NBA Power Rankings can be a funny thing. There are many ways to approach the exercise, but most subjective rankings converge to reflect consensus opinions and reinforce notions established before the season ever even started. It's no secret that the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and San Antonio Spurs are very good teams. By the same token, everyone knows the Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets are not going to do any damage (at least to other teams) in the 2012 NBA season. While basketball truisms are reasserted on the margins of power rankings, the middle is often muddled by a lack of clear standards. If Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and the New York Knicks drop three games in a week, do they ever really move down according to their recent performance? Is recent performance even the standard that is most commonly used to determine the order? Who knows. Here is something a bit different from the cookie-cutter rankings you might be used to by now.
76ers Dominant: The Philadelphia 76ers are playing the best basketball in the NBA at the moment, and it isn't even close. With a stunning efficiency differential of +17.5 points per 100 possessions, the 76ers (9-3) are a certified buzz-saw. They even beat out Tom Thibodeau and the Chicago Bulls as the best defense in the NBA. How head coach Doug Collins has managed to produce an elite defensive unit with Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes in the starting frontcourt is beyond me. Apparently Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala are earning their reputations on the defensive end so far this season.
Pace Isn't Telling Us Much: Of the top 10 NBA teams in terms of offense of efficiency, 6/10 play at a pace below the league average. The Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns (Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?) all play slower than the average team, but still manage to produce offense better than most of the NBA. In contrast, the New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks (sigh), Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards all play faster than most teams, but also toil away among the bottom 10 in terms of offensive efficiency.
High Assist Rate and TS% Fit With Good Teams: Generally speaking, when a team shoots with good efficiency, the assist rate will follow. Certainly better ball movement and more talent to strain defensive rotations fit in with the correlation between the two stats, but it stands to reason that fairly routine passing simply looks better when the shots go in.
A Truism Under Fire? The default reaction to poor offense and scoring droughts by most fans and analysts is to demand a shift away from jump shots to focus on attacking the rim. Jump shots are certainly embedded in NBA basketball, and basketball at any level, so at times the criticism seems to ignore the reality that every team takes a bunch of jump shots. In other words, if you don't like jump shots you might as well turn off basketball altogether. It's a fact of the game. Just looking at the NBA averages across the league, it comes as no surprise that 57 percent of shots come from 10ft and beyond. What does surprise me is that even for the top teams in offensive efficiency, there are a wide variety of shot distributions used to accomplish good NBA offense. In fact, two of the top three teams in offensive efficiency actually attempt less than the league average percent of shots at the rim (76ers and Thunder). These idiosyncrasies derive from a diverse collection of talent on each team, but the early numbers do point out some interesting trends that might make you think twice about blankly calling for your favorite team to attack the rim more often on a nightly basis.
So there it is, the first of many make-your-own NBA Power Rankings this season. Look over the numbers, let it all sink in and then please take the time to share some of your thoughts and observations in the comment section.