NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (11/09/17)

By Mark Dankenbring @MarkDank
NBA Power Rankings – Risers and Fallers

Welcome to the second edition of Risers and Fallers for this season's NBA Power Rankings. Our Power Rankings are developed using players on the active depth chart, which causes fluctuation week-to-week based on injuries and who is in and out of the lineup. To see a full description of how our Power Rankings are created, as well as this week's full list of rankings, please visit NBA Rankings - 11/9/17. Within our rankings every week, there are noticeable risers and fallers throughout. The goal of this article is to identify who has gained or lost the most ground in the Association, whether it be due to injury, roster changes, or just a decline in team performance. Each article will include the top three risers and fallers in the rankings, despite their initial position.*

*This week will not feature Houston or San Antonio, who have moved up significantly in our rankings since last week, due to adjustments to the projections model. The movement has nothing to do with their play or personnel changes in the last week.

The Golden State Warriors remain the top dog in the NBA this week, and even though we're just a dozen games into the season, their removal from that position would only stem from a major injury. The list of teams rounding out the top 10 still predominantly hail from the West. Seven of 10 teams reside in the Western conference and only one team in the East finds its way into the top seven. The Cavs dropped to #3 this week and rightfully so, but we're confident in their team in the long-run, as anyone should be when it's led by the man who has represented the East in seven consecutive Finals. Milwaukee exploited the Suns' mishandling of Eric Bledsoe and brought him to town, assembling a potent starting five with Jabari Parker set to return later in the season. They also moved up one spot to eighth overall this week, but second overall in the East. That leads to a “What about the Celtics?” reply, as they've now won 10 in a row and are alone atop the Eastern Conference at 10-2. Well, Brad Stevens has every analyst befuddled at the moment, as the youngest team in the NBA leads the league in defensive efficiency. Noted turnstile Kyrie Irving appears to be interested in playing defense now, as he's fourth in the NBA in steals and is focused like we haven't seen before. However, it remains to be seen how these young players will respond to being the hunted team in the East and if this is for real or just a three-week aberration. They remain outside our top 10 but should trend upward once Al Horford returns and they accrue a larger sample size. Let's take a look at the teams who did see a shift in our rankings this week, starting with the three Risers.

Risers



After finishing as a bottom ten defense last season, Portland has focused their attention on that side of the ball and are currently fourth in the league in defensive efficiency. Their roster is devoid of stars after Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but they've played great as a unit thus far. The Blazers have handled all their weaker opponents this season and suffered one-possession losses to the Grizzlies, Thunder, and Bucks, all teams who will likely end up in the playoffs. Lillard and McCollum have dominated the scoring output thus far, combining to put up nearly 50 points per game between the two of them while just one other teammate contributes more than 10 points per game (Jusuf Nurkic – 15.1). Their recipe appears to be slow the pace and focus on defense to keep the games close, which has worked out well for them in the early going. If Nurkic can remain a consistent third option on offense for this team, they could be a sneaky option in the West to lock up a playoff spot by year's end.



The Griz follow the same game plan as Rip City, as they like to slow the game down and suffocate opposing teams on defense. Memphis currently has the third-slowest pace (97.9 possessions/game) and is third in defensive efficiency (99.7 points/100 possessions). Mike Conley and Marc Gasol remain the driving forces of the offense, but Tyreke Evans might be the difference maker they've been looking for off the bench. Evans is currently averaging 17.5 points per game off the bench, just two behind Gasol and his team-leading 19.5 ppg. Dillon Brooks has also been a surprise rookie from this loaded class, as he's logging nearly 30 minutes per game and plays in closing minutes of tight games. He's struggled shooting the ball thus far (just 43.4% overall and 25.9% from three), but Memphis loves his mentality on the court and his intensity is infectious. The Grizzlies will remain under-appreciated throughout this entire season like they always do, but a nice leap up to 18th in our rankings should create some much-needed buzz around the industry.



Trading Paul George to OKC for the likes of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis seemed like a move that we'd be talking about for several years to come as an example of limited return for an exiting superstar. However, the 25-year old Oladipo and 21-year old Sabonis have made a big impact in Indiana's offense this season and look like adequate fillers in Paul's absence. Oladipo, who played college ball at Indiana University, is excelling in the fast-paced offensive attack, averaging a career-high 22.8 points per game this season. The uptick in scoring can be attributed to his success from three, as his 45.3% mark from behind the arc is by far the best in his career and is over 10 points higher than his 35.2% career average. Sabonis filled huge minutes when Myles Turner was out with a concussion and established himself as a solid option on offense. They run a lot through him at the high post with quick passes and screens for guards, and he's shown opposing teams he can knock down mid-range jumpers if left alone. We all know how important shooting has become in today's NBA, so if Sabonis can stretch out behind the three-point line and start hitting with consistency, he could be another stretch-four opposing defenses would have to account for. Indy's 5-7 record is just okay, but they won't be a doormat in the East by any means and may have a realistic have a shot at the playoffs.

Fallers



Denver has started off the season just fine with a 6-5 start, but fall a couple spots this week due to the Rockets and Spurs jumping up to the top 10. After finishing last season with the fifth-best offensive efficiency and second-worst defensive efficiency, we knew something would have to change this season in order for the Nuggets to find success. Thus far, however, Denver has been mediocre in both categories. They rank 15th in offensive efficiency and 18th in defensive efficiency. It's an interesting change since their pace has been essentially equal to last season (101 possessions/game) and makes you wonder whether they'll return to last year's tendencies over time. Their offseason acquisition of Paul Millsap was supposed to help their defense (and it has) while maintaining their offensive prowess, and I imagine as the calendar changes we'll see Denver's offense return to top 10 efficiency status while their defense stays where it is now. They have one of the deepest offensive rosters in the league, so it's only a matter of time until they increase their efficiency.



The Raptors have officially become stale and a team no one really wants to talk about anymore. Their rise and challenging of LeBron James over the years was inspiring, but after they were put in their place by the King, kept the same core of Derozan, Lowry, and Valanciunas in hopes of rising to royalty status in the East. They've officially been passed by Washington and Boston in terms of Eastern conference pecking order and are just overlooked at the moment, leaving plenty to be desired out of the team up north. Their 6-4 start is solid, but they've lost to Washington, Denver, Golden State, and San Antonio with three of their wins coming against the Lakers and Bulls (two). Essentially, they've won games they should win and lost games against superior opponents, remaining a middling team in the Eastern Conference that doesn't look like they can compete with the big dogs. Kyle Lowry has been flat out bad for them so far, averaging just 12.5 ppg on 39.5% shooting. That should correct itself here soon enough, but even with Lowry playing well I don't see this team cracking the top 10 this season barring any major changes.



We all knew it would be a tough season for Bulls fans, and the first three weeks have held true to that fact. Chicago is currently 2-7 and they possess the league's worst offense, averaging just 94.2 points per 100 possessions with Sacramento being the only other squad below 99. That number should see a boost with the return of Bobby Portis, who dropped a 21-13-4 line in his first game back. That and the fact Lauri Markannen has looked solid as the seventh-overall draft pick should bring optimism to Chicago fans, but that's where it ends. Their starting guards Jerian Grant and Justin Holiday are both shooting below 35% on the season. They've scored over 100 points just twice this season and as a team are shooting a league-low 40.5%. This team will become somewhat watchable once Zach Lavine and Nikola Mirotic are back and playing, but until then Chicago should remain the worst team in the league.