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Eastern Conference Power Rankings: Cavs and Hawks reign

Cavs and Hawks are a cut above the rest

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA season is now about 1/8 complete, and it’s time to rank the teams. With Darth Vader returning to the big screen one month from today, I decided to invite him to join us as a guest judge.

Tier 1:

1. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-2 record, +5.7 net rating)

2. Atlanta Hawks (9-2 record, +9.4 net rating)

Darth Vader’s judgement:

Cleveland has come out of the gate playing like the defending NBA Champions that they are. One loss was sans-LeBron, and the other came at the hands of the team checking in at No. 2 in our rankings. A rejuvenated Dwight Howard is anchoring an air-tight Atlanta defense while mauling the offensive boards on the other end.

Tier 2:

3. Toronto Raptors (7-4 record, +4.3 net rating)

4. Charlotte Hornets (7-3 record, +5.9 net rating)

5. Chicago Bulls (7-4 record, +7.5 net rating)

Darth Vader’s judgement:

Toronto has looked quite good early this year, with a 7-1 record when not playing one of the NBA Finalists. DeMar DeRozan, in particular, has been fantastic, averaging 33 points per game. The return of Michael-Kidd Gilchrist has sparked the Charlotte Hornets, who are +12.5 per 100 possessions during 173 minutes with Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams on the floor. Chicago has looked surprisingly competent early in the season, winning games behind the No. 1 ORB% in the NBA.

Tier 3:

6. Detroit Pistons (6-6 record, +1.7 net rating)

7. Boston Celtics (6-5 record, +0.5 net rating)

8. Milwaukee (5-5 record, +1.7 net rating)

Darth Vader’s judgement:

While there are some positive indicators for each of these teams, they’ve been bogged down by injuries. Detroit’s offense is dragging without Reggie Jackson, and Andre Drummond really could use some help on the offensive boards. Boston has four rotation players that missed several games already this season, but with no long-term injuries they should being climbing the standings in the near future. Milwaukee is really missing Khris Middleton as their starting guard combination of Matthew Dellavedova and Tony Snell are both around 15 percent usage. Milwaukee has been using Greg Monroe and Michael Beasley to help soak up that usage, but this is merely a patchwork solution. With Middleton not expected back before late March, they might need to make a trade.

Tier 4:

9. Indiana Pacers (6-6 record, -0.6 net rating)

10. Brooklyn Nets (4-7 record, -2.2 net rating)

Darth Vader’s judgement:

Indiana has struggled out of the gate under the leadership of a new coach while integrating three new starters. Chemistry takes time to build, but they’ll need to double their efforts in order to have any chance at home court in the first round of the playoffs. Brooklyn has played surprisingly well so far under Kenny Atkinson, with Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez giving them a solid 1-2 punch on offense.

Tier 5:

11. New York Knicks (5-6 record, -4.9 net rating)

12. Miami Heat (2-8 record, -3.3 net rating)

13. Washington Wizards (2-8 record, -4.7 net rating)

Darth Vader’s judgement:

Phil Jackson apparently never watched Chicago play last year. If he had he would know that former MVP Derrick Rose and former DPOY Joakim Noah are now terrible at basketball. Paying them a combined $38 million is probably a bad idea. Miami has been a mess so far this year. Hassan Whiteside is putting up insane numbers, but the inefficiency of Dion Waiters and Justice Winslow has simply drowned them out. I wonder if someone like Dwyane Wade might’ve helped... Washington’s starters have been trying their best, but man their bench is awful. All three of these teams are struggling due to questionable choices by their front office. Perhaps they should take a cue from Vader and, uh, make a change in leadership.

Tier 6:

14. Orlando Magic (5-7 record, -9.1 net rating)

15. Philadelphia 76ers (2-9 record, -11.5 net rating)

Darth Vader’s judgement:

Don’t let their record fool you; Orlando really does deserve to be in this tier. A few close wins doesn’t erase the fact that they’ve been blown out five times already this year. They join Philadelphia, who projects to be a fixture at the bottom of these rankings.