Taylor Wyman (@taylormetrics) uses luck-adjusted net rating to help see through the noise of the early season in his December power rankings. Luck-adjusted net ratings work by looking at factors like shooting variance often coming in the form of 3pt shooting.
1. Boston Celtics
The Celtics have been dominant to start the year. They have the 3rd best luck-adjusted offensive rating and the 2nd best LA defensive rating. When a team is this good you have to nitpick. The worry is that their big-man depth won’t hold up over a long season. Kristaps Porzingis is already out with a calf strain and Al Horford 37.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Damian Lillard has not disappointed in his first few months as a Buck. He’s helped transform their offense into a well-oiled machine. The defense has taken a step back (16th luck-adjusted defensive rating) but that’s expected when you swap out defensive-minded players like Jevon Carter and Grayson Allen and replace them with a high-end shooter like Malik Beasley. They may look into adding a point of attack defender via trade at some point during the season to help balance out the roster.
3. Denver Nuggets
The reigning champs have looked good to start the year even with Jamal Murray missing time. Reggie Jackson played well in his absence which helps solidify their ball-handling depth. Aaron Gordon has struggled to find his offensive rhyme but once he does this team should be firing on all cylinders.
4. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves have started the year off hot, boasting the best luck-adjusted defensive rating in the league. Rudy Gobert looks like himself again and the vision behind his acquisition is coming together. Kat and Naz Reid have shot the ball extremely well to start the year which has let the team play around with some 3 big lineups.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder was the talk of the offseason and so far they have lived up to the hype. Chet Holmgren has played at an All-NBA level through the first 20% of the season impacting the game on both ends of the floor. He’s averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds while shooting 40% from three on over 4 attempts a game. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been dominant to start the season proving that last year wasn’t a fluke. He’s a top 10 player in the league.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers traded James Harden and their luck-adjusted offensive rating hasn’t skipped a beat (6th this year, 5th last year). A big part of that has been the massive leap taken by Tyrese Maxey. He’s increased his points per game by seven (20 to 27 per game) on nearly identical efficiency (104 TS+ to 103 TS+). The real game-changer has been his passing. He’s nearly doubled his assists (3.5 to 6.7) while barely increasing his turnovers (1.3 to 1.6). Embiid has been his usual dominant self and they are getting good play from Tobias Harris. The defense has been just so-so through the first fifth of the season but with a roster that sports Robert Covington, De’Anthony Melton, Nicolas Batum, and Patrick Beverley they should easily finish in the top 10.
7. Indiana Pacers
They have a “blow the doors off you” kind of offense. They are going to straight up outscore a lot of teams. Tyrese Haliburton looks like an ALL-NBA guy and they are beginning to fill out the roster with solid role players. The downside is that their defense stinks. They have the best LA offensive rating and the second-worst LA defensive rating in the league.
8. Sacramento Kings
Sacramento has been pretty good to start the year while being one of the least lucky teams in the league. They have the 9th-best record and their luck-adjusted net rating is 1.4 points better than their actual net rating. That’s the difference between being ranked 13th or 18th in the respective net ratings. De’Aaron Fox is playing like an MVP candidate averaging over 30 points and 6.6 assists a game on 103 TS+. Keegan Murray is in the midst of a nasty sophomore slump but has plenty of time to find his footing.
9. Orlando Magic
The Magic are the surprise team of the year. They are 14-6 and Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner look like legit building blocks. Orlando has found success on the defensive side of the ball, they are 4th in luck-adjusted defensive rating and Jalen Suggs has been a big factor. His defensive playmaking is elite, he’s 99th percentile in offensive fouls drawn, 96th percentile in steals, and 92nd percentile in deflections. Unfortunately, they are the likest candidate for regression in the league
10. Phoenix Suns
Phoenix has the 10th-best record in the league and the 11th-best luck-adjusted net rating. Those numbers are good when you consider that Booker has missed half of the season and Bradley Beal has only played in 3 games. However, I don’t think this team is going to play many games fully healthy. Durant has played 60 games in a season zero times since tearing his achilles in the 2019 playoffs and he’s been the healthy one of the bunch. They are all going to take turns in street clothes throughout the year and things will remain murky as to how good this team is when everything is humming.
11. New York Knicks
The Knicks are built for the regular season. They have a ton of depth and a coach that gets his guys to play hard. The results have been solid, a 12-7 record with a league-average offense and top-3 luck-adjusted defense.
12. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas retooled their roster this offseason and early returns have been respectable. Grant Williams has provided the three-and-D element they sorely lacked after dealing away Dorian Finney-Smith and Derick Lively has brought energy and rim finishing as a rookie. Their offense has been humming (5th in LA offensive rating) but their defense has been terrible (25th in LA defensive rating)
13. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers were touted this offseason for their impressive depth but injuries have limited the time of multiple rotation players. LeBron continues to defy all odds and play at an ALL-NBA level. Austin Reaves got off to an ice-cold start but has bounced back in recent weeks. Their defense has been strong (5th in LA defensive rating) but their offense hasn’t been able to find its groove (23rd in LA offensive rating).
14. Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland has had multiple starters miss time to start the year and is likely to climb these rankings as the season plays out. They have a strong defense and the addition of Max Strus has worked out well. His toughness and 3pt shooting have been great additions.
15. Maimi Heat
The Heat lost a few rotation players in free agency but have filled in those holes nicely. Rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. looks legit, his ability to score and pass with the savvy of a 5-year vet is impressive and Duncan Robinson has been reborn after a strong postseason run last year. Overall, they have been a little above average on offense and defense, good for 12th in LA net rating.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans is about to rattle off some wins and shoot up the standings. Zion has started to look dominant after just a so-so start and Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III have missed big chunks of the season. They are two of the top role players in the league and will give head coach Willie Green options.
17. Brooklyn Nets
Before the season, I would have placed the Nets somewhere in this neighborhood but I would have guessed their defense would be carrying them. Surprisingly it’s been the opposite. Cam Thomas has been a huge boon to their offense as a volume scorer and their wings have shot the lights out from three, giving them the 8th-best LA offensive rating. They should be in the mix for a play-in spot if they stay healthy.
18. Los Angeles Clippers
They are one of the weirder teams to place because of the timing of the Harden trade. We basically watched them go through a second preseason trying to make Harden fit. Things are starting to gel and they have rattled off some wins. The lack of secondary passing seems like an issue that will flare up against better competition. Side note, Russell Westbrook cannot put the ball in the basket. He is in the bottom 10 in True Shooting% among guys playing at least 20 minutes a night.
19. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks’s offense has been deadly on offense but they give almost all of it back on defense. Some of that is just the Trae Young experience. Jalen Johnson was in the midst of a 3rd-year breakout before hurting his wrist. He should be back in a few weeks.
20. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are not very good and Steph Curry is still very good. They need Wiggins to wake up.
21. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors appear to have a building block in Scottie Barnes but outside of that things don’t look good for the Raptors long term. They have some solid starters but not enough to put together a competitive offense (25th in LA offensive rating).
22. Houston Rockets
They are a pretty good defensive team (8th in LA defensive rating) and that makes sense considering their offseason. They added a defensive-minded coach in Ime Udoka, Dillon Brooks, and Fred Vanvleet. Alperen Sengun is enjoying a third-year breakout season but the franchise needs some of their other young guys to develop. The offense doesn’t have anywhere enough juice to threaten teams at the moment.
23. Chicago Bulls
Things are not going well in Chicago. They are one of the worst teams in the league that isn’t actively trying to lose.
24. Memphis Grizzlies
Multiple factors have led to the Grizzlies’ horrid start. The most obvious has been Ja Morant being suspended, he’s an ALL-NBA level player and their leading ball handler. Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke both haven’t played this year due to injury, They are quality bigs who played well last season. And the veteran they brought in as their biggest offseason move Marcus Smart is hurt. They should trade for DeRozan to try to keep things afloat. A few weeks after Ja’s return they probably jump 5 spots in these rankings
25. Utah Jazz
The Jazz are in the middle of a rebuild so I don’t know what to tell you. Lauri and Kessler look legit, everything else is in flux.
26. Charlotte Bobcats
LaMelo Ball was playing the best basketball of his career before going down with an ankle injury. The emergence of big man Mark Williams looks promising. They could be an interesting pairing moving forward
27. Portland Trailblazers
Scoot Henderson missed some time early but now is back. Not a lot of other news in the Pacific Northwest basketball-wise.
28. Washington Wizards
They have a lot of guys on their team that would be interesting as the fifth-best player on your favorite team.
29. San Antonio Spurs
Wemby has been exciting.
30. Detroit Pistons
The rebuild timeline might be delayed for a few years.