NBA Power Rankings Halfway into NBA Season
Does Morant's rise to superstardom make the Grizzlies serious contenders? Should LeBron win MVP this year despite the Lakers underperforming? Can the Warriors be defeated in a 7 game series?
The Advanced Statistics analyzed and discussed are from NBA.com, Statmuse.com, and ESPN.com and are updated and accurate as of Tuesday, January 11th.
A lot of amazing storylines have shaped the NBA so far this season. LeBron James is putting up numbers that a 37-year-old has never put up and should be the league MVP, even though he won’t win it. His close to 60 percent field goal percentage over the past month and his all-time marks from 3PT range have solidified one of James’ best seasons ever, even with the Lakers’ struggles.
What we are witnessing right now is LeBron still in his prime, one of the best seasons he has had, all at age 37. Now, this type of workload should be concerning for Lakers fans, just because James should not have to carry this kind of load simply to win games against bad teams, but you have to do whatever is necessary to win in the NBA. The Lakers can’t beat a good team to save their lives, but maybe that will change with Anthony Davis set to return in a couple of weeks. Everyone knows he is the key to the Lakers succeeding.
Ja Morant has become very similar to 2011 Derrick Rose with other teams’ inabilities to guard him in the paint because of his otherworldly body control and athleticism, catapulting him into one of the league’s 10 best players this season. I will get into the numbers more clearly when I discuss the Grizzlies, but Morant’s efficiency is unprecedented for someone of his caliber in the way he impacts his team. That is evident as the Grizzlies are 15 games over .500 at this point in the season and are tied for third place in the Western Conference.
But it hasn’t been just LeBron’s longevity and Morant’s rise to superstardom this season that have been superb storylines. The Cleveland Cavaliers have benefited from the growth of Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Darius Garland paired with a rejuvenated All-Star caliber Kevin Love, to become serious contenders in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs have a top 3 ranked defense and a top 15 ranked offense this season, historically a combination that results in a playoff series win or two. I will explain the statistics on why this team is so lethal when I get to them in the rankings, but long story short, they are very good.
I would be incompetent if I did not mention how dominant the 2021-2022 Warriors are, winning the majority of their games with and without Stephen Curry scoring 30+ points.
Curry’s greatness has been special to watch, and his impact on the game and his teammates make him one of the favorites to win MVP. Draymond Green is the #1 defensive player in the league and the Warriors have used Green as the sparkplug to become the league’s 1st ranked defense. Klay Thompson is finally back and scored 17 points in his first game, and we will see if any team has what it takes to beat this juggernaut as they are by far the favorite to win it all.
It’s been their ball movement, ability to make shots, all while playing dominant defense night in and night out that has made this team likely unbeatable in a 7 game series unless there is a dramatic turn of events this season and LeBron gets the help he needs on the Lakers (which he most likely will not).
The Suns and Jazz have both been fantastic as well, but another big storyline is MVP candidate DeMar DeRozan and the 1st place Chicago Bulls. DeRozan has been the clutchest player in the NBA this season, and with All-Stars Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic and future All-Star Lonzo Ball, the Bulls have looked like the favorites in the Eastern Conference.
Although LaVine has been his usual dominant self, and Vucevic and DeRozan have also been playing fantastic, it has been Lonzo Ball that puts this team over the edge. His on-ball defense is some of the best in the league, and his ability to impact the game with his passing and 3PT shooting has catapulted this team into being a serious title contender.
I am sure the Pelicans regret not paying Ball since they are close to last in the Western Conference with everyone except Zion Williamson, who is unlikely to return to the NBA this season.
Nonetheless, just like my last NFL Power Rankings, I will use team and player advanced metrics such as offensive and defensive rating, PER (player efficiency rating) team and player eFG% (effective field goal percentage), TS % (True Shooting Percentage), and Net Rating to analyze and determine which teams are the most dominant in the NBA so far this season. Believe it or not, we are halfway done with the NBA Season as just about every team has played 41 games so far this season in an 82 game season.
Before I get into the Power Rankings, you are probably wondering what these advanced statistics that I am using are. Let me explain them to you before we get started.
Net Rating is calculated by subtracting the defensive rating from the offensive rating, while eFG% takes into account 3 point shots and counts them as 1 more since they are worth one more point, something traditional field goal percentage fails to consider as it weighs 3’s the same as 2’s. eFG% does not take into account free throws, but TS% does, which will also be discussed.
PER by basic definition calculates a player’s positive accomplishments such as points scored efficiently, rebound percentage, assists to turnover ratio, assists, blocks, steals, and subtracts those accomplishments by the negative components of the game such as turnovers, defensive liabilities like how much a player scores on you, missed shots, and how you affect the team negatively overall.
For example, Nikola Jokic is the best player in the NBA this season because his PER is the highest, plain and simple. The way he impacts his awful team dealing with injuries is mindboggling as he is having a better season statistically than his MVP season last year.
However, PER isn’t the sole factor of MVP as many statistical categories would favor Stephen Curry or LeBron James to win MVP based on other advanced stats besides PER like eFG% and Usage percentage (which is simply how much of the offense a player is involved in per game). Sorry for the long intro, but now you guys will understand these advanced stats! Let’s delve into the rankings!
Orlando Magic, 7-34
Orlando has the second-worst Net Rating in the NBA -9.4 and a record of 7-34, the worst in the NBA to show for it. The Magic also have the 3rd worst eFG% of 49. However, even with all of the negatives, the Magics’ future is very bright thanks to the rise of second-year Guard Cole Anthony, and Rookie Franz Wagner.
Cole Anthony is averaging 21 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds per game with an eFG% of 49 and a TS% of 53.5, while Wagner is averaging 16 points and 5 rebounds per game with an eFG% of 50.2 percent and a TS% of 54.6 percent.
Mo Bamba is another guy that has blossomed this season as he has one of the highest block and rebound percentages in the NBA. Wendell Carter Jr. is also playing well, but this team simply does not gel well together, even with its talented young players.
They are lackadaisical on offense and defense, which is indicative in their Net Rating. They are also young and inexperienced, and can’t win many games, which is why they rank last in these Power Rankings, even though statistically the Pistons may be slightly worse.
Detroit Pistons, 9-31
Coming off of a big win against the Jazz two nights ago where Cade Cunningham had 29 points and 10 assists, the Pistons then lost by 46 points to the Bulls and Cunningham had 8 points and 5 rebounds with an inefficient stat line. The Pistons depend on Cunningham’s efficiency to win games, and he has been wildly inconsistent this season already. Cunningham, Saddiq Bey, and Himadou Diallo are the lone bright spots for this team as Jerami Grant will likely be dealt at the trade deadline.
Going back to Cunningham, he has lived up to his #1 selection during the last month and a half averaging 18 points, 6 assists, and 6 rebounds per game during that span, all while hitting 37 percent of his 3’s (he was shooting 28 percent from 3PT range before December to start his NBA career).
Like I mentioned previously, Cunningham is still one of the most inconsistent rookies in this class, sometimes putting up 25+ points 10 assists, and 7 rebounds in a game, and other times shooting 5-22 from the floor with only 10 points and 4 assists. He will get better, but it certainly doesn’t look like Cunningham will win Rookie of the Year over Evan Mobley, Franz Wagner, and Scottie Barnes at this moment in time.
Saddiq Bey has been playing better recently with a 34 point game on January 3rd, another 16 point, 6 rebound effort on January 8th, and a 29 point, 6 rebound game on January 10th. However, even Bey has been really inconsistent as he had a 3 point game in 32 minutes against the Grizzlies on January 6th.
Himadou Diallo has gotten an opportunity because of COVID-19 keeping players out and has capitalized tremendously on it, as he put up a line of 34 points, 14 assists, and 5 steals on January 1st and has since cooled down. Nonetheless, he has still been productive recently, just not putting up 30 points per game like he was during the last week of December.
Furthermore, the record and advanced metrics speak for themselves as the Pistons rank last in Net Rating with -9.5 because of their atrocious 29th ranked offense with a 101.6 offensive rating. Their team eFG% of 48.2 is 29th in the NBA.
Their defensive rating of 110.6 is actually 22nd in the NBA, which is a small positive for a team with so many negatives. Maybe Bol Bol will get minutes now and show the potential many NBA fans, including myself, have envisioned for him. However, the Pistons have a long road ahead, and Cunningham and Bey will need to lead the charge for the future.
Oklahoma City Thunder, 13-27
The Thunder have been one of the five worst teams in the NBA over the last two years (ever since Chris Paul and Coach Billy Donovan departed). However, it is hard to blame them since they are in the midst of a full-on rebuild.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has become an NBA star even though he has regressed statistically this season (45.5 percent eFG% this season vs. the 57.1 percent eFG% from last season). His overall TS% was fantastic last season at 62.1 percent, and his TS% this season is 52.1. His assists (5.1) are down from 5.9 last season, but he is still putting together a nice campaign of 21.9 points, 5 assists, and 1 steal per game.
Josh Giddey has been the one selection the Thunder should be proud of as he just became the youngest NBA player to ever record a Triple-Double (breaking LaMelo Ball’s record from last season) last week. Giddey isn’t efficient from the floor yet (46% TS and an eFG of only 44.1%), but his passing and rebounding are elite already as a rookie as he is averaging 7.5 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game.
Many people were surprised when the Thunder selected Giddey, but now it is clear why as he has asserted himself in the Rookie of the Year race in a loaded draft class that included Cade Cunningham, Franz Wagner, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green, and Scottie Barnes.
As a team, the Thunder are dead last in the NBA with an eFG% of 47.8 and a TS% of 51.1. They are by far the worst shooting team in the NBA. With the worst offensive rating in the NBA at 100.8, the Thunder have been able to win 13 games on their 14th ranked defense (108.6 rating).
Luguentz Dort and company have really stepped up on defense keeping this team from being the absolute worst team in the NBA. Regardless, the Thunder are in the middle of a rebuild and aren’t even close to competing, but they are already better off than two other organizations in the NBA.
Houston Rockets, 11-31
The Rockets are another team rebuilding that isn’t expected to win, but they actually have a lot of really talented young players. Jalen Green has come back from his hamstring injury averaging 17 points on over 43% from the floor.
We are now getting a glimpse of how good Green can be, as he has become more efficient since returning from the injury. Kevin Porter Jr. hasn’t played up to his expectations, but he is improving on the season following his incident, hitting a game-winner against the Wizards last week and recently playing some good defense as well.
Christian Wood has been great again this season with an eFG% of 53.7 while also putting up 17.1 points and 10 rebounds per game. Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Garrison Matthews, KJ Martin, and Jae’Sean Tate have all shown bursts of talent and production, forming a very good young core behind Green, Porter Jr, and Wood for the future. However, this team’s defensive rating of 114.7 ranks last in the NBA, and their offensive rating isn’t much better ranking 26th with a 106.4 rating.
Their team eFG% of 52.7 is actually not bad ranking 13th in the NBA, while their 55.9 TS% ranks 16th in the NBA. Even though the team is shooting relatively well, they have an NBA worst 16.8% turnover percentage, which is the prime reason why their offensive rating is 26th in the NBA despite their higher TS% and eFG%. Either way, this team isn’t trying to compete any time soon, and they have a nice core for the future. Maybe they will cut down on their turnovers in the second half of the season.
New Orleans Pelicans, 13-27
The Pelicans will likely not get Star Zion Williamson back for the rest of the NBA season, although there is still some optimism that he could come back according to the Pelicans front office. It will be too late though, as the Pelicans are one of the worst teams in the NBA with the 24th defensive rating in the NBA of 111.6 and the 25th offensive rating of 107 making their net rating of -4.7 26th overall in the NBA. Their team eFG% is terrible at 49.8 (27th in NBA) and their TS% of 53.7 isn’t good either ranking 27th in the NBA as well.
The only reason this team isn’t in last place in all statistical categories offensively is because of the monster seasons of Jonas Valancuinas (averaging 18.6 points, 12.1 rebounds with an eFG% of 55.6, 3PT% of 42.7, and the 20th ranked PER of 21.87), and Josh Hart (averaging 12.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game with an eFG% of 57.1, one of the highest percentages among guards in the NBA).
Brandon Ingram has played fine, but advanced metrics don’t love him as he is still wildly inefficient (eFG% of 48.4 and a 3PT% of 32.9). Either way, the Pelicans probably miss Lonzo Ball as he helped them so much defensively and offensively with his playmaking and 3PT shooting over the past couple of seasons. The Pelicans will be terrible until at least Zion returns, you can bet on that.
Sacramento Kings, 16-27
The Sacramento Kings have some very solid players that provide immediate offense including De’Aaron Fox (20.7 points and 5.1 assists per game with a TS% of 52.6), Tyrese Haliburton (13.9 points, 1.7 steals, and 6.9 assists per game with an amazingly efficient eFG% of 56.1) Harrison Barnes (16.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game with a TS% of 60.5), and Buddy Hield (15.4 points per game with a 3PT% of 38), but their defense is terrible, which is why they are losing the majority of their games.
Their 113 defensive rating ranks 27th in the NBA and their Net Rating of -4.5 ranks 25th in the NBA. Even though the Kings have the 22nd ranked offense and shoot the ball decently from the floor (108.5 offensive rating, team eFG% of 51.6), their defense always falters and costs them big games. Now the Kings aren’t particularly far away from competing in the Western Conference as they need just a few more pieces to make the playoffs sometime in the near future.
Perhaps the Kings should move in a different direction with star point guard De’Aaron Fox, who isn’t close to being as efficient or as good defensively as young Star Tyrese Haliburton. Fox is a liability on defense, and since the Kings drafted Davion Mitchell in the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft (who is already an elite on-ball defender with a developing touch on offense), they will have a future backcourt of Haliburton and Mitchell.
Their biggest issue is their weakness on the inside as Marvin Bagley III has never developed into what they had hoped and Richaun Holmes by himself cannot carry the load of the big men for the future. This is why the Kings should deal Fox and also Buddy Hield (who is another liability on defense) for a player such as Domantas Sabonis that could help them inside and accelerate their rebuild. The Kings have the foundation, but they need an improved defense to truly become a competitive team in the Western Conference.
Portland Trailblazers, 16-24
Is it time to trade Damian Lillard? To answer that question, they should have traded him in the offseason as it’s long overdue. The defense for Portland has never been a strong suit, but not even Robert Covington, who was brought in as a defensive presence, has been able to improve this defense.
It has been worse this season than last season as the Blazers have the 29th ranked defensive rating (114.6) in the NBA and are 24th in overall Net Rating (-4.3) in the NBA. Their offense isn’t bad at all, ranking 13th in the NBA with a 110.3 offensive rating, and 16th in the NBA with an eFG% of 52.4.
Both Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollom have missed a lot of games this season, but even when they are on the floor the Blazers haven’t been able to win many games.
Damian Lillard is having a historically terrible season for him putting up averages of 24 points and 7 assists with a miserable eFG% of 48, by far the lowest percentage in the NBA for a player of his caliber. Many people are questioning whether Lillard will even return at all this season as the team has a very tough path if they want to make the playoffs, and Lillard has been dealing with a lingering abdomen issue.
Either way, neither Lillard nor McCollom have ever been good defenders and it should be time to move on from both of them. Jusuf Nurkic has been the Blazers’ best and most consistent player this season, averaging 13.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game with a TS% of 59.5, while third-year player Anfernee Simons has been on an amazing scoring stretch with Lillard being out.
Realistically, even at full strength, this team’s ceiling is a first-round exit and they will likely miss the playoffs because of their atrocious defense. They should trade Lillard and McCollom to the 76ers for Tyrese Maxey, Mattise Thybulle, and Ben Simmons, so they can build for the future and immediately improve their defense.
Indiana Pacers, 15-26
New Head Coach Rick Carlisle simply isn’t getting the job done, which is why the Pacers front office has made sure to be active at the trade deadline to completely rebuild, considering they are not winning with an impressive foundation of Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and T.J. Warren (who is hurt).
Sabonis is a statistical gem (19.1 points, 4.6 assists, and 12 rebounds per game with an eFG% of 60.9) that improves every single season, and it is sad that the Pacers are trying to move on from their franchise player when they really don’t need to. Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, and T.J. Warren have rarely been healthy over the past two seasons so blowing up the team doesn’t make much sense to me.
Nonetheless, the Pacers have the 16th overall offensive rating (109.8) and the 21st defensive rating (110.2) in the NBA. The Pacers team eFG% is 52.4 and the team TS% is 56 which rank 19th and 18th in the NBA respectively.
Then why do they have such a bad record for a team that ranks in the top 18 of almost every statistical category? The answer is team chemistry and luck. Like I mentioned earlier in this passage, the Pacers are dealing with a lot of injuries and have had trouble gelling together when most of their stars are on the floor. The Pacers also have lost a total of 10 games this season by 4 or fewer points, ranking as one of the unluckiest teams in the NBA. Statistically, the Pacers should improve, and with that their win total should as well.
San Antonio Spurs, 15-25
The Spurs have some talented young players including Dejounte Murray (18.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 8.9 assists, 2.1 steals per game), Keldon Johnson (14.7 points, 6.5 rebounds per game, TS% of 54.1), and Devin Vassell (11.1 points per game and a TS% of 55.2). They also have one of the best coaches in all of basketball in Greg Popovich, which is why this “purgatory phase” as I like to call it, looks way better than it actually is.
Dejounte Murray is putting up nice traditional statistics, but his usage percentage is extremely high and his advanced metrics aren’t great as he owns an eFG% of 48, a TS% of 49.9, and a 3PT% of 33.1. In other words, Murray is an elite on-ball defender, but an inefficient scorer whose numbers jump out more than they should due to his high usage as the #1 option on the Spurs. That isn’t a knock on what Murray is doing, because it is still very hard to average a 19 point almost triple-double, but his efficiency needs a ton of work.
Keldon Johnson is really good, but not a franchise player, Derrick White, and Jakob Poeltl are above average players, but not good enough to get the Spurs franchise over the top, and Devin Vassell and Joshua Primo are both way too young to determine whether or not they can become franchise players.
So what are the Spurs doing? Yes, they did not re-sign DeRozan, but they also failed to trade him for assets during his tenure on the Spurs knowing they wouldn't win with or without him anyways. They also have enough of a solid team to be okay, but not great, which won’t ever get them higher than an 8-14 range draft position, meaning they are in a phase called “purgatory”, not bad enough to get franchise players through the draft, and not good enough to seriously compete.
They aren’t ever going to get big-name free agents either. They have been in this phase ever since Tim Duncan retired, and Kawhi Leonard leaving was just the cherry on top of a franchise way past its prime. The Spurs need to go all-in on a rebuild to be any good within the next three years, meaning trade all assets needed for draft picks and lose enough games to draft a franchise-changing player.
New York Knicks, 20-21
The Knicks have had a miserable defensive season compared to last year, which is why they are one game under .500 halfway through this season. Last season the Knicks had the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA at 107.8, but this year they have the 19th overall defensive rating in the NBA at 109.7. Without the dominant defense they had last year, they cannot make up for how poorly their offensive scheme is as they have the 24th ranked offensive rating of 108 and the 25th ranked team eFG% of 51.1.
A lot of people have been blaming Julius Randle for the Knicks struggles as his averages of 19 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists with an eFG% of 46.8 are down from his career 2020-2021 season where he averaged 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 6 assists with an eFG% of 51.6. Who expected Randle to continue to improve off of that historic season?
I sure didn’t. I knew he would be good, but I definitely did not expect him to replicate his 2021 statistics. Randle will end up averaging the mean of the two seasons he has had so far in New York and finish around 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists per game, but he is not the reason why this team is suffering.
The Knicks are not only suffering from their poor offensive and defensive ratings but also suffering from having no identity! They are stuck on who to make the #2 option behind Julius Randle and it changes every game. Is it R.J. Barrett? Is it Alec Burks? Is it Evan Fournier? No one really knows, but it should be R.J. Barrett. Tom Thibodeau needs to finalize his rotations and stop changing them every game, and maybe this team can start to get into a rhythm.
They need to focus on getting the ball to Randle and Barrett on offense, and if they aren’t open, kick it out to the 3PT shooters like Evan Fournier. The 2020-2021 Knicks were the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference and unless this team magically gets better defensively and jumps from the 19th overall defense to a top 5 defense, then this team has no shot at getting another top 4 seed, let alone a playoff spot.
Atlanta Hawks, 17-22
Knicks fans may get angry that the Hawks are higher than them on this list, but even with a worse record, the advanced metrics show that the Hawks are a much better team than the Knicks this season. Trae Young put up 56 points and 14 assists last week against the Portland Trailblazers and has this whole team on a roll offensively.
Although Young doesn’t have an elite eFG% (52), Young has an impressive TS% of 58.1 and he is 6th in the NBA in PER with a rating of 25.57 to go along with his 28.0 points and 9.3 assists per game.
The Hawks have the third-best offensive rating in the NBA at 112.6, and it should stay in that range throughout the rest of the season with their highly effective Trae Young and Clint Capela/John Collins pick and roll game, as well as their elite 3PT shooting.
In fact, the Hawks have the 12th ranked eFG% of 53% and have the best turnover percentage (12.1) in the NBA. Their offense isn’t just good, it’s elite. So why haven’t they been able to string together wins after they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season and have one of the best offenses in the NBA?
Well, the Hawks’ defense has been awful as it ranks 27th in the NBA (113.1 rating), and gives them a negative Net Rating of -0.5. Even though they have the third-best offense in the NBA, the Hawks are losing because of their defense and they won’t start winning until they make some adjustments defensively.
Minnesota Timberwolves, 20-21
The Timberwolves have been much better this season than last season as their record shows. The big 3 of Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell have dominated opposing defenses, and they have been over .500 in the games that they have all played together this season.
Just like all other NBA teams, the keyword is health as Towns, Edwards, and Russell all missed time with COVID-19 and haven’t played enough games together to determine this team’s outlook. What we do know is that Towns being healthy this season, along with Edwards’ ascension into NBA stardom has positioned this team to possibly secure an 8 seed in the Western Conference.
Towns is averaging 24.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1.2 blocks per game, along with an outstanding eFG% of 58.3 and 3PT% of 42.5. Towns also owns the 12th best PER in the NBA with a 23.84 rating. The Wolves Superstar has really taken his game to another level this year.
Anthony Edwards still struggles with efficiency but has gotten better this year with 22.2 points (vs 19.3 last year), 5.5 rebounds (vs. 4.7 last year), 1.6 steals (vs. 1.1 last season) per game with an eFG% of 52.7 (vs 48.8 his rookie year), and a 3PT% of 36.5 (vs. 32.9 last season). Rusell hasn’t been consistent yet, but he had 27 points and 12 assists against the Thunder on January 7th and 22 points, 10 assists, and 5 rebounds against the Rockets on January 9th.
The Timberwolves have the 19th ranked offensive rating in the NBA of 108.6 and have the eighth-best defensive rating in the NBA at 107.7. The Timberwolves have the 23rd ranked eFG% of 51.4 and the 25th ranked TS% of 54.5 in the NBA, which is why they are ranked 19th in offensive efficiency and not higher.
They have struggled with efficiency as indicated in their advanced shooting percentages. This has cost them a lot of close games. Nonetheless, with the 8th best defense in the NBA, Russell playing better, and Towns and Edwards continuing to dominate, the Timberwolves should be able to move up higher on this list as long as they keep winning. They really have to improve their efficiency from the floor though.
Boston Celtics, 20-21
The Boston Celtics have severely underperformed this season, and there is a multitude of reasons why. Marcus Smart would tell you that they are just using Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum the whole game and every team knows that and have found ways to stop them. However, I believe that they aren’t using Brown and Tatum enough down the stretch of games.
Last week when the Celtics blew a 17 point lead to the Knicks and lost, it wasn’t because Tatum and Brown were taking “too many shots” but instead not enough. I really want to ask Marcus Smart who else would take shots with the game on the line other than Tatum and Brown? Him? Definitely not. Josh Richardson? No way Richardson should ever get the ball late in the game with his inefficiencies from the floor. Williams? Horford? Those guys can hit shots but are in for defense mostly.
I also don’t think that Head Coach Ime Udoka is putting Tatum and Brown in good positions to take high-quality shots. The spacing is stagnant and the offensive playcalling is non-existent resulting in Tatum and Brown continuing to take tough shots. Maybe if they sacrificed some defense and played good 3PT shooters like Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard more, they would open up the floor for Tatum and Brown.
Right now, even with the sixth-best defensive rating in the NBA (107.2), the Celtics’ 21st ranked offensive rating of 108.5 is unacceptable for a team with two young stars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. I am not saying they have to sit dominant defensive players like Robert Williams (9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game) and Al Horford (7.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game), but perhaps they should think about how they can improve their horrid offense and spacing, which is the only way this team can slide into the postseason.
Washington Wizards, 21-20
The Wizards started off scorching hot and have since cooled down to a record of 1 game over .500. They received some good pieces for their future in the Westbrook trade as Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell have played great this season to go along with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Deni Avdija, and Daniel Gafford elevating their game as well.
Gafford has been one of the most efficient players in the NBA this season, taking on a larger role in Montrezl Harrell’s absence and averaging 9.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game with an eFG% of 69.2 percent in only 22.9 minutes per game.
Even with their increased depth, the Wizards still are a team that rides and dies on Bradley Beal’s scoring and playmaking. Beal is having his worst season in four years, averaging 24 points, 6.4 assists (career-high), and 1 steal per game with an eFG% of 49.6 and a 3PT% of 29.8, yet the Wizards are still .500. Beal is one of the most inefficient players in the NBA for his 36 minutes per game and extremely high usage rate.
However, Beal is starting to pick it up lately averaging 27 points, 8.6 assists, and 1.2 steals per game over the past five games. Even when Beal was struggling early on in the season he was able to distribute at a very high level to get his teammates involved, which kept this team afloat.
Kyle Kuzma has been the Wizards’ most important player over the past month and will need to continue his hot streak (27.4 points and 13.6 rebounds per game over the past five games) for the Wizards to start winning some games.
As a team, the Wizards have the 23rd ranked defensive rating (110.7) and the 20th ranked offensive rating (108.6). They also have the 17th ranked eFG% with 52.4 and the 15th ranked TS% with 56. These advanced statistics show that the Wizards are all around one of the worst 8 teams in the NBA, and have been overachieving by even being .500 at this point. They could fall in the rankings further, or rise depending on if Beal. Gafford and Kuzma can continue on their hot streaks.
Los Angeles Clippers, 21-21
There is no disputing how good of a coach Ty Lue has been and how he even has this team at one game under .500 halfway through the season. Kawhi Leonard has been out all season but is likely to return by mid-late April according to ESPN and The Athletic. Paul George was playing hurt all season before tearing his UCL in his shooting elbow, and now he is out for an indefinite time period.
Yet, with Terrance Mann, Reggie Jackson, Nicolas Batum, and Marcus Morris Sr. as their best players, the Clippers have found ways to win some big games, most recently against the Nets a couple of weeks back. Ty Lue’s defensive scheme is brilliant as the Clippers have the fourth-best defensive rating (106.6) in the NBA.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, their offensive rating is on the other end of the spectrum, ranked 27th in the NBA (105.9). The Clippers also have the 20th ranked eFG% of 51.9, and the 20th ranked TS% of 55.2. Marcus Morris Sr. has been amazing since Paul George’s absence averaging 20.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game with a 3PT% of 44 in his last 5 games.
Even if Morris Sr. can continue to take over games and be the #1 option, the Clippers desperately need Nicolas Batum to play like he was playing in the month of November, where he was shooting 52% from 3PT range and averaged over 11 points per game to continue to stay afloat while George and Leonard are out.
Charlotte Hornets, 22-19
Although he is in a bit of a slump right now LaMelo Ball has taken another leap toward superstardom this year as his PER of 21.23 ranks 24th in the NBA to go along with his averages of 19.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Ball still struggles with efficiency as his eFG% is only 50.1, but he has been the sparkplug for this team again this season.
Miles Bridges has taken his game to another level with averages of 19.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.2 steals, and an eFG% of 53.6 percent. Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier, and P.J. Washington have all been playing amazing as well, which is why the Hornets have the second-best offensive rating in the NBA at 112.9, and the third-best eFG% of 54.2. However, the Hornets are another team that isn’t balanced with a defensive rating of 113.5, which ranks 28th in the NBA.
The Hornets have been playing some great basketball recently and have beaten the Bucks twice in a row all because of their dominant offense. The Hornets made the play-in tournament last season, but they could be good enough to get a top 6 seed in the Eastern Conference because of how improved their offense is.
Denver Nuggets, 20-19
Nikola Jokic is in the top 10 of the league in just about every statistical category as he has the best PER in the NBA with a 32.42 rating, and is also 9th in TS% with 63.4, 10th in eFG% with 60.3, 9th in points per game with 25.8, and 2nd in rebounds per game with 14.
With the season-ending injury of Michael Porter Jr. and the lingering injury of Jamaal Murray (who at the earliest will come back for the playoffs), Jokic has seen his stats skyrocket even more this season with Aaron Gordon as the team’s second-best player.
The Nuggets have found ways to win games and rank 18th in offensive rating (108.8), 7th in eFG% with 53.5, and 13th in TS% with 56.3. Their offense is still able to click and be in the top 18 due to the outstanding play of Jokic and the contributions from Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, and Will Barton (who entered COVID protocols yesterday).
The eFG% of 53.5 is very promising as it shows that the Nuggets will get better offensively and be ranked higher throughout the rest of the season, especially if they continue to shoot so well from the floor.
The Nuggets defensive rating of 109.1 ranks 17th in the NBA, which isn’t bad. There are definitely some promising advanced statistics that conclude that the Nuggets should be a playoff team (just barely), but even with Jokic’s heroics, it will be tough to get into the playoffs without being in the play-in tournament, which isn’t what Nuggets fans want to hear.
Toronto Raptors, 20-18
The Raptors have been clicking on all cylinders recently thanks to Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam’s outstanding performances over the past couple of weeks. VanVleet is the hottest player in the NBA right now as he is averaging 31.2 points, 6.2 assists, and 1.8 steals per game over the past 5 games, and Siakam hasn’t been that far behind in terms of production averaging 23.4 points, 9.4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.6 steals over the past 5 games. Overall, Vanfleet is averaging 22 points, 6.7 assists, 1.6 steals per game with a 3PT% of 40.9 and an eFG% of 55.3.
VanVleet also owns a PER of 20.64, which is ranked 29th in the NBA. Even though VanVleet could get snubbed in the All-Star game due to LaMelo Ball and Darius Garland possibly getting nods over him, his impact on the Raptors team hasn’t gone unnoticed. People around the league understand how good he and Siakam have been and how dangerous this team could be if they get into a playoff series.
Even with VanVleet, Siakam, and OG Aununoby’s elite on-ball defense, the Raptors rank 20th in overall defensive rating (109.7), which is concerning for a team that has relied on defense to win in the past. However, the Raptors have the ninth-best offensive rating (111.1) in the NBA, which has gotten them to 3 games over .500 at the halfway mark.
Raptors fans might not like what I am about to say, but their offensive rating is a bit misleading since the team has the 26th ranked eFG% with 50.7 and the 26th ranked TS% with 54. This means that if the Raptors don’t shoot more efficiently from the floor, they could lose a lot of games down the stretch.
You may be asking how their offensive rating is so high when their shooting numbers are so low, and the answer is that they don’t turn the ball over much as their 12.9 turnover percentage ranks 5th in the NBA.
Even though advanced statistics have changed our way of analyzing teams, some things in basketball never change and one of those things is very simple; if you turn the basketball over a lot, you are going to lose a lot of games, and if you limit your turnovers, you will win a lot of games. So as long as the Raptors can continue to take care of the ball, they’ll have a good chance to maintain their high offensive rating even with them struggling from the floor.
Los Angeles Lakers, 21-20
The Lakers have had plenty of struggles so far, and them being one game over .500 halfway through the season is not that impressive and definitley not where they expected to be at this stage in the season. I know that Anthony Davis has been hurt and Russell Westbrook has been playing terribly, but they should still be way better than one game over .500 since they have LeBron James, still the best basketball player in the world.
Speaking of LeBron, he is having one of his best statistical seasons ever averaging 28.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.1 blocks per game with an eFG% of 59.9, and a TS% of 63. James’ advanced shooting percentages are insanely productive for a non-big man since he is taking 7.8 3PT attempts per game, which is by far the most of his career thus far. James 37.2% from 3PT range would be his 3rd best in his career, and his 28.9 points per game would be his 3rd best in his coveted career as well.
LeBron James is by far the best forward in the NBA this season with elite advanced shooting percentages and elite defensive stats as well. In fact, LeBron James is the only player in the NBA this season averaging over 28 points, 6 3PT attempts, with an eFG% of over 59. To add onto analyzing James’ historic season, his PER of 27.52 ranks 4th in the NBA and is only slightly behind NBA leader Nikola Jokic’s PER of 32.42.
Jokic may have a better PER (barley) and more efficient advanced shooting statistics, but Jokic isn’t shooting 7.8 3 pointers a game, making James’ 37.2% 3PT and 59.9% eFG% unprecedented in NBA history. They didn’t have eFG% and TS% until recently, but James’ 2021-2022 season is up there with the best seasons of ANYONE in the history of the NBA, which is why he deserves the MVP, even though his team isn’t winning much.
Moving on from James’ historic season, for now, the Lakers as a team had the top defensive rating in the NBA last season at 106.8, but has fallen to 15th in the NBA this season with a 109.1 defensive rating. Their offensive rating last season of 109.8 ranked 24th compared to their 23rd ranked offensive rating of 108.4 this season.
However, even with a weak offensive rating, the Lakers eFG% of 53.4 ranks 9th in the NBA, and their TS% of 56.4 ranks 12th in the NBA. Their 20th ranked turnover percentage of 14.7 isn’t great, and not being able to take care of the ball has been a factor in why their offensive rating is so low despite their impressive eFG% and TS% numbers.
Either way, picking up Carmelo Anthony and getting rid of elite defensive players, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and even Kyle Kuzma was supposed to open the door for more offense as they sacrificed giving up defense. However, that simply hasn’t been the case as the expected offense has failed to be generated which is indicative of their offensive rating.
The Lakers will have to make moves for more defensive pieces at the trade deadline if they want a good shot at the NBA Championship, as five of the last seven championship teams have had a top 10 defense, and the two teams that didn’t, the 2016-17 Cavaliers, and the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors, both had top-five offenses that led them to win titles. The Lakers have neither as their offensive and defensive ratings are concerning and not indicative of a championship team.
One of the issues may be that Russell Westbrook is only averaging 19 points, 8.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 4.5 turnovers per game with a supremely inefficient eFG% of 47.5 and a TS% of 50.9. Westbrook is also only shooting 29.4% from 3PT range and only 65.3% from the free-throw line (which is a career-worst). He hasn’t gelled well with LeBron and the Lakers and maybe he will get better as he tends to heat up in the second half of every season, but if he doesn’t and continues to produce at this rate, then the Lakers are in big trouble.
On the bright side, until Anthony Davis returns, the Lakers will need Malik Monk to continue his insanely efficient eFG% of 58.5 and TS% of 60.5. In fact, over the past five games, Monk has averaged 20 points per game with a 3PT% of 50. If Monk continues to ball out alongside LeBron James, then the Lakers can stay in the playoff picture until Anthony Davis returns.
Dallas Mavericks, 22-18
The Mavericks are coming off of five straight wins, two of them coming against the Western Conference-leading Warriors and the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. Luka Doncic played great in those two wins, both coming without Star big man Kristaps Porzingis.
Sitting at 22-18 and 5th in the Western Conference entering the halfway point of the season, Doncic is starting to improve his all-around game (22 points, 11 assists, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game over the past 5 games), and Porzingis has played well all year (20.6 points, 8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks per game with a TS% of 56.3% on the season).
Although Doncic’s advanced numbers are concerning overall (eFG% of 50, a 3PT% of 31.8%, and a TS% of 53.4), he was playing hurt a lot early on in the season, and like I mentioned above, he is playing better over the past 5 games.
The Mavericks have benefited from their depth as Jalen Brunson has an eFG% of 54 and has averaged 16 points and 5.6 assists so far this season. As a team, the Mavs rank 16th in offensive consistency (109.7), 18th in eFG% with 52.3, and 18th in TS% with 55.4.
Similar to the Raptors, the Mavericks rank 3rd in turnover percentage with 12.8, which has outweighed their shooting woes to maintain a high offensive consistency.
Their offense is bound to get even better since Doncic and Porzingis are healthy now, but it has been their defense that has dominated games with the fifth-best defensive rating of 107. Once Porzingis returns from the COVID list, we will get to see a glimpse of how good this team can be when Doncic and Porzingis are playing well.
Cleveland Cavaliers, 23-18
The Cavaliers are legit. Let me start by saying that. They have been under .500 since losing Ricky Rubio to season-ending surgery, but they still have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA of 104.8, and are 15th in offensive rating (109.8) in the NBA as well. Like I mentioned in the introduction, a combination of a top 5 defense and a top 15 offense usually results in a playoff series win or two.
However, their offense was ranked in the top 10 before Rubio got hurt, and now this team doesn’t have a guy off the bench that can lead the second unit and be productive. The Cavs’ eFG% of 53.4 ranks 10th in the NBA and their TS% of 56.6 also ranks 10th in the NBA.
So why isn’t their offensive rating on par with their advanced shooting percentages? Like other teams I have mentioned before, the Raptors, and the Mavericks, the Cavaliers turnover percentage of 15.4 is 28th in the NBA and has plummeted since Ricky Rubio went down with an injury.
Darius Garland (19.6 points, 7.2 assists, 1.3 steals per game with an eFG% of 55.6 a TS% of 58.7) and Jarrett Allen (16.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.5 blocks per game with an eFG% of 70.7 percent, a TS% of 72.1, and a PER of 24.26 which ranks 11th in the NBA) have been amazing and both deserve to be All-Stars this season.
However, even with Allen and Garland’s stellar play, alongside Rookie Evan Mobley’s outstanding production (14.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks), the Cavs are missing something without Rubio now losing four out of their last six games without him.
Philadelphia 76ers, 23-16
Joel Embiid is on the best stretch of his career, averaging 32.6 points, 10 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game over his past 10 games. His season averages of 27 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game are also very impressive.
The 76ers were doing terrible until Embiid returned from injury and they have since gotten on a roll winning 7 straight games and counting. The 76ers have the 16th ranked defensive rating in the NBA at 109.1, and the 10th ranked offensive rating in the NBA at 110.9, making their Net Rating of 1.8 11th in the NBA. The 76ers also rank 14th in team eFG% with 52.7 and 9th in TS% with 56.6.
The 76ers are an overall balanced team but do nothing extraordinary to make me think they are going anywhere past a first or second-round exit again, especially with the rise of strength in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls, Heat, Bucks, and Nets are all better teams than them right now and the Cavaliers and Raptors could also give them a run for their money.
If their win streak continues and their numbers improve, they could make a jump in the next power rankings. As of right now, they are a top 10 team, but nothing more than that.
Miami Heat, 25-15
Omer Yurtseven has been amazing in the absence of Bam Adebayo and Dwayne Dedmon averaging 14.4 rebounds and 10.6 points over his past 10 games. Yurtseven has been a guy that benefited off of COVID-19 protocols and has shown out as one of the best rebounders in the league during his time starting for the Heat.
Although every team is dealing with COVID-19 protocols and missing players each game, the Miami Heat have the most serious injuries in the NBA besides maybe the Clippers who have Paul George and Kawhi out for a long period of time.
Jimmy Butler has only played 23 games this season due to injuries and being in COVID protocols, and Bam Adebayo has been out since November 29th and isn’t coming back until at least after the All-Star break.
Kyle Lowry also missed a ton of time dealing with an injury and COVID-19 and has had a tough time producing since his return. Yet, even with their two best players missing most of the season, the Heat have still been one of the best teams in all of basketball.
The Heat have the seventh-best defensive rating in the NBA at 107.6, the sixth-best offensive rating in the NBA at 110.9, the sixth-best team eFG% of 53.8, and the fourth-best team TS% of 57.3. Tyler Herro has had a better season averaging close to 21 points per game and a TS% of 53.5, which has helped this team tremendously.
However, it has been the depth of this Heat team with guys such as Yurtseven, Max Strus (19.2 points per game and a 3PT% of 43.4 in his last five games), P.J. Tucker (46.9% from 3PT range and a TS% of 62.2), and Gabe Vincent (37.4% from 3PT range and a TS% of 56.6) along with the always-stellar coaching of Erik Spoelstra that has kept this team above water, even in an injury-ridden season.
The Heat are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA, even without their star players being healthy. That should be a scary sign for teams in the Eastern Conference because once this team is at full strength, it will be hard to be them.
Brooklyn Nets, 25-14
Kevin Durant has been fantastic this season averaging 29.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game to go along with an impressive eFG% of 56.2 and a TS% of 62.1.
I was going to originally rank the Nets in the top 5, but since they continue to lose to bad teams, I have come to the conclusion that they are not dominant enough at this time to be considered a top 5 team. They also have a much worse offense this season than last season despite Kevin Durant playing the best basketball of his career arguably.
They don’t have Kyrie Irving for half of their games and didn’t have him at all until last weekend, so their offensive statistics could be considered a bit misleading, but the Nets have the 11th ranked offensive rating (110.6) in the NBA, but had the best offensive rating (117.3) in the NBA last season.
Could they have really dropped 10 spots due to the absence of Kyrie Irving’s prolific offense? Well, it hasn’t just been Kyrie Irving as James Harden is having one of his worst seasons in recent memory, only putting up averages of 22 points and 9.7 assists with an abysmal eFG% of 49.2 and 3PT% of 33.
Although his assists are impressive, his advanced shooting statistics are the worst he has had in the past 6 seasons. Although Harden is still an NBA superstar, his production has dwindled down due to the new NBA rule changes that haven’t allowed players to flop into fouls, something James Harden was the best in the NBA at! Nonetheless, say what you want about Kyrie Irving, but the Nets are suffering offensively without him. Coupled with James Harden’s inefficient shooting percentages, even Kevin Durant’s most efficient season in 4 years can’t keep them in the top 10 in the NBA.
Milwaukee Bucks, 26-17
The Bucks lost two straight to the Pistons, but still, have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Their seventh-best offensive rating of 111.7 and the ninth-best defensive rating of 110.7. Giannis Antetoukounmpo is having himself another MVP-type season averaging 28.4 points, 11.4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1 steal per game with a TS% of 61.6.
Even though Khris Middleton has yet to pick it up and perform at the level we’re accustomed to seeing from him, the Bucks still have looked like a dominant team in the Eastern Conference. Jrue Holiday continues to be one of the best all-around guards in the NBA this season as it isn’t just his dominant defense(1.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game) that is impressive. Holiday is also shooting 38.2% from 3PT range and owns an eFG% of 56 and a TS% of 57.6, all of which are some of the most efficient offensive numbers in the NBA for his position.
As long as Khris Middleton can pick up his production, and Donte DiVincenzo eases back into things and picks up his production as well, the Bucks will have a shot to repeat as champion. They have also enjoyed the progress both Pat Connaughton and Jordan Nwora have made (both shooting 40% from 3), as it has helped them stay afloat throughout injuries.
Chicago Bulls, 27-11
Like I mentioned in the introduction to these Power Rankings, the Bulls would not be in the position they are in without Lonzo Ball. Yes, DeMar DeRozan too, but Ball’s eFG% of 56.4 and 3PT% of 42.3, and 1.9 steals per game are career bests for him, and his rise in efficiency on both ends of the floor has helped propel this team to the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference so far.
DeMar DeRozan’s averages of 26.2 points and a TS% of 58.1 are career bests for him as well, and he also is the clutchest player in the NBA as he leads the league in buzzer-beating shots. He has also turned this team into a title contender being the most important player on this team alongside Lonzo Ball.
The Bulls are another team that is extremely balanced with the fourth-best offensive rating in the NBA of 112.5, and the ninth-best defensive rating in the NBA at 107.8. The Bulls also have the third-best eFG% of 54.3 and the second-best TS% of 57.9 in the NBA, which tells me that their offensive rating can improve even more and move up to second in the NBA by the end of the season.
Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine are having great seasons as well, but their defensive rating can only improve once Alex Caruso is back, whose 2 steals per game would be tied for 2nd in the NBA if he played enough games to qualify this season. Furthermore, as of right now, the Bulls are the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Utah Jazz, 28-13
Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are still a dangerous tandem that can do damage across the NBA all season long, but it’s not their record that is impressive, but instead their advanced metrics. As a team, the Jazz have the best offensive rating in the NBA by a mile (116.7 and next best team is the Hornets with a 112.9 offensive rating), the best eFG% of 56.4, the best TS% of 59.7, and also have the second-best Net Rating in the NBA at 8.3. So why hasn’t the record shown the Jazz’s dominance if they have such a good offense?
It isn’t about how dominant a team is on one side of the ball, but instead how balanced a team is. The Jazz’s defense is the reason they aren’t the best team in the NBA as their defensive rating of 108.5 ranks 12th in the NBA.
Rudy Gobert (15.5 points, 15.1 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game with TS% of 72.6 and a PER of 25.5 which is the seventh-best in the NBA) and Donovan Mitchell (25.9 points, 5.2 assists, and 1.6 steals per game with a TS% of 57.2 and a PER of 22.93, which ranks 15th in the NBA), are two of the most efficient players in the league and could lead this team to the Western Conference second-round again this season.
Even though the advanced metrics favor the Jazz in a lot of ways, the Jazz always seem to choke in the postseason and this year should be no different. They are in a conference with the Suns, Warriors, Grizzlies, Mavs, and Lakers, all of whom could beat them in a 7-game series. As of right now the Jazz are putting together another dominant regular season and should only maintain this spot or move up further with their top-ranked offense.
Memphis Grizzlies, 29-14
The Grizzlies are coming off their 10th straight win and it was a big one against the Warriors last night as Ja Morant put up another 29 points and 8 assists. Ja Morant has been on an absolute tear averaging close to 25 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals per game with a TS% of 58.
His jump to superstardom has propelled this team to becoming one of the biggest threats in the Western Conference. The biggest improvement for Morant has been his 3PT shooting which sits right now just under 40%, and last season was barely 30%. Desmond Bane has become the second-best player on this team as Dillon Brooks has been dealing with injuries all season and Jarren Jackson Jr. hasn’t been consistent enough to take the pressure off Ja Morant.
Bane is averaging close to 18 points and 1 steal per game with an eFG% of 57.8 and a 3PT% of almost 43. The Grizzlies also have the deepest team in the NBA as Ziaire Williams, Tyus Jones, Kyle Anderson, Xavier Tillman, Steven Adams, Dillon Brooks, John Konchar, De’Anthony Melton, Ja Morant, Brandon Clarke, and Jaren Jackson Jr., and have been able to win games even with players missing time, similarly to the Heat.
The Grizzlies have the fourth-best offensive rating in the NBA this season at 112.2 and have the 11th-best defensive rating in the NBA at 108.2. The Grizzlies also take care of the ball very well as they have the eighth-best turnover percentage of 13.5 in the NBA. This is one of the most balanced teams in the league and if Ja Morant continues on this ultra-efficient trajectory, then the Grizzlies have a good chance to at least get to the Western Conference second round.
Phoenix Suns, 31-9
The Suns have the best record in the NBA right now and have a serious argument to be ranked #1 overall. However, I just don’t think they are as dominant or as efficient from the floor to be ranked over the Warriors. The strong suit of this Phoenix team has been their second-best in the NBA defensive rating of 104.2.
Deandre Ayton has a top 25 PER of 22.06, an elite eFG% of 63.3, and is also one of the highest-rated defensive players in the league as well, mostly because of his elite rim protection and interior defense, not to mention his elite rebounding as well.
Ayton deserves to be an All-Star this season and he may be the most important player on this team besides Chris Paul, whose NBA league-leading assists per game of 10.1 and his second-best in NBA Steals per game of 2 have kept this team right back into contention this season, even as Devin Booker has been struggling with efficiency (eFG% of 50.6). The Suns also have the eighth-best offensive rating in the NBA at 111.1, and the fifth-best team eFG% of 53.9 in the NBA as well.
This Suns team is better than last year’s team (they ranked 7th in defensive rating and 11th in offensive rating last season) and has a chance to go back to the NBA Finals, although I can’t see them defeating the Warriors in a 7-game series at the moment.
Golden State Warriors, 30-10
Even after a loss to the Grizzlies without Draymond Green, the Golden State Warriors are still the best team in the NBA this season. Stephen Curry finally had an elite 27 point triple-double performance in the loss last night after the most brutal shooting stretch of his career. During that stretch, the Warriors still won the majority of their games since they have so much depth, especially at the guard position.
Jordan Poole has improved tremendously this season averaging 17.2 points per game with a TS% of 57.9. His evolution into an elite scorer has changed the dynamic of this team.
Draymond Green has the best defensive rating of any player in the NBA and with that, the Warriors have the best defensive rating in the NBA at 102.1. People always think it is the offense that is the identity of the Warriors because of their 3PT shooting, but they are much more than that. They have always played good defense in their championship runs, but none of those previous teams had the dominance this defense has.
Coupled with the 12th overall offensive rating in the NBA at 110.6, and the second-best team eFG% of 55, the Warriors are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA. As their eFG% is ranked 2nd, and their TS% is also ranked 2nd at 57.9, this tells me that their offensive rating is bound to improve throughout the rest of this season, possibly making this team even more dominant than they already are, just because of how many weapons they have led by possible NBA MVP Stephen Curry.
I can’t pick a team in the NBA right now that could beat this team at full strength in a 7 game series. I know the Grizzlies just beat them, but Draymond Green was out and Klay Thompson is still rusty. Once Thompson settles back in and Curry goes on another huge scoring stretch, it will be tough for anyone to beat this team.