Are you currently stuck in the middle of an awkward silence with your relatives at a holiday gathering? If you're single, have you been asked whether or not you have a significant other? If you're romantically involved, have you been asked when you're getting married? If you're married, have you been asked when you're going to start having kids? If you have a kid, have you been asked when you're going to have another kid? If you're between 18 and 22, not in school, have you been asked "when are you going back to school?" or "what are you doing, then?" in a slightly condescending tone? If you're in school, have you been asked "how is school going?" more than once already? If you're close to graduating from college, have you been asked "what are your career-prospects?", thus summoning an existential fear of getting old?
Admit it: are you killing time on your phone in the corner in order to avoid awkward, forced interaction with your nosy, insensitive relatives?
If so, you've come to the right place to help pass the time from now until the food is ready (or until you head back for seconds or dessert). The vaunted Fear the Sword Power Rankings are here to help you out. The Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets will be profiled below; if there's another team you'd like to see us write about, let us know in the comments. Previous week's ranking in parentheses, and all statistics current through 11/25.
1. Toronto Raptors (1)
Their slate has been a bit soft to open the season. Of the team's first 15 games, 10 have been at home, where Dwane Casey's bunch is 9-1. They host Dallas Friday before opening a three game Western Conference road trip... against the Lakers, Jazz and (admittedly plucky) Kings. Toronto's true schedule reckoning doesn't come until a Christmastime 6-game adventure through Chicago, Los Angeles (to play the Clippers), Denver, Portland, Golden State and Phoenix.
That isn't to say that Toronto is a paper tiger - they are handling business against the teams they're supposed to. During the offseason, there was some worry that Masai Ujiri hadn't done enough to upgrade the roster, opting to re-sign Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez instead of chasing free agents. Eight of the top nine guys in the Raptors' rotation are the same as a year ago, the one exception being Lou Williams for John Salmons, which has turned out to be a much more significant upgrade than initially given credit for.
Cavs fans undoubtedly see Williams in their nightmares, but he's victimized many more teams than just Cleveland this season. Last night, for instance, he scored 22 points on 11 shots in 26 minutes during Toronto's 126-115 win in Atlanta. Williams is the 3rd-leading scorer on the team and is largely responsible for the Raptors' improvement from having the 3rd-lowest scoring bench in 2013-14 to the 7th-highest in 2014-15. The reserve unit of Vasquez, Williams, James Johnson, Tyler Hansbrough and Patrick Patterson is +21.3 points per 100 possessions this year. The starters (Lowry, Ross, DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas) are no slouches either (+6.5 per 100), but Toronto's bench mob is a major factor in their hot start.
2. Chicago Bulls (3)
3. Washington Wizards (4)
4. Atlanta Hawks (5)
5. Miami Heat (6)
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
7. Milwaukee Bucks (9)
As a group, teams 2 through 6 above posted a combined 11-14 record between the last edition of the Power Rankings (November 17th) and last night. Only the Heat (3-2) won more than they lost. The Bulls are nicked up and were uncompetitive in a back-to-back set in Sacramento and Portland. The Wizards were 2-3, the Hawks were 2-2 with a bad home loss to the Lakers, and the Cavs dropped four in a row before righting the ship against the Magic and Wizards the past few nights. In short, none of the five really reached up and grabbed a hold of the second spot.
The Bucks, on the other hand, went 4-2 and seem to be getting into a groove. Despite their recent slips against Toronto and Washington, Milwaukee is 8th in the league in Defensive Rating, thanks in large part to Larry Sanders' successful offseason cranial-rectal extraction surgery. Offensively, they are in the middle of the pack in pace, rebounding rate, assist rate and are near the bottom of the league in true shooting percentage. So how have they managed to post a 9-7 record this season?
Two things: first, their bench has been pretty good, especially defensively. Secondly, despite having such a young team (the average age of their top-10 guys in terms of minutes played is 25) they execute when it matters most. Only one team, the Charlotte Hornets, have played more "clutch" minutes (defined as 'the final five minutes, five point difference or less) in 2014-15. In those clutch situations, the Bucks sport a +23.6 Net Rating, the 4th-best mark in the lead.
Despite the shady circumstances of Jason Kidd's arrival, he's done a pretty good job turning things around in the land of beer and cheese.
8. Indiana Pacers (10)
Another feel-good story, battling and hanging tough with a ragtag roster, but I couldn't write three positive bits in the same piece, so I'll save it for another time.
9. Orlando Magic (8)
10. Brooklyn Nets (11)
Speaking of Jason Kidd, his old team is an... old team... they're definitely not kids, if you know what I mean...
Please forgive me for the preceding sentence.
Six of Brooklyn's top eight guys are 30 or older. They're in the bottom five in the league in field goal attempts in the restricted area and the bottom five in the league in field goal attempts allowed in the restricted area. Basically, they shoot a lot of jumpers and allow a lot of drives, telltale signs of an aging roster. Their experience doesn't translate to quality crunch time play, either, as Lionel Hollins' group posts a -28.1 Net Rating in the "clutch" (defined above). Iso Joe shoots 36% from the floor and 20% from three in the fourth quarters of games.
We all knew this team would get old sometime, but it seems like that time is now. The sad thing is, the Nets still moved UP in the rankings, because the bottom of the East had an abysmal week. The two teams Brooklyn beat were the 4-12 Thunder and the winless Sixers. Speaking of which...
11. Boston Celtics (13)
Went 1-3. Only team they beat was the Sixers.
12. New York Knicks (14)
Went 1-4. Only team they beat was the Sixers.
13. Detroit Pistons (12)
Went 0-5, have lost 6 straight overall. Get to play the Sixers next week.
14. Charlotte Hornets (7)
Went 0-6, have dropped seven in a row. Don't get to the play the Sixers until the 19th.
15. Philadelphia 76ers (15)
Oh-for-fifteen to start the season. The dream of 0-82 is still alive.