By Nick Sligh
As it’s now mid-December and about one-third of the way through the regular season, teams are really beginning to solidify their positioning for how the 2019-20 season will play out. With the famous Christmas Day slate of NBA games soon approaching, the state of the league is coming more into focus. There is plenty of time left for movement, but as of now, there are starting to become clear contenders.
Here are my top-10 teams in the league.
No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers (24-4) (Previous: 1)
The Lakers, led by the superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, show no signs of slowing down. Both of them are playing at an MVP level, and the team as a whole has been playing great basketball, having won 24 of its last 27 games and 14 of its last 15 games on the road. Every aspect of the Lakers play has been on point thus far, ranking top-five in the league in Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating and Net Rating. So long as James and Davis are playing at this level, it is tough to imagine many teams being able to compete with the Lakers.
last 15 games on the road. Every aspect of the Lakers play has been on point thus far, ranking top-five in the league in Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating and Net Rating. So long as James and Davis are playing at this level, it is tough to imagine many teams being able to compete with the Lakers.
No. 2: Milwaukee Bucks (24-4) (Previous: 2)
The MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo spearheaded a recent 18-game winning streak for the Bucks, who currently have the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are second in Offensive Rating, first in Defensive Rating and first in Net Rating. Leading the league in points in the paint and being second in the league in three-pointers made, to go along with the top rated defense in the NBA, the Bucks have a well rounded attack that should allow them to be a formidable top contender for the duration of the season.
No. 3: Los Angeles Clippers (20-8) (Previous: 4)
Despite having their early season primarily concerned with various injuries, the Clippers find themselves with the second-best record in the Western Conference. A team with this much depth and talent can overcome these minor issues, though, as has been seen with its early success. That depth gives the Clippers the highest scoring bench throughout the season (51.2 bench points per game). The rivalry between the two Los Angeles teams will be very entertaining to watch play out, as both teams have established themselves as very legitimate title contenders.
No. 4: Philadelphia 76ers (20-8) (Previous: 9)
Another team that has dealt with injuries as of late, the 76ers continue to have success despite these problems. Joel Embiid has been playing well recently, with the exception of his zero-point effort in Toronto against the Raptors. Philadelphia is a team that will continue to remain one of the prominent forces in the East.
No. 5: Dallas Mavericks (18-8) (Previous: NR)
Coming off of a victory that snapped the Milwaukee Bucks’ 18-game winning streak, Dallas has the third-best record in the Western Conference and an MVP candidate in Luka Doncic. The Mavericks have the highest Offensive Rating in the NBA, in large part due to Doncic’s fantastic play. The blossoming superstar has led the team to a prominence it will have to try to continue while he now rehabs an ankle injury. The victory over the Bucks gives hope that this team is far from a one-man show, and can be competitive going forward without Doncic in the short-term. When Doncic is playing at the level that he has been, the Mavericks are a team that is showing great promise.
No. 6: Miami Heat (19-8) (Previous: 10)
Miami continues to show that its early season success might have the substance and qualities necessary to continue. Seven different players are averaging double-digit points per game, and the Heat sit fourth in the NBA in Field Goal Percentage. The surge of Bam Adebayo has been a huge spark for Miami lately. He is averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds per game and is coming off of an Eastern Conference Player of the Week recognition. This team has the depth and emerging talent to give it the potential to join the upper tier of contenders as the season progresses.
No. 7: Boston Celtics (17-7) (Previous: 3)
Boston has faced some slight struggles recently and has had their lack of bench depth exposed amidst injuries in recent losses. The Celtics main trio of active players, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, have all been solid in carrying much of the offensive load (combining to average 63 points per game) leading up to Gordon Hayward’s return from injury.
No. 8: Toronto Raptors (18-8) (Previous: 8)
Pascal Siakam has certainly developed into a star for the Raptors, who are proving that they can be a solid second-tier team in the Eastern Conference. Nick Nurse has done a great job in making adjustments with this team, and the Toronto has done a good job of being consistently solid on defense (second in Defensive Rating) while winning games and remaining in the top five of the Eastern Conference standings.
No. 9: Houston Rockets (18-9) (Previous: 5)
The Rockets early season would be best defined by James Harden’s historic production (39 points per game), Russell Westbrook’s historically inefficient shooting (23% from 3) and overall inconsistent play. Houston is a dangerous team that, if it is having its best night, could strike fear in any team. But the Rockets will need more consistent play to really push into the top tier of the Western Conference.
No. 10: Denver Nuggets (17-8) (Previous: 7)
Nikola Jokic’s increased level of play has helped the Nuggets to get back on a three-game winning streak. However, this streak comes directly after a six-game stretch in which their only win was against the New York Knicks. Denver has solidly positioned itself as a “Next-Tier” team in the West.
Contact Nick Sligh at nick1019 ‘at’ stanford.edu.