A Number’s Game: Power Ranking Round-Up

“The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry.”

Dan Gilbert, probably

Back in August, I thought I had it all figured out. The new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls would strut through the East, the eternal Spurs and high octane Thunder would rule over the loaded West, teams like Sacramento and the Bucks would stink, and all would be copacetic in the NBA world. Then the season started.

I’m not sure where to turn or who to trust anymore.

The ridiculous rash of  largely unforeseen play, both good and not-so-good, of several teams has done a number on the NBA power structure as we know it. Never fear, with top notch analytic skills and the ability to Google stuff, allow me to present my 1st annual Extremely Early Subject-To-Change Power rankings (I don’t think EESTC Power Rankings will stick, but too bad). Without further ado, let’s dive in to a world where Brandon Knight’s Bucks have a better record than LeBron James/Kyrie Irving/Kevin Love’s Cavaliers. Bear in mind, I’m not only ranking by how well (or crappy) a team has played recently, but with an eye on how I feel they’ll perform in the near future.

*Note: all records and stats are accurate as of noon on 25 November, 2014

The East

1 -Toronto Raptors (12-2, 9-1 Home, 3-1 Road, 8-2 vs East)

5-0 last 5 games

Offensive Rating: 113.7

Defensive Rating: 101.3

Key wins: came back to maul the West leading Grizzlies. Went from down 18 to winning by 17 in demolition of the Cavs

Bad losses: Error 404 Not Found

Pros: Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are tossing their hat into the “Best Back Court” debate, combining for 38.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 8.8 assists(to only 3.4 turnovers) a night. Toronto’s depth (only DeRozan and Lowry are playing over 30 mpg; next highest is Terrence Ross at 26.4) means Raptor legs should be fresher in the 4th and in the playoffs.

Cons: Lowry and DeRozan are a dynamic 1-2 punch, but who’s that No. 3 Guy big time teams need? 3rd year big Jonas Valanciunas has the tools, but 12 ppg and 8 rpg isn’t cutting it. Lou Williams is blacking out right now (20 ppg in 23 mpg, 46.7% from 3 during the current 5 game win streak), but once he returns to earth, who’s that 3rd threat?

 

2 – Chicago Bulls (9-6, 2-3 Home, 7-2 Road, 6-3 vs East)

2-3 last 5 games

Offensive Rating: 106.8

Defensive Rating: 104.6

Key Wins: Stuffed Raptors in Toronto. Smacked Clippers in Los Angeles without Rose AND Pau Gasol.

Bad Losses: Yikes. Inexplicable to lose to Rondo-less Celtics and depleted Pacers at home, even with Rose on the bench.

Pros: Derrick Rose has looked sharp when he can stay on the floor.  The new faces (rookies Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott, signees Pau Gasol and Aaron Brooks are combining for 39.4 ppg) give the offense a flexibility  Chicago hasn’t had in years. Jimmy Butler, so far,  seems to have made The Leap.

Cons: Rose has already missed 8 of 14 games, and Pau, no spring chicken, also is already sitting with injuries. Can Rose ever stay healthy enough to lead this team to The Promised land? Even with improved depth, Thibs is in danger of grinding Jimmy Butler to dust with heavy minutes and “win at all cost” coaching style.

 

3 – Washington Wizards (9-4, 5-1 Home, 4-2 Road, 9-2 vs East)

4-1 last 5 games

Offensive Rating: 104.9

Defensive Rating: 101.3

Key Wins: I guess beating up the reeling Cavs counts.

Bad Losses: None really, although that 19 point drubbing by Toronto looked bad.

Pros:  With Beal back, and Paul Pierce manning the other wing, Washington now has quality size at every starting position without sacrificing speed or shooting. The defense has been rock solid, sitting at 6th in defensive rating (101.3), and the  opposition is shooting 45.6% on 2 pointers (good for 3rd stingiest 2 pt FG defense  in the league).

Cons: The offense still seems to swing between feast or famine; Washington is 21st in Offensive Rating after ranking 20th last year. Even with mammoth trio Marcin Gortat, Nene, and newcomer Kris Humphries crashing the boards, the Wiz are in the lower half of the league in offensive rebounding.

 

4 – Atlanta Hawks (6-5, 5-1 Home, 1-4 Road, 5-3 vs East)

3-2 last 5 games

Offensive Rating: 107.9

Defensive Rating: 108.1

Key Wins: Having Al Horford back on the floor.  A quality 11 point win over the Heat.

Bad Losses: The struggling Cavaliers walloped them by 33, and it’s pretty embarrassing to provide the 3-11 Lakers their 2nd win of the season, on your home court.

Pros: With the underrated Al Horford rounding back into shape beside Paul “Trillsap” (combined 31.5 ppg, 14.5 rpg, and 5.5 apg), Atlanta has one of the most dynamic big men combos in the league. Add that to a fleet of interchangeable long shooters, attacking guards like Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder, and a motion-heavy offense and it would seem that the Hawks are primed to do some damage.

Cons: that damage is assuming that Al Horford DOES regain his 19 and 8 form from a year ago. Jeff Teague has his moments, but it’s still unclear if he’s the decision maker that’s needed in Atlanta. Outside of Horford and Millsap, ATL is extremely thin up front.

 

5 – Miami Heat (8-6, 4-4 Home, 4-2 Road, 6-4 vs East)

3-2 last 5 games

Offensive Rating: 107.9

Defensive Rating: 107.2

Key Wins: One of two teams to hand the Raptors a loss. Impressive 105-96 win on the Mavs’ home floor.

Bad Losses: Laid an egg at home, full roster, losing 81-75 to the talent-deficient Pacers. Seeing how roaring of a dumpster fire the Hornets have been, that 96-89 loss to Charlotte is pretty smelly.

Pros: They added quality depth in Luol Deng and Josh McRoberts to the talents of an throwback Chris Bosh (21.4 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and Dwyane Wade. As of now, 8 players are shooting over 36% from 3. The team has the 3rd best True Shooting percentage in the NBA at 57.5%. Not too shabby.

Cons: Wade wore down trying to play daily two years ago. Wade wore LeBron down AND was ineffective when needed after his “maintenance plan” had him miss 1/3 of  last year. Wade has already missed 6 of 14 games this season. I’m sensing a pattern.  Miami also is getting smacked around on the boards, coming in 29th in offensive rebound rate and 27th in total board rate. No bueno.

 

6 – Milwaukee Bucks (7-7, 4-2 Home, 3-5 Road, 5-7 vs East)

3-2 last 5 games

Offensive Rating: 100.0

Defensive Rating: 104.3

Key Wins: Upended the mighty Grizzlies 93-92. Held the Heat to 84 point IN South beach, winning 91-84.

Key Losses: I don’t care how good Toronto is, losing by 42 points (124-82) is never a good look.

Pros: Jason Kidd has the young Bucks (ha) attacking, attacking, attacking. The breakout of Brandon Knight, the resurgence of OJ Mayo, the crazy wing span and versatility of 2nd year man Giannis Antetokounmpo, and glimpses of potential dominance from rookie Jabari Parker make Milwaukee a joy to watch and a dangerous foe.

Cons: Milwaukee turns it over way too much (15.2 TO%, 4th worst), can’t really shoot (51.5 TS%, 25th in the league), and at LEAST 3 or key guys don’t really have no clue as to what their doing out there yet.

 

7 – Cleveland Cavaliers (6-7, 3-4 Home, 3-3 Road, 4-3 vs East)

1-4 last 5 games

Offensive Rating 109.0

Defensive Rating: 107.2

Key Wins: Outlasted the F.S. (full strength) Bulls in the united Center in overtime. Gave the Hawks the bum’s rush , whupping them silly (127-94) in Atlanta.

Bad Losses: Take your pick: dropping the home opener to the lowly Knicks. 19 point drubbing by the Blazers. 17 point shellacking by the Raptors.

Pros: The Cavaliers have 3 All-Star caliber players on the team, one being a 4 time MVP. There’s 71 games left to work out kinks and maybe swing a trade for a rim protector. As uneven as they’ve played, their offensive rating  still clocks in at 6th in the NBA. That’s all I got.

Cons: The Cavs have 3 All-Star caliber egos (4 if we count Dion Waiters, who certainly fancies himself a star) on the team. With Waiters starting, there’s no firepower off the bench. Shawn Marion is 2 years too old to be the glue perimeter guy they so desperately need. 30 year old LeBron isn’t the unstoppable jet propelled relentless force that 26 year old LeBron was, and at times it shows. They hang their heads when they hit a rough five minute patch in a game. Kevin Love looks lost in the offense and, a mere 11 games in, seems to be frustrated.  Coach David Blatt is learning the NBA coaching stuff on the fly. I’d go on, but I need a drink and a Newport now.

 

8 – Brooklyn Nets (5-8, 3-3 Home, 2-5 Road, 3-3 vs East)

1-4 6-8in last 5 games

Offensive Rating: 106.0

Defensive Rating: 107.2

Key Wins: Key wins: You got me. They beat a scrappy OKC defense by 31?

Bad Losses: Boston throttling them opening night.

Pros: They’re not the 76ers. Between Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez (a combined 50 ppg, 13.9 rpg, 11 apg…and about $59,000,000 this season), there’s a semblance of a core. Deron Williams looks like a semblance of the the once-top 5 point guard he was once upon a time. Mirza Teletovic and Bojan Bogdanovic are fun.

Cons: The offense has no cohesion. Gold medalist Mason Plumlee has been terrible. Brook Lopez (5.4 rpg)  is averaging less rebounds than Rajon Rondo and Steph Curry. The Nets are at best average in most things having to do with basketball, and with that bloated pay roll, that’s an ominous sign.

 

9 – Indiana Pacers (6-8, 3-5 Home, 3-3 Road, 4-5 vs East)

Indy can still defend (8th in defensive efficiency at 103.8), but can’t score (25th in offensive efficiency at 101.5). This is what happens when Chris Copeland and Solomon Hill play for 30 minutes a night.

10 – Charlotte Hornets (4-11, 3-4 Home, 1-7 Road, 3-4 vs East)

They’re an absolute mess, but defense has been especially egregious, tumbling from 5th in defensive rating last year all the way down to 22nd this year. Lance Stephenson: Chemistry Killer?

11 – Boston Celtics (4-8, 2-5 Home, 2-3 Road, 4-2 vs East)

With Rondo orchestrating (league leading 10.7 apg) and young core pieces like Jared Sullinger (16 ppg, 8.4 rpg) get valuable repetitions, the effort is there, The defense just stinks.

12 – Orlando Magic (6-10, 2-4 Home, 4-6 Road, 5-8 vs East)

Somewhat like the Celtics, Orlando play hard and can take it to any team on any given night. The Victor Oladipo-Tobias Harris-Nikola Vucevic trio make this team fun to watch.

13 – New York Knicks (4-11, 3-5 Home, 1-6 Road, 3-8 vs East)

Relax, Knick fans. I’m not blaming them for having what’s obviously a transitional year. Too bad J.R. Smith is still on this team or they’d be more prosperous.

14 – Detroit Pistons (3-11, 2-4 Home, 1-7 Road, 2-6 vs East)

Coach Stan Van Gundy seems to have head-scratchingly had this roster regress on him. Andre Drummond has too much physical talent to be this lackluster.

15 – Philadephia 76ers (0-7 Home, 0-7 Road, 0-8 vs East)

Nope.

So that’s the definitive Eastern Conference power rankings. As the season progresses, we’re sure to see movement and certain teams *Cough*Cavs*cough* hit their stride, or new injuries crop up.  Where did I go wrong? Let me know in the comments below.

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