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One week into the NBA season and 23 teams have already taken their first L (or three of them in the case of the Thunder and Pelicans). The best teams aren’t necessarily the seven remaining unbeaten teams but there are some legitimate contenders mixed in with the flukes. Here’s how I’d rank the seven teams NBA who have yet to lose.
7. Washington Wizards, 2-0, plus-8.1 Net Rating
All due respect to the Washington Wizards, but I don’t think this pace is going to hold up. They smashed the Raptors on Opening Night and escaped with a one-point win over the Indiana Pacers for their second victory. Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyle Kuzma have been great and they picked up two wins with Bradley Beal missing one game and struggling in the other. But everything still feels fragile. There’s a reason 538 gave this roster just a 34 percent chance of making the playoffs before the season started and I would expect some regression to the mean to be coming, especially when their next five games are at Brooklyn, at Boston, home against the Hawks, home against Boston and then at the Hawks.
6. Minnesota Timberwolves, 2-0, plus-11.3 Net Rating
This is a legitimately great start for the Timberwolves, even if their two wins are against the Rockets and Pelicans. For a team that has struggled so much over the past few years, even a two-game stretch of competence feels inspiring. Anthony Edward has been terrific, averaging 24.0 points per game and hitting 9-of-20 from beyond the arc so far. Karl-Anthony Towns has also been playing with some pep in his step and the Timberwolves have outscored opponents by an average of 11.8 points per 100 possessions with Edwards, Towns and D’Angelo Russell on the court together.
However, both their point differentials have been built on the back of an offense that ranks just 23rd in scoring efficiency and a defense that has been the best in the league by a decent margin. The fact that the offense has been meh, overall, with Towns and Edwards both playing so well, speaks to a lack of offensive depth. And the defensive efficiency doesn’t feel like something that’s going to continue to hold up. The Timberwolves are almost certainly better than they have been, but they’re probably not as good as the stats from their first two games would imply.
5. Chicago Bulls, 3-0, plus-11.6 Net Rating
Yes, the Bulls appear to be cooking, with three straight wins, two of which came by double-digit margins. But two of those wins came over the Pistons and the third was over the Pelicans who are without Zion Williamson. Every one of their big offseason additions has played well and the synergy between the top of the rotation is evolving in a positive direction. Zach LaVine, in particular, has been spectacular, averaging 26.7 points per game on a 65.5 true shooting percentage. The lingering concern is that they’re a team whose rotation gets remarkably thin after the top six. They look more and more like a team that should be firmly in the playoff picture and avoiding the play-in shenanigans. But I think their ceiling is considerably lower than these other four undefeated teams.
4. Charlotte Hornets, 3-0, plus-9.6 Net Rating
The Hornets are for real. They’re not going to be on top of the Eastern Conference at the end of the season but what we’ve seen from them thus far is not a fluke. Their offense is electric, their dribble penetration is relentless and they have so many different ways to attack. I mean, LaMelo Ball has been sensational and he’s not even leading the team in scoring (that’s Miles Bridges at 25.0 points per game) or assists (he and Gordon Hayward are both at 6.0 per game). They’ve only had Terry Rozier in the lineup for one game because of an ankle injury and they’ve already notched wins over the Nets and the Pacers, another likely playoff team. Their three offseason additions — Kelly Oubre Jr., Mason Plumee and Ish Smith — have all been perfect fits and it seems like they’re only going to better as they get more time to build a rhythm. The Hornets might finish below the Bulls in the final standings but right now, I think they’re more fun to watch and a team with a higher ceiling.
3. Denver Nuggets, 2-0, plus-8.4 Net Rating
The Nuggets’ two wins, over the Suns and Spurs, won’t do much to change preseason expectations but the Nuggets are firmly a fringe contender with the potential to jump a level if Jamal Murray is able to return and contribute later in the season. They’ve won with great contributions from Will Barton and Nikola Jokic but have yet to see the full potential of Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. as complementary threats. Jeff Green may even be an improvement on what Paul Millsap gave them last year because of his superior shooting and P.J. Dozier, Monte Morris and Austin Rivers give them solid depth in the backcourt. This is a very good team that has a very good chance to finish in the top four in the Western Conference.
2. Golden State Warriors, 3-0, plus-7.3 Net Rating
The Warriors have already picked up wins over the Lakers, Clippers and much improved Sacramento Kings, despite mediocre (by his standards) shooting from Stephen Curry and Jordan Poole. Andrew Wiggins has been terrific and even though the rest of the supporting cast has been uneven, you can see the outlines of devastating rotational complements in Nemanja Bjelica, Andre Iguodala and Otto Porter. When Klay Thompson returns, even if he’s at something less than 100 percent effectiveness, his skill set will shift everyone else down a notch in offensive primacy and make things easier on everyone. Several other Western Conference contenders have gotten off to shaky starts and the Warriors seem primed to take advantage.
1. Utah Jazz, 2-0, plus-14.6 Net Rating
The Jazz are going to be a regular-season juggernaut again. Their two wins were over the Kings and Thunder but Rudy Gobert is still Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell is still Donovan Mitchell and the rest of the roster is still loaded with the complementary shooters and creators that make this team hum. Hassan Whiteside and Eric Paschall look like nice deep-bench additions and when Rudy Gay is finally healthy his swing-forward skill set gives the team a two-way weapon they didn’t really have last season.
There’s no reason to think the Jazz won’t be in contention for the best record in the league this season and a frontrunner in the Western Conference. Their eyes are on a title but past playoff failures will also give them incentive and chip on the shoulder to chase a little extra, momentum-building dominance in the regular season.
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