Expectations were modest for the 2019-20 New York Knicks, at least in a general sense. There was certainly a segment of the basketball-watching population that believed the Knicks would improve after a busy summer but, at the same time, skepticism reigned after New York chose to invest in a bevy of short-term contracts largely concentrated at the power forward position. While it’s still early in the campaign, the early signs are… not encouraging.
The Knicks did pick up a big win over Kristaps Porzingis and the Dallas Mavericks last week but any positive momentum generated from that event came to a crashing halt on Sunday. After a bad loss, New York’s management team spoke to the media, fueling rumors about David Fizdale’s job status, and ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith then staged a rant for the ages. Some of that is business as usual in New York but, in short, the Knicks are struggling in a mighty way and things aren’t going very well.
New York’s offense has been disastrously poor to this point, scoring less than a point per possession. When combined with strongly below-average defense and a shooting pedigree rivaled only by Orlando in terms of impotence, it is easy to see why the Knicks are scuffling. New York is a good offensive rebounding team to this point but that is mitigated by a bottom-five assist rate and, aside from some struggles from sharpshooter Wayne Ellington, it isn’t as if there are any individual results that are out of the ordinary.
Making matters worse, the Knicks have faced a below-average strength of schedule on the way to a 2-8 record. They haven’t faced an elite team yet and things reached a crescendo with a 21-point home loss to Cleveland. Anything that happens in early November has to be couched with sample sample size caveats but, for the Knicks, the roster construction doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and this also isn’t a team that appears to be coached at an elite level.
It isn’t as if New York is in its own tier at the bottom of the NBA and, frankly, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Knicks won more games than a couple of other teams. Still, the 2019-20 season feels “over” with regard to any faint playoff hopes and the anticipation of the 2020 off-season begins in earnest.
Without further delay, here are this week’s DIME power rankings.
1. LA Clippers (7-3, Last week — 1st)
The Clippers are 7-1 when Kawhi Leonard suits up this season and the team has a net rating of +16.3 when the reigning NBA Finals MVP is on the court. I understand that the Clippers don’t have the league’s best record, but they’ve done nothing to fall out of the top spot, even without Paul George.
2. Boston Celtics (8-1, Last week — 6th)
After a season-opening loss in Philly, the Celtics have won eight straight games. There is reason for skepticism when it comes to keeping up this level of play but Boston has been fantastic recently. The next step will be seeing how the team fares without Gordon Hayward, who will be sidelined for several weeks after hand surgery.
3. Milwaukee Bucks (7-3, Last week — 3rd)
Like the Celtics, the Bucks will be dealing with a high-profile injury for a while as Khris Middleton is battling a leg issue. Truthfully, there is no chance that I would pick Boston against Milwaukee on a neutral court right now but, hey, the results have to matter.
4. Denver Nuggets (7-2, Last week — 7th)
Denver opened the season with three straight wins, ran into a hiccup with back-to-back losses, then reeled off four straight victories. It is fair to point out that the schedule hasn’t been all that difficult but the Nuggets did knock off the Sixers (albeit at home) this week.
5. Los Angeles Lakers (7-2, Last week — 2nd)
Los Angeles would’ve been contention for a higher placement if not for a home loss to the Raptors in their last outing. To be fair, the Lakers won seven in a row before that and, aside from worries about Anthony Davis’ constant shoulder soreness, it’s been a strong start.
6. Utah Jazz (7-3, Last week — 10th)
Quin Snyder’s bunch has won three in a row, including wins over the Sixers and Bucks. It’s almost as if Mike Conley wasn’t going to be the worst shooter in the NBA for the whole season. Bold concept, I know.
7. Houston Rockets (7-3, Last week — 14th)
James Harden is averaging 37.3 points per game. When combined with his play-making for others, it should be no surprise that the Rockets are a) pretty good overall and b) sporting a top-three offense in the NBA on a per-possession basis.
8. Philadelphia 76ers (6-3, Last week — 4th)
After a three-game skid, the Sixers righted the ship with a home win over the Hornets in their last outing. Prior to that, Philly set off some alarms in blowing a 21-point lead against Denver but, for now, there is no cause for grave concern.
9. Toronto Raptors (7-3, Last week — 11th)
The Raptors are playing great. Toronto’s trio of losses came on the road against quality opponents (Celtics, Bucks, Clippers) and the Raptors have taken care of business otherwise. Unfortunately, Nick Nurse’s team will be dealing with a bevy of injuries for a while and, well, depth isn’t exactly a strength on paper.
10. Miami Heat (6-3, Last week — 5th)
The Dion Waiters saga took the focus off the floor for Miami this week and it kind of masked the struggles for the Heat. Miami did pick up an impressive road win over Phoenix but that was sandwiched by blowout road losses. This is a good basketball team but we’re still figuring out just how good.
11. Phoenix Suns (6-3, Last week — 8th)
Phoenix has a +12.5 net rating when Aron Baynes plays this season. That is a staggering figure when you realize that Baynes wasn’t even supposed to be the team’s primary center. The Suns are a fantastic story in the early going and, even when they inevitably regress a little, Phoenix could be in the mix all season long.
12. Indiana Pacers (6-4, Last week — 16th)
Remember when the Pacers were struggling? That seems to be over, with Indiana outscoring opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions over the course of a 6-1 stretch. The schedule wasn’t exactly a gauntlet but every win counts the same.
13. Dallas Mavericks (6-4, Last week — 9th)
The early returns are strong in Dallas but last week wasn’t fantastic. Losing to the Knicks is a low point for any team and, while there is no shame in dropping a game to Boston, Kristaps Porzingis getting benched in the fourth quarter was noteworthy.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (6-4, Last week — 13th)
Is something happening with Andrew Wiggins? The former No. 1 pick is averaging 29.0 points, 4.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game in the last six outings. Those numbers are eye-popping on their own, but his efficiency (50% FG, 40.5% 3PT) is perhaps even more noteworthy.
15. Brooklyn Nets (4-5, Last week — 15th)
It shouldn’t be that surprising for a team deploying Taurean Prince, Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan (the 2019 version), but the Nets are currently 25th in defensive rating. Brooklyn should improve from that basement-level perch but the real baseline for this team defensively is something that is yet to be determined.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (4-6, Last week — 17th)
It might be time to start a dialogue about the Blazers. Portland stopped a losing skid with a win over the Hawks on Sunday but the Blazers needed overtime to beat a short-handed Atlanta team at home. Defensively, the personnel just isn’t there for Portland right now, the wing rotation is a mess, and there is only so much Damian Lillard can do, even when he’s effectively a superhero.
17. San Antonio Spurs (5-5, Last week — 12th)
Things started well for the Spurs but San Antonio has now lost four out of the last five games. That isn’t damning on its own but two of the losses came to the short-handed Hawks and the Grizzlies, leading to some genuine cause for concern.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-6, Last week — 21st)
The Thunder, as currently constructed, are pretty solid. Oklahoma City is under water in terms of record but five of the team’s losses are by (very) narrow margins. This feels like a team that would be firmly in the playoff mix in the East but probably one that isn’t in the West.
19. Detroit Pistons (4-7, Last week — 20th)
Blake Griffin is back and, even if his debut was spoiled by the Timberwolves, that is the overarching takeaway of the week for Detroit. They managed to stay afloat (at least for the most part) without him and the real Pistons can now stand up.
20. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-5, Last week — 25th)
The Cavs are 4-5 and that is impressive in itself. What is more impressive is the fact that Cleveland’s defense is out of the bottom 10 entirely. Is John Beilein actually a wizard?
21. Orlando Magic (3-7, Last week — 19th)
Orlando is no longer in the NBA’s basement when it comes to offense (shouts to the Knicks) but the Magic are really struggling. It’s too early for full-fledged panic but, even in the East, there is a threshold that playoff teams have to meet and Orlando isn’t doing it right now.
22. Sacramento Kings (3-6, Last week — 22nd)
Just as the Kings seemed to be rounding into form, word broke that De’Aaron Fox will miss at least three weeks with an ankle issue. The Kings are capable of weathering the storm without him but, in short, he’s their most indispensable player. This is a big test.
23. Charlotte Hornets (4-6, Last week — 23rd)
Regression was always coming for the Hornets after a good start. Charlotte has dropped three in a row and they are 27th in net rating. That’s closer to what everyone expected.
24. Chicago Bulls (3-7, Last week — 26th)
The Bulls beat the Hawks in Atlanta last week and that pushes them to this slot this time around. Make no mistake, though, Chicago has been a disappointment so far, even with that back-against-the-wall victory over the Hawks. The Bulls followed it up with a 23-point home loss and that felt more fitting.
25. Atlanta Hawks (3-6, Last week — 18th)
After a 2-0 start, the Hawks have dropped six out of seven games. The absence of John Collins explains some of the downturn but Atlanta is in the middle of a West Coast trip that isn’t forgiving in the slightest. They just have to aim for general competence until Collins returns, but having Trae Young helps.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (3-7, Last week — 29th)
The Grizzlies went into San Antonio and spoiled Tony Parker’s jersey retirement with a win on Monday night. That was a flash point for the Grizzlies and, honestly, the win was more impressive because Ja Morant didn’t have a great night.
27. New Orleans Pelicans (2-8, Last week — 28th)
Without Zion Williamson in the mix, expectations for the Pelicans were chilled before the season started. With that said, New Orleans has been far worse than most projected and their defense has been staggeringly poor in the early going.
28. Washington Wizards (2-6, Last week — 24th)
There have been some nice moments for the Wizards this season and they aren’t a complete and utter disaster. Washington still lost to Cleveland by double-digits at home in their last outing. That kind of speaks for itself.
29. Golden State Warriors (2-9, Last week — 27th)
Draymond Green played on Monday and that is a positive thing for Golden State. That might be the end of the positive things for a team with the NBA’s worst record, but shoutout to Eric Paschall.
30. New York Knicks (2-8, Last week — 30th)
As noted above, the Knicks aren’t very good right now. New York has the worst net rating (-10.2) in the NBA. This is the spot for them.