beginning of the season, our DGS preview advised Memphis to blow it up. Now they might be able to add to their core without doing so. If the Grizzlies end up in the high lottery, they could add a future star to a roster that desperately needs one. Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and their cadre of role players could be fearsome if paired with a potential star like Marvin Bagley. Unfortunately, fans will have to watch one of the most unwatchable teams outside of Chicago and Sacramento.
- Sacramento Kings (7-16) (Last week’s ranking: 27) – The Kings are one of the most mystifying teams in the league. Garrett Temple, George Hill, and Zach Randolph are all playing over 25 minutes a game. Only De’Aaron Fox is matching those minute totals. Younger players like Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein cannot be glued to the bench on a team this bad.It is easy to ask Coach Dave Joerger to play the younger players more but the real responsibility falls to management. Joerger needs the support of management the way that the Celtics supported Brad Stevens or the 76ers supported Brett Brown. There is tremendous talent on the roster. Sacramento’s front office needs to trust the process and let the team grow without placing unduly high expectations on a rebuilding roster.
- Dallas Mavericks (7-17) (Last week’s ranking: 28) – Coach Rick Carlisle is running out quite a list of NBA players. Max Kleber has been starting, J.J. Barea is featuring prominently, and Dirk Nowitzki continues to limp through a painful season. Over 20 games into the season, it is clear that Dallas will not be making the playoffs barring a miracle or multiple plane crashes. When do the Mavericks begin to tank?
- Atlanta Hawks (5-18) (Last week’s ranking: 29) – The Hawks are competitive, but they simply do not have the talent to win consistently right now. They split a home-and-home with the Nets, but Brooklyn embarrassed them on their home floor Monday night. Dennis Schroeder and Kent Bazemore have played well in recent years, but are they good enough to be franchise stars? Time will tell, but this is only the beginning of a long rebuilding process for Atlanta. They have a great coach in Mike Budenholzer, but I don’t see too many players on the current roster sticking around for many years to come.
- Chicago Bulls (3-19) (Last week’s ranking: 30) – Another winless week for the Bulls is in the books. Chicago has been getting blown out on their home floor, suffering setbacks against the Suns, Kings and Cavaliers. The Bulls are the worst team in the NBA and it’s not even close. They will get back Nikola Mirotic at some point this week, and Zach LaVine has been cleared to practice with contact. Those two players alone give Chicago a fighting chance, but until then there is nothing but doom and gloom in Chicago.
Biggest Mover: Milwaukee Bucks (5)
Biggest Flop: Indiana Pacers (5)