Dime NBA Power Rankings, Vol. II: How Good Is Philadelphia?

Ranking the NBA from worst to first …

30. Washington (0-8)
Last Week: 30, —
As we wrote in Smack, no one’s feeling sorry for the Wizards right now. You can’t have multiple players ready to stage a mutiny (Lewis, Blatche), guys who don’t always play hard (McGee) and other cats who smile during blowout losses. John Wall was supposed to make the jump this year. Who would’ve ever thought this team would be going backwards?

29. New Orleans (2-6)
LW: 20, -9
No Eric Gordon means the Hornets are relying on a bunch of role players for big buckets. Six straight losses for the Bees, and it’s only going to get worse. If I was a betting man, by the end of this month, I’d bet they’ll be something like 4-17 or 5-16. The schedule looks THAT bad.

28. New Jersey (2-7)
LW: 29, +1
If you get blown out by 16 on the road in Cleveland, there’s a good chance you’re not very good. They’ve won one game since opening night. One! And that was against a Raptor team that isn’t much better. It’s so bad in New Jersey then even Deron Williams – the guy I called the best point guard in the world for so long – has become inflicted with the bad Net disease (17 and seven… weak at least for him). This all feels like payback for Kris Humphries turning into a celebrity, and the NBA’s biggest ass.

27. Detroit (2-6)
LW: 23, -4
For at least the first week or so, the Pistons seemed to toss out their garbage and issues. Yes, they were always going to blow, but for a team that has an abundance of inefficient offensive players (second worst offense in the league with an efficiency of 92.1) who can’t play defense either, we knew that going in. But even as Detroit is taking more beatings now than Bodie from The Wire, Greg Monroe has upped his PER to a ridiculous 23.92. Also, Ben Gordon finally woke up enough to average close to 16 a night (Can I take some of the credit for this? No? Okay.).

26. Milwaukee (2-6)
LW: 16, -10
I can already see some of you longtime Dime readers out there snickering and rubbing your hands together. Can we still find a way to defend Brandon Jennings? Take away his phenomenal 31-point game against Sacramento last week, and Young Money has shot under 43 percent in every game in 2012. They went on a five-game road trip this past week, and proceeded to lose every one of them. Will this be the second straight year this team goes loco on us and doesn’t come close to expectations?

25. Golden State (2-6)
LW: 13, -12
Well, at least Mark Jackson has them losing competitively. Five straight losses, yes, but only one was a blowout. Jackson’s real test comes now. Can he find a way to help Stephen Curry stay healthy? Can he get something – ANYTHING – out of his wing players not named Brandon Rush? Can he convince Andris Biedrins to like basketball again? The one shining light? Monta Ellis. He’s still getting his points (24 a night), but now he’s averaging over eight assists a game.

24. Charlotte (2-6)
LW: 28, +4
Leaning heavily on people like D.J. Augustin, Boris Diaws (he doubled in size over the summer) and Bad Porn nearly guarantees you’ll have the worst defense in the league. If it wasn’t for those Knicks, we’d be looking at seven consecutive losses for MJ‘s crew. Still, we recommend watching them because there’s something fishy going on down there with DBMD: D.J. White (10 and six) and recently-acquired Byron Mullens (11.4 points a night). They are miraculously somehow pretty good.

23. Toronto (3-5)
LW: 26, +3
Yes, they’re coming off an embarrassing loss to the Nets, and a 35-point destruction in Philly. But things could be worse in Toronto. Andrea Bargnani still won’t rebound. But at least he’s dropping nearly 23 a night. DeMar DeRozan hasn’t made The Leap, but at least he can actually make a shot now (He’s shooting 56 percent from the arc. WTF?!). And they’re No. 20 in defensive efficiency (101.3), which is at least better than last. Our Canadian friends just need to see the glass half full.

22. Sacramento (3-6)
LW: 19, -3
Not even the largest Kings haters (if they even exist) could’ve predicted we’d be two weeks into the season, and DeMarcus Cousins would’ve already helped oust Paul Westphal. As Shaq said on TNT, if you can’t play for Westphal, who CAN you play for? The guy is (was) only the most laid-back coach in the game. We’ve made fun of him for years because he literally just rolls the ball out and lets everyone play. With the Playground Kings, that should’ve worked. Instead, he got axed because 1) Cousins hated him and because 2) the Kings’ young players weren’t improving.

21. Houston (2-6)
LW: 15, -6
You know what doesn’t really make any sense? A team like the Rockets, who are only competitive because they play hard, are actually the second-worst defensive team in the league. Their offense isn’t the problem (it’s in the top 10). No one can D up. Why is Houston catching a break in these rankings? They might’ve had the most difficult schedule of any team to start the season: at Orlando, San Antonio, at Memphis, Atlanta, at the Lakers, at the Clippers and a home/away series with OKC. Woah.

20. Cleveland (4-4)
LW: 21, +1
For some reason, everyone wants to get on us for heaping praise on our cover boy, Kyrie Irving. Well, that’s what you get when you have the Cavs chugging along at .500 after beating your biggest competition for best rookie point guard (Ricky Rubio), and scoring 21 on the best team in the West all while averaging 15 points and 5.1 assists a night. At this point, mediocrity in Cleveland (they are average in every sense of the word) is a step up.

19. Memphis (3-5)
LW: 22, +3
No team’s been more disappointing this year than Memphis. Their guys – Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph – spent all summer reassuring me they weren’t going to let the press get to their heads. Sure enough, they’ve had trouble. Of course, injuries have played a part and at times this year, I haven’t even recognized the Grizz’s lineup. But there’s no way a team with this much talent should be the fourth-worst offensive lineup in the league. That just doesn’t make sense.

18. Minnesota (3-5)
LW: 18, —
So after unleashing Rubio on the United States, the Wolves next move needs to be opening up more minutes for Derrick Williams. He’s playing like twice the player Michael Beasley is (PER – 15.7 to B-Easy’s 7.5), and yet only getting 20 minutes a game. The real person who’s being overlooked right now though is Kevin Love. Yes, we all know dude can hoop. But outside of Dwight Howard, Love is playing like the best big man in the world. 25 and 15 a night with two threes a game even has Love ready to anoint himself.

17. Phoenix (4-4)
LW: 27, +10
They’ve righted the ship after a very shaky start to the season, but I can’t get over how awful this all looks. Steve Nash should never be on a team that is in the bottom third of the NBA in pace. The Suns’ time has passed, and only the continued brilliance of Nash (who had 17 assists by the end of the third quarter yesterday) will keep them close to .500.

16. Dallas (4-5)
LW: 24, +8
The Mavs are taking more shots than Drake is these days. But can you fault anyone for going at them? They’re like a high school senior going through the motions during tryouts. Nothing interests them… they’ll let a young kid score here and there on them… they won’t run hard suicides. I mean, look at their schedule: Even though they’ve started to pick it up and are 4-2 in their last six, they’ve lost this year by 11, 22, 17 and 21.

15. Utah (5-3)
LW: 25, +10
I said their rough early start wouldn’t last, remember? They’ve won four games in a row – all close – and still remain one of the few teams that not only didn’t get blown out by Philly, but who actually beat the 76ers. The Jazz don’t have any stars, but they do have seven guys all averaging at least seven points a night.

14. Boston Celtics (4-4)
LW: 17, +3
How many more beatdowns from good teams will the Green have to take before we all sit down and say “Oh man, the Celtics really aren’t good anymore. Like, they’re not even a threat in the East.” It’s true. Boston’s four wins this year have come against Washington (twice), New Jersey and Detroit. They’ve played Miami and Indiana and gotten blown out both times. They have five good players. That’s it.

13. New York Knicks (4-4)
LW: 14, +1
True story: One of my Knick friends flipped out on me after I didn’t put Iman Shumpert on my Rookie Report of the 10 best rooks in the league right now. At the time, he was still out with an injury. His only game had been a 3-for-13 opening debut against Boston. ‘Tis the life of a Knicks fan: When there’s nothing to really feel excited about, you get to going nuts over role playing rookies as if they’re the future of their position. The Knicks are lucky I’m throwing them on this high: last week alone they lost to the Bobcats and Raptors, and also lost to Golden State in their second game of the year.

12. Orlando Magic (6-3)
LW: 7, -5
Dwight Howard had perhaps the worst game of his career yesterday against Sacramento, not scoring or grabbing a single rebound in the first half of Orlando’s win. But other than that, he’s worked through the trade rumors and been solid, as has the whole team. I just don’t believe in them. They’ve played two games against decent opponents all year. TWO! And they were smashed in both of those, losing to OKC and the Bulls. I’ll be incredibly surprised if this team does anything at all in the postseason.

11. Indiana Pacers (6-2)
LW: 9, -2
I think they’ll put a scare into whomever they play in the first round of the playoffs this year because they have the right mix of solid vets (West, Granger) and young players coming into their own (George, Collison, Hansbrough, Hibbert). Plus, Paul George has been a HUGE boost for my fantasy team so he gets extra points from me. But there’s one thing I can’t get over: In their biggest matchup of the year, Miami ate them and then s— them back out. It was that ugly.

10. Los Angeles Lakers (6-4)
LW: 11, +1
Kobe catching reverse jams? The Lakers struggling game-to-game, never knowing what they’ll get out of their complementary pieces? This really does feel like 2006. Their demise last season was a defense that allowed J.J. Barea to get himself $19 million. But now, it’s the other end causing problems. Los Angeles: make a shot please. There’s no way a team with three All-Star caliber players should be average offensively.

9. Los Angeles Clippers (4-2)
LW: 10, +1
Defensively, the Clippers are throwaways. Blake Griffin is garbage on that end – and I love the dude. DeAndre Jordan is always out of position and the rest of the team is either too small (CP) or too old (Caron Butler) to make a difference. Still, I think this week was a turning point for them. They beat Portland, destroyed Houston and finished off a desperate Bucks team.

8. Atlanta (6-3)
LW: 8, —
Ah, I don’t even want to start in on this. It’s always the same reaction with these dudes: They tantalize, then lose because they’re a bunch of role players masquerading as stars, then catch heat, then their “fans” get heated because we’re criticizing a playoff team so hard, then everyone comes back and says they deserve it. But seriously, they beat Miami and the Big Three in South Beach, and then three days later lost in triple overtime at home to the same team, minus LeBron and Wade. How can you explain that?

7. San Antonio (6-3)
LW: 4, -3
Call me once Manu gets healthy, if that defense ever improves (25th in the NBA) and if “Daniel” Green keeps balling outta control. How rough could it get in San Antonio? My boy just picked up Gary Neal in our fantasy league, figuring Neal would take Manu’s minutes, all his shots and most of his points. In real life, if you’re leaning on Gary Neal to keep you in the top half of a conference, someone better sound the alarm. If Atlanta didn’t pull off disappearing acts every other game – hell, every other quarter – they’d have this spot.

6. Philadelphia (5-2)
LW: 12, +6
Hurry up. Grab something. Brace yourself. Steady yourself. The best offensive team in the league right now? Philly with an efficiency of 106.6. The best defensive team in the league right now? Philly with an efficiency of 90.2. Yes, technically the best team in the NBA is the squad that has all of it’s fans brainwashed into believing Spencer Hawes is a dominant, up-and-coming big man. Hawes is dropping 13 and 11 with two blocks a night on nearly 65 percent shooting. So why aren’t they higher? Even though they have won their last four games by a combined 94 points, they’ve played only one definite playoff team so far (losing in Portland).

5. Denver (6-3)
LW: 6, +1
After starting off the year with the best defense in the world, the Nuggets have come back to Earth (No. 7). Still, I started bumping Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) as I’m writing this because there’s no better comparison in the NBA. When you have three guys all averaging at least 15.8 points a night, and not one of them is Nene, you know you have serious depth. I’m putting in a call. They need to get introduced in the pre-game to “Bring Da Ruckus.”

4. Oklahoma City (8-2)
LW: 2, -2
I’ve always loved OKC. They’re fun to watch. The “Star Wars” thing they have going on is incredibly entertaining (even if it’s been blown WAY out of proportion). Whereas I was once convinced the West was theirs to lose, I’m beginning to doubt whether they could beat Portland in the playoffs. After KD, Harden and Westbrook, the next-best offensive player (Serge Ibaka) is averaging 7.5 points a game. They have no balance on one end, and then on the other, they’re just plain pathetic. How can a team win a title when their defense is rated No. 23 in the NBA?

3. Portland (6-2)
LW: 5, +2
The Blazers are quickly becoming my favorite team in the league. So many athletes. So much versatility. Their big win over the Lakers at the end of last week played out exactly like I knew it would. Portland is just too balanced and athletic for nearly everyone else in the league. They even have a budding superstar who’s completely underrated in LaMarcus Aldridge. Actually, he might be my pick for breakout star this year. Basketball heads know he can play. The rest of the country doesn’t. They’ll find out this year when Portland goes deep in the playoffs.

2. Chicago (7-2)
LW: 3, +1
Defense? The Bulls should be given another name for the way they’re smothering opponents. 83 points for Orlando. 74 for Atlanta. Freakin’ 64 for Memphis. Derrick Rose is learning to be more of a distributor off the pick-n-roll, and the rest of the Bulls’ lineup is falling into place offensively. The softest part of their schedule starts now. Come the end of the month when they play in Miami, they could seriously be riding a 12-game winning streak and a 19-2 record. It’s not out of the question.

1. Miami (8-1)
LW: 1, —
Not much needs to be said for the Galactic Empire. LeBron James is out of this world (36.83 PER), and the Heat are playing faster than Harold and Kumar riding a cheetah. They’re by far the best team in the league right now.

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