We're a quarter of the way through NBA season 2019-20, and we're starting to see some tiers emerging at either end of the league.
Whilst there is a top heavy feel to the standings, there are a glut of teams jostling for position behind the elites.
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)
(5-20) Last week: 1-3
Coach David Fizdale finally got the axe this week.
Whilst we all know that the problems in New York stretch far beyond who patrols the sideline, it was interesting to see the Knicks almost take down Indiana in their first game under interim Head Coach Mike Miller (no, not that Mike Miller). The Knicks held Indiana scoreless for the final 5:17 of the game, only to lose in the most heartbreaking fashion. Knicks gonna Knick, folks.
Since then, the Knicks got a win against Golden State. So....why are they still below the Dubs in the Power Rankings? Well, if you're going to win a game, don't make it against the only side that has a comparable record to you. The Knicks can't even tank properly.
29. Golden State (Steady)
(5-21 Record) Last week: 1-2
Before the loss to the Knicks, the Warriors had displayed a much improved defensive effort, holding opponents to 110 or less in 8 consecutive games. Having Draymond Green back on the floor for a large part of that run helped, but the coaching staff can take their share of credit, as well.
Unfortunately, those 8 games produced a 2-6 record. Better than they had been travelling, but pretty dismal nonetheless.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (Steady)
(5-19) Last week: 0-4
Let the Kevin Love Sweepstakes begin!
Where will the veteran forward land? At this stage, it's up on the air, but we do know that the man wants out. The recent reports of unrest with Coach John Beilein and the Cavs sudden public acknowledgement of Love being shopped can't be coincidental. Although Tristan Thompson begs to differ.
27. New Orleans Pelicans (Down 2)
(6-19) Last week: 0-4
After losing to the Mavericks by a franchise record 46 points, Coach Alvin Gentry said, 'We don't want to become the league's pincushion'. There's an appropriate phrase here....something about a gate and a bolting horse? Riding a 10 game losing streak, the Pels have under performed by a huge margin, compared to preseason expectations.
The lone bright star has been Brandon Ingram, but rookie Jaxson Hayes has shone in the minutes opened up by injuries to Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors. The 19 year old pogo stick is averaging 13.4 points with a pair of blocks in his last 3 outings.
26. Atlanta Hawks (Up 1)
(6-19) Last week: 1-2
The Hawks have fallen well short of expectations this season.
There was a quiet belief that the club could, if not make the playoffs, then at least be in the race late in the season. Sitting at the bottom of the South East Division, it's fair to say things haven't gone as planned so far. That's OK, though. Atlanta is a young ball club on the rise. Their core of Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter and De'Andre Hunter are all 22 or younger. Even the veteran role players like Jabari Parker (24), Alex Len (26) and Allen Crabbe (27) are all in their primes.
That's all balanced by Vince Carter. Half Man/Half Pensioner is 42 these days. He played his 1500th game against Miami on Wednesday, knocking down four 3 pointers in 26 minutes. There's hope for us oldies yet.
25. Chicago Bulls (Down 2)
(9-17) Last week: 1-3
After a horrible November, possibly playing injured, Lauri Markkanen appears to be back to his usual self. Since the start of December, the Finn is putting up 19 points on 68% True Shooting, up from a measly 11.9 at 49% last month.
Somehow, Kris Dunn is still a living, breathing, NBA starter. Sure, injuries have played a hand in his recall but to see Dunn starting as a starting small forward is jarring. He's 'contributing' an underwhelming 8 points, 4 boards and 2 assists as a starter. Surely the Bulls have better options than this?
24. Memphis Grizzlies (Steady)
(8-16) Last week: 2-1
Grey clouds with silver linings for the Grizzlies this week.
Ja Morant returned to the lineup against Golden State and didn't miss a beat, dropping 26 and 7 on the hapless Warriors. He did this to Aron Baynes against Phoenix. Jaren Jackson Jr is also on a tear after a slow start to his sophomore campaign. He's averaged 20.7 points and 1.6 blocks in his last 6. He still doesn't rebound nearly enough, but with Jonas Valanciunas snaffling everything in site, there's not too much to go around.
The cloud to those linings? Rookie Brandon Clarke is out until probably Christmas with an oblique strain.
23. Washington Wizards (Down 3)
(7-16) Last week: 1-3
For so many years in OKC, Scott Brooks was castigated for his lack of sophistication as an offensive coach. If his Thunder sides didn't get heat from Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, there was really no plan B. In Washington, that lack of structure has played right into the hands of a devastating and incredibly entertaining offensive juggernaut.
With John Wall injured, there is no truly ball dominant player on this roster. As a result, the ball pings around the court – the Wiz are tied for the league lead in assists per game at 28.3 – and Washington's shooters are free to shoot as often as they like. Five players are shooting over 35% from deep, with Bradley Beal a hair off at 34.3%. The unlikely leader of that brigade is Davis Bertans. His 32 point explosion against Charlotte pushed Bertans to an even 4 makes from deep per game, at over 45%. There is no hotter hand in the league, right now.
22. Charlotte Hornets (Steady)
(11-16) Last week: 2-2
We need to talk about Nic Batum. The veteran Frenchman who turns 31 on Saturday (joyeux anniversaire), is averaging career low numbers across the board: 3.3 points, 4.2 boards, 3.1 assists, shooting 27% from deep and sporting an abysmal PER of 9.0. Charlotte gets all that for the princely sum of $25.5 million. I'm going to go out on a limb, here: Batum WILL opt in to his $27.1m player option for next season. Hot takes, right here folks!
How many assets would it take for the Hornets brass to dump Batum's contract on someone? Would they need to throw in a couple of Michael Jordan's summer homes?
21. Detroit Pistons (Up 3)
(10-14) Last week: 2-0
Don't look now, but the Pistons are starting to right the ship.
Winners of 4 in 5, the Pistons are starting to play some solid basketball with Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin back on the floor. Rose continues his extended Indian Summer. The injury prone guard is averaging 16.1 points and 5.8 assists on the season. He also gives the Pistons the closer they haven't had since Chauncey Billups was at his peak.