Power Rankings, Week 2: Jazz take control of No. 1 spot
See where all 30 teams rank after the first week of the 2021-22 season.
Everything written about the league’s 30 teams after two or three games could include those two words, though the author doesn’t know if they go before or after the “but.” For instance, should it be…
“It’s early, but the Timberwolves have the league’s No. 1 defense.”
“The Timberwolves have the league’s No. 1 defense, but it’s early.”
In time, the Wolves will let us know which was the appropriate syntax. After Week 1 last season, the league’s top five defenses were those of the Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans. The Suns finished the season at No. 6, but those other four teams all finished in the bottom nine defensively.
So the Nets had the league’s No. 1 defense, but it was early. And not the other way around.
Of course, every game that was played in Week 1 counts every bit as much as any game that will be played in February or March. Sample sizes are small and proper context is always needed, but it’s never too early to start mining the data and studying the film. History tells us that the standings after 20 games closely resemble the standings at the end of the season, and after Week 2, we’ll be about a third of the way to that 20-game mark.
It’s early, but the teams must be ranked every Monday. So, with the Milwaukee Bucks losing their second game by … [checks notes] … 42 points, they’re no longer in the top spot. And it’s three undefeated Western Conference squads that lead the way into Week 2.
But it’s early.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Derrick Rose (NYK) was a plus-49 in three games last week.
- Wrong Way: Terrence Ross (ORL) was a minus-66 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Charlotte (3-0) — A Sunday win in Brooklyn was a nice capper.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: New Orleans (0-3) — Largely responsible for the Wolves having the league’s No. 1 defense.
East vs. West
- The East was 6-3 against the West in Week 1.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Charlotte (+10), Denver (+8), Golden State (+8)
- Free falls of the week: Dallas (-8), Boston (-5), Four teams (-4)
Week 2 Team to Watch
- Utah — The Jazz will face two of the other six undefeated teams this week, hosting the Nuggets on Tuesday and visiting the Bulls on Saturday. They’ll also be in Houston on Thursday and in Milwaukee on Sunday.
Previous Power Rankings
- Last week: Bucks, Nets and Suns start season on top
- The archive: NBA.com Power Rankings
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averaged 101.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.7 points scored per 100 possessions in Week 1.
NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (26) OffRtg: 109.0 (12) DefRtg: 94.4 (5) NetRtg: +14.6 (1)
The Jazz have begun the season by holding both of their opponents under a point per possession. (One of the two was the Thunder, but still.) They’ve done it while staying big, with Rudy Gobert or Hassan Whiteside playing all 96 minutes. Whiteside (19 rebounds and three blocks in 34 minutes) hasn’t hurt them off the bench and Gobert took advantage of the Kings (much more than vice-versa) when Sacramento went small down the stretch on Friday. One key defensive stop came with Gobert shutting down a Harrison Barnes iso.
Once again, the Jazz are at the top of the league in regard to point differential from 3-point range, at +22.5 per game with the Thunder and Kings having shot 15-for-71 (21%) from beyond the arc. The team that shot the best from 3-point range against the Jazz last season (47.6%) was the Nuggets, who will be at Vivint Arena on Tuesday. Rudy Gobert is 14-11 head-to-head (including postseason) vs. Nikola Jokic, though Denver edged the Jazz in the 2020 playoffs and Jokic has averaged 29.1 points on an effective field goal percentage of 62.7% over the last 13 meetings.
Week 2: vs. DEN, @ HOU, @ CHI, @ MIL
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 105.3 (2) OffRtg: 112.7 (5) DefRtg: 105.3 (13) NetRtg: +7.3 (11)
Stephen Curry has been a worse-than-average shooter in two of their three games, and the Warriors are 3-0. They needed all of his 45 points (including one absolutely ridiculous go-ahead 3-pointer) against the Clippers on Thursday, but got by without spectacular performances from their top-75 guy against the Lakers and Kings. Jordan Poole has handled some of the scoring load and bench minutes have been mostly positive. Damion Lee has made shots and defended well.
Lee, Poole, Juan Toscano-Anderson and even Andrew Wiggins are proof that no season, even when a team’s best player(s) is/are out for the year, is a “lost” season. Their development, starting with the season in which Curry played just five games, is paying off at a time when the Warriors’ stars are on the brink of being fully healthy. They were all projects at one point, and they’ve all become entirely playable in important games against good teams.
The Warriors’ longest homestand of the season (eight games over 16 days) begins Thursday, and it includes games against three teams — Charlotte, Minnesota and Chicago — that are currently undefeated.
So @StephenCurry30 had a night…
— NBA (@NBA) October 22, 2021
Week 2: @ OKC, vs. MEM, vs. OKC
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 101.8 (11) OffRtg: 103.9 (21) DefRtg: 95.6 (8) NetRtg: +8.4 (9)
The Nuggets’ offense ranks in the bottom three in free throw rate, turnover rate, and offensive rebounding percentage. Their second unit has been outscored by 21 points (50 per 100 possessions!) in a little more than 20 minutes. Michael Porter Jr. had a relatively quiet first two games, totaling just 22 points on 9-for-20 shooting.
But the Nuggets are 2-0, with a big, opening-night win in Phoenix. The offense came with balance beyond Nikola Jokic and with the MVP shooting 24-for-33 (73%) inside the arc. He only has nine total assists, but even his non-assist passes are highlights.
More important is that the Nuggets held both of their opponents under a point per possession. There was a time when Porter was a serious liability defensively, but the improvement on that end of the floor (especially energy and rotations) is evident. The Jazz’s shooters and Luka Doncic will provide some more challenges for the Denver defense this week.
Week 2: vs. CLE, @ UTA, vs. DAL, @ MIN
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 103.7 (7) OffRtg: 110.6 (9) DefRtg: 112.8 (22) NetRtg: -2.2 (18)
When you’ve won a championship, you probably don’t stress over an early-season, 42-point loss to one of your conference rivals as much as you used to — especially when you’re coming off a convincing win over this season’s title favorite two nights earlier. Brook Lopez having back issues is reason for concern, though his absence (along with that of Bobby Portis) has led to a lot more minutes (48 through three games) with Giannis Antetokounmpo as the lone big man than we would have seen otherwise. He’s only played 84 minutes total through three games.
Antetokounmpo’s preseason shooting hasn’t carried over and he’s 7-for-25 (28%) from outside the restricted area. But we don’t need to worry about those numbers so much either. Khris Middleton (11-for-20 on pull-up 2s) remains a mid-range assassin and, despite Lopez’s absence, the Bucks are still protecting the rim.
Their first back-to-back of the season is Saturday and Sunday, when they host the Spurs and Jazz.
Week 2: @ IND, vs. MIN, vs. SAS, vs. UTA
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 100.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.0 (20) DefRtg: 115.7 (26) NetRtg: -11.7 (27)
Kevin Durant has averaged 33 points on 57% shooting (including a crazy 26-for-41 on non-restricted-area 2s), and the Nets would be 0-3 if it weren’t for a late, 13-0 run in Philadelphia on Friday. A bottom-five defense is obviously an issue, but not really a surprising one.
More of a concern has been the play of James Harden, who has shot 39% (including just 10-for-26 in the paint), committed 17 turnovers and gotten to the line for just nine free throw attempts. Wildly, the Nets have scored just 93.1 points per 100 possessions in 67 minutes with Durant and Harden on the floor together, but 115.8 per 100 in 72 minutes with one on the floor without the other. Playing Blake Griffin (who rested on Sunday) alongside another big (something they did for just three total minutes in last year’s playoffs) may be an experiment that doesn’t last, and LaMarcus Aldridge (8-for-10 from mid-range) has given them good minutes off the bench.
Their loss to the Hornets on Sunday was the start of the Nets’ longest homestand of the season: Six games over 11 days.
Week 2: vs. WAS, vs. MIA, vs. IND, vs. DET
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 97.7 (30) OffRtg: 116.4 (3) DefRtg: 107.2 (16) NetRtg: +9.2 (8)
Though Joel Embiid has more mid-range attempts (19) than shots in the paint (15), and though Danny Green tossed up three airballs as they blew a 10-point lead in the final minutes on Friday, the Sixers have a top-five offense. Seth Curry has followed up a red-hot postseason with an even hotter Week 1. He scored 23 points in the first quarter in Oklahoma City on Sunday and his effective field goal percentage of 89.1% is the best mark among 121 players with at least 25 field goal attempts. Embiid, who had a career assist/turnover ratio of 0.89 prior to this season, has just four turnovers with his team-high 15 assists. His first dime on Sunday (a fast-break drive and kick) was rather Simmons-esque.
The Sixers should be 3-0, but they let one get away against Brooklyn. They were 38-1 with a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead last regular season, but then had an epic collapse in Game 5 against the Hawks. Game 7 wasn’t as bad (they only led by four in the fourth), but left an uglier scar. Their first chance for a little redemption is Saturday, though it doesn’t seem like Ben Simmons will be available to exorcise his own demons.
Week 2: @ NYK, vs. DET, vs. ATL
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 101.3 (14) OffRtg: 104.3 (19) DefRtg: 115.2 (25) NetRtg: -10.9 (26)
The Suns are again near the top of the league in pull-up 2-point percentage (17-for-33, 51.5%). Their bigs (and Mikal Bridges) have finished well at the rim. But they’ve been outscored by 20 points per game from 3-point range as they’ve lost two of their first three games. The bigger issue has been on defense, where they rank 29th in opponent 3-point percentage (43.1%) and 28th in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range (47%).
JaVale McGee has had issues getting out to shooters, either ball-handlers coming off screens or screeners popping to 3-point range. And transition defense has also been an problem, too. Thirty-six of their opponents’ 53 3s have come in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock and 21% of their opponents possessions — the league’s second highest opponent rate — have been in transition. That’s up from 14.5% (sixth lowest rate) last season.
Last season, the Suns’ best five-game stretch of defense was their first five games (98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). They should hope that isn’t the case this year, and they’ve got some practice time to work on their early issues. With their first back-to-back in the books, the Suns are playing just two games over an eight-day stretch that began Sunday.
Week 2: vs. SAC, vs. CLE
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 100.5 (20) OffRtg: 103.5 (22) DefRtg: 93.5 (3) NetRtg: +10.0 (6)
In a Week 1 flush with Jekyll-and-Hyde performances, the Hawks were the Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Week, crushing the Mavs on Thursday and then losing to the previously 0-2 Cavs (with a rest advantage) on Saturday. Zone defense had them a little flummoxed in Cleveland as they went scoreless over the first 3:42 of the third quarter. According to Synergy tracking, the Hawks saw only two possessions of zone in the 2021 playoffs after seeing the third most (339 possessions) in the regular season and ranking 15th in zone efficiency (0.98 points per possession).
The play of Cam Reddish (39 total points on 14-for-29 shooting) through two games is certainly encouraging. He’s 6-for-9 from beyond the arc, but has also had some nifty drives to the cup in the two games. When they needed a bucket late (and with Danilo Gallinari out) on Saturday, the Hawks had Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanovic on the floor with Trae Young and John Collins. Cleveland switched Hunter’s screen for Young and Hunter’s pick-and-pop 3 was a brick.
On Saturday, the Hawks will be back in Philly, where they won three playoff games (by a total of 14 points) in June.
Week 2: vs. DET, @ NOP, @ WAS, @ PHI
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 105.0 (3) OffRtg: 108.3 (14) DefRtg: 112.0 (21) NetRtg: -3.7 (19)
You would think that, even if there were chemistry issues and even if Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis combined to shoot 3-for-20 from 3-point range, the one thing the Lakers would be able to do right away is score inside. But as they lost their first two games, they totaled just 46 points in the restricted area, having averaged 38.6 last season and having added the most relentless north-south attacker of his generation.
They barely escaped with their first win on Sunday, but the Lakers looked much stronger inside, scoring more restricted-area points against the Grizzlies (52) than they did in their first two games combined. Westbrook had just two of those 26 restricted-area buckets, but he assisted on 11 of the other 24, with a few really deft dimes within.
If LeBron James is now more of a shooter than an attacker — he’s 7-for-20 in the paint and 21-for-40 outside it — than maybe this is a different team than we thought. Maybe he’s been more of a shooter than an attacker because he’s playing along side Davis and Westbrook. Maybe he’s 36 years old with 61,000 career minutes in his rearview mirror.
The Lakers have three tough opponents in their rearview mirror. And their next six games are against the Spurs, Thunder (x2), Cavs and Rockets (x2).
Week 2: @ SAS, @ OKC, vs. CLE, vs. HOU
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 101.5 (12) OffRtg: 121.3 (2) DefRtg: 117.1 (29) NetRtg: +4.2 (13)
The Grizzlies are the new Blazers, ranking second on offense, ranking 29th on defense, and playing close games every night. Ja Morant is off to a ridiculous start to his third season, leading the league in scoring at 35 points per game while registering an effective field goal percentage of 64% (second among 20 players with at least 50 field goal attempts). He’s 6-3 and had 10 more points in the restricted area (48) than anybody else in the league in Week 1.
As a four-year college guy, Desmond Bane was ready to play as a rookie. But he’s also showing clear improvement in Year 2, averaging 19.3 points and making some tougher shots, like the jumper that put the Grizzlies up four on the Clippers with less than a minute to go on Saturday.
The new Blazers will visit the old Blazers on Wednesday. Then it’s Morant vs. Curry 24 hours later. The Grizz have destroyed their opponents on the glass, grabbing a league-high 56% of available rebounds, but this week’s three opponents all rank in the top five in rebounding percentage too.
— NBA (@NBA) October 21, 2021
Week 2: @ POR, @ GSW, vs. MIA
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 100.7 (18) OffRtg: 105.3 (17) DefRtg: 93.7 (4) NetRtg: +11.6 (4)
Two wins over the Pistons and another over the Pelicans isn’t quite “The Bulls are BACK!” material, but a team can’t play games that aren’t on the schedule. Last season, Chicago had the league’s biggest differential in their winning percentage against the 15 teams that finished at or below .500 (24-12, 0.667) and their mark against the 15 teams that finished with winning records (7-29, 0.194). This is a different and more talented group, but you have to wonder about the depth beyond their top seven guys (once Coby White returns to health). Right now, they have Ayo Dosunmu, Javonte Green and Alize Johnson playing real rotation minutes. We’ll see how that works against two very good benches (those of the Knicks and Jazz) this week.
The Bulls do have the ability to stagger the minutes of three guys who can get buckets. So far, DeMar DeRozan has been the one to play solo, and the Bulls have outscored their opponents by 21 points per 100 possessions in DeRozan’s 36 minutes with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic off the floor. Most of that success has been on defense, where the Bulls rank fourth through Week 1. Only the Cavs have allowed their opponents to take a higher percentage of their shots in the restricted area, but Chicago ranks in the top five in both opponent turnover rate and opponent free throw rate.
Week 2: @ TOR, vs. NYK, vs. UTA
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 104.7 (4) OffRtg: 114.1 (4) DefRtg: 104.4 (11) NetRtg: +9.6 (7)
The Hornets did indeed flip the switch after that 68-point loss to end the preseason. They’re 3-0 having trailed all three games by double-digits and with their biggest win coming in Brooklyn on Sunday. Miles Bridges started to break out when he was moved into the starting lineup for the last six weeks of 2020-21, and he’s picked up where he left off. The dunk highlights are still there, but they’re now mixed in with step-back 3s and one-on-one bucket-getting. Bridges totaled 62 points on 22-for-40 shooting (with 12 free throw attempts on Sunday) in the Hornets’ two weekend wins.
Last season, the Hornets saw the biggest jump in pace from the season prior. And through Week 1, they’ve seen the second-biggest jump in pace from last season. They want to run, no matter what. In fact, their best offense may come from quickly taking the ball out of the basket and counter-attacking before the opponent knows what’s happening. There were several examples in Cleveland on Friday (including after Jarrett Allen’s thrunk) where the Hornets scored within a few seconds of the Cavs scoring on the other end. Opponents should install new nets every quarter when Charlotte is in town.
Miles Bridges showing off the bounce 😳
He's up to 14 PTS on NBA LP. pic.twitter.com/VQHNHm80jC
— NBA (@NBA) October 24, 2021
Week 2: vs. BOS, @ ORL, @ MIA, vs. POR
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 101.2 (16) OffRtg: 106.0 (16) DefRtg: 93.4 (2) NetRtg: +12.7 (2)
P.J. Tucker’s hard foul on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first minute of Bucks-Heat on Thursday was [chef’s kiss]. It was also a sign of things to come. The Heat lead the league with 25.5 fouls per game and rank last in opponent free throw rate (27.6 attempts per 100 shots from the field). They’re going to be aggressive and physical on that end of the floor; There was a lot of “flying around” as they built a 22-3 lead on the champs, though the Pacers had some success attacking Duncan Robinson two nights later.
Offense will determine the Heat’s ceiling. They thrashed the Bucks on Thursday, but, playing without Kyle Lowry (ankle), didn’t have much beyond the shot-making of Tyler Herro in Indiana. Their 91 points on 108 possessions (84.3 per 100) on Saturday was their least efficient regular season game since Jan. 2019. Jimmy Butler is off to a very Jimmy Butler-like start, with half as many free throw attempts (16) as field goal attempts (32) and shooting 2-for-10 from outside the paint. Butler, Herro and Bam Adebayo can all handle the ball when needed, but it’s already time to wonder if this team needs another point guard, whether or not Lowry is healthy.
Week 2: vs. ORL, @ BKN, vs. CHA, @ MEM
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 98.5 (29) OffRtg: 96.4 (28) DefRtg: 105.6 (14) NetRtg: -9.1 (24)
The (third) Jason Kidd era in Dallas started out kind of ugly. The Mavs scored just 132 points on 152 possessions (86.8 per 100) through their first three halves of the season, shooting just 23-for-58 (40%) in the paint. But they slowed things down in the second half in Toronto on Saturday, went heavy on Luka Doncic-Dwight Powell pick-and-rolls, and scored 58 points on 45 possessions, turning a six-point halftime deficit into a comfortable win.
Kristaps Porzingis didn’t have a big role in the comeback and shot just 11-for-33 over the two games. The Mavs have scored just 70 points on 94 offensive possessions (74 per 100) with both Doncic and Porzingis on the floor, but 83 points on just 63 possessions (132 per 100) with Doncic on the floor without Porzingis. It’s a small sample size and Porzingis isn’t the only Mavs player who hasn’t shot well in those both-on-the-floor minutes, but it’s not a good start for the big guy.
The Mavs are the only team that hasn’t played a home game, but will have six of their next eight at the American Airlines Center.
Week 2: vs. HOU, vs. SAS, @ DEN, vs. SAC
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 101.3 (15) OffRtg: 111.3 (8) DefRtg: 104.9 (12) NetRtg: +6.4 (12)
Kemba Walker is 8-for-14 from 3-point range, but the Knicks have 31.3 points per 100 possessions better with him off the floor (+22.1) than they’ve been with him on the floor (-9.2). It’s early, but hey, maybe Elfrid Payton wasn’t so bad? Really, the Knicks continue to be at their best with Derrick Rose running the point. Rose has also made more than half his 3s, and his 17 attempts from beyond the arc are four more than he had in any three-game stretch last season.
The Knicks were the only team last season that ranked in the top 10 in 3-point percentage (39.2%, third) and in the bottom 10 in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (34.7%, 24th). They clearly aim to change the latter aspect of that distinction, and through three games, they’ve taken more than half of their shots from beyond the arc. After shooting 41-for-99 (41%) from deep in their wins over the Celtics and Magic, they were 13-for-48 (27%) against Orlando on Sunday, missing 14 of their 16 attempts in the fourth quarter as a six-point lead became a six-point loss.
Week 2: vs. PHI, @ CHI, @ NOP
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 100.8 (17) OffRtg: 112.4 (7) DefRtg: 116.9 (28) NetRtg: -4.5 (20)
Last season, the Clippers were 16-18 (0.471) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 31-7 (0.816) otherwise. That was, by a healthy margin, the biggest such differential in the league. And it seems their late-game luck has carried over to the new season; They lost their first two games by a total of eight points, coming up short at Golden State on Thursday (after leading by eight points early in the fourth quarter) and against the Grizzlies on Saturday.
That eight-point lead against the Warriors disappeared with a scoreless stretch of more than six minutes, but the Clippers’ larger issues have been on defense, where they rank in the bottom five in opponent effective field goal percentage, opponent free throw rate, and defensive rebounding percentage. Only two teams (Brooklyn and Boston) have allowed more points per game in transition, and the Warriors and Grizzlies combined to score an efficient 22 points on 18 clutch possessions.
Now the Clips will play two games in five days against the offense that leads the league in efficiency through Week 1.
Week 2: vs. POR, vs. CLE, @ POR
Last Week: 17
Pace: 104.0 (5) OffRtg: 122.6 (1) DefRtg: 110.1 (19) NetRtg: +12.5 (3)
The Blazers’ offense is Exhibit A for the no-carryover-from-preseason argument. As noted in this space last week, they had the worst offensive preseason (87.1 points scored per 100 possessions) in the last 10 years. After Week 1, they lead the league in offensive efficiency, having torched the Suns (134 points on 102 possessions) on Saturday. And they’ve done it with Damian Lillard shooting just 2-for-16 from 3-point range. Lillard has 19 assists and just three turnovers, and his teammates have shot 31-for-69 (45%) from beyond the arc.
CJ McCollum is on fire and the Blazers are running a bit more. They ranked last in the percentage of their possessions that were in transition (11.8%) last season, but they’re in the middle of the pack (16.4%) after two games. Of course, it’s easier to run if you get stops. The Blazers’ revamped defense struggled against the Kings on opening night, getting burned by De’Aaron Fox and yielding some of those weak-side 3s that a more aggressive pick-and-roll scheme is bound to allow.
They’ll play two games this week against the team that had the fourth highest 3-point percentage in NBA history last season.
Week 2: @ LAC, vs. MEM, vs. LAC, @ CHA
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 106.8 (1) OffRtg: 102.8 (23) DefRtg: 91.5 (1) NetRtg: +11.3 (5)
Early-season numbers are great, because we get to proclaim things like, “The Timberwolves have the league’s No. 1 defense.” The context — they’ve played the Rockets and Pelicans — is somewhat sobering, but the film provides evidence of increased energy on that end of the floor. Naz Reid’s hilarious, flat-footed buzzer-beater on Saturday came as a result of some suffocating pick-and-roll defense from Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt. The Wolves have forced 54 turnovers in two games, and 31 of the 54 have been live balls.
The offense hasn’t picked up where it left off last season, in part because they’re starting two forwards — Jaden McDaniels and Josh Okogie — who don’t do much on that end of the floor. Karl-Anthony Towns has averaged 27.5 points on an effective field goal percentage of 69%, and the Wolves have scored 93 points on 70 offensive possessions (133 per 100) when he’s been on the floor with a group that includes at least one reserve.
After another game against the Pelicans, the Wolves will play five of their next six against teams — Milwaukee, Denver and the Clippers (x2) — that ranked in the top six offensively last season.
Week 2: vs. NOP, @ MIL, vs. DEN
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 100.5 (19) OffRtg: 110.4 (10) DefRtg: 102.4 (9) NetRtg: +8.1 (10)
With Bradley Beal, the Wizards won ugly, combining with the Raptors to score just 85 points per 100 possessions on Wednesday. Without Beal (bruised hip), they won a high-scoring thriller, combining with the Pacers to score 128 per 100 on Friday. Both Spencer Dinwiddie (34 points on 13-for-24 shooting) and Kyle Kuzma (26 on 10-for-17) stepped up in Beal’s absence and Dinwiddie hit as many clutch 3s (two) against Indiana as he did in 35 clutch games (and on 24 attempts) two seasons ago. Overall, he’s 6-for-9 from beyond the arc, having shot just 32% through his first seven seasons. Getting to the basket and to the line is still his bread and butter (the man can draw a foul), but if he’s now a better-than-average shooter from deep, that can make a big difference.
More important than how pretty the offense was either night is that the Wizards beat two teams that are seemingly in their same tier in the Eastern Conference. With Beal expected to be back on Monday, they’ll face some tougher competition this week. Last season, the Wizards were 4-17 against the seven teams that finished ahead of them in the Eastern Conference, though half of those four wins came against Brooklyn.
Week 2: @ BKN, @ BOS, vs. ATL, vs. BOS
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 100.2 (22) OffRtg: 97.3 (26) DefRtg: 94.7 (6) NetRtg: +2.7 (16)
It’s a new season, they’re no longer in Tampa, and Pascal Siakam isn’t available to attempt any game-winning shots that roll off the rim. (None of their three games were within five points in the last five minutes, actually.) But bless the Raptors for finishing Week 1 with a losing record and a positive point differential, something comfortably familiar for us wonks who monitor such minutiae.
Scottie Barnes has been pretty relentless with his attack. Thirty of his 42 field goal attempts have come in the paint, he’s made 18 of those 30 paint shots and his free throw rate (28.6 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is well above the historically low league average (21.4 per 100). But offense has otherwise been ugly on both ends of the floor. In fact, two of the three least efficient performances of Week 1 were the Raptors against Washington on Wednesday (83 points on 107 possessions) and the Celtics against Toronto on Friday (83 on 101). All five guards in the rotation (and OG Anunoby too) have shot worse than 40%.
Nick Nurse made a lineup change (Goran Dragic out, Gary Trent Jr. in) after Game 1 and the new group has outscored its opponents by 19 points in its 42 minutes. But the bench had a rough night against Dallas on Saturday.
Week 2: vs. CHI, vs. IND, vs. ORL, @ IND
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 101.5 (13) OffRtg: 99.4 (25) DefRtg: 107.7 (17) NetRtg: -8.3 (23)
Celtics-Knicks on Wednesday was a wild, 58-minute ride, featuring a career-high 46 points from Jaylen Brown. But it may have had some lasting damage. The Celtics got smoked (at home) by Toronto two nights later, and Brown (who shot 3-for-13 against the Raptors) missed Sunday’s game in Houston with left knee soreness. The Celtics got a double-digit win over the young Rockets, but didn’t start to click until the second half.
Though they’re starting two bigs together and though the two opponents were *teams that like to launch 3s, the Celtics were outscored 92-54 in the restricted area and 40-25 on free throws over their two losses. The differential wasn’t so bad on Sunday (-5 total), but they were outscored on both by the Rockets, too. And the defensive aspect of that discrepancy is most concerning. Logic would say that switching screens (which the Celtics have done at the league’s highest rate) would keep the ball on the perimeter, but that hasn’t been the case.
* The Knicks led the league in 3-point rate this season, while Raptors were in the top six in each of the prior two.
The Hornets, who the Celtics visit on Monday (second game of a back-to-back for both teams), rank fourth in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area.
MARCUS SMART TIES IT AT THE BUZZER.
OT IN MSG 🍿 pic.twitter.com/D1mZUaHhBy
— ESPN (@espn) October 21, 2021
Week 2: @ CHA, vs. WAS, @ WAS
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 103.2 (8) OffRtg: 107.1 (15) DefRtg: 113.3 (23) NetRtg: -6.2 (22)
The Kings were super clutch in the first half of last season; At one point, they were 11-4 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. So far this year, late-game situations haven’t been so good to them. They’ve scored 114.5 points per 100 possessions through the first three quarters of games, but have scored just 84.2 per 100 (64 on 76) in the fourth. And no team has been worse defensively after halftime. The Kings almost blew an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead in Portland on Wednesday (Damian Lillard got a pretty good look at a game-tying 3), and they came up empty against the Jazz and Warriors (games that were both tied in the fourth quarter) at home over the weekend.
Davion Mitchell was on the floor down the stretch of two of those three games, even though the rookie has shot 37% (including 3-for-14 from 3-point range). It’s hard not to love the way he defends, and the Kings had some good moments beyond Mitchell’s one-on-one tenacity on that end of the floor in Portland. One second-quarter possession (ending in a Harrison Barnes deflection) featured some good scrambling to erase the initial advantage gained by the Blazers.
At 1-2 and competitive in the two losses isn’t a bad place to be given the quality of opponents that the Kings have faced thus far. They get to play the Pelicans twice in the next 10 days, but the schedule remains tough otherwise.
Davion Mitchell locked up Donovan Mitchell 😨 pic.twitter.com/uOA3bfkG16
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 23, 2021
Week 2: @ PHX, @ NOP, @ DAL
Last Week: 23
Pace: 99.3 (25) OffRtg: 112.6 (6) DefRtg: 109.4 (18) NetRtg: +14.6 (15)
The Chris Duarte Experience is reason to keep the Pacers in your 7 p.m. NBA League Pass rotation. The 24-year-old rookie can certainly play, as evidenced by his three early buckets against the Heat on Saturday. But as he missed 12 of his next 14 shots, he was still feeling himself, with the shot selection — lots of one-on-one pull-up jumpers — of a star. Of course, the Pacers need a guy who can get his own offense and Duarte hit one of the biggest shots of the night, a long, pull-up 3 over P.J. Tucker (after he was brazenly ready to iso against Bam Adebayo) late in the fourth quarter. After losing their first two games by a total of two points, the Pacers dominated overtime against the Heat.
Miami was without Kyle Lowry, but the win was easily the Pacers’ best defensive game of the three. They mixed in some zone, but their aggressive man-to-man defense had the Heat stymied, both out high (where Domantas Sabonis picked up a couple of steals) and with some timely help and great rotations on the back side. (Jrue isn’t the only Holiday who can get after it defensively, by the way.) And that was the second game of their weekend back-to-back.
The Pacers will have another Friday-Saturday back-to-back this week, the last of seven straight games within the Eastern Conference to start the season.
— NBA (@NBA) October 21, 2021
Week 2: vs. MIL, @ TOR, @ BKN, vs. TOR
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 102.5 (9) OffRtg: 108.8 (13) DefRtg: 113.6 (24) NetRtg: -4.8 (21)
Evan Mobley has some skinny legs, and against the Hornets on Friday, there were a couple of instances (one, two) where he was pushed out of position by the shorter-but-thicker Miles Bridges. At the same time, you can see an Anthony-Davis-esque ability to get up and get rebounds and high passes in a crowd. So if the Cleveland guards are looking for him, Mobley will get them some relatively easy assists that way. And that might be a reason to maximize his minutes alongside Ricky Rubio, who started the last two games with Darius Garland (ankle) out.
The Cavs played just eight guys on the second night of their first back-to-back, and they beat the rested Hawks with a 15-0 run to start the second half, fueled by a 3-2 zone that had Mobley at the top of the key. Mobley and Jarrett Allen are two of eight players who have defended at least 20 shots at the rim through Sunday, and opponents have shot less than 50% when one and/or the other has been there.
The Cavs had the East’s worst record (6-24) against the West last season, they’re 0-1 (having lost in Memphis) so far, and they’ve got a pretty tough road trip starting Monday in Denver.
Week 2: @ DEN, @ LAC, @ LAL, @ PHX
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (21) OffRtg: 109.6 (11) DefRtg: 106.3 (15) NetRtg: +3.3 (14)
Doug McDermott has seemingly fit in well in San Antonio, shooting 10-for-18 from 3-point range through three games. But 18 attempts in 86 minutes (7.5 per 36) isn’t a lot for a starting lineup’s most prolific shooter and McDermott’s teammates have shot 19-for-75 (25%) from beyond the arc. The Spurs are one of two teams — the Pistons are the other — that rank in the bottom five in both 3-point percentage (31.2%, 26th) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (33%, 27th).
The defense, which has been worse than the league average in each of the last three seasons, has shown signs of improvement. The Spurs rank second in opponent turnover rate at 19.6 per 100 possessions and number is 24.1 in 65 with Dejounte Murray and Derrick White on the floor together. But they couldn’t get stops in the fourth quarter of a loss to the Bucks on Saturday (a game that was tied with 11 minutes left) and their tough stretch of schedule continues this week.
Week 2: vs. LAL, @ DAL, @ MIL
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (28) OffRtg: 102.7 (24) DefRtg: 117.2 (30) NetRtg: -14.5 (29)
Through their first two games, the Magic’s point differential (-25.5 per game) projected a full-season record of 2-80. If that math *holds up, they already got one of the two wins, coming back from a six-point, fourth-quarter deficit to hand the Knicks their first loss. The biggest difference from their 25-point loss to the same team two nights earlier was how well the Knicks shot from outside the paint, so it is a make-or-miss league, after all.
* It probably won’t.
Jalen Suggs has the worst effective field goal percentage (27.5%) among 121 players with at least 25 field goal attempts. But Cole Anthony recovered from a similarly rough first two games (he had the second worst mark through Saturday) and had the best performance of his career (29 points, 16 rebounds, eight assists and just one turnover) at Madison Square Garden on Sunday. He’s still shooting from his waist and there are more aspects to his development than just his 3-point shooting, but it will be interesting to see how much Anthony can improve upon his 33.7% from beyond the arc as a rookie.
Though they got blasted in their first two games, the Magic’s starting lineup (with Anthony and Suggs playing together) has somehow outscored its opponents by 25.5 points per 100 possessions, the fourth best mark among 19 lineups that have played at least 25 minutes. The Magic are a minus-63 (minus-28 per 100 possessions) in 109 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor.
Week 2: @ MIA, vs. CHA, @ TOR, @ DET
Last Week: 27
Pace: 99.5 (24) OffRtg: 85.9 (30) DefRtg: 95.5 (7) NetRtg: -9.6 (25)
The good news is that, after two games against a team that has DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, the Pistons have a top 10 defense. As they’ve always done under Dwane Casey, they’ve limited 3-point attempts, and they’ve rebounded much better than they did in the preseason. Their starting lineup has grabbed 85.4% of defensive boards, the best mark among 19 lineups that have played at least 25 minutes.
On the other end of the floor, the Pistons rank last with a bullet. In fact, their 85.9 points scored per 100 possessions would have been the second worst two-game stretch of offense for any team at any point last season (only better than the Rockets’ 84.1 on Feb. 28 and Mar. 1). The Pistons had a chance down the stretch in their opener, but Jerami Grant airballed a shot for the tie with 52 seconds left.
Killian Hayes (1-for-11) is off to a rough start, and the Pistons have somehow scored only 63 points on 83 possessions (76 per 100) with him on the floor. Not only do they rank last in effective field goal percentage (having shot a brutal 23% from outside the paint), but they’re the only team with an assist/turnover ratio under 1.00, and it’s not even close.
Cade Cunningham isn’t on the three-game trip that ends Thursday in Philly, so his earliest possible debut would be Saturday against Jalen Suggs and the Magic.
Week 2: @ ATL, @ PHI, vs. ORL, @ BKN
Last Week: 26 ↓
Pace: 102.5 (9) OffRtg: 97.1 (27) DefRtg: 110.7 (20) NetRtg: -13.6 (28)
Your wacky plus-minus stat of Week 1: Pelicans rookie Herbert Jones (who’s scored eight points as Zion Williamson’s ganglier stand-in) is a plus-30 in 61 minutes for a team that’s been outscored by 43 points over its three games. He started both games of a weekend back-to-back, and the starting lineup outscored its opponent both nights. But in 83 minutes with Jones off the floor, the Pelicans have been outscored by 42 points per 100 possessions.
Bottom line is that they’re 0-3, despite shooting 28-for-59 (47.5%) from 3-point range through their first two games. Brandon Ingram (your league leader in mid-range attempts) has done his thing offensively, but the Pelicans have allowed more than 20 fast break points in all three games, with their 30 turnovers (tied for the most in the last six seasons) exacerbating the problem in Minnesota on Saturday. This is a team for which preseason struggles have seemingly carried over.
Week 2: @ MIN, vs. ATL, vs. SAC, vs. NYK
Last Week: 29
Pace: 101.5 (13) OffRtg: 99.4 (25) DefRtg: 107.7 (17) NetRtg: -8.3 (23)
What’s more enjoyable for Rockets fans?
A. A win, which Houston got against the Thunder on Friday behind big performances from veterans Christian Wood (31, 14 and three blocks) and Eric Gordon (an efficient 22 points in 26 minutes).
Houston is thinking long-term, of course. So the answer is probably B. The next question is just how Green follows that up, if he can develop some consistency, and if he can get to the free throw line when his jumper isn’t falling. After a promising preseason in that regard, he has the most field goal attempts (43) without a single trip to the line after Week 1. To be fair, the Celtics couldn’t catch him on his one half-court, interior bucket on Sunday.
Given the strength of the upcoming schedule — the Rockets’ next seven games are against the Mavs, Jazz, Lakers (x2), Suns, Nuggets and Warriors — the win was also good to get. No matter how well the young guys are playing, no team wants to carry a zero in the win column for very long.
🚀 @HoustonRockets rookie-record 🚀
Jalen Green drops 30 PTS and sets the franchise rookie-record with 8 3PM! pic.twitter.com/63vV1YmGQL
— NBA (@NBA) October 25, 2021
Week 2: @ DAL, vs. UTA, @ LAL
Last Week: 30
Pace: 98.8 (27) OffRtg: 94.9 (29) DefRtg: 116.1 (27) NetRtg: -21.2 (30)
The Thunder aren’t just 0-3. One of the three losses came by 33 points to the similarly substandard Rockets, they’ve lost 11 of the 12 quarters they’ve played (winning the other by two points), and they’ve held a lead (2-0 after the first possession of the first game) for a grand total of 10 seconds. Going back to the start of April, they’ve lost 26 of their last 28 games, with an average point differential of -19.8 per game. That mark could hit -20 soon given that their next five games are against the Warriors (x2), Lakers (x2) and Clippers. Trust the prOKCess.
Playing faster would make them a little more fun to watch. The Thunder rank 27th in the percentage of their possessions that have been in transition (13.2%), and only the Wizards and Pacers have seen bigger drops in pace from last season. But the funky cadence of Josh Giddey (19 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and four steals against Philly on Sunday) is almost as mesmerizing as that of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (29 points and eight assists in the same game). How long it will take this pot to boil is the big question.
Week 2: vs. GSW, vs. LAL, @ GSW