NBA Power Rankings: Grizzlies Climb the Mountain

1. Memphis Grizzlies (↑7)

Record: 30-15

Since the 1st: 7-1

So much for this being a regression year. Memphis is blowing the doors off of teams. In January their average spread against their opponent has been 7.5 points and this stretch has included some tough competition. Memphis defeated the Nets, Cavs, and Warriors this month. Desmond Bane has kicked off the new year right knocking down 45.3% of his threes. His strong shooting has been extremely helpful in covering Ja’s poor shooting. The 3-point stroke Morant had early this season seems to have abandoned the high flier recently as he has made just 4 of his 24 attempts in 2022. Even without the touch Ja is leading the league in points off of drive attempts with 14.5 points per game.

2. Phoenix Suns (↑2)

Record: 32-9

Since the 1st: 5-1

Currently sitting atop the Western conference Phoenix has continued to roll through stretches without Ayton without a problem. The Sun’s offensive rating has moved up to 7th and their defensive rating at 2nd during Ayton’s absence. First Jalen Smith earned himself what will be a sizable contract this new off season by showing an inside outside game for a stretch of 6 games. Then Chris Paul proved he can work with anyone as Bismack Biyombo came in and instantly earned a rest of the year deal. Paul leads all players in points created off assists with 33.4. The next closest player averages 26.8 points off assists. 

3. Golden State Warriors (↓2)

Record: 31-11

Since the 1st: 4-4

Klay night may have been one of the most fun regular season moments. Whether it was Klay’s strong drive, his dunk or him blocking Darius Garland as Garland pivoted and spun away from Klay it was so good to see him back out there. Outside of Thompson’s return this has been a rough stretch. The Warriors dropped games to the Grizzlies, Bucks, Mavericks and Pelicans. Reintegrating Klay and missing Draymond present a few challenges for the Warriors but Thompson’s play looks better than expected.

4. Miami Heat (↑3)

Record: 27-15

Since the 1st: 4-2

Miami now sits as one of four teams with a top 10 offense and defense and they have been doing it with a depleted front court. Miami has been without Bam Adebayo, Markieff Morris and with Butler only playing half their games. South Beach has been relying heavily on strong guard play and some great shooting. Duncan Robinson is hitting 44.1% of his threes in 2022, Tyler Herro’s scoring has bounced up to 22.3 points per game and Max Struss has come alive. In his last 9 games the third-year guard is averaging 19.9 points per game with 47.7% shooting from deep.

5. Chicago Bulls (↓2)

Record: 27-13

Since the 1st: 5-3

The Bulls are continuing to win behind the strength of their offense. Nikola Vucevic has picked up his contributions averaging 17 points and 10.9 rebounds in January. The big man will likely be called upon to do more as Zach LaVine left last night’s Warriors game with a knee injury. His absence could be a big problem. Chicago is already without most of its defensive stoppers. Caruso, Green, Williams and Jones Jr constituted most of the positive defense players for the Bulls. If their offense takes a hit with LaVine Chicago could start to slide.

6. Milwaukee Bucks (↓1)

Record: 27-17

Since the 1st: 3-4

Let’s not gloss over the fact that Milwaukee waxed Golden State on the 13th. Giannis became the first player in 40 years to have a 30-point triple double in less than 30 minutes. All that said, Milwaukee lost to Detroit with Giannis Holiday and Middleton combining for 99 minutes. Their other three losses came without one of the big three in the rotation but the Bucks are giving up more rebounds than any other month. Losing Boogie has had a significant effect on their ability to control the boards.

7. Brooklyn Nets (↓1)

Record: 26-15

Since the 1st: 3-5

All thoughts about Kyrie’s return have been validated. Is he a little rusty? Yes, his shooting splits are significantly down from last year. Does the offense look amazing with him out there? Yes, in the 32 minutes he, Durant and Harden have shared the court the Nets have an insane plus 23.81 points per 100 possession advantage over their opponents. Is the team struggling to find a balance with him only playing half the games? Yes, during December Patty Mills was an integral part of Brooklyn’s offense averaging 17.5 points per game. In four games in January Mills combined for 12 points.

8. Utah Jazz (↓6)

Record: 28-14

Since the 1st: 2-5

There has been some trouble brewing in Utah. The Jazz are just now seeing covid sweep through their roster. Without Rudy Gobert in the line up opponents have been scoring significantly easier. Opponents have hit 50.2% of their field goal attempts while Rudy has been out. With Gobert active Utah’s defense limited opponents to 44.2% shooting from the floor. Even this small sample size shows how important Gobert’s defense is to Utah. Without him for 5 games and their season long defensive rating dropped from 6th to 13th

9. Dallas Mavericks (↑11)

Record: 23-19

Since the 1st: 6-1

Luka knows how to respond to doubters. During his absence in health and safety protocols it seemed like the league was ready to pass him by and anoint Ja Morant as the best young star. In his 6 games back, Luka has driven the Mav to a 5-1 record while averaging 21.8 points, 10.3 assists, and 10.2 rebounds per game.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (↓1)

Record: 24-17

Since the 1st: 5-1

Thirty-One is the name of the game for Philly. Joel Embiid dropped 31 points exactly for 5 straight games on the way to several sizable victories. In January the 76ers had an average margin of victory of 11.7 points per game. If they had faced stiffer competition this stretch could have really vaulted the 76ers. However, their competition has been very weak. Their five victories came against teams with an average of 14 wins among them.

11. Cleveland Cavaliers (↑1)

Record: 25-18

Since the 1st: 5-2

The defense continues to be their bread and butter. The freedom having multiple seven-footers gives Cleveland is there is always someone to protect the rim. Jarrett Allen can play aggressive defense on Steph Curry because if he gets beat Mobley, Lauri or someone else is still there to protect the rim. The Cavaliers are allowing just 57% shooting within 5 feet of the rim. The 2.3 percentage points of difference between them and the second-best defense is the same size gap between second best and 11th

12. Denver Nuggets (↓1)

Record: 21-19

Since the 1st: 4-3

It was a winning stretch but not by as much as it should have been. Of course, Denver walked all over Portland, had solid wins over the Rockets and Kings and closed out a good one with the Thunder, but they really needed to pick up either the Clippers or the Mavs game. Denver lost to a Clipper team led by Amir Coffey because the Nuggets shot 4 for 33 from deep. Against Dallas, the Nuggets were a turnover machine with 27 to the Mavericks 11. Jokic continues to make his case for a back-to-back MVP award averaging 24.0 points, 13.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists on 59.8% shooting from the field and 39.1% from deep.

13. Toronto Raptors (↑5)

Record: 20-19

Since the 1st: 5-2

It may not be too Late for the Raptors to have multiple all-stars. During the Raptors 7-game win streak Pascal Siakam has returned to his all-star form. He averaged 23.7 points 11 rebounds 6.2 assists with efficient 2 point and 3-point shooting. That play helped but VanVleet was their primary offensive driver scoring 31.2 points per game while converting 44.3% of his 13.2 3-point attempts per game.

14. New York Knicks (↓1)

Record: 21-21

Since the 1st: 4-2

The Knicks are not recapturing last season’s magic but they are starting to rediscover a bit of what made last season work. Since the start of the new year RJ Barrett has posted three 30+ point outings. He has seemed to find his shot again, converting 50% of his threes and is moving well without the ball. His game winner against Boston helped the Knicks win all four games in the Garden this year thus far. Getting his former Duke teammate Cam Reddish might unlock some two-man games for the Knicks.

15. Washington Wizards (↑1)

Record: 22-20

Since the 1st: 4-3

January Kuzma is the player Lakers Twitter dreamed of. In January Kyle Kumza is averaging 26.4 points, and 11.9 rebounds per game. In a match up against the Magic, Kuzma pulled in a career best 22 rebounds. Washington still cannot seem to get Beal and Dinwiddie on the same page. The two have been trading availability but even when they both are on the court Washington has a -5.78 net rating.

16. Charlotte Hornets (↓6)

Record: 23-20

Since the 1st: 4-3

Charlotte won a pair of games against the Milwaukee Bucks over the last two weeks. If only they could have capitalized on winnable games against the Magic and the Wizards. Against Washington the Hornets traded missed three for trips to the line giving away the lead in the final 2 minutes. Against the Magic the Hornets were outscored by 10 points in the fourth quarter. The Wagner brothers matched Charlotte’s point total as the Magic stormed back to win.

17. Los Angeles Lakers (↑9)

Record: 21-21

Since the 1st: 3-2

Blazers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Hawks just constituted the Lakers longest winning streak this season. Making matters better the Lakers have a new most played lineup with James, Westbrook, Bradley, Monk and Johnson who have shared the court for a combined 67 minutes. The results have been positive but they are fleeting. Johnson is on his second 10 day and may be falling out of the rotation. In the words of the Sacramento Kings and the band Outcast Russell Westbrook has been “Ice Cold”, hitting 22 of his 85 shots in January. Thankfully Monk has been in the top three in catch and shoot scoring in January to cover up for Westbrook.

18. Boston Celtics (↑4)

Record: 21-22

Since the 1st: 4-3 

Boston has struggled to breakaway from teams one would expect them to be significantly better than.  In three close games Brown struggled to score in the 4th. Against the Spurs, Brown went 1-5 in the fourth. He only attempted 1 shot in the 4th against the Knicks in New York. Both these games were decided by 3 or less. Against the Pacers Brown went 2-8 in the 4th before finding his footing in OT. The lone game where Brown performed well in the clutch was against the Magic without Tatum. Brown scored 24 points in the 4th and overtime.

19.  Minnesota Timberwolves (-)

Record: 20-22

Since the 1st: 4-3 

The Timberwolves are starting to establish themselves as consistent winners. Aside from the Memphis game all of these matchups have been winnable games. Dropping a close one to the Pelicans and to the Lakers could hurt when it comes down to the final seeding for the play in. Surprisingly it is the defense for Wolves which has been whining for them lately. They have limited opponents to…. In January. Jared Vanderbilt has proven to be the perfect defensive patterner next to Towns. The duo together limits opponents to a defensive rating of 107.4. Without Vanderbilt, Towns gives up 112.11 points per 100 possessions.

20. Los Angeles Clippers (↑4)

Record: 21-22

Since the 1st: 3-4

With an offense built around the twin talents of Leonard and George the Clippers have been able to squeeze out some additional production form less than star big men. Over his last 9 games Marcus Morris averaged 19.2 on rather inefficient shooting splits. Amir Coffey had a pair of near 20 point games. James Ennis came in on a 10-day scoring 16 points in two games before leaving for his next 10 day stop in Denver. It is not much but this is what trading water and having the 27th best offense in the league looks like.

21. New Orleans Pelicans (↓7)

Record: 16-26

Since the 1st: 3-4

New Orleans’s losses in January have all come against pretty decent competition. Milwaukee, Utah, Phoenix and Golden State for their first four games has got to be one of the hardest first 4 games against different opponents the league has scheduled in a long time. Brandon Ingram came up big, sealing a victory over the Timberwolves with a last second three-pointer. Picking up that win and the win against the Clippers will help in keeping play in hopes alive. 

22. Detroit Pistons (↑8)

Record: 10-31

Since the 1st: 5-3

Just 8 games into 2022 and the Pistons have tied their win total from October through December. They even beat quality teams with more key pieces. Milwaukee had their big three, Utah was missing just Rudy Gobert, and Toronto has been one of the hottest teams in the league. Detroit still has a negative point differential of 8 points per game due to getting walked over by Chicago and Memphis.

23. Sacramento Kings (↓2)

Record: 18-27

Since the 1st: 3-5

With the Kings the phrase “1 step forward 2 steps back” seems to be said all too frequently. Marvin Bagley had his best game of the year putting up 26 points and pulling in 13 boards against Houston. Meanwhile rookie Davion Mitchell has gotten off to a miserable January converting just 31.8% of his shots from the floor. Rumor out of Sacramento has placed just about everyone on the block. Hopefully there will be some movement at the deadline because Fox, Mitchell, and Haliburton in two-man units have not done well.

24. Portland Trailblazers (↑3)

Record: 16-25

Since the 1st: 3-3

Welcome to “we are not tanking publicly but secretly we are tanking.” Damian Lillard has surgery on 1/13 and will be reevaluated in 6 weeks. C.J. McCollum’s collapsed lung has been fixed but he remains out indefinitely. Make no mistake having Simons averaging 27.8 on 50/40/90 is great but Portland would love to pull a 1998 Spurs and add a young star to their career lifer in Lillard, or if pull a 2018 Pelicans getting Chet to replace Lillard in the off season.

25. Atlanta Hawks (↓2)

Record: 17-24

Since the 1st: 1-5

Atlanta has a masterful offense still rated the 2nd best in the league on a per 100 possessions basis. Unfortunately, they cannot close things out defensively. The Hawks force the fewest turnovers from their opponent in the league and January’s turnovers forced numbers are continuing to decline. The Hawks have moved out Cam Reddish for future assets. Maybe there will be addition by subtraction as loosening the log jam gives players more contestant minutes.

26. Indiana Pacers (↓2)

Record: 15-28

Since the 1st: 1-6

Indiana has remained completely incapable of finishing out a late game scenario. This season the Pacers lead the league in games decided by 3 points or less with 11. Indiana is 1-10 in those games. In January the Pacers have already dropped two more games decided by less than 5 points. In their 23 games which registered or have clutch scenarios the Pacers has a grizzly 92.3 offensive rating and a 118.8 defensive rating.

27. San Antonio Spurs (↓12)

Record: 15-27

Since the 1st: 1-7

San Antonio’s offense has really fallen down the hill. At the end of 2021 the Spurs had the 10thbest offense in the league. Now 9 games into 2022 they have fallen to the 18th best offensive rating. In raw numbers San Antonio scoring dropped from 116.7 points per game in December to 108.4 in January. San Antonio was without Murray for 2 of their losses and without Keldon Johnson for 3 more of their losses. With both players healthy the Spurs still lost to the Rockets.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder (↓11)

Record: 14-27

Since the 1st: 1-5

Despite being 1-5 in January this month has a few strong positives. Turnover numbers have been coming down for the Thunder. In October the Thunder averaged 14.5 turnovers per game, that number has fallen, 12.8, 12.2, and now down to 11.8 which would be best in the league. Their team scoring is up in January. Where they keep losing things is rebounding. The starting 5 of Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort, Giddey, Robinson-Earl, and Wiggins combine for just 25 rebounds. No player averages more than 7.5 rebounds this season. 

29. Houston Rockets (↓1)

Record: 12-32

Since the 1st: 2-6

I thought Houston figured out playing Theis was a bad idea. I guess not. The German big man has returned to the floor averaging 21.1 minutes per game that the Rockets have lost by an average of 6.2 points per game. Meanwhile the lauded Rocket’s rookies remain ineffective, Usman Garuba has seen just 4 minutes in 2022, Sengun missed a stretch in health and safety protocols, Josh Christopher and Jalen Green cannot hit a 3. The duo is shooting 29.2% and 28.3% on their combined total 8.8 threes per game.

30. Orlando Magic (↓1)

Record: 8-35

Since the 1st: 1-6

The Magic are going nowhere this season and they are okay with that. Jalen Suggs returned for his first appearance in Orlando’s last 20 games. It was not an impressive outing as the rookie had 6 turnovers to go with his 12 points and 7 assists but just having him out there is a step forward. Wagner may be hitting a rookie wall. His scoring has dipped slightly and his three-point shooting efficiency has also declined. Hopefully he will overcome these hurdles.

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Podcast host for Hoops Temple and blogger for Temple Entertainment and Media. Studied Kinesiology with an emphasis on sports psychology and coaching basketball at Michigan State University. Coached at the High School level for 8 seasons.