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2020-21 NBA Power Rankings 2.0 – Lakers Continue Reign at the Top

The NBA season is progressing fairly well despite a good number of players missing games due to COVID-19. Even with game postponements, the league is determined to continue on with the season. About seven percent of the regular season has been played, and here’s what the NBA landscape currently looks like.

#1. Los Angeles Lakers ↔️ 11-3

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Advanced stats suggest the Lakers are one of the top teams in the league, with their current number one ranked defence and number five ranked offence. The Lakers looked primed to defend their title after their offseason additions, and so far they’ve continued to prove their legitimacy as title contenders.

Marc Gasol’s impact as an interior presence and as a secondary playmaker has the team humming on both sides of the ball. Denis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell have provided that much needed youth and energy that was severely lacking last season. And of course, LeBron and AD are still themselves, even if they’re slightly coasting to start the season.

#2. Boston Celtics 📈 8-3

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The Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown duo have taken their games to the next level this season, with the pair averaging a combined 53.2 points per game. Despite this, the Celtics have performed rather poorly on the defensive end, ranking 22nd in defensive rating.

Tatum and Brown have also been in and out of the lineup due to COVID-19 protocols, and yet the Celtics sit at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Celtics should only get better as the season goes along, with early season surprises such as Payton Pritchard contributing, and the imminent return of star point guard Kemba Walker on the horizon.

#3. Los Angeles Clippers ↔️ 9-4

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The 50-point loss to the Mavericks was definitely embarrassing, but the Clippers have been one of the better teams to start out the regular season. The Clippers have some notable wins against the Lakers and Suns, they currently have the third-best offensive rating, and Paul George has looked very determined to shake the nicknames he picked up in the Orlando bubble.

Serge Ibaka hasn’t looked particularly good to start out the season, and Lou Williams has struggled from the field, but the Clippers have plenty of time to put it together. Like the Celtics, the Clippers will likely build on 26th-ranked defence as the season goes on, and it will likely be necessary if the Clippers are to realize their title-aspirations.

#4. Philadelphia 76ers 📈 9-4

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Philadelphia had some of the best offseason acquisitions in the NBA this past offseason, and so far the Sixers have looked vastly improved compared to last season. Seth Curry’s impact has been immediate, as he’s averaging 17 points while shooting 59.5% from distance.

After J.J. Redick’s departure it was clear the Sixers were missing a three-point marksman at guard, and Curry has filled those shoes perfectly thus far. It was unfortunate that Curry got sidelined after contracting COVID-19, but the likes of Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton have picked up the slack.

The Sixers are currently a middle-of-the-pack team on offence (15th ORTG), but have a top-five defence (5th DRTG), and Joel Embiid is playing at an MVP level. Big tests against the Celtics, Lakers, and Pacers over the next ten games should tell us just how good this Sixers team is.

#5. Indiana Pacers 📈 8-4

AP Photo / Darron Cummings

The Indiana Pacers have been a pleasant surprise under rookie head coach Nate Bjorkgren, starting out the season with a solid 8-4 record. The play of Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis have led the way for the Pacers.

Brodgon’s putting up an all-star worthy stat line of 22.8/7.4/4.2 while shooting 45.7% from three-point range. Sabonis is averaging 21.9 points, 12.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists. The addition of Caris LeVert should further the Pacers success moving forward, as they’re already a top-10 team on defence and offence.

If there was a dark horse team to bet on making it out of the east, the Pacers are looking like a good bet right now.

#6. Milwaukee Bucks 📉 9-4

Harry How / Getty Images

Milwaukee haven’t looked completely dominant to start out, contrary to past seasons, but are one of the better teams in the league so far regardless. Like the Pacers, the Bucks are also top-10 ranked in both offensive and defensive rating.

The Bucks is also enjoying production from new additions such as Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, and Bryn Forbes. Holiday has been exactly what the team has looked for in past seasons, contributing on both ends at a consistent basis. Portis and Forbes have provided solid offensive production off the bench.

Despite the early success, the Bucks haven’t shown their true potential as of yet.

#7. Phoenix Suns 📈 7-4

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Phoenix has carried over their strong play from the bubble to the 2020-21 regular season. The Suns currently have six players averaging double digits, with a seventh player in Jae Crowder closing in on that groups (9.9 points per game).

Chris Paul’s steady playmaking has been just what the doctor ordered, allowing Devin Booker to focus less on playmaking while also getting him more opportunities off the ball.

Paul’s fit hasn’t been perfect however, as Deandre Ayton is still adjusting to playing with Paul, but Phoenix’s hot shooting has kept them in games, and has single-handedly won them games as well. The Suns are another team that should get better with more games under their belts.

#8. Utah Jazz 📈 8-4

2017-18 NBA Individual Awards

Melissa Majchrzak / NBAE via Getty Images

It was unfair to write off Mike Conley after last season, as this year Conley’s bounced back in a big way. His production of 17.3 points, 5.6 assists, and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 43% from three is exactly what the Jazz were hoping for when they traded for him.

Jordan Clarkson has proven to be a reliable scorer off the bench for the first time in his career, and Donovan Mitchell continues to be a lethal first option in the offence.

Bojan Bogdanovic has been somewhat disappointing to start the season, and it looks like the forward isn’t completely healthy yet. The Jazz are definitely primed to make a leap in the standings if Bogdanovic can get healthy and re-discover his shooting touch.

#9. Dallas Mavericks 📈 6-5

Kyusung Gong / Dallas Morning News

After putting together one of the best seasons on offence in NBA history, the Dallas Mavericks have started the 2020-21 campaign as the second-best defence in the NBA while posting an average offensive rating, good enough for 16th in the league. Go figure.

Luka Doncic hasn’t shot the ball particularly well from three, but is still a triple-double threat in any game he plays in. Tim Hardaway Jr. is putting up career-highs across scoring, field-goal percentage, and three-point percentage. Kristaps Porzingis has returned from injury.

Like most teams, this 10-game sample doesn’t say everything about this Mavericks team, but they’re certainly trending in the right direction thus far.

#10. Brooklyn Nets 📉 7-6

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The Brooklyn Nets have looked like the most dominant team in the NBA, albeit, they’ve only shown this dominance in spurts up to this point in the season. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have been in and out for a majority of games so far, but in the games they’ve played, the Nets have been a truly dominant offensive team.

Their fourth place ranking in offensive rating, despite Kyrie and KD’s absences should say enough about this team’s offensive firepower, and the addition of James Harden should further push this team past the perceived limits of offensive production and efficiency.

The loss of Jarrett Allen in the Harden trade is a big one, as Allen was by far the team’s best interior defender, and it will be up to Deandre Jordan (who recently fell out of rotation) to pick up the slack. Regardless, the Nets may just outscore every opponent in front of them.

#11. Portland Trailblazers 📉 7-5

Supermax Coming to Lillard?

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Portland’s defence has been disappointing thus far, as additions of Derrick Jones Jr. and Robert Covington were made to fortify play on the defensive end. The Blazers rank near the bottom of the league in defensive rating at 25th place. They’ve been kept afloat by their always steady offensive production.

CJ McCollum has had a hot start to the season, averaging 27.6 points while shooting 43.4% from three. Damian Lillard is still producing at a high level as well, and Portland is currently the seventh-best offence in the league.

If the Blazers are to emerge as true title-contenders this season, they’ll need to address their defensive woes sooner rather than later. Jusuf Nurkic’s wrist injury sidelining him for six-to-eight weeks also complicates things for the Blazers moving forward.

#12. Denver Nuggets 📉 6-6

Isaiah J. Downing / USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets’ offence has remained elite, currently boasting the league’s second best offensive rating, and yet the Nuggets have fought off a slow start to be sitting at a .500 record. Denver suffers from the same problems as Portland, as the Nuggets’ defence ranks 24th in the league.

Nikola Jokic is averaging a triple-double, and eight players are averaging double figure scoring numbers. The Nuggets are likely better than their record currently suggests, and with more time, should be able to improve.

#13. Golden State Warriors 📉 6-6

Noah Graham / 2021 NBAE

Advanced statistics suggest the Warriors are more of a middle-of-the-road team, as both their offensive and defensive ratings aren’t anything spectacular. Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. were ice cold from the field to start the season, and prior to Draymond Green’s return, teams were ruthlessly executing the box-and-one to nullify Stephen Curry.

Since then, Wiggins has been able to turn it around, and Draymond’s presence as a playmaker and defender have helped Curry’s impact on the court. If the Warriors are to return to playoff relevancy, they’ll need to get more from Oubre Jr., who’s shooting a poor 19.7% from three.

#14. San Antonio Spurs 📈 6-6

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The Spurs led by the steady play of DeMar DeRozan have been a lot of fun to watch this season. Playing noticeably faster, while also emphasizing the play of youngsters Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker IV, the franchise continues to be the models of consistency in the NBA.

Johnson has had some standout games, and DeRozan’s all-round game on offence is at its best in Gregg Popovich’s system. The Spurs have six players averaging over 14 points, and will look to once again be in the hunt for a playoff appearance so long as the pieces remain in place.

#15. Oklahoma City Thunder 📈 6-6

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A lot of people expected the Oklahoma City Thunder to take a step back this season after the departures of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Billy Donovan. Instead, the Thunder have remained competitive among the wild Western Conference, and are currently in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has led the way for the Thunder, averaging a nice stat line of 20/5/5, and the team has been close to winning a majority of their games. While losses are losses, there is something to be said about competing, and that’s exactly what this young, scrappy, group of players are doing.

#16. Memphis Grizzlies 📈 5-6

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The Grizzlies are winners of their last three games, and that’s with Ja Morant out during that stretch of games. It’s also worth noting that Jaren Jackson Jr. has yet to play this season as he continues his recovery from a torn-ACL suffered in the Orlando bubble.

Memphis has been able to stay competitive thanks to their fourth-ranked defensive rating, and should see a boost in their 27th ranked offence once Morant and Jackson Jr. both make their returns. The Grizzlies look like safe bets to make it to the play-in tournament at seasons-end.

#17. Orlando Magic 📈 6-6

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At one point, the Magic were sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve fallen off slightly since their hot start, but Orlando projects to be around the same type of team they were last season.

Nikola Vucevic is still playing at an all-star level, and Terrence Ross is having one of his best starts to a season in his career. It’s a shame that this Magic team can’t catch a break, as they recently lost Markelle Fultz to injury for the rest of the season. Jonathan Isaac also won’t play this season due to injury.

Nonetheless, it looks as if the Magic will once again be playing for a low-seed playoff spot this season.

#18. Atlanta Hawks 📉 5-6

Dale Zanine / USA TODAY Sports

Like the Magic, the Hawks had a hot start to the season. Trae Young was looking like a potential MVP candidate early on, and the Hawks offence looked extremely potent. Since then, the Hawks have performed somewhat pedestrian. Talks about Young’s play style hurting the offence surfaced, and he hasn’t quite looked the same since.

It’s worth noting that this Hawks team is still fairly young and are figuring things out, but expectations were high entering the season. It’s also worth mentioning that advanced statistics suggests this team is definitely better than their record suggests, as Atlanta has an eighth-ranked offence and 11th ranked defence.

#19. Miami Heat 📉 4-6

Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports

Miami hasn’t looked very impressive ten games into the season. They have a middling defence and offence (both ranked 20th), and have had some games postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.

A lot of people expected the reigning Eastern Conference Champions to have a better start to the season, but it’s important to remember that they played the most games in the bubble (like the Lakers). Regardless, it’s not a good enough excuse for a team that was expected to be at the top of the east standings.

It’s not entirely panic time in Miami, but the Heat haven’t shown many positive signs so far.

#20. Charlotte Hornets 📈 6-7

Jason Miller / Getty Images

The Charlotte Hornets have been much improved to start out the season. Compared to last season, this year’s Hornets squad has adequate offensive creators at multiple positions, and surprisingly, the team has hung their hats with their defensive play. Currently boasting a top-ten defensive rating (tenth), Charlotte looks to return to the postseason this season.

Gordon Hayward has looked worth every penny Michael Jordan payed, as he’s the team’s de-facto, number one option on offence, and LaMelo Ball has looked spectacular off the bench. Devonte’ Graham has been the major letdown thus far as he’s struggled from the field, and a move to start LaMelo could further unlock this team’s potential.

#21. Cleveland Cavaliers 📈 6-7

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Cleveland has been surprisingly fun to watch this season, and it’s become fairly clear that the team intends on competing to play some meaningful basketball in the playoffs. The duo of Darius Garland and Colin Sexton have been an explosive backcourt, and Andre Drummond has been playing his best basketball of his career.

The addition of Jarrett Allen complicates things at the centre position only slightly, and a Drummond trade seems on the horizon for the franchise. Nonetheless, for the first time in a while, the Cavaliers are exciting to watch again.

#22. Sacramento Kings 📈 5-8

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Sacramento has had a lot to be proud of to start this season. For one, like many of the teams hovering around the 13-20 positions, the Kings have been uber competitive in most of the games they’ve played so far. Tyrese Haliburton looks to be the steal of the draft, as his poise as a shooter, playmaker, and defender have been impressive.

Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield also look to be in the middle of resurgent seasons, and De’Aron Fox continues to be the engine of Sacramento’s 12th ranked offence. Unfortunately for the Kings, they’re the worst team in the league on defence and that explains their inconsistent record. Nonetheless, they’re looking a lot better than their preseason ranking suggested.

#23. New York Knicks 📈 5-8

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The New York Knicks started out the season with some marquee wins over the likes of Milwaukee and Indiana, but have since fallen victim to a five-game losing streak. Still, the Knicks are completely over-performing any expectations set out for the team.

Tom Thibodeau has this Knick team scrapping every night, and it’s clear that the team’s playing with a different level of effort and urgency on the court. Unfortunately, effort can’t make up for the lack of talent on the roster. Julius Randle has played exceptionally, but the team lacks the spacing and offensive firepower to really emerge as a fringe playoff contender.

#24. Houston Rockets 📉 4-6

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Houston was already trending downwards after all of the drama James Harden brought to the locker room to start the season, and now the Rockets no longer have the former MVP.

There are also reports that P.J. Tucker could potentially be on the move, as a couple teams are interested in acquiring him via trade.

Victor Oladipo could turn out to be a decent, more-engaged addition to the team, but for this team to have any sort of success moving forward, John Wall and Christian Wood will have to lead the way.

#25. New Orleans Pelicans 📉 4-7

Ashley Landis / AP Photo / Pool

The Pelicans have disappointed thus far to start the season, as the expectation for this team to make a leap from playoff contender to playoff lock was widely received. It’s still early, and the Pelicans can make good on those expectations, but for them to do so, they need to improve their spacing.

Lonzo Ball has been hit or miss from deep, shooting 30.8% from three, and the team as a whole doesn’t have a shooter shooting north of 40% from distance. J.J. Redick will likely turn things around (29.5% from three), but the Pelicans will need to find shooting elsewhere if they want to advance to the postseason this year.

#26. Chicago Bulls 📉 4-8

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

Chicago has looked a lot better than their 4-8 record suggests, as they’ve had multiple games this season against good competition, and they’ve hung in there, nearly winning a couple of those games.

The hallmark of a good team in the making is their ability to hang in there with the league’s best, and while the Bulls are ranked lower compared to the first power rankings, they are trending in the right direction.

Zach LaVine has been explosive on the offensive end, and the play of Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr., and Lauri Markkanen (before he was sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols) have been a stabilizing force alongside the guidance of Billy Donovan. Things are looking up for the Bulls.

#27. Toronto Raptors 📉 3-8

Tim Nwachukwu / Getty Images / AFP

The Toronto Raptors haven’t looked good through 11 games. The team looks to have lost some of its swagger and fight, and their inability to survive droughts and hold leads has hurt them.

It doesn’t help that they’re not getting much production from their centre rotation, as Chris Boucher has been the only consistent contributor on a nightly-basis. The team has struggled to rebound and defend the interior, and those needs inside will have to be addressed sooner rather than later if the Raptors have any aspirations to compete this season.

With Kyle Lowry on the last year of his deal, the franchise will have to make the tough decision of potentially trading away Lowry to get assets moving forward.

#28. Minnesota Timberwolves 📉 3-8

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Minnesota’s defence has been putrid to start the season, and it definitely doesn’t help that they can’t catch a break with injuries. Karl Anthony-Towns has been out due to injury and COVID-19.

KAT’s only played a total of four games, and when your best player has missed that much time (and considering how much the Wolves lean on his production), it’s only natural to expect this type of record.

A clean bill of health will help the Wolves, but a greater attention to defence would be a step in the right direction to start.

#29. Washington Wizards 📉 3-8

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The Washington Wizards were a popular pick to make the playoffs early on. Additions of Russell Westbrook and Deni Avdija looked great on paper, and it seemed like this team’s improvement was inevitable.

Here we are in January, and the Wizards are near the bottom of the league standings once again. Westbrook is out for a considerable amount of time due to a lingering quad issue. Thomas Bryant is also going to miss a lot of games due to injury. Worst of all, Scott Brooks’ offence lacks any semblance of nuance, as go-to isolations pick and rolls have become predictable.

#FreeBradleyBeal and #FreeDeni.

#30. Detroit Pistons 📉 2-9

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Jerami Grant has been the lone bright spot for a Pistons team that hasn’t had a lot to cheer for to begin with. The injury to rookie Killian Hayes was certainly a big loss so early on in the season, and the team overall hasn’t looked good on either end of the court.

Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin haven’t performed that great, and it’s clear Detroit is devoid of offensive creation outside of Grant. Send help soon, the Pistons are on S.O.S.

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