Power Rankings, Week 3: Heat, Knicks and Bulls surge into Top 5
See where all 30 teams rank after the first two weeks of the 2021-22 season.
Lesson from Week 2 of the 2021-22 NBA season: Three or four more games can teach us that two or three is not much to go on.
It turns out that James Harden can still get to the free throw line, that Jalen Green isn’t the best shooter we’ve ever seen, and that the Oklahoma City Thunder can actually win a basketball game. It may be that some hot takes have already gone cold.
More games equal more data and more reason to believe in teams that are off to a strong start. It’s probably time to start believing in the Miami Heat as a serious contender in the East. The Chicago Bulls picked up a quality win for their resume, and the New York Knicks just play hard every night. Things are a little more blurry in the Western Conference, but the Utah Jazz remain a regular season force.
There are some wild swings in the rankings this week as results begin to outweigh reputation. With how early it is, one or two games can make a big difference. Every team from last week’s top 12 lost at least one game in the last seven days to a team ranked below it (and no higher than ninth).
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Kyle Lowry (MIA) was a plus-51 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Gary Harris and Terrence Ross (ORL) were each a minus-64 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Miami (4-0) — With comfortable wins in Brooklyn and against a team (Charlotte) that’s otherwise 5-1.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Indiana (0-4) — The Raptors haven’t been very good otherwise, but they beat the Pacers twice last week.
East vs. West
- The East is 13-8 (.619) against the West (4-0 against New Orleans) in interconference games after going 7-5 last week.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Miami (+12), New York (+11), Washington (+7)
- Free falls of the week: Atlanta (-6), LA Clippers (-6), Memphis (-6), Milwaukee (-6)
Week 3 Team to Watch
- Chicago — The Bulls answered some questions with their win over the Jazz on Saturday. Now they’ll get a little taste of playoff-type basketball with two games against the Sixers. The two teams will meet in Philadelphia on Wednesday and in Chicago on Saturday. Before they head to Philly, the Bulls will visit Boston (an interesting test for both teams) on Monday night.
Previous Power Rankings
- Last week: Jazz take control of No. 1 spot
- 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 has averaged 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 105.6 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
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: 13 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (16) OffRtg: 111.6 (4) DefRtg: 95.1 (1) NetRtg: +16.5 (1)
The Heat made two upgrades to their starting lineup and that lineup has outscored its opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions, thanks mostly to suffocating defense and a relentlessness in regard to pushing the ball in transition. The Heat’s starters have averaged 23 fast break points per 48 minutes, the second-highest mark among 20 lineups that have played at least 50 minutes. Those fast break points account for more than 21% of the lineup’s total scoring output. (The league average for FBP/PTS is less than 12%).
Kyle Lowry (dealing with an elbow issue) has averaged just 8.4 points on 33% shooting, but has fueled the break, leading the league with 9.8 pass-ahead passes per game, according to Second Spectrum tracking. The Heat are unbeaten (5-0) with their new point guard, but their minutes with him off the floor have also been solid. In fact, the Heat lead the league in aggregate bench NetRtg (+8.3 points per 100 possessions) after ranking 22nd (-1.4) last season. Dewayne Dedmon gave them great minutes off the bench in Brooklyn on Wednesday and as a fill-in starter in Memphis on Saturday.
The Heat have outscored their opponents by an incredible 43.3 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, even though Duncan Robinson (5-for-17 from 3-point range) hasn’t been the first-quarter shooter that he was over the last two seasons (51%). They’ve won the first period by double-digits in four of their six games and they’ll visit one of the league’s worst first-quarter teams on Tuesday.
Week 3: @ DAL, vs. BOS, vs. UTA
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 99.9 (21) OffRtg: 111.4 (5) DefRtg: 98.3 (3) NetRtg: +13.0 (2)
You might not be surprised that the Jazz have a top-five offense despite Donovan Mitchell registering career-low marks in effective field goal percentage (47.9%) and true shooting percentage (52.9%). Mitchell has never been a very efficient scorer (in the regular season, at least), but this is a team that, overall, takes efficient shots and shares the ball.
The efficient shots are there. The Jazz lead the league in the percentage of their field goal attempts (80%) that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range. But they’re not sharing the ball all that much. In fact, their assist rate (AST/FGM) of 45.7% would be the lowest mark for any team in the last 43 seasons. Part of their drop is an increase in put-backs (they lead the league with 4.3 per game), but they’ve also seen the league’s biggest drop in ball movement (passes per 24 minutes of possession), according to Second Spectrum tracking.
Mitchell has seen a small jump in usage rate, but a big drop in the percentage of his buckets that have been assisted (from 28.0% last season to just 14.6% this season). The Jazz’s loss in Chicago on Saturday was their worst offensive game (by a wide margin) of the season and came with Mitchell’s highest usage rate (by a wide margin) of the season. Last season, the Jazz were 4-6 in the 10 games Mitchell registered a usage rate of 38% or higher.
After a three-games-in-four-days trip through Houston, Chicago and Milwaukee, the Jazz are back home for just one game. Then they have another three-in-four trip through the Southeast, with a fun matchup in Miami on Saturday.
Week 3: vs. SAC, @ ATL, @ MIA, @ ORL
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (5) OffRtg: 106.6 (11) DefRtg: 98.7 (5) NetRtg: +7.8 (4)
The Warriors are still starting the second and fourth quarters with both Stephen Curry and Draymond Green on the bench. And those minutes were the difference in their overtime loss to Memphis on Thursday, in which Curry was a plus-12 in a little less than 41 minutes. They seemingly have an improved bench, but through two weeks, Curry’s on-off differential (the Warriors have been 21.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor) is more than double what it was last season (10.2). Steve Kerr changed his rotation a bit (Chris Chiozza first-quarter minutes!) on Saturday.
Despite Jordan Poole’s inability to keep the offense afloat and despite a sluggish first half in Oklahoma City on Tuesday (check Green’s defense on the Thunder’s fourth possession), the Warriors are 5-1. And they did a much better job of taking care of business against OKC on Saturday. Of course, the only team they’ve played that currently has a winning record is the 4-3 Lakers, who were playing the first game with a brand new team when they visited the Chase Center on opening night. After a three-day break, the Warriors will host the 5-2 Hornets on Wednesday, Game 3 of their eight-game homestand.
Steph off one-leg?
From out there!?
Just stop it.
— NBA (@NBA) October 29, 2021
Week 3: vs. CHA, vs. NOP, vs. HOU
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 98.5 (27) OffRtg: 114.5 (3) DefRtg: 108.0 (21) NetRtg: +6.5 (6)
Since the arrival of Derrick Rose in February, the bench has won a lot of games for the Knicks. Their game against the Sixers on Tuesday was no exception, as it turned on a 26-10 run spanning the first and second quarters. But what happened after that may have been more important. The New York starters picked up where the bench left off and Kemba Walker caught fire, scoring 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting in the final six minutes of the half. He scored another nine points in the third quarter and the Knicks got their first ever win against Joel Embiid.
Walker had shot well through the first three games, but on a low volume, and the Knicks’ starting lineup had been held under a point per possession (and outscored by 19 points in 56 minutes) by two teams — Boston and Orlando — that have not defended particularly well this season. After that mini-breakout against Philly, Walker seemed to have more bounce in Chicago two nights later. He’s increased his his output while still shooting well (he’s one of five players who have shot better than 50% on at least 25 3-point attempts) and the Knicks’ starting lineup has scored 123 points per 100 possessions over the last three games. The lineup outscored the opponent for the first two times this season in Chicago and New Orleans.
The win over the Pelicans on Saturday was just the 10th time (in 44 regular season games) since he returned to the Knicks that Rose registered a negative plus-minus. But Walker was good and RJ Barrett was better, scoring a career-high 35 points.
Week 3: vs. TOR, @ IND, @ MIL, vs. CLE
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 99.6 (23) OffRtg: 107.0 (10) DefRtg: 99.3 (6) NetRtg: +7.7 (5)
The loss of Patrick Williams (out for the season) is brutal, mostly for Williams, but also for a team that’s very thin at the forward position. After the 20-year-old dislocated his wrist on Thursday, the Bulls mostly had Lonzo Ball or Alex Caruso guarding Julius Randle, who manhandled Ball on an offensive rebound that probably should have sealed the win for New York. The Bulls rank 29th in rebounding percentage (46.2%) and they’ve been much worse on the defensive glass with Williams off the floor (68.1%) than they’ve been with him on the floor (74.4%).
But they’ve made up for the rebounding discrepancy by taking care of the ball and getting to the free throw line. In handing Utah its first loss of the season on Saturday, the Bulls committed 11 fewer turnovers and attempted 11 more free throws than the Jazz. Nikola Vucevic’s eight attempts were an anomaly, but DeMar DeRozan (6.8) and Zach LaVine (6.3) rank fifth and seventh in free throw attempts per game, and they’ve combined to shoot 72-for-79 (91%) from the stripe.
One guy who’s averaged more free throw attempts than those guys is Joel Embiid, who’s 7-0 in his career against the Bulls, with two meetings this week.
Caruso with the no-look dime to LaVine 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Gbhjsftjuq
— NBA TV (@NBATV) October 29, 2021
Week 3: @ BOS, @ PHI, vs. PHI
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 100.6 (14) OffRtg: 103.7 (20) DefRtg: 104.1 (12) NetRtg: -0.4 (16)
After five games, James Harden had a free throw rate of 19.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field and his inability to get to the line was the subject of much chatter. After seven games, Harden has a free throw rate of 37.8 per 100, the 11th highest mark among 134 players with at least 50 field goal attempts. He had more free throw attempts against Indiana on Friday (19) than he had in his first five games combined (15), also getting a big bucket in the paint after the Pacers tied the game midway through the fourth quarter. Two nights later, Harden recorded his first triple-double of the season. He’s not there yet and the mini-breakout came against the Pacers and Pistons, but the 26-point win on Sunday was a sign of progress for the Nets in that they took care of business against a bad team that gave them some trouble last season (the Pistons outscored the Nets over the three-game season series).
Steve Nash still seems to be in experimental mode — playing more than four second quarter minutes against the Heat with no Harden, Kevin Durant or Patty Mills on the floor was a thing he did — and an extended absence for Nicolas Claxton (illness) leaves him with just the old guys up front. But an improving Harden obviously makes things easier and LaMarcus Aldridge’s minutes have been really good. The out-of-retirement big man has shot an amazing 17-for-22 from mid-range and the Nets have outscored their opponents by more than 12 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
The Nets’ six-game homestand (their longest of the season) comes to an end on Wednesday. Then they begin a six-game road trip (their longest of the season) in Detroit.
Week 3: vs. ATL, @ DET, @ TOR
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 97.5 (30) OffRtg: 114.9 (1) DefRtg: 106.3 (17) NetRtg: +8.5 (3)
The Sixers already have as many losses within the Atlantic Division (0-2) as they did all of last season (10-2). Joel Embiid had a rough night (2-for-7 from the field, five turnovers) in New York on Tuesday and the Sixers’ hybrid lineups (mix of starters and reserves) got destroyed by the Knicks. For the second straight season, the Philly starting lineup is at the top of the league in regard to minutes per game played together (minimal staggering), but the bench has generally been good. In fact, the Sixers rank third in aggregate bench NetRtg and they just got Shake Milton back (24 points and seven assists in 35 total minutes) for wins over the Pistons and Hawks.
Seth Curry remains on fire and Tobias Harris continues to be a multi-dimensional scorer, doing work in transition, off the dribble, as a weak-side attacker and in the post. He’s just 8-for-25 (32%) from 3-point range, but has shot 62% inside the arc, including 18-for-27 (67%) on non-restricted-area shots in the paint. Only Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic have more buckets in that area.
The Sixers have the league’s No. 1 offense and play four of their next five games against teams that also rank in the top 10, a stretch that ends with another meeting with the Knicks.
Week 3: vs. POR, vs. CHI, @ DET, @ CHI
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 99.8 (22) OffRtg: 101.0 (25) DefRtg: 97.5 (2) NetRtg: +3.5 (12)
Nikola Jokic had a scare on Tuesday, banging knees with Rudy Gobert. He sat the second half of the Nuggets’ loss in Utah, but was back on the floor for both games of a weekend back-to-back. So he’s now played in 196 consecutive games (including playoffs), with his last absence having come in April of 2019. That’s a good thing, because once again, the Nuggets are struggling when the reigning Kia MVP leaves the floor. They’ve been more than 44 points per 100 possessions better in his 180 minutes on the floor (+20.1) than they’ve been in his 108 minutes on the bench (-20.1).
Michael Malone has adjusted his rotation a bit, mostly ditching full-bench-unit minutes (the Nuggets’ full bench unit is a minus-32 in 32 minutes). In Minnesota on Saturday, he had Will Barton or Michael Porter Jr. on the floor for all but 41 seconds of Jokic’s 11:20 on the bench. Alas, the Nuggets were still outscored by 15 points in that 11:20, needing Barton’s block to beat the Wolves after two Jokic turnovers in the final minute.
Porter finding his offense would help no matter who else is on the floor. He shot 1-for-12 from 3-point range over the weekend and has just four free throw attempts to go with his 78 field goal attempts for the season. He averaged 24.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of 71% as the Nuggets went 3-0 against the Grizzlies last season, so maybe a two-game series in Memphis will help him find his rhythm.
WHAT AN ENDING IN MINNESOTA!
— NBA (@NBA) October 31, 2021
Week 3: @ MEM, @ MEM, vs. HOU
Last Week: 9
Pace: 103.2 (2) OffRtg: 107.4 (9) DefRtg: 107.1 (18) NetRtg: +0.3 (15)
The Lakers’ win over the Rockets on Sunday was their worst offensive game of the season (95 points on 103 possessions). It was also their most comfortable victory in that they led by double digits for the final 39 minutes. The competition certainly had something to do with it, but the Lakers also had their worst defensive game of the season four nights earlier in Oklahoma City. Before they can beat the good teams, they have to take care of business against the bad ones.
The Houston win came with Anthony Davis playing almost all of his 33 minutes at the five, with Dwight Howard out and DeAndre Jordan playing alongside Davis for just a couple of minutes. Avery Bradley got the start as the third guard, but those Davis-at-the-five lineups are also helped by Carmelo Anthony shooting like Ray Allen at the Staples Center. After making 13 of his 16 attempts from 3-point range over the weekend, Anthony is now above 50% for the season and 23-for-34 (68%) in home games. He’s taken 2.6 times as many 3-pointers (46) as mid-range shots (19), having taken more 3-pointers than mid-range shots in only two of his previous 18 seasons. In his one season in Oklahoma City, it was 474 vs. 461, and in his 10 games in Houston, it was 64 to 30.
LeBron James (1-for-16 from deep over the weekend) still hasn’t found his rhythm and the Lakers still aren’t healthy, but they still have two more weeks of an easy and home-heavy schedule.
Week 3: vs. HOU, vs. OKC, @ POR
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (6) OffRtg: 106.0 (14) DefRtg: 109.1 (22) NetRtg: -3.0 (20)
Jrue Holiday proved himself to be a difference-maker last season. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, without him (and Brook Lopez), the Bucks have lost three straight games with opposing guards — D’Angelo Russell (29 points), Donovan Mitchell (28) and Dejounte Murray (23) — having big games. The Bucks’ bench made things interesting late against the Jazz on Sunday, but Mitchell just kept getting to the basket against whatever guard Milwaukee put in front of him.
On the other end of the floor, the Bucks have scored just 81 points per 100 possessions in 52 minutes with Giannis Antetokounmpo off the floor over the four games that Holiday has missed. Their loss to the Spurs on Saturday was their least efficient offensive performance (93 points on 108 possessions) in almost three years. (There’s a lot of that going around these days.) George Hill led the league in 3-point percentage the last time he played for the Bucks, but he has only 18 attempts in 189 minutes (3.4 per 36) this season.
Unless any injury is long-term, the Bucks should remain relatively worry-free, especially with Brooklyn off to a similarly slow start. The three straight losses have all come at home, but they lost five straight home games at one point last season.
Week 3: @ DET, vs. NYK, @ WAS
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 102.2 (8) OffRtg: 114.6 (2) DefRtg: 110.9 (27) NetRtg: +3.8 (7)
The Hornets’ game against Portland on Sunday was the first of their seven that they didn’t trail by double-digits. But they were down seven at the half before outscoring the Blazers, 72-53, over the final 24 minutes. Through Week 2, Charlotte has been outscored by 14.2 points per 100 possessions (the league’s third worst mark) in the first half of games, but is a +25.6 (the league’s best mark by a healthy margin) in the second half. And that’s with LaMelo Ball having shot much better before halftime (effective field goal percentage of 60.7%) than he has after it (39.3%).
Gordon Hayward (4-for-4 from 3 after halftime in Miami on Friday), Cody Martin and P.J. Washington (6-for-6 in the second half on Sunday) have all shot better after the break, and the much bigger difference has been on defense, where the Hornets have been absolutely brutal (120.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) before halftime.
The Hornets rank as both the league’s best third-quarter team (+27.8 points per 100 possessions) and its best fourth-quarter team (+23.3). One of the other two teams that ranks in the top six in both quarters is the Warriors (fourth and sixth), who the Hornets will visit on Wednesday, the start of a five-game trip.
Week 3: vs. CLE, @ GSW, @ SAC, @ LAC
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 100.8 (13) OffRtg: 106.1 (13) DefRtg: 102.5 (9) NetRtg: +3.6 (10)
The Wizards haven’t had a consistent formula — they’ve had a couple of high-scoring wins and a couple of ugly ones. But they’re 5-1, even though Bradley Beal’s effective field goal percentage (39.5%) ranks last among 36 players with at least 100 field goal attempts. Four of the five wins have been within five points in the last five minutes, and they’ve allowed just 42 points on 50 clutch possessions.
The departure of Russell Westbrook has (expectedly) resulted in the league’s biggest drop in pace (3.9 possessions per 48 minutes fewer than they averaged last season). And the Wizards’ half-court offense is a bit of a my-turn, your-turn affair. Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie having been assisted on just 22 (28%) of their 79 buckets, and the Wizards rank in the bottom two in both ball and player movement. They’ve scored just 90.3 points per 100 in 86 minutes with both starting guards on the floor, but Beal’s double-OT, go-ahead bucket on Saturday came with Dinwiddie setting a “ghost” (non-contact) screen that cleared a path to the hoop.
The strong start is extra important, because the Wiz are playing 15 of their first 17 games within the Eastern Conference. The lone exceptions are home games against Memphis (Friday) and New Orleans (Nov. 15).
Beal threw it DOWN 😤 pic.twitter.com/L0qLwQ7NOc
— NBA TV (@NBATV) October 29, 2021
Week 3: @ ATL, vs. TOR, vs. MEM, vs. MIL
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 101.5 (10) OffRtg: 103.1 (23) DefRtg: 109.1 (23) NetRtg: -6.0 (25)
With much of the early-season, “what’s wrong with…” chatter focused on the Nets and Lakers, the Suns have kind of gone under the radar. But the defending Western Conference champs had a rough first four games, and the struggles started with a starting lineup that had been outscored by 22.5 points per 100 possessions through their loss (at the buzzer) to Sacramento on Wednesday. Chris Paul was 5-for-18 in the paint, Devin Booker was 7-for-21 from mid-range, Jae Crowder was 4-for-22 from beyond the arc, and the defense was worse than the offense.
In the first quarter on Saturday, the Suns’ starters got outscored, 17-10, by Cleveland. But they came back at the end of the half and turned a seven-point deficit into a four-point, halftime lead. Then they opened the game up in the third, with Paul and Booker both going to work in the pick-and-roll. The win also came with a season-high 24 fast break points, highlighted by Booker’s alley-oop to Mikal Bridges.
The Suns are still at just 0.77 points per possession on pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions, a mark which ranks 21st and is down from 0.98 (fourth) last season. But a game against the Pelicans, the team that’s allowed the most ball-handler points per game, is a big opportunity to improve that mark.
Week 3: vs. NOP, vs. HOU, vs. ATL
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 100.0 (20) OffRtg: 106.2 (12) DefRtg: 105.8 (15) NetRtg: +0.3 (14)
In a league that’s seen a significant drop in free throw rate, the Hawks have (maybe not surprisingly) seen the biggest drop by a pretty healthy margin. They’ve gone from fourth (27.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field) last season to 29th (16.9) this season, from +2.8 points per game (best in the league) at the line to -3.0 (sixth worst).
Trae Young might be the poster child for the new points of education regarding Non-Basketball Moves, but he’s not the only Hawk who’s seen a big drop. Among 123 players with at least 50 field goal attempts this season (and at least 200 last season), Young has seen the second-biggest drop (from 49.1 to 21.8 per 100), while De’Andre Hunter (34.3 to 7.1) has seen the third-biggest and John Collins (26.5 to 10.1 and zero attempts in four of his six games) has seen the eighth-biggest.
Those three guys have also seen big drops in 3-point rate, with the Hawks dropping from 19th (38.2%) to 29th (31.0%) in the percentage of their shots that have come from beyond the arc. As they dropped games in Washington and Philadelphia on Thursday and Saturday, they were outscored by 33 points on 3s. They’ll get another shot at the Wizards on Monday, while also facing the teams that rank first (Utah, +15.0 points per game) and last (Phoenix, -22.2) in 3-point differential this week.
Week 3: vs. WAS, @ BKN, vs. UTA, @ PHX
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 103.2 (3) OffRtg: 110.0 (6) DefRtg: 106.3 (16) NetRtg: +3.7 (9)
The Blazers are moving and moving the ball a lot more under Chauncey Billups. For four straight seasons, they were in the bottom five in both ball and player movement, according to Second Spectrum tracking, ranking 30th and 29th last season. This season, they’re 19th and ninth, having seen the league’s second biggest jump in both. Damian Lillard hasn’t found his shot yet (after an efficient night against the Clippers, he was 5-for-20 in Charlotte on Sunday), but his team still ranks sixth offensively. Anfernee Simons (13.7 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 62.7%) might finally be turning into the player the Blazers have been projecting him to be for the last three seasons, and he gave them a big lift in an impressive win over the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
After holding two straight opponents under a point per possession (something they never did in consecutive games last season), the Blazers got torched in Charlotte. The Hornets hit 20 3-pointers, with 16 of the 20 being catch-and-shoot attempts. And after that output from the league’s second-ranked offense, the Blazers will play the second game of their Sunday-Monday back-to-back against the team that ranks first offensively.
Crafty James is at it again pic.twitter.com/StlkKglYE5
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 28, 2021
Week 3: @ PHI, @ CLE, vs. IND, vs. LAL
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (16) OffRtg: 109.6 (7) DefRtg: 114.9 (29) NetRtg: -5.3 (24)
The Grizzlies haven’t dominated inside like they did each of the last two seasons, when they ranked second (+10.6 per game two seasons ago) and first (+8.3 last season) in points-in-the-paint differential. Last season, their season low for paint points was 34, but they had 30 in their loss in Portland on Wednesday and 34 in their loss to the Heat on Saturday. Through Week 2, they rank 13th at +1.3 points in the paint per game, missing Jonas Valanciunas and getting little inside from Jaren Jackson Jr. The 6-foot-11 Jackson has taken only 14 (18%) of his 76 shots in the restricted area and has shot 2-for-12 elsewhere in the paint. His 3-point shooting (12-for-44, 27%) hasn’t been much better.
Having the point guard be the team’s leading scorer inside is a tough ask. Ja Morant still ranks second in the league in points in the paint per game (15.3), but after totaling 48 points in the restricted area through the Grizzlies’ first three games, he has just 18 over the last three. Morant remains a huge talent who can do more than just get to the rim, and this is still a strong team missing a key cog (Dillon Brooks). But if the Grizzlies are to continue their upward ascent, they might have to do it with a slightly different formula for success.
The Grizz were 0-3 against Denver last season (though the first two losses were by a total of three points), and the Nuggets are in Memphis for a two-game series on Monday and Wednesday.
Week 3: vs. DEN, vs. DEN, @ WAS
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (26) OffRtg: 99.3 (27) DefRtg: 103.7 (11) NetRtg: -4.4 (23)
Only the Clippers (-16.3) have seen a bigger drop in offensive efficiency than the Mavs, who have scored 15.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season (114.6). But with the league average having seen a drop of 6.1 per 100, Dallas is also one of nine teams that have scored at least 108 per 100 in four or more games. They’ve just had two brutal performances to go along with those four better-than-average ones.
Of course, the brutal performances count too. Their have been a lot of ugly games already this season, but the Mavs are the only team that’s scored less than 85 per 100 more than once. One of those two occasions was Friday in Denver, when they shot 29%, rebounded only six of their 55 misses, and scored just 37 points on 55 possessions (67 per 100) with Luka Doncic on the floor.
The Mavs rank third in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (46.3%), but 26th in 3-point percentage (31.2%), with Dorian Finney-Smith (6-for-32) and Doncic (10-for-42) both in the bottom 10 among 119 players with at least 25 attempts. Dallas has also seen the league’s biggest drop in 2-point percentage. The preseason offered some promise that they’d run more, but that hasn’t happened in the games that count.
They rebounded from the Denver fiasco to beat the Kings on Sunday (Doncic is perfect from 35 feet out), but will face the league’s No. 1 defense on Tuesday.
Week 3: vs. MIA, @ SAS, vs. BOS
Last Week: 18
Pace: 102.3 (7) OffRtg: 102.0 (24) DefRtg: 98.4 (4) NetRtg: +3.5 (11)
Across the league, Week 2 wasn’t as Jekyll-and-Hyde-ish as Week 1. But the Timberwolves did their part, losing to the (now 1-6) Pelicans on Monday and then winning in Milwaukee two nights later. A lineup change — Josh Okogie out, Jarred Vanderbilt out — sparked a 44-point first quarter against the Bucks, and though the shooting cooled off after that, Vanderbilt finished the night with six offensive boards that led to nine of the team’s 24 second-chance points. Anthony Edwards has shot just 38% since a big opening night, but capped the win (after the Wolves lost almost all of a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead) with a strong, left-handed drive against Khris Middleton.
The Wolves still have a top-five defense, and while the most critical difference from last season has been how well their opponents have shot from 3-point range (27.7% vs. 39.2%), the Wolves have forced a league-high 19.8 turnovers per 100 possessions, and those opponents have also shot significantly worse in the paint (51.7% vs. 56.2%). That 51.7% is the league’s fifth-lowest opponent mark through Sunday.
The Bucks (currently 14th) have been the highest-ranked offense that the Wolves have faced thus far. This week’s opponents — the Magic and the Clippers — rank 18th and 26th.
Week 3: vs. ORL, vs. LAC, vs. LAC
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (29) OffRtg: 105.4 (15) DefRtg: 101.6 (7) NetRtg: +3.8 (8)
Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. don’t have the most analytics-friendly shot charts. Among 134 players with at least 50 total field goal attempts, Barnes (54%) and Trent (49%) rank 10th and 16th in regard to the percentage of their shots that have come between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And they’ll both shoot their mid-range shots early in the clock, Barnes happy to pull up from the elbow in transition, Trent always looking to get to his step-back.
But the rookie has shot a solid 25-for-53 (47%) on those non-restricted-area 2s, adding some pick-and-pop buckets (one, two from the Raptors’ win over Orlando on Friday) to those transition pull-ups. He seems to have a knack for finding the soft spot in the defense and clearly hasn’t been told not to shoot from there. We’ll see if he can sustain that kind of shooting (the league average on non-restricted-area 2s is 40%) as the season goes on.
Trent, meanwhile, has made his bones on the other end of the floor. He ranks sixth in the league with 4.3 deflections per game (Fred VanVleet leads the league for the third straight season), up from 2.0 last season. He stripped Jalen Suggs to help the Raptors build a late, 12-point lead against the Magic and, after they blew almost all of that lead, sealed the win by knocking the ball away from Cole Anthony.
The Raptors have won three straight and Pascal Siakam is making progress toward a return, having gone “live” in practice on Tuesday and been assigned (for practice purposes) to the G League team.
Week 3: @ NYK, @ WAS, vs. CLE, vs. BKN
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 99.6 (24) OffRtg: 103.3 (22) DefRtg: 104.4 (13) NetRtg: -1.1 (17)
The Cavs began their five-game trip by holding the Nuggets and Clippers (two offenses that ranked in the *top six last season) to just 86 points per 100 possessions, picking up two (nearly) wire-to-wire victories in which they shot a combined 10-for-45 from 3-point range. They dominated inside, outscoring the Nuggets and Clippers, 133-74, on points in the restricted area or at the free throw line. The bigs — Jarrett Allen and Kevin Love (!) — did the bulk of the work in Denver, while the guards scored efficiently in L.A.
* Bottom six this season, but still.
JB Bickerstaff continues to employ a short rotation. He played just eight guys (until garbage time) in the first game of their weekend back-to-back, a loss to the Lakers in which the Cavs didn’t have nearly the same success controlling the paint as they did the Clippers. The following night in Phoenix, the Cavs seemed to run out of gas after a strong first quarter. They’ve led by double-digits in each of their last six games, but have lost three of those six. (The three losses after leading by double-digits are a league high.)
"OH. MERCY. MARKKANEN."
Lauri drops the 🔨 on NBA LP pic.twitter.com/wc7ab0BWJL
— NBA (@NBA) October 26, 2021
Week 3: @ CHA, vs. POR, @ TOR, @ NYK
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 101.4 (11) OffRtg: 107.6 (8) DefRtg: 110.2 (25) NetRtg: -2.6 (19)
How do we judge the Kings at this point? They’re 3-3 against what looked like a pretty tough opening schedule, picking up (quality?) wins in Portland and Phoenix. They have a top-10 offense, even though De’Aaron Fox has shot 6-for-35 (17%) from 3-point range and a mediocre 61% from the line, while registering a career-low assist/turnover ratio of 1.58. Buddy Hield has played well off the bench, even getting a big defensive stop on Devin Booker before Harrison Barnes’ game-winner on Wednesday. Richaun Holmes has been terrific, except for all the fouls.
But the three wins have come by a total of 10 points. The Kings barely held on to beat the struggling Pelicans on Friday and, despite the addition of Davion Mitchell and seemingly improved effort from the returning guys, they’re back near the bottom of the league on defense, dead last in opponent turnover rate while also struggling on the boards.
If the glass is half full and if Fox can turn things around, there’s an opportunity for a little run of success in the next couple of weeks, when the Kings will face some teams off to a slow start.
HB FOR THE WIN!! pic.twitter.com/vZhw8aTaN2
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) October 28, 2021
Week 3: @ UTA, vs. NOP, vs. CHA, vs. IND
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (4) OffRtg: 100.4 (26) DefRtg: 102.3 (8) NetRtg: -2.0 (18)
The Clippers went from allowing 117 points per 100 possessions in an 0-2 Week 1 to allowing just 93 per 100 in Week 2. And they got their first win of the season by holding the Blazers to just 86 points on 114 possessions, their worst offensive game since Feb. of 2013 (the Clippers’ Nicolas Batum shot 1-for-10 for Portland that night). The Clippers have a top-10 defense the league’s best turnover differential (-7.8 per game) by a wide margin, with the lowest turnover rate (11.3 per 100 possessions) on offense and the second-highest opponent turnover rate (18.9 per 100) on the other end.
But, aside from the low turnovers and Paul George averaging 27.6 points on an effective field goal percentage of 58%, the Clippers’ offense has been rough. Last season, they were held under a point per possession just four times and their worst five-game stretch of offense was 108.5 per 100. After that win over the Blazers, the Clips had two brutal offensive games against the Cavs and in Portland, with players not named George shooting 34%. After five games, they’re hovering right at that point-per-possession mark, unable to get to the line or give themselves many second chances.
If they’re going to get things going offensively, the Clips will have to do it against teams that have defended well so far. After they host the Thunder on Monday, the Clips will play six of their next eight games against teams that rank in the top 10 defensively through Week 2.
Week 3: vs. OKC, @ MIN, @ MIN, vs. CHA
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 101.1 (12) OffRtg: 103.5 (21) DefRtg: 107.7 (20) NetRtg: -4.3 (22)
Last season’s Celtics led the league in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. This season’s Celtics have played three overtime games (including *two that went to double-OT) in their first six games. They came back from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Charlotte on Monday, but they’ve lost their other three games that were within five in the last five. New coach, same late-game misfortune as the last two seasons.
* There were only six games that went to double overtime all of last season.
The old coach (the new president) made moves this summer to help the team’s depth. But through two weeks, the Celtics have been outscored by 20 points per 100 possessions in 78 minutes with Jayson Tatum off the floor. Absences in the starting lineup – their everybody’s-healthy group has played together in just two of their six games — haven’t helped, and Ime Udoka seems to still be seeking answers for the eighth and ninth spots in the rotation. (The bench did provide both of the makes as they shot 2-for-26 from 3-point range in Washington on Saturday.)
The Celtics are home for their first meeting with the Bulls (Monday), but their schedule continues to be road-heavy through the first half of November.
— NBA (@NBA) October 26, 2021
Week 3: vs. CHI, @ ORL, @ MIA, @ DAL
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 101.9 (9) OffRtg: 105.2 (16) DefRtg: 102.9 (10) NetRtg: +2.3 (13)
The Spurs haven’t seen a big jump in 3-point rate with the departure of DeMar DeRozan, but that doesn’t mean that their offense hasn’t changed quite a bit. They rank fourth in ball movement (356 passes per 24 minutes of possession) and first in player movement (12.4 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession) after ranking 29th and 16th last season. They assisted on 28 of their 39 field goals in Milwaukee on Saturday, though the two game-sealing buckets came with Dejounte Murray driving past Giannis Antetokounmpo and then draining a pull-up 3 over the Finals MVP.
Murray struggled with his shot through the Spurs’ first four games, but is 19-for-34 over the last two. He’s one of two players — Russell Westbrook is the other — averaging at least 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, also ranking fifth with 4.3 deflections per game. Unfortunately, he can’t play 48 minutes. The Spurs loss in overtime to the Lakers on Tuesday and by five points in Dallas on Thursday, getting outscored by 34 points in the 25:14 that Murray sat. Overall, they’ve been almost 25 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (+9.8) than they’ve been with him off the floor (-15.1).
Week 3: @ IND, vs. DAL, @ ORL, @ OKC
Last Week: 23 ↓
25. Indiana Pacers
Last week: 23
Pace: 100.2 (19) OffRtg: 105.1 (17) DefRtg: 109.1 (24) NetRtg: -4.0 (21)
The Pacers suffered two more injuries – a hamstring strain for Malcolm Brogdon and a hyperextended knee for Isaiah Jackson — before they got Caris LeVert or T.J Warren back. But LeVert had a promising season debut on Saturday, looking both quick and sharp in scoring 15 points in less than 16 minutes against Toronto. With all his extended absences over his five-plus seasons, regaining his rhythm and scoring efficiently has always been an issue. So 6-for-10 shooting with a couple of trips to the line is noteworthy, even if it’s just one game.
Indy is still 1-6, having lost four games to teams — Charlotte, Toronto and Washington — that were seemingly in its same tier in the Eastern Conference. Four of the six losses have been within five points in the last five minutes, but the Pacers have gotten themselves in trouble with serious third-quarter issues. They’ve lost the third period in all seven of their games, having scored an anemic 77 points per 100 possessions — with only one player shooting better than 36% and with far more turnovers (39) than assists (31) – in those first 12 minutes after halftime.
The Pacers were 10-5 (with wins over four playoff teams) in Western Conference arenas last season, and they’ll begin their first trip through the West (four games over seven days) in Portland on Friday.
Week 3: vs. SAS, vs. NYK, @ POR, @ SAC
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 99.5 (25) OffRtg: 96.8 (30) DefRtg: 107.5 (19) NetRtg: -10.7 (28)
Cade Cunningham’s NBA debut was underwhelming (he shot 1-for-8, though his two assists were somewhat intriguing), but the Pistons are undefeated with the No. 1 pick in the lineup. They got off the schneid with a win over the Magic on Saturday, turning the game around with a late-third-quarter, 22-3 run with three reserves on the floor.
The Pistons’ frontline of Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart is a bruising group, but Detroit has scored a paltry 78 points per 100 possessions (and been outscored by almost 25 per 100) in their 95 minutes on the floor together. Bey hasn’t shot as well from 3-point range as he did last season, Beef Stew hasn’t been as active on the glass, and Grant has seen another big dip in efficiency. It’s early and offense is down across the league, but the league’s worst offense has actually been pretty decent (109.5 points scored per 100 possessions) with Kelly Olynyk on the floor. A lineup change could help the offense and make things easier for the No. 1 pick, who was put right into the starting lineup for his debut.
Cunningham sat the second game of the Pistons’ weekend back-to-back. They’ll have another on Thursday and Friday this week as the top three seeds from last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs all come to Little Caesars Arena.
Week 3: vs. MIL, vs. PHI, vs. BKN
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 103.8 (19) DefRtg: 110.2 (26) NetRtg: -6.4 (26)
After losing their first two games by a total of 36 points, the Pelicans have been more competitive. They’ve been a top-10 rebounding team on both ends of the floor, and they got their first win of the season by destroying the Wolves on the glass on Monday. Then they played close games against the Hawks, Kings and Knicks. But they’re 0-4 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with Brandon Ingram, Devonte’ Graham and Nickeil Alexander-Walker having combined to shoot 2-for-13 on clutch shots.
The Pels’ group of guards has not been very good. Graham, Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis (4-for-22 outside the restricted area) have combined for an effective field goal percentage of just 45%. Tomas Satoransky has been DNP’d in three of the seven games and is a minus-22 in 32 total minutes. Maybe Zion Williamson will make that group better when he returns, but this (other than Satoransky not playing) is not a surprising issue.
The Pels played their first seven games in just 11 days and have been the Eastern Conference’s punching bag early in the season. Now, they head West for a four-game trip that starts with a back-to-back (their third of the season already) on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Week 3: @ PHX, @ SAC, @ GSW
Last Week: 26 ↓
Pace: 98.4 (28) OffRtg: 104.1 (18) DefRtg: 115.4 (30) NetRtg: -11.3 (29)
The league’s worst offense met the league’s worst defense on Saturday, and the league’s worst defense won … which means that the Magic lost, allowing the Pistons to score 110 points on 100 possessions. The Orlando starters weren’t great in limited minutes, but remain the best defensive unit (89.2 points allowed per 100) among 12 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes. So yes, the worst defensive team has the best (high-usage) defensive lineup. Early-season stats can be wild, but that lineup’s ages are 20, 20, 21, 22 and 23 and the double-big look has prevented layups and dunks. Against the Magic starters, only 19% of opponent shots, the second lowest rate among 42 lineups that have defended at least 50 total field goal attempts, have come in the restricted area.
All other Orlando lineups (the ones that include vets) have allowed 123.8 points per 100 possessions in 256 total minutes, but Chuma Okeke (23 and third among rookies in deflections per 36 minutes last season) did make his season debut on Saturday. The upcoming schedule – no back-to-backs until Nov. 19 and 20, a five-game homestand beginning Wednesday – should allow him to ramp up his minutes over the next couple of weeks. Three more plus-defenders — Michael Carter-Williams, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac — remain on the shelf.
Week 3: @ MIN, vs. BOS, vs. SAS, vs. UTA
Last Week: 29
Pace: 103.9 (1) OffRtg: 97.8 (28) DefRtg: 105.0 (14) NetRtg: -7.2 (27)
That game against Boston where Jalen Green shot 8-for-10 from 3-point range was, you guessed it, an anomaly. He’s otherwise 4-for-32 from beyond the arc, having missed his last 15 attempts. But he did get to the line for 15 total free throw attempts against Utah and the Lakers last week. He’s got sprinter speed in transition, some craftiness in the half-court offense, and some bounce when he’s given a runway. The early struggles with his shot (and with lazy passes and defensive mistakes) can’t be ignored, but the process of turning that stuff into an All-Star-level player will be fun to watch.
The Rockets are the only team that hasn’t played a game that was within five points in the last five minutes, though they were down just two early in the fourth quarter in Dallas on Tuesday and kept the Lakers’ stars on the floor until the final buzzer on Sunday. Given the strength of the opponents, any clutch time on the rest of this road trip would be an accomplishment.
Week 3: @ LAL, @ PHX, @ DEN, @ GSW
Last Week: 30
Pace: 100.3 (18) OffRtg: 97.2 (29) DefRtg: 111.1 (28) NetRtg: -13.9 (30)
Maybe the Thunder aren’t the worst team ever. After holding a lead for only 10 seconds through their first three games, they led the Warriors for the first 35 minutes on Tuesday, and then came back from 26 points down to upset the Lakers a night later. Josh Giddey leads all rookies with 5.7 assists per game and his 10 against L.A. included three slick dimes (one, two, three) for layups early in the second quarter and another for a huge Derrick Favors bucket late in the fourth.
Aleksej Pokusevski has averaged just 5.0 points and 1.2 assists and the Thunder have scored less than 88 points per 100 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. But he had a similar flurry of good stuff in the second quarter of the (first) loss to Golden State. There was a strong and controlled drive against Andre Iguodala, a quick-release, step-back 3, and a nice jab-step, back-door cut combo for a dunk. At some point, he’ll need to provide more than just snippets of competence, but it’s a journey of a thousand miles and progress isn’t linear.
Week 3: @ LAC, @ LAL, vs. SAS