1. Golden State Warriors
The song for this team is Prince’s “1999,” just cross out ’99 and put in 2017. —Sasha Klare-Ayvazian
2. Pheonix Suns
17 straight wins is no joke. Phoenix has risen from the ashes of their rough start. Deandre Ayton is in postseason form—except for his foul shooting—and that has been a huge catalyst for this team. He murdered the Warriors. Chris Paul is averaging his most assists since 2016, his shooting efficiency is essentially the same, it is truly remarkable to watch him maintain this level of play as he ages, especially when I consider the fact that this team is fourth in pace.
Devin Booker is shooting over 40% from three, which balances his game quite nicely. If he can keep that up the whole season, he will be even harder to guard as teams have to adjust. The Suns are third in net rating, generally a very important stat that means you are beating teams by a significant amount of points. I said last month that this team was going to put the off-the-court issues aside and they haven’t lost since. You’re welcome, Suns. —Cody Tannen-Barrup
3. Milwaukee Bucks
4. Brooklyn Nets
Sometimes just laying back and playing the greatest hits will sell the most tickets. In this case, the Brooklyn Nets’ “tickets” are dominant regular-season wins, and they’re selling out. Each Brooklyn game feels like some sort of virtual reality Naismith Hall of Fame simulation of the last decade of basketball. Durant and Harden are effortlessly great and seeing them zip the ball around to LaMarcus Aldridge (LaMarcus Aldridge??) and Patty Mills will never get old, or look normal.
Back to Aldridge, the guy plays like his prime self for 4-5 minutes a night. He’s not totally dominating games, but it never feels like he’s missing when he gets the ball. If I were to pick a weak link on this team in the preseason, I would’ve pegged Aldridge. I would’ve been wrong. His resurgence, combined with the overwhelming competence of everyone else on the roster is terrifying. It’s officially title or bust for the Brooklyn Nets. —Simon Pruitt
5. Miami Heat
Since 2017 Kyle Lowry has played 78, 65, 58, and 46 games. Sure, some of those seasons were shortened, but it was still somewhat risky to trade for the 34-year-old. And yet Miami is playing relentless basketball and it is paying off. At least, it’s paying off when they get to sleep in their own beds. The Heat are 6-2 at home. But their hustle is undeniable. They are a top ten team in contesting three-point shots. That takes energy and energy.
It should also be no surprise that this rugged team now leads the league in charges taken. I am very interested to watch how this team plays throughout the whole season. I believe that surrounding a player with the flamethrower possibilities of Tyler Herro with the consistency of Lowry and Jimmy Butler is a fantastic combo. I also believe that Coach Spoelstra will keep tinkering with this squad so it is primed and healthy come playoff time. —Cody Tannen-Barrup
6. Utah Jazz
7. Washington Wizards
Say hello to your 4th seed Wizards of Washington! Contrary to expectations, their 13-8 record looks soft considering it includes a recent loss to the lowly Pelicans.
The LA additions are all humming along. Kuz is playing big, pulling down 9 boards/game. Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura—two talented players—have yet to play a game, and Beal who is only shooting 27% from three still has his best work ahead of him.
The Wizards’ song is A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It” because yes they can. —Sasha Klare-Ayvazian
8. Chicago Bulls
9. Dallas Mavericks
10. Atlanta Hawks
11. Los Angeles Clippers
12. Charlotte Hornets
13. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers song is Sam Smith’s “I’m Not The Only One” because Russell wasn’t the right one. —Sasha Klare-Ayvazian
The NBA is such a fickle league. A year ago it looked like the Nuggets were a surprising and rising squad. Nikola Jokić was lighting the league up, Jamal Murray was coming off his playoff heroics, and Michael Porter Jr. was an intriguing prospect—and off-limits trade piece.
Now? Murray is presumably out for the year after getting hurt late last season. Porter Jr. just had his THIRD back surgery and will also be out for the year. Jokic is returning from a brief injury absence, but he can’t do it himself. His brilliance will cement that this team still competes. Contending is a mile-high dream at this point. —Cody Tannen-Barrup
16. Philadelphia 76ers
17. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs are funky. Three of their starting five are traditional big men, who still play like big men. We’ve seen teams trot out bigger lineups in the past, but you’ll typically have at least one of the bigs assume a perimeter-centric role. For Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen; this is not the case. All three spend their nights’ rim running, boxing out, and banging in the post. It’s not flashy, but it’s just weird enough to break the brains of opposing defenses that aren’t prepared to face three seven-footers playing like seven-footers.
Just a few days ago, I watched Jarrett Allen play like the second coming of 2000 Shaq in a low-stakes Monday night regular-season game. Seeing him completely emasculate Kristaps Porzingis in his home gym was special, and even funkier in person. Listen to “Give Up The Funk” by Parliament for an auditory glimpse at this fun roster. Bonus points if you’ve watched Moneyball. —Simon Pruitt
18. Boston Celtics
19. Portland Trailblazers
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
21. Toronto Raptors
22. Indiana Pacers
23. Memphis Grizzlies
In the most Grizzlies fashion possible, Ja Morant got injured just one day after Nike launched an entire ad campaign centered around him. While not as bad as initially expected, this injury sidelines Morant for at least 3-4 weeks in the midst of a massive statistical leap for him, killing any momentum the team may have.
In the meantime, Memphis is forced to lean on a hyper-aggressive Jaren Jackson Jr. and playoff superstar Dillon Brooks. Ja Morant is the engine that powers this team, they’re empty without him. Hope is not totally lost, but prepare for a 2018-19 era Grizzlies team for a few weeks. —Simon Pruitt
24. Sacramento Kings
The Kings are third in screen assist per game this season. They have a better net rating than the Lakers though they are both in the negative. I don’t know, I was trying to come up with some positives. There isn’t really a more “blah” team to me than the Kings. The most interesting thing about them is what roster moves they make and whether they stick with their interim coach.
Tyrese Haliburton will be the next Lonzo Ball, meaning that he will be the do-everything difference-maker when he goes to a good team. I have to shout out Harrison Barnes who just does his thing game after game, year after year. His thing being box scores of 18 PTS and 8 REB. I think this is another year in obscurity for the fourth-best team in California, which is unfortunate. I thought they could have a young spark. Maybe with the new coach, things can turn around. We can all agree that Luke Walton just might have been propped up by one of the greatest teams of all time in some egregious resume padding. —Cody Tannen-Barrup
25. Oklahoma City Thunder
26. San Antonio Spurs
I would pay $350 to have dinner with Gregg Popovic. I know that’s not a lot, but I have to start paying for my kid’s preschool. Still, I’m very interested in sharing a bottle of unique wine and really getting into Pop’s true feelings. The Spurs are not very good. However, Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson are dynamic young players—Murray is still just 25. Doug McDermott is making Matt Bonner proud somewhere. Lonnie Walker IV is still somehow only 22. Devin Vassell has flashed moments that live up to his draft interest.
So it’s not like this team was expected to be at the top of the West. Is Pop OK with feeling this roster out and deciding what to do next? One more note about Murray: he is one of only three players in the league averaging at least 18-8-8, along with Russell Westbrook and Luka Doncic. —Cody Tannen-Barrup
27. New Orleans Pelicans
28. Orlando Magic
29. Detriot Pistons
30. Houston Rockets