NBA Power Rankings: Suns Take Top Honors After Victory Over Warriors

1. Phoenix Suns (↑2)

Record: 18-3

Since the 15th: 9-0

Losing Devin Booker to a hamstring injury may set them back for a time but Phoenix has proven they are a title contender. Bridges being the star of last night match up with the Warriors helps illustrate how flexible Phoenix is. Their starting five has been relatively average when all together. In 292 minutes, Paul, Booker, Bridges, Crowder and Ayton have a net rating of just 1.27. What makes Phoenix dangerous is their ability to mix and match.  Going Small with Kaminsky instead of Ayton and Phoenix runs out on their opponents winning by 22.3 points per 100 possessions. With Magee their net rating gets even better 22.9. Playing without Chris Paul their young three Ayton, Booker, and Bridges win by 18.27 points per 100 possessions. 

2. Golden State Warriors (-)

Record: 18-3

Since the 15th: 7-1

Golden State is one of only two teams in the top 5 of both offensive and defensive rating but even they could not stop the streaking Phoenix Suns.  That one loss keeps them out of the top spot for these power rankings but no one should be excited to see the Warriors. Currently the Dubs defense gives up the fewest points per game, second fewest rebounds per game, forces the third most turnovers per game and limits opponents to the 5th worst three-point percentage. 

3. Brooklyn Nets (↓2)

Record: 15-6

Since the 15th: 5-2

Brooklyn took care of business in the second half of December beating all their eastern conference opponents. Just like that Brooklyn has crept up to the 10th best offense and 11th best defense even with Harden continuing to the struggle. The former MVP averaged what would be a career second worst 5.3 turnovers since our previous rankings while shooting below 40% from the field and just 30% from three. With joe Harris out, Coach Nash has had to do some experimenting with lineups. Bembry’s addition has provided a defensive and overall energy spark.

4. Utah Jazz (↑3)

Record: 6-2

Since the 15th: 6-2

Utah continues to win but their lack of rotational flexibility is a growing concern for this writer. Rudy Gay has played in 7 games but has only shared the court with Gobert and Mitchell together for just 5 minutes. Gay has played zero minutes with Mitchell and Conley together. Utah is a top 5 offensive and defensive team with great team chemistry but their lack of ability to adjust spelled their downfall in the playoffs. It appears Quinn is repeating his same mistakes.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (↑9)

Record: 13-8

Since the 15th: 7-0

After a slow start where Milwaukee was missing every starter from last season aside from Giannis the Bucks dug themselves out of their early hole in splendid fashion. The Big three of Giannis, Holiday and Middleton bury opponents by 28.8 points per 100 possessions. This has been a particularly easy stretch with games against the Lakers, Thunder, Pistons, Nuggets without Jokic and two games against the Magic, but good teams don’t just beat the bad teams the demolish them. Over this streak the Bucks have won their matches by an average of 14.9 points. 

6. Chicago Bulls (-)

Record: 14-8

Since the 15th: 5-4

Don’t look now but Chicago’s offense is only gaining steam. After having the 11th best offense for the first month of the season the return of Vucevic has pushed them into 9th. In his 4 games since returning the big man has converted 5% of his 18 three-point attempts while pulling in 12 rebounds per game. Meanwhile the Bulls defense continues to put the clamps on opponents. Line ups with any two out of the three of Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Javonte green have limited opponents to 104 points per 100 possessions which would be in the running for the second-best defense rating.

7. Miami Heat (↓2)

Record: 13-8

Since the 15th: 5-3 

Miami continued to maintain a top 5 offense over the second half of November by getting to the line. Over their last 8 game the Heat have averaged 21.1 free throws per game which would lead the league. Jimmy Butler is getting fouled on 11.9% of his drives. That’s the second highest frequency for any player who drives 10 or more times per game. In comparison last season James Harden only drew fouls on 8.9% of his drives before the rule change. Miami did announce some bad news. Bam Adebayo will miss the next 4-6 weeks.

8. Atlanta Hawks (↑14)

Record: 11-10

Since the 15th: 6-1 

Sometimes you have too many guys. For Atlanta losing De’Andre Hunter may have been a good thing because his absence allows other key pieces to get into a rhythm. Huerter went from averaging 23 minutes off the bench to 29.2. Likewise, every facet of his game has risen to the occasion. His play making and shooting efficiency has gone up while his turnover has gone down and the entire Hawks Offense has followed suit. Prior to Hunter’s injury the Hawks averaged 44.3% from the floor, 35.4% from three and a 1.81 assist to turnover ratio. Over their last 8 Atlanta has shot 49.9% from the floor, 39.2% from three and has an assist to turnover ratio of 2.59.

9. Charlotte Hornets (↑19)

Record: 13-10

Since the 15th: 5-3 

The Hornets version of smallball is one of the most entertaining brands in basketball but its not successful. For every LaMelo to Bridges highlight lob there is another offensive rebound going to their opponent. Over the Hornets’ last three games without Mason Plumlee the Honest have averaged just 39 rebounds, a pace 3 fewer than the 30th ranked rebounding team. Charlotte needs to figure out something fast because their next four are against top rebounders like Giannis, Clint Capela, and then Joel Embiid for back-to-back matches.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (↑18)

Record: 11-10 

Since the 15th: 7-2

Watch out because here come the Timberwolves. Over their last 9 games the Wolves boast an average margin of victory of 9.6 points. Their two loses came against the Suns and Hornets who are both pretty hot right now. Rotationally keeping two solid defenders next to Towns, Edwards and Russell is working out phenomenally well. The big three plus Beverly and Vanderbilt has beaten opponents by 44.75 points per 100 possessions. They have forced 30 turnovers in 92 minutes of action as a unit and out rebound opponents 111 to 88. 

11. Memphis Grizzlies (↑8)

Record: 11-10

Since the 15th: 5-3 

If you told someone Memphis would lose Ja Morant they would probably call you crazy but that’s what is happening. Over the second half of November the Grizzlies have had outstanding performances from Bane Brooks and Jackson Jr. Desmond Bane in particular has averaged 18.4 points on 53% ,50%, and 86% shooting splits in his last 8 games after scoring just 14.5 on 44%, 34%, and 92%. Do you think Boston regrets trading him for 2 future second round picks yet? Because Memphis definitely is not missing those future picks.

12. Washington Wizards (↓4)

Record: 13-8

Since the 15th: 4-5 

It’s been a pretty ho-hum stretch for the Wizards. The lost a few they should have won dropping games to the Pelicans, and Spurs but picked up a nice win over Miami. The hot hand committee continues to rotate. Washington had 6 different players reach 20 points in a game but only Brad Beal did it more than once. Washington’s defense has regressed from being 4th best in the league with a defensive rating of 103.4 on the 15th to being 14th with a rating of 107.6 currently.

13. Boston Celtics (↑4)

Record: 11-10

Since the 15th: 5-3 

Someone in Boston may want to hire a private detective to try and discover where Jayson Tatum’s three-point shot has gone. After four seasons between 37% and 43% Tatum is at 31.6% and has been even worse over the second half of November. He had back-to-back 1 for 9 games. Being a great shooter may not make a team a contender but failing to hit threes is really holding the Celtics back. They are currently a top 10 defense but being between the Rockets and Kings is not where they want to be in any category. Games against the Lakers, Thunder and Rockets helped keep Boston positive over the last two weeks but unless their shooting improves don’t count on them continuing to win.

14. Portland Trailblazers (↑9)

Record: 11-11 

Since the 15th: 5-3

The Blazers are 29th in defensive rating but their offensive punch in 4th in the league. Lillard has started to come out of his shooting slope hitting 37.3% of his threes. A ways up from the 26.8% he began the year shooting. For years the Blazers have been a consistent two guard scoring punch, Nurkic in the center with more or less forgettable and replaceable wings. It does not appear Coach Billups is going to change much although there have been a few small dabbling’s with Nance at the five. Playing him with Lille, Simons, McCollum and Snell the Blazer do have a 10.17 net rating. Keep an eye out for this if Lillard takes any more rest time.

15. New York Knicks (↑5)

Record: 4-4

Since the 15th: 3-4 

It has been 2 games since Kemba fell out of the Knicks rotation, 1 game since Thibs announced it but the results are already coming in. In their first matchup with Burks at the 1 the Knicks defense was back in action. Atlanta struggled to find the basket ending the night on 35.5% shooting from the floor and 24.3% from deep. Their next game against the Nets, Brooklyn converted just 8 of their 28 three pointers. The 3-point defensive “luck” the Knicks saw last season is back.

16. Philadelphia 76ers (↑2)

Record: 11-10

Since the 15th: 3-4 

Let’s just take a quick moment to appreciate Tyrese Maxey. Without Joel Embiid, Philadelphia went 2-7 without Joel Embiid during the middle of November.  However, Maxey dropped 23.7 points on 48.8% from the floor, 42.1% from deep and 91.1% from the line. Forget making up Simmons for Kyrie Irving trades. Those are Kyrie Irving’s numbers. Even better Maxey dished out 4.6 dimes per game while only giving away 0.7 turnovers. The reintegration of Embiid has not gone great yet but there is a lot of potential with Maxey.

17. Denver Nuggets (↓13)

Record: 10-10

Since the 15th: 1-6 

The second half of November has been devastating to Denver. Losing Michael Porter Jr and PJ Dozier strips Denver of most their wing depth. Thankfully Jokic returned in an uneventful rematch with the Miami Heat. Last Season’s MVP has shown he can carry the Nuggets without key pieces and Denver has performed will with Jokic line ups without Dozier or Porter Jr. Their most used line up with healthy players is Jokic, Barton, Gordon, Morris and Jeff Green. That 5-man unit has outscored opponents by 28 points per 100 possessions in their 86 minutes of action. 

18. Cleveland Cavaliers (↓9)

Record: 11-10

Since the 15th: 2-5 

Evan Mobley goes down and the Cavs drop that game then four more. He returns and Cleveland rattles off back-to-back wins. His impact on the defensive side of the court limits opponents to 105.1 points per 100 possessions when he is out there without Allen. When combined with Allen the two are merciless towards opponents’ offenses limiting them to 100.4 points per 100 possessions. Only problem is when he was gone the Cavs struggled to defend giving up 112.5 points in his four absences.

19. Los Angeles Clippers (↓9)

Record: 11-10

Since the 15th: 3-5 

The Clippers have been struggling to score lately. Over their last 8 games they are failing to average 100 points per game. As a true low point during this stretch the Clips posted a flimsy 81 points against known defensive albatross the New Orleans Pelicans. Reggie Jackson averages have been fine but game to game he has been wildly inconsistent. In that loss to the Pelicans Jackson scored just 4 points. A few Games later against the Warriors he failed to score.

20. Dallas Mavericks (↓9)

Record: 10-9

Since the 15th: 2-5 

Dallas’s recent record looks bad on paper but it better than one might expect. If the season ended today all of their loses would be to teams in the top 8 of their conference, three loses came without Luka Doncic, and Kristaps had a few moments.  Frankly keeping back-to-back games against Phoenix within 10 points and splitting games against the Clippers is almost a win for the Mavericks. However, this is basketball not horseshoes or hand grenades, and the Cavs smoked Dallas despite Luka hitting 7 for 11 from deep on his way to a triple double. Ignoring a late bench garbage time run Cleveland was up by 31 points with 7 minutes left. Dallas needs to make a change soon.

21.Los Angeles Lakers (↓6)

Record: 12-11

Since the 15th: 4-5 

In a shocking turn of events the Lakers most impressive win came without LeBron James. It is clear the Lakers are still scrambling to find which pieces of their roster fit together. Coach Vogel abandoned Horton-Tucker and DeAndre Jordan in the third last night and found real success with Howard, Davis, Westbrook, Monk, and Ellington. In the 14 minutes that line up was used they posted a net rating of 95.1. Impressive, but the fact they have only played together for 14 minutes makes the data almost useless. Even the Lakers’ most used line up has played together for just 50 minutes. Expect continued volatility with the Lakers until they can have a line up see some consistent minutes.

22. New Orleans Pelicans (↑7)

Record: 6-17

Since the 15th: 4-5 

New Orleans might finally be able to start getting excited. Zion Williamson is playing full court 4 on 4 basketball. The Pelicans are winning close to every other game. Most importantly the witnessed Dirk Valanciunas? Jonas Valanowski? After making 1 three pointers in 11 attempts over his previous three games the New Orleans big man caught fire converting 7 three points in the first half of Pelicans Clippers. Valanciunas’s previous career high for attempts was 5. If he is willing and able to shoot more threes his pairing next to Zion might actually work.

23. Indiana Pacers (↓10)

Record: 9-14

Since the 15th: 3-6 

The forgotten team of the second least desirable conference to play in had another disappointing week. The Pacers were as close to healthy as ever and still dropped games against the struggling Lakers as well as Minnesota and Detroit. Now Justin Holiday is in health and safety protocols, Turner is sick. The once exciting rookie Chris Durte has fallen down to earth, averaging 10.9 points on 29.7% shooting from deep. Even the fantastic 16-point 25 rebound and 10 assist games from Domantas Sabonis is marred in a loss.

24. Houston Rockets (↑7)

Record: 4-16

Since the 15th: 3-4 

Even the worst teams in the league can get hot when they have talent and Christian Wood has taken this opportunity to remind the league how talent he is. After posting a horrid -21.8 net rating with Wood and Theis as a combo front court coach Stephen Silas has listened to the data and separated them. Over Houston’s last 3 games Wood has averaged 24.3 points, 15.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. With their next three against Oklahoma City, Orlando and New Orleans Houston could win their way out of top lottery odds if they are not careful.

25. Toronto Raptors (↓9)

Record: 9-13

Since the 15th: 2-6 

After what has been a brutal road stretch one would think the Raptors would be excited to be home. We heard all last season how the Raptors missed Toronto and this would be their bounce back year. Well thus far the only teams worse at home are Detroit and Orlando. The Raptors point differential drops from being 1.8 on the road to -4.6. Most the Raptors home games came before Pascal suited up for the squad so that might change thing. However, missing OG means things will likely stay the same.

26. San Antonio Spurs (↓1)

Record: 6-13

Since the 15th: 2-4 

A light schedule does not mean any easy schedule for San Antonio. The Spurs only played 6 games but had to face the Clippers, Timberwolves, Celtics, Hawks, Celtics and Wizards. It is not a murders row by any means but al teams playing above the Spurs weight class. Picking off wins against Boston and Washington thanks to strong games from Dejounte Murray offers Alamo fans some hope. The 25-year-old guard has come into his own recently averaging 20.7 points 9.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists over their last 6. He also posts a fine defensive rating in comparison to San Antonio as a whole. The Spurs limit opponents to nearly 5 fewer points with Murray on than with him off.

27. Sacramento Kings (↓1)

Record: 8-14

Since the 15th: 3-6

The Kings are still waiting for the new coach bounce. Since firing Luke Walton Sacramento has gone 2-4 with some truly uninspiring loses. Losing by 18 to Utah is one thing, 27 to Memphis and 25 to the Lakers is something else. Sure, they had a bright moment when scored 12 points over the course of three overtimes to be the Lakers, but Fox has also looked worse than usual at point during this stretch. As a 25 points per game scorer last season Fox failed to score more than 17 points in 4 of the Kings last 7. 

28. Detroit Pistons (↓1)

Record: 4-17

Since the 15th: 1-8

This season Detroit needs to judge its success in growth. When their young four, Bey, Cunningham, Stewart, and Hayes share the court they have a net rating of -19.95. Over their Last 9 games Cade has shown improvement. It may not be consistent but last night against the Lillard-less Blazers his 26 points were scored extremely efficiently. In the Pistons first night against the Lakers Cade dished out a triple double 13 points 12 rebounds and 10 assists with only 3 turnovers. His development will not be a linear progression to greatness but the signs are there. 

29. Oklahoma City Thunder (↓8)

Record: 6-14

Since the 15th: 1-7

When your team is winning on a sting you need everything to break and the Thunder are coming up blank. On top of missing a pair of games Shai is in a terrible shooting slump converting just 33.7% of his attempts from the field and making far fewer of his three-point attempts. With his cold shooting leading the way the entire Thunder roster his hitting just 30.6 of their 40 three-point attempts over their last 8 games. 

30. Orlando Magic (↓6)

Record: 4-18

Since the 15th: 1-8

The starters for Orlando are still posting wildly efficient net ratings at 11.16 in 163 minutes of action. Unfortunately, they will now be without Suggs for at least a month. The remaining 4 starts with anyone other than Suggs goes from a 11.16 net rating to a -12.80 net rating. Expect things to get worse as their upcoming schedule includes a 5-game west coast swing. Orlando is still without a timeline for Markell Fultz or Jonathan Isaac’s return.

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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.