Every NBA team has played roughly ¼ of its schedule, and there’s only one way to describe the state of the league: Messy.
Whether it’s Houston and Utah sitting in 13th and 14th place in the Western Conference or Memphis having a better record than Boston, these first six weeks have been remarkable. It’s still early, and these things usually have a way of correcting themselves, but for now, we’re just enjoying the ride.
Below are our power rankings at the quarter-pole of the 2018-19 NBA season — voted on by USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt, Martin Rogers and AJ Neuharth-Keusch.
1. Toronto Raptors (18-4) — We expected the Raptors to be near the top of the Eastern Conference, but we didn’t expect this. Fueled by the rise of Pascal Siakam, the addition of Kawhi Leonard and the resurgence of Serge Ibaka, the Raptors are off to the best start in franchise history.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (14-6) — If you haven’t hopped on the Bucks’ hype train yet, it’s time to punch your ticket. The addition of coach Mike Budenholzer has unleashed this team’s full potential, and it couldn’t be more fun to watch. The Bucks are leading the NBA with 14.6 3-pointers made per game — up from 8.8 last season.
3. Golden State Warriors (15-7) — Take all of this early-season drama with a grain of salt, because the Warriors, when healthy and firing on all cylinders, are still the massive favorites to take home the title come June. As uncharacteristic as this early stretch has been, the Warriors are riding a three-game winning streak and expect to have Stephen Curry and Draymond Green back on the floor soon.
4. LA Clippers (13-6) — One of the league’s biggest surprises, the star-less Clippers — led by Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell — have been the best team in the Pacific Division, and maybe even the whole Western Conference.
5. Denver Nuggets (14-7) — The Nuggets have put together three winning streaks of four or more games and appear to have bounced back from their four consecutive losses earlier this month. We know what to expect from their offense, but their defense — ranked third in the NBA — has been a pleasant surprise.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (12-7) — Oklahoma City has won 12 of 15 following an 0-4 start — tied with Toronto for the NBA’s best record during that span. Compared to this point last season, when they limped out of the starting gate and found themselves at 8-12, this group is where it wants to be.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (14-8) — It’s hard to ignore the home-road splits for the Sixers, who are 10-1 in the City of Brotherly Love and 4-7 elsewhere. It’s also hard to ignore how ridiculously talented this team is after bringing in Jimmy Butler. They’re only going to get better.
8. Indiana Pacers (13-8) — The Pacers have won two straight without Victor Oladipo, but all eyes remain on the franchise player, who has been sidelined since Nov. 17 with a knee injury. The Pacers’ supporting cast is enough to keep them afloat, but they’ll only go as far as Oladipo takes them — and that’s not very far if he’s not on the court.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (12-8) — In case last year made you forget how good Mike Conley is, he’s back to remind you. The 31-year-old, who underwent season-ending heel surgery in January, has given new life to these Grizzlies, while rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marc Gasol are playing like one of the league’s best big-man duos.
10. Detroit Pistons (11-7) — They’re not the sexiest team in the league, but they’re good enough to get back into the postseason for the first time since 2016. They’ve won three straight and sit in fifth place in the East standings.
11. Boston Celtics (11-10) — The preseason favorite to make it out of the East, the Celtics have underwhelmed time and time again through their first 21 games. And that’s OK. This is a team that was a win from a trip to the Finals last year — without their two best players. Give it time.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (12-8) — In case you thought that 10-3 start was too good to be true, it was. Portland is 2-5 since and lost back-to-back games to Milwaukee and Golden State by a total of 71 points.
13. Los Angeles Lakers (11-9) — Back-to-back losses to Orlando and Denver have the Lakers in seventh place in the West standings but only 1½ games ahead of the 13th-place Rockets. Behold: The brutal nature of the Western Conference.
14. Houston Rockets (9-10) — After coming oh-so-close to knocking off Golden State in last season’s Western Conference finals, the Rockets are headed in the wrong direction. They rank ninth in the league in offensive rating (110.5 points per 100 possessions) and 26th in defensive rating (111.5) after finishing last season ranked first and seventh, respectively. They won five in a row shortly after putting an end to the Carmelo Anthony experiment, but they’ve since lost three straight.
15. Dallas Mavericks (9-9) — After going a combined 57-107 the past two seasons, the 9-9 start is a step in the right direction for the Mavs, who have won six of their last seven games. They’re not a playoff team, but they’re not bottom feeders, either.
16. Charlotte Hornets (10-10) — Kemba Walker is playing the best basketball of his life, averaging career-highs in points (27.9) and assists (6.5) while leading the NBA with 75 3-pointers made. And the Hornets have little to show for it.
17. New Orleans Pelicans (10-11) — This should come as no surprise, but the Pelicans are 0-4 in the games Anthony Davis has missed due to injury. They’ve also lost four in a row and rank 27th in the league in defensive rating, allowing 112.3 points per 100 possessions.
18. San Antonio Spurs (10-10) — With two decades of dominance in the rearview, could the Spurs’ reign finally be nearing its end? They have the league’s 21st-ranked defense, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions — the franchise’s most since the 1996-97 season.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-11) — The T’wolves have gone 6-2 since the end of the Butler era, and while Andrew Wiggins and the newly-acquired Robert Covington and Dario Saric haven’t been able to buy a bucket, it’s been Karl-Anthony Towns who has thrived since Butler’s departure. The fourth-year big man is posting averages of 22.3 points (on 53.5 percent shooting) and 14.4 rebounds during this stretch.
20. Sacramento Kings (10-10) — We don’t care that this probably won’t last and that the Kings are more than likely bound for the lottery again. They’ve been one of the best stories in basketball, and De’Aaron Fox — who’s one of just five players in the league averaging at least 17 points, seven assists, four rebounds and a steal — is a star in the making.
21. Utah Jazz (9-12) — The Jazz, which entered the campaign with sky-high expectations following last season’s second-half surge and trip to the West semifinals, has been among the league’s most disappointing teams. Utah ranks 24th in the league with a net rating of minus-3.5 and Donovan Mitchell, though battling injuries, hasn’t taken the necessary step forward.
22. Orlando Magic (10-11) — It’s Orlando and Charlotte, not Washington and Miami, battling it out for the top spot in the Southeast Division. We don’t expect that to last too much longer, but the Magic — and Nikola Vucevic, who’s playing like an All-Star — deserve some recognition.
23. Washington Wizards (8-12) — Washington’s disastrous start, both on and off the court, is certainly concerning, but they’ve won six of their last nine games — the most recent of which came in overtime against Houston despite James Harden and Eric Gordon combining for 90 points. Don’t forget: The Wizards started 2-8 two seasons ago and went on to finish with the franchise’s best record in 38 years.
24. Brooklyn Nets (8-13) — They’re hardly a playoff team, and they’ve lost seven of their last nine, but the Nets have an undoubtedly bright future. Caris LeVert was near the top of the Most Improved Player conversation before his injury, Jarrett Allen has star potential and D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie have the makings of a dynamic backcourt duo.
25. Miami Heat (7-13) — Could it be that the Heat need … Dion Waiters? Miami’s offense ranks 26th in the league, and a scoring punch from a guy like Waiters — who remains without a timetable for return after January ankle surgery — could go a long way. It doesn’t help that Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson have missed a combined 12 games, either.
26. New York Knicks (7-15) — The Knicks jumped out to a 17-14 start last season and a 14-10 start the year before. At least there’s no false hope this time.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-15) — The post-LeBron era has, for the most part, been what we expected. But not all is bad in The Land. Rookie Collin Sexton is starting to show why the Cavs took him with the eighth overall pick, second-year forward Cedi Osman looks like he could end up being a steal and the Cavs are near the top of the Zion Williamson-R.J. Barrett-Cam Reddish sweepstakes.
28. Chicago Bulls (5-16) — Zach LaVine has done his part in carrying the offensive load through the first 21 games, but his usage rate, which trails only Harden, isn’t sustainable. The good news? Lauri Markkanen is nearing a return, and Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis shouldn’t be too far behind.
29. Atlanta Hawks (5-16) — The growing pains are sure to continue for Trae Young, who, among players with at least five 3-pointers attempted per game, ranks last in the league with a percentage of 24.8.
30. Phoenix Suns (4-16) — The Suns still have a long way to go, but there’s hope for the future so long as Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and T.J. Warren continue to rise. Dare we say they’re building something special in Phoenix?