NBA Power Rankings 2021: One thing we’ve learned about each team through Week 2

We’re two weeks into the 2021-22 NBA season and trends are starting to emerge — even with the small sample size.

To this point, teams have played more than a handful of games and while it’s too soon to make any sort of definitive judgments, good teams are beginning to separate themselves from the bad and it’s becoming easier to notice the fool’s gold of hot starts from opening week.

Let this serve as a clear reminder: these rankings are not projections of how the final standings will look. There will be plenty of movement throughout the season, as it is a snapshot of how teams are trending right now.

Got it? Great. Onto this week’s rankings…

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NBA Power Rankings 2021

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1. Milwaukee Bucks

What we’ve learned: Giannis Antetokounmpo is still unstoppable

In the words of the wise Anthony Edwards on Giannis Antetokounmpo, “… We put four people on him and he’ll still score the ball.”

The Timberwolves may have defeated the Bucks in that contest, but the reigning Finals MVP continues to assert his dominance on the league. Averaging 30.8 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists for the week, Antetokounmpo looks as unstoppable as ever.

OK, I know what you’re saying: “They have a losing record, how on earth can they still be No. 1?” 

Let’s be honest, nobody exactly looks like world beaters early on. So rather than overreact to a stronger start by an inferior team, we’re giving the benefit of the doubt to the defending champs… for now.

2. Utah Jazz

What we’ve learned: The Jazz are still really good.

And just like that, the Jazz are back atop of the Western Conference.

There isn’t much of anything new going on in Utah, with three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert anchoring one of the league’s best defenses and Donovan Mitchell and a bunch of shooters leading one of the league’s best offenses.

The Jazz have the fifth-best offensive (111.4) and the third-best defensive (98.3) rating, giving them a second-best net rating of 13.0. Unfortunately for them, there isn’t much to prove until the playoffs roll around. Unless Utah can reach the Conference Finals and beyond, their dominant regular season runs will continue to be shrugged off.

3. Miami Heat

What we’ve learned: The Heat are the best defensive team in the league.

The Heat have looked as great as anticipated heading into the season, especially on the defensive end.

They own the league’s best defense which ranks first in defensive rating (95.1) and second in opponent points per game (97.0) – yet to allow a team to score more than 103 points in regulation. Opponents are shooting a league-worst 39.0 percent from the field and fifth-worst XX from 3-point range, buckling down to come up with stops.

Bam Adebayo is making an early case for Defensive Player of the Year, as many expected, while the addition of Kyle Lowry to pair alongside Jimmy Butler has, unsurprisingly, formed one of the toughest cores in the league.

4. Golden State Warriors

What we’ve learned: Stephen Curry is still scorching, but he can’t score in the fourth quarter?

Stephen Curry has been incredible – like, way-too-early MVP incredible. Averaging a league-leading 28.7 points per game (tied with Ja Morant), Curry has picked up right where he left off at the end of last season.

But there is something interesting going on.

Curry has zero points in the fourth quarter or overtime in his three last games. After erupting for 36 points through three quarters against the Grizzlies, Curry went scoreless in the fourth quarter and OT as the Warriors suffered their first loss of the season.

Is this something to actually be concerned about? No, especially with the Warriors’ hot start. But it’s still intriguing.

5. Los Angeles Lakers

What we’ve learned: The Russell Westbrook experience will be a rollercoaster.

The Russell Westbrook experience was on full display this week, as the All-Star guard shouldered a bigger load in the absence of LeBron James.

We saw his will to win in an overtime victory over the Spurs, going for 33 points, 10 boards, eight assists and one emphatic dunk to put an exclamation point on the game.

He followed that up with a “quadruple-trouble,” going for 20 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 10 turnovers in a loss to the Thunder, the first win of the season for the rebuilding franchise.

It’s a rollercoaster ride when Westbrook has the keys to a team, but that’s a big part of why the Lakers brought him in – to try and keep the team afloat when James (or Anthony Davis) aren’t available.

It was one heck of a first go-around and it probably won’t be the last.

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6. Brooklyn Nets

What we’ve learned: The Nets miss Kyrie Irving.

“Yeah, we do miss Kyrie,” Kevin Durant stated (half) jokingly after the Nets’ loss to the Heat.

One of the main reasons for Brooklyn’s slower-than-expected start is because All-Star guard James Harden has been struggling out of the gate, averaging his fewest points per game (18.6) since 2011-12 while shooting a career-low from the field and getting to the free-throw line at the lowest rate since that same season.

Until Harden gets back to his usual ways, the Nets will continue to look mortal.

7. Denver Nuggets 

What we’ve learned: Nuggets fans can breathe – Nikola Jokic is going to be OK.

The Nuggets had a brutal scare when reigning MVP Nikola Jokic went down with a knee injury in the team’s loss to the Jazz. Jokic was off to a roaring start against a familiar foe in Gobert, going for 24 points, six rebounds and six assists in just 15 minutes of play.

It was actually the most productive 15 minutes in NBA history, as no other player had ever put up at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in that limited playing time.

Luckily for Denver, its All-Star center’s MRI revealed no structural damage and he was able to return in the next available contest, going for 11 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists and a blowout win over the Mavericks.

8. Atlanta Hawks

What we’ve learned: John Collins was worth the money.

We could talk about Trae Young putting up huge numbers per usual, but let’s shine some light on what John Collins has done so far this season.

Averaging a near double-double of 16.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game while shooting an efficient 63.8 percent from the field, the 24-year-old forward is taking another step forward as Atlanta’s second-best player.

After earning a five-year, $125 million deal this past offseason, Collins is living up to his pay day early on.

9. New York Knicks

What we’ve learned: The Knicks are ready to meet their lofty expectations.

After shocking everyone and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2013 last season, the Knicks faced a lot of pressure entering the new season.

So far, they’ve handled that pressure to put themselves tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference, coming off of an impressive and gutsy win over a strong Bulls team.

While their defense has still been solid, it has unexpectedly been their offense that is keeping them afloat. The offseason goal of bringing in more shot creators and scorers has already proved to be beneficial, with Evan Fournier (17.5 PPG) and Kemba Walker (15.0 PPG) ranking second and fourth, respectively, on the team. Their 114.5 offensive rating is third-best in the NBA, a pleasant surprise for a team that is known for their defense.

The culture established last season was real and the Knicks are already proving that again in 2021-22.

10. Phoenix Suns

What we’ve learned: The Suns are having a Finals run hangover.

The Suns are out to a slow start, owning a bottom-five defense and bottom-10 offense in the NBA. Devin Booker and Chris Paul have both struggled to score efficiently, key role players like Jae Crowder and Cameron Payne haven’t replicated last year’s production and as a result, Phoenix has dropped some typically winnable games.

How long will it take one of the most talented teams in the league to wake up?

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11. Chicago Bulls

What we’ve learned: The Bulls are real, but they’re about to be put to the test.

The Bulls were one of the most talked-about teams during the preseason after landing DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball, and it didn’t take long to prove they would live up to all the chatter. Getting out to a roaring 4-1 start, Chicago’s new-look roster clicked immediately. All-Stars Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic have maintained their production while DeRozan and Ball have added two more playmakers and scoring threats.

The addition of Alex Caruso has also made an impact, giving the Bulls a defensive specialist who has locked down opposing guards on the perimeter and has been among the league leaders in steals.

After suffering a hard-fought loss to the Knicks, the Bulls face a gauntlet of a schedule over the next few weeks. It starts with the week ahead, where they’ll take on the Celtics in Boston and 76ers in Philly, before hosting the Sixers and Nets to close out the week.

Chicago seems real, but we’ll know exactly how real after a brutal stretch in the schedule coming up.

12. Dallas Mavericks

What we’ve learned: Kristaps Porzingis’ injury concerns continue.

What will the Mavericks get out of Kristaps Porzingis?

Porzingis had a less than ideal start to the new season, averaging just 12.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game while shooting 30.2 percent from the field and 23.5 percent from 3. He suffered a back injury in Dallas’ third game of the season and is sidelined for the time-being, struggling to stay healthy since he was acquired by the Mavericks back in 2019.

The hope was that Porzingis would return to his All-Star form after taking a full season off in 2018-19 to recover from a torn ACL, and we’ve seen it in flashes, but rarely for long periods of time.

His back injury is just the latest of a long list of ailments that have kept the 7-footer sidelined over the past few seasons.

13. Portland Trail Blazers

What we’ve learned: Don’t let a few bad games generate any irrational thoughts on Damian Lillard.

Lillard took to Twitter to send a message to all the naysayers overreacting to his tough start to the season.

He’s averaging a career-low in scoring to go with the worst shooting percentages of his career, but it has only been six games. The Trail Blazers are holding it down thanks to a hot start from CJ McCollum, so there’s no reason to worry about the six-time All-Star who averages 24.6 points on 37.4 percent from 3-point range over his nine-year career.

14. Philadelphia 76ers 

What we’ve learned: Joel Embiid can carry the 76ers (as long as he stays healthy).

This isn’t new information but, man, is Embiid a force to be reckoned with.

Ben Simmons nabbed all the preseason storylines in Philadelphia but now that the ball has been rolled out and games are being played, it’s back to focusing on the Sixers MVP candidate.

The Knicks’ defense did an impressive job bottling up Embiid, but he bounced back by taking his frustration out on the Pistons. Going for a dominant 30 points and 18 rebounds to carry his team to a win, it felt like this was the controlling game of the season for the four-time All-Star.

With off-court distractions falling to the background for now, expect Embiid to start ramping things up over the coming weeks as he gets into game shape.

15. Washington Wizards

What we’ve learned: Montrezl Harrell is playing with something to prove.

The Wizards went through significant roster overturn this offseason, bringing in Spencer Dinwiddie through free agency while landing Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell in the blockbuster trade for Russell Westbrook.

There was no denying Washington became a deeper, more talented team with these moves, but it felt like a bunch of misfit pieces. Turns out, the Wizards are much more than that and they look pretty strong to start the season.

The resurgence of Harrell has played a huge role in that, as the former Sixth Man of the Year is averaging 19.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. He recently had back-to-back 25-point double-doubles, looking more like the version of himself we saw with the Clippers.

After a down year with the Lakers last season, it looks like Trezz is back to his ways as a terrorizing interior scoring threat.

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16. Memphis Grizzlies

What we’ve learned: Ja Morant is aiming higher than his first All-Star bid – he could be an MVP candidate.

Morant has been the breakout player of the 2021-22 season through the first two weeks, averaging a league-leading 28.7 points per game.

He dropped 37 points in an opening night win over the Cavaliers, had a 40-point double-double with 10 assists in a close loss to the Lakers but bounced back in a big way in an overtime win over the Warriors, going for 30 points with a couple clutch buckets down the stretch.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft is quickly becoming one of the most entertaining players to watch in the NBA and the Grizzlies are looking like a bonafide playoff team because of him.

Morant has never made an All-Star team but at this rate, his goals could be higher than that. Is it possible the 22-year-old has a 2011 Derrick Rose-esque season in pursuit of an MVP award?

17. Charlotte Hornets

What we’ve learned: Miles Bridges was brilliant to hold off on signing an extension.

Bridges has been another breakout player so far this season, averaging 24.6 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He has three 30-point games, which is tied for the most in the NBA, building on a red-hot close to the season last year.

The 23-year-old forward was contract extension eligible this offseason and was reportedly offered four-years, $60 million from the Hornets, but he elected to bet on himself and enter the season without a new contract. That is proving to be beneficial, because if he continues this level of play, he’ll be worth way more than the $15 million per year he was offered.

18. Boston Celtics

What we’ve learned: Jaylen Brown is still recovering from COVID-19.

Brown went ballistic on opening night, dropping a career-high 46 points in his first game back after missing the end of preseason and training camp due to COVID-19. Since opening night, we’ve seen a different version of Brown in every game. He had a rough nine-point showing against the Raptors before missing the Rockets game due to knee soreness. He followed that up with a 30-point game in a win over the Hornets, but then had another 13-point stinker against the Wizards.

Head coach Ime Udoka picked up on this trend, having this to say after the loss to Washington, “… The contrast of some of those previous games — especially Charlotte and the New York game and the way you see him come out (against the Wizards) — is kind of mind-boggling.”

Brown accepted his new head coach’s criticism, but admitted he’s still feeling the repercussions of the coronavirus. The Celtics will need their All-Star guard back to full strength if they’re going to get things on track.

19. Minnesota Timberwolves

What we’ve learned: Anthony Edwards is built for the moment.

We started to see it during the second half of the season last year, but Edwards is built for stardom.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft has been prolific to start the season, averaging 23.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. He stepped up huge for Minnesota against the reigning NBA champion Bucks, getting a game-winning bucket to fall in the final seconds.

The Timberwolves are looking like one of the most improved teams in the league as a result of his growth, owning one of the best records in the West.

20. Los Angeles Clippers

What we’ve learned: Paul George needs some help on offense.

The Clippers are surely missing Kawhi Leonard, who is out indefinitely with a partially torn ACL. The hope was that George would step up and take the reigns in his absence and the seven-time All-Star has done just that, but he needs some help.

George has been lighting it up, averaging 27.6 points while shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3 but no other player is averaging over 15.0 points per game. He’s scored over 40 points twice, going for 41 against the Grizzlies and 42 against the Trail Blazers, but both efforts have come in losses.

The Clippers have the 26th-ranked offense in the league, posting just 101.5 points per 100 possessions.

Reggie Jackson and Eric Bledsoe are both shooting lower than 30 percent from the field and from 3. Marcus Morris isn’t even averaging 10.0 points per game. Luke Kennard has helped in spurts, but he’s scored 10 points or fewer in three of the team’s five games. LA desperately needs to give George assistance on offense.

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21. Toronto Raptors

What we’ve learned: Scottie Barnes was the right pick.

The Raptors caught some slack when they selected Barnes over Jalen Suggs with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but it already looks like they made the right decision.

Barnes has been the best rookie in his loaded draft class to this point, averaging 18.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per gameMaking electrifying plays on any given night, Barnes has already become a fan favorite in Toronto. His coast-to-coast dunk against the Magic has been his viral moment to showcase his immense potential, going the length of the court in just three dribbles.

The Raptors got a good one in Barnes.

22. Sacramento Kings

What we’ve learned: Harrison Barnes is playing out of his mind.

The Kings have been performing better than anticipated and the veteran forward Barnes could be considered as the reason why.

Barnes is averaging 23.3 points to go with 10.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He’s knocking down 45.5 percent of his 3s, including a game-winning 3-ball to defeat the reigning Western Conference champion Suns at the buzzer.

It has been a remarkable start to the season for the 29-year-old.

23. Cleveland Cavaliers

What we’ve learned: Evan Mobley is everything he was said to be and more.

Mobley is challenging Scottie Barnes’ case for the best rookie so far, doing a little bit of everything for the Cavaliers to start his NBA career.

Averaging 13.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 steals per game, Mobley is getting the job done on both ends of the floor, fitting seamlessly next to Jarrett Allen in the frontcourt, crushing all doubts of how that pairing would work out.

He even earned the praise of Cleveland legend LeBron James, who claimed, “They got a good one. Cleveland got a good one,” after his first time facing the 20-year-old.

24. San Antonio Spurs

What we’ve learned: The Spurs are going to be a pain to see on the schedule.

The Spurs may be in a rebuilding phase but they’re going to give you their best shot on any given night. Just ask the Lakers, who needed overtime to fend off the fiesty young team in San Antonio.

Dejounte Murray has elevated his play now that he has the keys to the offense, recording a triple-double of 21 points, 15 assists and 12 rebounds in that loss to the Lakers.

All four of the Spurs’ losses have been by 10 points or fewer.

25. Indiana Pacers

What we’ve learned: The Pacers need to get to full strength to be truly assessed.

The Pacers are off to a rough start, but what else would you expect from a team that can’t seem to stay healthy?

Caris LeVert still hasn’t played, missing the start of the season due to back pain. The same goes for their former leading scorer TJ Warren, who is still out due to a fracture in his foot. To add to that, Malcolm Brogdon has been in and out of the lineup with a hamstring injury, meaning three of the team’s best players have been absent for the majority of their games to this point.

While All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis is still holding his own, Myles Turner has picked up where he left off prior to his injury last season and rookie Chris Duarte is looking like the steal of the draft, Indiana hasn’t been able to churn out wins with their lengthy injury report.

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26. New Orleans Pelicans

What we’ve learned: The Pelicans are doomed until Zion Williamson returns.

The Pelicans can’t get much of anything going to start the year.

Brandon Ingram is filling it up on offence, averaging 25.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. Jonas Valanciunas has also continued to look like one of the best big men in the league, posting nightly double-doubles with 18.2 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. But New Orleans owns a bottom-10 offense and defense in the league and until superstar forward Zion Williamson returns from offseason foot surgery, it’s hard to see this team making any sort of noise in the West.

27. Oklahoma City Thunder

What we’ve learned: Josh Giddey looks nothing like a rookie.

Giddey earned Rookie of the Year in Australia’s NBL last season and it shows that he has a season of professional hoops under his belt.

The 19-year-old looks as poised as anyone through the first two weeks of the season, putting his elite playmaking ability on display right away. Going for 18 points and 10 assists in an upset win over the Lakers, Giddey made some passes that only some of the best facilitators in the league could make.

The Thunder look wise for taking Giddey ahead of projections with the No. 6 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

28. Houston Rockets

What we’ve learned: Jalen Green is going to take some time to develop.

Green became a popular pick to win Rookie of the Year over Cade Cunningham and others, but the No. 2 overall pick hasn’t consistently boomed to start the season. He’s a prolific scorer, but like most rookies, he’s struggled to do so efficiently.

Games like his 30-point outburst against the Celtics showcased his potential that was often raved about, but he’s also scored fewer than 15 points in every other game he’s played.

Shooting 33.7 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3, it may take some patience for Green to truly get comfortable in the league.

29. Orlando Magic

What we’ve learned: A breakout season is on the way for Cole Anthony.

The assumption was that rookie guard Jalen Suggs would take the keys to Orlando’s offense immediately, but don’t forget about last year’s first-round pick Anthony.

The No. 15 overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft appears to be on his way to a breakout season, averaging 17.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. He had the best game of his young career to hand his hometown Knicks their only loss of the season, going for 29 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists.

It’s fair to be excited about Suggs, but Anthony deserves plenty of attention, too.

30. Detroit Pistons

What we’ve learned: Cade Cunningham makes his NBA debut.

Cunningham played just 19 minutes, mostly in the first half and had his struggles offensively, scoring just two points on 1-for-8 shooting and 0-for-5 from three, adding seven rebounds and two assists.

Playing his first game, coming off an ankle injury was always going to be tough for the No. 1 pick and ahead of the game Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said Cunningham would be on a 20-25 minutes restriction as he manages his way back from the injury.

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