At the outset of the NBA season we said to prepare yourself for parity and so far that’s exactly how things have played out – in a sense.
What we mean by that is the fact that the league has apparently separated into two very distinctive and very large groups of haves and have-nots with a minuscule middle that we’re still unsure of.
Here’s how we see things in the latest edition of the NBA Tier List.
The NBA’s elite
At the top of the heap we have six teams that have all looked very good thus far.
In particular, the Toronto Raptors deserve a nod in this top grouping because of the way the club’s managed to handle injuries without missing a step. The loss on Saturday to the Mavericks aside, the Raptors just came from a five-game road trip looking just as good, if not better, than they had been before the injury bug reared its ugly head thanks to the emergence of role players Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher. If you’re a Raptors fan, you have to feel good about how this team has performed and the direction it’s trending in.
Of these six teams, the Houston Rockets are big movers, mainly because this is a squad that’s won seven-straight and eight of its last 10 games. James Harden once again looks like an MVP frontrunner and even though the shooting percentages for him and Russell Westbrook likely aren’t where the Rockets want them to be, at 10-3 it’s hard to deny that the experiment to reunite these two former MVPs is working so far.
The NBA’s elite (continued)
If the tier above this one would be considered Tier 1, then this grouping — this week, anyway — would be considered Tier 1-A. There’s honestly not a ton of difference between these five teams and the six above.
If there’s one thing to point out among these teams, it’s that the Philadelphia 76ers are quietly in a bit of a funk, going 3-5 in their last eight games, including back-to-back losses to the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. This obviously could just be a blip on the radar, but in both of those losses Philly put up just 97 points, something that speaks to a Sixers offence that ranks in the bottom half of the league.
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No idea what to make of these clubs
Here we have the six-team middle of the pack where if you can definitively say any of these teams are either good or bad you’re either from the future and have already seen where they finish this season or you’re just making stuff up.
Take, for example, the Mavericks. They beat the Raptors on Saturday – albeit Toronto was shorthanded and likely gassed at the end of a five-game, nine-day road trip – but then also lost to the New York Knicks twice in a seven-day span.
Or how about the Oklahoma City Thunder? They recently got a signature win against the Sixers and played the Milwaukee Bucks hard and tough in a two-point loss, but also feature a dud against the Washington Wizards on their resume.
The fact of the matter is, we have no idea what any of these teams are yet, and it’s no shame to admit that.
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Not looking good
Welcome to the first half of teams that appear to be quite bad. These clubs are ranked above the ones below mainly because there’s a chance they could turn the corner, or there’s some past pedigree at play.
To the latter point, the Portland Trail Blazers are a season removed from reaching the Western Conference Finals, but right now look to be a team in real trouble. So much so, in fact, that the team appeared to make the most desperate of desperation moves in signing former 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, which sounds like a sexy move on paper, but Anthony hasn’t played in nearly a full calendar year because he’s seemed completely unwilling to take on a bench role, something he’s going to be asked to do in Portland. So, what’s changed? We’re gonna find out.
Additionally, the Sacramento Kings look like they might be figuring things out having won three of their last four, snapping the Boston Celtics’ 10-game winning streak in the process and just coming up short at the buzzer against the Los Angeles Lakers. Even more impressive is that the Kings are doing this without their best player, De’Aaron Fox, who is projected to be out three-to-four weeks with an ankle injury. Sacramento has talent, it’s just taken a while for it surface and convert into wins this season — something that, ultimately, might keep the team closer to the basement.
Really not looking good
These are all teams that look particularly bad right now. Is it possible they turn things around and go on a winning streak? Of course it is, but with the way they’re all trending at the moment that doesn’t seem likely.
The San Antonio Spurs, in particular, have been putrid, losing five-straight and giving up a disastrous 120.1 points per 100 possessions during their slide. Then again, when the team’s best players are DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, should you really expect great defence to be played? Unfortunately for fans of the Spurs, this abysmal defence looks like it’s something that is just a reality for their team. It may not always look this horrible, but it seems like it’ll generally stay at a level of just being bad.
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[Insert funny tanking pun here]
Lastly, there’s the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks. These teams are so outrageously bad right now that they deserve their own tier of crap-tacularness.
The only thing they’re playing for right now is additional ping pong balls, and it’s not even December yet. Yikes!