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Power Rankings #5: The Unsinkable Brad Stevens

At the quarter point on the season, the East remains craptastic and the Atlantic is sitting on the ocean floor somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland. But there seems to be some hope. Brad Stevens has somehow built a competitive, hard playing, good squad in Boston.

Let's get to the rankings:

BoxScore Geeks Power Rankings as of 12/11/13:

Rank Change Team Point Margin Sched Rk Sched PM
1 Up 1 San Antonio Spurs 6.8 20 0.1
2 Up 4 Oklahoma City Thunder 6.7 12 -0.5
3 Up 2 Miami Heat 6.0 29 2.3
4 Down 3 Indiana Pacers 5.8 26 1.2
5 Up 2 Portland Trail Blazers 4.8 21 0.5
6 Down 3 Houston Rockets 4.2 27 1.3
7 Down 3 Los Angeles Clippers 3.5 10 -0.7
8 Up 2 Minnesota Timberwolves 3.1 8 -0.7
9   Denver Nuggets 1.6 15 -0.2
10 Up 2 Golden State Warriors 1.2 25 1.1
11   Dallas Mavericks 1.2 7 -0.8
12 Up 14 Phoenix Suns 0.8 23 0.8
13 Up 4 Atlanta Hawks 0.0 14 -0.2
14 Down 1 New Orleans Pelicans -0.1 28 1.5
15 Up 6 Boston Celtics -0.2 18 0.0
16 Up 3 Toronto Raptors -0.7 11 -0.6
17 Down 2 Los Angeles Lakers -0.8 2 -1.3
18   Washington Wizards -1.2 30 2.3
19 Down 3 Chicago Bulls -1.4 19 0.0
20 Up 2 Charlotte Bobcats -1.5 22 0.8
21 Down 7 Detroit Pistons -1.8 9 -0.7
22 Down 2 Orlando Magic -2.2 4 -1.2
23 Up 1 Brooklyn Nets -3.5 5 -1.1
24 Up 4 Cleveland Cavaliers -3.6 16 -0.2
25 Down 2 New York Knicks -3.9 3 -1.3
26 Up 3 Utah Jazz -4.5 1 -1.5
27   Philadelphia 76ers -4.6 17 -0.2
28 Down 20 Memphis Grizzlies -4.9 13 -0.3
29 Down 4 Sacramento Kings -5.0 24 0.9
30   Milwaukee Bucks -5.2 6 -0.9

Those are our Power Rankings through a quarter of the season (and it includes pace and schedule adjusted offense and defense). Let's talk highlights (ICYMI, all the ratings went up as a visual post ):

  • #1 San Antonio Spurs (Neutral Site Win% 72.5, Up 1, #3 in offense, #3 in defense): I'm sure you're all thinking: "Wait, San Antonio?". The model is accounting for the circumstance of the OKC and Houston losses and not overvaluing the Pacers loss. They have dropped in overall point margin but they managed to keep enough to jump to number #1. They remain top three in defense and offense for the year and have six players at 0.200 WP48 or greater (Kawhi, Green, a resurgent Manu, a fitting-in-very-well Belinelli, Splitter, and happy-to-be-here Patty Mills). If it were some other team, I'd be asking for them to prove themselves by beating an elite team, but the Spurs don't need to prove anything to me.
  • #2 Oklahoma City Thunder (Neutral Site Win% 72.3, Up 4, #7 in offense, #5 in defense): Over the last 14 games, OKC is 12-2 with their only losses coming by one point in the second game of a road back to back in Golden State and by seven in the second game of a road back to back in Portland. Scotty Brooks is still playing Kendrick Perkins and Fisher way too much. Be very afraid. This team will get way better once Westbrook (currently 0.069 WP48 and rising rapidly) returns to form and even more so if Brooks ever actually figures out his rotations (play the Kiwi more!). I think OKC is the most talented team in the NBA right now, but they've got the worst coaching of all the contenders.
  • #3 Miami Heat (Neutral Site Win% 70.1, Up 2, #2 in offense, #18 in defense): Fun fact: did you know that Miami was playing their third road game in four nights in Indiana? The model sure did. Right now the Heat and Pacers are basically tied and home court advantage is the tie breaker. This might come into play at some point in the season. Miami's offense remains stellar and their D is rising (up to #18 from 24). This might be a function of effort though. LeBron remains the MVP. Wade will continue to be babied in the regular season. Beasley continues to be the surprise of the season with his 0.202 WP48. It's kind of crazy to think that he could actually surpass Rose for career Wins before all is said and done. The really interesting thing to keep in mind for the Heat is that 46 wins probably gets them a two seed. They might send DWade to Germany after the All-star break and tell him to come back for the playoffs.
  • #4 Indiana Pacers (Neutral Site Win% 69.7, Down 3, #17 in offense, #1 in defense): Weirdly, Indiana managed to come down from their high perch despite some impressive results and an improving offense (up to 17th from 23rd). I watched their win in San Antonio and something really stood out: once the game started going the Pacers way, Popovich stopped trying. I didn't see him actually call a timeout. This is actually a mark of respect for the Pacers. Popovich is giving them the Miami I'm-not-showing-them-anything-from-my-playbook treatment. They play each other again on March 31st in Indiana and I suspect Pop might send the Austin Toros to play that game. Their starting five remains crazy, crazy good. The Eastern Conference finals will be the only saving grace for this season in the East.
  • #5 Portland Trail Blazers (Neutral Site Win% 66.3, Up 2, #1 in offense, #15 in defense): Hold on to your chair and mark the date, I'm about to give some love to LaMarcus Aldridge. As much as Aldridge's numbers are average (0.108 WP48), his value is greater than his actual production. It comes down to the never-ending usage argument. While I disagree vehemently with giving value to usage in a vacuum, we have identified that there is value to efficient usage. LaMarcus is second in the league in FGA per game (behind Melo of course), but because he's producing with decent efficiency, he's forcing defenses to collapse on him and generating open shots for the rest of his team. He's shouldn't be in the MVP discussion, but Aldridge has been a key part of making the Blazers the #1 in offense right now. I still expect some regression once the evil West schedule catches up with them, but for now they must be quite happy.
  • #6 Houston Rockets (Neutral Site Win% 64.3, Down 3, #4 in offense, #9 in defense): Did you know Houston is 10-3 over their last thirteen?  But losses to Utah on the road and Phoenix at home keep them in the second tier. It's interesting that, of all the acquisitions they've had, I'd argue that Lin is the one that is severely underrated. They miss him right now. Their defense has significantly picked up though (up to #9 from #16) and D12 is driving that bus. Much like OKC, this Rockets team should improve once Lin is back and they deal with the Asik business. I trust their front office and coach a lot more than the Thunder's.
  • #7 Los Angeles Clippers (Neutral Site Win% 62.2%, Down 3, #5 in offense, #8 in defense): The Clippers' point margin actually did not change at all from the last ranking, they just got passed by hotter teams. Their top three (CP3, DeAndre and Blake) continues to amaze (0.351, 0.292, and 0.135 WP48 is damn snazzy). Their problem remains depth. They miss JJ and Barnes, and Jared Dudley has been dreadful. I remain unconvinced that Captain Jack is the answer to any NBA question any more. However, their defense is now clicking and we should treat this team as a contender. They should win their division comfortably, get healthy, and that depth doesn't matter at all in the playoffs.
  • #8 Minnesota Timberwolves (Neutral Site Win% 60.8%, Up 2, #10 in offense, #6 in defense): Despite their record, Minnesota continues to hang around the top 10. They have a top five player and a decent starting unit around him. They have a top ten offense and a top ten defense. The problem is that their schedule is evil and their depth is nonexistent. I figure if they played in the East they'd be a lock in for a three seed at least, although that's not saying much. In the West, I think they're out of the postseason and that would be a shame.
  • #9 Denver Nuggets (Neutral Site Win% 55.6, No Change, #13 in offense, #7 in defense): I keep bringing this up, but anyone who argued that Lawson was not at Westbrook's level needs to be paying attention to these Nuggets. They (and my fantasy team) miss him terribly. It's very interesting to me how good Denver's defense has been (#7 so far). Brian Shaw seems to be doing a great job at installing his defensive system. This bears watching. I think this team has upside and a way better situation than their old trading partner, the Knicks.
  • #10 Golden State Warriors (Neutral Site Win% 54.1, Up 2, #12 in offense, #11 in defense): There was a ridiculous argument on Twitter the other night about the relative value of Andre Iguodala. A Denver beat writer basically said that anyone who thought Iggy was anything better than 4th best on Nuggets last season was a hack. I violently disagreed. Andre was the second best player on the Nuggets last year by Wins Produced, trailing the Manimal Faried, and we underrate his wing defense. Iguodala continues to be the most underrated player in the league and a good barometer to see if a basketball "expert" actually knows what they're talking about. I'm very sure that any Warriors fans are nodding their heads violently at this point. The Warriors need Iggy if they want to survive the brutal, brutal West. I still think that this team is in danger of being a bridesmaid or a serious round one spoiler, with zero in-between.
  • #11 Dallas Mavericks (Neutral Site Win% 54.1, No Change, #6 in offense, #24 in defense): Dallas went to Portland and scored an impressive victory to take the linear NBA championship belt. Sadly, they went on to lose it in Sacramento two nights later when Mr. Cousins showed up instead of Dr. DeMarcus. Dallas' offense continues to sparkle -- last second Monta iso heroball at Golden State notwithstanding -- but their defense continues to stink. They have real problems protecting the rim. Mayhap, they should be looking to trade for a rim protector? I was going to try to come up with a trade here but I realized the best suitors (Houston-Asik, New York- Tyson) and the best asset (Dirk) might be off the table. How about Matrix and Dalembert for Noah and Butler as a payroll/tanking move for Chicago?
  • #12 Phoenix Suns (Neutral Site Win% 52.7, Up 14, #8 in offense, #20 in defense): The Suns are 7-3 over their last 10 and charging up the rankings. PJ Tucker has been exactly who he was last year (0.185 WP48). The Bledsoe/Dragic combo has worked, as has Plumlee/Morris/Morris. I love the potential for the future, but continue to worry that they're fighting above their weight class this year.
  • #13 Atlanta Hawks (Neutral Site Win% 50, Up 4, #11 in offense, #19 in defense): The Hawks are a good middle-of-the-road team right now. They've got some good players with good contracts that give them flexibility. They've also got what may be a lottery pick coming from Brooklyn. The big question is whether they should use their assets to swing for the fences or wait and try to add a super stud rookie from next year's draft. Unless someone made me a godfather offer, I'd wait.
  • #14 New Orleans Pelicans (Neutral Site Win% 49.5, (Down 1, #9 in offense, and #25 in defense): I continue to be very sad about the Anthony Davis injury. Philadelphia, who owns their pick, continues to grin madly about it. I feel a downward spiral coming.
  • #15 Boston Celtics (Neutral Site Win% 49.3, Up 6, #23 in offense, #10 in defense): The Celtics are a well-coached, defensively stiff, and improving young team. Brad Stevens fears no NBA coaching challenge. First, he turned Jordan Crawford into a top five point guard (with 0.199 WP48, he's #4 after CP3, Curry, and Rubio among PGs with 600+ minutes) and now it looks like he's turning Avery Bradley into a two way player at the 2. It's uncanny. We should get him working on the deficit next. Their biggest issue is size: they've had to conscript 6'9" Jared Sullinger to play the five for them, and while he plays hard, he can get overmatched. Makes the fact that they're 10th in defense even more impressive. If they can trade for a real center, like Asik, without giving up Sullinger, this could be a for-real, actual playoff team that can take two games off of Miami or Indiana in round 2.
  • #16 Toronto Raptors (Neutral Site Win% 47.5, Up 3, #19 in offense, #14 in defense): As detailed earlier in the week, the Raptors just traded their overrated inefficient scorer to the Kings. Trading or losing your high volume, inefficient scorer leads to the most predictable outcome in basketball: you get better. The loss of Gay means that his shots will go to Amir, DeMar, and (for the time being, at least) Lowry. That looks to be an improvement. Grievis and Hayes are both effective, productive NBA players. All in all I like Toronto's chances to finish above 0.500, and their results since the trade -- a win in LA and a close loss at home to our #1 overall team -- support that.
  • #17 Los Angeles Lakers (Neutral Site Win% 47.3, Down 2, #14 in offense, #21 in defense): Kobe's return so far (-0.070 WP48) is about what we expected. He looks and moves like an older player coming off a major injury, and his playing style is disrupting the quick, flowing offense that the Lakers have been running this year. At least his defense is back to last season's form (this is not a good thing). Again, we knew this would happen; the question is if it gets better. This could work if Kobe accepted a Manu-style role as a secondary ball-handler and offensive leader off the bench. The odds on that are very long. The next eight games (through Christmas) will give us a good idea of what kind of team the Lakers really are, but I remain pessimistic.
  • #18 Washington Wizards (Neutral Site Win% 45.7, No Change, #24 in offense, #16 in defense): John Wall, Webster, and Ariza have all been great (0.146, 0.246, and 0.239 WP48), so you would think that this team would be better. The issue for me remains how they actually run their offense. They have some pretty powerful weapons, but like to waste their time running bad options. I can only say this so many times before I get bored, so let's move on.
  • #19 Chicago Bulls (Neutral Site Win% 45, Down 3, #28 in offense, #2 in defense): At this point, the Bulls should have president Obama declare the United Center a disaster area and ask for FEMA assistance. Is there anyone on this squad who is actually healthy? Despite all these injuries (Rose, Deng, Butler, Noah, etc., etc.), the Bulls continue to play gritty basketball and remain competitive in their games. Honestly, this is still a 45+ win team with the current roster, and Thibbs is still coaching it; I’m just not sure if the front office will blow it up or not.
  • #20 Charlotte Bobcats (Neutral Site Win% 44.6, Up 2, #29 in offense, #4 in defense): Al Jefferson is anchoring the number 4 defense in the league right now. Yes, it feels weird to write that, too. Former Jeff/Stan Van Gundy assistant Steve Clifford has done a great job getting these guys to play defense. However, Charlotte is 29th in three point attempts per 100 possessions. Now all Clifford needs to do is start using the Stan Van Gundy offense and this will really cook (I will concede that they are terrible shooters, but threes are still better than crappy twos). Those of you who have league pass should do yourself a solid and watch this very fun team.
  • #21 Detroit Pistons (Neutral Site Win% 43.6, Down 7, #18 in offense, #13 in defense): This continues to be a strange Pistons team. Drummond is clearly a superstar, but the rest of the squad makes no sense. Josh Smith needs to be moved. Here's a tip for Joe Dumars: call James Dolan. Josh Smith, Villanueva, Stuckey and Will Bynum for Amare, Shumpert, Prigioni and JR Smith, Who says no?
  • #22 Orlando Magic (Neutral Site Win% 42.3, Down 2, #21 in offense, #22 in defense): If you watch Orlando closely you may conclude that they're officially in the tank. I did. Big Baby (0.000 WP48 -- yup, zero) is the ultimate tanking weapon. They have the talent to compete, but they'll be looking for ways not to.
  • #23 Brooklyn Nets (Neutral Site Win% 37.9, Up 1, #20 in offense, #30 in defense): There will be stretches when this team will get healthier and show inklings of being competitive. We may be at the start of one such stretch right now. But the fact that they're last in defense should discourage any and all excitement.
  • #24 Cleveland Cavaliers (Neutral Site Win% 37.6, Up 4, #27 in offense, #12 in defense): Irving and Waiters continue to play like the worst backcourt in the league (-0.024 and -0.019 WP48). The resurgent Bynum provides some hope. If their guards can figure it out and Bynum and Varejao remain healthy (odds on that one aren't great), this team can make some noise. I'm not buying stock though.
  • #25 New York Knicks (Neutral Site Win% 36.6, Down 2, #15 in offense, #27 in defense): Thanks to @seth_rosenthal, I'm aware that I need to welcome you to the era of the FARTDOG (Friendly Alliance of Really Terrible Defenders for Opposing Guards). FARTDOG is guaranteed to bring new life to your ailing backcourt in a New York minute. New York isn't just losing, they're losing epically. Their three recent wins are deceptive: an ailing Nets team in "road" game, a win over an Orlando team starting Big Baby over Vucevic who was DNP-tanking, and a home win against a shell of a Bulls team, who were missing Rose, Butler, and Deng...which they almost blew after leading by 30. How do you lose a home game by 41? They're not even trying at this point. They should be better on paper when Tyson gets back, but I have zero confidence in this team.
  • #26 Utah Jazz (Neutral Site Win% 34.7, Up 3, #25 in offense, #29 in defense): Improbably, Utah is now your linear NBA champion after taking the belt from the Kings last night. Jeremy Evans, who can't get on the court, is their lone bright spot at 0.251 WP48. Isn't it weird that they happen to be playing better when he's playing more? This is a still a hot garbage fire, and given their coaching and their aims, I do not expect this to get any better.
  • #27 Philadelphia 76ers (Neutral Site Win% 34.3, No Change, #26 in offense, #26 in defense): The Sixers are taking absolutely zero chances with their star rookie Michael Carter-Williams. This might affect their win total enough to keep them out of the playoffs and give them a second lottery pick. I also want to highlight that Hollis Thompson looks to be an undrafted find for Philly (0.150 WP48). Could it be that they're bringing those San Antonio talent finding skills to the East? I feel like this may be the future of the East right here.
  • #28 Memphis Grizzlies (Neutral Site Win% 33.3, Down 20, #22 in offense, #23 in defense): Memphis seems to have taken the MASH unit crown from Minnesota this year. I think they're better than this, but it's impossible to gauge. At least Memphis owns their pick in this draft, so if the season continues in this manner, at least they have that.
  • #29 Sacramento Kings (Neutral Site Win% 33.1, Down 4, #16 in offense, #28 in defense): Eventful week in Sactown. After beating Dallas they held the belt for a game, but proceeded to ape Mike Tyson against Buster Douglas and got knocked cold in Utah. Of course, there is the matter of the Rudy Gay trade. We covered it in an article and in a podcast. To make this short, the Kings most likely lost this trade, but I understand the gamble. It could work if they can get Gay and Boogie to meld into appropriate roles. It's a shot in the dark, but it's the only chance they had to compete. I do like Quincy Acy as a sneaky good piece in the deal. At the very least, this Kings team will be interesting, if only from a negative perspective.
  • #30 Milwaukee Bucks (Neutral Site Win% 32.2, No Change, #30 in offense, #17 in defense): Milwaukee is 3-15 over their last 18 games. Their offense is the worst in the league right now. Given that Larry Sanders punched himself to the bench, John Henson, Middleton and Giannis (0.174, 0.094 and 0.163 WP48, respectively) are the only things of value on this roster right now. The good news is that Giannis is 18 and Henson is 22. Throw in a lottery pick and this could be very, very good in a few years. What I really don't get is why Giannis is not starting.

How does the model think all this plays out over 82 games?

Season Simulation as of 12/11/13
NBA Rank Playoff Seed Team Win Proj Vegas
Playoff Odds Top 4 Seed
1 Seed
Avg Seed
4 E1 Indiana Pacers 62 53.5 100% 100% 84% 1.16
3 E2 Miami Heat 57 60.0 100% 100% 16% 1.84
13 E3 Atlanta Hawks 42 40.0 96% 60%   4.58
15 E4 Boston Celtics 40 27.5 90% 45%   5.33
18 E5 Washington Wizards 38 42.0 79% 27%   6.46
16 E6 Toronto Raptors 38 36.5 72% 19%   7.02
20 E7 Charlotte Bobcats 37 27.5 67% 18%   7.25
21 E8 Detroit Pistons 37 41.0 68% 15%   7.37
19 E9 Chicago Bulls 36 56.5 55% 10%   8.11
22 E10 Orlando Magic 34 24.5 27% 3%   9.89
24 E11 Cleveland Cavaliers 33 40.5 24% 2%   10.34
23 E12 Brooklyn Nets 31 52.5 11% 1%   11.61
25 E13 New York Knicks 30 49.5 9% 1%   12.08
27 E14 Philadelphia 76ers 29 16.5 4% 0%   12.63
30 E15 Milwaukee Bucks 25 28.5 0%     14.35
2 W1 Oklahoma City Thunder 60 50.5 100% 99% 48% 1.75
1 W2 San Antonio Spurs 60 55.5 100% 99% 43% 1.81
5 W3 Portland Trail Blazers 55 38.5 100% 87% 8% 3.17
6 W4 Houston Rockets 52 54.5 98% 50% 1% 4.74
7 W5 Los Angeles Clippers 51 57.0 96% 38% 1% 5.14
8 W6 Minnesota Timberwolves 48 41.0 87% 16%   6.37
9 W7 Denver Nuggets 46 47.0 64% 4% 0% 7.80
11 W8 Dallas Mavericks 45 44.0 59% 4%   8.02
10 W9 Golden State Warriors 45 49.5 54% 2%   8.24
12 W10 Phoenix Suns 42 21.5 29% 1%   9.33
14 W11 New Orleans Pelicans 40 40.0 10% 0%   10.60
17 W12 Los Angeles Lakers 38 33.5 5%     11.16
28 W13 Memphis Grizzlies 30 49.0       13.26
26 W14 Utah Jazz 26 27.5       14.25
29 W15 Sacramento Kings 25 31.5       14.37

I will be terribly unhappy if the Nuggets, Mavericks, Warriors, or Suns are left out of the playoffs in favor of sub 0.500 teams.

Here's a playoff fix proposal: Let's have the non-playoff teams with better records than the playoff teams play a one week three game play-in series after the regular season against the worst playoff teams. In this scenario, we'd get Golden State, Phoenix, New Orleans and the Lakers playing the four worst East playoff teams (Wizards, Raptors, Bobcats, Pistons). The play in series would be Pistons/GSW, Bobcats/Suns, Raptors/Pelicans and Wizards/ Lakers with the East teams having homecourt. Play game 1 on Monday/Tuesday, game 2 on Wednesday/Thursday, then game 3 if needed on Saturday/Sunday. Winner gets the playoff spot and loser gets the lottery pick. Afterwards the East playoffs would be reseeded based on results. So if all the West teams won, you'd get an east playoff bracket as follows: Pacers/Lakers, Heat/Pelicans, Hawks/Suns and Celtics/Warriors.

Admit it: that would rock.