One week has passed, and the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings have witnessed some significant shifts in team performance. The Los Angeles Clippers are rapidly ascending the rankings and have recently acquired James Harden, while the Memphis Grizzlies have struggled and fallen.
1. Denver Nuggets (4-0, last week No. 1)
The Denver Nuggets entered this season fueled by skepticism and doubt from pundits. They were overlooked in favor of teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics. However, the Nuggets have taken this doubt personally and have begun their title defense with a chip on their shoulder. Led by the nonchalant Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets’ starting five has proven their elite status, but what’s even more impressive is the performance of their bench players: Reggie Jackson, Christian Braun, and Peyton Watson. In particular, their bench has outperformed expectations and has surpassed the productivity of the Nuggets’ bench from the previous regular season. A thrilling matchup awaits on Friday night between Jokic and Luka Doncic, two of the hottest players in the league.
2. Boston Celtics (3-0, LW 2)
The Boston Celtics have started the season with a fiery intensity, surpassing the performance of any other team in the Eastern Conference. One major factor contributing to their success is the seamless integration of Kristaps Porzingis into their lineup. While their defense is not yet top-10, their starting five, bolstered by Porzingis’ rim protection, has exhibited impressive defensive prowess. Jayson Tatum has also begun his MVP campaign strongly, putting up numbers similar to last season. However, one area of concern is his decreased free throw rate compared to the previous season. The Celtics face a series of intriguing challenges this week, including matchups against the Indiana Pacers at home and games on the road, including one against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
3. Golden State Warriors (3-1, LW 7)
Stephen Curry continues to defy age and expectations, displaying an unsustainable level of play for a 35-year-old. His 41-point performance against the New Orleans Pelicans on the second night of a back-to-back was jaw-dropping. However, even more alarming for the league is the resurgence of Chris Paul and the Warriors’ revamped bench unit. Surprisingly, the Warriors maintain the same offensive rating whether Curry is on or off the court. Winning the non-Curry minutes, the Warriors pose a serious threat to make another title run. And let’s not forget the sheer joy of watching Curry cook and troll Dillon Brooks one more time.
4. Philadelphia 76ers (2-1, LW 8)
The Philadelphia 76ers made a crucial move by trading for James Harden, as not utilizing Tyrese Maxey’s playmaking abilities would be a disservice to the game of basketball. Maxey, rightfully awarded Player of the Week, has been exceptional, averaging 30.3 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game. While the 76ers are undoubtedly a good team, they currently reside in the second tier of the Eastern Conference elite. The question now is whether they will capitalize on their picks and players to acquire a star at the trade deadline, potentially sacrificing their cap space for next summer. Alternatively, they could continue with Maxey as their second option and build around him and Joel Embiid in the future. The answer may depend on the availability of star players this summer.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (3-1, LW 14)
Through four games, the Los Angeles Clippers possess the best defense in the NBA, although this may change once James Harden joins the lineup next week. Acquiring Harden makes sense for the Clippers, as they lack a passer and playmaker of his caliber. Additionally, he can shoulder the offensive load when Kawhi Leonard and/or Paul George need rest. One strategy would be to move Russell Westbrook to the bench, but this decision may face political challenges. The real question lies in the Clippers’ long-term plans: After assessing the performance of this new lineup for a few months, will they choose to re-sign Harden, extend Leonard and George’s contracts, and continue with this group? Or will they opt for a fresh start in a new building?
6. Milwaukee Bucks (2-1, LW 3)
The Milwaukee Bucks may have received a generous ranking considering their performance in the opening week. They currently hold the 17th spot in the league in raw net rating and suffered an ugly loss against the Atlanta Hawks. Nonetheless, the Bucks remain in contention due to their wins over formidable opponents such as the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers. As the season progresses, the Bucks should improve with the return of Khris Middleton and a stronger defensive presence. An intriguing test awaits them on Friday night against the New York Knicks.
7. Sacramento Kings (2-1, LW 12)
De’Aaron Fox has ignited the Sacramento Kings’ offense this season, averaging an impressive 31.3 points and six assists per game while shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, an ankle sprain will force him to miss a week or more of action, posing a significant blow to the Kings. Davion Mitchell will likely receive more playing time, but the Kings have struggled when Fox is off the court, being outscored by 11.9 points per 100 possessions. Despite this setback, they face tough matchups against the Warriors and the Houston Rockets.
8. Phoenix Suns (2-2, LW 4)
Due to injuries, we have yet to witness the trio of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal in action. Nevertheless, the Phoenix Suns maintain the eighth-best net rating in the league. Concerns about their depth beyond the big three have emerged, as showcased when the Lakers heavily focused on Durant, limiting the rest of the team’s offensive contribution. Additionally, in a recent loss to the San Antonio Spurs, the Suns’ non-Durant players struggled from the floor. To compete at a higher level, the Suns will need more consistency from players like Eric Gordon, Jordan Goodwin, and Grayson Allen.
9. Dallas Mavericks (3-0, LW 15)
The Dallas Mavericks’ unbeaten streak can largely be attributed to the exceptional performance of Luka Doncic. Doncic has truly been a walking cheat code, averaging 39 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game. Alongside him, rookie Dereck Lively has also impressed, earning a spot in the starting lineup. Lively provides size in the paint and serves as a fantastic roll man for Doncic off a pick.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (2-2, LW 6)
The Lakers entered the season with a plan to limit LeBron James’ minutes to around 30 per game. However, this plan quickly fell by the wayside, as James played 35 minutes in the second game of the season and even logged 39 minutes in an overtime loss to the Sacramento Kings. On average, James now plays 34 minutes per game, but the Lakers struggle significantly when he is off the court, holding a -28.5 net rating in those situations. Coach Darvin Ham is experimenting with lineups that heavily feature Anthony Davis, Jaxson Hayes, and Christian Wood, sacrificing smaller players. The upcoming week, which includes games against the Clippers and a road trip, will test the effectiveness of these rotational adjustments.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-1, LW 20)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has taken his game to another level this season, which is no small feat for someone who finished fifth in MVP voting last year. He is currently averaging 26 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game and leads the league in drives. The Thunder’s defense has shown promise early on, despite a lopsided loss to the Nuggets. This week’s matchups against the New Orleans Pelicans and Golden State Warriors will provide further insight into the Thunder’s defensive capabilities.
12. New Orleans Pelicans (2-1, LW 19).
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