It’s small sample size theater — the first few weeks of PBT’s NBA power rankings always see a lot of volatility as teams we over/under rated climb and fall. We try to see through it, but expect more shakeups in the coming weeks. That said, the top and the bottom of the list remain solid.
1. Warriors (3-0, last week No. 1). Stephen Curry looks more explosive and is finishing better when he gets in the paint. Which is scary. This week he averaged 39.3 points per game on 58.8 percent shooting. Although he did that going against Nate Robinson, Toney Douglas and Ish Smith for two games (vs. Pelicans), he and the Warriors face better tests this week with the Grizzlies and Clippers.
2. Thunder (3-0 LW 2). Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook look in mid-season form and with those two you know their offense is elite. The Thunder defense did not look tight for the first couple games, although it looked better against Denver Sunday. Dion Waiters has looked decent, didn’t see that coming.
3. Clippers (3-0, LW 5). Blake Griffin has been a beast through three games, averaging 32 points per game on 64 percent shooting, although he was not matched up vs. the toughest competition. That changes when they travel to Golden State Wednesday. Personally, I’m not sold on Lance Stephenson as a starter.
4. Cavaliers (2-1, LW 4). It’s just three games, but the Cavaliers have the third best defense in the NBA the first week, allowing just 90.3 points per 100 possessions. If that continues, watch out. They are beating teams by an average of 13.4 points per 100 possessions (despite the opening night loss in Chicago).
5. Spurs (2-1, LW 3). Their defense has looked good (allowing just 90 points per 100 possessions) and LaMarcus Aldridge has been a big part of that. The offense is coming around with more Kawhi Leonard — who has looked like a beast — and Aldridge (24 points on Sunday).
6. Raptors (3-0, LW 11). DeMarre Carroll has looked been worth the big contract so far, bringing the Raptors defense into the top 10 and shooting 8-of-19 from three. They beat up on middle of the pack teams in the East last week, this week Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Miami provide better tests.
7. Pistons (3-0, LW 18). I picked them to make the playoffs, but their defense has been better than anyone expected (92.8 points per 100 possessions, sixth best in the young season). Andre Drummond looks like a franchise cornerstone in the paint. Losing Jodie Meeks for 3-4 months hurts, he is the kind of reliable veteran shooter they need on the roster.
8. Grizzlies (2-1, LW 7). Their only loss was to the Cavaliers, you can forgive that.It’s worth noting their defense wasn’t that great the first week, but this is likely more sample size than anything else. Outside shooting still an issue in Memphis, same as it ever was.
9. Bulls (2-1, LW 9). Through three games they are fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency but 20th in offense. Sounds familiar. Fred Holberg is still playing with lineups and while some work — not playing Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah is good, more Mitotic is good — some of his defensive lineups can’t score enough.
10. Wizards (2-1, LW 10). They are playing smaller and faster, John Wall and Bradley Beal have looked pretty good. However, the small ball has not translated to better defense — 99.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, 18th in the league.
11. Hawks (3-1, LW 12). Kent Bazemore doesn’t do everything DeMarre Carroll did on defense, but he is scoring for them — 19.5 points a game in the last two and shooting 53.8 percent from three for the season — plus using his length on defense. Rebounding remains an issue in Atlanta.
12. Heat (2-1, LW 8). That comeback against Houston had to feel good, as did seeing Hassan Whiteside put up big offensive numbers. Justise Winslow showed his potential guarding a (slumping) James Harden as well. Their offense is top five in the NBA already, and Goran Dragic has yet to look comfortable.
13. Jazz (2-1, LW 14). Rudy Gobert is living up to the hype early on — through three games opponents are shooting 29.7 percent against him at the rim. The Jazz have the best defense in the NBA early are playing like a good traditional defensive team, keeping the pace at the slowest in the NBA.
< 14. Suns (2-1, LW 16). Phoenix has a couple wins but that has something to do with playing Portland twice in the first week, I’m hesitant to read much into it. The Clippers, Kings, Pistons and Thunder are up this week and that will provide us a better gauge for where this team is in the pecking order.
15. Mavericks (2-1, LW 17). Wesley Matthews is back and moving fairly well, hitting threes, and now Chandler Parsons is back on the wing in a limited role. Coach Rick Carlisle said he was pleased with the first week (all the games were on the road) and he likes them if they can just stay healthy. If they do keep out of the training room they will be in contention for a playoff spot in the West.
16. Timberwolves (2-0,LW 24). Great stat from Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders: Karl-Anthony Towns had 46 points and 26 rebounds total through two games, the only other players to do that in their first two games in the lat 40 years are Artis Gilmore, David Robinson, and Dikembe Mutombo. Nice company to keep.
17. Knicks (2-1, LW 27). The triangle has some form this young season as the Knicks offense is averaging 107 points per 100 possessions (third best in the league). Carmelo Anthony had the Wizards’ circled on the schedule (remember Jared Dudley said he was overrated) but is shooing just 41 percent this season. Kristaps Porzingis has been decent.
18. Kings (1-2, LW 20). The Kings have started big but have played a lot of smaller ball with Rudy Gay at the four — and Rajon Rondo has seemed comfortable with that. They looked pretty good — both their losses were to the Clippers and they hung around in those games.
19. Rockets (0-3, LW 6). This ranking may be too high — that was a terrible week of basketball, all three losses by more than 20. They can’t continue like this, can they? James Harden isn’t going to continue to shoot 22 percent, is he? The defense isn’t going to just keep taking quarters off, is it? Not an easy week to turn things around with Oklahoma City and the Clippers both on the docket.
20. Celtics (1-2, LW 21). You could see the limitations of their star-less offense against the Spurs Sunday — they kept it close late, but while LaMarcus Aldridge abused Jared Sullinger on the block, the Celtics had no way to get easy buckets of their own. Their defense is good but the offense is struggling (24th in the NBA the first week).
21. Nuggets (1-2, LW 26). Watch a little Denver and the biggest issue becomes clear — they need more outside shooting. They have decent playmakers with Emmanuel Mudiay and Danilo Gallinari, but you don’t need to fear anyone else on this team from the outside and that messes with their spacing.
22. Trail Blazers (1-2, LW 29). They got a win because C.J. McCollum went off against a struggling Pelicans team on the second night of a back-to-back, and that’s what it’s going to take for this team to get wins — someone has to have a monster offensive night. Damian Lillard may lead the league in usage rate this season.
23. Magic (0-3, LW 22). They are the best 0-3 team in the league, all three losses were close and the team is showing promised. They played Oklahoma City tight in overtime and matched big shots with them for a while. Expect the wins to start coming this week.
24. Pelicans (0-3, LW 13). Already Nate Robinson is gone and Toney Douglas is in as the Pelicans scramble to find any help at the point. So far it has not been near enough. More concerning than their defense looking scrambled (playing the Warriors twice already doesn’t help) is that Anthony Davis has looked lost at times on both ends and is not taking the superstar step forward we expected.
25. Hornets (0-3, LW 23). To their credit they have battled back to make two of their three losses close, with Kemba Walker getting a shot to tie (and missing them). Going to be difficult to get their first win this week with the Bulls, Mavericks, and Spurs on the docket.
26. Pacers (0-3, LW 19). Their offense has struggled as both Monta Ellis (PER of 4.4) and Paul George have not been efficient at all. Their defense hasn’t been good whether they played small or big. They have come apart in the second halves of games. There’s just a lot of reasons for concern for Pacers’ fans, who were dreaming playoffs.
27. Bucks (0-2, LW 15). What happened to the Bucks’ defense? Last season they got to the playoffs on the back of their length and ball pressure, this season they are giving up a league-worst 117.1 points per 100 possessions. The defensive rotations seem slow out on the perimeter and opponents are shooting 46.4 percent from three against them. This team misses Jabari Parker.
28. Lakers (0-3, LW 25). The headlines are Kobe Bryant’s harsh assessment of his own game, but having watched the Lakers in person now is the bigger problem is their defense is terrible — and it’s equally as bad with Roy Hibbert on or off the court. Their transition, and their pick-and-roll defense was terrible. If you want a bright spot, Dirk Nowitzki said this about Julius Randle, “He puts the ball on the floor like no other power forward in the league.”
29. Nets (0-3, LW 28). The three-point revolution is not coming to Brooklyn. At least not yet. They are averaging a league-low 12.7 three point attempts per game, and they are shooting just 21.1 percent on those.
30. 76ers (0-0, LW 30). Jahlil Okafor has been fine (he needs to attack more, take fewer jumpers), but as you would expect the rookie is struggling some with double-teams — and he’s going to see a lot of them because who else do you fear on this roster. The defense that was close to league average last year is off to a slow start this season as well.