Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are riding a 13 game winning streak. Is that enough to break the Lakers strangle hold on the #1 spot in our Power Rankings?
Most teams are at the 20 game mark of their seasons and we're starting to see a real class divide withing the league. There are a few genuinely elite sides, mirrored by some truly awful clubs.
The classes immediately below the elite are getting very crowded, to the point we've seen one Hipster Darling side slip down the rankings for the third week running.
We're also seeing some signs of life from a couple of teams that had unexpectedly struggled to this point.
Throughout the season, Inside Sport will be bringing you our NBA Power Rankings. These are not necessarily ranking based on records. This is a purely subjective assessment of how a team is progressing, projected and playing.
All records are as of Thursday night Australian time.
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30. New York Knicks (Steady)
(4-17) Last week: 0-3
The malaise of the New York Knicks might be best encapsulated by the plight of second year forward Kevin Knox.
The ninth pick in last year's draft – and latest in a long line of Future Knick Heroes - has been buried by the myriad of misguided free agent signees this off season. His counting stats are down across the board.
Here’s a snapshot of where Knox stands in the NBA, per Basketball Reference. Of the 73 players in the league to take 1000+ shots since the beginning of last season, Knox ranks: dead last in points, field goal %, assists and win shares.
To top it all off, he got his first career DNP-CD in the loss to the Sixers.
29. Golden State Warriors (Steady)
(4-19 Record) Last week: 0-4
The Tank has officially begun.
Draymond Green is back for Golden State, but the veteran forward has played no more than 24 minutes in any given game since mid-November. With a league worst 4-19 record, don’t expect Coach Kerr to change the game plan with Steph Curry, either.
However D’Angelo Russell should get all the burn he can handle as the Warriors try to drive up his trade value integrate him into their schemes.
A good snapshot of where the Warriors sit: They scored 79 in a loss to the Hawks this week. That’s exactly half of the 158 that the Rockets hung on the Hawks just 3 days earlier.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (Steady)
(5-15) Last week: 0-2
Coach John Beilein has his Cavs playing hard, but the mature talent just isn’t there.
Kevin Love is good, but past his prime. The young back court is a long way from hitting their peaks. Tristan Thompson sporting a career high usage rate tells its own story. Jordan Clarkson is, as always, a remorseless chucker.
There is a notable lack of sharing on this team, as well. All of their main players either want to be finishers, or in Thompson's case, just don’t possess any play making chops.
Only the Knicks at 19.6 and (surprisingly) the Blazers at 20.3 assists average less than the Cavs 20.4 per game.
A positive for the Cavs is the recent efficiency of Collin Sexton, averaging 19.3 points and 4.5 assists with 51/40/83 shooting splits in his last 3 games.
27. Atlanta Hawks (Steady)
(5-17) Last week: 1-3
The Hawks finally broke their 10 game losing streak against a Warriors side that probably didn’t care if it won or lost. That it takes a match against the tanking Warriors to snap the streak tells you all you need to know about the defensively challenged Hawks.
James Harden lit them up for 60 – before 3 quarter time – over the weekend. Is it any wonder? Name Atlanta’s defensive stopper. I’ll wait……. Seriously, who on this roster is going to lock down, or at least slow down – a star opposition player on a nightly basis?
If the Hawks don’t out gun you, they’re not winning basketball games.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (Steady)
(6-15) Last week: 1-3
Just when it couldn't get worse, Ja Morant goes down. The electric rookie is out with back spasms for the next 2-3 weeks. The likely Rookie of the Year is on his way to a fantastic career, health permitting.
Unfortunately, health is not guaranteed with Ja. He'll get smarter about how and when to use his jaw dropping athleticism as he gains experience. We just have to hope the body holds up and we're not looking at a Derrick Rose/Blake Griffin scenario.
25. New Orleans Pelicans (Down 5)
(6-15) Last week: 0-3
At the beginning of the season, so much talk about the Pelicans centred on potential contract extensions for Lakers imports Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.
Ingram’s performance so far (25.4 points, 7.2 boards, 4.1 assists, 2 stocks) should have him cemented as a franchise cornerstone – along with the max contract that status garners. Ball’s outlook is far murkier. The third year guard from UCLA is an excellent defender and passing savant, but much like Ricky Rubio, he’ll never be a star without a workable jump shot.
Whilst that jumper – in both form and results - has improved, he’s still below average.
What New Orleans decide to do with Lonzo will be intriguing.
24. Detroit Pistons (Steady)
(8-14) Last week: 2-2
Contract Year Andre Drummond. Blake Griffin. Derrick Rose. The Pistons have put together a 2012 title contender. Unfortunately, this is 2019 and the Pistons are on the outside looking in at the top eight in the East.
Griffin and Rose have not been up to their usual standards since returning from their latest injuries, but should be better as the season progresses.
Andre Drummond did Andre Drummond things against the Bucks: 23 points, 14 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks. The Pistons lost by 24.
23. Chicago Bulls (Up 2)
(8-14) Last week: 2-1
Rookie Coby White is proving to be a genuine feast or famine player early in his NBA career, and how Coby goes, the Bulls go.
In victory, he's averaging 17.4 points on 48.9% shooting (46% from deep) and a solitary turnover. In losses that drops to 10.6 points on 30.9% shooting (25.3% from 3) and over 2.5 turnovers.
When he gets hot, he's unguardable. Might his future be as a microwave scorer, rather than a lead guard?
22. Charlotte Hornets (Steady)
(9-14) Last week: 2-2
In an interesting quirk, the Hornets have beaten the Pistons three times in their last 12 games – they’ve only won five games total in that span.
But forget the wins – they’re not that interesting. Let’s focus on the losses!
Charlotte copped a 41 point pasting at the hands of Milwaukee last week, although their five point loss to Phoenix drew the most attention. The Hornets led the game by seven with a minute to play and somehow managed to allow Phoenix to drop 12 points unanswered in that final minute in an unfathomable meltdown.
21. San Antonio Spurs (Up 2)
(8-14) Last week: 2-1
What have we here? Signs of life in San Antonio?
A couple of big wins against heavy hitters In the Rockets and Clippers – albeit sandwiching a 34 point shellacking in Detroit – have shown that the Spurs are not quite dead yet.
It’s reasonable to expect a veteran side like this to have a good measure of professional pride, but wins against championship contenders, given their form, was startling.
We’ll see if the Spurs can capitalise on a light schedule – Sacramento, Cleveland and Phoenix all at home – or if this spike in form is just a blip.