To check out the “Middle 10” Power Rankings of teams 11-20, click here.
With the All-Star festivities coming at the end of this week in the worlds best city (no boost), and every team having played 50 games already, we’re coming close to the last stretch of the NBA season. Most teams, by now, know what they have and how far it can get them. The true elite teams are beginning to separate themselves from their peers, and the lottery-bound teams are beginning to focus on the future.
At this point, there also comes the intensity of playoff positioning and securing home-court advantage. The 3rd and 8th seed in the Eastern conference are separated by 3.5 games. Meanwhile, the Western conference has an intense race between Utah, Portland, and Sacramento to be the team swept by the Warriors, with Houston’s slightly more appealing 7th seed only a 0.5 game away. The NBA seems to be on course to have a little March Madness of their own.
Outside of the insanity of the lower seeds, elite teams are all gearing up for the playoffs too, where they each hope to be crowned in June as champions. With the trade deadline approaching, any one of the top teams has a chance to make their final push for a deep playoff run. Now would be a great time to see where each of them stands, and how they have excelled so far this season. Here is the Well-Balanced Man’s very first NBA Power Rankings.
1. Golden State Warriors (46-4)
Off RTG: 114.9 (1st) Def RTG: 102.3 (4th)
The World Champions have the best record in the league. That’s really all you need to know about why they’re ranked #1. If you’re still not convinced though, Steph Curry, the reigning MVP of the league has significantly improved, going from a great player to an unstoppable video game character with game sliders up to 100. Draymond Green has become a walking triple double, becoming an elite passer on AND off the court, and their 3rd best player (Klay Thompson) scored 45 points with ease on a playoff team. Plus, they beat the 2 next-best teams by a combined 242745563 points, it seemed like. All of that has made the Warriors the easiest pick for 1st overall since Lamarcus Aldridge in 2006 *wipes tears with Bargnani jersey*.
2. San Antonio Spurs (43-8)
Off RTG: 111.3 (3rd) Def RTG: 97.1 (1st)
The Spurs, like hip-hop legend Puff Daddy, can’t stop and won’t stop. They haven’t had a winning percentage under 61% (what it takes to win 50 games) since 96-97. The team that everyone believed peaked in 2007 is somehow having its greatest season ever in 2016. The difference between their defense and the 2nd best (101.4 DefRtg for the Celtics) is more than the difference between the 2nd best and 17th best. Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate, and the best 2-way player in the league, and with Lamarcus Aldridge signing on this past summer, the Spurs will probably continue winning 50 games for the foreseeable future. If it wasn’t for those pesky Warriors, The Spurs would be the ones mentioned in “all-time greatest teams ever” talks instead.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (34-12)
Off RTG: 109.1 (4th) Def RTG: 103.1 (7th)
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but the Cleveland Cavaliers have some issues. They fired their coach (you know, that guy who led them to the Finals and had them comfortably at 1st in the East), and have settled into their roles as the villains of the NBA. Their new coach is best known for arguably the most embarrassing play in NBA history, and their “big 3” only has 1 all-star. Luckily for them, that 1 all-star is Lebron James. As long as he is on their team and ignoring texts from Pat Riley to give him a 2nd chance, the Cavaliers will be an elite team. Top 8 in offense and defense, this team has all the tools necessary to make the Finals for a 2nd year in a row. If they can improve against the best from the West (currently 1-3 against the Warriors and Spurs) then Lebron might finally fulfill his promise for a championship to “The Land” (worst city nickname of all-time).
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (38-14)
Off RTG: 112.7 (2nd) Def RTG: 104.7 (14th)
When you have 2 top 5 players on your team, it’s hard not to be considered amongst the elite. That is where the Thunder, who are 15-3 since January, find themselves at this point of the season. Although they are top 5 in turnovers, and don’t hit the top 10 in assists per game, they are still an offensive juggernaut. Even with a new coach, they still tend to fall back to their iso-heavy basketball, but its never a bad idea to have the ball in Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrooks hands, as was clear when they came back from 20 down to almost beat the Warriors on Saturday. They are top 3 with a 47% field goal percentage, so the 1-on-1 play works. Enes Kanter has finally given them an offensive center, averaging 21 points and 13 rebounds per 36 minutes. A competent center must be great to see for a fan base that used to watch Kendrick Perkins air ball reverse dunks.
5. Toronto Raptors (34-16)
Off RTG: 108.3 (5th) Def RTG: 103.6 (8th)
Due to their first ever 10+ game winning streak, the Raptors have catapulted themselves into “elite” talks. Still, even as the only East team with multiple all-stars, the Raptors have a lot to prove after being swept out of the 1st round. Luckily, their roster changes are starting to pay dividends. Losing offensive-minded, but also offensively-challenged, players like Lou Williams and Grevis Vasquez seems to be a huge step in the right direction. Cory Joseph has been amazing as their backup PG, and Demarre Carroll (when healthy) has been the 3&D guy the Raptors have been missing since, well, probably forever. Demar Derozan has been an offensive stud, leading the East guards in PPG. He also seems to have finally developed a 3 point shot (42% in January). Kyle Lowry is still the heart of the team, and if he doesn’t deserve MVP of this team, then it definitely goes to his dietician. Skinny Lowry has the Raptors reaching for 50 wins for the first time in their history. Started from the bottom, now they here. Let’s just hope “here” also includes the 2nd round of the playoffs.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (34-17)
Off RTG: 108.0 (6th) Def RTG: 103.9 (10th)
The Clippers are finally starting to steer in the right direction. After a disappointing start to the season, they were able to rally around Blake Griffin’s injury, and Chris Paul has been lights out for them since. He is averaging 21 ppg, 9 apg, and 2.6 steals per game on roughly 50% shooting in the last 30 days, quieting down all the talks of him not being a top point guard anymore. They have also gone on to win 18 of their last 22 games. JJ Redick is this year’s Kyle Korver (shooting 48% from 3), but as long as Deandre Jordan hits free throws at the same rate as I went to class in university, they will never be a true threat. It is too easy to implement the hack-a-DJ in case you ever need to slow down their top 6 offense. Their bench, outside of Crawford, also needs to step it up. Josh Smith was traded back to the team he came from, Austin Rivers was just recently injured, and Paul Pierce/Lance Stephenson have not been able to give them consistent play so far this season. The good news is that Wes Johnson is beginning to find some consistency on both ends, and if the bench can find a way to contribute come playoffs (they’re scoring an amazing 45 ppg in February so far), their offense might be able to deliver a punch that not even Blake Griffin can match.
7. Boston Celtics (31-22)
Off RTG: 105.6 (12th) Def RTG: 101.4 (2nd)
No, I’m not stuck in 2010, the Celtics actually ARE this good. Although they might not have the most stars, or the most playoff experience, they have 1 thing that can make all the difference: Amir Johnson Elite coaching. Brad Stevens has taken this team full of 3rd-4th options and turned them into one of the best defensive teams in the league. They have scrappy perimeter players in Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder, and have uniquely skilled big men in Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. Of course, a team just doesn’t make this jump without a leader, and Isaiah Thomas has become just that for the Celtics. The 5’9 PG is not only an all-star for the 1st time in his short (no pun intended) career, but is averaging career highs in ppg (21.4) and apg (6.6). To go along with all the regular season success, the Celtics also could have up to 8 draft picks in the 2016 draft. It is safe to say that most rebuilding teams are seeing green right about now.
8. Memphis Grizzlies (30-21)
Off RTG: 104.4 (22nd) Def RTG: 105.6 (16th)
Although by the numbers the Memphis Grizzlies don’t look like a top 10 team, it’s hard to argue against them as of late. Due to a few major blowout losses in the season, their defensive numbers are skewed and look less impressive than they are. In January, they held their opponents to 43.8% shooting, which is the 9th lowest in the month. It has helped them get to 5th in their conference, and gives them a chance to catch the Clippers in the top 4. Since trading for Mario “Im a top 10 PG” Chalmers, they are 27-15, and their bench has found their offense (along with All-Star snub, Marc Gasol) after a terrible start to the season. Jeff Green is averaging 21 ppg on 55% shooting in the last 2 weeks. If Mike Conley can somehow get his power back from the Monstars, they could be a team that nobody wants to see in the playoffs.
9. Atlanta Hawks (30-23)
Off RTG: 105.2 (14th) Def RTG: 102.5 (5th)
The Hawks aren’t the same Hawks that won the East last year. They’ve already passed their 22 losses from the entire 2014-2015 season. They also had 4 all-stars instead of the lone selection this year (Paul Millsap). Fortunately for them, with less power comes less responsibility, something that this team can hopefully thrive on. The reigning Coach of the Year still has them playing their Spurs-lite game (they are 2nd in assists per game behind Golden State and ahead of the Spurs) that they were known for last season. They also have the highest % of open 3s in the league, but are shooting the lowest % in the league on those opportunities. As long as they keep getting open looks at that rate, they should see an upward shift on the % of shots made. It would also help if Kyle Korver started shooting the ball more like himself and less like Milt Palacio. One bright spot for them has been the emergence of Kent Bazemore, bench-celebration extraordinaire. His insertion into Demarre Carroll’s starting role has helped him have a career year, averaging career highs across the board.
10. Miami Heat(29-23)
Off RTG: 103.1 (26th) Def RTG: 103.0 (6th)
You know when your significant other leaves you and you spend an entire year listening to James Blunt and eating so much bad food that your body breaks down (No? Nobody else?)? Well that was the Miami Heat in 2014-2015. The 2015-2016 Miami Heat, however, are the you that gets a gym membership, replaces James Blunt with J. Cole, and goes back to being the Eastern conference threat that you were used to seeing in the mirror. Ok, maybe the comparison doesn’t COMPLETELY work, but all I’m trying to say is that Yoko Ono couldn’t prevent the Heatles from still staying relevant.
Paul McCartney Dwyane Wade has recently been playing like the all-time great that he is, averaging 21.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.5 apg, 1.6 spg, and 1 bpg in the last 2 weeks. His play has helped Miami win 6 of their last 8. Their top 6 defense is bolstered by Whiteside’s 3.9 blocks per game, which is more than 6 teams (not a typo). There have been 29 triple-doubles this season, yet Hassan Whiteside (3 triple-doubles) is the only one to have done it with blocks, including 2 games with 0 assists that would make Yeezus himself proud. They have played 14 of their last 17 on the road, so you would think their schedule is about to get easy, but they play the Spurs, Warriors, Pacers, and Bulls at home to end February. They’ll need more from Chris Bosh this month (17 ppg on 38% shooting and 27% from 3 in February) if they want to jump up to a top 4 seed in that time, instead of falling 2 games back to 8th.