It's an NBA Power Rankings Tuesday!
The Suns rise to No. 6 before Kevin Durant plays a game for them because the acquisition is that big. But our latest 1-to-30 ladder has lots of quality ahead of Phoenix as we enter the stretch run
I owe you guys. And gals.
Hopefully today’s batch of NBA Power Rankings from The Committee (of One) makes up for the helping you didn’t get last month.
The plan here, as you surely know by now, is to publish one comprehensive rankings dispatch every month. In January, sadly, it simply wasn’t possible. On multiple Tuesdays that I planned to do so, stories and reporting and leads to chase pertaining to the Feb. 9 trade deadline had to take precedence.
But we’re back on track now. The trade deadline and All-Star Weekend are behind us and we’re two days away from the resumption of the regular season. So it’s a great time to take stock. Teams leaguewide have played between 57 and 61 games, meaning we’re down to the final 20 games and change for everyone as the postseason rapidly draws near.
The motivation for a monthly assemblage of rankings, as established in our maiden season on Substack, stems from a desire to take broader, periodic looks at the league as opposed to our old weekly pulse takes at ESPN. Yet the overall mission remains unchanged: Establish a 1-to-30 ladder 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.
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 our thinking.
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1️⃣ Boston Celtics
A league-leading 42 victories. The only team, two-thirds of the way into the regular season, to rank in the top five in both offensive (No. 3) and defensive (No. 4) efficiency. Maybe the most impressive aspect of all: Boston has had to do all that with two defensive aces, Robert Williams and Marcus Smart, missing considerable time due to injury. We can safely say that Joe Mazzulla's elevation to full-time head coach was fully deserved and, frankly, overdue.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 1
2️⃣ Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have only one All-Star. They’re also the West’s only team on a clear-cut pace to win at least 50 games; Memphis will be right on a 50-32 trajectory when it returns to work Thursday in Philadelphia. Denver’s 21-0 record when Nikola Jokić records a triple-double is another flashy feather in the Serbian’s proverbial cap. The recent additions of Thomas Bryant and Reggie Jackson should only make the Nuggets deeper, too, after they racked up 40-plus wins at the All-Star break for the first time in the team’s NBA history. The MVP race is most certainly not over with nearly two months to go, but c’mon: Jokić most definitely leads it.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 5
3️⃣ Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks started the season 9-0 without the injured Khris Middleton. They also entered the All-Star break having won 12 consecutive games with Middleton back from a lengthy in-season absence. We could nitpick and focus on Milwaukee’s offense that ranks just 22nd leaguewide, but we prefer to uphold our preseason belief in Giannis and Co. — especially after the victorious All-Star captain appeared to dodge a serious wrist injury after that hard fall last week. Brook Lopez is having a strong two-way season, offseason newcomer Joe Ingles is starting to make an impact, Bobby Portis and newly signed Jae Crowder should be playing again soon and Antetokounmpo looks like a top-three MVP candidate.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 2
4️⃣ Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are second leaguewide in nightly point differential at +5.7 per game, trailing Boston's +6.2 only slightly. They're also so deep that they saw fit to buy out five-time All-Star Kevin Love so Love could relocate to Miami in search of regular playing time. Maybe Cleveland lacks the experience of a Boston, Milwaukee or Philadelphia ... but I can't imagine any of those teams will relish seeing them in the postseason. The overall picture looked too good to us to have the Cavs any lower than No. 4 despite their loss to the Sixers last week.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 6
5️⃣ Philadelphia 76ers
I was in Houston on Dec. 5 when James Harden made his long-awaited return from a right foot injury in a dispiriting double-overtime loss to the lowly Rockets. There was little indication that night that the Sixers were about to go home and uncork a 7-0 sweep of their ensuing homestand to set the stage for a 26-7 surge. The Sixers, though, might be shouldering more immediate pressure than any other presumed title contender given the franchise’s 21 seasons and counting without a trip to the conference finals and Harden’s looming free agency. Philly has a lot to prove in the playoffs and likewise has to be fretting about Joel Embiid’s springtime prognosis after the league’s No. 2 overall scorer recently revealed that he’s been playing hurt for weeks.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 9
6️⃣ Phoenix Suns
The Celtics, Bucks and Nuggets all have an abundance of continuity. The Suns now have Kevin Durant, adding him to a team that's 21-12 when Devin Booker has been healthy enough to play but also still trying to work through the after-effects of the 2-0 lead it squandered in the 2021 NBA Finals ... and a Game 7 meltdown at home to Dallas last spring. My colleague Jamal Crawford of TNT has been rather confident lately that Durant's transition to the desert will be so seamless that only injuries can derail the new Suns. The pesky Committee would actually like to see them play a little bit together first before passing judgments.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 10
7️⃣ Memphis Grizzlies
Six of the top seven defensive teams at the All-Star break were Eastern Conference residents. The lone exception: No. 3 Memphis. The Grizzlies, though, have slipped closer to the West’s 3-through-13 jumble than they are to the top-seeded Nuggets thanks to a rocky start to the new year that included a recent 1-8 stumble and, perhaps more crucially, only limited tweaking at the trade deadline. If Ja Morant tries to assert now that he’s still fine with the competition that the Grizz face in the West, who’s buying that?
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 4
8️⃣ LA Clippers
It’s Year 4 for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as a tandem. The Clippers are 19-9 when both are in the lineup and 23-11 when Leonard plays … but that first figure represents less than half of LA’s games this season. After making three quality additions before the trade deadline in Mason Plumlee, Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland, they’ve potentially gone one move too far by acquiring Russell Westbrook via the buyout market after the team’s lead decision-maker, Lawrence Frank, spoke of the need for a guard who could stretch the floor with his shooting and did not dominate the ball. Add it all up and we land where we usually land with the Clippers: How can The Committee or anyone else voice unequivocal trust in these guys?
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 14
9️⃣ Miami Heat
The All-Star squeeze in the East was such that Philadelphia's James Harden, New York's Jalen Brunson and Miami's own Jimmy Butler all missed out. The ideal scenario for the Heat: Butler returns from the break steamed by the snub to resume his successful partnership alongside Bam Adebayo with an edge ... with Kevin Love and Cody Zeller, furthermore, proving to be inspired signings after a trade deadline frenzy that the ever-aggressive Heat couldn't scheme a way to crash. You buy all that?
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 18
🔟 New York Knicks
While Julius Randle was certainly deserving of an All-Star berth, Jalen Brunson has been the standout Knick for me from a team that will return from the All-Star break at a solid No. 6 in the East. The little lefty is averaging 29.7 points, 5.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds in 22 games since the calendar flipped to 2023. He’s also shooting 51.5% from the floor and 46.6% on 3s in the new year and, more importantly, having no discernible trouble adjusting to the supposed glare intensity increase anticipated when Brunson bolted Dallas for Gotham. Harsh as it would have been on Randle, I’d have had Brunson on my East reserves list if there was only room for one Knick.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 16
1️⃣1️⃣ Sacramento Kings
No one expected the 32-25 Kings to post the West’s third-best record leading into the All-Star break and I would likewise argue that few outside of California capital think they can stay that high in a conference that now houses Kevin Durant. Yet some fresh fuel from the doubters might not be the worst thing when you’re trying to snap a league-worst playoff drought of 16 seasons and counting … and after the trade deadline came and went without any upgrades for the stretch run. Bonus props to the Kings for what they’ve already achieved: Who expected Mike Brown, in his first season as Sacramento’s coach, to preside over the league’s No. 2 offense and send both Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox to the All-Star Game?
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 11
1️⃣2️⃣ Golden State Warriors
The Warriors’ fourth title in a glorious eight-year run surprised many last season because their championship core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green wasn’t healthy in unison until the playoffs arrived. Golden State’s follow-up, though, has surprised residents of the Power Rankings Dungeon even more, because this team still hasn’t located the proverbial switch to flip after nearly 60 games. Even when you factor in Curry’s lengthy injury absence, 29-29 is still difficult to process. Ditto for the Warriors’ slide to No. 20 in defensive efficiency. "It’s now or never,” Draymond Green said last week. “We're .500 at the break. Middle-of-the-pack team with middle-of-the-pack stats.”
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 7
1️⃣3️⃣ Dallas Mavericks
According to Tankathon.com, Dallas has the easiest remaining schedule with a composite opponent winning percentage of .466. Of course, with the Mavericks at No. 24 leaguewide in defensive efficiency after finishing No. 7 last season, any fortunate breaks are welcome — especially as they grit through the early growing pains of the new Luka Dončić/Kyrie Irving partnership and the defense that went out the door (Dorian Finney-Smith) to make the deal happen. With unrestricted free agency looming for Irving and the considerable win-now stakes his contract situation creates, it’s natural to see the Mavericks as the West’s answer to the Sixers in terms of facing pressure.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 13
1️⃣4️⃣ Minnesota Timberwolves
It is probably stretching it to suggest that a long-term injury to a player as pivotal as Karl-Anthony Towns can really have a silver lining, but there is a case to be made that the runway Towns' absence cleared for Anthony Edwards' ascension to All-Star status has given the franchise some needed clarity. Edwards appears to be a legit player to build around, so whatever happens next — giving the Towns/Rudy Gobert duo another extended crack to make it work or exploring Towns' trade market in the offseason — would be wisely planned through an Ant-centric lens. In the short term, swapping D'Angelo Russell for Conley should only inject stability into Minnesota's up-and-down season.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 21
1️⃣5️⃣ New Orleans Pelicans
On Dec. 30, New Orleans was 23-12 and presumably feeling as though Mardi Gras would begin even earlier than usual in 2023. On Jan. 2, Zion Williamson went down with a hamstring injury that, thanks to a recent aggravation, is likely to sideline him for additional weeks rather than days. There is enough talent, led by Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, to get the Pelicans back to the playoffs, but there's no dodging how troubling and dispiriting it is for the franchise that Zion could well miss more than half the season for the third time in a four-year pro career.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 3
1️⃣6️⃣ Oklahoma City Thunder
Not sure that the Thunder can force their way into the play-in tournament, but there is no hesitation in anointing them one of the season's most pleasant surprises — no matter what happens from here. OKC began the campaign as a presumed tanking team in the Brick For Vic(tor) Wembanyama Sweepstakes with Chet Holmgren out for his entire rookie season. By the time the All-Star Game took place, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was being drafted for the winning team by Giannis Antetokounmpo ahead of Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, Tyrese Haliburton, Pascal Siakam, Julius Randle, Bam Adebayo, De'Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Jaren Jackson Jr. Fun story.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 23
1️⃣7️⃣ Los Angeles Lakers
What we wrote when LeBron turned 37 still unexpectedly applies now that he’s 38: A Western Conference far more forgiving and mediocre than anyone envisioned proved to be the perfect birthday present for King James. Although the Lakers are still marooned at No. 13 in the standings, they’re also still alive — at least for a play-in spot — if their various newcomers provide the expected boost. And, of course, if James and Anthony Davis can stay on the floor. I threw them up there this high because I generally liked the Lakers’ trade-deadline overhaul.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 22
1️⃣8️⃣ Brooklyn Nets
How many more times will Cam Thomas (who's done it three times already) score 40 points for the new-look Nets? Maybe that's not the most pressing NBA question in Brooklyn these days, but I tossed it out there to illustrate that the Nets should still be pretty watchable after the dismantling of their Superteam That Never Was with Thomas sticking around and the newcomer quartet of Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie. The Committee had no choice but to put them this low on the ladder, though, because trading away both halves of the KD-and-Kyrie core so swiftly and suddenly after that 18-2 run in the winter is a highly depressing final chapter for the past three-plus seasons.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 8
1️⃣9️⃣ Toronto Raptors
I totally bought the Raptors’ whispered December declarations about resisting trade interest in Pascal Siakam, O.G. Anunoby and Fred VanVleet. Tanking all the way to one of the league’s four worst records was realistically out of reach by that point already no matter what happened at the trade deadline. Yet I would be fibbing in the extreme if I were to try to claim now that I knew Toronto’s only deadline move would be trading for Jakob Poeltl. We’ll be obligated going forward, no matter how far the Raptors go — or if they even make the playoffs — to track these guys and their what-next moves closely through July.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 20
2️⃣0️⃣ Washington Wizards
It's been a while since The Committee has been this intrigued by the Wiz ... and we're not saying so just because they are giving our guy Deni Avdija more consistent PT since shipping Rui Hachimura to Lakerland. Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porziņģis and Kyle Kuzma have begun to get on the floor as a trio with greater consistency and Washington, moving the ball noticeably better as a team, is 17-9 since an 11-20 start. Pressure to keep this rolling, mind you, is undeniable after the Wizards rebuffed all trade interest in Kuzma and now face the risk of losing him this summer when the versatile forward becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 25
2️⃣1️⃣ Atlanta Hawks
The Committee thought the Trae Young/Dejounte Murray backcourt would flourish. The Committee never thought Young would shoot 32.4% from the 3-point line again to match his rookie output. And we most certainly never imagined seeing John Collins' name circulate for a fourth successive trade deadline without resulting in a trade. The Hawks are headed for the fourth bottom-10 finish defensively in Young's five NBA seasons but have likewise slumped from last season’s No. 2 to No. 16 offensively. The new front office tandem of Landry Fields and Kyle Korver has much to sort out.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 19
2️⃣2️⃣ Utah Jazz
The Committee knows we’re not making any friends in The 801 with our preference for Lauri Legend over The Finnisher when it comes to Lauri Markkanen’s nickname … just as we met with local resistance whenever we said that The French Rejection suited Rudy Gobert better than The Stifle Tower. Where I think we all agree: Markkanen deserved his All-Star selection without reservation and embodies how fun and surprising Utah has been after Trader Danny Ainge swiftly dismantled a pretty successful iteration of #thisJazz. All-Star Weekend only accentuated that vibe.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 15
2️⃣3️⃣ Portland Trail Blazers
It would be disingenuous for us to assert that the Blazers are some massive disappointment when we expected them to be .500 material coming into the season. Yet it’s difficult to dismiss the feeling that they’re underachieving when newly minted Three-Point Contest champion Damian Lillard is in the midst of perhaps his best individual season and so little else is clicking after a summer aimed at supporting Lillard with a better group of defenders around him. The Blazers limped into the break with a 25-point home defeat to Washington and, of greater long-term concern, can claim to rank higher defensively at No. 27 than only three draft-minded teams: Houston, Detroit and San Antonio.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 12
2️⃣4️⃣ Orlando Magic
Maybe the Magic won’t be as guard-focused in free agency as some rival teams presume them to be. Markelle Fultz made his season debut when the Magic were 5-16. They are a quite passable 19-19 since. Paolo Banchero, meanwhile, continues to lead the Rookie of the Year race for an Orlando team that few talk about but might really have something if Fultz and Jonathan Isaac, both on the comeback trail, continue to blossom alongside Banchero, Franz Wagner and the irresistible 7-foot-2 Bol Bol.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 26
2️⃣5️⃣ Indiana Pacers
We haven't been able to call them Indy .500 since Jan. 20. The Pacers' 2-16 skid (including a 1-9 mark while All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton was out with a left knee injury) dragged Haliburton and Co. into the bottom third of the East standings. Yet who would dare blame Pacer People for their general optimism given the vibes that emanate from Haliburton when he is healthy? Rookie guard Bennedict Mathurin's Year 1 progress and Myles Turner's recent contract extension account for two more helpful boosts.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 17
2️⃣6️⃣ Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have lost six consecutive games. They are 0-5 since the NBA trade deadline that they sat out as one of just two teams that didn’t make an in-season trade this season. The other team, however, is Cleveland, which acquired Donovan Mitchell in a late-summer blockbuster. Despite fashioning the league’s No. 7 defense without having Lonzo Ball for a single game, Chicago barely looks like a play-in contender after its all-in moves to flank Zach LaVine with DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević. Let’s see now if Patrick Beverley’s arrival can shake things up, at least from an intensity perspective, as well as Chicago’s top buyout market target (Russell Westbrook) might have.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 24
2️⃣7️⃣ Detroit Pistons
How do you make things interesting when Cade Cunningham last played a game in early November and the weekslong trade deadline hubbub surrounding Bojan Bogdanović and Alec Burks is back on hold now until June at the earliest? If you're the Pistons, you simply trade for former No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman and throw him into a crowded frontcourt rotation that already features Isaiah Stewart, another former No. 2 overall pick in Marvin Bagley III and rookie lottery pick Jalen Duren. Must-see TV, right?
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 29
2️⃣8️⃣ Charlotte Hornets
Although the Kings haven't sealed a playoff spot yet, they're certainly on course. Which means that the Michael Jordan-owned Hornets should soon own the league's longest active playoff drought at seven seasons and counting. Which has me wondering what I always wonder when the Hornets' situation comes up: How does Jordan, who celebrated his 60th birthday last week, cope with the constant losing after a career synonymous with two championship three-peats? LaMelo Ball's injury absence for nearly half the season absolves only so much.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 30
2️⃣9️⃣ San Antonio Spurs
Nothing slams home what a different sort of day has arrived in the Alamo City than the Spurs’ 0-6 start to their annual Rodeo Road Trip. There are three games left on the trip after the All-Star break and the rebuilding Spurs have lost 14 consecutive games all told. Gregg Popovich must really still love the coaching business when, after turning 74 on Jan. 28, he last tasted victory on Jan. 17 and currently presides over the NBA’s 30th-ranked defense.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 28
3️⃣0️⃣ Houston Rockets
The Spurs are 2-21 in 2023 and are still peering down at the Rockets — at least for the moment. Only the Spurs can prevent Houston from a third successive last-place finish in the West; these past two seasons already represented the most consistent losing we've seen from this franchise since the miserable 1982-83 and 1983-84 campaigns that were designed to lead to the back-to-back draft selections of Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Last ranking (Dec. 13): 27
As an aside, fresh from the trade deadline, with fans burning to watch the new players and the new lineups, the best thing the League was able to do was... stop the real games for a week to bore us to death with kid gimmicks and the ugliest “advertising game” you’ll ever see? Good job Adam...
Plus, how stupid was to have the ASG 60 games into the season?
Marc, I’m loyal to Steinline Enterprises, but “the Finnisher” is a better nickname. Sorry.
The Cavs are such a fun team. Jarrett Allen is quietly anchoring them. Do they have the brightest long-term outlook, with Mitchell, Garland, Allen and Mobley having an average age of 23.5? Or will it be hard to keep this group together?