The Utah Jazz comfortably led the NBA in net rating during the 2020-21 season, out-scoring opponents by nine points per 100 possessions. Utah also finished the campaign with the league’s record at 52-20, but the Jazz fell short of the Western Conference Finals, losing in the second round amid a collapsing defense and injury issues in the backcourt. That early playoff exit left Utah in a position in which any regular season success may be discounted, simply because the Jazz have proven to be a strong team over the marathon that is a full NBA season. As such, the Jazz haven’t received much buzz during the 2021-22 season, with much of the attention at the top of the West focused on the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns.
Here’s the thing: The Jazz are playing even better this season than they did a year ago. Utah boasts an incredibly impressive +10 net rating through 33 games, even as the Jazz are “only” 24-9 in the standings. Beyond that overall dominance, Utah is quite easily the best offensive team in the NBA right now, putting up 116.6 points per 100 possessions. That figure is essentially identical to what the Jazz were able to produce offensively last season, but the NBA’s offensive environment is down quite a bit year-over-year, with the glaring exception of Quin Snyder’s team.
Utah leads the NBA in offensive rating by nearly four points per 100 possessions, which is a comically large gap over 30+ games. The Jazz are firmly in the top-10 of the NBA in offensive rebound rate, and Utah ranks in the top-6 in field goal percentage, two-point percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw volume. All told, the Jazz also lead the NBA in true shooting percentage, and there is nothing inherently fluky about what Utah has been able to do.
In similar fashion to last season, Donovan Mitchell serves as Utah’s engine on offense, with a perimeter-based attack revolving around Rudy Gobert’s two-way brilliance. The Jazz have strong shooters, intriguing secondary creation with Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson, and a system that is beautifully designed by Snyder. Overall, Utah’s performance may be ignored until they progress further in the NBA Playoffs but, through 33 games, the Jazz are performing at a level that is impossible to ignore.
Are the Jazz better than the Warriors or Suns? Maybe not, but Utah has to be grouped firmly in that tier right now, and the hope would be that the Jazz can figure out enough answers on defense to make this legitimately elite offense sing.
Where do the Jazz rank in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s take a glance.
1. Golden State Warriors (27-7, Last week — 1st)
Golden State’s road win over Phoenix on Christmas outweighs a home loss to Denver on Tuesday. That is the basically the calculus for keeping the Warriors in the top spot, particularly since Draymond Green missed the loss to the Nuggets. This is a close call, though, as the No. 2 team has a real case.
2. Utah Jazz (24-9, Last week — 3rd)
The Jazz host the Warriors on New Year’s Day. That’ll be fun.
3. Phoenix Suns (26-7, Last week — 2nd)
It’s not as if the Suns are struggling right now. After all, the Suns went from Oct. 27 to Christmas without losing a single game with Devin Booker on the floor. Phoenix did just lose two in a row, though, and a home loss to Memphis keeps them out of the top-2. Don’t fear, though, as the Suns are clearly as good as anyone when taking the full season into account.
4. Brooklyn Nets (23-9, Last week — 5th)
After three postponements, the Nets just won back-to-back games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers. That isn’t the type of gauntlet this season that it’s been in previous years, but Brooklyn has just one loss since Dec. 8, and they held serve this week.
5. Chicago Bulls (21-10, Last week — 6th)
Chicago’s roster situation was a mess in the last few weeks but, as the Bulls get healthier, the results are great. The Bulls are on a four-game winning streak with top-10 units on both offense and defense. They aren’t the same defensive team without both Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, but those guys should return in the relatively near future and the full cast is strong.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (23-13, Last week — 7th)
The Bucks are 19-9 with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup, headlined by a wild comeback win on Christmas. Milwaukee has won four in a row, and the Bucks really feel too low on this list. They just couldn’t climb this week because the Nets and Bulls didn’t lose.
7. Miami Heat (22-13, Last week — 8th)
Miami is just cruising along. The Heat have battled injury issues, with Jimmy Butler missing extended time and Bam Adebayo still out, and they’ve weathered those hiccups. Miami is in the top-5 in net rating (+4.1) after six wins in seven games, and there is a lot to like.
8. Memphis Grizzlies (21-14, Last week — 9th)
The Grizzlies were ready to slip in this space after three straight losses. Then, Memphis beat Phoenix on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. That is a huge win, and the Grizzlies are comfortably ahead of the pack for the No. 4 seed in the West at the moment.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-14, Last week — 4th)
The protocols have sidelined key pieces, and the Cavs haven’t cratered. However, Cleveland has dropped two of three and Ricky Rubio went down with an apparent knee injury on Tuesday. If that is a long-term issue, the Cavs will have challenges with only Darius Garland to handle ball-handling duties, and the team’s depth will be tested once again.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (18-16, Last week — 11th)
There is a real drop to No. 10 in our power rankings in terms of full-season pedigree. Philadelphia gets the nod here because of three wins in the last four games, and the Sixers also have the 10th-best winning percentage in the league. This is a top-10 team whenever Joel Embiid is playing, and he’s been playing more often than not.
11. Denver Nuggets (17-16, Last week — 10th)
Denver started last week’s slate with two disappointing losses. On cue, the Nuggets rebounded with two strong wins, capped by a road victory in San Francisco on Tuesday. Nikola Jokic remains preposterous and, while Denver’s overall profile isn’t outstanding, that groups them with a bevy of teams in this range.
12. San Antonio Spurs (14-19, Last week — 15th)
Even with all of the plaudits for San Antonio last week, this feels high, but is it? The Spurs are 10-6 in the last 16 games, and San Antonio is now in the top-10 in net rating. Does that mean it’ll hold up? Maybe not, but it’s tough to argue for many teams against them.
13. Boston Celtics (16-18, Last week — 12th)
Boston played well on Christmas before ceding the game to the Bucks in the final minutes. That is something of a microcosm of a pretty frustrating season for the Celtics, but Boston is still tied for 11th in net rating and just hanging around the middle.
14. Dallas Mavericks (16-17, Last week — 16th)
Luka Doncic hasn’t played in almost three weeks and the Mavs haven’t cratered. Dallas is 4-4 in the last eight games, and that is enough to stay in the top half of the league. It’s a low bar to clear right now.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (17-18, Last week — 13th)
If this wasn’t the Lakers with LeBron James and high-end pedigree, they’d be lower than this. Los Angeles narrowly avoided a sixth straight loss by outlasting the Rockets on Tuesday, which meant they avoided a true free fall in these rankings. LeBron has been outrageously good lately in the absence of Anthony Davis, but he isn’t getting much help.
16. New York Knicks (16-18, Last week — 20th)
New York’s last two wins came against protocol-riddled opponents, but they count in the standings just the same. The Knicks also had their own issues and managed to weather them, hanging around the playoff chase as a result.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-18, Last week — 17th)
Minnesota is among the teams battling incredibly difficult roster situations, and they weren’t very impressive in a loss to the Knicks on Tuesday. In zooming out, though, the Wolves are 5-3 in the last eight games with solid metrics on both sides of the floor.
18. L.A. Clippers (17-17, Last week — 14th)
Paul George’s elbow injury is a tough blow to a Clippers team already operating without Kawhi Leonard. It is hard to imagine L.A. can keep up its .500 level without George for an extended period of time, and the Clippers are just 1-5 in the last six overall.
19. Charlotte Hornets (18-17, Last week — 21st)
The Hornets are 20th in net rating but 12th in win-loss record. I’m trusting the metrics a bit more right now, particularly with only a 5-9 record over the last 14 games. On the positive side, Charlotte did have a very nice road win in Denver this week.
20. Toronto Raptors (14-17, Last week — 18th)
Due to postponements, the Raptors have played only three times in more than two weeks. One of those losses was a 45-point annihilation at the hands of the Cavs in which Toronto fielded a roster that was barely NBA quality. There isn’t much to glean here.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (13-22, Last week — 23rd)
If only the season started in December. The Pelicans are 7-5 with approximately a net-neutral point differential this month. Of course, New Orleans dug a gigantic hole at the start of the season but, in taking the team’s recent play at face value, they shouldn’t be in the bottom five anymore.
22. Washington Wizards (17-17, Last week — 22nd)
Washington is 14-2 in what NBA.com classifies as “clutch” situations this season. That is remarkable, and kudos to the Wizards for pulling off that kind of high-wire act. However, the Wizards are just 4-10 in the last 14 games, and the team’s win-loss record doesn’t match its statistical profile.
23. Indiana Pacers (14-20, Last week — 26th)
The Pacers went 5-6 in the first 11 games of December, and they did it without a single bad loss. That represents progress, and Indiana is still a team that is confounding with a 14-20 record and a positive point differential.
24. Atlanta Hawks (15-18, Last week — 19th)
No team has been hit harder by the NBA’s health and safety protocols this week than the Hawks. Atlanta’s roster has ballooned to a reported 25 (!) players and it is tough to make too much of the results as such. Still, the Hawks have lost eight straight at home and they are 4-9 in the last 13 overall.
25. Sacramento Kings (14-21, Last week — 27th)
On the heels of three consecutive double-digit losses, the Kings rallied to beat the Thunder on Tuesday. That doesn’t move the needle very much, but Tyrese Haliburton was excellent in that game, and he is averaging 16.2 points and 8.5 assists per game in December.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder (12-21, Last week — 28th)
Oklahoma City is 12-17 when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plays this season. The Thunder are a spot or two lower than they probably should be due to Tuesday’s head-to-head loss to Sacramento, but they have been soundly better than the teams below them here, which is wild.
27. Portland Trail Blazers (13-20, Last week — 24th)
Only the Pistons have an uglier point differential than the Blazers (-9.8 points per 100 possessions) since Nov. 24. That is really gross, and Portland is just 3-12 over the last 15 games. It is virtually impossible to win consistently with a defense as bad as the Blazers’ group right now.
28. Houston Rockets (10-25, Last week — 25th)
Houston was highly competitive against the Lakers on Tuesday, nearly pulling off the home upset. The Rockets are still on a five-game losing streak with seven losses in the last eight games, though, and the four previous losses came by double figures. Houston had a heck of a stretch a couple of weeks ago, but the overall product isn’t fantastic.
29. Orlando Magic (7-28, Last week — 29th)
It’s not all bad for Orlando. Cole Anthony has been a positive story in the absence of Jalen Suggs, and Franz Wagner looks tremendous. The rookie forward erupted for 38 points in a loss to the Bucks on Tuesday, and considering Wagner’s impressive slate of supporting traits, that kind of offensive outburst is even more encouraging.
30. Detroit Pistons (5-27, Last week — 30th)
Detroit can’t score, which has been a theme throughout the season. The Pistons also just allowed 144 points to the Spurs in a regulation game, which is jarring to even type. Detroit is 1-17 in the last 18 games and, even with contention from other organizations, the Pistons own this spot right now.