A little over a month of NBA basketball has taken place. Some teams are almost a quarter of the way through their regular season schedules. A lot has changed since the last set of NBA Powerless Rankings ran at the beginning of November.
Sometimes a team outperforms their expectations and sometimes they underperform. There has been a fair amount of movement in the rankings. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks are in a better place now. Then there’s the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves – teams that might have been expected to perform better than they have but seem to have no clear path out of their current situation.
The Knicks fell right off the list, as did the Milwaukee Bucks. In their place, we have newcomers – Atlanta and Indiana. Let’s dive right in.
14. Los Angeles Lakers (Last Month No. 6) – The Baby Lakers are doing wonderful things. Julius Randle is making it a habit of getting under the skin of everyone, including Tyson Chandler and DeMarcus Cousins. Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance, Jr. have been playing well, particularly together. They’re even playing well without D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young, who are both sidelined with injuries. Currently on a two-game losing streak, they only trail the Portland Trail Blazers by 1.5 games for the eighth spot. New coach Luke Walton is doing great work, let’s see where they’re at in a month.
13. Sacramento Kings (Last Month No. 14) – It’s a big drop from the Lakers to the Kings. Sacramento is 7-13 and don’t look anything like a playoff team. Willie Cauley-Stein isn’t developing as hoped and spent a Sunday night loss to the New York Knicks getting bodied by Kristaps Porzingis. There are a lot of other problems for the Kings and they’d be much further down this list if not for DeMarcus Cousins. He’s simply a joy to watch whether he’s putting up 30 points on 36 shots or getting technicals for pushing Joakim Noah and Patrick Beverley. Also, there’s nothing powerless about the way Cousins throws out massive trash talk after knocking down 3-pointers. Honestly, they’ll probably slide closer to that No. 1 spot sooner than later.
12. Indiana Pacers – Welcome to the rankings, Indiana! They’re not good. They were supposed to be. They still have Paul George and Jeff Teague isn’t washed, yet. Perhaps they expected more out of Al Jefferson, but they’re definitely getting everything they could ask for out of Myles Turner. They’re not that far out of a playoff spot right now, 5-5 in their last 10. I guess that’s my way of saying that the Pacers aren’t a freak-out candidate. They’re not good, but they’re steady and hanging around. Another month and we should know better if Indiana has an issue.
11. Orlando Magic (Last Month No. 3) – The Magic are bad. The current state of the team appears to be a caricature of typical Frank Vogel teams. Their defense is ranked third in opponent points per game, while the offense is 29th. One major lament is the status of Aaron Gordon, who has been subjected to playing out of position and hasn’t fared well. The sophomore slump is on for Mario Hezonja. He’s playing almost six minutes less than last season and he’s shooting 30 percent from the field. Vogel is a good coach. Gordon is a good player. Let’s all hope things work out.
10. New Orleans Pelicans (Last Month No. 8) – There is always the option of trying to explain things that don’t need explaining. The Pelicans could be a good team. Anthony Davis has been the best version of himself, but he was fighting the good fight shorthanded. The return of Jrue Holiday has almost immediately improved the performance of the team. A player to track over the next month will be hyped rookie Buddy Hield. He’s averaging just 7.3 points on 37.3 percent shooting from the field and 26.5 percent from 3-point range through 21 games. Hield had some great performances in early November, but struggled until an outburst against the Thunder last night in which he scored 16 points in 15 minutes, shooting 4-for-7 from 3-point range in a loss.
9. Miami Heat (Last Month No. 13) – The Heat are having the kind of season where even an impressive Goran Dragic half-court wedgie came after the buzzer, thus not being counted by J.A. Skeets and The Starters. Hassan Whiteside has been good and Josh Richardson is healthy again, but they’re a long way from the team that had one, two or three superstars. With no more Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade, it’s Tyler Johnson and Dion Waiters season in Miami.
8. Denver Nuggets (Last Month No. 12) – Jamal Murray is a lot like Hield, though perhaps more promising. He had an incredible second quarter against the Chicago Bulls in late November, shooting 6-for-8 with two rebounds and two assists. Those kinds of performances are exciting, and hopefully there’s more of that kind of stuff waiting for Murray. There are a lot of great young players in Denver, just not a lot of winning potential right now. Nikola Jokic looks to be coming out of a rough patch and that might buy the Nuggets a few more wins.
7. Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks have lost six games in a row and are 1-9 in their last 10 games. It’s really bad. They’re really bad. Doesn’t seem like they’ll play this bad all year though, plus they still have playoff potential.
6. Washington Wizards (Last Month No. 10) – The most exciting thing to say about the Wizards is that they were part of another absurd player acquisition rumor. Now that KD2DC has proven to be a silly daydream, it’s become DMC2DC. The word is that John Wall and Cousins have a mutual interest in playing together. That’s really it. There isn’t anything else. Scottie Brooks is uninspiring. Wall and Bradley Beal are good at basketball.
5. Brooklyn Nets (Last Month No. 4) – Sean Kilpatrick has been on a fun ride while Jeremy Lin has been riding the bench with an injury. The Nets were supposed to be the worst of the worst, the powerless of the powerless. Instead, they’re just really bad and they probably get better when Lin returns, meaning it’ll be hard for them to take the crown that is rightfully theirs.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Month No. 11) – Some people picked the Wolves to win as many as 50 games. That seems like a bad pick right now. Minnesota is great, great fun. Karl-Anthony Towns should be watched every single time he’s on the floor. You’ve also got Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins. The point guard thing seems to be a sticking point. Rumor is that Tom Thibodeau doesn’t get down with Ricky Rubio, a guard that can run an offense and play strong defense, but who can’t shoot. The Wolves got a taste of life without Rubio, again a victim of injury. Kris Dunn was fine, but not ready. Tyus Jones was decent and even earned closing minutes. Minnesota is worse than I hoped, but they are still just a handful of games into the Thibs era. Let’s look at them again in a month and see if they are still languishing in the depths.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (Last Month No. 1) – The Sixers aren’t good. Duh. Joel Embiid is great, but he’s getting really limited minutes and sitting out games when the team has back-to-backs on the schedule. Dario Saric has looked good. Still no Ben Simmons, though his debut is getting closer. Right now we’re talking January for the Simmons debut. Between now and then, the excitement won’t be on the court, but in the court of drama and public opinion, as Nerlens Noel is about to return from injury and continues to let it be known via the media that he doesn’t wish to be part of an overcrowded frontcourt. Do they trade him? Do they trade Jahlil Okafor? Does no one get traded? I can barely contain my excitement.
2. Dallas Mavericks (Last Month No. 7) – The Mavericks should probably be at the bottom of this list, but they just beat the Chicago Bulls by 25 points. Also, they’ve got Deron Williams back on the court. Dirk Nowitzki is still injured and J.J. Barea is going to be out for quite a while. Things are bleak, but they seem like a team that should win more when healthy.
1. Phoenix Suns (Last Month No. 2) – Devin Booker is still so much fun to watch, but the Suns as a whole aren’t. T.J. Warren is missing time with an injury so Phoenix is starting P.J. Tucker for whatever that’s worth. The bad Tyson Chandler contract is not any fun to watch play out at this point. They’re 6-14, same record as the Timberwolves, and 3-7 over their last 10 games, just like the Timberwolves. Which means they were also 3-7 over the 10 games before that. Just like the Timberwolves. Basically, they’re the Timberwolves except the Wolves have Towns, LaVine and Wiggins under Thibodeau. We assume that Thibodeau is a better coach than Earl Watson, but maybe he isn’t? Basically, I’m saying that the Suns are the Wolves, but not as good, except with the same record so I can’t actually prove what I’m saying.