December NBA Power Rankings

It has been an exciting start to the NBA season as we have seen one team get off to the best start in league history and another get off to one of the worst.  The good news about the Warriors’ fantastic start is they play such entertaining basketball.  Stephen Curry has played like one of those players in your local rec league that is so much better than everybody else it feels unfair.  He’s been so good that he has overshadowed his teammates, who have played incredible basketball as well.  So no complaints from this NBA fan other than to say that the movement to push back the NBA three-point line due to great shooters like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson is one of the dumbest phenomenons in recent NBA history.  Let’s make it a general rule to avoid knee-jerk reactions that punish NBA players for being more skilled than their competition.

On the other hand, the 76ers terrible start has to be commended in some way.  They will undoubtedly have the worst record in the NBA and thus have the best chance to draft Ben Simmons next year.  In other words they will be rewarded for having constructed a roster that was designed to fail.  Should the NBA (or anybody else for that matter) incentivize this?  I don’t think so.  Thus, since last year’s NBA proposal to reshape the draft failed, let’s introduce a new one.

Maybe we give all teams with the worst ten records the same odds for winning the first pick, but let teams picking later in the draft have a realistic chance of getting a higher pick.  Teams picking one to ten could have a sixty percent chance of getting the top pick, thus each team picking one to ten has a six percent chance.  Then teams picking eleven to twenty have a thirty percent chance (three percent  for each team) and teams picking twenty one to thirty have a ten percent chance (one percent for each team).  We could then repeat the selection process for each draft pick after number one (obviously the odds will change slightly as we will not include the teams that have already acquired their pick(s)) until we have our draft order set.  Wouldn’t this be more exciting and equitable?  Why are we rewarding teams that are intentionally trying to lose?

I don’t know, but this is a very fixable problem that the NBA could and should definitely do something about.  Anyway, without further ado I present the first monthly power rankings.

Championship Contenders

1) Golden State Warriors (21-0)- This might be the most enjoyable basketball team to watch since Steve Nash played for Mike D’Antoni.  I am not a Warriors fan, but I would be devastated if Stephen Curry or any other key Warrior had to miss significant time because they are just so damn fun to watch.  Frankly, I would not bet on them cracking seventy wins this year just because the West remains so deep, but then again I would have laughed if you would have told me would win their first twenty-one games this year.

2) San Antonio Spurs (16-4)- As per usual the San Antonio Spurs are excellent.  Tim Duncan now averages a hair less than ten points per game, but Kawhi Leonard and company have picked up the slack.  In a normal year they would favorites or co-favorites in the West, but the Warriors have played so well the Spurs are under the radar as they seem to be every year, but we’ll hear from them before it’s all said and done

3) Cleveland Cavaliers (13-6)- LeBron is on cruise-control, as are a few of his teammates, so we will most likely be treated to a litany of articles and reports about problems in Cleveland (paging Adrian Wojnarowski), and how it’s Fred Hoiberg’s Bulls or some other team’s year.  Then the playoffs will arrive and suddenly the Cavaliers will flip the switch and destroy their Eastern Conference opponents, and face whichever team manages to survive the brutal West.  I think we’ve seen this film before.

4) Oklahoma Thunder (11-8)- Yes, Sam Presti’s last few moves have been headscratchers, especially the acquisition of me-first scorers such as Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters when he already has two brilliant scorers, and yes this has been a relatively disappointing start to the season.  However, any team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook plus a decent supporting cast is going to be a very tough out in the playoffs.  Barring an unforeseen catastrophic injury they will get better.

Just Trying to Get to the Conference Finals

5) Miami Heat (11-6)- Hassan Whiteside is averaging 4.5 blocks per game!  4.5!  The next closest player in the NBA is Anthony Davis with 2.65.  The Heat are probably the most likely team in the East to upset the Cavaliers in a playoff series as they have balanced scoring, defense, and a deep roster plus plenty of motivation.  If Justise Winslow can get on-track (currently sporting a 7.6 PER in about thirty minutes per game) they will have a legitimate shot come playoff time.

6) Chicago Bulls (11-5)- No Thibs, no major problems for the Bulls thus far.  Pau Gasol is still averaging twenty points a game and Jimmy Butler has been outstanding.  Even Doug McDermott has contributed after a less-than-stellar rookie campaign.

7) Memphis Grizzlies (11-9)- The Grizzlies seem to trot out the same team every year.  A group of gritty veterans that play tough and smart basketball.  Their core is getting older, but they’re still good and they will still be a tough out in the playoffs.

8) Indiana Pacers (12-6)- Paul George has looked like a legitimate MVP candidate.  It’s a nice story and goes to show how far sports medicine has evolved over the past few decades that a player can come back relatively quickly from such a serious injury, and still play at such a high level.  Unfortunately, this team is not going to be able to beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs.  Sorry, but that’s not going to happen if Ian Mahinmi, Jordan Hill, and Lavoy Allen all average more than twenty minutes for you.

9) Los Angeles Clippers (10-9)- Blake Griffin and Chris Paul remain excellent players, but this team has become incredibly thin at the wings after Matt Barnes was shipped out.  They have a semi-serviceable J.J. Reddick, Jamal Crawford who is a thirty-five year-old streak scorer who was notoriously terrible at defense in his prime, an ancient Paul Pierce, Lance Stephenson who is a gamble that has yet to pay off, and Austin Rivers.  Thus proving NBA Roster Building Law #1, your GM and coach shouldn’t be the same person.  The result has been a team that has hovered around .500.

10) Dallas Mavericks (11-9)- The Mavericks have been a feel-good story post-DeAndre Jordan fiasco, but their continued success rids on a large group of injury-prone players remaining healthy in a very tough conference.  They have an excellent coach and a timeless superstar, but a lot of things could go wrong before the season ends, so buyer beware.

11) Atlanta Hawks (13-9)- Kyle Korver and company have come down to earth following last year’s excellent campaign.  There’s still a lot of talent, as Paul Millsap has had a sizzling start to the season, but for approximately the twenty-fifth season in the row, the team is missing a superstar to take it to the next level.

Things Will Get Better (Right?)

12) Houston Rockets (9-11)- The Rockets have grossly underachieved as the Ty Lawson trade has not paid off.  That’s not terribly surprising since the offense is run through James Harden, but nevertheless disappointing for Rockets fans.  This is actually fairly reminiscent of the Mavericks’ acquisition of Rajon Rondo last year, but it remains to be seen if they have to get rid of Lawson to get better.

13) Toronto Raptors (12-9)- Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan remain two of the most underrated players in the NBA, and Jonas Valanciunas is a solid force at center.  However, this will not be enough come playoff time and it is unlikely that they Raptors will be able to significantly improve through the draft, which leads me to ask again, why are we incentivizing losing?  The odds of landing a franchise-altering talent where the Raptors typically pick is very low, so let’s improve the odds.

A First Round Playoff Exit or Bust

14) Boston Celtics (11-8)- Every year the NBA draft rolls around and there are at least one or two very successful college basketball players are drafted much later than they should be for extremely stupid reasons, such as Draymond Green who was a “tweener” or Carlos Boozer who was supposedly too short to be an NBA power forward.  It drives college basketball fans crazy (even casual fans like myself).  I bring this up because every time I see Isaiah Thomas play I still can’t believe that he was the sixtieth pick of the NBA draft.  Among the point guards drafted before him in 2011 were Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, and Josh Selby.  If you saw him play in college you knew how good he could be.  Aaarrgghhh!

15) Orlando Magic (11-8)- Give Scott Skiles credit.  He always gets the most out of his teams, even if they eventually tire of him.  This team should not be 11-8, but they are.  Furthermore, they have an intriguing young core of Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Nikola Vucevic, among others.  We’re still waiting for Mario Hezonja to be unleashed on the rest of the NBA, but we can wait.

16) Utah Jazz (8-9)- An interesting team full of interesting players who don’t seem to fit all that well together.  In a vacuum most NBA GMs would want Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks.  However, when all these players are on the same team the results are meh.

17) Detroit Pistons (11-9)- Stan Van Gundy has been stealthily recreating his Dwight Howard Magic teams.  Andre Drummond stars as Dwight Howard.  Reggie Jackson is Jameer Nelson.  Ersan Ilyasova/Marcus Morris are Rashard Lewis/Ryan Anderson.  SVG is SVG.  They don’t get talked about a lot, but the Piston are good and going to get a lot better.  Let’s just hope SVG’s ending is slightly happier this time.

18) Charlotte Hornets (10-8)- The most surprising thing about the way Michael Jordan constructs rosters is a lot of the players the Hornets acquired would have been the same type of players he bullied and despised as a player.  Frank Kaminsky III?  Cody Zeller?  These are the players that will lead that Hornets deep into the playoffs?  Most likely not, but if one wants to take a glass half-full approach Nicolas Batum is having a superb bounce-back year.

There’s Potential

19) Minnesota Timberwolves (8-10)- Just like the OKC Thunder not too long ago, the Timberwolves know they have two future stars, Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.  Now the problem is making good choices in draft and free agency to surround them with enough talent to succeed.  Otherwise, the Timberwolves risk ending up with a roster of overpaid role players and draft busts, while their two stars flee to greener pastures.

20) New York Knicks (10-10)- So, maybe Phil Jackson is actually pretty decent at this GMing thing.  Most people, including myself, were fairly skeptical that a skinny seven-foot Latvian rookie would make a major impact, but give Kristaps Porzingis credit as he has excelled.  The Knicks are still .500, but things are looking up and we have been granted a brief respite from Carmelo Anthony trade speculation.

21) Washington Wizards (8-9)- It’s never good news if Randy Wittman is your coach.  It’s even worse news when your starting center starts to grumble publicly about too much negativity in your clubhouse.  On a very related note the Wizards have a losing record despite having one of the best backcourts in the NBA.

22) Phoenix Suns (8-12)- It’s perfectly understandable that the Suns have been hesitant to rebuild post-Nash, but right now they are the epitome of mediocrity.  They are one of those teams that hovers in the middle of the NBA standing every year.  They have several good players in Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and several interesting prospects in T.J. Warren, Alex Len, and Devin Booker, but either all of those players are going to have to exceed expectations and the Suns do well in the draft, or mediocrity is here to stay.

23) Nuggets (8-13)- The Nuggets have been a very watchable NBA team for a long time.  Even the Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith, and Kenyon Martin Nuggets teams were extremely enjoyable in a looney type of way.  Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried remain excellent players, while the roster is full of intriguing players who have exceeded expectations including Emmanuel Mudiay, who remains a project as his shooting percentage has hovered between thirty and thirty-five percent this season.  Plus, made-for-Youtube Jusuf Nurkic has yet to play.   Their record isn’t pretty, but the future is looking sunnier in Denver.

24) Portland Trailblazers (8-12)- They had a nice start to the season post-LaMarcus Alridge and Wesley Matthews, but it’s been mostly downhill from there.  There’s hope as Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Mason Plumlee have all played well.  Unfortunately, they are still a few pieces away from contending for the Western Conference playoffs.

25) Sacramento Kings (7-13)- For some reason the national sports media has always overvalued Rajon Rondo.  My theory is that his funky stat lines and unique style of play has always obscured his true value to a basketball team.  Charles Barkley once said “anybody can score twenty points if they shoot enough shots,” and I think you can apply the same theorem to other stats.  Any big man can grab ten rebounds per game if he plays enough minutes and is surrounded by mediocre rebounders and any guard can get ten assists per game if he dominates the offense and refuses to shoot.  Rajon Rondo’s offenses typically have subpar efficiency numbers (even his Celtics teams) despite his reputation as an offensive maestro.

Of course, winning a champion with Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce also helped, but is he any better than Andre Miller in his prime?  Both were or are unique point guards who can’t shoot to save their lives, get a lot of assists, and generally are as good as their teammates.  So, I remain befuddled why a player with decent, but hardly great, stats (and a notorious stat-chaser to boot) on a team that has lost two-thirds of its games is being hailed as some type of great reclamation project.

26) Milwaukee Bucks (7-13)- As a player Jason Kidd managed to wear out his welcome at multiple stops and his New Jersey Nets coaching divorce was very ugly.  So, maybe people celebrated a little too early last year.  There is still time to turn it around, but things have looked ugly thus far.  The Greg Monroe addition doesn’t appear to have paid any dividends and even if they go on a hot streak they look like a seven or eight seed at best.

27) New Orleans Pelicans (5-15)- You know you’ve done something wrong when you have the best big man in the world and are twenty-seventh in somebody’s NBA power rankings.  That something is the colossal amount of money that New Orleans has tied into mediocre and injury-prone players such as Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans (thirty-six million dollars this year!).  Good thing they didn’t just guarantee a center who averages the same amount of fouls as points forty-four million dollars over the next four years.

28) Los Angeles Lakers (3-16)- Currently the 76ers own the Lakers’ first-round draft pick as long as it is outside the top-three.  So, assuming the 76ers get the pick Lakers management has to feel extremely stupid, but if they end up keeping it, Jim Buss and company will have executed one of the most unintentionally brilliant rebuilding jobs in recent professional sports history.  They will have two potential studs, Julian Randle and D’Angelo Russell, plus a top-three pick, all while remaining relevant despite their terrible record this year and last.

Really Terrible and Not Getting Better Any Time Soon

29) Brooklyn Nets (5-14)- The Nets aren’t very good and since they traded away a gazillion first-round picks they will not be very good for a long time.

The 76ers

30) Philadelphia 76ers (1-20)- The good news is there are no longer any winless teams in the NBA!  The bad news is their best player got filmed knocking out random hecklers outside of a nightclub!  In the grand scheme of things Jahlil Okafor’s actions are not the end of the world.  He did something extremely dumb, most likely when he was a little intoxicated, but we have all been there.  A more pressing matter for the 76ers is what they do if they do not win the Ben Simmons sweepstakes.  At some point management has to at least pretend to care about winning games, right?

Chris Linnan is currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Indonesia, who has a life-long basketball and politics addiction.  You can contact him at clthoughts2015@gmail.com if you have questions, concerns, or thoughts. 

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4 thoughts on “December NBA Power Rankings

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