NBA Power Rankings January 15, 2018
By: Glen Ivol
Whether you believe it or not, the NBA officially passed the halfway point on Thursday. To this point, most teams are figuring out exactly who they are and who they will be for the rest of the season, however the Miami Heat of last year will beg to differ.
These power rankings will arrange the 30 teams based on the league’s current pecking order. Full-season stats obviously matter, but so does recent play, injuries and strength of schedule.
30. Sacramento Kings (13-29)
The Kings are awful, simply put. It has taken awhile but they are FINALLY embracing the youth movement with Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox starting together in the backcourt. Eventually, they will need to give some of their recent frontcourt draft picks some playing time (i.e. Skal Labissiere, Harry Giles, & Georgios Papagiannis).
29. Orlando Magic (12-31)
All you really can say about the Magic at the halfway point is wow. Over their last 30 games, they are 4-26 and 1-15 in the last 16. No surprise they are ranked 29th in the league in offensive efficiency according to NBA.com. Hopefully they will continue to give Mario Hezonja minutes for the rest of the year since he’s been playing the best he has at any point in his career.
28. Atlanta Hawks (11-31)
Not much has gone right for the Hawks this season amidst their rebuild. With a league low 11 wins, expect the Hawks to be obvious sellers leading up to the trade deadline as rookie John Collins and forward Taurean Prince seem to be the only players worth building around. The only question left, will Mike Budenholzer still be coaching come next season?
27. Memphis Grizzlies (13-28)
So much for Dave Fizdale being the problem. Under J.B. Bickerstaff, Memphis has gone 5-16 and are seemingly in worse position than before. Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons are both out but intend to return this season. Pro-tip: stay on the sidelines and start the rebuild and ship off Marc Gasol while he still has some value (Cleveland??).
26. LA Lakers (15-27)
Don’t look now but the Lakers quietly won four games in a row against the lowly Hawks, Kings, and Mavericks but handedly beat the Spurs. Luke Walton has this team playing some of its best basketball of season right after Lavar called him out. Distractions will keep surrounding this team as the trade deadline approaches and noise of LeBron coming intensifies.
25. Dallas Mavericks (15-29)
This year’s Mavericks team has grappled with ups-and-downs all year. They go through stretches of games where every one is decided by single digits then will blow out teams that they are supposed to do (see: 114-99 win over Magic). Rick Carlisle continues to struggle with fielding a team with enough two-way prowess and versatile players.
24. New York Knicks (19-24)
The Knicks, and mainly Kristaps Porzingis, are wearing down. Even though they are 3.5 out of the eight seed in the East, the Knicks are slowly sliding away. This is not new for Porzingis however, as each year he gets worse in his second half compared to the first half. With the second worst away record, look for the Knicks to slip even further with 7 road games across the next 12 days.
23. Phoenix Suns (16-27)
Phoenix’s young core is finally starting to flash their potential, with a 7-5 record in their last 12. Outside of the clear star that is Devin Booker, things are happening. Marquese Chriss has quietly improved each month and swatted the victory away from Atlanta this week. Josh Jackson and Dragan Bender were equally impressive in a win against the Thunder with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists and 20 points, 3 blocks, and 6 threes, respectively. With improving continuity, the rest of the season should be fun for the Suns.
22. Charlotte Hornets (16-25)
This Hornets team continues to frustrate. They rarely turn the ball, are 9th in the East in net rating (NBA.com), and have one of the games best guards in Kemba Walker. Yet, they are 9 games under .500, are 11th in the Eastern Conference standings, and are dead last in effective field-goal percentage (NBA.com). Expect this team to make some changes at the deadline.
21. Brooklyn Nets (16-27)
D’Angelo Russell is back practicing and could return to games soon. Close loses to the Eastern Conference powerhouses Celtics and Raptors count as morale victories but Kenny Atkinson has this team playing better than anyone could have imagined. This team is on the rise with the aforementioned Russell, Rondae-Hollis Jefferson, Caris LaVert, and Spencer Dinwiddie.
20. Chicago Bulls (16-27)
What a crazy first half of the season for the Bulls. After Bobby Portis landed a mean hook on Nikola Mirotic, the team limped out to a 3-20 start. Since Mirotic returned, the team is 13-7 and looks a lot less like a team that should be tanking. With Kris Dunn figuring it out, Lauri Markkanen continuing to improve (33 points, 8 three’s against the Knicks), and Zach LaVine returning, this team could be fun to watch on offense.
19. LA Clippers (21-21)
Lou Williams. Lou Freaking Williams. After hanging a 50 spot in a victory over the Warriors, he put up 34 against Atlanta. Lou will make a contending team very happy if the Clippers decided to finally start their rebuild. However, with Doc Rivers potentially on the way out, he’ll be making moves with the playoffs in mind since they are only 1.5 games out of 5th.
18. Utah Jazz (17-25)
Injuries have killed the Jazz’s team this year and went through a 4-13 stretch. Inability to win away from home, the Jazz have faltered without Rudy Gobert’s presence on the backline of the defense. However, Donovan Mitchell has been outstanding and is a walking highlight reel.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (22-20)
The Bucks continue to disappoint. Jason Kidd’s defensive scheme of committing to over-helping and leaving wide open lanes to the basket open shockingly does not work against good teams. They also have a bench scoring problem but have skated by with a top-10 offense (NBA.com). If Jason Kidd could realize a simple defense is the right option for this team full of athletic marvels, watch out.
16. New Orleans Pelicans (22-20)
The New Orleans Pelicans are sort of an enigma. With Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis, they have two of the top ten individual players in the NBA right now. Even with them, they are in the bottom 10 in Defensive Rating and middle of the pack in Net Rating (NBA.com). They will continue to sit in the bottom half the Western Conference playoff picture. Don't forget about the Boogie Cousins contract situation about this off-season.
15. Detroit Pistons (22-19)
Look for the Pistons to climb up these rankings in the near future. They started off hot, thanks to Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond finally clicking together but cooled since after Jackson started missing time with an ankle injury. They have struggled on the road at 9-14 but will play 14 at home and only 3 on the road through the last week of February.
14. Denver Nuggets (22-21)
Denver’s crown jewel Nikola Jokic has regressed mightily this year, dropping in scoring and field goal percentage. After Jamal Murray and Gary Harris starting to grow, they dropped right back to normal after recent losses to the Hawks and Kings. When watching them play, the Nuggets overlook minor details in game, and that leads to their struggles.
13. Indiana Pacers (23-20)
I don’t think enough can be said about the emergence of Victor Oladipo this season. Career high across the board along with Domantas Sabonis have made the Pacers look like a sure-fire playoff team in the East after seeming like an obvious tank candidate. Glenn Robinson III will also be making his return and debut for this season, which will do nothing but help the teams outlook.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (23-20)
Oklahoma City still doesn’t have this whole game of basketball figured out. Even with Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, they have limped to 5th place in the West, just one game in front of the 8th seeded Nuggets. It seems funny to say, but the team is lost without Andre Roberson in the lineup on defense. Out with a knee injury, they defense has taken a turn for the worse. Let’s hope he can return soon.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (19-20)
Aside from the loss in London to the Celtics, the Sixers have been on a roll of late, winning the previous four including a 114-78 thrashing of the Pistons. Ben Simmons started off on a historic pace and seems to be regaining momentum after teams started to figure him out a little. Joel Embiid continues to be the backbone of the team’s success, with the Sixers just 2-7 in 9 games without him. The teams defense is a major factor in their turnaround climbing up to 6th in defensive efficiency (NBA.com).
10. Washington Wizards (25-18)
The Wizards just can’t seem to get out of their own way. They lose far too many games against the inferior talents of the league (see: 107-104 at home against the Jazz). According to StatMuse, the Wizards have the second most losses to teams below .500. Only the Hawks have been worse. They seem to struggle avoiding letdowns against bad teams, which may prove costly come playoff seeding time.
9. Portland Trail Blazers (22-21)
Even with losses in their last three games, the Trail Blazers are starting to figure it out. Dame returned from injury on Wednesday as he and CJ McCollum are starting to work together to help the offense come alive. The play of Jusuf Nurkic this season is still not up to par so look for the Blazers to look for frontcourt reinforcements come the trade deadline.
8. Cleveland Cavaliers (26-16)
We’ve seen this before. The Cavs struggle in the regular season seemingly every year on defense, but something about this season seems too real. The Cavs fooled everyone by going 18-1 over a stretch of the season but are winners in just 2 of their last 9 sense. The Cavs rank 29th in Defensive Rating this year (NBA.com). Will they fix the defense by the time the playoffs roll around?
7. Miami Heat (25-17)
Erik Spoelstra continues to show just how great of a coach he is. Despite being ranked in the bottom 10 in both offensive rating and net rating, he has his team ranked 4th in the East, and climbing. If they can have a second half even remotely close to last years, they just may catch the Cavs who are one game in front of them.
6. San Antonio Spurs (29-15)
Even without Kawhi Leonard for much of this season, the Spurs train just keeps on rolling. The heroics of Manu Ginobili won’t continue forever as 40-year-olds don’t produce at the rate he is. An underrated part of the season will be the Spurs figuring out how to win on the road as they are 10-13 on the road and 19-2 at home.
5. Houston Rockets (30-11)
Take the 14-game win streak out of the Rockets season and where are they are in the standings. It felt funny dropping them any lower than 5 since they are ranked 3rd in the West and have mini three game winning streak. However, their last big win came a month ago against the Spurs at home in a 15-point win. Before that? A 4-point victory over the Cavs at home on November 9th.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves (29-16)
Can you say… defense? After many conversations about when this team would finally figure out its defensive identity, they seem to have got it figured out over the last month. Since December 18, the Timberwolves are 6th in Defensive Rating (NBA.com), up from 25th in months prior. They are also 12-3 in their last 15, just a half a game behind the Spurs for 3rd in the West.
3. Toronto Raptors (29-12)
Kyle Lowry getting injured in the Nets game took any chance of reaching a higher rank. Without Lowry, the Raptors lose part of their identity so it will be interesting to see if they can continue their rise this season. The pressure will be on DeMar DeRozan to keep hitting threes at the clip he’s been hitting them at. With no Lowry, can DeRozan finally become a MVP Candidate?
2. Boston Celtics (34-10)
The Celtics kept their winning streak going, upping it to 7 against the Sixers in London. Jayson Tatum’s emergence has been huge for this team since they lost Gordon Hayward in game one. The defense has also been their claim to success, as they are currently the only team whose defensive rating is under 100. Will they continue their climb to becoming a true threat to the Cavs?
1. Golden State Warriors (35-9)
Did you really expect anyone else? The best team in the league just keeps on rolling along, with the number one offensive rating, number three defensive rating, and number one net rating (NBA.com). Steph Curry is the main cog in this team and they are different when he is not on the court but the voice of concern is returning. Curry’s weak right ankle is back, hurting it twice this year, which we all know is not a new injury for him. The question will be if he can stay healthy for all of the playoffs to keep the machine going.
Follow @NbaNosebleed for more!