Power Rankings for the Week of December 14

(Previous week’s Power Rankings can be found here)

One of my favorite things about being a fan of a team for so long is that with the rare exception of organizations like the San Antonio Spurs that cheat and bribe their way to being good forever is living through the valleys and enjoying the peaks.  I became a bigger Lakers fan after living through the immediate seasons after Shaquille O’Neal.  It makes you appreciate “the process” [now a phrase ruined by Sam Hinkie] of team-building.  It also can be painfully frustrating if you’re losing AND not really building towards something as the Lakers had been early on this season, most notably with the benching of D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.  Remarkably, that turned around in the Lakers loss to Minnesota on December 9th with Kobe sitting in the 4th of a close game to let the kids do their thing.  Now, even though they lost every game this week, it has been SO much more enjoyable to watch.  Wins and losses aren’t the only thing that matter, it’s why I hate the “championship or failure” (#RINGZ) mentality of the way we evaluate some careers, it’s also about enjoying the journey to get there.

Notes:

  • Since last week was my first time doing rankings, there were some drastic position shifts as I grasp how I evaluate these teams
  • I mentioned parity last week, and I’ll mention it again: there are a LOT of “good, not great” teams this season. While it has been fun night to night to watch close games, I wonder how this will reflect in the playoffs.  We might have a couple of rounds of duds before we get into some great matchups.  This might be by design, as owners around the league understandably want more parity, but I wonder how it will affect the product.  Ultimately, a team as good as the Warriors might make everybody look silly anyway.

Snapshot:

  1. Warriors (24-1) [LW:1]
  2. Spurs (20-5) [LW:2]
  3. Cavaliers (15-7) [LW:3]
  4. Thunder (16-8) [LW:7]
  5. Hornets (14-9) [LW:12]
  6. Raptors (16-9) [LW:6]
  7. Celtics (14-10) [LW:13]
  8. Pacers (13-9) [LW:4]
  9. Bulls (13-8) [LW:8]
  10. Clippers (14-10) [LW:15]
  11. Heat (13-9) [LW:5]
  12. Pistons (14-11) [LW:17]
  13. Mavericks (13-11) [LW:11]
  14. Hawks (14-11) [LW:9]
  15. Grizzlies (13-12) [LW:10]
  16. Rockets (12-12) [LW:16]
  17. Jazz (10-12) [LW:14]
  18. Magic (12-11) [LW:18]
  19. Suns (11-14) [LW:22]
  20. Bucks (10-15) [LW:23]
  21. Timberwolves (9-14) [LW:21]
  22. Wizards (10-12) [LW:25]
  23. Kings (9-15) [LW:27]
  24. Knicks (11-14) [LW:19]
  25. Trailblazers (10-15) [LW:20]
  26. Nuggets (9-14) [LW:26]
  27. Nets (7-16) [LW:28]
  28. Pelicans (6-17) [LW:24]
  29. Lakers (3-21) [LW:30]
  30. 76ers (1-23) [LW:29]

Rankings:

  1. Warriors (24-1) [LW: 1]: While I was still rooting for the streak to continue until the Christmas game against the Cavaliers, but it doesn’t change the must watch nature of this team. What I will be watching for is how keen they are to attack the Bulls 72 win season, or they slow it down and pace themselves by regularly resting their starters. At least we can get rid of the nonsense “injury luck” narrative– their lack of major injury with this team in the Kerr era has more to do with the way they manage practice load and minutes during games than “luck”.
  2. Spurs (20-5) [LW:2]: The Spurs have maintained their Spurs Minutes Watch (TM) while being on pace for 66 wins, another indication they have signed a deal with the Devil. Oh, LaMarcus Aldridge is getting more comfortable every week with this group and system. It is quite upsetting that they don’t play the Warriors until January 25th 😦
  3. Cavaliers (15-7) [LW:3]: As the Cavs get healthier, adding back Shumpert this week and Kyrie soon, their number 1 target above all else should be reducing Lebron James’ minutes.  He’s averaging 37 minutes a game (4th in the league) and that simply shouldn’t continue.  By the end of the season the Cavaliers will be by far the best team in the East.
  4. Thunder (16-8) [LW:7]: The offensive sets in clutch situations remain pitiful, Russ and KD keep taking turns instead of playing together and in general they don’t look much different than they have in the past, when will they fire Scott Brooks already? Even though they aren’t exactly the Warriors in terms of ball movement, Russ and KD are so damn good it doesn’t really matter.  I just pray to the basketball gods we can get a #fullsquad playoffs with them, they don’t play the Warriors until February 6th! Argh…
  5. Hornets (14-9) [LW:12]: I keep underestimating this team and they keep making me look stupid.  Batum and Kemba are having great years and the bench unit is bringing it consistently and the Hornets strung together impressive wins over the Pistons, Heat, and Grizz by almost 20 points a game before losing to the Celtics on the second night of a back to back. No flukes here, this team is for real.
  6. Raptors (16-9) [LW:6]: Raptors beat the Lakers, Spurs, Bucks, and 76ers, going 4-0.  Three out of the four wins are just taking care of business, but the Spurs win shows that this team is for real.
  7. Celtics (14-10) [LW:13]: At this point losing to the Warriors in a close game should be considered a win, and the Celtics looked like they should’ve pulled that one out.  They matched the Warriors intensity and the legend of Brad Stevens lives on.  I’ll say it again: Isiah Thomas for All-Star!
  8. Pacers (13-9) [LW:4]: The Pacers went 1-3 this week, losing all three for understandable reasons: no shame in losing at the Jazz in OT, the Warriors, or Pistons on the second night of a back to back.  Still, there certainly are signs that the team is slowing down from it’s overachieving start to begin with.  Given where expectations are, being a top-10 team in the league a quarter of the way in is still damn impressive.
  9. Bulls (13-8) [LW:8]: I have no feel for this team, I just know that I love the pieces a lot and Pau Gasol specifically continues to perform at a high level. They’re not putting away any teams, they don’t seem to always bring the energy, but they are undoubtedly talented.  I wouldn’t rule out a shakeup of this roster, only because they have so many high quality front court players.
  10. Clippers (14-10) [LW:15]: They’ve had to work harder than they would’ve liked in beating the Wolves and the Nets, but the way this season has gone any sort of positive momentum is welcome.  Doc Rivers needs to figure out the rotations, and he needs to accept what GM Doc has done and give Lance Stephenson the opportunity to do more playmaking with the second unit.
  11. Heat (13-9) [LW:5]: Their defense propped them up to start the season, and combined by a home heavy schedule, they were able to start off really strong.  I think that regression is to be expected, but most importantly their offense needs to start pulling its weight.  Although they beat the Grizzlies today, scoring is SUCH a struggle to this team and it’s too hard to try to be successful in this league without easy buckets.  Goran Dragic just looks bad, trading Mario Chalmers could really bite them in the ass.
  12. Pistons (14-11) [LW:17]: A team that lives and dies with Reggie Jackson is a team that will be as up and down as the Pistons from night to night.  I still believe in the overall structure of this team and its architect.
  13. Mavericks (13-11) [LW:11]: The Maverick’s gamble on Wes Matthews has turned out incredible, they continue to get great contributions from players that we didn’t expect [Dirk, D-Will, Zaza] but ultimately this team is not much better than average, and will likely make the playoffs as a result of a weaker Western Conference.  Still, fun to watch – and well coached.
  14. Hawks (14-11) [LW:9]: While this ranking may be harsh (12th in net rating), getting blown out by the Thunder and Spurs combined with my own adjustment meant a little bit of a drop-off.  I don’t think there’s much difference between the Maverick and the Hawks, with the Hawks having more room to improve.
  15. Grizzlies (13-12) [LW:10]: I like that they started to experiment with Z-Bo on the bench, and I hope that they stick with that for the time being.  They finally broke the cycle of either getting blown out or winning close ones with losing a close game to Miami on Sunday night, but for this team to have any consistency they needed to make changes to the rotation.  On the bright side, Mario Chalmers looks like a perfect addition.
  16. Rockets (12-12) [LW:16]: Congratulations on being .500 and losing to the Nets this week. Can we agree that it was disappointing that Kobe took the high road on Dwight? Remember the good old days:
  17. Jazz (10-12) [LW:14]: While under .500, two close losses to the Thunder with a blowout win against the Knicks show enough to bump them up.  I think that this team is generally well coached, Quin Snyder could really use an offensive guru on his staff to put a better system to help this team score.
  18. Magic (12-11) [LW:18]: The Magic are coming down to Earth but still staying competitive in most of these games.  I’m personally not a fan of moving Oladipo to the bench, but it does fall in line with Scott Skiles ruining the souls of his players systematically.
  19. Suns (11-14) [LW:22]: Nice win against Chicago, took care of business against Orlando and Minnesota at hime, they really should have beat Portland, though. I believe in what they’re doing, Knight and Bledsoe seem to be working well with each other and they seem to have cleaned themselves off the weird karma they carried around last year.
  20. Bucks (10-15) [LW:23]: It’s just so painful to watch this team try to score, and their defense has really regressed this season.  I continue to be a Knight over MCW truther, they were 2-2 this week, how do they jump 3 spots? They ended the Warriors streak! I believe this team has a run in them, what better time to do it than now?
  21. Timberwolves (9-14) [LW:21]: This team competes every night (impressive for a team with so many young guys) and I continue to be fascinated with the way Flip [RIP] assembled the veterans around all the young guys.  It could be a trend moving forward if the growth of the squad continues.  Can we please get more KAT minutes?
  22. Wizards (10-12) [LW:25]: Bradley Beal, man. Frustrating, sad, intriguing all at once.  I hope he’s fine, and the Wizards really need to turn this around, they are already 2.5 games out of a playoff spot.
  23. Kings (9-15) [LW:27]: Could the Kings be turning things around? By turning things around, I mean just be good enough not to be terrible but not bad enough to be in the Ben Simmons hunt.  Two nice wins (Jazz and Knicks) this week and Boogie and Rondo seem to be clicking! Who would’ve thought?
  24. Knicks (11-14) [LW:19]: Good win in Portland to break a 4 game losing streak, but the Porzanity era has cooled down and we can start evaluating them as a basketball team that is not quite talented enough to be in the playoff picture just yet.  Carmelo seems to have a true respect for Zingis Khan which is a great sign moving forward.
  25. Trailblazers (10-15) [LW:20]: It made sense because the Blazers were going into on-the-fly rebuild mode after LMA left, but damn Batum and Wes Matthews look good.
  26. Nuggets (9-14) [LW:26]: I love watching Danilo Galinari play and as a player who simply can’t stay healthy the Nuggets should be looking to move him if they can for good return. Couldn’t he make an amazing stretch 4 off the bench for a contender? Or any playoff team that just needs scoring? Washington?
  27. Nets (7-16) [LW:28]: The Nets surprise me how many nights they look like a solid NBA team, beating Houston and Philly and almost coming back agains the Clippers this week, but only because I have such low expectations for them.
  28. Pelicans (6-17) [LW:24]: God, this team is so depressing. I have nothing else to say other than this: Anthony Davis is on this team with a coach I like, and I can’t watch them play basketball.
  29. Lakers (3-21) [LW:30]: I said my piece about them at the beginning, but I’m enjoying watching them play again! I’ve never felt better about D’Angelo Russell, who really looks like he has what it takes to be a star.  While I’d like Randle back in the starting lineup, I am much happier about my team than I was a couple of weeks ago.  Also: Kobe looks better!
  30. 76ers (1-23) [LW:29]: Trust the process, except bring in somebody above the GM (Colangelo) and a threat to the head coach (Mike D’Antoni).  I’m glad that the 76ers ownership is seeking a respectable face of management, now that you’re in this deep – should you really be changing course? Hoping that Kendall Marshall balls out, I enjoyed his presence on the Lakers.

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