NBA Power Rankings
(Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

2019-2020 NBA Power Rankings 1.0

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are riding a 13 game winning streak. Is that enough to break the Lakers’ strangle hold on the #1 spot in our NBA Power Rankings?

Most teams are at the 20 game mark of their seasons and we’re starting to see a real class divide within the league. There are a few genuinely elite sides, mirrored by some truly awful clubs. The classes immediately below the elite is getting very crowded, to the point we’ve seen one Hipster Darling side slip down the rankings for the 3rd week running.

We’re also seeing some signs of life from a couple of teams that had unexpectedly struggled to this point.

Throughout the season, Vendetta Sports Media will be bringing you our NBA Power Rankings. These are not necessarily ranking based on records. This is a purely subjective assessment of how a team is progressing, projected and playing.

All records are as of Thursday night Australian time.

30: New York Knicks (Steady)
(4-17) Last week: 0-3

The malaise of the New York Knicks might be best encapsulated by the plight of 2nd year forward Kevin Knox.

The 9th pick in last years draft – and latest in a long line of Future Knick Heroes – has been buried by the myriad of misguided free agent signees this off season His counting stats are down across the board.

Here’s a snapshot of where Knox stands in the NBA, per Basketball Reference. Of the 73 players in the league to take 1000+ shots since the beginning of last season, Knox ranks: dead last in points, field goal %, assists and win shares.

To top it all off, he got his first career DNP-CD in the loss to the Sixers.

29: Golden State (Steady)
(4-19 Record) Last week: 0-4

The Tank has officially begun.

Draymond Green is back for Golden State, but the veteran forward has played no more than 24 minutes in any given game since mid-November. With a league worst 4-19 record, don’t expect Coach Kerr to change the game plan with Steph Curry, either.

However, D’Angelo Russell should get all the burn he can handle as the Warriors try to drive up his trade value integrate him into their schemes.
A good snapshot of where the Warriors sit: They scored 79 in a loss to the Hawks this week. That’s exactly half of the 158 that the Rockets hung on the Hawks just 3 days earlier.

28: Cleveland Cavaliers (Steady)
(5-15) Last week: 0-2

Coach John Beilein has his Cavs playing hard, but the mature talent just isn’t there.

Kevin Love is good, but past his prime. The young back court is a long way from hitting their peaks. Tristan Thompson sporting a career high usage rate tells it’s own story. Jordan Clarkson is, as always, a remorseless chucker.

There is a notable lack of sharing on this team, as well. All of their main players either want to be finishers, or in Thompson’s case, just don’t possess any play making chops.

Only the Knicks at 19.6 and (surprisingly) the Blazers at 20.3 assists average less than the Cavs 20.4 per game.

A positive for the Cavs is the recent efficiency of Collin Sexton, averaging 19.3 points and 4.5 assists with 51/40/83 shooting splits in his last 3 games.

27: Atlanta Hawks (Steady)
(5-17) Last week: 1-3

The Hawks finally broke their 10 game losing streak against a Warriors side that probably didn’t care if it won or lost. That it takes a match against the tanking Warriors to snap the streak tells you all you need to know about the defensively challenged Hawks.

James Harden lit them up for 60 – before 3 quarter time – over the weekend. Is it any wonder? Name Atlanta’s defensive stopper. I’ll wait……but I don’t have all day. Seriously, who on this roster is going to lock down, or at least slow down – an opposition player on a nightly basis?
If the Hawks don’t out gun you, they’re not winning basketball games.

26: Memphis Grizzlies (Steady)
(6-15) Last week: 1-3

Just when it couldn’t get worse, Ja Morant goes down. The electric rookie is out with back spasms for the next 2-3 weeks. The likely Rookie of the Year is on his way to a fantastic career, health permitting. Unfortunately, health is not guaranteed with Ja. He’ll get smarter about how and when to use his jaw dropping athleticism as he gains experience. We just have to hope the body holds up and we’re not looking at a Derrick Rose/Blake Griffin scenario.

25: New Orleans Pelicans (Down 5)
(6-15) Last week: 0-3

At the beginning of the season, so much talk about the Pelicans centered on potential contract extensions for Lakers’ imports Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.

Ingram’s performance so far (25.4 points, 7.2 boards, 4.1 assists, 2 stocks) should have him cemented as a franchise cornerstone – along with the max contract that status garners. Ball’s outlook is far murkier. The 3rd year guard from UCLA is an excellent defender and passing savant, but much like Ricky Rubio, he’ll never be a star without a workable jump shot.

Whilst that jumper – in both form and results – has improved, he’s still below average.
What New Orleans decides to do with Lonzo will be intriguing.

24: Detroit Pistons (Steady)
(8-14) Last week: 2-2

Contract Year Andre Drummond. Blake Griffin. Derrick Rose. The Pistons have put together a 2012 title contender. Unfortunately, this is 2019 and the Pistons are on the outside looking in at the top 8 in the East.

Griffin and Rose have not been up to their usual standards since returning from their latest injuries, but should be better as the season progresses.
Andre Drummond did Andre Drummond things against the Bucks: 23 points, 14 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks. The Pistons lost by 24.

23: Chicago Bulls (Up 2)
(8-14) Last week: 2-1

Rookie Coby White is proving to be a genuine feast or famine player early in his NBA career, and how Coby goes, the Bulls go.

In victory, he’s averaging 17.4 points on 48.9% shooting (46% from deep) and a solitary turnover. In losses that drops to 10.6 points on 30.9% shooting (25.3% from 3) and over 2.5 turnovers.

When he gets hot, he’s unguardable. Might his future be as a microwave scorer, rather than a lead guard?

22: Charlotte Hornets (Steady)
(9-14) Last week: 2-2

In an interesting quirk, the Hornets have beaten the Pistons 3 times in their last 12 games – they’ve only won 5 games total in that span.

But forget the wins – they’re not that interesting. Let’s focus on the losses!
Charlotte copped a 41 point pasting at the hands of Milwaukee last week, although their 5 point loss to Phoenix drew the most attention. The Hornets led the game by 7 with a minute to play and somehow managed to allow Phoenix to drop 12 points unanswered in that final minute in an unfathomable meltdown.

21: San Antonio Spurs (Up 2)
(8-14) Last week: 2-1

What have we here? Signs of life in San Antonio?
A couple of big wins against heavy hitters In the Rockets and Clippers – albeit sandwiching a 34 point shellacking in Detroit – have shown that the Spurs are not quite dead yet.

It’s reasonable to expect a veteran side like this to have a good measure of professional pride, but wins against championship contenders, given their form, was startling.

We’ll see if the Spurs can capitalise on a light schedule – Sacramento, Cleveland and Phoenix all at home – or if this spike in form is just a blip.

20: Washington Wizards (Down 1)
(6-13) Last week: 0-3

Come draft time, we always get a selection of ‘YouTube Mix Tape Superstars’ – the players that have the most glorious highlight moves, crazy hops, sweet strokes…..yet we never see the forced jumpers against 3 defenders, the blown defensive assignments, the lacklustre efforts in transition.

Imagine if that type of player were an NBA team, team….Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2019/20 Washington Wizards!

The Wiz gave up 150 points to the Clippers this week – the 2nd time they’ve given up at least 150 this season. In fact, they’ve conceded 130+ on 5 occasions already this season. If only there was some sort of improvement at that end, the Wizards offense, good for 2nd in the league, would carry them to some stirring victories.

In one of the most preposterous stats imaginable, when Washington hold teams below 120 points, they’re a perfectly respectable 4-4. Read a little deeper into that stat – the Wiz have held opponents to under 120 in less than half of their games.

19: Oklahoma City Thunder (Up 2)
(8-12) Last week: 2-1

The decisions that General Manager Sam Presti makes coming up to the February trade deadline will be fascinating.

The playoffs were always an outside chance for the Thunder and whilst they’re not exactly tearing up any trees, they remain close enough to consider making a push.

Does Presti look to sell off Gallinari, Adams & Paul before the deadline, or try to make the eight and potentially increase his asset value?

Either way, the longer the Thunder stay in the race, the better for Presti as far as generating leverage for any possible deal.

18: Sacramento Kings (Down 3)
(8-12) Last week: 1-2

With De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley out, who is the Kings’ catalyst? Their bell weather? Buddy Hield and his quick trigger? The all-round game of Bogdan Bogdanovic? What if I told you it was Harrison Barnes? A guy that just kind of….exists, rather than stands out.
Check this out:
Points Assists Steals FG% 3P% FT% O Rtg D Rtg
Wins 18.5 2.1 1.3 52.2 45.5 83.0 129 109
Losses 15.4 1.9 0.7 47.0 31.8 75.6 113 115
Per Basketball Reference

Have a look at those shooting splits and Ratings.

Harry Barnes being a barometer for success is not a sentence that you expect to write, but here we are.

Fox and Bagley can’t return quickly enough.

17: Orlando Magic (Steady)
(10-11) Last week: 3-1

The Magic have made the most of a soft run of games, winning 4 of their last 5, the only loss coming against Toronto.

Evan Fournier continues to be a quiet achiever in Florida, yet again averaging a career high 19.8 points per game with excellent efficiency.

At the rate he’s going, The Man Who Must Not Be Googled will end up with something in the vicinity of 15,000 points for his career, which would make him the 2nd highest scoring Frenchman in NBA history.

16: Portland Trailblazers (Up 2)
(9-13) Last week: 2-1

Carmelo Anthony is looking, dare we say it, good! Olympic Melo good.

After shaking off some understandable rust, Melo is averaging 16.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and canning 1.5 3’s at 38% since his resurrection.
The Blazers have won 4 of 5. The balance that Anthony has given the roster appears to have kick started a faltering Blazers squad.

15: Phoenix Suns (Down 1)
(9-11) Last week: 1-2

The Suns have lost 8 of 11 and it should probably be 9, given Charlotte’s meek capitulation.

Phoenix are getting creamed in the paint. Without DeAndre Ayton and the New Nowitzki in Aron Baynes, the Suns have nothing but an over matched Frank Kaminsky to throw out there. He’s getting eaten alive. Kaminsky’s individual stats look fine, given the minutes he’s being force fed, but the team has a horrific 119 defensive rating with him on the floor since he joined the starting 5.

Baynes did come back briefly before feeling his calf. There’s no timetable on his return at this stage

14: Brooklyn Nets (Up 2)
(11-10) Last week: 2-1

Spencer Dinwiddie continues to lead the Nets Kyrie-less revival. Since Irving went down, the former Colorado man is putting up 24.9 points and 7.1 assists – All Star level numbers.

With Irving’s timetable getting continually pushed back, Dinwiddie can continue to push a borderline All-Star case, at the possible expense of his 6th man of the year campaign, funnily enough.

But what to do when Kyrie eventually comes back? The two ball dominant guards have proven to be fairly compatible (at least offensively) when they’ve shared the floor but both need the ball to be at their best. Kyrie is The Star – he has to take precedence.

On a very cheap $11m contract, could Dinwiddle be shopped for a piece that dovetails better with Irving?

13: Minnesota Timberwolves (Steady)
(10-10) Last week: 0-2

The continuing evolution of Andrew Wiggins is quite rightly generating headlines, but this is still KAT’s team. It’s a testament to his consistency that Karl-Anthony Towns’ performances this season have been kept in the shadows, somewhat.

KAT is putting up a nightly 26 and 12 with 4 assists plus more than a steal and block. He’s knocking down 3.7 3’s at 42.7%. He’s a legitimate MVP candidate and can lay claim to being the best shooting big in the NBA today (Non Baynes division).

Remarkably, Towns only turned 24 last month – we’ve got so much more of this to look forward to.

12: Utah Jazz (Down 1)
(12-10) Last week: 1-3

Back to back to back thrashings at the hands of Toronto, Philadelphia and the Lakers come on the tail of a big loss to Indiana and giving up 50 to Giannis in a loss to the Bucks. The Jazz’s only win through that period was a comeback victory against lowly Memphis.

The Jazz continue to struggle with the ball in hand, Bojan Bogdanovic – proving to be worth his $73m contract – aside. Mike Conley still hasn’t found his groove and is now injured. Joe Ingles finally broke out somewhat in the loss the the Sixers, with 13/8/8 and a pair of steals.

The concerning thing for Utah is that their usually impenetrable defense hasn’t been as solid of late. Giannis’ big game came with Gobert out injured. The other games were often decided early. The Sixers and Lakers both led by 18 at halftime. The Raptors led their contest by 40 at the same stage.
The Jazz were expected to contend this season. As coach Quin Snyder said after the Sixers loss ‘Oftentimes, growth is not linear’. The Jazz certainly hope that’s the case.

11: Indiana Pacers (Up 1)
(14-7) Last week: 3-1

The early part of the season was supposed to be a water-treading exercise for the Pacers. Integrate Malcolm Brogdan, keep working on the chemistry between Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, get Victor Oladipo fit and then make your charge.

Three straight losses to open the season seemed to back that opinion up. The Pacers recovery since then has been remarkable, winning 7 of 8 to set up their push for the top echelons of the East.

Brogdon has exploded in his first NBA leading role. He and Sabonis are potential All-Stars in the East this season. Turner (12.8 points, 6.6 boards and 2.2 blocks) is not the star the team perhaps hoped for, but is a fine complimentary stretch 5.

The best news for Indy? Oladipo has been cleared for full contact practices and should be on the court for the Pacers by Christmas.

10: Houston Rockets (Down 2)
(13-7) Last week: 1-1

James Harden is that most rare of beasts: high volume and high efficiency.
The Beard continues to combine the best of the analytics era with the glory of old school Hero Ball.

Harden is currently averaging 39.5 points per contest and is on course for the highest single season scoring average by anyone not named Wilt Chamberlain.

His masterpiece against what passes for defense in Atlanta was ridiculous. In 31 minutes (Harden didn’t see the court in the 4th quarter) he put up 60 points on an incredibly efficient 16/24 from the floor, including 8 3’s. He also went 20/23 from the charity stripe and threw in 8 assists, 3 steals and a block just to ensure that the salt was rammed into the Hawks wound.
He is the most unstoppable player in the NBA.

9: Toronto Raptors (Down 3)
(15-5) Last week: 2-1

The Raptors loss to Miami snapped a 7 game winning streak.

Their evisceration of Utah – Toronto lead by 40 points at one stage – was a terrifying sight for the rest of the NBA: despite losing Kawhi and Kyle Lowry being injured, the Raps are elite.

Much of that comes down to the well covered continuing evolution of Pascal Siakam into an elite player, and Fred Vanvleet (he’s getting paid this off season) ascension to a legitimate top end NBA point guard. But don’t forget the return of OG Anunoby to this team. He was severely hampered last season due to a wrist sprain, ankle sprain and appendectomy. His return to health and ability to slip seamlessly into Siakam’s 2018/19 role, especially on defense, has allowed Siakam to step into Kawhi’s sneakers.

8: Miami Heat (Down 1)
(15-6) Last week: 3-1

A statement win against Toronto on the Raps floor highlights the week for Miami. Jimmy Butler’s triple double leading the way in a fantastic overtime win. They couldn’t back it up against the Celtics – back to back away wins would have made the league stand up and take notice.

Bam Adebayo continues his meteoric rise. He is one of 4 players in the NBA to average 10 boards and 4 assists per game (check stats). The others? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns. Nice company to keep.

7: Dallas Mavericks (Up 3)
(15-6) Last week: 4-0

Luka Doncic is 20 years old. He’s doing things like this on a nightly basis. At 20 years old. What were you doing when you were 20?

On the back of his young star, Coach Rick Carlisle has his team humming, pulling all the right strings rotationally. He’s taken the creative burden away from Kristaps Porzingis and allowed him to be a finisher. He’s responded with far more efficient performances, even if the point totals have dropped slightly.

They’re ably supported by (checks notes)…..(carefully checks them again)….Tim Hardaway Jr? That can’t be right, can it? Timbug Jr is putting up 16 points per night on 44.2% shooting from deep in his last 8 games.
As the great Zach Lowe has said on numerous occasions, Rick Carlisle is a Warlock.

6: Philadelphia 76ers (Up 3)
(15-6) Last week: 4-0

Owners of a 4 game win streak, the Sixers are lurking in the shadows of the Eastern Conference elite.

As demonstrated in the recent loss to Toronto, the team’s attack remains an issue. Embiid is still taking too many 3’s for a such beast of a post player, especially when he’s at best an average jump shooter. Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson haven’t really found a consistent groove. The spacing issues Ben Simmons creates are well documented.

At the other end of the floor, the Sixers are elite. They absolutely stonewalled the Jazz this week, leading by 18 at the half and holding Utah to 5/22 shooting from deep. Against Indiana, Simmons (league leading 2.4 steals per game) quite literally stole a win for the Sixers.

Did Ben Simmons hit a 3 this week? No.

5: Boston Celtics (Down 1)
(15-5) Last week: 2-1

When Jaylen Brown signed his $115m 4-year extension this year, there was a fair amount of consternation as to whether Brown would be worth the money.

Averaging 19.9 points, shooting 38.2% from deep and continuing to show elite defensive potential, it appears that Boston’s money is well spent. He and Jayson Tatum form an excellent young pair to build around.
Gordon Hayward appears slightly ahead of schedule in his return from a broken hand and should take the court in the next 7-10 days.

4: Denver Nuggets (Up 1)
(13-5) Last week: 2-0

Denver continues to win without getting anything near peak Jokic.
The big Serb continues to throw some nifty passes, averaging 6.1 assists per game. The best way to unlock a gifted passer is the threat of putting the ball in the bucket and Jokic just isn’t shooting enough, shooting about 1.5 field goals and free throws less than last season. The fact that he’s launching almost 2 extra deep attempts a game plays into the concerns about his fitness levels.

Once Jokic gets back to being the best version of himself, the Nuggets will be more than a sneaky contender.

3: Los Angeles Clippers (Steady)
(16-6) Last week: 2-1

Los Angeles ‘other’ team – it feels nice to use that term ironically, these days – are starting to gel.

They’ve not had the wins that the Lakers have had. They don’t have Giannis throwing down Space Jam dunks, but they do have the deepest team in the NBA, led by the best two way pair in the league.

Since Paul George made his Clippers debut, the team is 9-2, with that frankly strange loss to the struggling Spurs being the exception that proves how good this team is at full strength.

The Clips are outscoring teams by over 8 points per 100 possessions when both PG and Kawhi Leonard share the floor, highlighted by a 96.2 defensive rating, per Basketball Reference.

This team is only just starting to figure out how the parts all fit together.

2: Los Angeles Lakers (Down 1)
(19-3) Last week: 3-1

The Lakers finally had their winning streak snapped at 10 by Dallas and their Boy Wonder.

They’ve rebounded from that with crushing wins over the Nuggets and Jazz. Up next is a resurgent Portland, Minnesota and Orlando to start an East Coast swing.

If the Lakers take care of business through this stretch, they’re set up to snatch the #1 seed and still give LeBron some rest through the season.

Anthony Davis continues to make his case for Defensive Player of the Year, with 10.5 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.7 blocks a night. His mobility allows the Lakers to play a supersized front line with James at the

1: Milwaukee Bucks (Up 1)
(19-3) Last week: 4-0

Winners of 13 straight, the Bucks are unstoppable right now.

As always, they’re doing it on the back of reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. The counting stats (31/13 with 1.4 steals and blocks) are remarkable. This season, he’s even turned his relative lack of range into a weapon. In attempting 5 treys per game, he renders the fact that he’s connecting on 31% of them irrelevant.

No team wants to be beaten by a Giannis jump shot, so they close out hard. From there, Giannis attacks the close out and the defense…..just kind of dies. If you collapse in on him, Giannis hits his shooters. If you can’t protect the rim (like say, Utah sans Rudy Gobert), the the Greek Freak will go for 50.
To top it all off, Khris Middleton returned from injury this week.