It's an NBA Power Rankings Tuesday
Sleepers no more: The Pelicans have joined Boston and Milwaukee in the upper reaches of our latest 1-to-30 ladder
Twenty-two of the league's 30 teams have played at least 27 games.
The other eight teams will soon pass that marker this week.
It means that the NBA's 2022-23 regular season is essentially one-third complete, making this a fitting Tuesday for The Committee (of One) to unveil a fresh assemblage of our monthly Power Rankings.
We do this (roughly) once a month now, as established in our maiden season on Substack, to take broader looks at the league as opposed to our old weekly pulse takes. The overall mission, though, remains unchanged: Establish a 1-to-30 ladder that measures big-picture potential and expectations alongside short-term results.
We ask, as always, that you register your quibbles or any other pertinent thoughts in the comments section below so we can respond and expound upon The Committee's thinking.
The Stein Line is a reader-supported newsletter, with both free and paid subscriptions available, and those who opt for the paid edition are taking an active role in the reporting by providing vital assistance to bolster my independent coverage of the league. Feel free to forward this post to family and friends interested in the NBA and please consider becoming a paid subscriber to have full access to all of my posts.
1️⃣ Boston Celtics
The Celtics were the league's first 20-game winners even though they still haven't had interior defensive anchor Robert Williams III on the floor for a single second this season. That should finally change this week after road losses to the Warriors and Clippers, with Williams poised to return at last from a longstanding knee injury, while the Joe Mazzulla-coached Celts continue to sport the league's runaway top offense (at a ridiculous 118.4 points per 100 possessions).
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 4
2️⃣ Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks aren't apologizing for their home-heavy early schedule — not after having to play their first 20 games this season without Khris Middleton. Now Middleton is back from his post-wrist surgery recovery and Milwaukee can join Boston in the 20-Win Club with a home win over Golden State tonight on TNT. If there's a pressing concern in Brewtown, it's probably Giannis Antetokounmpo's dip from 72.2% shooting at the line last season … although he has rallied back to 62.7% since Thanksgiving.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 1
3️⃣ New Orleans Pelicans
Everyone's favorite sleeper in the West can't really be described as a sleeper anymore. Not when Zion Williamson is playing better than ever and when the Pelicans have won seven games in a row — all without Brandon Ingram and five without perimeter defensive ace Herb Jones — to snatch the top seed in the conference. The very deep Pels are a surprising 9-2 when Ingram is out of the lineup and awoke Tuesday at an even more surprising No. 3 leaguewide in defensive rating despite the presumed vulnerabilities of a team relying so heavily on Williamson and CJ McCollum.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 5
4️⃣ Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies' resilience has been impressive yet again. Maybe they won't be able to match that audaciously gaudy 20-5 record posted last season in games that Ja Morant missed, but they've had to play without Desmond Bane in 15 games so far already this season and without Jaren Jackson Jr. in 16. And they're still right there with Zion-led New Orleans in the hunt for the West's top record, having quietly won six games in a row.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 10
5️⃣ Denver Nuggets
Doug Moe would be proud. The former Nuggets coach came up with the league's original +/- statkeeping … which he calculated by subtracting a team's total of home losses from its road victories. Michael Malone's Nuggets are tops in the West in that category at +6 — second only to Boston's league-leading +8. Looking at the standings that way would intimate that Denver is actually better than its 16-10 record suggests.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 11
6️⃣ Cleveland Cavaliers
The NBA’s third-most dominant team behind New Orleans and Boston based on nightly average margin (+5.8): Cleveland. The team tied with Memphis and Golden State in sporting the league’s shiniest home record at 12-2: Also Cleveland. The Cavaliers are likewise unbeaten in their league-high four games that went to overtime and would be feeling absolutely giddy about this start to the Donovan Mitchell Era if not for their road woes, which include a frustrating loss Monday night in San Antonio.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 2
7️⃣ Golden State Warriors
A quirky (and oft-overlooked) stat when it comes to the reigning champions: Since a rollicking 27-6 start last season, Golden State has been a rather ordinary regular-season team for a long time now, going 26-23 from there in 2021-22 and starting just 14-13 this season. Of course, after watching how the Dubs handled visiting Boston on Saturday night in their nationally televised NBA Finals rematch, they certainly backed up Coach Steve Kerr's recent assertion that this team is starting to find itself again.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 9
8️⃣ Brooklyn Nets
Nov. 15 was a bad night for Brooklyn. The Nets gave up 153 points in Sacramento and had to manage some fresh tension immediately after the defeat thanks to a Kevin Durant interview with my pal Chris Haynes in which Durant appeared to express frustration about the limitations of this roster. Since then, though, Durant and Co. are a heady 10-3 and Kyrie Irving's comeback has been mercifully low-key. The league's only in-season coaching change from Steve Nash to Jacque Vaughn, to this point, has had the desired effect and sparked a monster jump here.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 28
9️⃣ Philadelphia 76ers
When I visited with Joel Embiid a week ago after a disappointing overtime loss in Houston, Embiid insisted that he is focused on "trying to do whatever is possible to win a championship." Just a few nights later, Embiid assembled a 53-point masterpiece in a victory over Charlotte to complement an earlier 59-point eruption against Utah and become the first center with two 50-point games in the same season since San Antonio's David Robinson had two in 1993-94 ... my very first season on the NBA beat. You surely know by now that The Committee can't resist getting wrapped up in nostalgic occurrences like that.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 12
🔟 Phoenix Suns
It's becoming habit in the parity-stricken West to write Phoenix off as a shadow of last season's 64-win outfit. Yet there's risk attached to such declarations, even in the midst of the Suns’ four-game losing streak, after they just went a pretty passable 9-5 while Chris Paul was sidelined for a month with a heel injury. Phoenix's oft-scrutinized depth held up OK without Paul and Cam Johnson and with Jae Crowder still in exile because the Suns haven't been able to find a trade for him.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 3
1️⃣1️⃣ Sacramento Kings
The Committee could try to preach wait-and-see caution amid the Kings' promising start, but who in the California capital would listen given all the lighting-the-beam excitement Domantas Sabonis, De’Aaron Fox and Co. have generated? My fellow Substacker Justin Kubatko recently noted that Sacramento's 14-6 surge after an 0-4 start marked the first time since the 2005-06 season that this team had won 14 games in any 20-game span. That season, of course, marked the last time we saw the Kings in the NBA playoffs.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 26
1️⃣2️⃣ Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have been a pleasant surprise, emerging as yet another team that must be reckoned with in the crowded West. Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant have emerged as productive, steadying forces for a team that did face some slippage when forced to play a slew of games without face of the franchise Damian Lillard. With Dame back now, splashing 11 3-pointers in a Monday night rout of Minnesota, projecting the eventual top six in the conference has only gotten more challenging.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 7
1️⃣3️⃣ Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks have sunk to 29th leaguewide in free-throw shooting, which has become a massive story in Big D because this is a team that has lost multiple games at the line already and has zero margin for error given how much it asks of Luka Dončić nightly. As otherworldly as Dončić can be, look at the roster and ask yourself: Does Dallas definitively have a top-75 player on the team besides No. 77? Jalen Brunson's free-agent departure to New York has hit the Mavericks even harder than anticipated.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 17
1️⃣4️⃣ LA Clippers
A cynic would say that we'll see Steve Ballmer’s new arena in Inglewood open before we see his basketball team whole for an extended stretch. The Clippers are seemingly trying to adopt Golden State's strategy from last season — just make sure to be healthy by the time the playoffs start — but are relying on that approach without years of experience, continuity and playoff history to lean on like the Warriors have. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have only managed to play together in eight of 29 games.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 25
1️⃣5️⃣ Utah Jazz
On Nov. 22 we proclaimed that the Jazz, after a 12-6 start, would not be able to tank this season even if they wanted to, because history tells us that 101 of the previous 111 teams to start 12-6 in the history of the NBA's current playoff format (which debuted in 1983-84) went on to make the playoffs. Utah immediately wobbled after that column, losing five consecutive games without the injured Mike Conley, but the Jazz have since steadied themselves and remain a tough out in the jumbled West.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 6
1️⃣6️⃣ New York Knicks
Julius Randle is playing his best basketball since the 2020-21 season and the Knicks have responded admirably to a humbling home loss to Dallas and murmurs of mounting pressure on the coach and front office by posting four successive double-digit victories. A cause for concern, perhaps, amid the unexpected prosperity: Jalen Brunson picked up a foot injury (officially a bruised right foot) in Sunday's victory over Sacramento.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 19
1️⃣7️⃣ Indiana Pacers
A humbling home loss Saturday night to Brooklyn, as bad as it was with the Nets resting pretty much every single regular you’ve heard of, can cause only so much distress for the Cinderellas of the East. The Pacers remain right there with Utah atop the list of this season's surprise teams, led by the ever-upbeat Tyrese Haliburton and buoyed by the rare ability to boast about having two difference-making rookies: Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 21
1️⃣8️⃣ Miami Heat
The Heat's struggles, while undoubtedly jarring when you look at that 13-15 record, aren't so mysterious to The Committee. Jimmy Butler recently missed seven consecutive games and injuries have been an issue all season all over the roster. Instinct tells me that the rest of the East took notice of Miami's recent steely performance in Boston, in Butler's first game back, as an indicator of what this group remains capable of despite a considerable team-wide offensive funk.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 20
1️⃣9️⃣ Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young is shooting 28.7% from 3-point range and recently chose not to attend a game entirely after a communication breakdown with Coach Nate McMillan. Dejounte Murray and John Collins are both currently sidelined by ankle injuries ... and Collins is at the forefront of leaguewide trade speculation for the third season running. There's a lot going on here, in other words, that precludes us from going as deep as we'd like on rookie AJ Griffin's second game-winner at the buzzer Sunday to beat Chicago.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 14
2️⃣0️⃣ Toronto Raptors
The Committee gets especially rattled now when it hears the term adductor strain ... because we were there in person sitting courtside when both the Raptors' Pascal Siakam and the Lakers' LeBron James sustained the same unwelcome injury within a week of each other. In Siakam's case, Toronto had to cope without its versatile forward for 10 games (5-5) — compared to seven games missed by James — and continues to look lost on the road even with Siakam back now. Only Orlando (1-11) and Detroit (3-13) have worse road records in the East than the Raptors’ 3-11 mark.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 8
2️⃣1️⃣ Minnesota Timberwolves
Little has gone to script in Minneapolis, where the Wolves — according to me and many other pundits coming into the season — were projected to be a very good regular-season team if nothing else after acquiring Rudy Gobert. Yet the Wolves ranked only 19th in defensive efficiency entering Tuesday's play and are also dealing with the long-term injury absence of Karl-Anthony Towns. The solace for 'Sota is A) Towns' hamstring strain initially looked so much worse and B) parity is rampant in a conference in which every team lost at least eight of its first 25 games for the first time since (whoa) 1991-92.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 15
2️⃣2️⃣ Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis is on course to appear in 70-plus games and is playing as well as he ever has as at 29 since embracing a full-time move to center. LeBron James, who turns 38 in two weeks and change, is on pace to play around 60 games. Is that enough from their two stars for the Lakers, as currently constructed, to wedge their way into a play-in spot in the unforgiving West? That 2-10 start put the Lakers in such a hole that it left no wiggle room.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 27
2️⃣3️⃣ Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite the ongoing array of unknowns surrounding the Thunder — from the impact that a lost rookie season will have on Chet Holmgren's development to when their incomparable draft-pick stash will lead to a significant trade — one certainty has already emerged this season: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an All-Star. His forthcoming breakthrough for a spot on the West squad looks like a lock with SGA averaging 31.2 points and 5.9 assists per game in his fifth season.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 16
2️⃣4️⃣ Chicago Bulls
Will the Bulls host a fire sale and tear down their roster? It's one of the most common questions posed in rival front offices in today's NBA, fueled by Chicago's less-than-airtight D when Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević all share the floor and, more crucially, this team’s 11-14 start this season on the heels of last season's 7-15 finish. Yet one could also ask: Isn't it too soon for the Bulls to punt when Lonzo Ball last played on Jan. 14, 2022?
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 18
2️⃣5️⃣ Washington Wizards
Kristaps Porziņģis and Kyle Kuzma have both delivered some gaudy performances in the season's opening third, but the Wizards don't have much to show for it in the standings, raising fresh questions about the viability of Porziņģis, Kuzma and Bradley Beal as a core trio. Considerable curiosity is thus percolating outside the nation's capital about the Wizards' potential willingness to trade Kuzma, who can become a free agent at season's end and who is generating no shortage of trade interest.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 24
2️⃣6️⃣ Orlando Magic
I know I've already mentioned Indiana's Rookie of the Year aspirants (with an S), but the ROY race is realistically still topped by Paolo Banchero. The No. 1 overall pick is averaging a robust 21.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for the Magic, has shaken off an ankle sprain that sidelined him for seven games — and he's writing! Banchero is doing occasional diary pieces for The Associated Press and his latest, which posted Wednesday, preceded Orlando's first three-game winning streak of the season (back-to-back victories over the Raptors after an OT triumph over the Clippers).
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 29
2️⃣7️⃣ Houston Rockets
The latest from the Young Teams Are So Unpredictable files: In its past five games, Houston has popped up from the depths of the Western Conference standings to post victories over Phoenix, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. The latest came Sunday under incredibly difficult circumstances, too, with assistant coach John Lucas standing in for head coach Stephen Silas on the day after Silas’ father and mentor Paul Silas passed away at age 79.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 30
2️⃣8️⃣ San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs started 5-2 and have suddenly won three in a row, including a victory at Miami and Monday night’s narrow escape at home against Cleveland sealed by a Keldon Johnson rejection of Donovan Mitchell’s drive. In between? Don’t ask. San Antonio lost 16 of 17 games, including four losses by 31 points or more and the worst of those reaching a margin of 43 points. An 11-game losing streak in the midst of that stretch stands as the longest winless patch in the Gregg Popovich Era.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 13
2️⃣9️⃣ Detroit Pistons
Cade Cunningham's preference was clearly to avoid surgery to treat a suspected stress fracture in his left shin, but he has finally relented and decided to undergo the season-ending procedure. The No. 1 overall pick in 2021 has missed 17 games already and, while that has obviously increased rookie Jaden Ivey’s role, Cunningham’s extended absence all but ensures that the Pistons will be part of the Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes conversation for the rest of the season.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 23
3️⃣0️⃣ Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets' season is unfolding a lot like Detroit's. LaMelo Ball, after last season’s breakthrough to All-Star status, has been healthy enough to play in only three of Charlotte's first 27 games. With so little availability from Ball — whose absence has been compounded by another injury-riddled campaign for Gordon Hayward and an eight-game absence for Terry Rozier — wins have been predictably scarce in Steve Clifford's second stint as Hornets coach.
Last ranking (Nov. 1): 22
The Stein Line is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, please consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.