As the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics, and Cavs have remained on their respective paths to clash as the clear best teams in either conference, the framework of the 2017-18 NBA season is finally coming around into full view. ‘Tis the season of Lebron’s greatness, Donovan Mitchell, player ejections, the process, and a whole host of other developments that have made the start to this season one of the best that I can remember. According to Nielsen, viewership of NBA regular season games is up 32% this season — shouts must go out to long-time sports betting proponent Adam Silver, who has used his tenure as commissioner to take the league to new heights (perhaps David Stern could take us a bit higher, though, as his recent comments suggest). We’re about 30 games into a long season and the process of standings stratification is well underway, with the contenders starting to climb, the tankers starting to tank, and the middlers middling.
It will be fascinating to see which teams decide to initiate their journey downwards in the standings as they let go of this year’s playoff hopes in exchange for a lottery ticket. Those decisions will start to be made in the coming weeks as .500 sounds way, way worse in February than it does in early December. My Knicks, for instance, have outperformed expectations and have an exciting 13-13 record right now. It’s painful to lose, of course, but if we keep pace and get to 30-30, I’ll be fucking pissed. Many teams have a similar dilemma so expect to see some weird game results, injuries, and losing streaks coming up soon.
Without further ado, the first edition of the SGP NBA Power Rankings:
1. Golden State Warriors. 21-6, 13-14 ATS.
The defending champs stay nestled at the top, as I tend to agree with their assessment that an injury to Steph may actually be a good thing. KD is balling out and their depth is shining.
2. Houston Rockets. 20-4, 14-10 ATS.
I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that the Rockets would be headed into Christmas with a top-5 defense. Yet, here they are, with multiple guys in this group playing the best ball of their career. I’m still holding my “CP3 could get traded” position but, to his credit, he’s fitting in nicely right now. The Rockets are legit and have successfully carried out Daryl Morey’s vision of “upping their risk profile.” Part of upping your risk profile is flipping norms on their head, which is why I love what they’re doing with seemingly-crazy lineups that perhaps have no one above 6 ft 8 on the floor. These lineups not only score like crazy, but can get after it defensively in space too. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to see just how that profile matches up with the Warriors come playoff time.
Rockets have now scored 154 points per 100 possessions with PJ Tucker at the 5 (77 TS%), allowing 89 points per 100 on defense. With that lineup, CP3 scored 8 points over the final 90 seconds in Q3 vs. New Orleans, including this (Welcome to the NBA, Jalen Jones) pic.twitter.com/KZnKaNJEKE
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) December 12, 2017
3. Boston Celtics. 23-6, 20-8-1 ATS.
Boston remains a huge threat to the Cavs, but last night’s 23-point drop in Chicago showed us just how integral Kyrie Irving’s presence is to this team’s success. The stats won’t show it but Kyrie is everything for this Boston team, regardless of how hard they want to preach democracy on both offense and defense. As long as he stays healthy and they keep up their defense, this should be a 55-win team that is likewise quite capable of challenging for a conference title.
4. San Antonio Spurs. 19-8, 14-12-1 ATS.
Kawhi is back! And I’m a believer in the Spurs. It will be interesting to see how Lamarcus Aldridge’s hot start to the season (quietly averaging 23 and 8) is affected by the introduction of Kawhi into their rotation. They already have climbed to the 3rd-ranked defense in the league and, given Kawhi’s offensive display last season and the fact that this injury certainly gave him plenty of time to perfect his jumper, their offense should skyrocket from the middling unit that it is right now.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers. 19-8, 10-16-1 ATS.
The Cavs haven’t lost since Thanksgiving and holy shit, Lebron’s shoulders must be tired. I’ll say it again: what this man is doing in his Year 15 season is one of the single most impressive things I have seen as a sports fan in my 21 years on Earth. The 28-8-9 is one thing but what I’m so impressed by is Lebron’s nuanced understanding of when to enter beast mode and that, once that decision is made, he never fails to turn it up.
I honestly don’t think IT’s return means much at all for this team sadly as he doesn’t fill any sort of need for this group. They have 3-point shooting. They have isolation scoring. They have the 3rd-ranked offense in the league, behind only two of the greatest offenses in the history of the sport. What does he bring to the table other than more good offense and more shitty defense? That’s already their M.O.
6. Toronto Raptors. 17-7, 14-10 ATS.
The Raptors have very, very quietly put together the 4th-ranked offense and the 9th-ranked defense thus far this season. I love that the transformation of their offensive approach has stuck and, with Derozan taking 4 less shots a game than he was last season and Lowry taking 3 less, the ball moves and their getting contributions across the roster. My worry, though, is that they still haven’t gotten over the crunch-time hump of staying committed to ball movement in the 4th quarter. Their shooting percentage, 3-point shooting percentage, 3-point attempts, and assists are all at their lowest in the 4th quarter compared to the rest of the game. This is precisely why I can’t buy their stock going into Eastern Conference hunt, as I feel a regression to hog-ball is not only a threat to their success but an inevitable development when the going get tough.
7. Milwaukee Bucks. 15-10, 11-12-2 ATS.
The Bucks have stabilized the ship a bit after a rough stretch going back the past couple of weeks. They’ve won 6 of their last 7 and I tend to agree with the idea that they still have a move to make to add one more blue-chip piece to the puzzle. I love cerebral guards as much as anyone, but the idea that Malcolm Brogdon is “untradeable” is patently absurd and I hope this front office can come to that realization before it’s too late and the league sees him for what he really is: a poor man’s Joe Ingles. If you could trade a poor man’s Joe Ingles for a Marc Gasol, DaJ, or Paul George, would you?
8. Minnesota Timberwolves. 16-11, 11-14-2 ATS.
It pains me to put the Timberwolves here because of how unpleasant they are to watch, but objectively they’ve put together a nice little run to start the season. You’ve got to respect what Jimmy Butler has brought to this program as he’s sacrificed individual statistics as much as anyone else in the league thus far this season. His sacrifice offensively has been a surprising twist for what has jumped to the 5th-best in the league behind a nice little stretch from Towns. Their 26th-ranked defense is still a massive red flag, especially for a Tom Thibodeau-coached team.
9. Denver Nuggets. 14-12, 10-16 ATS.
Tough to see injuries for both Jokic and Millsap just at the time this team was starting to figure it out. I still love them to come on late as I believe this is one of the best offenses in the league once healthy and also comfortable on the floor together. If they can survive this time without Jokic, look for Denver to take advantage of a suddenly very weak Western Conference and get a top-5 seed in the playoffs. Heck, they are 5th right now and climbing fast in offensive rating. The Millsap loss is tough, especially considering how little time he’s gotten on the floor with a new and unique set of teammates, but he also was probably brought in mostly to anchor defensively in the playoffs, not be a lead scorer in the regular season.
10. Philadelphia 76ers. 13-13, 15-10-1 ATS.
Ben Simmons is probably a top-10 player in the league right now. The Embiid hype is fun, of course, but has also distracted from just how special Simmons has been for The Processors. With 18 Points, 9 Boards, and 8 Assists per game, Simmons is basically Lebron-lite for this team, not only in his individual contribution but his ability to get the most out of shooters and wings by controlling pace and spacing at all times. His scoring is merely a cherry on top of what he automatically provides night-in and night-out — elite rebounding and elite point-guard play. It’s no wonder he’s the first PF/PG I’ve ever seen in Fantasy Basketball.
11. Washington Wizards. 14-12, 14-12 ATS.
12. Detroit Pistons. 14-12, 16-8-2 ATS.
13. OKC. 12-13, 8-17 ATS.
14. Portland TrailBlazers. 13-12, 10-13-2 ATS.
15. Indiana Pacers. 16-11, 17-10 ATS.
16. New Orleans Pelicans. 14-13, 14-12-1 ATS.
17. Utah Jazz. 13-14, 15-12 ATS.
18. Miami Heat. 12-13, 9-14-2 ATS.
19. New York Knicks. 13-13, 14-12 ATS.
20. Los Angeles Lakers. 10-15, 12-13 ATS.
21. Brooklyn Nets. 10-15, 16-9 ATS.
22. Charlotte Hornets. 9-16, 10-14-1 ATS.
23. Los Angeles Clippers. 9-15, 10-14 ATS.
24. Orlando Magic. 11-17, 11-16-1 ATS.
25. Phoenix Suns. 9-19, 13-14-1 ATS.
26. Memphis Grizzlies. 8-18, 9-16-1 ATS.
27. Sacramento Kings. 8-18, 11-12-3 ATS.
28. Atlanta Hawks. 6-20, 13-12-1 ATS.
29. Dallas Mavericks. 7-20, 12-15 ATS.
30. Chicago Bulls. 5-20, 12-12-1 ATS.