I want a theme for my power rankings, as describing a team's doings from week-to-week, which is just three to four games, is a little boring for the reader - and the writer. A week ago, the theme was levels - a five-tier pairing of franchises and how I see them. But this week, I will be talking about the weaknesses of all 30 teams.
As a note, I would like to say that records matter, but potential matters more; the Pistons may have a couple games on the Cavaliers, but the Cavaliers have numerous injuries and chemistry issues, yet I think we can all agree Cleveland would win a seven-game series against Detroit.
San Antonio Spurs: (9-5). Previous Rank: 1.
First, if you haven't read my rankings this year, I have said the Spurs are first until the day I get to see a healthy Spurs team, as I think that the Spurs healthy are the best team in the NBA; which leads me to their weaknesses - health and age. They still have zero games from Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. Danny Green, Rudy Gay, Derrick White and Joffrey Lauvergne are also at least somewhat injured. As for age: Manu Ginobili is 40, Pau Gasol is 37, Tony Parker is 35 and LaMarcus Aldridge is 32, and all have at least 12 seasons in the league. That's a lot of miles on the legs.
Boston Celtics: (13-2). Previous Rank: 4.
The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, but they are mediocre offensively. As well as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are doing, Boston is still missing a 20-point scorer at the two/three in Gordon Hayward. The Celtics are also just an average three-point shooting team, which is where they miss Hayward again. Their starters are doing their job offensively, but they need their bench to start hitting more threes.
Houston Rockets: (11-4). Previous Rank: 3.
Really, looking at the Rockets statistically, there isn't anything they lack. They are at least average in all categories other than assists, and that will be fixed when Chris Paul is healthy, so I will go with their depth. With Paul healthy or not, they have one of the best starting fives in the NBA, and with Paul healthy, they have the league's best sixth man in Eric Gordon. Houston also has two fine forwards in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and P.J Tucker, and Nene Hilario and Tarik Black are fine, but then? The Rockets do not have another rotational guard, and don't have one rotational shooting big on the bench, so if they lose starting five Clint Capela, they will not be nearly the same team. Houston lost half its roster in the Chris Paul trade, and although the club did well on the free agent market with its signings of its two bench forwards, there just was not the money for more. There might not be another team with as weak players 9-13 in the league this season.
Golden State Warriors: (11-3). Previous Rank: 2.
If you just look at the numbers, you could say the Warriors' defense, which is allowing 108 points a game, ranking it in the 20s, but they score 120 points a game, meaning that they play fast and therefore opponents must too. The Warriors also have a ridiculous point differential of plus 12, meaning they are winning easily; therefore I am going with the bench. They have a lot of nice pieces on the bench and a lot of recognizable names, but Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston aren't producing like they were, especially Iguodala. Golden State has a number of players actually having statistically excellent seasons: Omri Casspi, Nick Young, Jordan Bell, JaVale McGee and best of all David West, but not one of them gets more than 13.9 minutes a game. I don't think Steve Kerr knows his rotation yet, which happens, but the Warriors' four All-Stars starters average 80 points a game and 17 of their 31 assists a night. Their stars need consistent help off the bench and the team needs a set rotation. This is nit-picking, but their bench isn't as strong as it used to be.
Cleveland Cavaliers: (7-7). Previous Rank: 6.
I could say defense or coaching, but it's injuries. Starting center Tristan Thompson hasn't been and won't be on the court for weeks, Derrick Rose has missed half the games already, and Isaiah Thomas hasn't been on the court this season. When or if the Cavaliers have their roster intact, they have the best roster in the Eastern Conference, and with them actually playing well this week I don't need to criticize them today.
Minnesota Timberwolves: (8-5). Previous Rank: 7.
We all knew coming into this season that Minnesota's weakness was shooting the long ball. Although the Timberwolves are decent when they shoot - 36 percent as a team -, they are 29th in attempts and 28th in makes - Houston almost doubles them in makes and takes. They knew that Andrew Wiggins and Jimmy Butler were not shooters, so they found a point guard, Jeff Teague and sixth man Jamal Crawford to help, but in the Timberwolves' 10-man rotation, they only have five players who are average shooters, and in their starting five, they only have two. Minnesota needs to add one more ace shooter off the bench for 20-plus minutes a night as the club starts one of the few starting fours in the league - Taj Gibson -, who is not a three-point shooter. The Timberwolves also have porous defensive numbers, but I am blaming that on Jimmy Butler missing two games - in which they allowed 126 points a game - and needing time to gel with a very different roster.
Oklahoma City Thunder: (6-7). Previous Rank: 5.
I've said it for weeks, the Thunder need to find themselves a sixth man. They have a decent set of guys in the second unit with Raymond Felton, Patrick Patterson, Jerami Grant and Alex Abrines, but they need a true ace sixth man. Abrines or rookie first-round pick Terrence Ferguson could become that guy, but not right now and not for a wanna-be contender.
Detroit Pistons: (9-3). Previous Rank. 17.
The Pistons keep winning and making me look dumb, so to No. 8 they go. As for weaknesses, statistically they are rock solid in most areas, but their depth is an issue. They really only go seven strong currently, and they need to make a trade for another big man who can play both the four and five plus shoot, and a shooter at small forward as well. Detroit has young guys who are capable of filling the spots, but Stan Van Gundy doesn't trust them.
Memphis Grizzlies: (7-6). Previous Rank: 8.
With Zach Randolph in Sacramento, Memphis lost a rebounding machine, and with Marc Gasol average at best as a rebounding center, alongside a relatively small rotation, this club is 29th in rebounds - 29th in offensive rebounds and 22nd in defensive rebounds. The Grizzlies are an excellent defensive team, so it's not too big of a deal giving teams another try at a basket, but as a mediocre offensive team, limiting second-chance points really hurts them. A poor rebounding differential kills the points differential, and the Grizzlies are losing points daily because of it.
Denver Nuggets: (8-6). Previous Rank. 14.
The Nuggets are an odd team as there isn't a team stat they really need to work on, so I will go with the need of a go-to scorer. They have six guys averaging 11.6 points a game or more, but not one averages more than 16.4 - center Nikola Jokic. Jokic is their best player, but he's not a pure scorer and likely won't be averaging 20 points a game for them; 16-18 points seems to be his range. Paul Millsap, however, has hit 20, and can and should be able to get back there. Denver just paid him $100 million to be that guy, but he is shooting just 44 percent from the field and has usually been much closer to 50 percent as a pro. If he can just improve his efficiency, the rolling Nuggets should improve more and continue to thrive.
Milwaukee Bucks: (7-6). Previous Rank. 13.
This is similar to Memphis, but Milwaukee is the weakest rebounding team in the NBA. The Bucks are last in offensive rebounds and just 28th in defensive rebounds. This is because their starting power forward Jabari Parker is injured and they only have two true big men - John Henson and Thon Maker - and one of them, Maker, is a poor rebounder. The Bucks also traded Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe, so their averages should actually get lower. They just don't have a roster that is capable of rebounding currently.
Washington Wizards: (8-5). Previous Rank: 9.
Washington's weakness is the same as it's been for years; the second unit. It is much improved this season as Kelly Oubre Jr. is a legit sixth man and Mike Scott, Jody Meeks and Tim Frazier were strong additions, but the Wizards are still lacking a scoring guard in the Lou Williams mold to give them the punch they need to support the East's best starting five.
Toronto Raptors: (8-5). Previous Rank 12.
This is probably the easiest team for this week. After DeMar DeRozan, Toronto's big money players aren't performing to expectations; Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka are making at least $15 million a season - Lowry is at $30 million. Ibaka and Valanciunas aren't doing poorly, but there is more they could be doing offensively, basically shooting the ball at least four extra times a game. As for Lowry, there is no excuse for losing nine points from a season ago, and just like the big men, he needs to be shooting more, but also more efficiently. He needs to be getting to the free throw line again, but mostly just needs to be more aggressive. The Raptors need improvement if they want any chance of making noise in the playoffs.
Orlando Magic: (8-6). Previous Rank: 19.
The Magic are one of the best scoring and shooting teams this season, and that will likely help them make the playoffs, but they won't continue winning like they are if they keep allowing 108 points a game and 47 percent shooting. This is odd as Frank Vogel is an excellent defensive coach, but I think because of him, Orlando could at least become average.
Philadelphia 76ers: (7-6). Previous Rank: 22.
Alright, this team is legit and it has arguably the second-best starting five in the Eastern Conference after the Wizards right now. But, Philadelphia is still a ridiculously young team and although Joel Embiid is a monster defensively, the team is not. One of the issues is youth, but the 76ers also play very small, and that is taking into account Ben Simmons' size at point guard. Their offense and shooting will win them a lot of games, but a little more effort is needed defensively.
New Orleans Pelicans: (8-6). Previous Rank: 15.
The Pelicans just got Rajon Rondo healthy, but they still have the weakest bench in the NBA and point guard was the last thing they needed to help them after the addition of Jameer Nelson. Luckily, New Orleans is receiving excellent play from E'Twaun Moore and Jrue Holiday to go with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. Speaking of Anthony and Davis here are their current stats: 54.4 points, 25.9 rebounds, 8.9 assists, three blocks and three steals per game. The Pelicans don't really have anything of trade value, but they need to find at least one forward who can score the ball.
Portland Trail Blazers: (7-6). Previous Rank: 13.
This is a hard one. Portland can score, has depth and is defending very well this season, but I say the club's biggest weakness is Damian Lillard. How can a guy averaging 24.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game be a weakness? He is shooting 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. We all know this team depends on Lillard and C.J. McCollum, and Lillard isn't doing his part so far, while McCollum is. If Lillard was shooting and scoring with his normal efficiency, the Trail Blazers' offense would be scoring a lot more than 105 points a game, and as Lillard isn't much of a defender, how much credit can we give him for the team's brilliant defense so far?
New York Knicks: (7-6). Previous Rank: 21.
The Knicks are average in all the major categories and are performing twice as well as expected, so it's hard to find fault with this team, but they don't shoot the three ball that much or that well. They have the players to do so, so I see this issue fixing itself. It's weird, but I cannot criticize this team.
Utah Jazz: (6-9). Previous Rank: 16.
The obvious is that Rudy Gobert is currently hurt and is their best player, but the weakness of the Jazz is offense. They have several very nice offensive pieces in Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, Joe Johnson and Gobert, but the Jazz don't have the market to replace Gordon Hayward and George Hill's production in an offseason, and in the case of Hayward, if Mitchell or Hood don't become 20 point scorers, they won't have one for a long time. Utah has a group of secondary pieces, but the team has no alphas or betas offensively.
Los Angeles Clippers: (5-8). Previous Rank: 10.
The Clippers want to keep winning; the proof is giving Blake Griffin almost $200 million and Danilo Gallinari $20 million a season. The problem is that the Clippers no longer have Chris Paul or J.J. Redick, who together once formed the best guard duo in the NBA, and they are one of the youngest teams in the league. The Clippers received seven guys for Chris Paul, and after Lou Williams, they were basically all very young. My point is that the Clippers not only lost a ton of talent, they haven't replaced a fraction of what they lost, as solid as Williams and Patrick Beverley are. The Clippers' weakness is that as a team they are not near what they were, despite trying to be.
Indiana Pacers: (6-8). Previous Rank: 18.
The Pacers were missing Myles Turner and then they were missing Domantas Sabonis, but health isn't really the issue; it's defense. The Pacers are 24th in points allowed, but 29th in field goal percentage allowed, meaning we can't blame the team playing fast; they just aren't defending.
Charlotte Hornets: (5-7). Previous Rank: 20.
Charlotte's biggest weakness is obviously health. Nicolas Batum is healthy, but missed the first 12 games; Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has missed five; and Cody Zeller has missed four. These are three of the Hornets' key eight guys, but with all now healthy, they should start winning.
Miami Heat: (6-7). Previous Rank: 23.
I'd say the Heat's biggest weakness is that they are still having to rebuild so quickly after losing LeBron James one year, Chris Bosh the next and then Dwyane Wade. This is a team that refuses to lose, and with one of the best coaches in the league, this makes Miami a mediocre team that will likely continue to be one.
Los Angeles Lakers: (6-8). Previous Rank: 24.
With an impressive young roster, the Lakers are winning more than I expected. They are average offensively and defensively for the most part, but they have one weakness, which might be the biggest any team has - its three-point shooting. As a team, the Lakers are shooting an incredible 30 percent, that's it. They have just two average or stronger shooters, their starting center and sixth man. To prove just how funny their percentage is, the Warriors are shooting 41 percent as a team and the Kings as a team shoot three less per game, but make one more. That's an insane statistical anomaly.
Phoenix Suns: (5-10). Previous Rank: 25.
The Suns are 30th in opponents points a game and a pathetic defensive team, but we all know their biggest issue is owner Robert Sarver being inept. When you have a cheap and inept owner, you cannot have a consistent winning product, or as is the case in recent seasons, any winning product. Also to the very young Suns, start playing some defense and you might win more games.
Brooklyn Nets: (5-9). Previous Rank: 26.
The Nets are doing a lot more than anyone really expected, mostly due to D'Angelo Russell and a stable of solid veterans, but they aren't a strong defensive team. This is mostly due to how fast they play, but easily their biggest issue is that as a team, they aren't hitting most of the ridiculous amount of shots they take. Brooklyn is among the best in the NBA in points a game, but the club is among the lowest in field goal and three-point shooting, meaning the Nets are a wild team.
Dallas Mavericks: (2-13). Previous Rank: 28.
The Mavericks have one of the league's best general managers and coaches, but like I said last week, they built a team around a player - Dirk Nowitzki - who is no longer a star and they have to start again. They have their start with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes, and Barnes has already taken the role of go-to scorer, but Dallas' biggest weakness is obvious; the offense. The Mavericks are 27th in points, 29th in field goal percentage and just a mediocre three-point shooting team.
Sacramento Kings: (3-10). Previous Rank: 30.
First, I want to say that management nailed their picks in the 2017 NBA Draft. I love rookies De'Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Frank Mason Jr. and the injured Harry Giles, who I think will be a stud, but the weakness of this team continues to be in management; Vlade Divac's team. The DeMarcus Cousins trade is already a bust, although Buddy Hield is starting to play very well. The Kings are a rebuilding team with nine first- or second-year players, but they will spend $40 million this season on George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter, and $31 million next season for the first two. To make it easier to understand, it's pretty well known that the core of the team is Fox, Hield and Skal Labissiere, and two of Sacramento's starting spots are being taken by Hill and Randolph. I complimented Divac for that draft, but the signings prove that he doesn't understand building a team. He was gifted the job by a bufoon of an owner and is trying, but the NBA and world knows that he is as qualified as I am.
Atlanta Hawks: (2-12). Previous Rank: 27.
This one is pretty simple; the Hawks lack the talent of a winning team now. They have one chance to fix things, this summer when they will have three first-round picks in the 2018 NBA Draft, including one likely among the first five. There really isn't anything to say, Atlanta is trying to lose and succeeding in that.
Chicago Bulls: (2-9). Previous Rank: 29.
There are so many things I could say about the Bulls: Their 30th-ranked offense; their poor management; the fact that two adults on the team won't talk to one another after they got into a scrape; poor defense; the list goes on. On the other hand, the Bulls have a nice foundation with Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine, one of the first picks in the 2018 NBA Draft, plus have had their share of injuries this season. Because of all that, I will go with the one I find the most infuriating - I am a fan after all -, coach Fred Hoiberg. Chicago's best offensive player is Markkanen, but he isn't having him in position to score. Hoiberg won't start Kris Dunn at point guard, despite Dunn being twice the player that Jerian Grant is. Hoiberg also won't start Denzel Valentine, who is a far-more talented player than Paul Zipser. Hoiberg lets mediocre scorers take any shot they want. Additionally, his offensive sets are seemingly non-existent. Hoiberg gives far too many minutes to Cristiano Felicio. There's a lot Hoiberg isn't doing right, and although Chicago fans know that he is a puppet of a management team lucked into Markkanen buying itself time, Hoiberg should be coaching college again, as he doesn't have what it takes to manage in the NBA.