1. Philadelphia 76ers (3-0)
Much as expected in the preseason, the 76ers have started off looking like the cream of the crop in the East.
They were fantastic to open up against the Celtics in Boston, accounted for the Pistons (in the absence of Joel Embiid) on Saturday and then scraped past the plucky Hawks in Atlanta on Monday.
Josh Richardson and Al Horford have both slotted in seamlessly, while Matisse Thybulle already may have a claim to be one of the better perimeter defenders in the league.
Until further notice, the 76ers are the best team in basketball.
2. L.A. Clippers (2-1)
Yes, the Clippers may have slipped up against the Suns to find themselves ending the week with a 2-1 record, but they’re clearly the most talented overall team in the West, and arguably the entire league.
Led by Kawhi Leonard, L.A. smacked the Lakers on opening night and followed it up with a murder of the Warriors in their brand new arena. The loss to the Suns is a blip on the radar, but don’t forget this team still has Paul George – with a point to prove – yet to come back.
3. Denver Nuggets (2-0)
They’re no longer the league’s feel-good underdog; this Nuggets team is a legitimate, expected, polished contender. They took care of business against the arch-nemesis Trail Blazers to open the season, and then survived the impressive Suns in OT.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have a claim to be the best-fitting duo in the league, and ‘additions’ Michael Porter Jr. and Jerami Grant have both fitted in seamlessly.
It would not be a surprise to see the Nuggets lead the West at the end of the regular season.
4. Milwaukee Bucks (2-1)
The Bucks entered this season rightly installed as the Eastern Conference favourites, but after one week we’ve just started to see some cracks appear.
A tough win on the road in Houston was a great way to start the season, but the home loss to Miami which followed was not a good sign. Giannis Antetokounmpo has fouled out in both games, which is far from ideal – particularly in the absence of Malcolm Brogdon – when Khris Middleton is the guy being relied on to shoulder the load.
Still, the Bucks are 2-1 after beating the Cavs, and at this stage have to still be considered the favourite to meet Philadelphia in the Eastern Finals.
5. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-0)
Hands up if you had the T-Wolves cracking the top five teams after a week. Anyone?
We certainly didn’t, and it’s largely thanks to Karl Anthony-Towns, who’s averaging 32 points, 13.3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks per game to start the year. Even Andrew Wiggins took over down the stretch in their clutch win against the Heat.
We’re not certain this level of play is sustainable, but it’s certainly fun while it lasts.
6. Houston Rockets (2-1)
The Rockets split their first two games, before a big win against the Thunder in Russell Westbrook’s revenge game leaves them with a 2-1 record.
Any concerns about the fit between Westbrook and Harden have been allayed, even if Harden’s level of play hasn’t quite lived up to his usual lofty standards (making just 3 of 26 from three in the first two games).
In many ways though, that’s a positive. If Harden can return to something resembling his form of the last couple of years, this team has all the tools to contend in the West.
7. L.A. Lakers (2-1)
The opening night loss to the Clippers was bad – and it was a little bit concerning seeing the likes of Troy Daniels, Jared Dudley and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope playing significant minutes – but the Lakers have bounced back nicely.
They handled the Jazz in a defensive slug-fest, and then took care of business against the Hornets at home on Sunday night. LeBron James and Anthony Davis look every bit as potent as advertised, but they’re going to need some more help from the bench.
This team feels like it’s one quality addition short of championship contention. Could Andre Iguodala be the missing piece?
8. San Antonio Spurs (3-0)
Until tonight’s hard-fought win over the Trail Blazers, we would’ve had the Spurs much lower, but at 3-0 they’re hard to ignore.
Prior to the Portland victory, the two teams the Spurs had beaten were the Wizards and Knicks – two teams you won’t be seeing for a while in these rankings – and they looked wholly unconvincing in both.
Dejounte Murray has been great to start the year, but it remains to be seen whether their mid-range heavy game-style still fits the modern NBA.
9. Utah Jazz (2-1)
One thing we know about the Jazz is that their defense will be strong, but the question marks remain around the offense.
Mike Conley, for one, could hardly have had a worse start to his Jazz career, going four for 27 in his first two games, although he did start to look a bit better in a Saturday night blow-out of the Kings.
No such problems for Donovan Mitchell, who’s averaging 23.7 points per game over the first week.
10. Atlanta Hawks (2-1)
Along with the T-Wolves, the Hawks may just be the biggest surprise of the young season.
They’ve looked brilliant over the first three games of the year, beating the Pistons and Magic before just falling short against the No. 1 ranked 76ers in a thriller.
Trae Young may have missed out on the Rookie of the Year award last year, but he’s every chance to win the scoring title and a number of other awards along the way this year. The sophomore has been outstanding over the opening week, and was rightly awarded the Eastern Conference’s Player of the Week.
If the Hawks can sort out their notoriously-porous defense, they’re a sneaky playoff chance in a wide-open East.
Unlucky to Miss:
Boston Celtics (2-1)
Tough loss against the 76ers to start, but backed up with two good wins over the defending champion Raptors and the Knicks.
Toronto Raptors (3-1)
Only loss so far is to the Celtics, but they’ve really beaten nobody so far (wins against the Pelicans, Bulls and Magic). Pascal Siakam needs to play at an All-NBA level if this team is to go do anything significant.
Portland Trail Blazers (2-2)
Tough losses to the Nuggets and Spurs split by a huge win against the Kings and a clutch win against the Mavericks. Zach Collins is a big loss.
Dallas Mavericks (2-1)
Should be 3-0 if it wasn’t for an overturned foul late against the Blazers. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are quickly becoming the most fearsome duo in the league.
Miami Heat (2-1)
Not impressive against the Grizzlies to start the year, but a win on the road against the Bucks certainly was. Still have Jimmy Butler to come back in.
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Image by: Kevin Burkett