The Whiteboard: Power ranking the NBA’s most surprising teams

Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, The Whiteboard

Products You May Like

The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.

Last week, just before a short holiday hiatus, we took a traditional approach to power rankings, focusing on the best teams in the league. Today, we’re going to put a twist on things, looking at which teams are on pace to blow past their preseason over/unders the fastest. This creates some overlap with the best teams in the league but also captures a few more teams projected to be in the middle of the pack but looking like strong playoff contenders.

Which NBA teams have outperformed preseason expectations by the biggest margins?

5. Charlotte Hornets: 13-9, +3 wins ahead of over/under pace

The Hornets hit a rough patch at the beginning of November, losing five in a row after a 5-2 start to the season. But they’ve bounced back from that losing streak by winning eight of their last 10 games, including a pair of wins over the Wizards and wins over the Knicks and Warriors. They’re currently holding the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference and looking like a decent bet to hold onto a playoff spot. Their point differential is just slightly positive (plus-0.9 points per 100 possessions) but staying above .500 through the first quarter of the season puts them in good position to blow past a preseason over/under of just 38.5.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers: 10-10, +4 wins ahead of over/under pace

Vegas did not care for the Cavaliers’ offseason roster moves and their preseason over/under of 24.5 was the third-lowest in the league, ahead of only the Magic and Pistons. If that number was a completely accurate prediction of their performance level we’d expect them to be 6-14 after 20 games, instead of hovering at .500. It’s even more incredible that they’ve been able to play this well with Collin Sexton going down for the season after just 11 games and the rest of their young core — Darius Garland, Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Isaac Okoro — missing a combined 25 games already. Mobley has been a revelation when he’s been on the court and Ricky Rubio has been absolutely invaluable. They’ll need some luck and health to stay where they are in the standings but they’re already almost halfway to that preseason over/under mark with 62 games still to play.

3. Phoenix Suns: 17-3, +4 wins ahead of over/under pace

At 51.5, the Phoenix Suns had one of the highest preseason over/under marks but they’ve blown past even that pace, thanks to a 16-game win streak that’s threatening to push into historic territory. The Suns’ current win percentage of .850 would translate to 69.7 wins across an 82-game season and staying hot could turn this into one of the best regular seasons in NBA history. They have two games this week (a home-and-home series) against the Golden State Warriors, the only team in the entire league that has been better or more surprising so far this season. But even a split in those two games would keep both teams on a remarkable trajectory.

2. Washington Wizards: 13-7, +5 wins ahead of over/under pace

The Wizards are another team that started hot and has faded back into the pack over the past two weeks. At one point their record was 10-3 and they held the best record in the Eastern Conference. Since then, they’ve lost four of seven games and dropped back to the No. 3 seed. Still, this is a team that Vegas pegged as one of the worst in the Eastern Conference with a 33.5 preseason over/under and 538’s prediction model gave them just a 34 percent chance of making the playoffs before the season began. That number has since climbed to 50 percent and could climb higher even if they’re just playing .500 basketball over the next few weeks.

1. Golden State Warriors: 18-2, 6 wins ahead of over/under pace

I thought the Warriors would be better this season and picking them to beat their preseason over/under 48.5 seemed like a pretty safe bet to me. But I didn’t think they’d look like the best team in the league and potentially one of the greatest regular-season teams ever. Only four teams in NBA history have won more than 18 of their first 20 games — one of which was the 2015-16 Warriors who started the season by winning 24 in a row and finished at 73-9, the best regular-season record ever. And the Warriors’ current SRS (strength-of-schedule adjusted point differential) isn’t just better than all four of those teams, including the 73-9 Warriors, it’s the best mark in NBA history. This team isn’t just beating everyone, they’re absolutely steamrolling people — outscoring opponents by an average of 13.1 points per 100 possessions. Obviously, the two games against the Suns this week will say a lot about whether the Warriors really are that far in front of the rest of the league. But through 20 games they’ve been … light years ahead.


Things are going so well for the Warriors now, Steph Curry is feeling empowered to give the refs his own technical fouls.

If you’re a Nets fan wondering why it took them so long to give Cam Thomas some more minutes, you’re not alone.

The Bulls lost one of their best defenders for the season in second-year forward Patrick Williams. They haven’t missed a beat.

If you’re not subscribed to Katie Heindl’s Basketball Feelings newsletter, this is an excellent example of everything you’re missing.

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Sources: Bucks’ Middleton to return on Friday
The Whiteboard: 3 NBA trade ideas worth arguing about
LeBron: Why no questions about Jerry Jones pic?
5 moves the Los Angeles Lakers can make to turn season around
Sources: Calf strain to sideline KAT for 4-6 weeks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *