1. Golden State Warriors (31-2)
Despite ending their historic win streak at 24 games, the Golden State Warriors are still 3 games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference. The Golden State Warriors went into Christmas Day with the best record in NBA History, and seem poised to make a run at the Michael Jordan led Chicago Bulls 72-10 record. Steph Curry, injured at the moment, is still playing like the most elite offensive weapon in the league. Also, Klay Thompson may have started the 2015-2016 NBA Season slowly, but he has begun to back up his talk as the best shooting guard in the NBA.
2. San Antonio Spurs (29-6)
Although the Golden State Warriors may have the best record in the NBA, many believe that the San Antonio Spurs are the most well-rounded team. They currently allow a league best 89 points per game, and have racked up 9 wins in their last 10 games. Kawhi Leonard can now play on both sides of the court, and is a menace on the defensive end. His improved skill set, combined with the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge (and of course a healthy Tim Duncan/Tony Parker) will make this Spurs team a difficult one to beat.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (22-9)
Without Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert, this LeBron James led Cavaliers team managed to remain atop the Eastern Conference. They are now 22-9, and everything seems to be heading in the right direction (except for LeBron James’ outside shooting %). Although clearly limited, Kyrie Irving is back on the floor. His addition will take some of the scoring load off of LeBron’s shoulders, and should help the Cavaliers remain 1st in an improving Eastern Conference.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-10)
If there’s one thing the Thunder know how to do, it is score the basketball. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both top 5 scorers in the NBA. The Thunder are averaging 108.7 points per game, 2nd only to the Golden State Warriors. They have won 13 of their last 15 games, and are emerging as maybe one of the only teams with enough star power to take down the Warriors.
5. Atlanta Hawks (21-13)
Known as the “Spurs” of the Eastern Conference, it was unclear who would emerge as the Hawks best player. Through the first third of the season, Paul Millsap has turned out to be the go-to guy for Atlanta. Millsap’s increased performance has allowed the Atlanta Hawks to prevail through Kyle Korver’s lackluster play thus far this season. The Hawks won 7 of their last 10 games, and have proven to the rest of the NBA that last season was no fluke.
6. Toronto Raptors (21-13)
With the All-Star level performances so far from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Toronto Raptors have quickly developed into a contender in the Eastern Conference. DeMare Carroll and Jonas Valanciunas are back, which means the Raptors have a completely healthy roster. Now it’s time to see just how good this team really is.
7. Chicago Bulls (19-12)
Jimmy Butler is undoubtedly the future of the Chicago Bulls franchise. He has led them to wins in 4 of their last 5 games, with respectable victories over the Pacers, Raptors, and Thunder. Rumors are flying around that the Bulls are attempting to shop Noah and Gibson for a wing player to help fit the new up-tempo style of play in Chicago. Derrick Rose’s future in Chicago is unclear. One thing is clear though – Jimmy Butler is good enough to lead this team to one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (22-13)
Blake Griffin may be sidelined at the moment, but the Clippers have been on a tear ever since Christmas Day. They have won 7 of their last 10 games, and are currently on a 6 game win streak. They are struggling to find a legitimate and consistent player to take over the Small Forward position, but luckily the improved play from JJ Reddick has helped the Clippers maintain. Hopefully Blake will come back to the court soon so this Clippers team continue their momentum.
9. Miami Heat (19-13)
The Miami Heat were expected to be one of the only teams in the Eastern Conference who could legitimately contend with the Cavaliers to represent the East in the NBA Finals. They are only 3.5 games out of 1st place in the Eastern Conference, and are at full health. While their record at the end of the regular season may not wow you, they are a team built for the playoffs. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have both proven they are nowhere near retirement, and are both proven stars with NBA Championship experience. With the help of D-League acquisition Hassan Whiteside, the Miami Heat are good enough to beat any team.
10. Indiana Pacers (19-14)
It was a flaming hot start to the 2015-2016 NBA Season for the Indiana Pacers. They have cooled off a little over the last couple of weeks though. Any team with Paul George has the opportunity to beat any team on any given night, but the lack of depth is troubling in Indiana. To remain a top 10 team in the power rankings, they must rely more on their defensive play. Lastly, since Monta Ellis hasn’t yet lived up to the hype, don’t think this Indiana Pacers team has peaked.
11. Boston Celtics (18-15)
No star power. No problem. That is the motto this Boston Celtics roster has adapted towards this season. Head Coach Brad Stevens has done a great job with a less than impressive squad. The Celtics had won 4 games in a row before they lost an ugly one to the Lakers in Kobe’s last game in the Garden. Their team mentality and style of play has propelled them to play to the level of almost any opponent – as shown by their ALMOST upset win against the Warriors. Lastly, according to Chris Forsberg, Boston is favored in 27 out of their next 31 games.
12. Dallas Mavericks (19-15)
Dirk Nowitzki has certainly slipped off from his 50/40/90 start to the season, but is still leading the Mavericks with a respectable 17 points per game. The D-Will + JJ Barea combination at the point has proven to be effective. This Mavericks squad looks a lot better than their fans expected after Dallas landed themselves on the wrong side of the DeAndre Jordan fiasco. The Mavericks may not have any elite players, but have developed a balanced scoring attack (7 players averaging 9 or more points per game).
13. Charlotte Hornets (17-16)
The Hornets started the 2015-2016 NBA Season on a high note, but have actually lost 7 of of their last 10 games. Nicalas Batum has been a pleasant surprise for the Hornets, and is one of the main reasons they are in the playoff hunt. Everything seemed to being heading in the right direction for the Hornets until an MRI revealed that Al Jefferson is in need of surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus. It will be tough for the Hornets to maintain their hot start, especially without Jefferson for the foreseeable future.
14. Detroit Pistons (18-16)
The Detroit Pistons were one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference last season, but are a legitimate threat to make the playoffs this year. With the exit of Greg Monroe last offseason, Detroit is in a much better position than many expected before the 2015-16 season began. Reggie Jackson is living up to his $80 million contract, and Andre Drummond is looking like the most improved NBA player from last season – it looks like Van Gundy has found his new Dwight Howard.
15. Orlando Magic (19-15)
The Orlando Magic were not remotely close to making the playoffs spot last season, finishing with a 25-57 record. This year, they are off to a much better start at 6th place in the Eastern Conference, with a 19-15 record. Coming into the season, no one had high hopes for this Magic team. Realistically, they don’t have a strong enough core to make any sort of serious run in the playoffs. But, with Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris playing so well to start, Orlando should be able to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season.
16. Washington Wizards (15-16)
Believe it or not, if the playoffs started today the Washington Wizards would be left at home. With a 15-16 record, they have certainly been a disappointment. John Wall has been having another All-Star type season, which is no shocker. But, Marcin Gortat’s strong play has been a pleasant surprise for Wizards fans. Gortat even came away with the player of the week award this past week. Regardless of Gortat and Wall’s strong play, the Wizards are still struggling to get any sort of win streak going. Keep an eye on Randy Wittman, he may be on the hot seat very soon. If he makes it through this year, I’d be very surprised if he was coaching the Wizards next season.
17. Houston Rockets (16-19)
The good news for the Houston Rockets is that they have started to turn their season around. Currently, they are the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The bad news is that they don’t appear to have any chance of making the type of playoff run they did last season. While he has put up some good performances, James Harden is nothing like the MVP candidate he was last season. On top of that, Dwight Howard appears to have lost all of his powers from his “Superman” days. Houston’s going to need some more help if they want to make a playoff run. They’re also going to need Harden to return to MVP form ASAP.
18. Memphis Grizzlies (18-17)
It feels like every year the Memphis Grizzlies bring back virtually the same core. In the past few years, it has been good enough to be very competitive in the Western Conference playoffs. With the way the Grizzlies look this year, it appears the “Grit and Grind” core may have already hit it’s peak a few years back. With Mike Conley headed into Free Agency this summer, Memphis should definitely have reason to worry. Memphis is another team that should be active in the trade market. They could really use a knock down 3-point shooter. Let’s see if that’s something they go after as the February deadline inches closer.
19. Utah Jazz (15-17)
If the NBA season were to end today, the Utah Jazz would be a playoff team. 2 games under .500 though, this has been a less than impressive start to the season. As if Dante Exum’s injury wasn’t enough in the offseason, Rudy Gobert and Alec Burks are now injured as well. The Jazz are a tough team, but not deep enough to prosper with all of these injuries. Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors can only carry this young Jazz team so far.
20. New York Knicks (15-19)
Currently, the New York Knicks are 15-19. Last season, they only recorded 17 wins. Having a healthy Carmelo back has certainly been helpful, but it is the supporting cast that has made the difference for the Knicks. Aaron Afflalo has proved to be a reliable scorer, and Robin Lopez has been a good addition as well. Kristaps Porzingis has been far better than any Knicks fan anticipated, and that’s the best news of all for Knicks fans. But, New York still has a long way to go before they are a legitimate contender. They will likely have a tough time making the playoffs this year, but they certainly do have a chance. The Knicks made a nice move on draft night trading for Jerian Grant, in the coming weeks I’d like to see him take away some of Calderon’s minutes.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (11-22)
The New Orleans Pelicans have been one of the more disappointing teams this season. After sneaking into the playoffs last year, everyone had high hopes for New Orleans this year. Well, not only are the Pelicans unlikely to make the playoffs, they are the 14th team in the West right now. While I was never a believer that Anthony Davis would win the MVP this year, a lot of people thought this was his year. He has been productive, but as long as his team is this bad, he’s got no shot at an MVP trophy. New Orleans has a lot of issues to solve, but the most obvious is that their roster needs to be seriously re-constructed.
22. Milwaukee Bucks (14-21)
In a weird way, the worst thing that happened to the Milwaukee Bucks was making the playoffs last season. Why? Because it may have given the front office and fans too high of expectations for the near future. This is still a very, very young team. Most of their players are in the early stages of the career, and they are still learning the in’s and out’s of the NBA. The biggest positive of the season thus far has been the Greek Freak’s incredible play. It’s early, but he looks like a future All-Star. It seems the playoffs are out of reach this season, but the Bucks young core must continue to develop.
23. Sacramento Kings (13-20)
Considering how many issues the Sacramento Kings have had this season, they are actually only 2 games back from the 8th seed. But, I’d be very surprised to see this Sacramento team in the playoffs once the spring rolls around. One bright spot for the Kings has been Rajon Rondo. He looks to have returned to his old All-Star form, and is likely to get paid big-time this summer. DeMarcus Cousins has also been a consistent dominant force down low too. But, even if they made the playoffs, they will certainly be knocked out in the first round. The roster needs some changes, and a coaching change might be needed as well.
24. Portland Trail Blazers (14-21)
Portland is another team who virtually everyone claimed had no shot at making the playoffs this year. But, they are just 2 games out of the 8th seed as well. Much of this success is due to CJ McCollum’s wildly improved play. He was barely a role player on last year’s team, and has become a go-to scoring option this year. He is also in the running for the NBA’s most improved player award. Damian Lillard has sat out the past 6 games with a foot injury, but once he returns we’ll see if Portland can maybe sneak into the playoffs.
25. Phoenix Suns (12-24)
Phoenix’s season has gone downhill, FAST. In the past few weeks, virtually everything that could have gone wrong, has gone wrong. Eric Bledsoe is OUT for the remainder of the season after suffering a torn meniscus on a non-contact play. Worst of all, there appears to be a lot of issues with the coaching staff, who recently let go of Hornacek’s top two assistants. While Hornacek has kept his job thus far, it doesn’t mean his job is safe for the future. In the meantime, Brandon Knight is going to have to carry a hefty amount of the work load. But, the playoffs don’t appear to be in the future for Phoenix this year.
26. Denver Nuggets (12-22)
Emmanuel Mudiay has missed the past 10 games with an ankle injury. Prior to that, the #7 pick in the draft has been a bit underwhelming thus far. Mudiay’s biggest issue is his shooting, and that has been a HUGE issue. Currently, Mudiay is shooting 31.1% from the field and 24.7% from 3-point range. Compared to other rookies, Mudiay has the worst field goal percentage and the worst 3-point percentage. On the bright side, he has displayed a strong ability to run the offense and distribute the ball. Another good sign for Denver has been Will Barton’s dramatically improved play. Barton has been a scoring threat all year long, and is another most improved player award candidate.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (12-22)
The Minnesota Timberwolves may be towards the bottom of this list, but they have a very bright future ahead. Karl-Anthony Towns has been everything Minnesota could have hoped for this season. He is by far the leading candidate in the Rookie of the Year race, and looks to have the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft class. He hasn’t just been one of the best rookies this year, he’s been one of the best front court players in the league. Aside from Towns, Andrew Wiggins appears to get better and better each game. With some guidance from Kevin Garnett, this Timberwolves young core has a chance to become one of the most exciting teams in the league.
28. Brooklyn Nets (10-23)
This picture pretty much sums up the Brooklyn Nets’ season and future. There’s not much to look forward to because this Nets team is going to be bad for a while. Worst of all, their draft pick will be sent to Boston at the end of the year. The only productive thing that could happen in Brooklyn this season will be if Rondae Hollis-Jefferson can prove to be a future piece of the puzzle. Also, if Brooklyn can find a way to get any sort of assets in return for Thaddeus Young, Brook Lopez, or Joe Johnson, they need to pull the trigger on a trade.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (7-27)
For the first time this season, the Los Angeles Lakers won 2 games in a row, beating Boston and Philly back to back. But, those wins will prove useless by the end of the season. The Lakers will likely end up with the 2nd or 3rd worst record by the end of the season. However, in the past few weeks D’Angelo Russell has improved drastically and is far better than he was at the beginning of the season. Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson have also continued to get better and better. This season, they need to just continue to develop chemistry with each other as they are likely the core for the future. Separately, Kobe Bryant’s play has improved recently, but that’s not likely to make a dramatic impact on their record.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (3-33)
The Philadelphia 76ers have made a few changes since bringing in Jerry Colangelo. Most notably, they brought in Mike D’Antoni to help out Brett Brown on the sidelines. It’s important to note that D’Antoni is not likely to be a replacement, as Brown just received an extension. Jahlil Okafor has been dealing with a knee injury, but he appears to be fine now and back in the lineup. Okafor has played very well this year on the offensive end, but it’s clear he has A LOT of work to do on the defensive side of the ball. Either way, the 76ers are going to be the worst team in the league once again. The best thing that could happen to them is if the Lakers pick falls out of the top 3, which would give them 2 lottery selections this summer.