NBA Tier List: Raptors remain power conference-like, Heat leap to top


The NCAA basketball season kicks off this week and while that has very little to do with the NBA itself apart from the prospect watch – Georgia’s Anthony Edwards and James Wiseman from Memphis are a of couple big names to watch, by the way – this seems like as good a reason to rank teams with some college-hoops-themed tiers.

Here’s this week’s edition of the NBA Tier List:

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Final Four bound

Newsflash: The Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia Sixers look really, really good, as many thought they would. What’s something of a surprise, however, is the play of the Miami Heat.

Currently owners of the best net rating in the NBA at plus-10.3 points per 100 possessions, the Heat thus far have shown a devastating mix of lockdown defence and top-end, but-not-yet elite offence.

Even cooler about Miami’s hot – sorry, not sorry for the pun – start is that the team’s jumped out to it, not on the strength of their new superstar Jimmy Butler nor established solid guys like Justise Winslow and Goran Dragic. Rather, it’s been a rookie carrying the load.

Undrafted rookie Kendrick Nunn is averaging 19.5 points to lead Miami, while shooting a scorching 44.4 per cent from three. He played last season for the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G League and signed as a free agent with the Heat in the off-season. It’s still quite early, but he already looks like a rising star for what has thus far has been a very good Heat team.

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Power conference-like

Outside of the usual suspects – such as the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets – this tier is actually quite interesting. And foremost among these teams are the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns.

Neither team was expected to take much of a leap, as this was a season advertised as one fraught with great parity, it should only make sense that the T-Wolves and Suns are throwing it back to the early 2000’s and climbing their way back to relevance now.

In Minnesota’s case, Karl-Anthony Towns has been the man most responsible for the early success as he’s not only shown fight in his scuffle with Joel Embiid, he’s done so on the basketball court as well, looking like an early MVP candidate with averages of 27.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 54.4 per cent from the field and 52.9 per cent from deep.

For Phoenix, even though Devin Booker has been his usual scoring-machine self, the big change for the club has been at point guard and centre with the addition of Ricky Rubio – who signed a three-year contract with the Suns in the off-season – and Aron Baynes – who was traded to the club.

Rubio has been the steadying presence the Suns have desperately needed for a while, allowing Booker to definitively play off the ball where he can be more efficient without sacrificing his deadliness as a scorer. More importantly, Rubio gives Phoenix’s backcourt some much-needed defensive acumen, something that Baynes provides for its frontcourt.

Baynes has stepped in as a starter for the Suns for the suspended DeAndre Ayton, and with the way he’s been playing, even when the former No. 1 pick returns it might be in Phoenix’s best interest to keep him a starter as he’s shored up the Suns’ backline and helped them become a top-10 defensive team in the league.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Mid-major programs

You may have noticed that the Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz have all dropped down a tier. This isn’t to say they’re markedly bad clubs than the teams just above them, but they’ve had bouts of poor play that are cause for concern.

The Rockets, in particular, look shaky with only a plus-0.3 point-differential in victories and playing next to no defence – as their 159-158 regulation victory over the Washington Wizards illustrated painfully, no matter how entertaining a game it was.

On the flip side of this, there’s a team like the Indiana Pacers, who have completely reversed their fortunes after a dreadful start and are beginning to play like the team many expected them to.

Led by new acquisition Malcolm Brogdon’s 22.5 points and 9.7 assists, the Pacers look to have the necessary offensive firepower they were lacking last season while they continue to play steady, above-average defence.

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The Small East

The Big East is one of college basketball’s most storied conferences. This collection of five Eastern Conference teams, however, is pretty much the exact opposite of what the Big East stands for as they look to trending toward just being part of the bubble for the last remaining Eastern Conference playoff seeds.

Granted for some of these clubs, such as the Chicago Bulls, squeaking in as a No. 8 seed could be seen as a mark of progress for young players who haven’t experienced a lot of winning in their careers so far.

Still, being a fringe playoff team in the East isn’t exactly a compliment, which is a good reason why this entire tier consists of East squads.

May as well actually look for a way to play in the NCAA

With news that Stephen Curry won’t even get another update on the broken left hand he suffered until closer February at the earliest, combined with Klay Thompson missing the entire season, it would appear that the Golden State Warriors’ season is all but over.

This is a team that is currently dead last in defensive rating, giving up 117.3 points per 100 possessions and second-last in net rating. This isn’t a ship that’s going to right itself anytime soon, so expect to see the Warriors to be a permanent fixture here at the bottom of the tier list for many weeks to come.