We here at SB Nation Bay Area are going to start releasing our own NBA Power Rankings. Each week I’ll examine the top ten teams, who’s moving up, who’s moving out, and whether or not the Warriors have a shot at moving into the NBA’s upper echelon. Here are my initial rankings:
1. San Antonio Spurs (15-3 overall record, 8-2 last 10 games, 1st in West) – Even though they just lost to the Clippers, (which should automatically disqualify a team from any sort of positive recognition), the Spurs have already put together an impressive 12-game winning streak in which they beat two of the East’s top contenders (the Magic and the Bulls), in addition to two wins over the aforementioned Clippers (you had to figure the Clips would eventually get lucky, right?). The Spurs own the NBA’s best record and have also proven to be the best road warriors with an 8-1 mark away from home.
2. Boston Celtics (14-4, 8-2, 1st in East) – With Shaq on board, now you can call them The Big 5. Or maybe "Rajon the Speed-Talking Demon and the Fossilizing Four." Yeah, I think that rolls off the tongue a lot better.
3. Utah Jazz (15-5, 8-2, 3rd in West) – All those dramatic come-from-behind victories build character, and I am a man who loves character. This is a team with true superstar power with Deron Williams running the show, Paul Millsap blossoming as a full-time starter, and oh yeah, that new guy Al Jefferson manning center. Andrei Kirilenko continues to put up solid numbers as well, while even CJ Miles is getting in on the fun... and the Jazz haven’t even gotten their smooth shooting Turk back from injury yet – although there is no guarantee Mehmet Okur will be able to play up to his previous level of performance. Either way, I like this team to go far this year.
4. Orlando Magic (14-4, 9-1, 2nd in East) – Dwight Howard’s numbers – rebs, blocks, FG%, & FT% - are down, but this team continues to roll on. My guess as for why? Jameer Nelson is healthy again and is averaging a career best 7.1 apg. He looks like the Jameer Nelson of 2008-09 when his breakout season was cut short due to injury. With Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Quentin Richardson, and former Warrior Mickael Pietrus around to pop 3s, it seems like the Magic can play "Find the open man or pass it inside to Dwight" all day.
5. Dallas Mavericks (14-4, 8-2, 2nd in West) – I’m giving these guys the benefit of the doubt because on paper (and maybe even in real life) they don’t seem like a formulaic "top team." So much of their performance depends on one player (Dirk Nowitzki), while Caron Butler (13.6 ppg – lowest since since 2003-04, career low 4.1 rpg) and Shawn Marion (11.1 ppg/6.2 rpg) continue to be shells of their former selves, and Jason Kidd (averaging career low 7.8 ppg, .350 FG%, and 4.1 rpg) might finally be showing some signs of age. At least their "one guy" is really, really good though.
6. Los Angeles Lakers (13-6, 5-5, 4th in West) – The mighty are falling, but they haven’t fallen off the boat just yet. It’s still very early, and while they have endured some embarrassing moments during their current 4-game losing streak (losing @ home to the Pacers, losing to the lowly Grizzlies and the even lower Rockets), they still have a lot going for them: arguably the best big man in the game in Pau Gasol, a surprisingly productive, double-double averaging Lamar Odom, and the same old Kobe, who is averaging 26.7 ppg despite getting in a few extra minutes of rest each night. Let us also not forget that Andrew Bynum is SUPPOSED to return to the court at some point too. The Lakeshow will get on track and I wouldn’t be surprised to rank them at the top of this list before the season is done.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-6, 8-2, 6th in West) – It’s easy to say that the Thunder are all about Kevin Durant, but really, this team’s improvement hinges on the continuing development of budding star Russell Westbrook (24.6 ppg) and the breakout of Serge I-Block-a (10.8 ppg/6.9 rpg/2.2 bpg). As we’ve seen recently with outbursts of 38 and 43 points, Westbrook has shown the ability to carry this team... and when you throw in one of the best young all-around stars in the game (Durant), you have something special. And by the way, when Jeff Green is the "old man" at 24 years old (Durant and Westbrook are 22, James Harden and Ibaka are 21) you know you’ve got a team with some room for improvement, and that is downright scary.
8. New Orleans Hornets (13-5, 5-5, 5th in West) – After getting off to an 11-1 start, the Hornets have slipped a little lately, but they still have a lot going for them. Chris Paul and David West are doing what they’re expected to do – although West’s minutes and subsequent production have been in steady decline the past couple of years. Former Warrior Marco Belinelli has been working out nicely as the new 2-guard, averaging 12.1 ppg, 3rd best on the team. Meanwhile, Trevor Ariza hasn’t found his groove yet – while he’s averaging >10 ppg, he’s only shooting .385 from the field and averaging 2.5 assists per game, down from 3.8 last year in Houston. If/when Ariza finds his comfort zone (assuming his .394 FG% last year was a result of trying to do too much), this could be a pretty well balanced team when all is said and done.
9. Chicago Bulls (9-7, 6-4, 5th in East) – I like what the big men are doing; Joakim Noah (15.6 ppg/12.4 rpg/1.4 bpg) is just ridiculous right now, while Carlos Boozer-fill-in Taj Gibson (11.2 ppg/6.7 rpg/1.5 bpg) is acquitting himself nicely as well. Derrick Rose is kicking it up a notch – his three-year scoring averages: 16.8 as a rookie, 20.8 as a soph, and 25.8 so far this year. While Carlos Boozer’s return will diminish some of Noah’s gaudy numbers, he should give this team one of the deepest frontcourts in the league. Of course, Boozer has never been one of the better healers, so we may not see that depth for awhile.
10. Miami Heat (12-8, 6-4, 4th in East) – They can’t be as bad as they’ve been… can they? Perhaps whooping LeBron’s old team will get the Heat on the right track and headed toward fulfilling their so-called destiny. Granted, they still have some work to do – i.e. figuring out how to get some production out of the black hole that is the 9 men on the roster besides Wade-Bosh-LeBron – but I imagine Mike Miller’s imminent return will help with that a little. Supposedly head coach Erik Spoelstra is on the hot seat, but let’s be honest – we knew there would be growing pains with this team anyway.