The new year is always a good time to take stock of each NBA team. What better way to do it than with some old-fashioned Power Rankings?
We’re not quite at the halfway point of the 2023-24 season, but we’re nearing it. As the calendar turns from 2023 to 2024, each team has played around 30 games. At this point, we have a good sense of where each team stands, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they need to solve their biggest issues.
These Power Rankings are a reflection of where teams are up to this point in the season, not necessarily a projection of where they may land later in the season. In addition to ranking every team in the NBA, we’re keeping things festive by handing out New Year’s resolutions for each team.
Got it? Great. Let’s get to it.
NBA Power Rankings entering 2024
New Year’s Resolution: Figure out how to close the important games.
Statistically, the Celtics have been one of the better clutch teams in the league so far this season, but collapses against the Pacers and Warriors were a reminder that they still have things to figure out down the stretch of games. The offense can become too slow and predictable when it matters most, and they need to put more pressure on teams at the rim.
Those crunch-time issues are the biggest thing holding Boston back from being the overwhelming favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference.
— Scott Rafferty
New Year’s Resolution: Get better offense.
The Wolves’ defense is legit. Rudy Gobert will be in serious contention for his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award at the end of the season. Their offense has been in the middle of the pack, though, which won’t cut it in the playoffs.
There’s a ton of pressure on Anthony Edwards to create out of thin air. He’s good enough to do that, but he needs some more help. They could use some more shooting — they’re in the bottom third of the league in both makes and attempts from deep.
— Steph Noh
New Year’s Resolution: Keep playing the young guys.
The Nuggets know what they have with their starting five. It’s their bench that’s the only real unknown.
Denver is going to be near the top of the Western Conference as long as Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are healthy, so it would benefit in the long run from letting the likes of Christian Braun, Julian Strawther and Peyton Watson play through their mistakes. If one or two of those players really hit, the Nuggets might have no holes.
New Year’s Resolution: Run more Damian Lillard-Giannis Antetokounmpo pick-and-rolls.
The Bucks haven’t run nearly as many Damian Lillard-Giannis Antetokounmpo pick-and-rolls as expected. It’s a shame because they complement each other perfectly in those situations and have looked pretty unstoppable when they have gone to it. Maybe head coach Adrian Griffin is saving it for the playoffs, but it is surprising that it hasn’t been a bigger part of Milwaukee’s playbook to this point.
New Year’s Resolution: Beat some good teams.
As the calendar year closes, Philadelphia is 14-1 against teams below .500 and 7-8 against teams above .500. There are several contributing factors here, but if the Sixers want to be considered real contenders, they’ll have to improve upon that second mark.
Good teams take care of business against bad ones. Great teams rack up signature wins.
— Gilbert McGregor
New Year’s Resolution: Don’t settle for being good.
The Thunder are further along than expected. Not that the Western Conference is wide open, but a smart trade could set them up for a deep run. (More size would be ideal to better matchup with the Nuggets and Timberwolves.) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is that good of a No. 1 option and the pieces around him, from Chet Holmgren to Jalen Williams, complement him perfectly.
New Year’s Resolution: Keep this version of James Harden.
The Clippers struggled immediately after the James Harden trade, but both sides have since found their stride. Other than health, which will forever be a concern as long as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are on the team, the biggest question for them is whether or not Harden will be happy playing this style all season long. If he is, they might have something. If he isn’t, well, this experiment could crash and burn.
New Year’s Resolution: Thank the basketball gods every day for Jamie Jaquez Jr.
The Heat drafting Jaquez with the No. 18 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft seemed like a smart pick at the time. Now, it’s looking like an absolute steal.
Jacquez has been the third-best rookie so far this season, trailing only Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama. The 22-year-old hitting the ground running and not needing plays called for him has helped the Heat fill in some important gaps after losing Max Strus and Gabe Vincent in the offseason.
New Year’s Resolution: Help Grant Williams rediscover his mojo.
Williams was one of the team’s better players to start the season, hitting 43.0 percent of his 3s through October and November. That figure plummeted to 29.4 percent in December. He’s also looked much less effective on defense.
His downward turn coincides with the Mavs’ overall regression. After starting the season near the top of the standings, they’re playing .500 ball in December. Williams faced the same issues with inconsistent play in Boston, so this may simply be who he is. But the team badly needs the 3-and-D presence he was providing earlier on to help maximize Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.
New Year’s Resolution: Get Kevin Huerter back on track.
Huerter was Sacramento’s best 3-point shooter last season. This season, he’s shooting a career-worst 35.2 percent from distance and ranks behind De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Keegan Murray in makes. If Huerter can’t get back on track, the Kings might need to search for an upgrade via trade.
New Year’s Resolution: Find a more consistent rotation.
The Pelicans have been one of the most unlucky teams in the league when it comes to injuries. Head coach Willie Green’s job has not been easy. They also have a ton of good players on their roster that deserve minutes.
The patchwork lineups have led to a wildly inconsistent product. Some of their players also don’t fit particularly well together. Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Herb Jones don’t provide great spacing in the starting lineup. And one of the team’s best shooters, promising rookie Jordan Hawkins, hasn’t been able to find playing time.
That’s a lot to juggle.
New Year’s Resolution: Find a way to live without Mitchell Robinson.
Robinson has been a huge component of the Knicks’ success. His rim protection was otherworldly this season and he would have been in line for serious All-Defensive team consideration. That all came crashing to a halt when it was reported that he’ll miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his ankle.
The Knicks have a good backup center in Isaiah Hartenstein. Young player Jericho Sims has some bounce. Veteran Taj Gibson will set good screens and execute Tom Thibodeau’s defensive coverage. Even so, those three aren’t quite dynamic enough to compete with the better teams and a trade may be in the pipeline.
New Year’s Resolution: Find some shooting.
The Magic remain a very good defensive team that struggles to manufacture points. Their biggest problem has been 3-point shooting, as they rank 29th in 3-point attempts per game and 28th in 3-point percentage. Franz Wagner regaining his shooting touch would help, but Orlando needs more to open up the floor for him and Paolo Banchero.
New Year’s Resolution: Figure out how to get the most out of their guard rotation.
The Cavs are in the middle of a good problem to have — they have too much guard talent.
Donovan Mitchell is obviously a terrific player that needs to play a lot. Darius Garland is in the same boat. But those two haven’t played quite as well together as one would hope.
Making things even more complicated has been the emergence of undrafted rookie Craig Porter Jr., who has been outstanding in the minutes where he’s been given the reins of the offense. He already has a veteran feel of how to operate in pick-and-rolls, where he has been one of the most efficient scorers in the league.
Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff hasn’t been able to make those parts fit well together. It hasn’t helped that the Cavs have been besieged by injuries to Garland and Evan Mobley. Finding a way to get the most out of those three guards will be the key to their season.
New Year’s Resolution: Learn how to win on the road.
The Rockets have been dynamite at home. On the road, not so much. It wasn’t until the first week of December that they picked up their first victory outside of Houston. They’re currently an impressive 12-4 at the Toyota Center compared to a miserable 3-10 away.
Figuring out how to win some road games is the next step toward the Rockets making some noise in the Western Conference.
New Year’s Resolution: Don’t run LeBron James to the ground.
Somehow, someway, LeBron James is still playing at an All-NBA level in Year 20. That’s the good news for the Lakers. The bad news is they’re hovering around .500 despite LeBron’s best efforts and they turn into the worst offense in the NBA whenever he takes a seat on the bench.
If Los Angeles is going to compete this season, it’s going to have to strike the right balance of getting the most out of James without burning him out.
New Year’s Resolution: Get Draymond Green on the floor.
Green is indefinitely suspended, and the Warriors aren’t doing anything serious without him. Despite all of his antics, he’s still one of the best defenders in the league.
The Warriors have gotten huge contributions from their young players. Chris Paul has turned the bench from a liability into a strength, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins have started playing a little better, and Stephen Curry is still a superstar. The last piece for them is to get Green to stop self-destructing in games.
New Year’s Resolution: Buy bubble wrap. Lots of it.
Devin Booker, Bradley Beal and Kevin Durant have played 24 minutes together. 24! Booker and Durant have both missed some time, but it’s Beal who can’t catch a break. He was dealing with a back issue to start the season and he’s now out with an ankle injury. The numbers with the three of them on the court are great, but you probably don’t need me to tell you that 24 minutes is far too small of a sample size to draw anything conclusive from.
New Year’s Resolution: Become simply bad on defense.
The Pacers have the best offense in NBA history. They are also a hair away from becoming the worst defense in NBA history.
As Pacers writer Caitlin Cooper likes to say, this group doesn’t need to be great on defense. They don’t even need to be average. If they could be regular bad, then that would be enough to make them a dangerous playoff out.
As great as Tyrese Haliburton has been on offense, he has been targeted repeatedly at the end of games. The Pacers need to find better ways of protecting him, and he has to become better at executing those strategies.
New Year’s Resolution: Fix the starting lineup.
The Nets’ starting lineup of Spencer Dinwiddie, Cam Thomas, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Nic Claxton hasn’t been very good. Head coach Jacque Vaughn has bemoaned their inability to guard efficiently and hinted at changes coming. Ben Simmons’ absence from the lineup complicates matters, but Thomas hasn’t been good enough and might fit better as a microwave scorer off the bench.
New Year’s Resolution: Find a Zach LaVine trade.
The Bulls have been on fire since LaVine went out of the lineup. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a team that started 5-14 with him.
It’s too reductive to lay all of the blame for Chicago’s early struggles on LaVine, but they shouldn’t want to mess with whatever they’ve found without him. The vibes are great and they’re sharing the ball like they hadn’t before. The market is tepid, but they will have more options available to them on Jan. 15 when players like Rui Hachimura are eligible to be traded.
New Year’s Resolution: Play defense.
Head coach Quin Snyder has marginally improved the Hawks’ offense this season. They play very fast and score at a top-five rate. But their defense remains putrid. Their inability to get a stop has left them fighting for a Play-In spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks shouldn’t be this bad on defense. Trae Young has always been a huge issue, but he’s trying slightly harder this season. Their big men, Onyeka Okongwu and Clint Capela, are both good defenders. And Dejounte Murray has made an All-Defensive team in the past.
Some of their issues are related to effort. They’re a terrible rebounding team, and they are also bad at transition defense. Gang rebounding and fighting to get back could go a long way toward solving their problems.
New Year’s Resolution: Don’t look back.
Since Ja Morant’s return, Memphis has looked like a team capable of making a run to be a Play-In contender at the very least. The key to completing an improbable season comeback is to not look back at what went wrong over the first 25 games but instead, focus on what lies ahead.
It’s not going to be easy but the Grizzlies have done a good job of it so far — they can’t afford anything other than a minor slip-up over the final four months of the year.
New Year’s Resolution: Focus solely on the future.
Scottie Barnes has made the leap in his third NBA season. Despite Toronto’s lack of team success, Barnes has built a legitimate All-Star case, proving he can be a franchise cornerstone for years to come. Now, it’s time to act like it by building for the future — play your young guys, trade the players on expiring deals and retain your top-six protected pick in 2024.
Every decision from here on out should be made with Barnes in mind.
New Year’s Resolution: Be a major seller before it’s too late.
It’s no secret that Utah is rebuilding. After exceeding expectations in 2022-23, the Jazz have regressed some but still have bright spots, namely Lauri Markkanen. Interest in Utah’s older contributors is at its highest right now. Make trades to bring back young talent and assets before other teams’ interest wanes.
26. Trail Blazers
New Year’s Resolution: Get Scoot Henderson back into the starting lineup.
So he wasn’t ready to be a starter from the get-go. Who cares? Henderson has taken some time to come into his own but the progress is becoming tangible.
Portland shouldn’t rush to get Henderson back in its starting unit, but seeing that the franchise’s keys will one day be handed to him, the chief focus for this calendar year is to get the third-overall pick up to speed to where he’s ready to make an impact as a starter, even if it’s for the final month of the season.
New Year’s Resolution: Make everything about LaMelo Ball.
As constructed, this Hornets team can only be successful when LaMelo Ball is healthy and on the floor. Such is the case for most teams concerning their franchise player but that doesn’t mean this roster isn’t flawed. While Charlotte’s got a few valuable young pieces, it needs to get younger and have better contingency plans in place for minutes — and games — when Ball isn’t on the floor.
New Year’s Resolution: Develop Bilal Coulibaly.
There haven’t been a ton of bright spots for the Wizards, but drafting Coulibaly with the seventh pick in the 2023 draft, a daring selection at the time, looks like it may have been a shrewd decision.
Coulibaly had great defensive tools, but there were concerns about his shooting. That has surprisingly been one of his strengths thus far. He was one of the more raw prospects in his class, so he will need plenty of time on the floor to keep on refining his game.
New Year’s Resolution: Play Tre Jones more with Wemby.
San Antonio recently moved Victor Wembanyama to center, but instead of bumping Tre Jones into the starting lineup, Gregg Popovich went with Malaki Branham. There’s no pressure on the Spurs to win now, but they’ve actually been competitive in the minutes Wembanyama has played with Jones, the only traditional point guard on the roster.
For Wembanyama’s sake, the Spurs need to play Jones more. There are only so many more clips I can watch of his teammates not giving him the ball when he’s wide open.
New Year’s Resolution: Get a win.
It’s been too long. Two months, to be exact. This can’t go on much longer … can it?
Source : ESPN.com