Tier 1 – The Real Contenders
1. Los Angeles Lakers (-) (2-1 this week)
The L.A. Lakers opened their season with a 7-point loss to the Clippers. This would have been alarming except this came in a game where LeBron James played only 28 mins after an emotional ring ceremony. Since then, this team has dominated the Mavericks and Timberwolves. This team’s bench is as unstoppable as imagined to be during the offseason. The only reason they are now in a tier with the other contenders is because they have lacked intensity as the know they can coast through the season.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (-) (2-1 this week)
Yes, the Clippers did just lose by 51 points to the Mavericks in a game they played without Kawhi Leonard, but this team also handed both the Lakers and Nuggets some important losses. The Clippers are showing much more drive to win this season, so much so that it looks like they are playing games that matter to them. Even good teams are entitled to some bad games, and I believe the Clippers may have felt as though they could take it easy on the Porzingis-less Mavs. I would expect to see them bounce back with another big win when Leonard returns.
3. Brooklyn Nets (+1) (2-1 this week)
Brooklyn had looked dominant through their first two games against the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics until they got narrowly beat by the Charlotte Hornets. I think the Nets focused too much on their first two games, and assumed the Hornets would be easy to beat. Even then, they still almost pulled it out. This team did just lose spencer Dinwiddie, but amazingly, they are so deep that they will still be a top contender in the league this year.
4. Milwaukee Bucks (-1) (1-2 this week)
The Bucks have had an odd start to their season, with a heartbreaking loss to the Celtics, followed by a demolishing of the Warriors, and then getting beat by 20 by the Knicks. The big issue for me here is that Jrue Holiday’s scoring average has dropped by 4 points from last season, and he is shooting 1/9 from three-point range for the season. This may just be due to a small sample size, but having consistent shooting around Giannis is important, and the lack of it from Holiday so far could help explain why the Bucks have had a rocky start.
Tier 2 – Fringe Contenders
5. Miami Heat (+2) (1-1 this week)
The Heat began their season with a close loss to the Orlando Magic, but redeemed themselves with a Christmas-day win over the Pelicans. Although Jimmy Butler did injure his ankle, the Heat’s young core of Adebayo, Hero, Robinson and Achiuwa have all played extremely well so far, with Robinson tying the Christmas-day record for 3-pointers made. Their upcoming game vs the Bucks will be a telling sign of where this team truly stands without their star forward in Butler.
6. Boston Celtics (+2) (1-2 this week)
The Celtics began their season by pulling out a close win against the Bucks and followed that with two losses, to the Brooklyn Nets and Indiana Pacers. It is clear the Celtics lack a scoring punch apart from Brown and Tatum. So far the Celtics have won the one game where Brown and Tatum combined for 63 points, but lost the other two when they combined for 47 and 43 respectively. This team will need to be at full strength to make a deep playoff run, as Jayson Tatum’s difficult shot-making is not ready to carry this team to wins.
7. Phoenix Suns (+3) (2-1 this week)
Phoenix began their season with a close win over the Dallas Mavericks, then went 1-1 in two games against the Sacramento Kings. This team will still need some time to gel, as Chris Paul struggled to score his first game and Deandre Ayton is averaging 11 points per game through the first three contests. The upside is that we have not see the best basketball from this team yet, and they have already beat another top-10 team in the league in the Dallas Mavericks.
8. Dallas Mavericks (-2) (1-2 this week)
Dallas got narrowly beat by the Phoenix Suns, and blown out by the Lakers before finally having their own fun in a record-breaking destruction of the Kawhi-less Los Angeles Clippers. The Mavs are clearly missing their other all-star player in Porzingis but have still been playing well. This team still needs some time to gel as Josh Richardson is integrated into last year’s number one offense in the NBA, but their lone win did look like a promising start.
9. Denver Nuggets (-4) (0-3 this week)
Denver has had a rough start to the season as they dropped a close game to the Sacramento Kings, then got outworked by the Los Angeles Clippers. It has been made clear that the Nuggets are lacking wing defense as when they played the Kings both Barnes and Hield put up at least 20 points, and when they played the Clippers, George and Leonard did the same. The Nuggets have also not been getting the production they likely expected from some of their players as Gary Harris is averaging 6 points per game, and Monte Morris is averaging 7.5 points per game.
Tier 3 – Playoff Race Bound
10. Indiana Pacers (+5) (3-0 this week)
The Pacers won all three of their games this week with dominating wins against the Knicks and Bulls, then pulling out a close win against the Boston Celtics. Sabonis and Brogdon have looked like a strong duo with Oladipo, Warren and Turner providing strong support as other options. This team is deep with all five starters being able to provide a scoring punch (less-so Turner), and some nice bench pieces in both Holiday brothers, McConnell, and McDermott. The Pacers are going to be a tough and gritty team as per usual. They may not have a star, but they are a good team