The surprises continue across the NBA as the third week of the 2022-23 season gets underway.
The 6-0 Milwaukee Bucks stand alone as the last undefeated team, and get appropriate placement at the top of this week’s power rankings. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. haven’t had the toughest schedule so far but clutched out important wins against other top Eastern Conference contenders, including the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks.
The Cleveland Cavaliers currently sit right behind Milwaukee in the East, as the offseason addition of Donovan Mitchell has helped jumpstart Cleveland’s return to serious postseason contention this year.
Meanwhile in the West, the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers sit atop the conference, but the surprising 6-2 Utah Jazz haven’t faltered like many expected them to, so far. Utah notched back-to-back home wins against the Memphis Grizzlies. Whether the Jazz can keep it up has yet to be determined, but their early success is still recognized in this week’s rankings.
The Miami Heat have surprisingly underperformed so far, joining the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers on a list of teams built to be win-now contenders on paper but haven’t lived up to expectations on the court yet. However, Miami’s outlook for the rest of the year is still much more positive compared to Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.
Previous rankings: Week 1
1. Milwaukee Bucks2022-23 record: 6-0Previous week’s ranking: 1
The Bucks are 6-0 for the third time in franchise history. In the previous two instances (1971-72 and 2018-19), they finished with 60 wins and the league’s MVP (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Giannis Antetokounmpo, respectively). It’s still early, but Antetokounmpo is showing signs of asserting himself into contention for that award again, racking up at least 30 points in five straight games, the second-longest streak of his career (six straight in November 2019). — Collier
2. Phoenix Suns2022-23 record: 6-1Previous week’s ranking: 3
It has been a week full of history for the Point God. On Saturday against the Rockets, Chris Paul finished with 15 assists and zero turnovers. It was the ninth time he has had at least 15 assists in a game with no turnovers, which is second all time in NBA history behind only John Stockton (14) since individual turnovers were first tracked in 1977-78. Paul is also the oldest player to have a 15-assist game since a 38-year-old Steve Nash did it for the Suns on March 28, 2012. And on Tuesday against the Wolves, Paul joined LeBron James as the only players in NBA history with 21,000 points and 10,000 assists.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers2022-23 record: 5-1Previous week’s ranking: 6
Kevin Love was hotter than fish grease in Sunday’s win against the Knicks, scoring 29 points in 22 minutes. He did his damage with eight 3s and eight rebounds to extend the Cavs’ winning streak to five. Just wait until Darius Garland gets back from his eye injury. Cleveland looks like the real deal.
4. Boston Celtics2022-23 record: 4-2Previous week’s ranking: 2
Predictably, the Celtics are struggling without big man Robert Williams III on the glass. They currently rank 24th in rebounding rate, per NBA.com advanced stats. In the meantime, they’re cobbling together a big-man rotation of Noah Vonleh, Blake Griffin and Luke Kornet behind starter Al Horford.
5. Portland Trail Blazers2022-23 record: 5-1Previous week’s ranking: 8
Damian Lillard suffered a strained calf and will be reevaluated in one to two weeks. Without the team’s franchise player, Anfernee Simons went for 30 points against Houston, sliding back into the role he had last season when Lillard was out and CJ McCollum was traded. Jusuf Nurkic had his best game of the season against the Rockets with 27 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocks. Portland will soon find out whether it is for real: Six of its next seven games are on the road, while its next three games are against Memphis and a back-to-back at Phoenix.
6. New Orleans Pelicans2022-23 record: 4-2Previous week’s ranking: 9
The Pelicans were without Zion Williamson for two games and have been without Herb Jones and Brandon Ingram for three each. Naji Marshall is the reason they’ve made it through those games. Starting in place of Jones, Marshall has averaged 17.7 points on 57.1% shooting (6-of-14 from deep) while drawing Jones’ typical assignment of guarding the opposing team’s top perimeter player.
7. Memphis Grizzlies2022-23 record: 4-3Previous week’s ranking: 4
How much does Memphis miss Jaren Jackson Jr., who is recovering from surgery after breaking his foot this summer? The Grizzlies rank dead last in defensive rating, allowing 119.5 points per 100 possessions. Memphis had a 106.0 defensive rating with Jackson on the floor last season, when he led the league with 2.3 blocks per game and earned first-team All-Defensive recognition.
8. Toronto Raptors2022-23 record: 4-3Previous week’s ranking: 15
Pascal Siakam has played as well as anyone to start this season. Averaging 26.1 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists — all of which would be career highs — Siakam has helped Toronto go 4-3 through a brutal opening stretch full of playoff contenders.
9. Denver Nuggets2022-23 record: 4-3Previous week’s ranking: 10
The Nuggets are shooting nearly 39.4% from deep — fifth-best in the league — but are in the middle of the pack in offensive efficiency. On the other end of the floor, the Nuggets are struggling with the fifth-worst defensive efficiency. Nuggets coach Michael Malone said his team has defended especially poorly in every road game this year.
10. Golden State Warriors2022-23 record: 3-5Previous week’s ranking: 5
The Warriors are now 0-3 on their current five-game road trip, are winless on the road and are off to their worst eight-game start since 2019-20. That year, they went 15-50. After their loss to the Heat, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he was starting to feel a sense of urgency from his team, something he said he was previously lacking. But the Warriors’ defense and bench continue to cost them games.
11. Utah Jazz2022-23 record: 6-2Previous week’s ranking: 13
Malik Beasley declared after Monday’s win over the Grizzlies that Lauri Markkanen is an All-Star. Markkanen appreciatively acknowledged that the first eight games is a bit early for such discussion, but there’s no doubt he’s performing at that level, averaging career bests of 22.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game for one of the NBA’s most surprising teams.
12. Dallas Mavericks2022-23 record: 3-3Previous week’s ranking: 11
*All times Eastern
The Mavs have blown double-digit leads in the fourth quarter in two of their three losses. The home overtime loss to Oklahoma City on Saturday night was especially egregious. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, teams that led by at least 16 in the final four minutes of regulation over the past 25 years had been 9,975-1 before the Mavs’ meltdown, which coach Jason Kidd attributed to an experiment with the closing lineup that went awry. “We left [Christian] Wood out there with that group, and it didn’t go well on either end,” Kidd said.
13. Atlanta Hawks2022-23 record: 4-3Previous week’s ranking: 16
Atlanta started their five-game road trip with back-to-back wins over the Pistons before falling to the Bucks and Raptors. In Friday’s game against the Pistons, Trae Young finished with 36 points and 12 assists while playing just 30:07. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the only players to play fewer minutes in a 35-point, 10-assist performance are Luka Doncic (once) and James Harden (three times).
14. Philadelphia 76ers2022-23 record: 4-4Previous week’s ranking: 19
After falling to 1-4, it looked like the 76ers were potentially entering a tailspin. But Philadelphia has responded with three straight wins — two without All-NBA center Joel Embiid — to get back to .500 and stabilize things.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves2022-23 record: 4-4Previous week’s ranking: 17
The Timberwolves have a top-five defense, which is what they should have with the roster they’ve constructed. However, their first week was against teams near the bottom of the league (or thought to be, in the Jazz’s case). So how exactly will that defense hold up against better offensive teams, such as the Suns — to whom Minnesota lost on Tuesday — Bucks and Grizzlies, who are all coming up on the schedule. — Andrews
16. San Antonio Spurs2022-23 record: 5-2Previous week’s ranking: 18
During his first two NBA seasons, Keldon Johnson made 73 3-pointers in 86 games. In his second season, he was shooting 33.1% beyond the arc on 3.3 attempts per game. Johnson upped both his efficiency and volume last season, shooting 39.8% on six attempts per game, and he has taken it even further this year. In seven games, Johnson is shooting 43.5% from deep. Heading into Tuesday’s play, only Stephen Curry, Buddy Hield and Bojan Bogdanovic had made more 3s than Johnson’s 27. Also, he has hit at least three 3s in six of the Spurs’ seven games.
17. New York Knicks2022-23 record: 3-3Previous week’s ranking: 14
The Knicks have had a reality check after a 3-1 start, dropping back-to-back road games to the Cavaliers and Bucks over the weekend — the start of a stretch of seven straight games against projected playoff teams for New York.
18. LA Clippers2022-23 record: 3-4Previous week’s ranking: 7
The Clippers might be front-runners for most disappointing start to the season. They were hyped as championship contenders with perhaps the deepest roster in the NBA but now look completely out of sync. Even if Kawhi Leonard has had a flare-up with his surgically repaired right knee that will keep him out through this week, the Clippers have more than enough talent and the coaching to win. They were outplayed twice in OKC and needed Paul George to rack up 35 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 steals and 2 massively clutch shots in the final 40 seconds just to escape at home against Houston. With the next two games at Houston and San Antonio, perhaps the Clippers can finally get going.
19. Washington Wizards2022-23 record: 3-4Previous week’s ranking: 16
The Wizards’ 3-1 start has been wiped away after losing four of their past five. Washington’s three-game slide is in danger of continuing with games against Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Memphis up next. On the bright side, Kristaps Porzingis had his best game of the season with 32 points and nine rebounds against the Sixers.
20. Chicago Bulls2022-23 record: 4-4Previous week’s ranking: 23
After struggling defensively at the end of last season, the Bulls have been in the top half of the league (13th entering Tuesday) on defense to start the season thanks to the pesky contributions of Alex Caruso and Javonte Green. Both Caruso and Green rank in the top five in the NBA in deflections, and Green leads the NBA in deflections per 36 minutes.
21. Miami Heat2022-23 record: 3-5Previous week’s ranking: 21
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Miami has struggled out of the gate, but it picked up a comeback win over the Warriors on Tuesday night. Max Strus has found a good rhythm, averaging 16.3 points over his past four games. Jimmy Butler had 23 points, eight assists and six rebounds against the Warriors and is going to have to carry Miami through its rough early stretch as the group continues to find its way. — Friedell
22. Charlotte Hornets2022-23 record: 3-4Previous week’s ranking: 20
Charlotte has dropped three of its past four, giving up 118.8 points per game in the process. P.J. Washington is in the midst of a nice stretch, however; he has recorded 59 points and 12 rebounds over his past two games.
23. Brooklyn Nets2022-23 record: 2-6Previous week’s ranking: 22
It was a heck of a week for Brooklyn — even judged against the high standards the Nets have created for themselves in recent years. They’ve lost four of five, Kyrie Irving remains embroiled in controversy and coach Steve Nash and the Nets decided to part ways. It’s never a dull day in Netsland.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder2022-23 record: 4-3Previous week’s ranking: 29
Despite trailing Dallas by 16 points with under four minutes to play Saturday, the Thunder stormed back to win 117-111 in overtime. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, this was the 9,977th time in the past 25 seasons a team led by 16 or more with four minutes remaining in regulation. This was only the second time a team in that scenario came back to win, with OKC’s effort joining the Kings’ comeback against Minnesota on Jan. 27, 2020.
25. Indiana Pacers2022-23 record: 3-5Previous week’s ranking: 26
Myles Turner made headlines for his comments on “The Woj Pod” this week when said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at making a trade with the Pacers: “I know what I can provide for a team,” he said. However, Turner is off to a slow start since returning from an ankle injury, averaging 13.0 points and seven rebounds on 34% shooting (27% from 3).
26. Los Angeles Lakers2022-23 record: 1-5Previous week’s ranking: 25
Has Russell Westbrook finally found a functional role in Los Angeles? While at first reluctant to assume the bench role that Darvin Ham envisioned, Westbrook looked mighty effective as the Lakers’ primary playmaker in the second unit. He averaged 18 points, 8.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists in two games as a reserve, including in the Lakers’ first win of the season against Denver.
27. Sacramento Kings2022-23 record: 2-4Previous week’s ranking: 28
De’Aaron Fox left midway through the Kings’ game against the Hornets because of right knee soreness. It’s the last thing Sacramento needs right now. The Kings managed to squeak out that win, but if the injury persists, they would be losing one of their few bright spots on the floor this season.
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28. Detroit Pistons2022-23 record: 2-6Previous week’s ranking: 24
Cade Cunningham is shooting 49.5% while putting up 25-5-5 in his past four games, the only Piston not named Grant Hill to do so in the past 30 seasons. Overall, Cunningham put up 27.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.5 assists during that span.
29. Houston Rockets2022-23 record: 1-7Previous week’s ranking: 27
The Rockets’ winless four-game road trip was especially rough for Jalen Green. He shot only 25.7% from the floor and 22.6% from 3-point range on the trip, and Houston was outscored by 44 points with him on the floor in the four losses.
30. Orlando Magic2022-23 record: 1-7Previous week’s ranking: 30
Aside from No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero‘s hot start to his career, the Magic have gotten a nice lift from Wendell Carter Jr. He’s averaging 20 points and 8.7 rebounds over his past three games. Both continue to put up solid numbers and big minutes for a team that needs more from its young core. — Friedell