The NBA season is only three weeks old, but early signs are suggesting that the power balance between the conferences might be evening out. After years of Western Conference dominance, the East has gone 28-26 in games against the West and has 13 teams winning at least 45 percent of their games, compared to just nine for the West.
So how does every team stack up right now with some improved play from the Eastern half of the league?
Let’s look at a power ranking of every team in the association, taking into account both overall 2015-16 performance to date and how good the team will likely end up.
We’ll also be referring back to the preseason edition of these power rankings at each spot to see how teams have trended since a month ago.
1. Golden State Warriors (11-0, No, 1 in Western Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 1
The 11-0 Warriors’ “screw the haters who called us lucky last season” tour is still alive and well, although the squad has been markedly less dominant ever since they drubbed the Memphis Grizzlies by 50 points.
With explosive performances from Stephen Curry almost every time out, it’s looking more and more like we need to let go of LeBron James as the best player in the league. And Klay Thompson hasn’t found his groove yet, but Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli are more than picking up his slack for the defending champs.
2. San Antonio Spurs (8-2, No. 2 in Western Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 3
Kawhi Leonard is a certified baller, and he’ll be a lock for his first All-Star appearance if he stays healthy. The San Antonio bench, led by a resurgent Manu Ginobili, is killing any and all comers with crisp ball movement and accurate shooting.
Thankfully for the Spurs, Kawhi and the reserves have slightly concealed the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge is struggling to find his place in the system, Danny Green is ice-cold from three and Tony Parker isn’t anywhere near an All-Star anymore.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-2, No. 1 in Eastern Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 2
CBS Sports’ Matt Moore perfectly summed up the Cavaliers to this point this season in his power rankings from this season: “They’re the kid getting A’s without studying right now.”
Cleveland’s starting backcourt has played a combined zero minutes per game this season, but LeBron and Co. are taking care of business as well as they can right now. The Cavs haven’t been dominant, but they’ve executed well enough at the end of games to secure wins.
4. Miami Heat (6-3, No. 4 in Eastern Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 11
There’s a huge gap after the Cavs, and LeBron’s former team seems like the best candidate to fill it.
The Heat are playing the second-best defense in the NBA, and now have a formidable Big Three in Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside, although a struggling Goran Dragic would obviously like to add his name to that group.
Now, if they can only stay healthy and keep developing chemistry.
5. Chicago Bulls (7-3, No. 2 in Eastern Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 9
Derrick Rose with blurred vision remains super inconsistent, but as he goes, so does Chicago. In seven Bulls wins, the former MVP has averaged 16.1 points, 6.3 assists and just 2.0 turnovers on a not-too-terrible 41.1 field-goal percentage. When Chicago loses, D-Rose has 7.7 points, 5.3 assists and 4.0 turnovers on 26.5 percent shooting.
Somewhat surprisingly, the team as a whole has ranked a Thibodeau-ian fifth in defensive efficiency, but is all the way down at No. 24 on the other end of the floor. With Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, Rose, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, the Bulls have the firepower to be an offensive juggernaut; they just have yet to all play well at the same time for Fred Hoiberg.
6. Atlanta Hawks (8-4, No. 4 in Eastern Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 7
Sort of like Cleveland to a lesser degree, the Hawks aren’t really dominating anyone, but they’ve done a solid job of winning close games (5-1 when the margin is eight points or fewer) and find themselves in solid position to earn another high seed in the Eastern Conference.
In other news, is it time to consider Paul Millsap the best player in Atlanta? He’s averaging 17.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, 3.7 assists, two steals and a block per game, with some nice defense in the process.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (6-4, No. 5 in Western Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 4
The Clippers are here sort of by default, as I still consider them a viable championship contender, but they’ve played just OK so far. Los Angeles’ reserves, a group of intriguing but unreliable players, has yet to provide the firepower the team probably expected.
However, a tough schedule so far (Sacramento and Houston are the Clippers’ only opponents below .500 so far) makes me think this squad can make up some games once it starts facing more cupcakes.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-5, No. 6 in Western Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 6
Russell Westbrook is a freak, but the Thunder still need Kevin Durant on the court. Oklahoma City has lost two of three games since a hamstring injury sidelined the Slim Reaper, with the only win coming against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Defense is a big problem for OKC, as is depth. The Thunder do have one of the highest ceilings in the league, but they’ll need both of those things clicking if they want to make a run at the NBA title.
9. Boston Celtics (6-4, No. 6 in Eastern Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 18
Boston is throwing a whole bunch of above-average players at its opponents, and it’s working.
The Celtics have played an extremely tough schedule to start the season and have still found a way to achieve the league’s fourth-best point differential. Their last five wins have come against the Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets. That’s impressive.
Receiving an unprotected first-round pick from the terrible Brooklyn Nets next summer makes this early season even sweeter for Celtics fans.
10. Toronto Raptors (7-4, No. 5 in Eastern Conference)
Preseason Ranking: 14
So far, the Raptors’ two best offseason moves have nothing to do with DeMarre Carroll; they’ve been the signing of backup point guard Cory Joseph and the decision of Kyle Lowry to lose weight.
Joseph is dropping a 57.7/40/86.4 shooting slash line and is giving the team a defensive boost while Lowry is playing at a level that might be sustainable now that he has fitness to stay fresh throughout the season.