Sports

Klein ’20: NBA power rankings

By
Sports Columnist
Friday, October 26, 2018

Chaos arrived in the first week of the NBA season. Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo fought over spit, LeBron James missed two clutch free throws to lose a game and Blake Griffin dropped 50 points. With all the wildness occurring around the league, I tried to make sense of the NBA’s current pecking order. The following are power rankings of the league’s top 10 teams.

1. Golden State Warriors

Surprise, surprise. Unless something drastic happens, I’m not moving Golden State from the top spot until the end of the season. The Warriors dropped a game to Denver but are truly coasting, not using a lot of their best offensive plays until the playoffs. It doesn’t matter if Golden State finishes with a No. 2 seed again — they’re the best team in the league by far. Stephen Curry is on a mission, scoring 51 points in three quarters on Wednesday night. Just wait until DeMarcus Cousins comes back.

2. Toronto Raptors

There were a lot of questions to ask about Kawhi Leonard entering the season. Was he fully healthy? Would he be motivated enough to give his best in Toronto? Well, Leonard seems as good as ever. Once he shakes off the rust from his jump shot, he’ll be borderline unstoppable again, forming a dynamic duo with Kyle Lowry. The Raptors have perhaps the deepest team in the league from Jonas Valanciunas and Danny Green to Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakim. They look like the best team in the Eastern Conference.

3. Boston Celtics

While plenty of people expected the Celtics to run away with the Eastern Conference this season, there are still some areas of concern for Boston. It’s hard to give so many talented players enough playing time. Terry Rozier already said, “It’s tough when I don’t get the minutes that I may want.” Not a great sign so early on. Nevertheless, putting Kyrie Irving, Gordon Heyward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford on the floor is a recipe for success. Boston will go far, but the journey will have its challenges.

4. Houston Rockets

The Rockets have gotten off to a rough 1-3 start. Carmelo Anthony will take some time to adjust to his new bench role and won’t help a team much at this point of his career. James Harden and Paul still form an elite combination and Clint Capela continues to improve every year, but Harden’s hamstring injury is a major concern, and Paul’s health is always in question. Houston has taken a big step back from last year’s 65-win performance.

5. Utah Jazz

The Jazz suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Warriors and a perplexing defeat at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies early on, but they came back from a far worse situation last season. Donovan Mitchell moved past his early season struggles with a 38-point outing Wednesday against Houston. Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Jae Crowder all appear to have improved in the off-season. Look for Grayson Allen to contribute as the season goes on too. The Jazz will vie for a high seed in the Western Conference.

6. New Orleans Pelicans

This team has surprised so far. The big man rotation of Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle is impressive, and has led the Pelicans to an early 3-0 record. Davis can win the MVP this year if he continues his current level of performance, averaging 30.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.3 blocks per game. He dominates on both ends like few can in the league. The Pelicans have more than maintained their momentum from last season’s playoffs.

7. Denver Nuggets

Coming off a frustrating season with unmet expectations, the Nuggets now look ready to compete for years to come. Nikola Jokic controls the offense, averaging 23.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists per game, while Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap provide lots of support. Harris has improved each season he has spent in the league, and could be on the verge of stardom. Though Denver lost Will Barton to hip surgery (he’ll be out for five to six weeks), there is still plenty of depth. The Nuggets are here to stay.

8. Milwaukee Bucks

The hiring of new head coach Mike Budenholzer gave Milwaukee fans plenty of reason for optimism, and the Bucks have lived up to expectations. Giannis Antetokounmpo will battle with Davis for MVP votes all season long, and is taking more three-pointers. Though not many of them have fallen yet, his new confidence from outside is a good sign. Khris Middleton makes for a perfect second option in an offense with his shot-making skills. Don’t be shocked if the Bucks end up stealing the third seed from Philly.

9. Philadelphia 76ers

With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Philadelphia has sky-high potential. But after a largely quiet off-season, many of the issues that plagued Philly in the playoffs have returned: a lack of depth and players with difficulty shooting the ball. This season comes down to Markelle Fultz. Can the second-year player regain his shot and look like Philly’s third star? Without him, the 76ers will end their season earlier than hoped.

10. Indiana Pacers

Indiana surprised the league last year with an impressive campaign, ultimately falling short to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games. They won’t surprise anyone this year. Victor Oladipo is a star and the addition of Tyreke Evans in the off-season gives the Pacers a further boost at the wing positions. If Myles Turner can finally make a leap in his level of performance, then Indiana can fully contend in the conference. For now, expect to see them as a four or five seed in the playoffs.

George Klein ’20 can be reached at george_klein@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.