Let's face it — the best and most powerful teams in the NBA don't really change from week to week. A handful of results in the middle of winter can only mean so much to a franchise's championship hopes. What does shift regularly, though, is how much interest a squad can hold over the course of a season. Every Monday, BDL's Most Interesting Power Rankings track the teams most worthy of your attention.
THE TOP 15
1. Golden State Warriors (last week: 2): The NBA's most terrifying player has led the league's No. 1 offense on a rampage that's included two destructions of the New Orleans Pelicans and a breezy reminder to the Houston Rockets — and chatty new point guard Ty Lawson — that they're still "that good." Next up, Stephen Curry and company welcome a Memphis Grizzlies club eager to prove they can topple the champs with a healthy backcourt, and a Los Angeles Clippers side for whom the Dubs had precious little love (if they had any at all) before this offseason's war of words.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (last week: 1): The season's first week reminded us that a team featuring fully operational versions of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can both outclass title contenders and come back from virtually any deficit. The dynamic duo combined for 91 points on 66 shots against the Orlando Magic, and yet their utter control over the OKC offense has felt not selfish or dangerous, but rather like the natural and appropriate application of two of the sport's premier talents. Let Billy Donovan worry about fostering greater balance. We'll just enjoy watching the boys put the game in a chokehold.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (last week: 3): A compelling season-opening loss followed by impressive wins over Memphis and the Miami Heat keep the Cavs among the game's most attention-worthy squads, especially given the intrigue surrounding LeBron James' lower back and anticipated workload. The offense has lagged a bit, which was to be expected for a club playing without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving as he works his way back from knee surgery, but you've got to be encouraged by how Kevin Love — 19.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and four assists in 32.3 minutes per game, shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point land — has "fit in" as the "main focus" of Cleveland's attack in his own return from shoulder surgery.
4. Detroit Pistons (last week: 28): Break up the Pistons! Impressive wins over the Bulls and Atlanta Hawks, plus a grind-it-out win over the postseason-hopeful Utah Jazz, have Detroit at 3-0 and looking like a real threat to break into the Eastern playoff bracket for the first time in seven seasons.
It might not be a beautiful brand of basketball — the Pistons rank in the bottom five in pace and the bottom half of the league in offensive efficiency, per NBA.com — but they're bombing 25 3-pointers a game, center Andre Drummond (18.7 points, 16.3 rebounds, two blocks per game, a shockingly respectable 58.1 percent from the free-throw line) looks like an All-Star, and Marcus Morris (19.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, 57.1 percent from 3) has been a pleasant surprise. Losing reserve Jodie Meeks to a Jones fracture will test Detroit's wing depth, and a brutal six-game West Coast swing that includes vists to the Warriors and Clippers means we'll soon have a much better idea of how good the Pistons are.
For now, though, Stan Van Gundy's got a squad worth watching. Style on 'em, SVG.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (last week: 7): On one hand, Ricky Rubio won't make 59 percent of his shots every night, and Karl-Anthony Towns won't pop for 28 and 14 every night. On the other, Andrew Wiggins won't keep shooting 30 percent from the floor and Kevin Martin won't stay cold from long distance forever, either. The young Wolves get after it defensively, and Rubio's table-setting (22 assists, three turnovers) continues to be Minnesota's bellwether: the Wolves have outscored the opposition by 33 points in his 63 minutes of floor time, and have been outscored by 15 points in the 33 minutes he's rested. As long as he stays healthy, the pups run with him and the team plays with a purpose, Minnesota will be well worth our time.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (last week: 11): The offense looks murderous. Blake Griffin (32 points, nine rebounds, four assists per game on 64.4 percent shooting) decided to begin the season by reminding us he was basically LeBron for the first 10 games of the 2015 playoffs. Lance Stephenson might once again be watchable, for good and for ill:
When even your mistakes become highlights, you're in good shape. Whether they'll still be after a rough-on-paper eight-game stretch that includes two meetings with the Warriors, though, remains to be seen.
7. Los Angeles Lakers (last week: 14): My stars and garters, what a disaster carnival!
Despite the addition of Roy Hibbert, that defense remains abysmal. Byron Scott really has pulled an about-face on the long-ball, as the Lakers — 25th in the league in 3-point attempts in 2014-15 — have chucked 103 through three games, tied with Atlanta for tops in the league ... but they've only made 30. Kobe Bryant's taking 10 3s a game, because everybody gets mad when he doesn't shoot 3s, but he's missing 80 percent of them, which won't make anyone happy. Fatigue is already a concern, and we're already hearing about playing for the future and Kobe taking a step back, which we'll believe when we see it. The losing might become tedious before long, but for right now, it's all fascinating.
8. New York Knicks (last week: not ranked): They stomped the Milwauke Bucks on opening night, mostly hung with the Hawks and came back late against a good Washington Wizards team on the road. After two rust-colored outings, Carmelo Anthony looked rosy Saturday, popping for 37 vengeance-tinged points.
A reserve corps featuring former No. 2 pick Derrick Williams, offseason acquisition Kyle O'Quinn and the young backcourt of Langston Galloway and rookie Jerian Grant has been energetic, effective and fun to watch. Kristaps Porzingis sometimes looks like he's only halfway through the instruction manual for his 7-foot-3 frame, but he also does stuff like this:
All of which amounts to the Knicks being ... kind of fun? A week that includes meetings with the San Antonio Spurs, Cavs and closer-to-full-strength Bucks should be anything but.
9. Sacramento Kings (last week: 8): They're not good yet, but hanging with the Clippers twice suggests they might be closer than expected. DeMarcus Cousins remains monstrous, averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds and 2.3 assists in just 26 minutes per game while shooting 40 percent from 3. George Karl's getting production from the point-guard tandem of Rajon Rondo and Darren Collison. First-round pick Willie Cauley-Stein has shown flashes. Rondo's trying to pull dudes' pants down during games. Top-shelf business.
Sadly, the most interesting thing about Sacramento right now is Cousins leaving Saturday's game with an Achilles strain. When Boogie missed time early last season, the entire organization went into upheaval. If he's sidelined again, can the Kings stay the course?
10. Washington Wizards (last week: NR): I remain unmoved by Kris Humphries: Starting Stretch Four, but I'm here for Randy Wittman's philosophical/tactical overhaul to make his regular-season offense look more like the postseason version that overwhelmed the Toronto Raptors and put the fear of God into the Hawks. John Wall and Bradley Beal blow me away near-nightly, and Otto Porter's do-everything game (nearly 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two combined blocks/steals per contest) seems to be trending toward steadiness. Pedal to the floor, Coach.
11. Chicago Bulls (last week: 9): The defense looks like it might hold up post-Thibs, and while the offense overall hasn't caught fire, Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott have looked good in Fred Hoiberg's system. Joakim Noah doesn't seem likely to raise hell about coming off the pine, but it'll be interesting to see how long it takes him, Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose to get on track offensively.
12. Houston Rockets (last week: 12): The spot's the same, but Houston's now fascinating for very different reasons. The Rockets followed up consecutive 20-point losses with a disappointing second-half implosion against Miami that led to — you guessed it! — a 20-point loss. That's the first time in NBA history a team's opened a season with three straight 20-point Ls ... and they get OKC on Monday on the second night of a back-to-back. Woof.
Houston's defense has been awful; its offense, somehow, has been worse, as Lawson, James Harden and Trevor Ariza have all struggled with their shots. Dwight Howard's already getting nights off to rest his back, power forwards Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones have both been sidelined, and save for young bigs Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell, hardly anybody seems capable of scoring. Houston entered this season with championship hopes. If the real Rockets don't show up real soon, they could be in real trouble.
13. San Antonio Spurs (last week: 5): Kawhi Leonard (22.3 points, 7.7 rebounds per game) seems to be settling into top-dog status. LaMarcus Aldridge just had his first big outing, with 24 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in Sunday's win over the Boston Celtics. So far, so good for Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and the post-Tiago Splitter defense. It's not all cream cheese just yet — Gregg Popovich would probably like to see Danny Green (28 percent from the floor, 13.3 percent from 3) get going — but, for the most part, steady as she goes.
14. Toronto Raptors (last week: NR): Yes, small sample sizes and all, but the early returns are positive — 3-0, top 10 in points scored and allowed per possession. That's where Toronto finished two seasons ago when the Raps stormed to the top of the Atlantic Division; it's where they couldn't get last season, when their defense fell apart. They're pushing the pace, they're shooting the lights out from 3, and they look a legit nine deep with helpful players who contribute on both ends. If they'd just get James Johnson, a.k.a. "Bloodsport," more involved, they might crack the top 10.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (last week: 13): It's been about as bad a start to the season as possible, with a pair of Golden State beatdowns and a blowout loss to C.J. McCollum's Portland Trail Blazers. We expected the Pelicans to struggle due to the staggering amount of injuries they've suffered, but I don't think anybody expected them to be "outscored by 18.4 points per 100 possessions" bad. They remain interesting because they employ Anthony Davis, but convincing defeats can only intrigue so much.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
26. Dallas Mavericks (last week: NR): This isn't a value judgment. Dallas got through its season-opening three-game road trip at 2-1, and Dirk Nowitzki just torched the Lakers for 25 points on 13 shots. The point-guard rotation of Deron Williams, Raymond Felton and J.J. Barea has produced, and post-surgical wings Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons are back on the floor. These are all good things; they just haven't coalesced into an especially interesting team yet. Here's hoping the offense takes off with better health.
27. Charlotte Hornets (last week: 30): If nothing else, Steve Clifford's club gets points for carrying over its bombs-away preseason approach — the Hornets are firing 30.3 3-pointers a night, a full 10 more triples per game than they averaged last season.
It hasn't meant much yet, though, as Charlotte has opened the season 0-3, dipping on the defensive end without linchpin wing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist while still ranking in the bottom third of the league in offensive efficiency, thanks in part to this Spencer Hawes-fueled chestnut from Sunday's loss to the Hawks:
The offensive revamp might need a bit more work, y'all.
28. Denver Nuggets (last week: 26): Michael Malone has his young club trying on the defensive end, but effort and spirit were no match for what the Wolves and the Thunder offered this weekend. Emmanuel Mudiay's path to becoming a solid NBA shooter will include the laying of many bricks. Joffrey Lauvergne can play, but get well soon, Jusuf Nurkic.
29. Philadelphia 76ers (last week: 27): The worst offense in the league, despite a fun start to Jahlil Okafor's career, and a defense nearly as bad, despite the presence of Nerlens Noel. Maybe the offense can approach functional after point guards Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall get healthy; it wouldn't be the Sixers if we weren't waiting for something.
30. Brooklyn Nets (last week: 29): Three straight double-figure losses, but not particularly compelling ones. One of the league's most anemic offenses and most permissive defenses. Brook Lopez can score; Rondae Hollis-Jefferson looks sprightly when defending the wing. Beyond that, there's a whole lot of not much worth seeing ... except for Lionel Hollins' reactions to his team's play:
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