Dime NBA Power Rankings, Vol. III: OKC Looks Worthy Of The Finals

By: 01.17.12  •  9 Comments
John Wall

John Wall (photo. Rob Hammer)

Ranking the NBA from worst to first …

30. Washington Wizards (1-12)
LW: 30, —
Well, at least John Wall finally had a big game yesterday against Houston (38 points) because I was beginning to believe that the rest of the guys had brainwashed him.

29. New Jersey Nets (3-11)
LW: 28, -1
A year or two ago, I never would’ve guessed Deron Williams would one day quarterback possibly the worst team in the NBA. His numbers aren’t bad (18 and eight), but seeing him play feels like I’m watching the Discovery Channel during Big Cat Week when those lions take down a water buffalo and the thing just eventually succumbs and gives up, falling as the cats rip into him, piece by piece.

28. Charlotte Bobcats (3-11)
LW: 24, -4
You know it’s bad when even the team’s own bloggers are admitting “Yeah, we suck. We’ll be lucky in ANY game we win this year.” C’mon now, Charlotte. D.J. Augustin is your best player, and Byron Mullens – a guy who couldn’t even get on the court in OKC – is now suddenly your most promising big man. The Bobcats point differential (-10.9) is third-worst in the league, and they have yet to beat a decent team in eight tries.

27. Sacramento Kings (4-10)
LW: 22, -5
Since they beat the Lakers at home on their opening night, guess what the Queens have done? Lost every game outside of wins against Milwaukee, New Orleans and Toronto, stood idly by as DeMarcus Cousins proved he was more valuable than a coach, and watched an offense that was supposed to be as titillatingly exciting as ice cream cake turn into the second-worst producer in the league.

26. Detroit Pistons (3-10)
LW: 27, -1
Back when they had the coaches and players at each other’s throats, the guys were at least going hard. Now, they’re just getting blown out left and right: by 14 to Dallas, by 24 to Chicago, by 23 to New York, by 23 to Philly… Greg Monroe should stage a mutiny against all of his teammates.

25. New Orleans Hornets (3-10)
LW: 29, +4
If they didn’t have a pulse, this would be the worst team in the league. Thankfully, Monty Williams cares, and the players like him enough to not go into the fetal position. They’re No. 12 in defensive efficiency, which is more than just about anyone else on this page can say.

24. Phoenix Suns (4-8)
LW: 17, -7
At least the other teams here know they suck. The Suns are floating in a ship wreck, and yet won’t put out a distress signal. They’re lucky Steve Nash is such a good dude or he’d be throwing people to the sharks. To think, what was one of the best offenses in NBA history has now been reduced to a unit just .01 percentage points better than Portland – only the league’s slowest offensive squad of the last few seasons…

23. Toronto Raptors (4-10)
LW: 23, —
The Dinosaurs have flipped this season: from offensive defense to decent defenders (No. 15 in defensive efficiency), and from a team that perennially played in triple figures to one that struggles to put points up. But at least their investment in Andrea Bargnani is finally paying off.

22. Golden State Warriors
LW: 25, +3
What the hell happened to Dorell Wright? His numbers have been cut in half, he’s shooting like Edward Scissorhands would’ve (35 percent, 27 percent from the arc) and he’s losing minutes to everyone from Brandon Rush to Nate Robinson. At least Monta Ellis is doing is thing, still giving nearly 24 a night but also now dishing 7.6 assists per game. But mama that man still ain’t going to the All-Star Game because the Warriors can’t win.

21. Milwaukee Bucks (4-8)
LW: 26, +5
I still can’t believe Milwaukee is this bad. Brandon Jennings has improved (PER is up to 18), Andrew Bogut grinds out 14 and 10 every night, and even if Stephen Jackson left his game in Charlotte, he’s still dangerous enough to throw up the occasional 34-point night like he did against San Antonio last week. But they’ve yet to win a road game, and have trips to New York, Miami, Chicago and Houston coming up this month. Ugh.

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Rajon Rondo

20. Boston Celtics (4-8)
LW: 14, -6
They’ve lost five in a row even as Paul Pierce looks to be rounding into shape. So what’s the problem? Mostly, it’s a matter of talent. It doesn’t matter how hard you play, how many expletives you throw out on replays, or how many times Doc Rivers gives the same second quarter huddle speech. The inside game is gone and the bench dissolved. But it’s not all bad. Losing five in a row to the Pacers (twice), Chicago, OKC and Dallas doesn’t sound as awful as 4-8.

19. Cleveland Cavaliers (6-6)
LW: 20, +1
Are people still going to hate on Kyrie Irving? He’s now stacked up five straight with at least 20 points, and is averaging almost 23 during that stretch (all in less than 30 minutes a night). He’s already one of the smoothest point guards in the game. Who caught his ill behind-the-back, off the screen, double crossover to spin move up-and-under against Steve Nash and the Suns the other night? It was silk.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-8)
LW: 18, —
So Ricky Rubio is finally starting. We figured it would unleash the (in Shaq‘s idiotic words) “Italian Pistol Pete.” Instead, it’s actually helped Luke Ridnour, the most unlikely two guard of all time. The lil’ bunny has dropped over 20 twice in the past week. That’s about as WTF as WTF can get. Whereas it was fun for a while, Minnesota has finally settled into a routine: beat the bad teams (Sacramento, New Orleans, Washington) and lose to the good ones (Atlanta, Chicago, Memphis).

17. Houston Rockets (6-7)
LW: 21, +4
Kyle Lowry is a monster, and he has the Rockets thinking playoffs. They have a top 10 offense, and are one of the five best rebounding teams in the NBA as well (a rebounding rate of 51.3). The Rockets are probably the most underrated team in the league, mainly because every one of their players in overlooked. Lowry, Scola, Budinger, Martin, Chandler “Eat my nuts” Parsons, even Sam Dalembert.

16. New York Knicks (6-7)
LW: 13, -3
Amar’e Stoudemire: in his last three games, he’s gone for 30 points and 11 rebounds combined. And someone needs to tell Carmelo Anthony to pass the ball. He’s making Kobe look like Bob Cousy.

15. Memphis Grizzlies (6-6)
LW: 19, +4
After a slow start to the season, they’re finally picking it up. Their defense is ranked No. 10 and Marc Gasol is playing like an All-Star, rather than just being called one. If Marreese Speights can keep up his Zach Randolph impersonation, who knows how high they’ll climb? Their win over Chicago yesterday – even though Derrick Rose wasn’t playing – was the first time all season they looked like the team that was snapping people in half in the playoffs last year.

14. Dallas Mavericks (8-6)
LW: 16, +2
If you’re a Mavs fan, there’s no need to listen to Charles Barkley. He really doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and will ride the same theme all the way until it’s withered, bent, broken, rusty, destroyed into dust. He’ll tell you the Mavs aren’t the same defensively , and continously overhype DeShawn Stevenson and Tyson Chandler into some kind of All-Star stoppers. But the numbers don’t lie: last night, they shut down Kobe (7-for-22 from the field), held the Lakers to a near franchise low in points, and are currently No. 3 in the NBA in defensive efficiency. Next week at this time, I’m betting they crack the top 10 here.

13. Denver Nuggets (8-5)
LW: 5, -8
At the very least, they’re still playing at the NBA’s fastest pace (98.8). But other than that, I wish I could spank them all (No, not literally.). Put them in timeout or banish ’em to their rooms. While they’re one of the best passing teams in the league (second only to San Antonio in assist rate), Denver has played all over the place. One night, they look like legit contenders, destroying Miami in the second half by winding up Ty Lawson and letting him go. But then they’ve also lost to New Orleans, easily. Without a true leader, I get the feeling they’ll be like this all year.

12. Utah Jazz (8-4)
LW: 15, +3
Utah is average in every sense of the word (offensively, defensively, even their point differential is exactly zero). But they do have a couple of very noticeable strengths. One: that frontcourt is the deepest stable of horses any team has. And two, they’re 6-1 at home. That really shouldn’t be a surprise. But if the Jazz can get anything from their backcourt, they will be the surprise of the season.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (8-5)
LW: 3, -8
I don’t really want to talk about them. They piss me off too much. Back-to-back home losses to San Antonio and Houston won’t cut it. And that ankle-turning pace they played at over the first week? They’re slowly falling back into the pack (currently at No. 4) after scoring just 84 last night against the Hornets.

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James Harden

James Harden (photo. Nicky Woo)

10. Orlando Magic (9-3)
LW: 12, +2
Before we go jumping on the bandwagon after their fourth-straight win yesterday in New York, slow down and realize the Magic have played nine of 12 against teams under .500. and the last eight squads they’ve beaten are a combined 31-69. Ryan Anderson can throw up all the 30-point gems that he wants to, but it won’t hide the fact that Jameer Nelson and Big Baby couldn’t get minutes on any contender with the way they’re playing right now.

9. Atlanta Hawks (10-4)
LW: 8, -1
Since Al Horford went down, the Hawks are 3-0. The problem: They’ve played Charlotte, Minnesota and Toronto. All at home. That’s like jumping a bunch of elementary school kids at recess and stealing their trapper keepers. ATL still has another two weeks of snuggling before their real season kicks in. Hopefully Joe Johnson is still playing as well then as he is now (scored 22-plus in four of the last five).

8. Indiana Pacers (9-3)
LW: 11, +3
Balanced? Their leading scorer and “best player” (Danny Granger) is only seventh on the team in PER (14). I’m not sure there’s a more interesting team in the Eastern Conference. They could conceivably end up in the top four for the playoffs given all the problems going on in Boston and New York, and most of that has to do with a defense that is barely behind Chicago (92.7 to 94 in defensive efficiency). They’re athletic, long and gaining confidence with every big win (Atlanta and Boston).

7. L.A. Lakers (10-5)
LW: 10, +3
When will someone finally call out Pau Gasol? Lost in Kobe‘s monster start and Andrew Bynum‘s emergence, no one seems to notice that Gasol isn’t even playing like an All-Star anymore. His points (15.9), rebounds (9.5), assists (2.3) and shooting (52 percent) are all the lowest they’ve been since Memphis wrapped and sealed him to Hollywood. I swear if the coaches vote him into the midseason showcase based off reputation, I will go crazy. Even as Bryant and Bynum carry the Lakers through awful showings from all of their point guards and small forwards, the Lakers have no chance to win in the playoffs as long as Gasol keeps up his sad face.

6. Miami Heat (8-4)
LW: 1, -5
Shouldn’t they be lower after losing three consecutive games? I can’t bring myself to drop them any lower. They’re No. 7 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and are still sporting a plus-6.8 point differential. They lost one bad game – to Golden State. The Clippers are one of the four best teams in the league, and it took them overtime to win at home. Denver’s homecourt advantage is one of the best in the league, and they didn’t really take it to Miami until the second half. The Heat’s next three games are against San Antonio, the Lakers and Philly, all at home. They’re about to get their swagger back.

5. San Antonio Spurs (9-4)
LW: 7, +2
They lead the league in assists nowadays, and basically have to because there isn’t one player, outside of Tony Parker, who can create any offense on their own. But the largest change in the last week is the defense. It’s starting to climb back to respectability (now up to No. 20 in the league). Some of that most definitely has to do with Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs are a better team when he’s in there.

4. L.A. Clippers (7-3)
LW: 9, +5
Once Blake Griffin stops breaking backboards with his free throws (5-for-13 last night) and gets back to simply breaking things (like Kris Humphries‘ face), the Clippers might go all the way to the Finals. I’m already looking ahead to the playoffs, and have one major question mark on this team: They don’t seem to match up well with OKC. Westbrook and Paul will be a wash. But no one here can guard Harden, and no one has a chance in Hell of checking Durant.

3. Chicago Bulls (12-3)
LW: 2, -1
For the Bulls to be playing this well even though Carlos Boozer hasn’t picked up his game from the playoffs, even with Richard Hamilton out and even with Joakim Noah‘s mind stuck wherever Joakim Noah’s mind wanders to, has to feel great for Chicago fans. And who said Rose wasn’t a great distributor? His assists have climbed to 8.7 a game.

2. Philadelphia 76ers (10-3)
LW: 6, +4
A fall from No. 1 to No. 3 in offensive efficiency won’t matter as long as they keep suffocating everyone on defense. They’re still way out in front of defense, ahead of even the Bulls, and no one realizes that. It’s also crazy how their leading scorer (Lou Williams) doesn’t even start. The first few weeks of the season should be titled “The Philly Chainsaw Massacre” because this team has literally destroyed pretty much everyone they’ve played.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder (12-2)
LW: 4, +3
I’m still trying to figure out how OKC is second to Orlando in offensive efficiency. Doesn’t anyone realize they have three players who can play on that end? Boston basically lost – at home – to two guys last night. Still, this team has won seven games in a row, James Harden (16.5 points, 22.7 PER) is the odds-on favorite for Sixth Man of the Year, and Russell Westbrook (19.4 points and 5.4 assists a night) hasn’t even picked it up yet. They’ll be there in the end.

By the way, they could easily be riding an 11-game win streak going into their Jan. 30 matchup with the Clippers. They have a pillow-soft schedule until then.

What do you think? Did we get it right?

Follow Sean on Twitter at @SEANesweeney.

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