Monday, November 4, 2013

How Powerful?: NBA Rankings, Week 1

A couple of weeks ago, Kavanaugh gave you his pre-season NBA rankings, featuring a short description of each team. I'm going to do my weekly Power Rankings a little differently. I'll rank all the teams, but I'll only do a write-up on two or three of them. For those teams -- usually notable risers and fallers -- I'll give a longer rundown of their performance. I'll probably cover each relevant* team 4-6 times throughout the 36-week season. Except, of course, for the Knicks, who I'll write about more frequently.

*The term relevant doesn't necessarily mean the team must be a contender. I just don't plan on writing about bottom-of-the-barrell teams that are Riggin' for Wiggins. The list of relevant teams should be clearer by December.

In Week 1, we saw a rookie dethrone the champs, the return of Lob City, and Derrick Rose dropping a floater*.

*No, not the same type of floater as Fat Bastard dropped in the second Austin Powers movie.

Here are my Week 1 power rankings, which will attempt to weigh each team's season performance and success the previous week.
30. Chalotte Bobcats (1-2)
29. Boston Celtics (0-3)
28. Washington Wizards (0-3)
27. Utah Jazz (0-3) 
26. Milwaukee Bucks (1-2) 
25. New Orleans Pelicans (1-2)
24. Orlando Magic (2-2)
23. Denver Nuggets (0-2)
22. Cleveland Cavaliers (1-2)
21. Sacramento Kings (1-2)
20. Phoenix Suns (2-1)
19. Memphis Grizzlies (1-2)
18. Los Angeles Lakers (2-2)
17. Portland Trail Blazers (2-1)
16. Toronto Raptors (2-1)
15. Dallas Mavericks (2-1)
14. Philadelphia 76ers (3-0)
13. Atlanta Hawks (1-2)
12. Detroit Pistons (2-1)
11. New York Knicks (1-2)
10. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-0)
9. Golden State Warriors (2-1)
8. Brooklyn Nets (1-2)
7. Chicago Bulls (1-2)
6. Indiana Pacers (3-0)
5. Los Angeles Clippers (2-1)
4. San Antonio Spurs (2-1)
3. Houston Rockets (3-0)
2. Miami Heat (2-2)
1. Oklahoma City Thunder (2-1)

We shouldn't draw many conclusions after just a few games per team, but it was great to have the best athletes in the world back. Now, let's take an in-depth look at a couple of teams. The most pleasant surprise of the first few games was the Philadelphia 76ers, and one of the more intriguing squads is the Houston Rockets.

Philadelphia 76ers

On ESPN's NFL Live, they run a segment called Overreaction Monday in which they try to put that weekend's games into perspective. Well, after going 3-0 in the first week of their "Riggin' for Wiggins" season, Sixers fans are having their own Overreaction Monday. "Michael Carter Williams is legit!" "We beat the best two teams in the East!" "Thank God the Sixers can distract us from the Eagles!"

Yes, it looks like Philly has some pieces in place to contend in the next few years. MCW has put up some historic numbers for a rookie, and Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young look like they're really blossoming. Moreover, Coach Brett Brown seems like he's begun instilling the winning culture from his Spurs days into this team. Still, it's important to take a closer look at the Sixers' three wins. Miami didn't have Dwyane Wade when they lost to Philadelphia, and the Bulls are still playing Derrick Rose into shape. In between the wins over those contenders, Philly beat the Wizards, who didn't even crack the top 25 on these power rankings.

Remember that last year's November darlings, the Charlotte Bobcats, started 7-5 and looked poised to make a leap forward. How'd that work out? They promptly lost 18 straight contests and won only 14 more the rest of the season.

The 76ers -- who many experts predicted to win fewer than 20 games -- are off to a promising start. Still, as ESPN's Eric Goldwein points out, they should keep their eyes on the future. It might make sense to trade Turner or Young, selling high on those players' strong starts. This would allow the team to stockpile assets while also positioning itself for a good spot in the stacked 2014 draft. The Sixers aren't a contender yet, but they look like they might be ahead of schedule.

Houston Rockets

Daryl Morey's experiment appears to be working so far. The GM brought in Dwight Howard over the off-season and the center has fit in nicely. Howard's stat lines from the first three games (17-26, 13-16, 15-9) only tell part of the story. He has been running beautiful pick-and-rolls with James Harden and Houston's other guards, leading to numerous dunks and open jumpers. His presence on defense is also a welcome addition to a team that tied for No. 16 in Defensive Efficiency last season. I'm not a huge Howard fan, but he's been great in the first week.

Houston has a plethora of scoring options, with superstars Harden and Howard being supported by Chandler Parsons and sixth-man Jeremy Lin.

In Sports Illustrated's NBA season preview, an anonymous scout called Houston "one of the most underrated teams in the league." I have them at No. 3 and that seems about right after the first week.

With that being said, the Rockets have to trade big man Omer Asik. His skill set is similar to Howard's, meaning that his talents are going to be somewhat wasted on this team. He had 12 rebounds in just 15 minutes against the Mavs on Friday night. Houston should flip him for a couple of pieces they could use in making a deep postseason run.

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