It's the first power rankings of the regular season and despite the opening night setback for the Cleveland Cavaliers, things have been looking pretty good for them. They are riding a four game winning streak, but will it be enough to keep their #1 spot in this week's Eastern Conference Power Rankings?
15. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have faced a brutal schedule early on this season. They've dropped games to Chicago, San Antonio, Memphis, Milwaukee and Atlanta. Their closest result was a seven point loss to the Bucks. While instinct says the Sixers should probably be at the bottom, they've been more competitive and have lost fewer games at this point of the season (because they've played fewer games). Fair or not, you don't get to complain until you win a game.
The good? Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel appear to be bigs that you can build a franchise around. Okafor is as good as advertised and is finding a way to make an immediate impact on the box score while he figures things out. Nik Stauskas is also playing relatively well so Philly can feel good about the early returns of their low risk gamble. The bad? Everything else.
13. Boston Celtics
Underachieving will get you nowhere in life. The Celtics are off to a 1-3 start and the starters are being dramatically outplayed by their bench. Their only win came against the lowly Sixers and they lost to the struggling Pacers, who are still trying to figure out who they are as a team. For all the talk of this team taking a step forward and winning their division this season, an opening week loss to Toronto thrown into a lackluster week indicates that this team still has some work to do before they get on track.
The Hornets struggled in their first game of the season on the road in Miami before hanging around and losing two one-possession games to the Atlanta Hawks. They finally got their first win of the season by blowing out the Chicago Bulls, scoring over 30 points in all four quarters. They still are going to have their struggles this season, but it appears that their transition into a more modern offense is one that will ultimately prove to be fruitful.
11. Milwaukee Bucks
Another team you could file in the underachieving category. A lack of shooting in the starting lineup and trying to integrate poor defenders into a team that has hung it's hat on that end has the Bucks off to a rough start this season. The Bucks lost to the Knicks, Warriors and Raptors before grinding out close wins over the Nets and Sixers. If you read what I wrote above, I don't think highly of those teams right now.
10. Orlando Magic
The Magic are young and fun. They took the Oklahoma City Thunder to double overtime, the Rockets to overtime and lost a heart-breaker to the Wizards in the final moments of the game. Victor Oladipo is making a huge impact early and while the team learns how to close out games, there's lots of reasons for optimism early over the stable of talented young players Orlando has collected.
9. Indiana Pacers
The small ball experiment is going how most expected it. There are periods where the team can catch fire and blitz their opponent, and then there are times where they go cold and surrender a ton of points. The presence of Paul George is going to help alleviate a lot of the growing pains, but things might still be fairly bumpy as they try and figure things out.
8. New York Knicks
The Knicks have been surprisingly competitive early on this year. They ruined Washington's home opener and have both the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers all they could handle before eventually falling apart late. Carmelo Anthony is off to a slow start, but Kristaps Porzingis has been surprisingly good early on. The Knicks appear to have a chance to hang around this year and compete for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
7. Miami Heat
Hassan Whiteside continues to impact games despite how raw he is; he just seems to stumble into making a difference on the court. That of course is fine, but the Heat are going to need him to improve and contribute in a big way if they want to make legitimate waves this season. A lack of three point shooting has resulted in a lack of space for Goran Dragic to operate and contributed to his slow start. Justise Winslow has been very impressive early on, but overall their bench lacks defense and hasn't yet made the impact they were anticipating.
6. Chicago Bulls
Who would have thought a team starting Derrick Rose, Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol might struggle on defense? While the Bulls offense under Hoiberg has taken them out of the stone age, the net impact isn't enough to make up for the dropoff they've had on defense. Joakim Noah's struggles from last season appear to have carried forward to this year and Derrick Rose and the front office reportedly no longer want any part of one another. It's a lot of issues for a team that's picked by many to make the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
The surprise team from the first week of the season. The Pistons have built a roster that compliments Andre Drummond's abilities very well and have put him in a position to excel. Their bench may struggle to consistently produce offense, at least until Brandon Jennings returns. The issues with the bench were on full display in their loss to the Pacers where they spoil a 25 & 29 outing from Drummond by only mustering a total of 2 points. That's just incredible for an NBA team.
4. Atlanta Hawks
Outside of an opening night loss to Detroit, the Hawks have looked pretty good to start this season. While they clearly miss the perimeter presence of DeMarre Carroll, Thabo Sefolosha has looked really good in the games he played. Tiago Splitter provides them a presence they sorely needed last year. They don't have a signature win yet, but they can blame the schedule makers for that one.
3. Washington Wizards
John Wall and Bradley Beal are for real. Beal appears to have taken the step many have been waiting for this season. They've been playing more small ball and Randy Whitman appears to be implementing an gameplan that works with this roster, which is weird to write. They got an impressive win over the San Antonio Spurs, surviving each push the Spurs made.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
All things considered, the Cavs look ahead of schedule early this season. The opening night loss to the Bulls was unfortunate, but they've looked solid outside of that. They appear to play down to the level of their competition, at least in the games against the Sixers and Knicks. But at least they've been able to turn it on when it matters. The new ball movement offense appears to give them a less predictable plan of attack and Kevin Love looks rejuvenated.
1. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are off to an undefeated start to this season. They are coming off back to back road victories over the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder and their putrid defense last season has been one of the best in the league early on. While Demar Derozan simultaneously keeps them in games while shooting them out of it, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll and company have been very good early. As good as the Cavs have been, it's tough to overlook the undefeated start in Toronto.