'Round the NBA we go: Power Rankings!
Here is a new installment of our monthly rankings from The Committee (of One) ... with Phoenix retaining the No. 1 spot heading into March despite losing Chris Paul to injury
Two important announcements on this Power Rankings Tuesday:
🏀 The Committee (of One) is back with another 1-to-30 ladder, as delivered here monthly, with the Phoenix Suns retaining the top spot for the second consecutive edition of the rankings to join Milwaukee and Golden State as the third two-time No. 1 in the brief history of this Substack. The Suns might be without Chris Paul for the rest of the regular season, but for now they hold firm at the top since Phoenix remains the NBA’s only team to rank in the top three in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
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This latest rankings batch, as always, factors in a team's big-picture outlook strongly in addition to weighing short-term results … along with a sprinkling of subjective whim from a singular voice. Whether or not you agree or disagree with the analysis, you will always know who is responsible for the order and comments.
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1️⃣ Phoenix Suns
The one thing that seemed to be a sure thing we could point to in either conference — Phoenix winning the West — has been thrown into some amount of doubt thanks to the thumb injury sustained by Chris Paul that could sideline him into the playoffs. Just keep in mind that the CP-less Suns, even after a rare losing streak last week with home losses to New Orleans and Utah, still hold a six-game lead over No. 2 Golden State with 21 regular-season games left for each team. The Suns, in other words, are about as well-placed to handle Paul's extended absence as a team could be.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 1
2️⃣ Miami Heat
The only 40-win team in the East has remarkably had what is widely recognized as its top four players (Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro) together on the court for only 74 minutes this season. That quirk would suggest that the Heat have an even higher ceiling than their record suggests ... with my Miami-based pal Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press quick to remind us that each of the last five Heat teams to win at least 41 of their first 62 games went to the NBA Finals. Three of those five teams won it all.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 4
3️⃣ Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have had some fine teams and revered players throughout their 21 seasons in Memphis, but they've never had a showstopper like Ja Morant who can transform the 901 into the epicenter of the NBA as quickly as Morant did Monday night with his 52-point detonation against San Antonio. Memphis frankly looks more likely than Golden State to make the Suns squirm a bit about holding onto the West's No. 1 seed with the benefit of what Tankathon.com rates as the league's second-easiest remaining schedule.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 3
4️⃣ Philadelphia 76ers
Daryl Morey didn't just trade for his old friend James Harden on Deadline Day. It appears that Morey also acquired the same On His Best Behavior Beard who arrived in Brooklyn last January determined to hush all of his critics by playing the best team-first basketball of his life. That's the Harden we've seen so far in Philly, meshing seamlessly with Joel Embiid when skeptics (like this Committee) said that the pairing would have issues. It still might, but the early signs are super promising in an East far more up for grabs than anticipated.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 5
5️⃣ Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson has been sufficiently Klay-like in his return from the devastating injury combo of a torn ACL and a torn Achilles to give the Warriors relative confidence that they can count on him for a lengthy playoff run. The far greater uncertainty for Golden State and its title aspirations is the state of Draymond Green's back and how much the team can legitimately expect from James Wiseman, who has still yet to log a single minute in his second season as 2020's No. 2 overall pick continues to recover from a knee injury. The Warriors, remember, would want to sign another big man even if Green and Wiseman were healthy. Sunday's home collapse to Dallas, meanwhile, spawned one of the more remarkable stats I've seen for some time: Golden State was 204-1 in the regular season in the Steve Kerr Era after amassing a lead of at least 20 points before the Mavericks roared back from 21 down.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 2
6️⃣ Utah Jazz
The Jazz continue to rank as the league's No. 1 team offensively, sport the NBA's No. 3 nightly average scoring margin (+6.8 points per game) and had the sort of success in February (8-1) that we've come to expect from this team — at least during the regular season. The perception persists, however, that Utah has slipped out of the West's top three permanently. Only a trip to the conference finals is likely to alter it.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 12
7️⃣ Chicago Bulls
From the Two Things Can Be True Department: DeMar DeRozan's name definitely belongs somewhere on MVP ballots — voters, remember, have five slots to fill on those ballots — and Chicago's status as a contender can be rightfully questioned once you factor in that the Bulls are 0-8 this season against the league's four teams that beat them to a spot in the 40-win club (Phoenix, Golden State, Memphis and Miami). The Bulls' inevitable counter to the doubters: Wait until we have our original starting lineup and sixth man (DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vučević, Lonzo Ball, Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso) available again. That hasn’t happened in more than four months.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 9
8️⃣ Denver Nuggets
The West is starting to look like the West again with the Nuggets and the Mavericks both inching closer to a 50-win pace. Rest assured that the Western Conference residents who awoke Tuesday with a better record than Denver don't regard this team as a mere No. 6 seed. Not with Nikola Jokić (PER: 32.6) assembling a campaign worthy of a second consecutive MVP award, rumblings growing stronger by the day that Jamal Murray (knee) and Michael Porter Jr. (back) should return before the playoffs and just for fun, Denver's 10-0 record when DeMarcus Cousins is in uniform.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 8
9️⃣ Milwaukee Bucks
Four teams in today's NBA rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Bucks are not one of them, slipping to No. 13 on D while Phoenix, Golden State, Memphis and Miami account for the quartet of clubs playing what is generally regarded as elite basketball at both ends. The Committee will perhaps come to regret this statement, but I still regard Milwaukee as the East favorites, despite what the numbers say, because the reigning champs have a symbiotic Big Three and continuity that is the envy of the conference. At some point, mind you, Giannis and Co. might run out of time to prove it.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 6
🔟 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks stand as a fascinating illustration of modern basketball. Even with both Luka Dončić and Jalen Brunson in prime roles — and even after deciding that Brunson should keep starting alongside Dončić after the Slovenian All-Star returned from a lengthy injury absence in late December — Dallas decided that it needed even more ballhandling. That was among the motivations that led to the Mavericks' deadline day swap with Washington that shipped out former All-Star big man Kristaps Porziņģis for Dāvis Bertāns and Spencer Dinwiddie. Moving on from Porziņģis was the primary aim, but the early returns from the newcomers have been promising, as illustrated most by Dinwiddie's role in Dallas' impressive climb Sunday out of a 21-point hole to win at Golden State.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 11
1️⃣1️⃣ Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens has been active and effective as a rookie front-office head, making numerous roster tweaks and managing the Celtics' luxury-tax concerns deftly to help spark an impressive turnaround. As recently as Jan. 6, Boston was 18-21 and inspiring frequent discussion about the prospect of breaking up the star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics are 17-6 since, acquired Derrick White and Daniel Theis to add serious depth and have risen to No. 2 overall in defensive efficiency under first-year coach Ime Udoka. In a stacked East, Boston is also the only team that entered Tuesday's play with a winning record (15-14) against .500-or-better teams.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 14
1️⃣2️⃣ Cleveland Cavaliers
It is bound to be the first line on J.B. Bickerstaff's Coach of the Year case that the Cavaliers make to voters ... as well as Evan Mobley's Rookie of the Year case: Cleveland continues to rank fourth leaguewide in defensive efficiency, despite a steady stream of injuries, after finishing 25th in that category last season. Question is: How many backcourt injuries can the young Cavaliers withstand and keep their Cinderella season going? All-Star Darius Garland (back), Caris LeVert (foot) and Rajon Rondo (toe) are all sidelined.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 7
1️⃣3️⃣ Minnesota Timberwolves
It will take more than one 3-point contest crown at All-Star Weekend before this Committee, having covered Dirk Nowitzki's career from close range, will be prepared to consider co-signing the notion that Karl-Anthony Towns has supplanted Nowitzki as the sweetest-shooting big man in NBA history. Yet there's no denying how dependable Towns has been in leading the Wolves' bid to secure what would be just the second trip to the playoffs for the franchise in a span of (gulp) 18 seasons.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 13
1️⃣4️⃣ LA Clippers
Maybe Kawhi Leonard (knee) and Paul George (elbow) will be back on the floor by season's end. Maybe they won't. What should be crystal clear when it comes to the Clippers is the excellence they consistently get from Coach Tyronn Lue, who continues to prove himself as one of the league's finest coaches. Also: Who else looks at the standings regularly, takes note of the Clippers' winning record and placement above the Lakers in the playoff play-in race and likes to imagine one winner-take-all game in April between the two Crypto.com Arena tenants for a spot in the playoffs?
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 19
1️⃣5️⃣ Brooklyn Nets
We graciously granted the Nets a spot in the top 10 when The Committee last convened on Feb. 1 out of respect for the talent they've amassed. It's impossible to justify that now with Brooklyn mired at No. 8 in the East in the wake of a 5-15 funk without the injured Kevin Durant and openly counting the seconds until Durant comes back. Of course, even if Durant returns without a hitch like he usually does from a health setback, uncertainty abounds regarding Kyrie Irving's availability for home games, Joe Harris' recovery from ankle surgery and what, if anything, they can expect this season from newly acquired Ben Simmons. Hard to believe that the Nets, in Year 3 of the Durant/Irving partnership, can't even be sure they'll make the playoffs after winning all of one series in the first two years.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 10
1️⃣6️⃣ Toronto Raptors
Inspiring as it was to see the undrafted Fred VanVleet emerge as an All-Star this season, Toronto's Pascal Siakam had cause to feel snubbed ... as much for how rarely he was mentioned as one of the East's foremost snubs as for his actual exclusion from the All-Star Game. The best all-around basketball of Siakam's career, combined with what the Raptors are getting from the likes of VanVleet and rookie Scottie Barnes, has kept Canada's team in the hunt for a top-six slot in the East.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 16
1️⃣7️⃣ Atlanta Hawks
A seven-game win streak in January shortly after trading Cam Reddish to New York helped convince the Hawks to hold off on further roster alterations and sparked hope that a second-half surge reminiscent of last season's 27-11 response to the firing of Lloyd Pierce and hiring of Nate McMillan had begun. It hasn't worked out that way for the Hawks, who are just 5-6 since the winning streak entering Tuesday night's TNT showdown with Boston and look increasingly stuck in the playoff play-in zone after last season's Cinderella ride to the Eastern Conference finals.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 15
1️⃣8️⃣ New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans lost four of their first five games after the supposed win-now trade they made with Portland to import CJ McCollum, then impressively swept a quick West Coast swing with victories over the Suns and Lakers to restore hope for securing a playoff play-in spot that affords them an opportunity to play for something in April. The problem: As productive as McCollum has been since the trade, averaging 28.0 points per game and shooting 52.8% from the floor, concern about Zion Williamson's future will remain the dominant basketball topic on Bourbon Street amid growing fears that Williamson is poised to sit out the entire season before becoming eligible in the offseason for a massive contract extension.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 22
1️⃣9️⃣ Charlotte Hornets
As covered extensively in Sunday's This Week In Basketball around-the-league notes compilation, The Committee took great pleasure in seeing Michael Jordan so engaged and, frankly, happy on the All-Star Weekend stage as part of the league's 75th Anniversary Team celebrations. Despite Jordan's well-chronicled aversion to the spotlight in his post-playing days, it had to be a welcome break from day-to-day life with the Hornets, who went 2-9 in February to flirt with a fall completely out of the East's top 10. That buzzer-beater from Detroit's Kelly Olynyk that downed Charlotte in overtime on Sunday night comes across as far less surprising than advertised when you realize that the Hornets are (yikes) 0-7 in OT games this season.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 17
2️⃣0️⃣ San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs ended up going 4-4 on a Rodeo Road Trip that spanned nearly three weeks across both sides of the All-Star break, leaving Gregg Popovich two wins shy of breaking Don Nelson's record for regular-season coaching victories (1,335). Yet San Antonio's February will be remembered for all the roster moves it made more than Pop's chase of Nelson or the long trip that the rodeo imposes on the Spurs every year at this time. Known as a team that does not like to make in-season trades, San Antonio uncorked a flurry of deals and buyouts that, as a result, potentially sets the Spurs up with three top-20 picks in the June draft.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 21
2️⃣1️⃣ Portland Trail Blazers
New Orleans' Zion Williamson continues to rehab from foot surgery in Portland while the Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard keeps working his way back from abdominal surgery. The safe bet at this point is that neither will play again this season, but the difference is that Lillard's Blazers seem content to fade quietly from the playoff play-in chase in the wake of the trade deadline while the Pelicans appear desperate to secure (at least) the West's No. 10 seed and the corresponding opportunity to sneak into the postseason. (Committee confession: The Blazers really should be lower than No. 21, but the Lakers had to be dropped even lower and so slotting Portland here was the only option.)
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 23
2️⃣2️⃣ Los Angeles Lakers
The Committee has been a loud part of the chorus that has maintained for weeks that these Lakers, if nothing else, couldn't fall any lower than No. 9 or No. 10 in the West and thus would be able to rely on the play-in parachute to try to save their season — presumably by then with a healthy Anthony Davis. Then the Lakers were drubbed at home Sunday by New Orleans in a 28-point rout that didn't look that close, prompting boos from the Crypto.com Arena crowd that spared no Laker ... not even LeBron James. With Davis (foot sprain) out at least another month and James trying to manage his own knee issues, how sure are we that the Lakers will stay where they are?
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 20
2️⃣3️⃣ New York Knicks
For all the nominations that the Lakers and Nets will surely draw whenever debates ensue about this season’s Most Disappointing Team in the NBA, these Knicks have managed to make it a three-team race, drifting farther and farther away from the playoff hunt with 15 losses in their past 18 games. Even if you considered them a fluky No. 4 seed in the East last season, they were never supposed to be this bad this season, sinking back into lottery range so soon to put the reigning Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau's job under immediate threat.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 18
2️⃣4️⃣ Washington Wizards
With Bradley Beal out for the remainder of the season and Kristaps Porziņģis yet to make his Wizards debut approaching three weeks since they acquired him from Dallas on deadline day, this is Kyle Kuzma's team. Kuzma scored 70 points in Washington's first two games coming out of the All-Star break (albeit both losses) and has been the most openly welcoming Wizard to Porziņģis, who last played on Jan. 29. The standings say that the Wizards remain in the hunt for a playoff play-in berth; their 4-12 record since spanking Philadelphia on Jan. 17 says otherwise.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 24
2️⃣5️⃣ Indiana Pacers
The Committee is still struggling to process Sacramento's willingness to part with Tyrese Haliburton and ship him to Indiana, given how badly the highly rated Haliburton wanted to be the guy who led the Kings' long-awaited recovery from what should soon officially rank as the longest playoff drought in league history. With Malcolm Brogdon back from a 15-game injury absence, Indiana should be able to spend the rest of the season gauging how well Brogdon and Halliburton mesh in a revamped backcourt. Interesting sidebar: Buddy Hield is averaging 21.1 points through his first seven games as a Pacer.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 25
2️⃣6️⃣ Sacramento Kings
The stunning Tyrese Haliburton-for-Domantas Sabonis blockbuster is a trade helping neither team much as we speak. The Kings are 2-4 since the swap and, for all the big box-score lines Sabonis and De'Aaron Fox are ringing up as the club's new two-man foundation, Sacramento still has to leapfrog three teams (New Orleans, Portland and San Antonio) just to secure a playoff play-in spot and give itself a pathway to try to bring a halt to a playoff drought that has reached 15 seasons and counting.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 26
2️⃣7️⃣ Detroit Pistons
The challenge for Cade Cunningham, entering the stretch run of his first NBA season, is nudging his shooting percentage into the 40s after a rough start from the field as a pro. Cunningham’s overall rookie numbers are solid (16.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 5.1 APG) as I believed all along they would be in Year 1, but the shooting percentages (39.6% from the field; 31.9% on 3s) could use some sprucing up as the Pistons play out the string.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 27
2️⃣8️⃣ Oklahoma City Thunder
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander indeed returned to the lineup coming out of the All-Star break and duly rang up 73 points in his first two games back. The problem: Promising rookie Josh Giddey has sustained a hip injury that, at least for the moment, prevents the Thunder from continuing to assess their intriguing SGA/Giddey backcourt possibilities. It was just days ago in Cleveland, remember, that a question from an Australian reporter about Giddey's progress as a rookie prompted the Lakers' LeBron James to rhapsodize about the scouting eye of Oklahoma City's Sam Presti.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 30
2️⃣9️⃣ Orlando Magic
After a 61-game wait, Markelle Fultz made his season debut in Monday's win over Indiana that also featured a satisfying outcome for first-year coach Jamahl Mosley against his former Dallas boss Rick Carlisle. The focus for this team and its many young players is obviously development, but I will be curious to see if Robin Lopez really stays put with the Magic. Tuesday at 11:59 PM ET is the deadline for Lopez to be released and remain playoff-eligible for another team this season should he elect to pursue an 11th-hour buyout.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 28
3️⃣0️⃣ Houston Rockets
The Rockets are tied with Orlando and Detroit at a league-low 15 wins and are one loss away from their second double-digit losing streak of the season. Houston lost 15 games in a row at its nadir in November and, after nine consecutive defeats to close February, won't face an opponent that isn't jockeying for playoff positioning until March 18 at home against Indiana ... which is 10 games away.
Last ranking (Feb. 1): 29
Who do you think wins Western Conference Player of the month for February? Ja or Luka?
Can't argue with heat placement now but 76ers best are better than heats best. Also, no significance to the heat Stat cited from another writer. No bearing on this season.
Nets already making up injuries for Ben so he doesn't have to play in Philly. Good luck counting on him in the playoffs. Have fun Brooklyn 👍