With a month’s worth of games under each NBA team’s belt, it’s time to check out how the teams fared over the first month of the season, and where they currently stand in the NBA hierarchy compared to the preseason power rankings we compiled. There are significant changes in the November NBA Power Rankings, as each team falls more and more into their true place. Without further ado, here we go…
1. Toronto Raptors (Net Change: +3)
Prior to this past Monday, the Raptors hadn’t lost a game in which Kawhi Leonard played. And that, friends, is what you call “return on investment.” Then again, it certainly helps when you have the depth to play eight different guys for more than 23 minutes per game, and five of them are averaging at least 13 points per game. Even if Toronto fattened up on a cupcake-laden west coast swing, featuring games against the woebegone Phoenix Suns, the rudderless Los Angeles Lakers, and the always-inept Sacramento Kings, the fact that they’ve lost only two games through the second week of November is very impressive.
2. Golden State Warriors (Net Change: -1)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, there’s only one story that’s worth mentioning when it comes to the Golden State Warriors: the sideline blowup between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. Regardless of what might’ve transpired, and what might transpire from it, it’s something of a Rorschach test: if you want the Warriors to be vulnerable, this might be it; if you want the Warriors to have something to galvanize the team together, this might be it. Otherwise, it’s business as usual for Golden State, especially once they get Stephen Curry back from injury.
3. Milwaukee Bucks (Net Change: +6)
It’s very rare when the results justify the hype, and it’s exceedingly rare when the results exceed the hype. That’s what makes Giannis Antetokounmpo so spectacular right now — he’s transcending the lofty expectations, so many people had for him entering this season. The fact that he’s scoring over 32 points per game, with virtually no semblance of a three-point shot, while pulling down 13 rebounds and averaging just under six assists per game is just absurd. He has one game this season where he’s scored less than 20 points, and only two games this season with less than nine rebounds. Against Golden State this past Sunday, he almost had a triple-double, with “only” 22 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.
4. Portland TrailBlazers (Net Change: +13)
The highest riser on this list, in between their preseason rankings and their current rankings, goes to the Portland TrailBlazers. The all-too-familiar refrain for Portland has been that they’re a regular-season team, and so far, they’re proving that to be correct. Prior to their loss against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday evening, Portland had won seven of their past eight games, which included home wins against Milwaukee and Boston. The backcourt of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are scoring 47 combined points per game, and Portland is shooting just under 37% percent from three, which is tied for the fifth-best percentage in the NBA.
5. Denver Nuggets (Net Change: +8)
Denver raced out to a 9-1 start to the season before dropping three in a row, so it’ll be interesting to see how this team responds to the early adversity following the early success. Denver’s “big three” of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris are scoring 52.2 points per game this season, compared to the 52.7 ppg they were scoring last year. What’s worth noting, however, is that the Nuggets are taking less than 26% of their shots from the three-point line, even though the aforementioned trio combined to make 37% of their three’s last year. In today’s three-point-happy landscape, can that trend continue, if the Nuggets truly want to contend?
6. Philadelphia 76ers (Net Change: -1)
Don’t blame the up-and-down start on center Joel Embiid. The loquacious big man is scoring more points per game than James Harden, pulling down more rebounds than Anthony Davis, and averaging just a hairless blocks per game than Rudy Gobert. Philadelphia’s problem was that they only had one other guy on the entire roster average more than 15 points per game, and that’s sharpshooter J.J. Redick. That’s a big reason why Philadelphia pulled off the blockbuster deal you may have heard about this week, for a certain disgruntled star forward. How he blends in with Embiid and Ben Simmons might be the most significant determining factor of the rest of the 76ers season.
7. Boston Celtics (Net Change: -5)
So much for Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics running through the Eastern Conference now that LeBron James is gone. The Celtics are not only scoring the 6th-fewest points per game this year and converting the third-lowest field goals attempted in the NBA this year, but they’ve lost four of their past five games. That’s startling for a team featuring Irving and Jayson Tatum, along with perhaps the best bench in the NBA. Is this a team re-acclimating itself with Irving and Gordon Hayward (who’s not anywhere close to 100% right now) back in the lineup, or a sign of bigger problems to solve?
8. San Antonio Spurs (Net Change: None)
Through the first Saturday of November, the San Antonio Spurs were 6-2. Since then, they’ve lost four of their next five. While players lamented the Spurs poor efforts on defense, the problem might be on the other end of the floor. San Antonio failed to crack 100 points in any of those games while the rest of the league is on a total scoring binge. It got really ugly on Wednesday evening when San Antonio blew a 19-point lead and lost to a floundering Phoenix Suns team by 20 points.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (Net Change: -2)
Since their 0-4 start to the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder won nine of their last 10 games, without the services of Russell Westbrook for most of those games. Read into the following statement what you may; the Thunder have been moving the ball around, playing with great energy overall, and clamping down defensively on their opponents. As a team, the Thunder are allowing less than 106 points per game, which is the 5th-best mark in the NBA.
10. Indiana Pacers (Net Change: None)
Even if his stats have dipped a bit compared to last year, guard Victor Oladipo still leads the Indiana Pacers in points (23.8), assists (4.9), and steals (1.79) per game. As teams try to limit his drive-and-kick ability, Oladipo is also taking almost 30% more three-point attempts this season, converting just over 34% of them. As something to the “Robin” to Oladipo’s “Batman,” forward Domantas Sabonis looks like he’s taking that “leap forward” this year, scoring 14.1 points per game and pulling down a team-high 8.8 rebounds per game.
11. Los Angeles Clippers (Net Change: +7)
After inserting rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander into the starting lineup, the Los Angeles Clippers have gone 3-1, including wins over Milwaukee and Golden State. Gilgeous-Alexander has been averaging 14.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists in the span. Los Angeles’ combination of veteran shooters and young athletes makes them one of the most interesting teams in the NBA right now. They are the second-best team in the NBA in three-point shooting (by percentage), making just under 39% of their long-distance calls as a team.
12. Utah Jazz (Net Change: -6)
Utah’s season to date has been a real rollercoaster ride. They won on opening night, lost two straight, won three straight, lost four straight, then won three straight again. They just snapped that last streak with an ugly 118-68 loss to the Dallas Mavericks, which marked their most lopsided defeat since the team moved to Utah. Still, there’s no reason to panic — yet, at least — with this team, as their core guys, like Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Joe Ingles, and Jae Crowder, among others, are all playing well.
13. Memphis Grizzlies (Net Change: +15)
For a team that started so low in the power rankings (or our power rankings, at least), the Memphis Grizzlies have exceeded expectations to date. They’ve got an 8-5 record through Thursday, including a 6-1 mark at home. Over the last week-plus, they’ve beaten three quality teams in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Denver. While they’re admittedly scoring the second-fewest points per game (102.9), they just so happen to be allowing the fewest points (101.6) in the NBA as well.
14. Charlotte Hornets (Net Change: None)
Perhaps their last four games can best summarize the experience of rooting for the Charlotte Hornets. After going 4-2 over their previous six games, which included two wins against Southeast division rivals like Miami and Atlanta, the Hornets got blown out by the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring a season-low 89 points and losing by 24 points to the fourth-lowest scoring team in the NBA. Kemba Walker’s 26.4 points per game (6th-best in the NBA) don’t mean a thing if Charlotte can’t find anyone else who can score. The next highest scorer for the Hornets is journeyman Jeremy Lamb, who averages 12.9 points per game.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (Net Change: -7)
So much for all the turmoil in Tinseltown. After the famous “admonishment” of head coach Luke Walton by team President Magic Johnson, the Lakers have won four-straight games, including their 126-117 win over Portland on Wednesday evening, in which LeBron James scored 44 points, had 10 rebounds, and passed out nine assists. The Lakers procured a winning record for the first time this season this past Sunday, and have a trio of underperforming teams on the docket (Orlando, Miami, and Cleveland) before Thanksgiving weekend.
16. Houston Rockets (Net Change: -13)
There shouldn’t be any question as to who’s the most disappointing team in the NBA this season to date. The Houston Rockets picked up their seventh loss of the season almost two full weeks before Thanksgiving Day. By comparison, they didn’t pick up their seventh loss of the season until Christmas Day last season. After starting with a 4-6 record, it shouldn’t be considered a coincidence that the Rockets won two of their last three right around the time they decided they’d be better off without Carmelo Anthony.
17. New Orleans Pelicans (Net Change: -6)
The 7-7 record as of Thursday morning has to be a disappointment for the New Orleans Pelicans (especially after their 4-0 start to the season), as the franchise believed this was the year they could take the step forward, on the back of their transcendent franchise player in Anthony Davis. The Pelicans aren’t having any problem putting the ball in the hoop, scoring 117 points per game (3rd-best in the NBA) and dishing out just under 27 assists per game (2nd best in the NBA). But the Pelicans are also allowing just under 116 points per game, which is the 4th-most in the league as well.
18. Sacramento Kings (Net Change: +9)
Who are we to judge the fact that being ranked somewhere in the lower teens is a huge step up for the Sacramento Kings? The Kings did follow-up their five-game winning streak with a 2-3 hiccup, but there’s at least some room for rationalization, as two of those three losses came against Milwaukee and Toronto. On the flip side, the Kings just ended a 14-game losing streak to the San Antonio Spurs, thanks in large part to point guard De’Aaron Fox, who’s been having a very promising season so far.
19. Detroit Pistons (Net Change: None)
Detroit “avenged” head coach Dwane Casey with a 106-104 win over the Toronto Raptors, giving them their third win in four games. Before that stretch, the Pistons were on a five-game losing streak, with all of those losses coming against Eastern Conference opponents. Forward Blake Griffin is among the top 12 scorers in the NBA at the moment, averaging 24.2 points per game. If he were to keep that up, it would be a career-high average for him.
20. Brooklyn Nets (Net Change: +2)
A week ago, people around the NBA were talking about forward Caris LeVert as a potential All-Star selection, as he was averaging over 20 points per game, plus four rebounds and four assists. But that was followed up by the gruesome injury, which looked a lot nastier than it ended up being. Still, there’s going to be a substantial impact when a team that’s as talent-thin as the Nets loses their best player. Head coach Kenny Atkinson will have his work cut out for him if he wants to keep the Nets within striking distance of a playoff spot in the East.
21. Miami Heat (Net Change: -5)
The Miami Heat got off to a decent start to the season, but all of that was completely derailed amidst their current 3-6 stretch. Miami hasn’t lost a game by less than six points in that stretch, highlighting the fact that while they have six different players scoring in double-figures, they don’t have anything close to a superstar who can take over a game when it matters most. And now, they’re definitely out of the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (Net Change: -8)
Speaking of Jimmy Butler: the never-ending saga of his discontent is mercifully over for the Minnesota Timberwolves and their fans. Now, everything is back in the hands of the two franchise cornerstones, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. That has to be a sense of relief for them, considering the direction of the team is now clear. Over their last two games, which coincide with the departure of Butler, Towns has averaged 25 points and over 18 rebounds. Can he help get Minnesota out of the basement of the Western Conference?
23. Orlando Magic (Net Change: +6)
Orlando put a damper on the Jimmy Butler welcoming party in Philadelphia, going on a 21-0 run during the game and pulling out the 111-106 win over the 76ers. That pushed Orlando to a 5-3 record so far in November. Nobody is calling the Magic a contender as of yet, but head coach Steve Clifford is clearly working with the team on building the little habits that contribute to winning, especially considering he has such a young roster.
24. Dallas Mavericks (Net Change: +3)
After a miserable stretch where they went 1-7 between October 24th and November 7th, the Dallas Mavericks have won three straight games, with the most recent of those three wins being a 50-point drubbing of the Utah Jazz. Utah scored only 22 points in the second half against Dallas, which is the fewest points the Mavericks ever allowed in a half. The only damper on the win might’ve been the nasty fall by Luka Doncic, which required x-rays after the game.
25. Washington Wizards (Net change: -10)
The Washington Wizards still give up 118.5 points per game (through Tuesday), which is the worst in the NBA. They’ve tried to implement the often discussed scheme of switching on defense, but look utterly clueless when doing so. They’re still a black hole in the paint, despite employing one of the most grossly overpaid centers in the league (Ian Mahinmi). It’s just a matter of time before their other center, who’s three years past washed-up, starts demanding more touches (Dwight Howard). They’re paying a guy $26 million this season to take less than nine shots and average just over 10 points per game (Otto Porter Jr.). Their first two-game winning streak — with the latter game coming against one of the worst teams in the NBA (Orlando) — was cause for celebration. But yeah, other than all of that, this Wizards team is great.
26. Chicago Bulls (Net Change -1)
The glass-half-full Chicago sports fan would tell you that the fact that the Chicago Bulls not only don’t have a historically bad defense (as many predicted before the season started) but aren’t even in the bottom 10 of points allowed per game is cause enough for celebration. But the glass-half-empty Chicago sports fan would tell you that the Bulls still surrender 6.5 more points than they score on average, which is the 5th-worst margin in the NBA. So, that’s great that they give up fewer points than you’d expect, but they’re scoring less, too.
27. New York Knicks (Net Change: -3)
The Knicks current starting lineup of Frank Ntilikina, Tim Hardaway Jr., Damyean Dotson, Noah Vonleh and Mitchell Robinson have started the last nine games together, and are 3-6 over that stretch. While that’s not great, it’s not terrible, either. Despite some poor outings recently, head coach David Fizdale likes the defensive versatility that group presents him, even though it doesn’t include their top pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Kevin Knox.
28. Atlanta Hawks (Net Change: +2)
The fact that Atlanta is near the bottom of the standings shouldn’t come as any surprise. This organization went all-in in tearing it all down and rebuilding from the ground up. Still, that’ll bring little solace amidst the six-game losing streak they were on, as of Friday morning. If there’s any reason to watch this team, it’s to watch the development and scoring prowess of rookie Trae Young.
29. Phoenix Suns (Net Change: -3)
There was a lot of positive to take away from Phoenix’s 116-96 win over the San Antonio Spurs, besides the simple fact that it was just their third win in 14 games this season. It was the rare time when you saw this young and inconsistent team give a strong effort for a full 48 minutes, including getting off to a strong start and not forcing themselves to play catchup all game. Head coach Igor Kokoskov publicly praised rookie Miles Bridges, who made his first start of the season in that game, stepping in for the injured Trevor Ariza.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (Net Change: -7)
You think the Cleveland Cavaliers miss LeBron James? Maybe just a little bit? Sure, the team’s terrible start to the season — and seeing their head coach get fired as a result — isn’t all about losing one player. But it seems completely laughable now that anyone in that organization thought they were good enough to compete for one of the playoff