WEEI.com’s Daniel Dragin brings you his NBA power rankings. Let’s get to it . . .
1. Boston Celtics
The Celtics are the most consistent team in the NBA. With the East’s best record of 31-10, they have a plethora of potential award winners. Brad Stevens is the frontrunner for Coach of the Year. Jaylen Brown is making a strong case for the most improved player, while counterpart Jayson Tatum will earn Rookie of the Year votes. All while Kyrie Irving remains a top choice for MVP and Marcus Smart stays in the running for both Defensive POY and Sixth Man. They’ve proven they can win against the best of best with victories over the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Thunder, and Cavs.
2. Golden State Warriors
The Dubs remain a powerhouse. At 31-8, their offensive efficiency is the best in the NBA, thanks to three of the deadliest scoring threats in the game. Their defense has been superb with Draymond Green, last season’s Defensive Player of the Year, and Kevin Durant, who seems to be making a serious push for both that award and MVP.
3. Houston Rockets
The Rockets have managed to make two ball-dominant guards work together in harmony to create one of the best offenses in the NBA. James Harden leads the MVP race and Chris Paul has shown his career is far from over. At 27-10, they could give the Warriors problems in the playoffs.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland has struggled early on, but the fact that the best player in the world dons a Cavs jersey has proven to be enough to get by. Behind LeBron James, the Cavaliers own an impressive 25-13 record despite their injury struggles. But with Isaiah Thomas returning, their struggles may be coming to an end. Once they are healthy and get players like Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert back, they will be able to go toe to toe with the best of the best.
5. Toronto Raptors
Toronto might be the most underrated team in the league. DeMar DeRozan is slowly making a good case for MVP. DeRozan is almost a spitting image of a young Dwyane Wade and now by adding a 3-point shot he’s proving to be even more dangerous. Kyle Lowry is playing extremely consistently and Serge Ibaka finally looks like he belongs in the Toronto system. The 26-10 team could definitely make some serious noise come playoff time.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have collected some of the most elite talent in the NBA and although they had their struggles in the beginning of the season, they’re finally putting it all together. The 22-17 Thunder have last year’s MVP in Russell Westbrook and two of the league’s elite veteran scorers in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. They’ve shown that they can shoot and defend with anyone with wins over the Warriors and the Rockets. Steven Adams is also having a breakout year, showing he can be an elite big man.
7. San Antonio Spurs
With Kawhi Leonard missing all but seven games, the Spurs haven’t gotten rolling, and they’re still 26-13. Ageless Manu Ginobili has run the clock back and has shown that he can still contribute. LaMarcus Aldridge has picked up his play after a dismal playoff performance following Leonard’s injury. Gregg Popovich remains one of the best coaches in the league and it shows when the Spurs outlast a team like the Celtics in the final seconds.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves
The addition of Jimmy Butler to a young core has made all the difference. Coach Tom Thibodeau finally reacquired his Chicago golden boy and it looks like this is the team he’s been waiting to coach. Karl-Anthony Towns is proving he will soon be the most dominant big man in the league and Andrew Wiggins is still growing and still trying to figure out what type of player he is going to be. The 24-15 team is another group that could shake up the landscape of the NBA come playoff time.
9. Washington Wizards
The Wizards wanted to make a big move in the off-season. They are now feeling the fact that they didn’t. They hoped that Otto Porter would make a big jump, but that hasn’t exactly come to fruition. But with big wins over the Celtics, Rockets, and Timberwolves, they’ve shown that they can beat good teams.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are one of the most surprising teams to come out of the East. Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, they’ve overcome the loss of Jabari Parker, who could return next month. Acquiring disgruntled point guard Eric Bledsoe from Phoenix has helped, and they’ll be a team no one wants to face come playoff time.
11. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have easily the most dominant front court in the league. The duo of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis has proved to be a real problem and the addition of old friend Rajon Rondo to set the table has been a perfect fit. The 19-18 Pelicans clearly still have a long way to go before they can be considered dominant. In the meantime, they’ll hear their share of trade rumors.
12. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons added a huge piece in Avery Bradley, who has improved as a scorer. They have a decent 20-16 record but with huge wins over teams like the Warriors and Celtics. Andre Drummond remains one of the top three big men in the game and he has clearly picked up his role as the go-to guy.
13. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland is a team that can’t quite seem to get out of limbo. Damian Lillard remains an incredible talent on offense and C.J. McCollum is a deadly perimeter threat who has been able to build solid chemistry with Lillard. They’ve gotten really lucky with the acquisition of Jusuf Nurkic, who has turned out to be a solid post player unafraid to go at it with some of the best big men. The 19-18 Blazers find themselves in a tough spot as a Western Conference bubble team, but they’re clinging to a top-eight spot.
14. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers were the laughingstocks of the NBA after dumping Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Roundly mocked for the trade, they’re instead getting the last laugh, with Oladipo making the leap to All-Star caliber, leading the Pacers to a 19-19 record.
15. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers are one of the most interesting teams in the past decade. All three of their top draft picks over the past five years have suffered injuries that have kept them out for a significant amount of time. Although the process has treated them well, they are far from a finished product. Ben Simmons looks like he’s got the Rookie of the Year award locked up and Joel Embiid is part of the new wave of big men that will soon be sweeping through the NBA. The 18-19 team eagerly awaits the return of Markelle Fultz to see if the process really was worth trusting.
16. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have been a huge surprise, showing that they are really good on the offensive side of the ball. Nikola Jokic has been extremely impressive, showing that he can score from any part of the court. Gary Harris is having a breakout year, emerging as the unsung hero.
17. Miami Heat
The Heat have continued to put their faith in the strong-willed Dion Waiters. In the off-season they decided to pay Kelly Olynyk a hefty $11 million, with mixed results. The 20-17 squad is still young with Justise Winslow still growing and the extremely athletic Bam Adebayo still trying to find a fit.
18. New York Knicks
Kristaps Porzingis has emerged as the clear-cut go to guy, but he recently admitted being both physically and mentally tired, which isn’t what you want to hear from your team’s best player. Michael Beasley has managed to turn the clock back, which helps.
19. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have definitely felt the brunt of trading away Chris Paul for Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams. Blake Griffin has missed a significant amount of time, which has forced Austin Rivers and Deandre Jordan to pick up a lot of the scoring.
20. Phoenix Suns
The perils of youth. Devin Booker is a future superstar. Dragan Bender hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations and Josh Jackson is having a dismal rookie season. The 15-25 team ditched Eric Bledsoe, curtailing a potential power struggle with Booker.
21. Charlotte Hornets
The greatness of Michael Jordan has not exactly rubbed off and the acquisition of Dwight Howard hasn’t helped that much either. Kemba Walker is solid point guard, but he needs a better supporting cast. Recent draft picks Frank Kaminsky and Malik Monk look promising, for what it’s worth.
22. Utah Jazz
The Jazz suffered a huge loss when Gordon Hayward left for Boston, but they scored with rookie Donovan Mitchell. Rudy Gobert has remained consistent on both ends. They got exactly what they expected from point guard Ricky Rubio, but they’re still rebuilding.
23. Brooklyn Nets
The Celtics got out at the right time. By adding D’Angelo Russell, the Nets have made themselves a plausible destination for free agents. They’ve also added Jahlil Okafor, who is clearly eager to prove the Sixers wrong.
24. Sacramento Kings
The Kings basically have an entire new team. Buddy Hield remains the best player on their roster and big offseason moves have added some serious veteran firepower in George Hill, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph. Sacramento also had a standout draft by landing De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason, Harry Giles, and Justin Jackson. They’re a couple of years away from contending, though.
25. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks find themselves at a crossroads with Dirk Nowitzki’s career coming to an end and Dennis Smith Jr.’s just starting. Eventually they will need to immerse themselves in the rebuilding process. Harrison Barnes leads the way.
26. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies look like another team that is ready to hit the implode button. They fired head coach David Fizdale amidst internal issues. Chandler Parsons continues his decline and Mike Conley continues to be plagued with the Injury bug. Marc Gasol looks like he’s ready to make an exit from the 12-26 club at any moment.
27. Orlando Magic
The Magic remain one of the league’s least exciting teams, which is weird because they have quite the cast of characters. Aaron Gordon continues to impress with his unique athleticism and versatile style. After a hot start, it’s now clear they lack the firepower to compete with the best of the best.
28. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are one of the most promising young teams in the NBA. Lonzo Ball has had trouble keeping his name out of the spotlight, but he still looks like he’ll eventually become an elite facilitator. Brandon Ingram is often compared to Kevin Durant, and rookie Kyle Kuzma has emerged as the scoring leader. Their 11-26 record keeps them at the bottom of the Western conference standings.
29. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have tried to make it work with Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn, but it hasn’t quite clicked. The departures of Butler, Wade, and Rondo have disrupted any hopes of continuity. The 13-25 team went from almost beating the Celtics in the playoffs last season to not even having a chance this year.
30. Atlanta Hawks
After losing Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard, the Hawks are relying on Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore to lead them. The road back will be long.
Full article @ NBA power rankings: Celtics No. 1, just ahead of Warriors
Source: GreenStreet Blog