Another week, another edition of Sampson’s Power Rankings. Teams are starting to separate themselves from the pack.
#3 Philadelphia 76ers
They haven’t been playing the best basketball, as evidenced by their -0.2 point differential and 2-6 record on the road, but they’re still 9-6 on the year. And Jimmy Butler is making his 76ers debut Wednesday night against the Magic. It’s the ultimate high-risk/high-reward move; Butler is a defensive monster (imagine he and Joel Embiid defending the pick-and-roll) who can get his own shot. But they did trade two of their best 3-point shooters to acquire him. Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz can’t shoot from the outside. Butler is mediocre from distance. Embiid is probably the best 3-point shooter in the starting lineup, which isn’t ideal. But you have to make that move if it presents itself. The Process is officially over.
#2 Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have taken a step back, but still look legit. They have an NBA leading +11.9 point differential. They’re shooting nearly 38 percent on more than 40 3-point attempts a night, and they have the length to cause match up problems all over the floor. Oh yeah, and they have Giannis – who’s putting up a cool 25/13/6 this season to got with more than one steal and block a night. The future has arrived.
#1 Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry is finally healthy and is playing at a near All-Star level – averaging 16 points and 11 assists on 47 percent shooting. Kawhi Leonard has fit in seamlessly – the Raptors have a top-10 offense and defense this season. Toronto has done a stellar job across the board; they’re second in shooting percentage, fifth in rebounding, sixth in assists, fourth in steals, tenth in blocks, and eleventh in turnovers. That’ll get it done.
#3 L.A. Clippers
The Nuggets are on a four-game slide, which lands the Clippers in the Western Conference’s third spot this week. The Clippers have won four of five with their only loss being a road game against the red-hot Portland trail Blazers. Despite defensive stalwarts Avery Bradley and Luc Mbah-a-Moute dealing with injuries, the Clips have managed the 12th best defense in the NBA. Offensively, Danilo Gallinari finally being healthy has made a world of difference. Gallinari has averaged 30 minutes a night, and has played in all 13 games this season; putting up 19 points and six rebounds per game. Tobias Harris is an emerging star, and Lou Williams is still a spark plug off the bench. Maybe the best thing possible for this franchise was stripping Doc Rivers of his GM duties and moving on from Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan; they still have max cap space this summer.
#2 Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers are on a roll. They’ve won four games in a row, including wins against the Bucks and Celtics. CJ McCollum broke out of his early-season slump by winning Western Conference Player of the Week with 40 and 30 point games last week. The Blazers head on the road for a tough six-game road trip that culminates in road games against the Bucks and Warriors. If the Blazers go 3-3 or 4-3 on that trip, we’ll know a lot more about how Portland stacks up.
#1 Golden State Warriors
Are the Warriors vulnerable? Steph Curry is out for the next 10 days with a groin injury. Draymond green was suspended for one game after his altercation with Kevin Durant – a confrontation that has only intensified the rumblings that Durant is out the door after this season. But for now, the Warriors are still the best team in the NBA – by far. There may be cracks in the armor, but it will take a lot more for the Warriors to stumble out of the top-spot in the power rankings.
Make sure to catch me on The Last Quarter after every Blazers game this season – your chance to sound off on the Blazers and the entire NBA – exclusively on 102.9/750 The Game.