Happy New Year!
It’s the time of the year when we all decide to change our lives, hopefully for the better. We make resolutions to work out more or cut out soda or eat fewer sweets or get a job we’ve been dying to have or start a business we’ve been anticipating creating. It’s a great time to hit the reset button to try and better ourselves.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Zach, are you going to do some hacky thing of a New Year’s resolution for each team as a theme for the Power Rankings this week? Are you going to conform and do that same schtick every website does to start the year?” Yes, yes I am. It’s fun to do! That’s why we all do it! The possibilities are endless. Or the possibilities are four. It’s one of those. So let’s have some fun and offer a resolution for each team for 2023.
Also, since it’s a new year, we’re going to do something a little new with our Power Rankings format. It’ll be more streamlined with quick analysis moving forward as I need more time to watch Nic Cage movies. Either way, enjoy the resolutions, the new format and the rankings we all agree with no matter what our fandom is.
And thanks for subscribing to The Athletic!
Reminder: The Power Rankings don’t just rank the 30 teams. We divide these teams into tiers, which any of the teams can move in and out of. We have the tiers in the Power Rankings broken into six categories:
- Victor Wembanyama Watch — They’re rebuilding and nothing matters more than development and lottery ping-pong balls.
- They don’t have picks to protect but they’re bad — Protect your assets, kids.
- Looking to make the Play-In Tournament — They’ve been rebuilding/retooling and think they can crack the top 10 in their respective conference.
- Play-In Tournament teams Or Better — They should be in the mix unless something disastrous happens.
- On the brink of contention — A piece away from us believing they can win the title.
- Contenders — They are contending for the championship, barring a massive injury.
As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.
Here’s how the Power Rankings work:
- It’s up to my discretion how the rankings shake out. For some teams, they’ll be hit in the short term. Others will be given the benefit for the long term. Yes, it is entirely subjective.
- If I have a team ahead of another team, there’s no reason to ask why they’re ranked above the team you like. The answer is simple: I think that team is set up better for success.
- Yes, I watch the games. And yes, I watch your favorite team.
- This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have fun.
With all that said, let’s dive into Week 12 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings. Stats and records are through Sunday’s games.
Tier 1: The Contenders
1. Boston Celtics (previously first) | 26-11 | +6.5 net rating
New Year’s resolution: Get Jayson Tatum the MVP award. The Celtics can win 60-plus games, secure the top seed and get Tatum his first MVP award and the team’s first MVP award since Larry Bird in 1986.
2. Brooklyn Nets (previously third) | 24-12 | +3.6 net rating
New Year’s resolution: Just keep things simple. The Nets have gone through about as many distractions as possible. When they focus on basketball, they’re one of the best teams in the NBA, and it would be great to see them focused on trying to win a title.
3. Denver Nuggets (previously fourth) | 24-12 | +2.5 net rating
New Year’s resolution: Get Nikola Jokić his third straight MVP award. History and chaos — and chaos in history — are always the best stories and grenades to throw into sports conversations. The Nuggets doing what they can (winning games, helping him get stats) to get Jokić his third straight MVP would deep fry so many social media platforms.
Amick: Nuggets want to win it all for Jokić, and better defense is the only way
4. Memphis Grizzlies (previously fifth) | 23-13 | +4.3 net rating
New Year’s resolution: Keep talking trash. I have no idea if the Grizzlies are going to end up contending for a title this season, but I know the league is in a better place when teams say incendiary things and then are forced to back them up. The Grizzlies are good enough to back up most things they say, and the league is more fun because of it.
5. New Orleans Pelicans (previously eighth) | 23-13 | +4.8 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Pacers, Win over Wolves, Win over Sixers, Loss at Grizzlies
New Year’s resolution: Work Brandon Ingram back into the great thing they have going. We haven’t seen Ingram since around Thanksgiving, and we’ve seen the Pelicans go 12-5 in those games. Working him back in won’t be difficult, but they still need to keep everybody else playing at a high level.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (previously second) | 23-14 | +5.2 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss to Nets, Loss at Pacers, Win at Bulls
New Year’s resolution: Get Donovan Mitchell to an All-NBA team. He’s been an All-Star three times. If his best season comes now after breaking up with Rudy Gobert in Salt Lake City, that’s going to add some hilarious fuel to the fire in that whole storyline — especially if Minnesota doesn’t figure it out after giving up a historic amount of draft compensation.
Six Cavs predictions for 2023: All-Stars, second round of playoffs and more
Tier 2: Brink of Contention
7. Dallas Mavericks (previously 11th) | 21-16 | +2.1 net rating
New Year’s resolution: Get the hell out of Luka Dončić’s way. There are times I wonder if Dallas’ heliocentric offensive system is conducive to consistent postseason success, but he’s put up 228 points in his last five games. Who cares if it’s conducive or not? Luka is putting on arguably the best show in basketball right now. He currently has the 16th-highest scoring average in a season in NBA history. Keep it going.
8. Philadelphia 76ers (previously sixth) | 21-14 | +4.0 net rating
New Year’s resolution: Get Joel Embiid his first MVP award. It’s probably going to take them winning a bunch of games in the second half of the season and Embiid maintaining this level of play. He’s already missed eight games this season, and absences have hurt his case the last two seasons. He’ll need to stay on the court, but he’s wanted this award the last two seasons.
9. Milwaukee Bucks (previously seventh) | 23-13 | +1.7 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Bulls, Win over Wolves, Loss to Wizards
New Year’s resolution: Dominate the next month of the season and set the table for the final stretch run. If the Milwaukee Bucks get fully healthy and start dominating everybody, it’s going to send a lot of teams into a frenzy right before the trade deadline. The Bucks are still a team a lot of franchises fear in the chase to the 2023 title, and flexing some muscles now will put panic into front offices. What’s happened lately can’t be acceptable.
10. LA Clippers (previously 10th) | 21-17 | +0.2 net rating
Weekly slate: Win at Pistons, Win at Raptors, Loss at Celtics, Loss at Pacers
New Year’s resolution: Get Kawhi Leonard and Paul George together as much as possible, especially in the playoffs. That was the plan in 2019, and it just hasn’t worked out yet. It just needs to work for one season. The LA Clippers are plus-10.8 points per 100 possessions in the 335 minutes together. Let’s get that to 3,000 minutes together for the rest of the season. The math doesn’t add up at all, but you get the point.
11. Phoenix Suns (previously ninth) | 20-17 | +3.3 net rating
Weekly slate: Win at Grizzlies, Loss at Wizards, Loss at Raptors
New Year’s resolution: Make sure the body parts of Devin Booker get healthy and stay healthy. As good as this team is and can be, they’re not doing anything significant without their best player being able to lead them. Chris Paul is pruning up before our eyes on the basketball court, and the Phoenix Suns just need Booker at his best to get them back into contention.
Tier 3: Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better
12. Sacramento Kings (previously 13th) | 19-16 | +1.0 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss to Nuggets, Win over Nuggets, Win over Jazz, Loss at Grizzlies
New Year’s resolution: Get De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis to the All-Star Game. Sabonis might be a lot easier since he’s already been there as a Pacers player. Fox cracking that first-time honor might be tougher. The Kings haven’t had multiple All-Stars in a season since Brad Miller and Peja Stojaković in 2004. The Kings are on the right track with winning games, but the West pool is always going to be loaded, so they’ll need to maybe even win at a greater clip than now.
13. Golden State Warriors (previously 21st) | 19-18 | -0.5 net rating
New Year’s resolution: Thrive until Stephen Curry comes back to carry them. This team has found a great balance in Curry’s absence, and they need to keep building that until their MVP is back on the court then use what they learned in this time to complement his impact as they defend the title.
How Donte DiVincenzo is a perfect fit in the Warriors’ two-timeline plan
14. Miami Heat (previously 19th) | 19-18 | -0.8 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Wolves, Win over Lakers, Loss at Nuggets, Win at Jazz
New Year’s resolution: Be the Miami Heat again, which might mean making Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra fight in a huddle. Things looked better this past week, but the schedule also softened for the Heat. They don’t seem to have the same level of execution as last season. It comes in flashes now, and it was just constant last season. The Heat can be a wrench in the Eastern Conference, but not playing like this.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (previously 16th) | 18-17 | +0.1 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Hornets, Loss at Warriors
New Year’s resolution: Get out and run. I think this team is underutilizing its athleticism and younger legs by grinding out games at such a slow pace. Get running and see what Damian Lillard can do with these guys on the move. It might be best for the team, and it’ll be an even more entertaining product on the floor.
16. New York Knicks (previously 14th) | 19-18 | +2.2 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Mavs, Loss at Spurs, Win at Rockets
New Year’s resolution: Fix RJ Barrett’s problems. The wing had a great stretch of basketball before the finger injury. As long as that heals, try to regain that magic. Those nine games before he got injured had him averaging 26.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game with 48.3/46.0/73.3 shooting splits. Maybe he’s not that good, but he’s not as bad as his rocky start.
Tier 4: Looking to make the Play-In Tournament
17. Indiana Pacers (previously 20th) | 20-17 | -0.6 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Pelicans, Win over Hawks, Win over Cavs, Win over Clippers
New Year’s resolution: Fleece somebody for the veterans on the team. Somebody is going to be desperate, and we know the linked talks between the Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Lakers are going to remain active enough until the buzzer on the trade deadline sounds. Go get every draft pick you can from some fledgling team while selling the idea of Myles Turner and Buddy Hield saving their season.
18. Chicago Bulls (previously 18th) | 16-20 | -1.1 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss to Rockets, Win over Bucks, Win over Pistons, Loss to Cavs
New Year’s resolution: Blow it up. This iteration of the Bulls isn’t going to be good enough even if Lonzo Ball comes back at full strength. Maybe the goal doesn’t need to be contention any time soon, but they’ve locked themselves into levels below contending in the East. Protect the pick they owe to Orlando as much as they can and try to restock the cupboard of assets.
19. Washington Wizards (previously 24th) | 17-21 | -0.4 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Sixers, Win over Suns, Win at Magic, Win at Bucks
New Year’s resolution: Keep having weird, interesting games. I called the Wizards a League Pass squad before the season, and my grumpy podcast cohosts scoffed at it. Well, the Wizards have had some of the most bizarre games of the season, and things are almost always interesting. This team has some good talent if it stays healthy. Playing Kristaps Porziņģis and Daniel Gafford together has had tremendous returns. Keep entertaining us.
The Wizards are rolling, but is there an asterisk to their win total?
20. Utah Jazz (previously 12th) | 19-20 | +1.0 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Spurs, Loss at Warriors, Loss at Kings, Loss to Heat
New Year’s resolution: Send the veterans to other teams. I know we’re not supposed to celebrate or promote this, but tank the hell out of the rest of this season. There’s no need to be prideful now. Have pride and show it after you end up with Victor Wembanyama. Don’t let Malik Beasley and Kelly Olynyk drag you out of the true chances of getting the real French big man this organization should covet.
21. Toronto Raptors (Previously 17th) | 15-20 | -0.1 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss to Clippers, Loss to Grizzlies, Win over Suns
New Year’s resolution: For the love of Zan Tabak, please make some shots. It still doesn’t make sense that this level of talent is this bad at making shots this season. And they have a good offensive rating, so imagine if their shots fall. They’ll be lighting everybody up. The Raptors just can’t possibly be this bad at making shots with as healthy and talented as they are.
22. Atlanta Hawks (previously 15th) | 17-19 | -1.2 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Pacers, Loss to Nets, Loss to Lakers
New Year’s resolution: Figure out the leadership problem ASAP. Blame it on Trae Young. Blame it on Nate McMillan. Blame it on Travis Schlenk or the entire front office. There is a problem with leadership from top to bottom in this organization. This team should not be this bad, and a finger has to be pointed at everybody. A lot of people need to take accountability here.
Tier 5: They don’t have picks to protect but they’re bad
23. Los Angeles Lakers (previously 26th) | 15-21 | -1.4 net rating
Weekly slate: Win at Magic, Loss at Heat, Win at Hawks
New Year’s resolution: Just make the Play-In Tournament. The Los Angeles Lakers have known they’re not a good team since the offseason, but getting to the Play-In Tournament — either with a trade or with an unexpected run of health for them — would be a legitimate accomplishment for this group.
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (Previously 22nd) | 16-21 | -1.0 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Heat, Loss at Pelicans, Loss at Bucks, Loss to Pistons
New Year’s resolution: Solve the Rudy Gobert problem. The defense is good with him and bad without him. The offense is bad with him and good without him. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have not been a good fit. The Gobert problem might not even be his fault, but it exists, and they can’t pretend it’s just a matter of finding their footing with him.
Tier 6: Victor Wembanyama Watch
25. Orlando Magic (previously 23rd) | 13-24 | -4.1 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss to Lakers, Loss at Pistons, Loss to Wizards
New Year’s resolution: Figure out the guards of the future. Maybe it’s nobody on this roster. Markelle Fultz has been OK. Cole Anthony has been OK. Jalen Suggs has been out. They need better than OK or just hoping someone is good when they return from injury. This is a good guard away from being a team you throw that double eyes emoji at on the internet.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder (previously 25th) | 15-21 | -1.6 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Spurs, Loss at Hornets, Loss to Sixers
New Year’s resolution: Get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to legitimate All-NBA consideration. I don’t know if they’ll end up winning enough games for him to make one of those six guard spots in a league loaded with ridiculously talented and productive guards. But SGA hasn’t had the games played aspect the past couple of seasons to give him any kind of case for the honor. We know he’s good enough. I just want to see him play all season.
27. San Antonio Spurs (previously 27th) | 12-24 | -8.6 net rating
Weekly slate: Win over Jazz, Loss at Thunder, Win over Knicks, Loss to Mavs
New Year’s resolution: Make sure they end up with a 14.0 percent chance for the top pick. We don’t need to get cute about what the Spurs need to do to get back to their expected level of excellence during their run with Gregg Popovich. You need the willing star to restore that old Spurs standard.
28. Detroit Pistons (previously 30th) | 10-29 | -6.7 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss to Clippers, Win over Magic, Loss at Bulls, Win at Wolves
New Year’s resolution: Get Jaden Ivey into the NBA Rookie of the Year conversation. There’s no way he’s going to win the thing without injury to other leading candidates, but they can get him comfortably into the top three by the season’s end.
‘He’s got a basketball mind’: Pistons rookie Jaden Ivey has coaches believing in his future
29. Houston Rockets (previously 29th) | 10-26 | -6.6 net rating
Weekly slate: Win at Bulls, Loss at Celtics, Loss at Mavs, Loss to Knicks
New Year’s resolution: Get a big second half to the season for rookies Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason. It would be great to see the Houston Rockets develop them in-season to have a big finish to their rookie campaigns. Build confidence for next season.
30. Charlotte Hornets (previously 28th) | 10-27 | -6.9 net rating
Weekly slate: Loss at Blazers, Loss at Warriors, Win over Thunder, Loss to Nets
New Year’s resolution: Get that 14.0 percent chance at the No. 1 pick. Don’t let pride get in the way of trying to pair LaMelo Ball and Wembanyama for the next 15 years. That would bring this franchise permanent relevance.
(Top photo of Kevin Durant: Brett Davis / USA Today)