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NBA Power Rankings Week 1: A Strong Start In San Francisco

After an offseason of speculation surrounding the potential for a consolidation trade, the Golden State Warriors largely brought the band back for the 2021-22 campaign. The Warriors did make moves on the margins, providing improved depth by mining the veteran minimum market, but Golden State stood pat in making two lottery picks and did not pull the trigger on a franchise-changing swap. Instead, the Warriors leaned on the development of young players like Jordan Poole and James Wiseman, as well as the pending return of long-time standout shooting guard Klay Thompson. Through three games and a week of play, the early returns are strong in San Francisco.

The Warriors are one of only a handful of unbeaten teams to this point, winning all three games against divisional opponents. Golden State opened with a very strong road win over the Los Angeles Lakers, pivoted to a home win over the L.A. Clippers, and then took care of business with a double-digit road win over the Sacramento Kings. Offensively, the team has enjoyed peak moments, headlined by a 45-point eruption by Steph Curry in the win over the Clippers. It has been the defense, though, that has carried the mantle in the early going.

Golden State finished as a top-five defense a season ago, propping up an offense that was tremendous with Curry on the floor and dire when he left the hardwood. In three games this season, the Warriors are allowing only 1.05 points per possession, mirroring the team’s breakout play down the stretch of last season. In that late push toward the playoffs, Golden State trailed only Utah in defensive rating (106.5), and Steve Kerr’s team still leans to defense in terms of its optimal personnel.

With Draymond Green anchoring the defense and a strong systematic approach, Curry continues to overwhelm offensively. He is averaging 31 points, nine rebounds and seven assists per game, getting up 12 three-pointers per contest, and attracting more defensive attention than any single player in the NBA. The hopes are high for Poole’s breakout after a tremendous preseason but, at present, Curry is carrying a substantial workload, and it will be interesting to see who can step up to join him. Still, Golden State’s offense has been more than passable and, while trying not to overreact to a three-game sample, the Warriors are on their way to keeping things going until Thompson can arrive and eventually ease back toward full-time deployment.

Where do the Warriors rank in the inaugural edition of our 2021-22 DIME power rankings? Let’s dive in.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (3-1, Last week — n/a)

Milwaukee hasn’t been the best team in the NBA through one week, but the Bucks are the champs and they’ve done what they needed to do to stay here. Yes, the Bucks lost by a million to the Heat, but that game occurred with half of Milwaukee’s roster resting, and the Bucks have a win over the Nets and back-to-back road wins to close the week. At the very least, we know Milwaukee is good.

2. Utah Jazz (2-0, Last week — n/a)

The Jazz were the NBA’s best regular season team a year ago. They could very well do that again. Utah is one of only two teams that have played two games at this point, but both were comfortable wins. The Jazz have insanely impressive metrics dating back to last season, and the team’s core is still in place.

3. Golden State Warriors (3-0, Last week — n/a)

As noted above, the Warriors are playing quite well, and their winning ways could continue. Golden State plays Oklahoma City twice this week, and they also host Memphis in a game that should favor the Warriors at full strength.

4. Chicago Bulls (4-0, Last week — n/a)

Only one team is 4-0, and it’s the Bulls. Granted, Chicago’s wins haven’t come against the stiffest competition (Pelicans, Raptors, Pistons twice), but the Bulls have defended well and taken care of business. This marked the first four-game winning streak of Zach LaVine’s entire career, and the vibes are good in Chicago right now.

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

If we were focusing only on what happened this season, the Nets wouldn’t be this high. Kevin Durant looks great, which matters, but the Nets are operating without Kyrie Irving and James Harden doesn’t look like himself. Brooklyn’s ceiling remains sky-high, but everyone is projecting at this point.

6. Denver Nuggets (2-1, Last week — n/a)

Denver was woeful on Monday, scoring 87 points in a home loss to Cleveland. The Cavs have been giant killers early in the season, though, and the Nuggets looked good in the first two wins. Nikola Jokic is pretty good, folks.

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

Just like Denver, Atlanta floundered in a weird loss to Cleveland. On either side of that, the Hawks dominated the Mavs on opening night and cruised to a breezy win over the Pistons on Monday. Trae Young looks great, the Hawks are deep, and Atlanta should be taken seriously.

8. Philadelphia 76ers (2-1, Last week — n/a)

With the ongoing Ben Simmons saga at the forefront, the Sixers are 2-1 with the No. 2 offense in the NBA. Granted, they lost a game to the Nets that they probably should have won, but Philadelphia is pretty good even without Simmons.

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

This is similar to Brooklyn. Phoenix hasn’t played very well this season, but we’re trusting the larger sample. The Suns also won a road game against the Lakers to show some life.

10. Charlotte Hornets (3-1, Last week — n/a)

The Hornets nearly opened at 4-0, but Charlotte lost to Boston in overtime on Monday. The offense has been very strong for the Hornets, scoring 1.14 points per possession, and LaMelo Ball’s star turn is in the works. Can the Hornets play defense? We’ll see, but it’s been a fun start.

11. Memphis Grizzlies (2-1, Last week — n/a)

Ja Morant is out of his mind. The third-year guard is scoring in the mid-30’s every night and leading the Grizzlies to the NBA’s best offense through one week. Neither of those are fully sustainable, but the Grizzlies are wildly entertaining. They’re also good.

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

The Knicks would’ve been higher if not for a loss at home to the Magic. That won’t help anybody, but New York’s metrics look just fine. They probably sacrificed some defense for offense with offseason transactions, but the balance could lead to more overall success.
13. Miami Heat (2-1, Last week — n/a)

Miami hasn’t played a close game yet. They are 2-1 with blowouts on all sides, and it’s tough to get a full read of what is happening with the Heat. They do have a good defense and one can be confident in that, but trying to figure out where the regular season baseline is might be tough.

14. Los Angeles Lakers (1-2, Last week — n/a)

Honestly, it was never going to go well offensively in the first week. And it didn’t. The Lakers have a lot of work to do, and they’d be lower than this on results-only. I’ll trust LeBron and Frank Vogel to figure it out, but there are real flaws.

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

L.A. got on the board with a 30-point win on Monday after a couple of uneven performances to start the season. The 30-point blowout swings the Clippers’ metrics to a more favorable place, but we’ll have to see how things break with a light week that includes only two games in the next six days.
16. Dallas Mavericks (1-1, Last week — n/a)

A two-game sample leaves a lot to be desired in trying to figure out what’s real and what isn’t. Dallas looked horrible offensively against Atlanta and scuffled against Toronto for a while. Then, they found something and picked up a win. They’ll be favored in three of four games this week, and that should tell us more.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-1, Last week — n/a)

The buzz was very, very strong on the Wolves before Minnesota crashed in a home loss to New Orleans on Monday. Anthony Edwards looks the part, though, and Karl-Anthony Towns may be back to his superstar level. The supporting cast is still lacking, but the Wolves are playing defense and showing promise.

18. Boston Celtics (2-2, Last week — n/a)

Facing Charlotte in an overtime game on Monday boosted Boston from the bottom tier offensively to the middle of the pack. The Celtics still aren’t showing much offensively, however, and that may be a problem as constructed. The favorable view is that they managed to be 2-2 through four games, even with challenges.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (1-2, Last week — n/a)

Portland was leading the NBA in offense through two games, then they turned in an 86-point clunker on Monday in Los Angeles. Trying to make sense of that is a fool’s errand. Still, the Blazers are a bit of an enigma right now.

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

Weirdly, the Wizards have been notably better on defense than offense through three games. They’ve got some tests this week, with two games against Boston and one against Atlanta. That should paint a clearer picture of the new-look situation in Washington.

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

The Cavs got blitzed in the first two games of the season, with their defense struggling mightily. Then, they flummoxed the Hawks with a 3-2 zone on Saturday and defeated the Nuggets on the road on Monday. It’s tough to know what to make of that. The Cavs are very weird.

22. Toronto Raptors (1-3, Last week — n/a)

Offense is going to be a problem for Toronto, even at full strength. Right now without Pascal Siakam, it’s ugly. The Raptors can certainly defend, holding opponents to fewer than a point per possession, but it’s gonna be a grind to get wins at the outset.

23. Sacramento Kings (1-2, Last week — n/a)

The Kings have two competitive losses and an uninspiring win in which they nearly blew an 18-point lead. Sacramento’s defensive metrics are ugly, which doesn’t surprise anyone, but there is room for some level of optimism. For one thing, Davion Mitchell is hounding opposing guards on a nightly basis.

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

Indiana’s only win came in overtime against the Kyle Lowry-less Heat. The losses haven’t been hideous, but the Pacers have a long way to go.
25. San Antonio Spurs (1-2, Last week — n/a)

It will be interesting to see if the Spurs can find a balance. If San Antonio plays the team’s best defensive players, they can be stellar on that end of the floor, but will undoubtedly struggle to score. If the Spurs lean on shooting, they might lose an identity of a potentially elite defense. They are just okay right now, if that, but we’ll see how that progresses.

26. New Orleans Pelicans (1-3, Last week — n/a)

New Orleans opened 0-3, kicking the ball all over the place and struggling mightily without Zion Williamson. The Pelicans did win on Monday to avoid the bottom four, but it’s not as if this is a team that is flying high right now.

27. Houston Rockets (1-2, Last week — n/a)

The Rockets deserve credit for picking up a win over Oklahoma City but, as you’ll see momentarily, that isn’t exactly difficult to do. Jalen Green flashed in a 30-point performance, but Houston’s positive point differential isn’t likely to last very long unless schedule makers pivot to having the Rockets play the Thunder twice a week.
28. Orlando Magic (1-3, Last week — n/a)

Orlando has the second-worst net rating (-15.7) in the NBA, but they do have a win over the Knicks. New York kind of gave that one away, to be fair, and the Magic were projected as a bottom-tier team for a reason. It’s been an early struggle for the team’s young perimeter players, and Orlando has been solidly below-average on both ends.

29. Detroit Pistons (0-3, Last week — n/a)

Detroit has the NBA’s worst offense to this point, and it really shows. The Pistons do have excuses, with Cade Cunningham still on the sideline and Jerami Grant not playing in Atlanta on Monday. However, Detroit’s perimeter creation is underwhelming to say the least, and the team’s productive frontcourt can only taking things so far.

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

The Thunder were projected by many to be the worst team in the league, and the early returns back up that expectation. They are being outscored by more than 20 points per 100 possessions, losing 11 of 12 quarters to this point, and Oklahoma City’s roster is truly a wasteland right now. They are now just 2-26 in the last 28 games when you take it back to the 2020-21 campaign, and that is indicative of the brutality.

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