The Philadelphia 76ers opened the season with three straight wins. The Phoenix Suns are 3-2 with their losses being by seven at Oklahoma City and three at San Antonio. The Charlotte Bobcats and Orlando Magic have more wins by themselves (three) than the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks do combined (two).
Teams we thought would be on the rise (Cleveland, Washington? Yes, we see you over there flinging your own feces around … stop it!) aren’t so much with the rising. Teams we put on Tank Watch 2014 came out of the gate like gangbusters (OK, who are you guys and what the hell have you done with the 76ers, Suns and Magic?)
So, yes, the first week-plus of the 2013-14 NBA season has been a little bit like this:
And with that HoopsHabit debuts its first regular-season edition of the Power Rankings. I’m going to preface this with the part people will forget by the time they get to the comments section, but due diligence and all that.
These rankings are not what I think. It’s a complex (oh, who am I kidding, it’s actually pretty simple) mathematical formula which takes a bunch of numbers, crunches them together and gives us a list of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the 30 teams.
Again. It’s not about what I think. It’s about what the numbers say. Of course, I could be completely misinterpreting the numbers, but that’s the joy of power rankings. At the end of 82 games, the teams with the eight best records in each conference will march boldly into the playoffs and all of this ranking stuff won’t matter. I mean, it’s not college football—what happens in the games actually matters!
And with that, the HoopsHabit NBA Power Rankings through the first week (plus):
1. Houston Rockets (4-1, preseason ranking No. 10)
James Harden is scoring (25.2 points per game). Dwight Howard is rebounding (14.6 boards per game). The Rockets are shooting (49.9 percent overall). That said, there are some red flags. Harden’s 4.8 turnovers a game is concerning. Howard’s 3.6 fouls per game could become problematic. But Houston has six players—four starters and two reserves (Francisco Garcia 11.8, Omri Casspi 10.5)—scoring in double figures and when the Rockets opt to go small with Garcia replacing Omer Asik on the floor? ZOMG! A 153.2 offensive rating and an 81.2 true shooting percentage and the group isn’t horrible at the other end with a 102.0 defensive rating.
2. Indiana Pacers (5-0, preseason ranking No. 3)
The Pacers are the lone unbeaten team left in the NBA and the 5-0 start is Indiana’s best since moving to the NBA from the American Basketball Association in 1976. Anyone worried whether Paul George could live up to the hype has to be feeling calmer now. Last year’s Most Improved Player is making the leap—25.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, four assists, 1.8 steals, 48.3 percent from the floor and 44.4 percent from deep is off-the-charts good. Roy Hibbert isn’t scoring like he did in the playoffs, just 8.2 points a game, but he’s getting nine boards, blocking 5.2 shots per game (yes, 5.2 shots per game!) and is plus-15.2 per night.
3. Golden State Warriors (4-1, preseason ranking No. 8)
The Warriors are leading the NBA in scoring margin, outscoring their foes by an average of 12.8 points per game—and that’s with an 11-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the board. This team is scary good with the first five—three different players (Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala) have already scored at least 30 points in a game through five games. The Dubs got a scare when Curry and Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio tangled legs in the third quarter Wednesday night, and by a scare, I mean an entire fan base doing this:
But Curry’s OK and said he’ll “probably” play Friday when Golden State continues its four-game road trip at San Antonio.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (3-2, preseason rank No. 6)
That whole “lost at Orlando” thing was a bit of a surprise, but the Clippers are getting otherworldly production from Chris Paul (24.8 points, 12.6 assists, three steals, 1,700 hot dogs sold per game). And, hey, lots of us thought J.J. Redick was going to be a good pickup for the artists formerly known as Lob City. But 17.2 points a game good? But seriously, coach Doc Rivers needs to fit Byron Mullens with a shock collar or something—3.5 3-point attempts per game? At a 21.4 percent clip? He’d best be careful before someone goes full Richie Incognito on him (too soon?)
5. San Antonio Spurs (4-1, preseason rank No. 2)
In a maelstrom of surprises in the early going, there are always the three things you can count on—death, taxes and the Spurs. They’re managing Tim Duncan’s minutes nicely (15.3 points and 6.5 boards in 27.8 minutes a night), Tony Parker is doing Tony Parker-like things (19.6 points, 51.3 percent from the floor, 7.2 dimes) and Boris Diaw is getting them 12.4 points and almost five boards a night. Wait, Boris Diaw? Apparently Gregg Popovich wanted to get in on the surprising early results act, too.
6. Miami Heat (3-2, preseason rank No. 1)
LeBron James is producing just fine, thanks—25.6 points, 5.6 boards, eight assists, 58 percent from teh floor, 50 percent from deep—but the turnover bug that has grabbed hold of the Heat is a concern. If the team isn’t going to rebound (and it isn’t) then 17 turnovers a game is unacceptable. Chris Bosh, however, is off to his best start since joining James and Dwyane Wade in South Beach. Bosh is scoring 19.8 points a night and shooting 59.1 percent from the floor (60 percent from distance on 2.5 attempts a game). Just a hunch, but I think the Heat will be OK.
7. Dallas Mavericks (3-2, preseason rank No. 15)
So far, so good with the Monta Ellis-Dirk Nowitzki shotgun wedding; Ellis is scoring 24 points a game on 51 percent shooting and Dirk is at 19.4 points a night. Jose Calderon is running the point the way he runs the point (six assists to 1.8 turnovers a game) and Gal Mekel has been interesting to watch in limited minutes (4.4 points, 3.6 assists in 15.2 minutes a night). Throw in the fact that there’s no way Calderon continues to shoot 31.6 percent all season and the Mavs look like that playoff miss last year might have been a one-time thing.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (3-1, preseason rank No. 4)
Russell Westbrook is back and has 43 points, 11 assists and nine turnovers in his first two games back, covering 66 minutes in all. He’s rusty—shooting 41.7 percent and 0-for-3 from range—but he looks OK so far. Kevin Durant is slumping a bit, hitting 42.9 percent from the floor and 30 percent from distance, but he’s making up for it by drawing more than eight fouls a game, good for 12.8 free-throw attempts a night. He likely won’t make 1,050 trips to the line, but early season stats are fun to project, just the same.
9. Orlando Magic (3-2, preseason rank No. 26)
Hey, wait! What are you guys doing all the way up here? While Philadelphia hogged all of the attention with the three straight wins, it’s the Magic who look like they might be able to hang around for a spell. Nikola Vucevic put up 30 and 21 in the upset of the Clippers and is averaging 17.8 points and 13.2 boards. Arron Afflalo is getting 18.8 points a night, Victor Oladipo is scoring 13.2 points a game and wreaking some defensive havoc and Tobias Harris—presumed to be their best player—hasn’t logged a single minute yet.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (2-2, preseason rank No. 16)
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge are doing their thing—each is averaging more than 24 points a game—and Wesley Matthews is emerging as a legitimate third scoring threat at 17.3 percent and canning half of his 3s so far. But as our Chris Reichert pointed out, coach Terry Stotts seemed to have missed the memo that he has a real bench now. Portland can’t sustain the minutes load that is being placed on Lillard (38.8 per game), Aldridge (37.5), Nicolas Batum (36.3) and Matthews (34.8).
11. Atlanta Hawks (2-2, preseason rank No. 14)
Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague are all scoring at least 18 points a game, Kyle Korver is hotter than hot from 3-point range (65 percent) and Cartier Martin is providing bench points. But he’s about the only source of offense off the bench. Dennis Schroeder has looked good in spurts, but Elton Brand—who was expected to be a key big off the bench—is playing nine minutes a game. And at some point, the fifth starter, DeMarre Carroll might want to work on the whole ball in the basket thing—30 percent shooting is just embarrassing.
12. Phoenix Suns (3-2, preseason rank No. 29)
Well, this was unexpected. Eric Bledsoe is playing like a star (21 points, 7.2 assists, five boards a game), Gerald Green is knocking down 3s like crazy and Miles Plumlee is averaging 11.2 points and 8.8 boards after getting 13 and 22, respectively, for Indiana last year—total, not average). And one of the Morris twins, Markieff, is getting 13 points and 6.5 boards for the Suns. Even with Goran Dragic out for a bit with a sprained ankle, Phoenix is overachieving right now, but a team relying on 35 minutes of P.J. Tucker a night might be due for a fall sooner rather than later.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (3-2, preseason rank No. 30)
Michael Carter-Williams emerged as the early Rookie of the Year favorite, but he’s come back to earth a bit. That said, MCW is still averaging 19.8 points, 7.6 assists, five rebounds and three steals a game, but he’s hitting just 40 percent of his shots. Evan Turner is scoring 22.2 a night and looking like a guy who was a lottery pick (oh, wait), but the real shocker is Spencer Hawes, who may have made some sort of a deal with someone that involved his soul—17.2 points and 11 rebounds a game and 50 percent from 3? Who are you and what did you do with Spencer Hawes???
14. Milwaukee Bucks (2-2, preseason rank No. 23)
They’re going gaga for Zaza Pachulia in Milwaukee. The free-agent pickup is averaging 13.3 points and eight rebounds a game for the Bucks and it’s a good thing, since Larry Sanders’ game is being pictured on the side of milk cartons all over Wisconsin right now. Gary Neal is scoring 15.3 points a game for the Bucks, who are weathering the injuries in the backcourt right now thanks to a surprising source. Brandon Knight played less than two minutes, Luke Ridnour hasn’t played at all, but point guard hasn’t been a problem. Second-round pick Nate Wolters has come to the rescue to the tune of 9.8 points and 6.5 dimes a game and he’s only turned the ball over four times … in four games.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-2, preseason rank No. 12)
Kevin Love is back to being Kevin Love (26.2 points, 14.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists per game) and Kevin Martin is a 21.6 point-per-game scorer in the early going. In other news that’s not news, though, Ricky Rubio still can’t shoot. The 8.6 assists and 3.4 steals per game are great, but that 28.6 percent shooting makes it almost a game of four-on-five. Corey Brewer’s return to the Twin Cities is off to a nice start, too (13.2 points a game). But the Wolves need to sort out the depth … or at least try to find some. Their bench, other than Jose Barea, resembles a dumpster fire at this point.
16. Detroit Pistons (2-2, preseason rank No. 19)
Maurice Cheeks has lost his mind. Or Josh Smith has incriminating evidence. How else do you explain this stat? Smith is averaging seven (seven! seven? SEVEN???) 3-point attempts per game. And, hey, he’s making 25 percent of them! That said, the frontcourt trio of Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond is creating some problems on both ends of the floor and Brandon Jennings’ return from a fractured jaw reduced the workload for Chauncey Billups a bit. But some semblance of frontcourt depth has to emerge, because Smith, Monroe and Drummond can’t keep playing almost 40 minutes a night.
17. Charlotte Bobcats (3-2, preseason rank No. 27)
A line too good not to share, via Twitter regarding Gerald Henderson’s 23 points in the Bobcats’ win over Toronto Wednesday night:
— Christopher Walder (@WalderSports) November 7, 2013
Henderson showing signs of life is just another good sign for Charlotte, which has won three of its first five despite having free-agent acquisition Al Jefferson for just one game. The Bobcats can’t throw a rock in a lake standing in a boat, shooting just 41.9 percent, but Charlotte has been feisty defensively, holding opponents to just 44.2 percent. Kemba Walker is scoring 15.8 points a game, Henderson’s up to 13.8 a night and Ramon Sessions leads the bench gang at 12.6 a contest—and none of them is shooting, like at all. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is, however, hitting 56.8 percent of his shots in the early going and scoring 11 points a game.
18. Toronto Raptors (2-3, preseason rank No. 22)
This might be the weirdest team I’ve seen in the early going … like “Island of Misfit Toys” weird. They have a bunch of interesting pieces that appear to have absolutely no business ever being put together. Kyle Lowry is a shoot-first point guard who doesn’t shoot that well. Rudy Gay is a scorer who’s not scoring. Jonas Valanciunas might be tempted at some point to just go punch one of the wing players in the head and take the ball, given how often he’s getting it in the post. I saw the Raptors play Milwaukee last weekend and counted about 25 missed entry pass opportunities when Valanciunas had clear position. But hey, Rudy, hoist another mid-range jumper from 19, why doncha?
19. Brooklyn Nets (2-2, preseason rank No. 7)
So, they got up for the Miami game. But they have losses at Cleveland and Orlando (by 21). Ask Nets fans about their confidence level for the game Friday night at Washington? There’s a fine line between “cruise until the playoffs” and “holy crap, we’re about to miss the playoffs” and if Brooklyn’s not careful, they might be straddling firmly across it. Kevin Garnett looks like he’s in preseason form, averaging 22 minutes, shooting 34.3 percent and getting 6.5 points and 6.5 boards a game. It’s one thing to be deep, which the Nets are. But nine guys averaging 18 minutes a game isn’t depth, it’s called “having no rotation at all.”
20. New Orleans Pelicans (2-3, preseason rank No. 20)
It took 20 teams, but the Pelicans are right where I thought they’d be. The big story out of the Big Easy is Anthony Davis’ rocket-like rise to relevance. Davis is averaging 21.2 points, 11.4 rebounds and four blocks per game, but wow does this team miss Ryan Anderson. The Pelicans are taking 13.4 3s a game, by far the fewest in the league, and that is allowing defenses to pack the paint. Pack it? Not to mix sports metaphors, but sometimes it looks like New Orleans is going against eight men in the box.
21. Memphis Grizzlies (2-3, preseason rank No. 9)
The Grizzlies with a defensive rating of 105.8? Memphis tied with Sacramento for 26th in the league in defensive rating? What in the name of Lionel Hollins is going on here? The coaching transition from Hollins to Dave Joerger has had a few hiccups so far. Mike Conley is averaging 20 points a game. Zach Randolph is averaging 11.2 points. Am I the only one thinking that Conley might have read too many of those “Mike Conley’s an emerging star” stories over the summer? The other thing is that the grit-and-grind Grizzlies are getting ground to a pulp on the glass—Memphis is averaging less than 40 rebounds a game and that’s Miami-level bad.
22. Los Angeles Lakers (2-3, preseason rank No. 21)
Steve Nash is shooting 28.1 percent. Steve Blake is shooting 30 percent. Perhaps guys named Steve wearing purple-and-gold should stop with the shooting for a bit. I’m not going to say that Mike D’Antoni’s rotation lacks consistency. But there are eight guys averaging more than 20 minutes a game. No one is averaging more than 30. Lineup by Ouija board is not an effective coaching strategy. On the plus side, Pau Gasol is averaging a double-double at 14.6 points and 10.4 rebounds. On the minus side, he’s taking more than 13 shots a game to do it, because he’s got very little consistent help out there with him.
23. Washington Wizards (1-3, preseason rank No. 17)
John Wall is averaging 20.3 points and 8.8 assists a game and Trevor Ariza has been huge in the early going, getting 17 points and 9.3 boards a night. Newly acquired Marcin Gortat got pressed into big minutes earlier than expected when Nene missed a couple of game with a sore calf and he’s averaging almost a double-double at 13.8 points and 9.8 boards. Bradley Beal was expected to break out as a shooter and he has, sort of. Dude is certainly shooting—like 17.5 attempts a game. Problem is, only 32.9 percent have gone through the iron so far. Ouch.
24. Sacramento Kings (1-3, preseason rank No. 28)
Isaiah Thomas is getting 20.8 points a game off the bench. He’s been electric so far for the Kings. DeMarcus Cousins has been … DeMarcus Cousins. He followed up a strong opener in the win against Denver with a couple of clunkers, including a game where Andrew Bogut of Golden State got so far inside Cousins’ head, they might as well have been conjoined twins. The problem for Sacramento is that Cousins has been a rock of consistency compared to the rest of the club. No one is shooting better than 44 percent outside of Thomas and Cousins and “pass-first” point guard Greivis Vasquez is only getting 3.8 assists a game.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (2-3, preseason rank No. 18)
There were reasons I wasn’t particularly bullish on the Cavs heading into the season and those reasons are coming to fruition. The first unit lacks shooters other than Kyrie Irving and he’s the guy tasked with getting everyone else going, too. Irving is averaging 18 points and seven boards, but he’s only shooting 40 percent. Dion Waiters is at 37.7 percent, Tristan Thompson is showing he’s not right-handed, either, hitting 44.7 percent of his shots—all 2s—and averaging 11.6 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. C.J. Miles has been one of the bright spots off the bench, averaging 14.6 points on 50.9 percent accuracy.
26. New York Knicks (1-3, preseason rank No. 11)
Knicks fans tried. They really did. They wanted to talk themselves into Andrea Bargnani … because, you know, every team needs a 7-footer who is allergic to painted areas on the floor (with the exception of the logo at center court). Two rebounds a game in 21 minutes? Carmelo Anthony is getting 23.8 points and 9.5 rebounds, but shooting 37.1 percent on 22.3 attempts. And it gets worse … the lone rim protector on the defensive end, Tyson Chandler, is going to miss six weeks or so with a fractured fibula. With Chandler on the floor, the Knicks have a 92.2 defensive rating. With him off? It’s 105.6. This ought to be interesting.
27. Chicago Bulls (1-3, preseason rank No. 5)
Derrick Rose is back. Sort of. If 15 points, 3.8 assists, 31.3 percent shooting and 5.3 turnovers a game is back, then yes … Derrick Rose is, in fact, back. But wow. Of course, he’s got help in the underperformance area. Joakim Noah is shooting 29.2 percent and averaging 5.5 points a game to go with his 10.7 boards. Luol Deng is taking 3.8 3s a game … and shooting 6.7 percent (1-for-15). Carlos Boozer has been a bright spot at 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds, but it looks like Chicago might need some time to sort things out.
28. Boston Celtics (1-4, preseason rank No. 25)
Man, does this team miss Rajon Rondo. The Celtics average 15.8 assists a game. Chris Paul’s doing almost that well by himself. Of course, Boston’s shooting isn’t bad at 45.3 percent, if only because in the process of turning it over almost 20 times a game and getting shredded on the glass, they don’t get to actually shoot that much. Jeff Green leads the club at 17 points a game and Brandon Bass is at 13.2 points a night. Jared Sullinger is only playing 17.3 minutes and averaging 10.5 points, so his playing time should increase. Unless Danny Ainge says otherwise.
29. Denver Nuggets (0-3, preseason rank No. 13)
I was warned. I should have listened. This team resembles last year’s 57-win team in that the uniforms look alike. Ty Lawson is trying—20.3 points, 7.3 assists, 37.5 percent shooting—but he’s got no help. Kenneth Faried is only playing 22.7 minutes a game, Nate Robinson is shooting 32.3 percent; it’s a mess. As a team, Denver is hitting just 40.2 percent of its shots and Brian Shaw seems to want to play everyone a lot—12 players are averaging at least 14 minutes a game, so no one is able to get into the flow, other than Lawson at 36.3, but he’s having to look at the little “Hello. My Name Is…” tags to know who he’s out there with at any given moment.
30. Utah Jazz (0-5, preseason rank No. 24)
John Lucas III is averaging 29.2 minutes and 2.6 assists per game. That’s just about what you want out of your starting point guard … wait, what? But at least he’s hitting 34.1 percent of his shots and 18.2 percent on 4.4 3-point attempts a game, so there’s that. The corpse of Richard Jefferson is starting and playing almost 25 minutes a game. That’s not to say there’s nothing good in Utah. Gordon Hayward is averaging 19 points, 6.6 rebounds and almost five assists a game. Enes Kanter is getting 18.6 points and 9.2 boards. Derrick Favors is averaging a double-double at 11.4 points and 10.2 boards. This could be a very good core to build around. It’s the rest of the parts that are the issue at this point.