YAMANY

In the spirit of the New Year let’s count them down…

16. The Cleveland Cavaliers

Current Record: 8 – 30

Previous Ranking: 16

The Cavs are pretty bad right now. They have struggled with injuries, chemistry, defense, and just basketball in general. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton has had some good performances, but hasn’t been able to lead the team to many victories. Cleveland have made some recent moves, picking up disgruntled former Golden State Warrior big Patrick McCaw from free agency, trading sharpshooter Kyle Korver for Utah Jazz wing Alec Burks, and trading George Hill to the Milwaukee Bucks for Matthew Dellavedova and the injured John Henson. With J.R. Smith out of the rotation you can expect there to be more roster tweaking as the season moves on.

15. New York Knicks

Current Record: 9 – 29

Previous Ranking: 13

The Knicks are spiraling toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference. With Kristaps Porzingas still a couple months away from thinking about a return, you can expect there to be even more spiraling. The Knicks are built to tank. Their roster is filled with a combination of young, inexperienced players and NBA adjacent talent. They are banking heavily on getting a top draft pick at the end of this season.

14. Washington Wizards

Current Record: 15 – 23

Previous Ranking: 15

The Washington Wizards have been a hot mess for a while now, and things got worse with the news that John Wall would miss the rest of the season with a heel injury. Even before the Wall injury, the Wizards seemed to be moving toward tanking the season, and possibly rebuilding the team, when they traded Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers to the Phoenix Suns for the aging Trevor Ariza and plucky Ron Baker. Rumors have also been swirling that Coach Scott Brooks might not survive the season. All-in-all, the Wizards look like they are ready to jump into the Zion Williamson sweep stakes.

13. Atlanta Hawks

Current Record: 11 – 26

Previous Ranking: 14

The Atlanta Hawks talented, young roster has been playing better of late, but they still lack the experience necessary to drag themselves out of the Eastern Conference basement. The improved play of John Collins and rookie Trae Young do give fans hope that they won’t be basement dwellers for much longer though.

12. Duke Blue Devils

Current Record: 11 – 1

Previous Ranking: 11

Duke continues to rumble through the NCAA. Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett continue to impress. With their talent and coaching, Duke could probably beat the Hawks, Wizards, Knicks, and Cavs.

11. The Chicago Bulls

Current Record: 10 – 28

Previous Ranking: 12

The Bulls are mostly healthy, and that makes a big difference in the kind of team they are. With Lauri Markkanen back spreading the floor on offense, Zach LaVine efficiently scoring points, and Wendell Carter Jr and Kris Dunn anchoring the defense, the Bulls are a completely different team than the one that started the season. The only thing that could derail their improvement would be a coach that is stuck in the basketball stone age. Let’s hope Boyball starts to include fast-break, transition offense, otherwise the Bulls might end up the worst offensive team in the league.

10. Orlando Magic

Current Record: 17 – 20

Previous Ranking: 10

Led by Nikola Vucevic and the shooting of Evan Fournier, the Orlando Magic have been pretty ho-hum this season. With players like Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac, and Terrence Ross, they’re a bit too talented to fully tank, but not talented enough to compete. Orlando will have to make a trade or two to swing the pendulum in one direction or the other.

9. Miami Heat

Current Record: 18 – 18

Previous Ranking: 9

There is nothing sexy about the Miami Heat, but they are capable of beating every team in the league on any given night. They are more dangerous than they appear, and I have a feeling they will be a team that starts to creep up my power rankings before the season is over.

8. Brooklyn Nets

Current Record: 18 – 21

Previous Ranking: 8

Much like the Miami Heat, the Brooklyn Nets keep trucking along. They’ve had some impressive wins, and more than a few close losses. They are a team of overachievers who never back down from an opponent. No one exudes this attitude more than self-made star and possible future Sixth Man Award recipient, Spencer Dinwiddie. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, and the rest of the Nets do too. This team is thirsty.

7. Detroit Pistons

Current Record: 17 – 19

Previous Ranking: 6

The Pistons are slowly sliding out of favor after their hot start to the season. Someone, besides Blake Griffin, is going to have to step up if Detroit doesn’t want to be outside the playoffs looking in.

6. Charlotte Hornets

Current Record: 18 – 19

Previous Ranking: 7

The Hornets are playing .500 basketball, which is great in the East. Kemba Walker is on a mission to get paid this off-season. He has put the Hornets on his back and is willing them into contention. Barring injuries, I’m pretty sure the Hornets are playoff bound.

5. Boston Celtics

Current Record: 22 – 15

Previous Ranking: 3

The Celtics just haven’t lived up to the lofty expectations most of us had for the team at the start of the season, at least not yet. Team chemistry and the injury bug haven’t helped Boston flourish this season. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t meet expectations eventually, it just means they’ve slipped out of my top 3 in the East, for now.

4. Indiana Pacers

Current Record: 25 – 12

Previous Ranking: 5

Victor Oladipo has found his groove again, and the Pacers have followed. The combination of driving offense and stiff defense is making Indiana a nightmare team to face. If they continue at this pace, they might drive the next team out of the top 3.

3. Philadelphia ‘76ers

Current Record: 25 – 14

Previous Ranking: 4

The addition of Jimmy Butler has raised both the expectations and play of the ‘76ers. They ought to make a deep run in the playoffs. Ought to. We’ll see how it all plays out.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

Current Record: 26 – 10

Previous Ranking: 2

It’s the year of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak has been putting up some gaudy, MVP like, numbers this season. With Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, and others, Giannis has lifted the Bucks from barely scratching the playoffs to an elite team in the NBA. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Fear the Deer!

1. Toronto Raptors

Current Record: 28 – 11

Previous Ranking: 1

While it’s the Giannis show in Milwaukee, all of Canada belongs to Kawhi Leonard. Surrounded by one of the best supporting casts in the NBA (Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, et al), Leonard is also making a case for MVP. The Toronto Raptors are a deep, dangerous team, the kind that might just win a championship.