NBA Power Rankings Week 1: The Jazz Might Be Too Good To Tank (Right Now)

After headline-grabbing trades in the offseason, the Utah Jazz entered the 2022-23 season with modest expectations. Donovan Mitchell is now leading the Cleveland Cavaliers and, while Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota Timberwolves are scuffling in the early going, his absence projected to be a massive loss for Utah on defense. In fact, the wise folks in Las Vegas pegged the Jazz for a season-long win total in the low-to-mid 20’s, and rumblings are ongoing that Utah might pull the plug on veterans with future-facing trades at any moment.

An odd thing happened to begin the season, though, in that the Jazz won their first three games. Utah did suffer its first loss on Monday in Houston, but the Jazz, as currently constructed, might be quite frisky. The folks at FiveThirtyEight drew a lot of ire for projecting Utah for 39 victories on the eve of the season and, frankly, that number is likely too high for what will happen with the Jazz. It was an opportunity to remember that Utah still has a bevy of quality options on its current roster, however, and that shows in the early going.

Utah deployed a 10-man rotation in each of the first four games, with each player averaging more than six points per game. The Jazz do have a rookie in the mix in first-round pick Walker Kessler but, elsewhere, Utah’s rotation is buoyed by quality veterans like Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson, talented additions like Collin Sexton, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Lauri Markkanen, and even potent role players like Malik Beasley and Kelly Olynyk.

The Jazz may not maintain a top-10 offense this season, but the team’s current pieces are capable of high-end production on that end of the floor. The defense projects to be a step (or two) behind the offense but, of course, the big question is just how long the Jazz might keep this group together. Danny Ainge hasn’t exactly hidden his intentions toward a full-blown rebuild and, with Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson headlining a fun draft class, the Jazz might want to rack up losses. With that said, Utah is probably going to have to be active in the tanking race rather than simply relying on this roster to take on losses, and the first three games were a reminder of that.

Where do the Jazz land in the first edition of our DIME power rankings in 2022-23? Let’s find out.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (2-0, Last week — n/a)

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Milwaukee doesn’t play its third game of the season until Wednesday, with a friendly slate of rest early in the campaign. The Bucks are also 2-0 with a road win over Philadelphia, and Giannis Antetokounmpo just scored 44 points in 28 minutes against Houston. Milwaukee isn’t at full strength without Khris Middleton, but the Bucks have the best player in the world and a stifling defense. That’s a solid formula.

2. Golden State Warriors (2-1, Last week — n/a)

The Warriors did lose to the Nuggets at home but, this early in the season, a head-to-head result isn’t going to change the thinking too much. That is especially true of the reigning champs, and both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are on minutes limits to begin the season. When Golden State’s key guys are out there, the results look fantastic. That’s pretty much all that matters.

3. Phoenix Suns (2-1, Last week — n/a)

Phoenix has a chance to make a mark on Tuesday against Golden State. In the meantime, the Suns look just fine, and it would be unwise to forget this was the best regular season team in the NBA in 2021-22. Phoenix also reminded everyone of its upside with a furious comeback win over Dallas, and playoff concerns aren’t the same as regular season concerns.

4. Boston Celtics (3-1, Last week — n/a)

At one point on Monday evening, Boston was going to be No. 1 on this list. The Celtics led the Bulls by 19 points and seemed to be on the way to another win. Then, Boston was out-scored by a 84-44 margin over an extended sample and, needless to say, a loss arrived. There is no reason to worry about the Celtics, but that result bumped them off the top perch.

5. L.A. Clippers (2-1, Last week — n/a)

Kawhi Leonard is coming off the bench, and the Clippers aren’t exactly lighting it up on offense right now. L.A. is also very much looking the part on defense, and this is a team with unfathomable depth and two legitimate stars. Paul George looked a lot like Paul George with a 40-point outburst this week, and there is a lot to like.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (4-0, Last week — n/a)

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By performance only this season, Portland might be No. 1. The Blazers aren’t as good as the teams ahead of them on this list, but Portland is rolling at 4-0 with a +8.3 net rating and some impressive wins. Anfernee Simons went nuts on Monday night and Damian Lillard looks to be “back” in full after last season’s hiatus.

7. Memphis Grizzlies (3-1, Last week — n/a)

Memphis was absolutely blasted by Dallas, and that result isn’t great. It was also an early-season spot in which the Grizzlies had a significant rest disadvantage and, quite frankly, no one believes Memphis is actually the team that popped up in that spot. The Grizzlies won the other three games over the first week-plus, including a double-digit win over Brooklyn, and Ja Morant is averaging 35.2 points per game. That’ll play.

8. New Orleans Pelicans (2-1, Last week — n/a)

After a pair of road wins to open the campaign, the Pelicans lost at home to the Jazz. As noted above, that isn’t a disastrous loss against the current version of Utah’s roster, and New Orleans has a high-profile TNT matchup against Dallas on Tuesday (albeit without Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson available). The Pelicans are deep, talented, and relentless, which projects as a nice combination.

9. Atlanta Hawks (2-1, Last week — n/a)

The Hawks put together a pretty hideous performance on Sunday, losing at home by 17 points to the shorthanded Hornets. Atlanta’s wins also came against projected lottery teams (Houston, Orlando), and it isn’t as if the Hawks are lighting it up on offense just yet. There are positive signs on defense, though, which brings encouragement to a group that will almost certainly be efficient on offense with Trae Young on the floor.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers (2-1, Last week — n/a)

Donovan Mitchell had 37 points in his first home game in Cleveland. It helps to have Donovan Mitchell, especially while Darius Garland recovers from a nasty poke to the eye in the opener. The Cavs do have a head-to-head loss to Toronto, but it came on the road and Cleveland blasted Chicago in the middle of those games. Cleveland also has a top-five defensive rating, which harkens back to last season’s hot start.

11. Dallas Mavericks (1-1, Last week — n/a)

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The sample is small with only two games for Dallas. The Mavericks blew the Grizzlies out and seemed to be on the way to a similar result against the Suns before faltering. We need to see more, but Luka Doncic is the current betting favorite for MVP and Christian Wood looks to be checking the boxes the Mavs hoped he could.

12. Denver Nuggets (2-2, Last week — n/a)

It’s been a roller coaster already for the Nuggets. Denver has a pair of 20-point losses to Utah and Portland, but the Nuggets also beat the Warriors on the road. Defense has been the big problem, allowing more than 1.2 points per possession, and there is work to do to find the team’s equilibrium.

13. Charlotte Hornets (2-1, Last week — n/a)

Even without LaMelo Ball for the first three games, the Hornets are scoring 1.18 points per possession. That wouldn’t sustain long-term without the team’s offensive engine, but any panic about Steve Clifford turning the dial down on this offense should be quelled. The other end is an adventure, but Charlotte may have something in Nick Richards at center.

14. New York Knicks (2-1, Last week — n/a)

New York has basically held serve. The Knicks beat the Magic and Pistons at home with a road loss in Memphis. Jalen Brunson is already paying dividends as a steady hand on offense, and the defense is well-coached and sound. That basically sounds like the Knicks to me.

15. Utah Jazz (3-1, Last week — n/a)

Don’t look now, but the Jazz might be 4-1 by the end of Wednesday. Utah hosts Houston in its next game.

16. San Antonio Spurs (3-1, Last week — n/a)

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Unlike Utah, San Antonio doesn’t have a leftover stockpile of veteran talent, but Gregg Popovich’s team is 3-1 anyway. The Spurs have three straight road wins (!), even with Popovich seemingly making fun of his team at every turn. It’s a wild scene, but guys like Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell are performing well in newly prominent roles.

17. Toronto Raptors (2-2, Last week — n/a)

A 2-2 mark is probably the expected result given Toronto’s schedule. The Raptors opened with road games against Brooklyn and Miami (twice) with a home game against Cleveland. Holding steady with that slate is encouraging, and Pascal Siakam is playing at a star level.

18. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-2, Last week — n/a)

Optimism was sky-high in the Twin Cities before the season, and maybe it still is. However, Minnesota has lost at home to both Utah and San Antonio, and the Wolves looked very shaky on defense in both losses. They did win twice against OKC, but those victories aren’t changing anyone’s mind. It might take some time to fully integrate Rudy Gobert on both ends.

19. Brooklyn Nets (1-2, Last week — n/a)

After a hideous opening night, Brooklyn’s offense has been better, and Joe Harris is back. That should help, but the Nets are also giving up almost 1.25 points per possession. That is a much bigger concern, and one that Ben Simmons hasn’t been able to fix in his return to the floor.

20. Philadelphia 76ers (1-3, Last week — n/a)

Mercifully, the Sixers won a basketball game on Monday. Philly opened 0-3 and a home loss to San Antonio set off all kinds of alarms. The defense has been pretty dreadful to this point, even from Joel Embiid at times, but perhaps the reinvigoration of James Harden will help to lift the spirits.

21. Miami Heat (1-3, Last week — n/a)

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No one should be overly worried about Miami given the team’s track record, but the start has been gross. Bam Adebayo is scuffling on offense and Miami’s defense ranks below the league average. The Heat (still) don’t have a power forward of note, and only a pretty tough schedule might throw folks off the scent of some legitimately questionable showings.

22. Washington Wizards (2-1, Last week — n/a)

Washington isn’t exciting in the slightest, but they’ve been frisky to start the season. Depth is a strength for the Wizards, and Washington has held opponents to fewer than 1.07 points per possession. Long-term, the offense should be better than its been, but bench lineups have dragged the numbers down so far.

23. Chicago Bulls (2-2, Last week — n/a)

As noted above, the Bulls absolutely blitzed the Celtics in the middle of Monday’s game, and perhaps this is too low as a result. Still, Chicago’s offense is sputtering on the whole, Zach LaVine has only played in two games, and Patrick Williams can barely get on the floor.

24. Indiana Pacers (1-3, Last week — n/a)

The Pacers probably aren’t going to be very good, but Bennedict Mathurin is turning heads. The rookie wing is averaging 22.3 points per game in only 27.8 minutes off the bench, and that comes after a lights-out preseason and Summer League performance. Maybe he’s human, but Mathurin seems to be a machine right now.

25. Los Angeles Lakers (0-3, Last week — n/a)

Want to know how bad the offense has been for the Lakers? As of Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Lakers have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA, and Los Angeles is winless. That’s tough to do, but the Lakers are scoring fewer than a point per possession and shooting 21 percent from three-point range. It’s a mess.

26. Sacramento Kings (0-3, Last week — n/a)

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Mike Brown is still looking for his first win as Sacramento’s head coach, but that is a bit misleading. Yes, the Kings are 0-3, but Sacramento’s three losses came by a total of 14 points, and each was against a strong opponent. De’Aaron Fox, Keegan Murray, and Kevin Huerter are all off to positive starts, but the persistent question comes with Sacramento’s defense.

27. Detroit Pistons (1-3, Last week — n/a)

The Pistons have the worst net rating (-9.7) through the first week of the season, and Detroit’s only win came at home against the No. 30 team on the list. Positively, the Bojan Bogdanovic experiment is already returning results, but it’s been a bit of a slow start for Cade Cunningham and the rest of the offense.

28. Houston Rockets (1-3, Last week — n/a)

Houston was bound for the bottom until a win over Utah on Monday. That gave the Jazz their first loss, and both Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. scored 25-plus points in the victory. Houston’s defense has been quite bad so far, though there is a potential caveat in that the Rockets faced Atlanta, Memphis, and Milwaukee to open the season.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder (0-3, Last week — n/a)

Oklahoma City has actually been pretty good so far. The Thunder are 0-3, but the losses came to Minnesota (twice) and Denver, and none of the defeats were by more than 10 points. The offense is still probably going to be pretty bad, but close-fought losses are what you want in OKC right now.

30. Orlando Magic (0-4, Last week — n/a)

Only one team has four losses and it’s the Magic. There are some injuries to consider, but the big thing is that Paolo Banchero looks the part. The No. 1 pick is averaging 22.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his first four NBA contests.