NBA Power Rankings Week 1: Trying To Make Sense Of The Celtics

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For most teams in the NBA, the first week of action doesn’t change much. Yes, the results can force knee-jerk reactions from those on the outside but, for the most part, preseason analysis holds true after the (very) small samples of mid-to-late October. For the Boston Celtics, though, things are very different now than before tip-off in Cleveland last Tuesday.

Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury has been analyzed from every angle but, in truth, his absence hasn’t been properly felt just yet. Everyone in the NBA world likely realizes that the Celtics won’t be the team they were projected to be on paper and Boston definitely won’t be living up to the (very) lofty early projections that placed the team with the highest over/under win total in the Eastern Conference. Just how much will the Celtics fall off? Well, that’s interesting.

Boston’s roster overhaul made sense in many ways but it also placed a reliance on young, unproven players and removed some of the trademark depth that helped to lead the team to the No. 1 seed a season ago. Beyond that, Isaiah Thomas was ridiculous during the 2016-2017 season and, even with Kyrie Irving likely operating as a better overall player, it was already a lot to ask for the former Cavs point guard to replicate what his predecessor was able to produce.

Now, the Celtics are left with a young, relatively shallow roster that features some real question marks. Having Irving and Al Horford as a baseline is not a bad thing, especially in the East, and Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris and others should provide stability. Still, the Celtics are no longer anything approaching a no-doubt home-court advantage team in the Eastern Conference when considering the learning curve that likely must take place for Brad Stevens to maximize his available talent.

Where do the Celtics fall in the first “real” edition of our NBA Power Rankings? Let’s find out.

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1. Golden State Warriors (2-2, Last week — 1st)

The Warriors have two losses. I do not care. Golden State is the best team in the league and, even if Steve Kerr admits they were “unprepared” at the outset, it would take a lot more to remove them from the top spot in these rankings.

2. San Antonio Spurs (3-0, Last week — 4th)

It is extremely Spurs to begin the season with a 3-0 mark in the absence of Kawhi Leonard. Throughout the summer, we talked about the Spurs’ roster being relatively weak and that still may be true. San Antonio still has two quality wins and we have yet another reminder that Gregg Popovich is the best in the business.

3. Houston Rockets (3-1, Last week — 2nd)

The absence of Chris Paul is somewhat troubling but the Rockets haven’t had too many issues to this point. It could be argued that Houston should fall behind Memphis given a head-to-head result but, well, the Rockets live in a different stratosphere than the Grizzlies. This is a very good basketball team.

4. Washington Wizards (3-0, Last week — 7th)

Washington doesn’t have a “signature” win just yet but going on the road and beating the Nuggets in Denver is impressive. More than anything, the Wizards are undefeated and there are signs of life from the bench, at least in the person of Kelly Oubre.

5. Toronto Raptors (2-1, Last week — 9th)

The Raptors have the second-best point differential in the league and the team’s lone loss came on the road to the Spurs. Toronto is sinfully boring but this is going to be an excellent regular season team… again.

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6. Cleveland Cavaliers (2-1, Last week — 5th)

Maybe the Cavs should be lower after a 21-point home drubbing at the hands of the Orlando Magic. I just can’t pull the trigger, though, as long as LeBron James is upright. No reason to fear in Cleveland.

7. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-1, Last week — 8th)

There was some grumbling after a season-opening loss to the Spurs but that is beginning to evaporate. That is what happens when a team knocks off the ultra-solid Jazz and Thunder in succession and the Wolves’ talent remains obscene. Don’t look now, but Andrew Wiggins might be turning the corner as well.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder (1-2, Last week — 3rd)

This rankings is an exercise in patience and the Thunder were a buzzer-beater away from 2-1. Things aren’t perfect just yet for Billy Donovan’s team but it isn’t difficult to discern optimism when taking a look at this roster. It would certainly help, though, if Andre Roberson lost the yips in the near future.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (3-1, Last week — 11th)

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the (extremely) early MVP favorite and the Bucks are rolling. The blowout loss to Cleveland is kind of noteworthy but, as a general rule, this is a fun team to watch that also happens to be quite effective. It helps to have a transcendent talent in the middle of everything.

10. Memphis Grizzlies (3-0, Last week — 13th)

It’s still early but it appears the hate on the Grizzlies went too far in the preseason. We were higher than most on Memphis but a 3-0 mark that features wins over the Warriors and Rockets is another things entirely. All hail Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

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11. Los Angeles Clippers (2-0, Last week — 14th)

Doc Rivers’ team has the best point differential in the league and that distinction isn’t usually reserved for a team this low in the rankings. In contrast, the Clippers have faced off against only the Suns and Lakers to this point. We don’t know anything.

12. Portland Trail Blazers (2-1, Last week — 15th)

Portland navigated a three-game opening road trip with two victories and a near-win in Milwaukee. That is fairly impressive and, somehow, it feels like the backcourt pairing of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum remains underrated.

13. Utah Jazz (2-1, Last week — 12th)

The Jazz are doing what the Jazz do. Two victories over quality opponents. One close-fought loss with a defensive slant. Everyone is sleeping on Rudy Gobert, Quin Snyder and company but that should only be done at your own peril. Shout-out to Ekpe Udoh.

14. Miami Heat (2-1, Last week — 16th)

Hassan Whiteside has missed two straight and that isn’t ideal. The Heat are chalked full of depth, though, and the team was able to win both contests. It remains to be seen just how high the ceiling is but the floor for Miami is fairly high.

15. Boston Celtics (1-2, Last week — 6th)

As noted above, we don’t really know what the Celtics are just yet but visions of a 50-win campaign probably faded on opening night.

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16. Denver Nuggets (1-2, Last week — 10th)

Nikola Jokic finally got things going in the team’s third game but Denver hasn’t been functioning at a high level. That makes sense based on the integration of new pieces but it wasn’t the best start for a team with real expectations.

17. Orlando Magic (2-1, Last week — 24th)

As we all expected, the Magic own wins over the Cavs and Heat before the end of October. Hilariously, those victories were sandwiched around a loss to Brooklyn (in full Orlando Magic style) but it isn’t the craziest thought to envision this squad as the No. 8 seed.

18. Brooklyn Nets (2-1, Last week — 28th)

The loss of Jeremy Lin hurts considerably but Kenny Atkinson has the Nets playing an entertaining brand of basketball. Defense is (very) optional but the D’Angelo Russell renaissance may be in the works and that is a very good thing.

19. Detroit Pistons (2-2, Last week — 19th)

It is oddly fitting that the Pistons remain stagnant after one week of action. There were highs. There were lows. There was uninspiring basketball. There will probably be more of the same over the next few months.

20. New Orleans Pelicans (1-2, Last week — 17th)

Boogie Cousins and Anthony Davis have been tremendous. Nearly everyone else has not. That was always the fear with the Pelicans this season but, without Jrue Holiday operating at a high level in his bizarre off-ball role, the downside is real.

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21. Charlotte Hornets (1-2, Last week — 21st)

The Hornets are battered by injuries and that is at the forefront of everything in Charlotte. The early returns on Dwight Howard being strong does help and Kemba Walker remains tremendous in the midst of trying circumstances.

22. Philadelphia 76ers (1-3, Last week — 18th)

Yes, Philly opened with an 0-3 record but that isn’t exactly the worst result when the opponents were the Wizards, Celtics and Raptors. We don’t “know” what the Sixers are just yet but, with Ben Simmons shining and Joel Embiid being Joel Embiid, this might be the lowest we see Brett Brown’s team all season.

23. Indiana Pacers (1-2, Last week — 22nd)

If the Pacers and Hawks (we’ll get there) switched coaches, it wouldn’t be crazy at all to pick Indy to make the playoffs. As such, this is still a group composed of mostly solid NBA players and their baseline is fairly high as a result. There is just nothing sexy about the 2017-2018 Pacers unless you really enjoy the stylings of Myles Turner.

24. Atlanta Hawks (1-3, Last week — 26th)

There was real Hawks buzz after a nice win in the season opener but that has since vanished with three straight defeats. Atlanta might be able to defend at a reasonable level but, offensively, the talent just isn’t there to generate consistency. John Collins might be the real deal, though, and that softens the blow.

25. Los Angeles Lakers (1-2, Last week — 23rd)

This is probably too high for the Lakers, who are destined to be ghastly on the defensive end. Still, we’ve seen a good Lonzo Ball game and that brings optimism to the table for a team that has plenty to figure out in the coming months.

26. Dallas Mavericks (0-4, Last week — 20th)

Not only is Dallas the only team with no wins and more than two losses, the Mavs throw in an extra (fourth) defeat for good measure. Part of that can be attributed to squaring off with both the Rockets and Warriors but, prior to that, the Mavs didn’t look good in falling to the hapless Hawks and Kings.

27. Sacramento Kings (1-3, Last week — 25th)

The Kings lost to the Suns on Monday night. That kind of says it all, even if there was a bit of hope flashed in a road win over the Mavs earlier in the week.

28. New York Knicks (0-2, Last week — 27th)

We’ve seen only two games from the new-look Knicks but it is enough to realize just how dire things are. Frank Ntilikina can’t get on the floor, Tim Hardaway Jr. has been ghastly and, well, this roster is just bad. On the bright side, Kristaps looks the part of a star in a small sample.

29. Chicago Bulls (0-2, Last week — 30th)

The Bulls are dreadful and it took a herculean effort to unseat them this week. On the bright side, only 80 more games for Fred Hoiberg and company!

30. Phoenix Suns (1-3, Last week — 29th)

No, I don’t care that the Suns won a basketball game. When a team fires its coach and has one of its best players demand a trade in epic fashion within one week, the bottom spot is clinched.