DimeMag

NBA Power Rankings Week 4: The Kings Are Showing Signs Of Life

October wasn’t a good month for the Sacramento Kings. Facing lofty expectations, the Kings fell flat to the tune of an 0-5 record to open the 2019-20 season and, to make matters worse, former No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III lasted only one game before sustaining a long-term injury.

While it was certainly too early to write off Sacramento based on that tiny sample, some of the evidence was damning, including a woeful -16.5 net rating that featured ghastly efforts on both offense and defense. Some of the issue could be explained by a difficult early schedule (though Sacramento did lose at home to Charlotte) but, fortunately, the Kings have awakened since then, despite unfortunate injury circumstances.

After the 0-5 start, the Kings reeled of five wins in seven tries, with a 112.9 offensive rating that would rank in the top five of the league in a broader sample. Sacramento did suffer the loss of De’Aaron Fox for a few weeks, but the Kings managed to eek out two wins without him, and this is a deep, talented roster that features strong contributors at important positions.

The Kings face off with the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday in a rematch of opening night and, in that game, Sacramento effectively no-showed. If Luke Walton’s team can navigate that potential trap, the Kings will be challenged in a big way by an East Coast swing. At the very least, though, the Kings have stabilized to the point where the preseason expectation of playoff contention no longer feels as silly as it may have on Nov. 1.

Sacramento isn’t going anywhere without Fox and, to a lesser extent, Bagley available but the pair of youngsters will be back soon enough. If the Kings can simply hold serve until then, things will get quite interesting. Ultimately, there is real reason for optimism after what was a disastrous start.

Where do the Kings land this week in our DIME power rankings? Let’s get to it.

1. Los Angeles Lakers (11-2, Last week — 5th)

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The Lakers have the best record in the league, the best net rating (+9.3) in the league and they’ve won four straight. That sounds like a recipe for the top spot. It will be interesting to see how the Lakers fare against better competition in the future, but they are taking care of business across the board at the moment.

2. Milwaukee Bucks (10-3, Last week — 3rd)

Milwaukee is right on the heels of Los Angeles, having won eight of the last nine games. Having Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor always helps and the Bucks are just operating like the Bucks in a highly effective manner.

3. LA Clippers (9-5, Last week — 1st)

Kawhi Leonard remains on the shelf with a knee issue and, quite obviously, that is a point of interest around the league. On the floor, the Clippers throttled the Hawks by 49 points over the weekend and, well, Paul George looks fantastic.

4. Houston Rockets (11-3, Last week — 7th)

During an eight-game winning streak, Houston’s defense has been stout, posting a defensive rating of 100.1. The focus from many is understandably about the absurdity of what James Harden is doing on a nightly basis, averaging nearly 40 points per game, but, if the Rockets can play defense at a strong level, they will force everyone to take them seriously as a contender.

5. Boston Celtics (11-2, Last week — 2nd)

Boston finally lost a basketball game this week. The defeat in question came in Sacramento by a single point, though, and Boston remains top-five in both offensive rating and net rating. It’s going very, very well for the Celtics at the moment, who bounced back to trounce the Suns on Monday.

6. Denver Nuggets (9-3, Last week — 4th)

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The Nuggets are profoundly weird right now. It doesn’t feel as if they are playing all that well, but Denver has won six out of seven games. That lone loss, however, was a complete clunker at home against the short-handed Hawks. We’ll split the difference and hold them here at sixth.

7. Miami Heat (9-3, Last week — 10th)

There are some slight warning signs within advanced shot data that would tell you Miami is overachieving. They probable are, in fact. This is still a good basketball team that is banking wins in the muddled mess that is the East, and that will be important come playoff seeding time in April.

8. Philadelphia 76ers (8-5, Last week — 8th)

After a 5-0 start, the Sixers are now 3-5 in their last eight games. Panic is unwarranted, but they aren’t playing at a contending level on offense and the defense hasn’t been as dominant as it needs to be.

9. Toronto Raptors (9-4, Last week — 9th)

Toronto continues to roll along, even while battling real injury concerns. The Raptors don’t have a bad loss yet this season and, while the upside may not be off the charts, there is something to be said for consistent effectiveness.

10. Dallas Mavericks (8-5, Last week — 13th)

At the age of 20, Luka Doncic is averaging 29.5 points, 10.7 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game. Those numbers will probably chill to some degree but it’s been preposterous so far, and his efforts have been enough have Dallas trending in the right direction even amid struggles from Kristaps Porzingis.

11. Utah Jazz (8-5, Last week — 6th)

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The Jazz were cruising until the last two games, when Utah was upended by Memphis and Minnesota in succession. Those results aren’t damning on their face but losing to the Wolves (without Andrew Wiggins) at home isn’t ideal.

12. Indiana Pacers (8-6, Last week — 12th)

If you remove the first three games in which the Pacers were flailing, Indiana has been… good. Nate McMillan’s team is 8-3 since then with a top-five net rating in the NBA and they’ve officially weathered the storm. It helps that the path to the playoffs in the East is a breezy one, but the Pacers are looking comfortable again.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-6, Last week — 14th)

When the Wolves lost by 21 to the Wizards at home, they were in line to drop in the rankings. Then, they went to Utah and won without Wiggins on Sunday. Those results cancel each other out and we retreat to the status quo. It must be highlighted that Karl-Anthony Towns is hitting 43.5 percent of his threes on a ridiculous nine (!) attempts per game.

14. Phoenix Suns (7-5, Last week — 11th)

It isn’t sustainable in any way, shape or form, but Phoenix has been phenomenal with their starting lineup on the floor. In 133 minutes of action, the five-man unit of Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre, Dario Saric and Aron Baynes has a +12.8 net rating. That virtually explains all of Phoenix’s early-season success.

15. Sacramento Kings (5-7, Last week — 22nd)

Sacramento is dead in the middle of the league (16th) in net rating. That’s honestly impressive given how bad the first five games were.

16. Orlando Magic (6-7, Last week — 21st)

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The Magic just completed a five-game homestand with a 4-1 record and, well, they needed it. Filing Orlando’s positive run under “taking care of business” is the right approach given their slate of opponents, but every win counts.

17. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-8, Last week — 18th)

The Thunder are -2 on the season… as in they’ve allowed exactly two more points than they’ve scored. If that sounds like a .500 team, you’d be right, but Oklahoma City’s record doesn’t reflect that. They’ve been solid, if unspectacular.

18. Brooklyn Nets (5-8, Last week — 15th)

Brooklyn should send thank-you cards to the teams ranked below them. The Nets are 1-4 with a -12.3 net rating in their last five games and, even with the built-in excuse of Kyrie Irving’s injury, Brooklyn is only 4-7 when he plays.

19. Portland Trail Blazers (5-9, Last week — 16th)

It is Nov. 19 and the Blazers have exactly one win over a team (Dallas) with better than a .500 record. Their net rating (-2.4) is a little bit better than their record indicates, but Portland isn’t a good basketball team right now. The crazy part is that Damian Lillard has been fantastic. There’s just only so much he can do.

20. Charlotte Hornets (6-8, Last week — 23rd)

Charlotte isn’t as good as their 6-8 record indicates and that isn’t a controversial statement based on their talent level. Shoutout to Devonte Graham, though, as the former Kansas guard is putting up 18 and 7 on quality efficiency in the early going. Thank goodness the Hornets paid Terry Rozier almost $60 million.

21. Memphis Grizzlies (5-8, Last week — 26th)

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The Grizzlies’ three-game winning streak came to a crashing end with an ugly home loss to Denver on Sunday. There is no shame in being outclassed by a (much) better team, though, and Memphis is playing better than most expected, headlined by early ROY frontrunner Ja Morant.

22. San Antonio Spurs (5-9, Last week — 17th)

Did you know that the Spurs have lost six games in a row? Most of those defeats came in respectable fashion but San Antonio did lose to Memphis at home along the way. There are real, tangible questions about San Antonio and, as much as everyone (myself included) is terrified to be skeptical, that’s the best approach right now.

23. New Orleans Pelicans (4-9, Last week — 27th)

There are faint signs of life in New Orleans, even while the injury report is overflowing. The Pelicans never had a chance to evaluate their roster at anything approaching full strength but, if they can simply weather the storm for a few more weeks, we’ll get a better idea.

24. Detroit Pistons (4-9, Last week — 19th)

Are the Pistons digging too big of a hole? Playoffs are the expectation in Detroit this season but, even with Blake Griffin’s sparse deployment as a caveat, the Pistons don’t feel like even a .500 team right now. They can’t keep losing to team like the Hornets, Wizards, Bulls and Hawks, but they have so far.

25. Chicago Bulls (4-10, Last week — 24th)

Jim Boylen’s team has gone 3-6 in their last nine games and that isn’t ideal. All six losses came against quality opponents, though, and there are at least some signs that the Bulls could be rounding into decent form.

26. Atlanta Hawks (4-9, Last week — 25th)

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The schedule makers did the Hawks no favors this week, with a brutal West Coast trip for a young team facing high-profile absences. Atlanta did steal a win in Denver but a back-to-back in Los Angeles went even worse than expected. The Hawks really need John Collins and Kevin Huerter, and they aren’t walking through that door right now. Trae Young can’t do it alone, even if he’s very good.

27. Washington Wizards (3-8, Last week — 28th)

Washington has the disadvantage (at least in the standings) of only playing 11 games so far. That leads the Wizards to only three victories and, despite the No. 3 (!!!!) offense in the NBA, Bradley Beal and company land here.

28. New York Knicks (4-10, Last week — 30th)

New York won a pair of basketball games this week, including a victory over a familiar face in Kristaps Porzingis. As such, they are granted a reprieve from the NBA’s basement.

29. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-9, Last week — 20th)

I don’t think the Cavs are actually worse than the Knicks, but Cleveland lost by 18 in New York on Monday night. Kevin Love was absent from the proceedings but the Cavs have dropped four in a row.

30. Golden State Warriors (2-12, Last week — 29th)

The injuries are comical at this point and that is the caveat through which everything should be viewed. With that said, the Warriors are 2-12 with the NBA’s worst net rating and an active, seven-game losing streak. They have to be in this spot.

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