It's an NBA Power Rankings Tuesday!
The Committee (of One), founded way back in the 2002-03 season, has assessed and sorted the league's 1-to-30 landscape for the second time this season
We have never done ties in our NBA Power Rankings and never will, but there was a case to be made to go that route this time.
It was that hard choosing between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers for the top spot in this first batch of monthly rankings since the 2023-24 regular season began.
The Committee (of One) went with the 13-4 Celtics in the end. The Sixers, though, gave us much to think about with all the winning they’ve done since trading away James Harden … including Monday night’s delivery of the most lopsided scoreline that a LeBron James (138-94) team has ever absorbed.
As laid out in our Opening Night edition of the rankings on Oct. 23 and established in our maiden season on this platform in 2021-22, our plan
is to publish rankings on a monthly basis. These are broader, periodic looks at the league as opposed to our old weekly pulse takes at ESPN.
Yet the overall mission remains unchanged: Establish an order separate from the standings that measures big-picture potential and expectations alongside short-term results. Injuries and other off-court developments, positive and negative, are factored in as well — with a dash of Committee whim mixed in.
The goal is to publish an updated 1-to-30 ladder around the same time each month for the rest of the regular season.
We ask, as always, that you register your questions, quibbles or any other pertinent thoughts in the comments section below so we can respond and expound upon our thinking.
PS — Rankings posts, remember, are incredibly long. So click on the headline to get the web or app version instantly if it proves too unwieldy to consume as an email.
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1️⃣ Boston Celtics
The Celtics have been a monster when every member of their so-called Best Top Six in the league is available to play: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, Kristaps Porziņģis, Derrick White and Al Horford. That’ll be tested some now with Porziņģis out at least a week thanks to a calf strain, but he has made a promising transition to life as a Celtic (and a third or fourth option) to help make the Celtics more offensively diverse than they’ve been in the past. One nagging concern that remains: This team still doesn’t always close out games convincingly.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 3
2️⃣ Philadelphia 76ers
The NBA’s reigning MVP is off to such a well-rounded start in his post-James Harden life: Joel Embiid was averaging 32.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game entering Monday’s home date withe Lakers … before Philly inflicted a 44-point hammering upon LeBron James and his Lakers. As my fellow Substacker Justin Kubatko notes, only one other player over the NBA’s last 60 seasons has hit those averages through his first 15 games: Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo twice (2019-20 and 2022-23). Tyrese Maxey’s presumed return to Earth hasn’t happened yet, either, with Maxey and Embiid each scoring at least 25 points in 10 games already. The last duo to do that so often this early in the season, per Kubatko, is Elgin Baylor and Jerry West twice in the early 1960s.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 10
3️⃣ Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves look like the regular season force many expected last season after they traded for Rudy Gobert … with Gobert at the heart of a defense that has lived in the league’s top three this season. The Wolves surely understand that true respect is likely to elude them until this team wins a playoff series, since the franchise won only two total in its first 34 seasons and hasn’t tasted the second round since 2004, but they can’t do much more than we’ve seen so far. Especially when you consider that perimeter defensive ace Jaden McDaniels is out with an ankle injury as we speak.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 11
4️⃣ Denver Nuggets
It turns out that even Nikola Jokić needs help. The Nuggets are a middling 6-5 without Jamal Murray (hamstring) so far this season, as well as a surprising 0-2 at Houston when Jokić has been matched against the Rockets’ Alperen Şengün and a mortal 3-3 when Jokić has a triple-double … compared to 27-2 last season in The Joker’s triple-double games. Yet Denver also sports the league’s gaudiest home record at 8-0 and could get Murray back this week, so The Committee was only going to drop the reigning champions so far.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 1
5️⃣ Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder look even better than anticipated and I thought coming into the season that this group had 50-win potential. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is somehow playing an even cleaner and more efficient game than he did last season when he earned All-NBA First Team honors, Chet Holmgren is the early leader in the Rookie of the Year race and Oklahoma City is one of just four teams (along with Philadelphia, Boston and Denver) to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating thus far. All of this is happening, though, amid serious allegations against Josh Giddey.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 14
6️⃣ Phoenix Suns
The good news: Phoenix is 8-1 when a better-than-ever Devin Booker is in the lineup and Kevin Durant (averaging 31.4 points in 36.9 minutes per game) looks as dangerous as ever at age 35. The worrisome news, beyond Booker’s missed time, is that newly acquired Bradley Beal has played in just three games and remains out indefinitely with a mysterious back problem. The Suns have won a league-high-tying seven games in a row, so they’re clearly coping with the uncertainty just fine, but the question persists: How long into December will we have to wait to see Phoenix’s Superteam trio on the floor together for the first time?
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 4
7️⃣ Milwaukee Bucks
It’s been a challenging start to say the least for rookie coach Adrian Griffin —even with a 7-1 record in Milwaukee’s last eight games. Top assistant coach Terry Stotts left Griffin’s staff during the preseason, Bucks players lobbied Griffin to bring back more of last season’s drop-coverage defensive schemes and just last week we saw Giannis Antetokounmpo resist in the third quarter when Griffin tried to take his franchise player out of a marquee game against the Celtics. Only Boston sports a win total that currently exceeds 12-6 Milwaukee, but you can’t help but wonder what the post-game vibe would have been like Sunday if the Bucks hadn’t come all the way back from 26 points down to edge the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers in Damian Lillard’s first game against his old team.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 2
8️⃣ Orlando Magic
I can remember some readers asserting that The Committee had Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and the Magic too high when I placed them at No. 19 on Oct. 23 in the first rankings assemblage of the season. A month later we have to consider the possibility that we underestimated Jamahl Mosley’s team. The Magic have to be right at the top of any committee’s Pleasant Surprise Rankings with the league’s third-ranked defense as of Tuesday morning (allowing just 107 points per 100 possessions) and a seven-game winning streak — without projected starters Wendell Carter Jr. and Markelle Fultz — that includes home wins over Boston and Denver.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 19
9️⃣ Sacramento Kings
The Kings are 7-3 when the electric De'Aaron Fox is available to play and are getting elite production from both their point guard and Domantas Sabonis (who's averaging a tidy 19.9 points, 12.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game while shooting 62% from the field). The offense is a bit behind schedule, which is understandable when Fox has missed five of Sacramento's first 15 games, but the Kings saddled Minnesota with its first home defeat and have inched to the brink of a league-average defense. If they get there ...
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 13
🔟 Miami Heat
All the attention lavished on Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid leaves little oxygen for the NBA’s other top big men — most notably Bam Adebayo. Miami’s center was averaging a career-best 22.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game before a hip injury finally slowed Adebayo, whose strong start has enabled the Heat to weather Tyler Herro’s ankle injury, a couple blown large leads and the underwhelming offseason that preceded all that.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 6
1️⃣1️⃣ New York Knicks
(Editor’s note: I got the math completely wrong on Tom Thibodeau’s coaching record and have rewritten this comment because I was miles off. Apologies to Coach Thibs because he indeed improved his team’s winning percentage three times in Chicago and once each in Minnesota and New York.)
The Knicks are only 4-7 against .500-or-better teams, but a feel-good factor continues to be provided by Jalen Brunson, who appears determined to improve on his fine maiden season in Gotham judging by his November form. Brunson recently won Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors for the second time in his Knicks career to go with an Eastern Conference Player of the Month award last March.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 8
1️⃣2️⃣ Houston Rockets
Dare we say that the Rockets are already quite pleased that they hired Ime Udoka as their new coach and abandoned long-held plans to pursue James Harden in free agency. Without warning, Houston boasts the league’s No. 1 defensive rating (yes, No. 1) by allowing just 106.8 points per 100 possessions to complement a true offensive star in the making in highly skilled big man Alperen Şengün. If there’s an early worry, it was Jalen Green’s underwhelming start in terms of shooting (and, more broadly, how he adjusts to Şengün’s rise).
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 26
1️⃣3️⃣ Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers shook off a sluggish start by going an impressive 3-1 recently with Donovan Mitchell missing all four games through injury — including a home win over Denver and an overtime victory at Philadelphia. Max Strus' free agent move to Cleveland, furthermore, is off to a promising launch, but it's rather jarring to see this team mired at No. 14 in defensive efficiency after it led the league in that category last season.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 9
1️⃣4️⃣ New Orleans Pelicans
Remember the scorn and eye rolls that greeted word of Chicago’s team meeting after the Bulls’ Opening Night blowout loss at home to Oklahoma City? The Pelicans briefly reveled in the opposite effect after the team meeting they called following five consecutive defeats and some legit alarm-bell-sounding comments from Zion Williamson in which Williamson said he was “trying my best to buy in right now.” After those comments and a team meeting, New Orleans went a heady 5-2 with home wins over Dallas, Sacramento (two) and Denver and a road win in LA against the Clippers. Williamson didn’t play in either loss, but he was back in the lineup Monday night when New Orleans failed to take advantage of Lauri Markkanen’s injury absence and lost in Utah again.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 16
1️⃣5️⃣ Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James is playing like no one almost 39 ever has before. All we can do is keep saying it: James has played better, for longer, than anyone else in NBA history. The troubling part for the Lakers is that they’ve gone to pieces when No. 23 is off the floor … with Anthony Davis’ consistency being questioned anew and a slew of injuries plaguing L.A. even before Monday night’s 44-point humbling in Philadelphia. James, as a result, is averaging nearly 34 minutes per game when Darvin Ham had hoped to keep the league’s oldest player in the 28-to-30-minute range. A 10-8 start sure beats 2-10, but the down-the-road cost of all these exertions for James and his Lakers could prove problematic.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 5
1️⃣6️⃣ Dallas Mavericks
I was asked often during Dallas' 9-3 start if such a win rate was sustainable. My go-to reply pointed first to the Mavericks' long-distance shooting, since Luka Dončić, Kyire Irving and Tm Hardaway Jr. were all shooting in the 40s from deep through the first 12 games ... with Grant Williams hovering in the 50% conversion range. All of those percentages, not surprisingly, have come down for Dallas, which can really only win one way with its current roster construction: Offense, offense and more offense to offset its lack of size and assorted rebounding and defensive frailties.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 20
1️⃣7️⃣ Golden State Warriors
The Warriors' story so far is somewhat Laker-like in that Stephen Curry, who turns 36 in March, has been turn-back-the-clock brilliant from the jump in his 15th NBA season ... but his help has been spotty. Klay Thompson and especially Andrew Wiggins aren't playing at the same levels they reached during the 2022 title run and Draymond Green has essentially missed the last six games as a result of the headlock he applied to Minnesota's Rudy Gobert on Nov. 14. The schedule hasn’t helped either: Golden State awoke Tuesday having played a league-high 15 of its 17 games against .500-or-better teams.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 7
1️⃣8️⃣ Indiana Pacers
We made the case on #thisSubstack last week that the Pacers’ league-leading offense with Tyrese Haliburton at the controls, combined with their penchant for giving up as many points as they score, make them perhaps the NBA’s most entertaining regular-season watch. The Pacers then promptly dulled our enthusiasm Monday night with a bad home loss to Portland. So uniquely prolific and porous, Indiana has already cracked the 150-point mark twice this season while allowing at least 150 points twice — something only six previous teams in NBA history have done in the same season.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 18
1️⃣9️⃣ LA Clippers
The Clippers won four of five games after an 0-5 start to the James Harden Era — right after Russell Westbrook volunteered to go to the bench and cede his spot in the starting lineup to Terance Mann. Then they cratered to a dispiriting home defeat Monday night against a Denver team playing without Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon to stunt any notion of progress. It has flown under the radar somewhat that neither Kawhi Leonard nor Paul George has missed a single game this season, but this team is still scuffling even with the duo’s perfect attendance … despite a nightly average scoring margin (+3.4) that suggests it should be much better than 7-9.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 15
2️⃣0️⃣ Atlanta Hawks
The new coach with the distinctive red glasses hasn’t been able to change as much as the Hawks might have hoped so far. Atlanta has zoomed to No. 3 league offensively under Quin Snyder but continues to languish near the bottom five defensively (at No. 24 in defensive rating) as a team and just lost promising two-way forward Jalen Johnson for at least three weeks to a wrist injury. And while Trae Young’s production remains gaudy (26.5 points and 10.4 assists per game), his 40.2% shooting from the floor can’t be ignored.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 17
2️⃣1️⃣ Brooklyn Nets
Mikal Bridges hasn’t been quite as prolific in his first full season as a Net (21.6 points per game) compared to the eye-catching scoring he did in 27 games last season (26.1) after the Suns made him the centerpiece of their trade package to acquire Kevin Durant. Yet it’s also true that Cam Johnson (seven), Cam Thomas (eight), Nic Claxton (nine) and Ben Simmons (10) have all missed at least seven games, which surely complicates Bridges’ job. Lonnie Walker IV’s contributions to the Nets’ .500 start have established him as one of the season’s top bargains to date after Walker joined the Nets on a minimum deal.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 22
2️⃣2️⃣ Toronto Raptors
The Raptors, as noted here by statistician extraordinaire Keerthika Uthayakumar, have shot below 70% percent from the free throw line in nine of their 17 games this season ... including in what looks now like a more impressive Opening Night victory over Minnesota than we initially realized. That's a league-high and an undeniable problem for a team that, despite strong starts Scottie Barnes and O.G. Anunoby, ranks in the bottom 10 offensively as it is.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 21
2️⃣3️⃣ Utah Jazz
Utah’s two-game sweep of New Orleans certainly caught us off guard — for multiple reasons. The Committee was present Tuesday night in Los Angeles when the Jazz got throttled, 131-99, in an In-Season Tournament game. The Jazz, furthermore, had to play both games against the Pelicans without an injured Lauri Markkanen, who is producing relatively close to last season’s breakout levels. Mired at 26th in the league in defensive efficiency, Utah hadn’t beaten a team with a winning record before the two wins over New Orleans — one with Zion Williamson resting — and dropped the Pelicans to .500 (9-9) in the process.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 24
2️⃣4️⃣ Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo Ball was in the offensive groove of his life entering Sunday's play, averaging 29.1 points and shooting 42.1% from the 3-point line in November as part of a surge that began right in front of The Committee with 30 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in a loss at Dallas on Nov. 5. Ball, though, sustained yet another ankle injury in Sunday's loss at Orlando ... after three left ankle sprains and a right ankle fracture limited him to 36 games last season. Scary stuff.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 29
2️⃣5️⃣ Portland Trail Blazers
It hasn't been easy to get a real read on the rebuilding Trail Blazers given all their injuries to date. But they sure played their part — Scoot Henderson included — in one of the most entertaining games so far this season by amassing a 26-point lead (that didn't quite hold) on Sunday in Milwaukee in Portland's first encounter with a rather well-known former Blazer named Damian Lillard. (The Blazers also recovered on the second half of a back-to-back Monday night to stun In-Season Tournament darlings Indiana). Dame's return to the Pacific Northwest, in case you haven't already entered it in your calendar, is Jan. 31.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 28
2️⃣6️⃣ Chicago Bulls
This Bulls season is just getting weirder. Amid ceaseless trade speculation involving Zach LaVine and other Bulls, they fell behind to Miami at home by a ridiculous scoreline of 22-1 and somehow found a way to crawl out of that hole. Then on Sunday night, Chicago jumped to a 30-9 lead in Brooklyn before getting blitzed 44-19 in the second quarter in an eventual 118-109 defeat. The Bulls have the league's fifth-worst record on this Power Rankings Tuesday and have to be thinking harder than ever about starting completely over. They have to be. Right?
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 23
2️⃣7️⃣ San Antonio Spurs
Victor Wembanyama amassed 22 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and four blocked shots Sunday night in just 25 minutes against Nikola Jokić and the defending champion Denver Nuggets. The French phenom's shooting has been subpar (43.1% from the field, 26.7% on 3-pointers) but his spirit appears to be holding up OK amid a 12-game losing streak that, given San Antonio's lack of playmaking and shooting, Wembanyama has been powerless to prevent. Another reassuring sign for the Spurs to cling to as they strain to end a winless drought that dates to a two-game sweep of Phoenix on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2: Wemby has played in all 17 of the Spurs’ games.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 25
2️⃣8️⃣ Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are down to their final nine games without the suspended Ja Morant, but a Morant-free life has been even harder than anticipated for a team riddled with injuries. Memphis is the only team on the NBA map without a home win (0-8) and has only beaten San Antonio, Portland and the LA Clippers, who are a combined 15-35. Also: The woes that plagued Jaren Jackson Jr. during his USA Basketball summer have carried into the season.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 12
2️⃣9️⃣ Washington Wizards
Quite a night for Kyle Kuzma on Monday back in his native Michigan. Before the game he made a trip to his home city of Flint to make charitable donations, then he delivered 32 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Wizards to victory in a desperation showdown of the NBA’s two 2-14 teams. The win gave Washington a rare dose of respite from a 1-12 start to November and the mounting criticism for newly acquired Jordan Poole.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 30
3️⃣0️⃣ Detroit Pistons
On Oct. 28, Detroit won its home opener despite surrendering 51 points to Chicago’s Zach LaVine to move to 2-1. Pistons owner Tom Gores spoke to local reporters before the victory and said: "I like where we’re at, but it’s basketball. We don’t know how it’s going to go, but I like where we’re at." Since then? The Pistons have lost 14 games in a row on the heels of a 4-26 finish last season after January. Even with a healthy Cade Cunningham, several rookie flashes from Ausar Thompson and the arrival of Monty Williams to lend leadership and authority, this team has dropped into the bottom seven in both offensive and defensive rating and, worse yet, all the way into our basement after Monday night’s home loss to the Wizards.
Last ranking (Oct. 23): 27