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NBA Power Rankings Week 4: The Wizards Are On An Upswing

Most teams in the NBA are either aiming for high-end playoff contention or heading toward the bottom and the race for Victor Wembenyama. The Washington Wizards began the 2022-23 season doing neither. Washington has long been a franchise pegged for the middle, with an apparent eagerness from ownership to simply compete for the postseason despite outsiders struggling to see a path to real contention in the future. In the big picture, that remains the case, but the Wizards are quietly playing quite well and maximizing their roster through 14 games.

Washington is 8-6 this season and currently riding a four-game winning streak — doing so with star guard Bradley Beal sitting out in health and safety protocols. That run includes wins over Dallas, Utah, and Memphis, and the Wizards have a sparkling 102.0 defensive rating in that sample. For the season, Washington is defending at a rock-solid level, yielding only 110.5 points per 100 possessions, and the Wizards are building out a strong unit on the fundamentals.

Washington is in the top five of the NBA in defensive rebound rate (74.4 percent) and free throw rate allowed (0.232), helping to boost overall efficiency. The Wizards are also holding opponents to 49.7 percent shooting on two-point attempts and 45.1 percent shooting overall, ranking in the top five in both, and Washington is essentially walling off the rim. The Wizards are giving up only 29.2 percent of opponent shot attempts at the rim, an elite rate, and teams are shooting only 62.9 percent on rim attempts, per Cleaning The Glass. Some of those numbers may regress, but the baseline is sound, and it is a reminder that Washington does have intriguing personnel.

While Beal remains the headliner when he’s on the floor, one could argue Kristaps Porzingis has been the best player for Washington this season. Not only is the big man averaging 20.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, but Porzingis is paying off the “unicorn” hype with strong three-point shooting (38.7 percent) and high-end rim protection. He ranks in the top quartile of the league in field goal percentage allowed at the rim, and Porzingis is a genuine deterrent with his fantastic length and solid positioning.

Overall, the Wizards aren’t going to light the world on fire, simply because they do not have the game-changing talent necessary to do so on a nightly basis. Still, Washington does have quality depth, and players like Kyle Kuzma are operating at a high level in support of Beal and Porzingis. Will the Wizards make a run to the top six in the East? Probably not, but Washington is competitive and solid at the very least, and there are worse things to be.

Where do the Wizards rank in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s find out.

1. Boston Celtics (11-3, Last week — 3rd)

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A new No. 1 emerges on account of a seven-game winning streak. Boston is rolling with the best offense (118.8 points per 100) this season and an even better clip during the winning streak. The Celtics have been oddly average on defense but, without Robert Williams, Boston is playing a bit differently and enjoying the results.

2. Milwaukee Bucks (10-3, Last week — 1st)

Milwaukee has lost three of four and no one should be worried in the slightest. Two of the losses came without Jrue Holiday, one came without Giannis, and the Bucks haven’t had Khris Middleton all season. Now, to be fair, Milwaukee’s offense was horrific on Monday against Atlanta, but that might be expected on a night when Giannis was (relatively) human and the perimeter creation was non-existent.

3. Denver Nuggets (9-4, Last week — 7th)

The Nuggets are 7-2 in the last nine games and bludgeoning opponents with more than 1.17 points per possession. It helps to win close games from a record standpoint, but Denver has also played nine road games and four home games while maintaining this very solid mark. Things are going well.

4. Atlanta Hawks (9-5, Last week — 8th)

It doesn’t necessarily feel like the Hawks are 9-5, particularly when considering the team’s offense has dipped from No. 2 in the NBA last year to No. 13 right now. Atlanta’s shot profile isn’t fantastic and they are missing the trio of Kevin Huerter (trade), Danilo Gallinari (trade), and Bogdan Bogdanovic (injury) on that end of the floor. With that said, the Hawks are swarming on defense behind the frontcourt duo of Clint Capela and John Collins. We’ll see if it’s sustainable, but the Hawks are a stunning No. 8 in the league in defensive efficiency.

5. Dallas Mavericks (7-5, Last week — 6th)

A pair of road losses this week got people talking and speculating that Luka Doncic was already running out of gas. He responded in kind with 42 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists against Portland in a nice home win. Dallas probably needs to figure more out to take some of the heat off Doncic, but Spencer Dinwiddie is also playing great and the formula generally works.

6. Phoenix Suns (8-5, Last week — 4th)

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Friday’s loss was pretty bad for the Suns, falling by double-digits in Orlando. That was part of a stretch of four losses in six games, but the fundamentals look fine for Phoenix. The power forward spot continues to be in flux with Cam Johnson’s injury and no sign of Jae Crowder, so that is a situation to monitor.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (7-7, Last week — 11th)

Philadelphia looks to be alive and Joel Embiid is dominating. Embiid famously had 101 (!) points over a 24-hour period, including a 59-point performance for the ages against Utah. The Sixers are defending at a higher level, and even the team’s loss this week wasn’t disastrous on the road in Atlanta.

8. Utah Jazz (10-5, Last week — 5th)

The Jazz have adversity for the first time this season, losing back-to-back games on the road. It is still wild to see this Utah team sitting at 10-5 overall, but the Jazz do have a slowing schedule on the horizon and the opportunity to stabilize.

9. Memphis Grizzlies (9-5, Last week — 10th)

Memphis has an intriguing showdown with New Orleans on TNT on Tuesday evening, and that is one to circle. The Grizzlies might get Jaren Jackson Jr. back after a season-long absence and, when the Grizzlies have been healthy (other than Jackson), they’ve been very, very good. On the whole, the numbers are relatively pedestrian, but the Grizzlies have earned the benefit of the doubt.

10. Portland Trail Blazers (9-4, Last week — 9th)

The Blazers did lose their last game on Saturday, but Portland remains one of the better stories of the season. The Blazers already have six (!) wins in games they’ve trailed by at least ten points, and Portland is stunningly No. 6 in the league in defense. That might regress a bit, but the Blazers have a pretty friendly home slate this week to perhaps grab a couple of wins.

11. Golden State Warriors (6-8, Last week — 14th)

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The Warriors absolutely hammered the Spurs on Monday for a third win in the last four games. It’s a familiar refrain in that Golden State is good when the starters play and horrible when the bench guys play but, um, are the Warriors ever going to win a road game? They’ll have another chance on Wednesday in Phoenix.

12. Toronto Raptors (8-7, Last week — 12th)

The Raptors have a +8.9 net rating with Pascal Siakam on the court and a -2.2 net rating with him off the court. Toronto has managed a 3-3 record when Siakam is entirely out, but the Raptors are missing their best player and that, unsurprisingly, has cooled them off some.

13. New Orleans Pelicans (7-6, Last week — 13th)

New Orleans has metrics that are better than its record through 13 games. Tuesday’s matchup with Memphis should be a nice test if everyone plays, but there is also something that isn’t quite locking in with the Pelicans on offense. Perhaps it is the fact that the Pels are dead-last in the NBA in three-point attempts per game.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-5, Last week — 2nd)

It was actually the defense that let Cleveland down during a four-game losing streak. The Cavs gave up more than 1.22 points per possession and got generally blitzed. The offense continues to cook, though, and as long as Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen are around, the defense should be okay.

15. L.A. Clippers (8-6, Last week — 15th)

The Clippers still aren’t scoring, and part of that can be attributed to the absence of Kawhi Leonard. On defense, L.A. is lighting it up, holding opponents to 105.9 points per 100 over a 6-2 stretch. It’s safe to think that the Clippers are at least pretty good when Paul George plays, even if Kawhi doesn’t.

16. Miami Heat (7-7, Last week — 20th)

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With the exception of an errant arena sponsorship, the Heat had a good week. We covered Miami’s shaky start in-depth last week, but the Heat came out and won all three games. Admittedly, two of those wins came at home against Charlotte and the third was (very) narrow against Phoenix, but 7-7 is better than 4-7.

17. Washington Wizards (8-6, Last week — 22nd)

As covered earlier, the Wizards are on an upswing. It may not stop for a bit either, as Washington hosts Oklahoma City, Miami, and Charlotte in the nation’s capital this week. That’s a friendly slate.

18. Sacramento Kings (6-6, Last week — 24th)

The Kings have won three in a row and four of the last five. The Kings are .500 this season. The Kings are No. 6 in the league in offense and bringing a perimeter shooting avalanche on a nightly basis. Can the Kings get stops? Maybe not, but this is a fun start.

19. Indiana Pacers (6-6, Last week — 19th)

Indiana hasn’t played since Saturday, but the Pacers just went 3-1 over a four-game homestand and beat Miami, New Orleans, and Toronto. This is still a (very) bad defensive basketball team, but Indiana is No. 7 in offense and launching more threes with a young, fun roster. Optimism reigns.

20. Brooklyn Nets (6-8, Last week — 21st)

Sunday was pretty gross for the Nets, losing by 13 to the current version of the Lakers without LeBron. The bigger picture is better, though, as Brooklyn is 4-2 without Kyrie Irving and actually showing life on defense. It will be quite interesting to see what happens when Kyrie returns, but the on-court triage has been notable.

21. Chicago Bulls (6-8, Last week — 17th)

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None of the last five games are individually alarming for the Bulls. Chicago lost to Boston, Toronto, New Orleans, and Denver, and none of those results is particularly embarrassing. It’s still a 1-4 downturn, and the Bulls have a bottom-10 offense after a 23-point home loss to the Nuggets.

22. New York Knicks (6-7, Last week — 18th)

From a record standpoint, 6-7 seems reasonable for the Knicks. Still, it doesn’t feel that way with the No. 25 net rating in the league and a Sunday afternoon loss that featured 145 (!!!) points from the Thunder at MSG. Any team can have an outlier performance on defense, but the Knicks aren’t getting stops and they aren’t rebounding. This isn’t a team that can afford those shortcomings.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (6-8, Last week — 16th)

Minnesota slips this week, and that might seem strange after a road win over Cleveland on Sunday. Zooming out, the Wolves are 2-6 in the last eight games, giving up more than 1.16 points per possession in that stretch. It was nice to “get right” against Cleveland, but the Cavs didn’t have their full roster and it’s been a really rough start in the Twin Cities.

24. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-8, Last week — 25th)

It’s time to have a dialogue about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The 24-year-old guard has shot 50 percent or higher in 10 of 13 games this season while also scoring 28 points or more in 10 of 13 contests. That brings Gilgeous-Alexander to season-long averages of 31.5 points and 5.8 assists on 54/38/94 shooting. He’ll probably cool off, but the leap might be happening here and Oklahoma City is No. 21 in the league in offense. That might not sound like much, but it’s a large team-wide improvement on that end.

25. San Antonio Spurs (6-8, Last week — 23rd)

San Antonio was unceremoniously blasted by Golden State on Monday, and that is one of those losses that will hurt in the metrics. The Spurs are also 1-6 in the last seven games, and the only win came against the Zombie Bucks without Giannis and Jrue Holiday. Yes, the Spurs are 6-8, but San Antonio’s statistical profile paints a less exciting picture.

26. Los Angeles Lakers (3-10, Last week — 27th)

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The Lakers have a bizarre four-day break between games on Sunday and Friday. That makes for a bit of a boring week upcoming for a team that is rarely boring, but Los Angeles did close the weekend with a win over Brooklyn without LeBron. It helps that the Lakers shot 41 percent from three with only turnovers in that game, but we’ll learn more about Los Angeles when LeBron is back.

27. Charlotte Hornets (4-11, Last week — 26th)

Charlotte managed to avoid the bottom three by beating Orlando on Monday night. That victory stopped an eight-game losing streak and LaMelo Ball is back. He is shooting only 33.3 percent through two games, but the bigger takeaway is that Ball can (finally) bring some juice to the league’s No. 28 offense.

28. Orlando Magic (4-10, Last week — 30th)

It was a good week for Orlando, even if it ended with a home loss to Charlotte on Monday. The Magic beat Dallas and Phoenix at home, and Orlando has a sneaky respectable -2.2 net rating this season that would tell you they might be better than this win-loss record.

29. Detroit Pistons (3-12, Last week — 28th)

There was a groundswell of optimism about Detroit as a potential play-in sleeper in the East. That is basically gone now. The Pistons are getting healthier, but this has been the worst defense in the league to this point. Cade Cunningham is out with shin soreness and, with the former No. 1 pick off the court, Detroit has a hideous 101.8 offensive rating and a -13.5 net rating in 320 minutes.

30. Houston Rockets (2-12, Last week — 29th)

Houston has the worst record in the league and it is very gross on both ends. The statistical profile paints a bleak picture with bottom-five marks in offensive and defensive efficiency, but it’s just going to be tough to win if the Rockets continue to average only 1.24 assists for every turnover. Jalen Green is finding his way in leading the team in scoring in five straight games, but it’s an adventure.