It’s hard to believe this year is already drawing to a close. It seems like the years go by so quickly, and we’re already just a few short weeks away from the All-Star break. The landscape of the NBA has come into focus, and it’s already becoming clear what teams will be sticking around through June.
To wrap up 2017, I’ve made a Power Rankings list of the season’s top 5 teams so far. Please keep in mind this is just my opinion. I’m also taking into account overall performances, and not looking at who has been playing well for just this week.
5. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors have been a mediocre contender the in the Eastern Conference for a few years now, but they’re creeping up in the Eastern Conference standings, and NBA.com has them listed at #2 behind the Celtics. To date, they’re bringing in about 110 points per game, while only allowing their opponents to score an average of 102. The Raptors’ home court advantage is huge, and they’ve only lost one home game this season. “We the North,” is a powerful mantra, and the 6th man presence from Raptors fans is prevalent across the league–I can only imagine how their fans rock the house in Toronto. What’s more interesting is that the Raptors are 12-4 against teams in their conference (23-10 overall) so they will prove tough to beat in the post season. If the playoffs began today, the Raptors would face the Heat in round 1, but it’s possible that the Pacers and the Knicks could shift the last few slots of the Eastern Conference standings. Between the Celtics and the Cavaliers, the Raptors will likely round out the top three teams in the East for the remainder of the season.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs sit at 3rd place in the Eastern Conference standings just behind the Raptors and the Celtics. Cleveland got off to a bit of a bumpy start this year, and they’re still without their new guard Isaiah Thomas who they exchanged Kyrie Irving for. However, LeBron James will be LeBron James, and he’s having a Benjamin Button season of sorts this year. It seems as though he’s playing better than ever, and his leadership has elevated to the next level. Dwyane Wade‘s presence on the team has allowed LBJ more freedom to exercise his scoring abilities, and at nearly 28 points per game he’s showing that he’s still in his prime. It’s safe to say the Cavs will sit comfortably around the top of the Eastern Conference standings heading into the post season. If they’re able to get Thomas healthy by that time the Celtics may just get a run for their money.
3. Houston Rockets
The Rockets are white-hot this season, and the addition of Chris Paul to the roster has made them a scoring team that likely gives their opponents nightmares. Houston has fire power comparable to the Golden State Warriors, and their plan to simply outscore the other team has proven very effective. Until just recently, the Rockets held the #1 slot in the Western Conference ahead of the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs. Their 3 game losing streak has put a bit of a damper on their rankings, but they still hold the #2 spot firmly, and once they snap out of their funk they should be on their way to first place again soon. Their top scorer, James Harden, is averaging 32.5 points per game at around 39% from three. This means he’s taking quite a few shots, and his shooting percentage outranks both Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.
However, I want to caution everyone that the Rockets’ Achilles’ heel will likely be their defense. They’re playing better D than they have in the past, but it’s a far cry from what we see from the top defending teams in the league. Outscoring your opponent in the regular season might work for a little while, but in the playoffs they will have a hard time over the course of a series against teams who apply tough defensive pressure. The Rockets take on the Lakers and the Magic in their upcoming games so they should have no trouble regaining some of the footing they lost this past week.
2. Golden State Warriors
How boring is it that the Warriors rank #2 on the Power Rankings list? Listen, the Warriors are an incredible team. They’re 28-7 overall, and they’ve won 9 out of their last ten games. Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, Nick Young, and David West have ridiculous shooting percentages, and the defensive presence of Draymond Green elevates their team to uncanny heights. I like that they’re not infallible this season, and I like even more that the Rockets are giving them a run for their money for first place in the conference.
The Warriors are going to be serious contenders for a very long time. Their roster is stacked, and they’re in the middle of their prime so we can expect spectacular highlight-reel worthy plays out of this organization for years to come. I will continue to root against their organization for a million different reasons, and I’m frustrated with them for changing the game of basketball in the league, but alas they’re here to stay. And, they will always be here on the power rankings list.
1. Boston Celtics
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but be excited about the Celtics this season. Brad Stevens is nothing short of genius, and he’s taken his team from zero to hero relatively over night. Combine last year’s success with the acquisition of Kyrie Irving and you have the makings of a championship team. The Gordon Hayward injury was devastating, but the Celtics have powered forward in Gregg Popovich fashion, and the next recruit stepped up to get the job done. I was initially very skeptical of Irving going to the Celtics, but his fit with this organization couldn’t be more perfect. Irving contributes 24.7 points per game at a staggering 40% from three. He’s also incredibly effective from the free throw line shooting 89% from the line, and he’s led the Celtics to firm first-place footing in the Eastern Conference.
Coach Stevens is as much of a valuable asset to the team as Irving, and he led his team from a 26 point deficit all the way to a WIN against the Houston Rockets. Bad calls aside, if a team makes that big of a comeback the coach is in the middle of the situation inspiring his team to push through to a win. The Celtics are also the top defending team in the league led by the efforts of Al Horford, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. The trio lures players into silly offensive fouls and they rotate expertly. I fully expect them to appear in the Eastern Conference Finals with a real shot at the Finals.
Time will tell how things shake out next year, but for now it’s looking like we could see some different teams in the Finals this season. PLEASE OH PLEASE!
Who would rank in your top 5 for the season?