Wednesday, November 13, 2013

NBA Power Rankings: Week 2

With most teams having played 7 games so far this season, there are few surprises among the Top 10, although many assumed the Heat would have started better than they have.  Nonetheless, there is still a lot of basketball to be played, and the rankings are sure to fluctuate quite a bit before all is said and done.  For the inaugural power rankings each will be a bit longer than normal, but should serve as a good starting point for what should be a great season of NBA basketball.

1. Indiana Pacers (8-0): The Pacers have gotten off to an unbelievable start, although they haven't hit real competition yet (with the exception of the Bulls).  They are holding opponents to a ridiculous 84.5 ppg, which is 7 points less than the next best team (Spurs).  And even though that number is in no way sustainable, especially against better teams, with Roy Hibbert guarding the rim, they should finish as a Top 3 defensive team with one of the top plus/minus ratings of any team (currently +10.4 and ranked first in the league).  The Pacers currently have the best chance of knocking off the Heat in the east, but only if Paul George can continue his development into a perennial MVP candidate and big-time scorer to match LeBron.  George currently is averaging 24.9 ppg, by far his career high, is shooting 40.4% from 3-pt land, and also averaging 7.8 rebounds per game.  To add to his incredible talent is an even more incredible potential.  He is only 23 years old.

2. San Antonio Spurs (7-1): The Spurs have always been a great defensive team and they have continued to be so far this year giving up 91.5 ppg.  In his 18th year coaching the Spurs, Gregg Popovich has 912 career wins, and is showing no signs of slowing down.  The question with this team has always been whether they can sustain their success for an entire season with stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili getting up there in age (37, 31, and 36 respectively).  However, youngsters such as Danny Green and Kahwi Leonard should be able to take some heavy minutes off the shoulders of the veterans, yet the luxury of this team has always been the ability to lean on the stars in the big moments.  This combination of youth and savvy veterans puts them in prime position to contend with the other big guns in the West for another trip to the Finals.

3. Miami Heat (5-3): Although the Heat have not had the best start by their standards, it would be surprising to no one if they suddenly went on a 10-15 game winning streak.  They are just that talented.  All the evidence needed is the two championships in the last two years.  They have even more depth this year, having added Greg Oden and Michael Beasley, and Norris Cole has blossomed into a better-than complementary scorer as a starter or a major spark off the bench in his third season, and as a result his minutes have jumped from a career average of 19.5 mpg to 22.0 mpg.  Cole's floor time should continue to grow, as he also adds another 3-pt threat to the already dynamic duo of Ray Allen and Shane Battier.  It is almost unfair the amount of talent on this team, and when everyone is healthy, should become better than last year.  Unless some serious injury occurs to LeBron James, the Heat should be a Top 3 team for the entire season.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-1): As Russel Westbrook only missed two games and has returned way sooner than expected while still putting up 19 ppg, it is same to say he is fine.  Last season while on the floor together, Westbrook and Kevin Durant registered a +9.2 plus/minus, good for second in the league.  Sure, they lack that dynamic scorer of the bench that made them truly elite now that James Harden is running with Dwight Howard in Houston, and it was proven last year that an injury to either Durant or Westbrook will prematurely end their hopes of a championship.  They are still off to a good start with the second-highest winning percentage in the West, and should be in the mix to trade for a scoring wing when the trade deadline gets closer.

5. Los Angeles Clippers (5-3): The Clippers could very well be the best team in the Western Conference, although their record shows them to be only slightly above average.  However, with Doc Rivers as the new head coach, he will need some to time to adjust to his new setting and his players likewise must adjust to him.  However, under Rivers, who was a former point guard and coached all-star Rajon Rondo in Boston, Paul has been playing the best basketball of his career.  He is currently averaging 12.4 assists per game and 21.3 ppg, both of which are well higher than his career averages (9.9 apg, 18.6 ppg).  The addition of sharp-shooting J.J. Reddick has surely helped him, as has the rapid improvement of DeAndre Jordan, who is developing into a potential defensive-player-of-the-year candidate under the defensive-minded Rivers.  If the Clippers continue to score a whopping 109.9 ppg (league-high), there will be no stopping them.

6. Houston Rockets (5-3): Harden and Howard seem to have meshed so far, and there hasn't been any Dwight-drama yet (knock on wood).  Things are looking up for the Kevin McHale-led Rockets who have aspirations of a championship.  They are in 5th place in the league with 106.1 ppg which should give them a better record than they have, except they are also in second place in the league with 19.4 turnovers per game.  The Rockets can not afford to keep up that rate of turning the ball over, but with Harden and   Jeremy Lin handling the ball as much as they do, it is hard to imagine that number changing too much.  They also have only 18.4 assists per game as an entire team, which is 10 less than the league lead (Miami).  The pure talent is there, and that is why this team will get by with a relatively high seed, but to advance deep into the playoffs, they will need to solve their ball-handling problems.

7. Portland Trail Blazers (5-2): The dual threat of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge have carried the team to seemingly new heights, with Lillard averaging 21.1 ogg and Aldridge averaging 22.6 ppg.  As a team, the Blazers are shooting an incredible 42.4% 3-pt field goal percentage, which is unsustainable, but with above-average sharp-shooters like Wesley Matthews (currently shooting an incredible 48% from beyond the arc!), Nicolas Batum, and Mo Williams (along with Lillard, of course), they should be a Top-5 3-pt team by the years end.  With three underrated big men in Robin Lopez, Myers Leonard, and Thomas Robinson to go along with Aldridge, the Blazers have solid depth all around, and the scary thing is, when first round pick C.J. McCollum makes his debut (he has been hampered by a foot injury), he will add an entirely new dynamic to the team, especially while on the floor with Lillard.

8. Phoenix Suns (5-2): Nobody expected the Suns to have be tied for 4th place in the Western Conference.  Heck, most people who followed their offseason transactions expected them to finish with the worst record in the league in order to draft Kansas's phenom Andrew Wiggins (they traded away Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat).  However, even with the inspired play of point guard Eric Bledsoe (20.9 ppg and 7.3 apg) and the always-steady Goran Dragic (13.3 ppg), the Suns still should not have started off this well.  Their Top-5 draft pick Alex Len still hasn't even played with an ankle injury!  But the unexpected development of big men Markieff Morris (17.2 ppg and 6.8 rpg) and Miles Plumlee (11.7 ppg and 9.6 rpg) has sparked a storybook start to a season that was thought to be headed for the dumps.  This type of success for such a young team is hard to sustain, and the Suns will most likely fall back to an average if not below-average team as the season progresses.

9. Chicago Bulls (3-3): Derrick Rose is an enigma.  He missed more than a year with the same injury in which Adrian Peterson recovered from over the course of one NFL offseason.  When he struggles, while still on the floor for over 31 minutes per game, the team will struggle.  The Bulls as a team are holding opposing teams to a mere 91 ppg (second in the league) thanks to the always-defensively-sound Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng.  However, with Rose running the offense, they are only scoring one point more per game, good for 27th in the league.  Rose has only 0.3 more assists per game (4.5) than turnovers per game (4.2), which is asking for trouble.  He is also scoring only 14.7 ppg, 6 pts less per game than his career average.  The Bulls were supposed to be one of the teams with the best shot of beating the Heat, but they first need to stop beating themselves.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-3): Kevin Love is back and better than ever.  He is averaging 26.4 ppg, 5.0 apg, 15.0 rpg, and is shooting 36.4% from 3-pt range.  His career averages in those same respective categories are 17.6 ppg, 2.0 apg, 12.2 rpg, and 35.3% of 3s.  When the still-25-year-old Love is playing out of his mind like this, he is by far the best player in the league, and it almost doesn't matter what anyone else on his team does.  The thing is, he has always had the potential to put up numbers like this, and is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down.  It is absolutely pointless to mention any other player on the Timberwolves at the moment, because Kevin Love will carry the team to the playoffs on his shoulders alone.

On The Verge: Dallas Mavericks, Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors

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