The Whiteboard: Power ranking the NBA’s best teams

Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, The Whiteboard

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We’ve been playing around with power rankings for the past few Mondays on The Whiteboard, ranking things like MVP candidates, team defenses and most improved players. As most teams round the corner on the first quarter of the NBA season, we’re going to take a more traditional tact this week and just look at the best teams in the league.

For the sake of brevity, we’re just going to focus in on the top six teams as the league (as I see them). I’ve listed records and point differentials as a reference point for comparison but the ordering is based on my subjective opinion, blending their performance thus far and their upside for the rest of the season.

Power ranking the best NBA teams right now:

6. Brooklyn Nets — 12-5, +3.4 Net Rating

The Nets are tied with the Bulls for the best record in the Eastern Conference but their point differential is a tier below the rest of the teams here. They have looked great at times and while James Harden has struggled, he and Durant (along with the specter of a return from Kyrie Irving) mean their ceiling is still incredibly high. And while all five of their losses have come by double-digits, they’re also all respectable, coming at the hands of the Bucks, Hornets, Heat, Bulls and Warriors. They’ve merely been good but the possibility for great certainly still exists.

5. Chicago Bulls — 12-5, +5.4 Net Rating

The Bulls are tied with the Nets and slightly ahead of the Heat in the standings, but their point differential is a significant step below Miami’s. Their new additions have given the Bulls everything they could have hoped for — DeMar DeRozan is having a career year, Lonzo Ball is shooting 43.6 percent from beyond the arc and he and Alex Caruso are combining for an average of 4.0 steals per game. They’ve rolled together cleanly with the pieces that were already in place and they rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. There’s also a case to be made that the Bulls have some upside as shooting percentages for Nikola Vucevic and Caruso progress to the mean. However, they have much less depth than most of the other top teams, especially without second-year forward Patrick Williams out for the rest of the season. Caruso and Javonte Green have both been pressed into the starting lineup at times and their top three bench players have been rookie Ayo Dosunmu, Derrick Jones Jr. and Tony Bradley. If they can’t figure out some bench upgrades as the season goes along, it could really lower their ceiling in a playoff series.

4. Miami Heat — 11-6, +7.4 Net Rating

The Miami Heat are currently third in the Eastern Conference but they have the best point differential by a decent margin and they’re the only team in the East ranked in the top five in efficiency on both offense and defense. They’re enjoying a breakout season from Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry has been a perfect fit. Things might be looking even better if Duncan Robinson wasn’t shooting 33.1 percent on 3-pointers but that number is absolutely going to come up and this team has the offensive and defensive flexibility to deal with a variety of matchups in the playoffs. If everyone stays healthy, they could easily enter the playoffs as the Eastern Conference favorite.

3. Utah Jazz — 11-5, +9.8 Net Rating

The Jazz muddled through a tough stretch, losing four of five games at the beginning of this month. But they’ve now bounced back a bit, winning three in a row. They’re are down in the Western Conference standings a bit but have the second-best point differential in the league and have led by 20 points or more on 10.2 percent of their possessions this season. Jordan Clarkson has struggled but the additions of Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside have given them even more depth and flexibility than in previous seasons. They should absolutely finish the regular season with one of the best records in the league. And then the real test starts.

2. Phoenix Suns — 13-3, +6.8 Net Rating

The Phoenix Suns got off to a rocky start this season and it looked like they might struggle with the increased expectations and pressure from their NBA Finals run last year. The team was unable to agree on terms with Deandre Ayton for a contract extension and announced around the same time that they had extended Landry Shamet. The two contracts were unrelated and definitely not an either-or situation but the optics weren’t great, especially when Ayton’s desire to stay in Phoenix long-term seemed like big concern. On Oct. 28, they were 1-3 with the reported but as yet unreleased Robert Sarver exposé casting a long shadow over the team. All they’ve done since then is win 12 games in a row, outscoring opponents by an average of 12.2 points per 100 possessions over that stretch. They look like a group determined to deal with front office turmoil by banding together on the court and pushing through. All the pieces are still in place and a return to the NBA Finals seems like a strong possibility.

1. Golden State Warriors — 15-2, +12.9 Net Rating

The Warriors have been the best team in the league so far this season, and it hasn’t really been close. Theye have the best record in the league and they’re the only team with a double-digit point differential at this point. They rank No. 1 in defensive efficiency and No. 2 in offensive efficiency and have found success both were their starting lineup — Curry, Poole, Wiggins, Green and Looney have outscored opponents by an average of 10.9 points per possessions — and with a variety of bench units that have leaned on surprisingly strong starts from players like Damion Lee, Otto Porter, Nemanja Bjelica and Gary Payton II. And of course, at some point soon Klay Thompson should be back on the floor, making the best team in the NBA even more dangerous.

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