We are now more than a month into the 2015-2016 NBA regular season, and it doesn’t take an “ESPN insider” to realize there have been some surprises thus far.
From first to worst, look below for our current NBA Power Rankings!
1. Golden State Warriors (20-0)
At 20-0, the Golden State Warriors now have the best start in NBA History, and the greatest start to a season of any major professional sport in over a century. The expected “Championship Hangover” was not prevalent for this Warriors squad, and they have managed to stay undefeated even without their Head Coach, Steve Kerr. Nobody knows when the Warriors will lose – or if they’ll ever lose – but as long as Steph Curry remains unstoppable, there is no reason this winning streak will end anytime soon.
2. San Antonio Spurs (15-4)
The Spurs are winning by an average of 10 points per game, and the unselfish style of basketball has proven to be too much for most of their opponents. Aldridge and Kawhi have shown promise to lead the franchise in the post-Duncan era, and they seem like one of the only teams in the NBA with a legitimate chance to defeat the Warriors. According to the BPI, the Warriors are favored in every single game this season aside from their 2 games in San Antonio. With new pieces on the roster this season, the Spurs’ offensive game hasn’t been perfected yet; however, their defense has been unparalleled, giving up a league best 88 points per game.
3.Cleveland Cavaliers (13-5)
Nobody knew just how good the Cavs would be without All-Star starting point guard Kyrie Irving. With Irving out of the picture for the first half of the season, Kevin Love has picked up the slack for this Cavs roster. He is now averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds per game. Mo Williams has also proved to be a valuable addition, and a serviceable starting point guard in Kyrie’s absence. At the end of the day, any team with LeBron James is going to be a title contender. At 13-5, the Cavs should be able to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference until Kyrie returns. The game everyone in the basketball world has been waiting for (Cavs vs. Warriors) will take place on Christmas day. That game should give the world a look at just how good each of these powerhouses are.
4. Indiana Pacers (12-5)
The Pacers are undoubtedly the surprise of the 2015-2016 NBA Season thus far. They are currently 12-5, but have won 9 of their last 10 games. With practically an entirely new roster after getting rid of Hibbert and West, it looked like the Pacers were in re-build mode- well, it seems they put themselves back in contention much quicker than we were expecting. With the help of players like CJ Miles, Monta Ellis, and George Hill all averaging double digit points, this Pacers team seems well off. BUT, most of the Pacers success so far can be attributed to the RETURN OF PAUL GEORGE. He has revived this Pacers team while contributing 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists per game. If it weren’t for Steph Curry, Paul George would have as good of a chance as anyone to win the MVP.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-7)
The Thunder have a plethora of talent at almost every position. Their record may not be up to par with the other teams in the top 5, but with the return of Kevin Durant the Thunder have as much talent as any team in the NBA. With one of the best scoring big men in Enes Kanter, and two of the best scorers in Durant and Westbrook, the Thunder score the basketball better than every team outside of the Golden State Warriors. With the return of Durant to their roster, the Thunder should stay amongst the top teams in the league.
6. Chicago Bulls (11-5)
Everyone is waiting for Derrick Rose to return to his MVP self, and it just doesn’t seem like that is going to happen – he is now 19 for his last 70 field goal attempts. Luckily, the Bulls organization has provided other quality talent. The team is now led by Jimmy Butler. Joakim coming off the bench has proven to work thus far for the Bulls, and their balanced scoring attack has proven to be effective. Over their last 9 games, they have only lost to the Warriors and Pacers (2 top 5 teams). Despite below average play from Derrick Rose, the future is bright for the Bulls.
7. Miami Heat (10-6)
At 10-6, the Miami Heat have won 7 of their last 10 games. They haven’t played the toughest schedule yet, but have some quality wins against teams like the Raptors and Jazz. They have veterans in Wade and Bosh, some quality young talent in Whiteside and Winslow, and a deep enough bench to get the job done. To top it off, Whiteside is playing out of his mind so far, and is undoubtedly the greatest shot-blocking and rim-protecting presence in the league (Yes, better than Gobert). Going into the season, the Heat were one of the teams expected to give the Cavs a run for their money in the East, and they have shown no signs yet to doubt that assumption.
8. Toronto Raptors (12-7)
The Raptors ended last season with the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference, but were swept by the Wizards in the 1st round. On a mission to stay atop the Eastern Conference, they went out and acquired players like DeMarre Carroll and Corey Joseph – both contributing efficiently thus far this season. In their last 5 games, they have beaten teams like the Wizards, Hawks, Clippers, and Cavaliers – all playoff caliber teams. With Lowry and DeRozan averaging 20+ points per game, and playing all-star basketball, the Raptors are headed in the right direction.
9. Atlanta Hawks (12-9)
The Hawks kind of came back down to earth after their 19 game winning streak during the 2014-2015 NBA season. Even though they finished the regular season last year with the best record in the Eastern Conference, it was expected that they would take a step back this season. They may have lost DeMarre Carroll, but the Hawks are on a mission to prove they are still worthy of competing with the best teams in the NBA. Atlanta has played a decently tough schedule as of late, but still maintained a 12-9 record. The core starters of Horford, Teague, Korver, and Millsap should be enough to propel this team within the top 3-5 teams in the Eastern Conference.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (11-8)
Highlighted by a 50 point loss to the Warriors to start the 2015-2016 NBA Season, the Grizzlies gave their fans a bit of a scare. Thankfully, they have pulled it together and won 8 of their last 10 games. Apparently depth at the guard position was all they needed, because ever since they acquired Mario Chalmers from the Miami Heat, they have looked like an entirely new (and better) team. The Grizzlies were one of the best teams in the Western Conference last season, and with a healthy roster, they should be able to maintain that stereotype this season.
11. Los Angeles Clippers (10-9)
Before the season began, many around the Clippers organization felt this was the year they would take the next step as a franchise. They managed to steal DeAndre Jordan back from the Mavericks in order to keep the big 3 of Blake, CP3 and DeAndre in LA. Doc Rivers also made several acquisitions this summer to add depth to their bench. After a 4-0 start to the 2015-2016 NBA Season, it began to get a little shaky, but it seems like everything may finally be back to normal for the Clippers. With a talented roster led by 3 all-stars, this team is always going to be dangerous.
12. Dallas Mavericks (11-8)
After failing to bring in DeAndre Jordan this offseason, hope for the Mavericks seemed lost. They would now be starting a “washed up”point guard in Williams and an out of his prime Nowitzki, which seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. HOWEVER, Dirk is shooting the ball as efficiently as ever, and averaging 18 points per game. D-Will is playing his best basketball in years, and the supporting cast of Parsons, Pachulia, and Barea may be just enough to secure a playoff spot. At 11-8, and with teams like the Rockets and Pelicans struggling, they seem poised to make the playoffs.
13. Charlotte Hornets (10-8)
The Hornets have been a pleasant surprise so far this season. They currently sit at 10-8, and at this point seem like a team that could legitimately fight for a playoff spot in the East – despite only winning 33 games last season. Their decent start is largely due to the play of Kemba Walker and Nicolus Batum. Unfortunately for Charlotte, will be sidelined 2-3 weeks with a strained calf. If Jefferson can come back and play up to his potential, the Hornets could remain a legitimate playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
14. Orlando Magic (10-8)
The Orlando Magic have been in rebuild mode over the past few years, which their record has shown. They haven’t won more than 25 games since 2011. Through the draft, they have been able to acquire some quality young talent. With potential rising stars in Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris, among many other quality young players like Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, and Nikola Vucevic, the Magic are definitely on the rise. The Magic have now won 4 in a row, and confidence is starting to build. Watch out, because this Magic team is ready to take the next step.
15. Boston Celtics (10-8)
The best thing that has happened to the Celtics franchise since the departure of Doc, KG, Rondo, and Pierce was the hiring of Brad Stevens. In his first few seasons with the Celtics, he has already achieved more than any Celtics fans could have hoped. Stevens has the Celtics at the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference once again, and they appear to be poised for another playoff appearance despite having a roster that is not exactly loaded with talent. So far this season, Isaiah Thomas has played extremely well averaging nearly 21 points and 6 assists per game off the bench. Evan Turner’s play has also been a pleasant surprise this season. Best of all, the Celtics will receive the Nets pick at the end of the year, which is bound to be a lottery selection. Adding another young talent to this core could be dangerous in the Eastern Conference.
16. Utah Jazz (8-8)
If the playoffs began today, the Jazz would be the #7 seed in the West. Not bad for a team who finished 11th in the Western Conference last season. The Jazz have showed significant signs of improvement, particularly from Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors. Unfortunately for the Jazz, Rudy Gobert was just diagnosed with an MCL sprain. Gobert’s injury will certainly be a setback for Utah, as he has been the anchor to their defense all year. If Utah is going to be in the playoff hunt once April comes around, they are going to need Gobert back healthy as soon as possible.
17. Washington Wizards (7-9)
According to ESPN’s Strength of Schedule metric, the Washington Wizards have had one of the toughest schedules to begin the season- which should explain why they are currently 7-9. The troubling thing about this Wizards team is that they often play to the level of their competition. The other night, they were able to beat the Cavaliers by double digits. But, on the very next evening, they lost to one of the worst teams in the league- the Lakers. Through all of this, John Wall has been playing extremely well and with a healthy Bradley Beal, they should pick up their game over the course of the next few weeks.
18. Phoenix Suns (8-11)
For the majority of his career, Brandon Knight has been on the wrong end of a lot of highlight plays- getting crossed up by Kyrie Irving, and dunked on by DeAndre Jordan. But, all of a sudden Brandon Knight is beginning to look like an All-Star caliber player. Knight is currently averaging career-highs in points, assists and rebounds per game. If he keeps up this pace and Bledsoe continues to play well, they will be another team in the playoff hunt. One thing I would like to see from Phoenix is more playing time for Devin Booker, who is an incredible shooter. Booker’s playing time has not been consistent at all, and it is difficult for a rookie to get into a rhythm that way. Last night, Booker had a career high 18 points on just 6 field goal attempts in only 23 minutes. Once Hornacek gives Booker consistent minutes, he could play an important role in a potential playoff push for Phoenix.
19. Detroit Pistons (10-9)
In the early stages of this season, Andre Drummond has been the clear front-runner for the most improved player award. Last season, he was more of a raw talent with promise, but now he is turning that potential into dominance every night. Drummond has been an absolute monster on the glass- leading the league with 16.7 rebounds per game. But, Detroit making the playoffs seems like a bit of a stretch. Outside of Reggie Jackson, Drummond does not have much help around him. Even if they don’t make the playoffs this season, it looks like they are making clear steps in the right direction.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-10)
Everyone knew Karl-Anthony Towns was destined to be a great player in the NBA someday, but his immediate impact on the Wolves has been incredible. In the first 18 games of his young career, Towns has recorded a double-double in 8 of those games. I know it’s early, but his game reminds me a lot of Anthony Davis- don’t be shocked to see them compared a lot over the span of their careers. On top of Towns’ spectacular play, Andrew Wiggins seems to get better and better each game. Wiggins and Towns are both only 20 years old, but it looks like they will be one of the best duos in the league in a few years. Right now, the Timberwolves are actually the 8th seed in the West- and that’s a much better start than anyone anticipated.
21. New York Knicks (9-10)
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it looks like the New York Knicks are finally headed in the right direction. On draft night everyone booed Porzingis, but in just 19 games he already looks like a legitimate piece New York can build around for the foreseeable future. Many people were worried about Porzingis’ physicality heading into the season, but one thing I have noticed is that his length on the defensive end really makes up for his lack of muscle. Porzingis will only continue to get better, and the sky is the limit for what looks like the next great foreign talent. As far as the rest of the Knicks roster goes, the draft night trade for Jerian Grant seems like a brilliant one. Tim Hardaway Jr. was never going to be anything more than a role player, so why not take a chance on a young point guard. Grant has shown flashes of promise and we’ll see if he continues to develop. The only negative thing about the Knicks season thus far has been Carmelo Anthony. He is been extremely inconsistent throughout their first 19 games. For the Knicks to make the playoffs, Melo must find a way to get his game back to where it was before last season.
22. Sacramento Kings (7-12)
Currently, there is more drama going on in Sacramento than anyone can begin to wrap their head around. What is going on in the locker room? Is George Karl going to be fired soon? There is just too many questions surrounding this Kings team. But, the one sure thing is that Rajon Rondo is BACK. Rondo was an absolute mess in Dallas last season, but it looks like he may have found a home in Sacramento. Best of all, DeMarcus Cousins seems to love playing with Rondo, so much that he is adamant about him staying beyond this season. Today, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton revealed one of the most interesting statistics I have seen this season. Essentially, the stat proves that almost every single player on the Kings shoots the ball much better off a pass from Rondo vs a pass from anyone else. If the Kings have any chance of saving this season, Rondo must keep up this rate of play.
23.Houston Rockets (8-11)
Since I began watching basketball, I have never seen a more disappointing team than this year’s Houston Rockets. What is going on in that locker room? Kevin McHale was just fired, there are already Ty Lawson trade rumors floating around, and they are currently 8-11. Apparently, McHale lost the locker room, and effort has been a major issue this season. I had a lot of trouble believing this until I watched the Rockets play in person. A few nights ago, I went to MSG to see the Rockets face off against the Knicks. You can tell by the body language of the players and the lack of hustle that something is seriously wrong. I’m not sure why they seem so disinterested in the game, but if they want to make the playoffs, they better start turning this thing around quickly before it’s too late.
24. Milwaukee Bucks (7-12)
This summer, Milwaukee made their first Free Agency splash in what feels like one of the first times in franchise history. Greg Monroe spurning the Knicks and Lakers for a small market team was a great sign for the league, and a great thing for Milwaukee. But, Monroe has been very disappointing on the defensive end this season. He was never considered much of a defender, but Monroe has been noticeably worse on defense compared to last season. On the bright side, JaBari Parker is BACK! The #2 pick in the 2014 draft looks like the real deal and it is great to finally see him back in action. But, as good as JaBari has been, Milwaukee has won just 3 out of their last 10 games and they are toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference. What once looked like a playoff team in the summer, might have to wait another year to be a top 8 seed in the East.
25. Portland Trailblazers (7-12)
In addition to Andre Drummond, Portland’s CJ McCollum looks like one of the most improved players in the league this season. Since LaMarcus Aldridge left, Portland has gone into a bit of a re-building mode. This has allowed the youngsters, like McCollum, to get more playing time. Realistically, once Aldridge left Portland probably never had a chance at making the playoffs this season. But, as long as they continue to develop their young core, that should be considered a productive season. Also, landing Mason Plumlee in a trade this summer was a great move for Portland, adding to their young nucleus. As the season goes on, expect Lillard and McCollum to become one of the better backcourts in the Western Conference.
26. New Orleans Pelicans (4-15)
Another team that is off to a surprisingly disappointing start is the New Orleans Pelicans. But, at least the Pelicans’ rocky start makes a little more sense than the Rockets. New Orleans has been dealing with a lot of injury troubles in the past few weeks. Davis has missed a few games and Jrue Holiday has too. Even when Holiday has played, his minutes have been very limited and he does not look anything like the All-Star he was in Philadelphia. I expect that New Orleans will start to turn the ship around, but there is a good chance they are left out of the playoff picture. At some point late in the season, they may even consider tanking if they can’t get near the playoffs. Either way, it’s going to take some serious dominance form the Brow to get New Orleans on a winning streak.
27. Brooklyn Nets (5-13)
A few seasons ago, the Brooklyn Nets traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett with the belief that they could make a title run and get their first championship since moving to Brooklyn. Not only did they not get a title, they didn’t come close. On top of their failure to make it to the Finals, Brooklyn completely destroyed their ability to rebuild in the future. By their record, the Nets are currently the 4th worst team in the league and will likely finish as a bottom 3 team. But at least they can get a top pick, right? WRONG! As a result of the KG and Pierce trade, they owe Brooklyn their first rounder this year. If they end up landing the #1 pick and miss out on a talent like Ben Simmons, that Boston trade could set their rebuild process back multiple years, and haunt them forever. Of any team in the league, it looks like Brooklyn’s future is by far the least promising.
28. Denver Nuggets (6-13)
Heading into the season, Denver had one thing to be excited about- their new prized point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Thus far, Mudiay has shown signs that he can be a floor general and will eventually have the ability to run a team. In the draft process, teams were worried about Mudiay’s shooting abilities- and they were certainly right to be concerned. Currently, Mudiay is shooting .313 % on field goals and .246% from 3-point range. Worst of all, Mudiay has only shot above .400% from the field in just 3 out of the team’s first 19 games. If Mudiay wants to become a legitimate threat in this league, he needs to re-work his jump shot. He doesn’t need to become the next Stephen Curry by any means, but he needs to prove that he can at least knock down jumpers. This way, defenders will play up on him more, giving him a better chance at getting to the rim- where he is much more effective. Denver has won just 1 out of their last 9 games, and it looks like they will be a lottery team at the end of the year. But, if they can add another legitimate young talent, they will have a nice core to build upon with Mudiay and Faried.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (3-15)
The Lakers season has gotten off to a terrible start. But, maybe it’s because their schedule has been so difficult, right? Nope! The Lakers have actually had the third easiest schedule of any team in the league. Not to mention, they lost to the 76ers the other night. This team is an absolute mess right now. Night after night, Byron Scott seems to be saying and doing all the wrong things. From playing Kobe too many minutes, to not giving D’Angelo Russell enough, Scott has done about everything to ensure he won’t have a job next season. Kobe has also had an extremely rough start to the season, but last night he finally showed signs of life hitting two clutch shots to seal a win over the Wizards. The only positives this season have been the consistent play of Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. Russell has also showed signs of improvement over the last few weeks. Regardless, the Lakers are lottery bound in Kobe’s swan song. They better pray that their pick lands in the top 3, or else it’s headed to Philadelphia and the season will have been a complete waste.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (1-19)
I don’t even know where to begin with this 76ers team. Has anything gone right for them this season? I guess you could say Jahlil Okafor has played very well in the beginning of his rookie year. But, his off-the-court troubles have surely overshadowed his strong play on the floor. He got into two fights when he was in Boston, and was pulled over driving 108 mph. Now, Okafor is serving a two game suspension. The 76ers have just one win in their first 20 games, and look like one of the worst teams in league history. But, after the season they will surely have a top pick, and if the Lakers pick falls outside the top 3, that’s another lottery pick. So, keep “trusting the process” and maybe the 76ers can turn things around. But, I wouldn’t count on the 76ers winning many games any time soon.