The expectations for the 2012-13 NBA season were high in the offseason. From big free-agent acquisitions (Steve Nash‘s move to Los Angeles) to huge trades (Andrew Bynum‘s new label as “franchise player” in Philadelphia), there was no shortage of questions and drama. With the season near its halfway point, it has not disappointed.
There were stories of failed expectations — from the Los Angeles Lakers’ amazing drop from contender to potential pretender and the older Boston Celtics’ inconsistencies. But, there were also stories of joy and optimism: The other Los Angeles team, the Los Angeles Clippers’ ascension among the game’s elite teams or the defensive-minded Indiana Pacers’ dominance despite the loss of their leading scorer, Danny Granger. One cannot complain about the amount of NBA drama so far in the season and we’re not even close to finishing.
So, here’s the report card for the NBA’s top-10 teams after compressing several sources of information: ESPN Hollinger’s Power Rankings, ESPN Marc Stein’s rankings, CBSSports’ rankings, and Sports Illustrated rankings.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
It’s hard to argue against the record (28-9), the dominance (five wins by 25 points or more), and the talent (first in bench scoring, second in efficiency). The Clippers may be young and inexperienced in the playoffs, but in the regular season so far, they’re the most dominant team. This team already has a 17-game win streak, an undefeated December of games, and is on pace for a 60+ win season. What’s scarier is that the Clippers are getting healthier.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Harden who? The Thunder have the best record (28-8) in the League and they’re doing it with James Harden scoring 25 a night for the Houston Rockets. They’re blowing teams out, averaging 9.22 points more than the opposition and the duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both having MVP campaigns. This Thunder team is doing it on both sides of the court, ranking in the top-10 in defensive points per possession and in nearly every major offensive category.
3. San Antonio Spurs
It’s looking like a very Western Conference bias power rankings, but the Spurs deserve this spot (and possibly better). Despite their blatant disregard for authority (four starters benched before a game against the Miami Heat?), coach Gregg Popovich is once again in the controls of one of the best and consistent performers in the NBA. His deep rotation of Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Nando de Colo, and Gary Neal are providing the rest and lift for the Spurs’ “Big Three.” And with emerging big man, Tiago Splitter, the Spurs may be getting better.
4. Miami Heat
Our first Eastern Conference team is just the defending NBA champions (no big deal). The record (24-11) is lacking as well as the authority. The champs are only beating opponents by an average of 5.34 points despite one of the weakest strength of schedules (.417 percent collective winning percent). This team was built for the playoffs with its lack of depth, but the regular season’s sake — this is no top-three team.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
This may be the scariest team in all of the NBA. A lineup as explosive as the Grizzlies also is one of the NBA’s sharpest of defense (89.7 points allowed). The duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are crushing opposing front courts and Mike Conley Jr. continues to play at a consistent elite level. There are some downfalls to the team, however, with rumors of trade interest in franchise small forward, Rudy Gay, and the inconsistencies on offense since a terrific 14-3 start to the season.
6. Golden State Warriors
It took a while, but coach Mark Jackson has this bay area group humming among the game’s best teams. They’re young, motivated, and unafraid to bang with the big boys. An amazing 23-12 record has the Warriors sitting in second in the Pacific Division despite one the harder schedules so far (.527 percent in their last 10 games, although inflated with meetings against the Los Angeles Clippers). They’re doing it with potential All-Stars David Lee and Stephen Curry, but also with a balanced bench attack led by Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry.
7. Denver Nuggets
The record may not be the best (22-16), but this is a team on the rise. They’re winners of four straight, but are as streaky as they come. A ridiculous opponent win percent of .523 may have an effect on the overall record, but the Nuggets still rank sixth in the Western Conference. They’re bolstered by a balanced attack led by Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, and Danilo Gallinari with defensive production from Kenneth “Manimal” Faried and JeVale McGee. They’re a young team with great potential to improve.
8. New York Knicks
This may be the most confusing team in the League. The Knicks certainly have a strong record (23-13), but a 4-6 stretch (three straight losses) have this team in question. They’re still second in the Eastern Conference, but they are not dominating opponents like the beginning of the season (+4.47 point difference). It may take some time for Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to work well together, but when it happens we may see the real Knicks.
9. Houston Rockets
Who would have predicted the Rockets in any top-10 list in the offseason? Thanks to one huge acquisition of James Harden, these very young Rockets are contenders in every game they play. They play a quick pace led by Harden’s 26.5 points per game. The roster is still very young with the majority of the rotation only having three years or less of NBA experience. Time will tell if the Rockets are legitimate or if they’ll fade away.
10. Indiana Pacers
Who needs Danny Granger when you have one of the true emerging stars, Paul George? These Pacers are as solid on defense as any team in the NBA (an NBA-leading 89.1 points allowed) and the offense is finally clicking with point guard George Hill back in the starting rotation. The early miscues from this wild card team look to be remedied. This will be a top-five team by the end of the season.