NBA Power Rankings: 76ers near top 5, Lakers make leap and first-quarter grades

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We made it through the first quarter of the 2023-24 season and, wow, we have a lot to unpack! We’re past the NBA Cup and barreling toward Christmas Day games. Next thing you know, we’ll be in 2024. 

Since we’re through the first-quarter mark for everybody, it’s time for some first-quarter grades and thoughts on each team. Then we’ll update my random team predictions prior to the season. Spoiler alert: They weren’t all correct. As always, we’ll also flawlessly rank all 30 teams.

Reminder: The Power Rankings don’t just rank the 30 teams. We divide these teams into tiers, which teams can move in and out of. We currently have the tiers broken into seven new categories:

  • Incomprehensibly bad – These guys are historically inept right now.
  • Not tanking but maybe someday — They haven’t started tanking yet, but it’s on the table this season.
  • Looking to make the Play-In — They’ve been rebuilding/retooling and think they can crack the top 10 in their respective conference.
  • Play-In Tournament teams or better — They should be in the mix unless something disastrous happens.
  • Playoff teams — Probably don’t have to worry about dropping down to the Play-In Tournament.
  • On the brink of contention — A piece away from us believing they can win the title.
  • Contenders — They are contending for the championship, barring a massive injury.

As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.

Here’s how the Power Rankings work:

  • It’s up to my discretion how the rankings shake out. For some teams, they’ll be hit in the short term. Others will be given the benefit for the long term. Yes, it is entirely subjective.
  • If I have a team ahead of another team, there’s no reason to ask why they’re ranked above the team you like. The answer is pretty simple: I think that team is set up better for success.
  • Yes, I watch the games. And yes, I watch your favorite team.
  • This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have fun.

With all that said, let’s dive into Week 8 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings. Stats and records are through Monday’s action.


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Tier 1 - The Contenders

First Quarter Grade: A+

I’m not sure the Wolves could have earned a better start to the season than what we’ve seen. Even with Anthony Edwards missing a little time, the train kept rolling. The Wolves have the NBA’s best defense by a wide gap. That was what they expected when they made the Rudy Gobert trade last year. The offense needs to take better care of the ball, but that’s nitpicking an otherwise great start.

Preseason prediction update:Anthony Edwards wins All-Star MVP.

I can’t even begin to guess whether this prediction is correct, but Edwards will definitely be on the team.

Offensive Rating

113.1 (19th)

Defensive Rating

106.8 (1st)

Western

Tier 1 - The Contenders

First Quarter Grade: A

There really isn’t much you can say negative about the Celtics in the first quarter of the season. This team looks incredible. I still worry about stagnation on offense, but they’ve been dominant with their preferred starting lineup. Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porziņģis outscore opponents by 27.5 points per 100 possessions. That is pure domination.

Preseason prediction update:Jayson Tatum wins MVP.

It’s way too early for MVP discussions. I don’t think they should happen until well into January, so we’re at least a month away. But he’ll have a good chance if he keeps this up.

Offensive Rating

117.5 (7th)

Defensive Rating

109.0 (4th)

Eastern

Tier 1 - The Contenders

First Quarter Grade: B+

I have two conflicting thoughts on the Bucks, one of which I’ve mentioned in this space before. The Bucks look pretty flawed but are still winning games. That could and maybe should be viewed as a positive. On the other hand, they’re winning games with some bad habits, especially on defense. Is that reinforcing some bad stuff for them? There’s also this weird perception that Adrian Griffin is under fire as the coach. Ultimately, I think they’ll be fine, but this might be more fragile than their record indicates.

Preseason prediction update:The Bucks don’t finish in the top 15 in defensive rating.

The Bucks are 23rd in defensive rating, and I don’t think it’ll get much better. This feels safe.

Offensive Rating

119.0 (3rd)

Defensive Rating

115.8 (23rd)

Eastern

Tier 1 - The Contenders

First Quarter Grade: B

Should we be a little worried about the Nuggets, or is this latest bad stretch much ado about nothing? Their schedule gets easier over their next eight, so it might look a lot better quickly. And Nikola Jokić isn’t going to be bad — maybe ever again — like we’ve seen these last two games. The Nuggets might just be a little listless during the long grind of defending their title. Their main starting lineup is still pretty unstoppable.

Preseason prediction update:Denver leads the league in offensive rating.

The Nuggets are barely in the top 10 right now and would have to go on a massive scoring stretch to even think about approaching the top.

Offensive Rating

116.9 (9th)

Defensive Rating

113.2 (13th)

Western

Tier 1 - The Contenders

Tier 2 - Brink of Contention

First Quarter Grade: A

I’m not sure how much better of a start you could ask for in OKC. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been a monster. Chet Holmgren has been excellent. Jalen Williams is a perfect running mate for SGA. The Thunder look better than most could have hoped. They’re top six in both offense and defense.

Preseason prediction update:Josh Giddey has a dozen triple-doubles.

He doesn’t have any yet.

Offensive Rating

117.8 (6th)

Defensive Rating

110.2 (5th)

Western

Tier 2 - Brink of Contention

First Quarter Grade: A-

Considering the drama with which they started the season, the 76ers have been great. This offense without James Harden has been unreal. Tyrese Maxey has ascended. Joel Embiid is still unstoppable in the regular season. And the Sixers could still make another move. I don’t know if any of this gets them beyond the second round of the playoffs, but they’re pretty fun.

Preseason prediction update:Harden is traded before 2024 hits.

I got that one correct, but for a nice laugh at me, check out the Clippers’ prediction below.

Offensive Rating

121.1 (2nd)

Defensive Rating

112.1 (9th)

Eastern

Tier 2 - Brink of Contention

Tier 3 - Playoff Teams

First Quarter Grade: A+

What a perfect start for the Magic. This team’s carryover from last season’s finish has been as good as you could hope for such a young squad. They’re still hell defensively. Offensively, they show flashes but still need more consistent and dynamic guard play. Jamahl Mosley has coached this team incredibly well. Paolo Banchero is getting stronger ​​— Franz Wagner is too. This team is legitimate.

Preseason prediction update:Paolo Bachero averages 25 points per game.

He’s averaging 20.7 right now, so he’s not close, but he’s been averaging 23.4 over his last 11 games. It’s doable but will take some work.

Offensive Rating

113.8 (16th)

Defensive Rating

108.7 (3rd)

Eastern

Tier 3 - Playoff Teams

First Quarter Grade: B

The Lakers are playing awesome basketball. They went 6-0 in the In-Season Tournament before winning the NBA Cup, which means they’re 8-9 outside of it. Will we see them pull things back a bit now? It feels like LeBron James was desperate to win that thing, and we eventually saw a beastly performance from Anthony Davis that had Lakers fans salivating at the idea of him doing that more. I still maintain the Lakers need to ease the load for LeBron a bit, but that’s just me wanting him to maintain his health this season.

Preseason prediction update:LeBron James plays 70 regular-season games, his most as a Laker.

He’s only missed one game so far, but we’ll see if there’s any rest following their NBA Cup run.

Offensive Rating

111.4 (22nd)

Defensive Rating

110.3 (6th)

Western

Tier 3 - Playoff Teams

First Quarter Grade: B

We still haven’t seen this team with its big three on the court, but it could happen Tuesday night. For the most part, the Suns look good with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker on the floor. KD has had to do way too much, though. Jusuf Nurkić might already be running on fumes. And we see decent production from the bench. I need to see an extended stretch with the big three, though. It’s what we’re here for.

Preseason prediction update:Devin Booker makes first-team All-NBA.

He has some heavy competition with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Tyrese Haliburton, but if Booker plays enough games, he’ll be in the running.

Offensive Rating

116.3 (11th)

Defensive Rating

113.9 (17th)

Western

Tier 3 - Playoff Teams

First Quarter Grade: B+

I keep waiting for the Mavericks to crash, and it’s only happened a little. It feels like they’re playing over their heads, but they keep winning. Despite a little 3-6 stretch to even things out a bit, the Mavs continue to be juggernauts on offense. Luka Dončić is as good as he’s ever been. Dereck Lively II has been a really solid rookie. They’re getting good production off the bench most of the time. But does any of this translate to the postseason other than Luka being great?

Preseason prediction update:Kyrie plays at least 70 games for the first time since 2016-17.

Kyrie is on pace for 60 games played, but I still feel good about this one.

Offensive Rating

118.8 (4th)

Defensive Rating

115.6 (22nd)

Western

Tier 3 - Playoff Teams

First Quarter Grade: B+

I really like what we’re seeing from this Knicks team, and I’m hoping they can find a balance between Jalen Brunson killing, Julius Randle playing good team basketball, and RJ Barrett continuing to look like he’s making a leap. That balance is really tough, and the defense will suffer with Mitchell Robinson’s injury. But the Knicks look good and a little dangerous. I just don’t think they can crash through the second-round ceiling.

Preseason prediction update:Jalen Brunson makes the All-Star Game.

The Knicks are good. Brunson is averaging around 25 points per game. This feels like a lock.

Offensive Rating

116.5 (10th)

Defensive Rating

112.8 (10th)

Eastern

Tier 3 - Playoff Teams

First Quarter Grade: C+

I flat-out can’t figure out this team. I know the Cavs have had some time missed from key components. I just can’t help but watch them and think that I like this team so much better when it’s Darius Garland running the show than Donovan Mitchell. I want more offensive involvement from Evan Mobley. And I don’t know if they’re built for that. They could absolutely take off from here without surprising me. They could also crumble before I’d simply say, “Sure.”

Preseason prediction update:Cleveland finishes top three in the East standings.

The Cavs are seventh in the East, but only three games separate them from being top three. This is very much in play.

Offensive Rating

110.8 (25th)

Defensive Rating

110.6 (7th)

Eastern

Tier 3 - Playoff Teams

Tier 4 - Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

First Quarter Grade: A-

The question that remains with the Pacers is how much of this stuff is sustainable. It’s a lot like what we went through with last year’s Kings. The Pacers are putting up a historic offensive performance and blowing away the best offensive rating in NBA history. And their defense is almost as historically bad. Did the Lakers provide a blueprint of how to defend Indiana? Do other teams have the personnel to do this? Or will the Tyrese Haliburton star just keep getting brighter?

Preseason prediction update:Tyrese Haliburton averages at least 25 points and 10 assists per game.

Haliburton is one of the stars of the season, and he’s easily clocking in at 26.3 points and 12.3 assists. This feels like a lock.

Offensive Rating

123.5 (1st)

Defensive Rating

119.8 (28th)

Eastern

Tier 4 - Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

First Quarter Grade: B

It’s interesting how a bad night in Vegas turned the whole conversation on the excitement and potential of the Pelicans. All of a sudden, it was about Zion Williamson being overweight. Let’s try to keep the big picture: They’ve had some missed games from key players and now look pretty healthy. Has the bad loss in the IST ruined the perception of them? I’d like to see this team really take off offensively because the personnel should dominate on offense.

Preseason prediction update:Pelicans finish top 10 in both offense and defense.

They’re actually ranked 17th on offense and tied for 11th on defense right now. There’s a pathway to finishing top 10 in defense, but offense will be tough.

Offensive Rating

113.3 (17th)

Defensive Rating

113.1 (11th tied)

Western

Tier 4 - Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

First Quarter Grade: B

The little glimpse we had into De’Aaron Fox being gone with an injury showed you just how fragile things can be. And the Kings aren’t as good offensively as we saw a year ago. At the same time, they’re still quite dangerous and capable of ruining your night. Malik Monk has been awesome, but they need Keegan Murray, Davion Mitchell and Trey Lyles to pick things up off the bench.

Preseason prediction update:he Kings finish top six in the West.

They looked a little rough without Fox, but they sit fifth in the West. I think they’ll be there, barring injury.

Offensive Rating

115.3 (12th)

Defensive Rating

115.0 (20th)

Western

Tier 4 - Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

First Quarter Grade: C+

I did not like the Harden trade for the Clippers, but in the last 12 games, they have turned things around to go 9-3. They’re incredible defensively but look so lost on offense through major chunks of games. I wonder how long that will take to fix, if it gets fixed at all. As long as they’re winning right now, it takes pressure off them. But remember, this team is judged solely on competing for a title. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s more encouraging lately.

Preseason prediction update:They don’t land Harden before the deadline.

Nailed it … for about two weeks.

Offensive Rating

114.9 (13th)

Defensive Rating

110.9 (8th)

Western

Tier 4 - Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

First Quarter Grade: B

There are so many times I look at the Heat and think they can absolutely win the East again. Then, there are times I wonder if they’ll avoid the Play-In Tournament at all. They’re not nearly as good defensively as I assumed they’d be, and they’re honestly a little better offensively than I expected. They still need to get Tyler Herro back, and Bam Adebayo not being hurt would help.

Preseason prediction update:The Heat make the Eastern Conference finals.

We won’t know for months, obviously, but I feel like this one is very much on the table. The Heat are flawed but look dangerous.

Offensive Rating

114.5 (14th)

Defensive Rating

113.3 (14th)

Eastern

Tier 4 - Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better

Tier 5 - Looking to make the Play-In

First Quarter Grade: A-

The Rockets should probably be a little higher than this, but it’s kind of a coin flip between some of these teams. Ime Udoka has done a great job organizing this squad. They finally got their first win on the road and are above .500 despite being 1-8 away from Houston. Alperen Şengün has emerged as an undeniable talent, and he’s a nightly problem for opposing defenses. If they can figure out a little bit more offense, they’ll be a playoff team.

Preseason prediction update:Dillon Brooks reaches 20 technical fouls.

Brooks is at four technical fouls on the season, so he’s on pace to finish under. But we shouldn’t doubt him on this.

Offensive Rating

111.7 (21st)

Defensive Rating

108.2 (2nd)

Western

Tier 5 - Looking to make the Play-In

First Quarter Grade: B+

I really like this Nets team, even though they’re the complete inverse of what I expected. I thought we’d see a struggling offense that is one of the best in the league defensively. Instead, we’ve seen a high-powered offensive juggernaut most nights with a defense trying to catch up. I think the Nets could ruin a lot of nights in the regular season for teams better than them, but we’ll see if that translates to the postseason. The Nets are really fun, though.

Preseason prediction update:Ben Simmons hits 10 3-pointers for the season.

He hasn’t played since Nov. 6 and didn’t attempt a 3-pointer before missing time. Feels like a miss.

Offensive Rating

117.4 (8th)

Defensive Rating

114.6 (19th)

Eastern

Tier 5 - Looking to make the Play-In

First Quarter Grade: D+

I’ve been holding out hope the Warriors would get it together because I genuinely like it when they’re competitive and contending for a title. This team is in trouble. I know the Warriors had some guys in and out of the lineup, but the struggles of Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins are very concerning. Stephen Curry needs some consistent help. And Steve Kerr still seems iffy on playing the young guys to give them a more athletic dynamic.

Preseason prediction update:Curry plays at least 70 games and knocks down 350 3-pointers.

If he plays 70 games this season, Curry is on pace for 357 makes from deep. I feel good about this one.

Offensive Rating

113.9 (15th)

Defensive Rating

113.6 (16th tied)

Western

Tier 5 - Looking to make the Play-In

First Quarter Grade: C+

The Hawks keep showing flashes under Quin Snyder, and we’ve seen some progress. But they’re still not quite consistent enough, given the talent on this roster. They’ve had one of the toughest schedules to start the season, and their only bad loss was on opening night to Charlotte. Once the schedule eases up a bit, we should see the Hawks go on a run.

Preseason prediction update:Trae Young becomes the fourth player to average at least 30 points and 10 assists.

Trae is currently at 26.8 points and 10.5 assists per game. It’s doable for him to get to 30, but he needs to start making more than 41.2 percent of his shots.

Offensive Rating

118.2 (5th)

Defensive Rating

118.8 (27th)

Eastern

Tier 5 - Looking to make the Play-In

First Quarter Grade: C-

The Raptors are just stuck in that treadmill zone. They’re running but not going anywhere. They’re really solid on defense. Scottie Barnes is a star. And yet, the team is terrible offensively because it’s the worst 3-point shooting team in the league. Toronto can’t make shots or get to the free-throw line. My advice is to blow this up and build around Barnes.

Preseason prediction update:Pascal Siakam is traded before the deadline.

We might be forever waiting for the Raptors to make some major moves, but this one is still in play.

Offensive Rating

112.2 (20th)

Defensive Rating

114.1 (18th)

Eastern

Tier 5 - Looking to make the Play-In

Tier 6 - Not tanking yet but maybe someday

First Quarter Grade: C-

It’s worth noting the team has been winning since Zach LaVine went down with this injury. But it shouldn’t change the mind of the front office that this squad just isn’t good enough. It’s not good enough in the East or even for Play-In Tournament involvement. Chicago’s defense from last season isn’t there, and its offense still sucks. The Bulls have plenty of pieces they can move, but will they?

Preseason prediction update:DeRozan gets traded before the deadline.

It might be headed this way. The Bulls were pretty awful before this LaVine injury, and everything seemed bad for the franchise. But they’re winning and probably talking themselves into this group again.

Offensive Rating

110.9 (24th)

Defensive Rating

115.4 (21st)

Eastern

Tier 6 - Not tanking yet but maybe someday

First Quarter Grade: D

While it’s understandable the Grizzlies have been bad to start the season, I think most of us expected them to be better than this. No Ja Morant. Marcus Smart got hurt. Steven Adams is missing the entire season. The defense has still been really solid, but the offense is putrid. Once Morant comes back, we’ll see how much easier life gets for Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane. Then, everything falls into place better.

Preseason prediction update:Ja Morant shoots league average or better from 3-point range upon returning.

Undetermined, but we’re getting very close to his return.

Offensive Rating

107.1 (28th)

Defensive Rating

113.1 (11th tied)

Western

Tier 6 - Not tanking yet but maybe someday

First Quarter Grade: D+

There are times this Hornets team looks like they have some potential. And there are times they look hopeless. We’ll have to see what new ownership brings to the table because that’s the ultimate equalizer when it comes to the future of a franchise. LaMelo Ball looked good individually before the ankle injury, and what we’ve seen from Brandon Miller and Mark Williams is really good. This team will just never stop anybody (29th in defense).

Preseason prediction update:LaMelo Ball will knock down 250 3-pointers.

He was on pace for 247 made 3-pointers with 70 games played prior to the ankle injury. It’s still within reach, but he can’t miss much time if he gets back on the court in a week or so.

Offensive Rating

113.2 (18th)

Defensive Rating

120.9 (29th)

Eastern

Tier 6 - Not tanking yet but maybe someday

First Quarter Grade: C-

Tough week for the Blazers against better competition, but I do like the way the team has played lately. Portland just got Anfernee Simons back and has been dealing with players in and out of the lineup. While Chauncey Billups doesn’t get a ton of credit for his coaching, he has this team playing defense well above what was expected. The Blazers just can’t score to save their lives.

Preseason prediction update:Scoot Henderson leads all rookies in scoring.

Two problems with this one. 1) Scoot got hurt and missed some time. 2) He’s not even close to making shots consistently enough to do this. It won’t happen.

Offensive Rating

106.6 (29th)

Defensive Rating

113.6 (15th tied)

Western

Tier 6 - Not tanking yet but maybe someday

First Quarter Grade: D-

We’re not seeing the same Jazz team we saw begin last season. And that 50-point loss to Dallas didn’t do anything to improve morale. Hopefully it lights a competitive spirit to be better. The Jazz don’t have the same offensive punch we saw last season, and a lot of that can be tied to lead guards. Kenyonte George is improving but still quite raw, and the Talen Horton-Tucker minutes at point have been atrocious.

Preseason prediction update:Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson and John Collins combine for 70 points per game.

They’re clocking in at a combined 54.8 points per game right now. It’s doable to get there by the end of the season, but the Jazz offense is pretty disorganized. It’s not looking great.

Offensive Rating

109.6 (26th)

Defensive Rating

118.4 (26th)

Western

Tier 6 - Not tanking yet but maybe someday

Tier 7 - Incomprehensibly bad

First Quarter Grade: F-

I know this team is supposed to be bad as it embarks on this rebuild, but the Wizards haven’t been as fun as I was hoping. Jordan Poole has been so lackluster that it ruins finding fun, positive pockets with this squad. They could move quite a few players for assets if they want. I am encouraged by early signs from Bilal Coulibaly. I think they have a big-time player developing with him.

Preseason prediction update:Jordan Poole leads the league in scoring.

Poole is tied for 58th in scoring at 16.7 per game. He would need to average roughly 49.8 points over the next 20 games to get into the lead. This feels unlikely.

Offensive Rating

111.1 (23rd)

Defensive Rating

121.4 (30th)

Eastern

Tier 7 - Incomprehensibly bad

First Quarter Grade: F--

Not even Victor Wembanyama can distract from how atrocious this team has been. The rookie has been really fun and, at times, awe-inspiring. But Wemby hasn’t changed the makeup of the Spurs’ competitive nature — or lack thereof — from last season. Devin Vassell looks great. The Jeremy Sochan experience is a disservice to him and his team. I’d love to see more Tre Jones.

Preseason prediction update:Wembanyama finishes top three in DPOY voting.

The blocked shots are nice, but his level of defense isn’t there for this yet, and the team is just horrendous on that end.

Offensive Rating

105.9 (30th)

Defensive Rating

117.7 (25th)

Western

Tier 7 - Incomprehensibly bad

First Quarter Grade: F--

This team was trying to be competitive, so we can’t chalk this up to tanking. There’s not much even long-term I believe in with this team after the showing they’ve had to begin this season. I really like Ausar Thompson and Jalen Duren. I have nothing but questions about Cade Cunningham, when I thought I’d be loving his growth. Monty Williams has not even begun to fix this. They’re historically bad, and it’s frustrating.

Preseason prediction update:Cunningham averages 20-7-7 on the season.

Cunningham is currently at 22.0 points and 7.3 assists, but his 3.9 rebounds mean he’d likely have to be Dennis Rodman for a couple months for this to have a chance.

Offensive Rating

107.6 (27th)

Defensive Rating

117.4 (24th)

Eastern

Tier 7 - Incomprehensibly bad

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