Tier 1 – Championship Contenders
1. Los Angeles Lakers. 5-2 (3-1 this week) (-)
The Los Angeles Lakers lost a close game to a hot Portland Trail Blazers team before railing off three straight wins, with two against the San Antonio Spurs and one over the Memphis Grizzlies. LeBron James is averaging the lowest minutes per game of his career, exemplifying the depth of this dominant team. When the playoffs come, and LeBron is playing possibly an extra 10 minute per game this team will be even greater.
2. Los Angeles Clippers. 5-2 (3-1 this week) (-)
The Los Angeles Clippers pulled out three wins this week against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns, with their lone loss coming against the Utah Jazz. Paul George is averaging 4 more point per game than last season and is doing so on a 50-40-90 shooting split: a key reason for this team’s early success. This team tends to win whenever George plays well as Kawhi is extremely consistent. This team is still very underrated and will be able to hold its own come playoff time.
3. Milwaukee Bucks. 3-3 (2-1 this week) (+1)
The Milwaukee Bucks split two games with the Miami Heat and followed that with a win against a young Chicago Bulls team. The Bucks seem to have an issue where Giannis will consistently play well, but Middleton and Holiday will not. Whenever Holiday and Middleton each score more than 10 points, the Bucks are 3-1, while they are 0-2 when they do not. This could be a result of the team needing some time to gel with the addition of former all-star Jrue Holiday.
4. Brooklyn Nets. 3-4 (1-3 this week) (-1)
The Brooklyn Nets began their season with big wins over the Warriors and Celtics, but ever since, they have been 1-4. This past week they went 1-3, with their one win coming against the Atlanta Hawks, who they split two games with. Their other two losses came against the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies, two teams that should have been beat badly by a Nets team overfilled with talent. While the Wizards loss could have easily been a win with either KD or Kyrie making a last-minute shot, the fact the game was so close says a lot more about the poor defense of the Nets. Lastly, coach Nash, Bruce Brown needs some minutes.
Tier 2 – Guaranteed Playoff Teams
5. Phoenix Suns. 5-2 (3-1 this week) (+2)
The Phoenix Suns continue to improve as they beat some viable western conference playoff teams this week in the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans Pelicans. The Suns only loss came in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers where Paul George could make any shot he wanted to. This is amazing for a team who added a marquee player in Chris Paul. Devin Booker is averaging his lowest points per game since his rookie season, but I would not expect this trend to continue, leading to more scoring for the Suns.
6. Boston Celtics 4-3 (3-1 this week) (-)
The Boston Celtics won three games this week, but did not move up because of the caliber of their opponents. The Celtics beat the Pacers, Grizzlies, and Pistons, however they also lost a game to this Pistons. While the Celtics have shown to be a strong team, they are missing offensive firepower outside of Brown and Tatum. The Celtics have three players who average more than 10 points per game, with Brown and Tatum averaging 28.0 and 24.3 respectively while Marcus Smart averages 12.6. As you can tell, there is a strong need for another shot creator and maker.
7. Philadelphia 76ers 5-1 (3-0 this week) (+5)
The 76ers pulled out three wins this week against the Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Hornets, and Orlando Magic. It is interesting, as the 76ers added more shooting this offseason, yet so far are still hitting the same 11.7 three-point shots that they made last year (11.6) and with a slightly lower three-point percentage. Two key areas that have improved since last season are blocks per game (first in the league) and defensive rebounds per game (second in the league now). Both of these metrics show me that while we expected this team would be smoother on offense, surprisingly, their defense is what has led them to the top record in the league so far.
8. Miami Heat 2-3 (1-2 this week) (-3)
Miami had a rough week this past week after beginning the season 2-1. The Heat split two games with the Bucks before losing a game to the Mavericks that saw them score just 83 points on a defense that was in the bottom half of the league last year. While their one loss to the Bucks did come on a night where the Bucks hit an NBA-record 29 three-point shots, the Miami Defense that allowed that was poor. I still believe the Jae Crowder loss for this team is bigger than believed to be, as they now will have to either play with 2 non-shooters on the court in crunch time, or an extra small lineup that features either Iguodala or Butler at the 4. An extra small lineup was used in Golden State with Iguodala or Barnes at the 4 in 2015, but all 5 players on the court could shoot (Draymond shot 34%).
9. Denver Nuggets 2-4 (2-2 this week) (-)
Denver went 2-1 this week with victories over the Rockets and Timberwolves, and losses to the Kings and Suns. So far this season it seems as though Nikola Jokic has to have a triple-double every night to keep this team in games. While Jamal Murray has come along lately, this team lacks wing defense. Even with a guy like Gary Harris, while the defense is there, the shooting is not as Harris has shot 12.5% from deep to start this season. Denver needs some help on the wings, and they need it soon. Who knows, maybe a push for Harden could be in the works for a team that is under-achieving after their western conference finals appearance last season.
10. Utah Jazz 4-2 (3-1 this week) (+1)
Utah went 3-1 this week with their three wins coming against the Jazz, Clippers and Spurs, while the lone loss came against the Suns. The main issue for the Utah Jazz so far is that Mike Conley is the leading scorer for the team. This says a lot about Donovan Mitchell’s lack of production. Mitchell is shooting just 37% from the field after his coming out party in the bubble where he averaged 36 points per game on 53% shooting from the field. While this could be do to shifting back to the arena, it sure leaves a lot to be desired both by NBA fans and the Utah Jazz franchise for a thought-to-be upcoming star.