We are now a quarter of the way through the 2021-22 NBA season and with that we now have a large enough sample size to start forming real opinions about all 30 teams. But the big question everyone is asking is what teams have started to separate themselves from the rest of the league?

Well, I have compiled a list of who I believe are the Top-5 teams in the league thus far. This list considers things like total body of work, individual talent and some projection ahead based on the team’s makeup.

With that being said, here is my NBA Power Rankings 1.0.

1. Phoenix Suns

Sitting atop the Western Conference at 19-3, the Phoenix Suns are riding high on a franchise-record 18-game winning streak and look unstoppable. They did not lose a single game in the month of November while taking down teams like the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, and the Atlanta Hawks.

One thing worth noting about Phoenix is they will be without Devin Booker for a few games due to a hamstring injury suffered in the Warriors game.

But Phoenix has the luxury of being able to rely on 36-year-old All-Star point guard Chris Paul to orchestrate on the floor. He is also surrounded by a core that includes Mikal Bridges and De’Andre Ayton, so they have the talent to survive for a few games.

Then if we want to talk about depth, they have seven guys averaging double-digit points and three guys shooting 38% from three or better from three. This group of guys includes Cameron Payne who has resurged his NBA career in Phoenix as the lead guard off the bench.

Not to mention the front court production from Frank Kaminsky and JaVale McGee. Both big are averaging 10 points apiece and 11.6 rebounds a game between the two of them which has been crucial considering the absence of Dario Saric who is out for the season.

Nonetheless, after a rough 1-4 start to the season, the Suns have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA and are showing off why they are the reigning Western Conference champs.

2. Golden State Warriors

For most people the Golden State Warriors have been considered as the best team in the NBA for the last few weeks and for good reason.

First off they have arguably the leading candidate for MVP in Stephen Curry who seems to be entering a second prime at age 33.

Then there’s the fact that they have the best scoring defense and defensive rating in the league spearheaded by guys like former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green and former G-League standout Gary Payton II.

To top it all off, they have two reliable scoring threats next to Curry in Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins who are giving the Dubs 18 points a game apiece.

But, what acts as the tiebreaker between Golden State and Phoenix for the top spot is how their most recent matchup ended. With Bridges acting as the primary defender, Curry only scored 12 points on 4-of-21 shooting leaving Jordan Poole to shoulder the load with a game-high 28 points to help keep the game close.

All that to say that both the Warriors and the Suns are pretty even on the scale but what tips the balance in favor of Phoenix is that they probably have the best personnel in the league to contain the offensive firepower of Golden State.

Now of course this could change with the addition of Klay Thompson who is closing in on a return as he is currently finalizing his recovery process by working with the Golden State’s G-league affiliate team, the Santa Cruz Warriors.

As a team that entered the season not even favored to make it out of the West by most, things are surely swinging in the Warriors favor as now the whole league is on notice. Other contenders beware because we have not even seen the best of the 2021-22 Golden State Warriors.

3. Brooklyn Nets

After once being viewed as the prohibited favorites to win the championship, the hyperbolic hype surrounding the Brooklyn Nets has died down a bit with the absence of Kyrie Irving. But the loss of the All-Star guard has not stopped the Nets from sitting atop the Eastern Conference.

This has a lot to do primarily with the play of Kevin Durant. Picking up where he left off in last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals, Durant has been putting on an offensive clinic and sits behind Stephen Curry on most people’s early season MVP ballots.

Durant currently leads the league in scoring with 28.6 points on 53.9% shooting from the floor and 38.9% shooting from three on nearly five threes a game. But we all know that Durant is an elite scorer. What has really stood out is the development as a more well-rounded player on both ends.

Along with his points, he is averaging 7.5 rebounds, 5.6 assists and nearly a block and a steal a game. As a guy with his offensive skill set, the last thing the league needed is for him to develop a bigger backbone on the defensive end.

Alongside Durant, James Harden has started to come into his own after entering the season still struggling with the hamstring injury suffered in the Milwaukee Bucks series. Although most would consider this a down year for Harden, he has actually still been pretty solid this season.

He is averaging 21 points a game (lowest since 2011-12) along with 9.3 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game. Some credit the down season to the free throw rule changes, which may be a fair argument. He is averaging only seven free throw attempts a game this season which would be great for most guards, but for Harden this is the lowest since 2011-12 as well.

Now as bad as all this might sound, like I said he has started to heat up as of late.

In the month of October, Harden did not have a single 30-point game, no double-doubles and only had one triple-double. But in November, Harden has had three 30-point games including most recently 34 points in a win over the New York Knicks and a season-high 39 points against the New Orleans Pelicans. In terms of crazy stat lines, in 13 November games Harden has had at least a double-double in all but two games and finished three games with triple-doubles.

All this to say that Nets’ top-two guys are playing like one of the best duos in basketball and holding down the fort while things are still being settled regarding the Kyrie Irving situation.

It also helps that they have one of the better role player rotations in the NBA. Guys like Patty Mills, Bruce Brown, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and even DeAndre Bembry all understand and embrace their roles within a talented-filled squad.

Brooklyn may not be as favored as they were entering the season but it’s hard to argue against them at least looking the best team in the East thus far.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

Honestly the only reason the Bucks are this high are because they have the reigning NBA Finals MVP and former two-time MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo who is still playing at an MVP level.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists. He also has remained his aggressive, brute force self as he is averaging 18.4 shot attempts which is the third best of his career, but he continues to open up his game by stepping out more to the three-point line.

So far this season he is shooting only a measly 27.6% from three but he is taking 4.1 attempts which is the second best of his career. Pair his continued willingness to shoot the three with the fact that he is attempting a career-high 10.2 free throws a game and you get potentially the most dominant two-way force the league has ever seen.

Unfortunately for the Bucks, Antetokounmpo’s greatness cannot outweigh how badly they have been bitten by the injury bug this season.

Jrue Holiday missed six games early in the season due to a heel contusion. Khris Middleton missed eight games due to testing positive for COVID-19. Brook Lopez played the season opener against the Brooklyn Nets and hasn’t played since due to getting back surgery that still has him out indefinitely.

Those are three major guys right there and that does not even include Donte DiVincenzo who is still indefinitely out due to a foot injury that kept him out of last season’s Playoffs. Considering how decimated they have been, the fact that they are 4th in the East with a record of 14-9 is actually pretty respectable.

One thing worth keeping tabs on is the play of Bobby Portis. In the absence of Brook Lopez, Portis has been getting a lot more playing time and he hasn’t wasted a second.

Playing mainly as a small-ball center, Portis this season is averaging a career-high 15.1 points along with 8.4 rebounds and nearly a block a game. He is also playing a career-high 28 minutes a game which is his best since his time with the Washington Wizards back in 2018-19.

Not only did he play a pivotal role in Milwaukee’s title run, but he is also going to have to step long-term this season in what could be an extended absence for Lopez. Watch out for Demarcus Cousins as well who the Bucks picked up recently and still conditioning himself into game shape.

When healthy, this is still one of the deeper teams in the league and their Big 3 is still arguably the best in league behind only the Nets’ trio when together.

5. Chicago Bulls

Easily the surprise team in the NBA as the Chicago Bulls are 2nd place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 15-8. Although most assumed that Chicago would be an amazing offensive team, with a below average defense, the Bulls have actually been much more balanced.

Right now, Chicago has the 11th best scoring offense, but oddly enough they also have the 9th best scoring defense. But let’s break down exactly how they got to this point.

Starting with the offense, the Bulls have the two of the Top-10 scorers in the league in Demar DeRozan (25.9 PPG) and Zach LaVine (25.3 PPG). This makes them the only pair of teammates in the scoring Top-10. Not to mention that they both are averaging about five assists and four rebounds a game.

Then factor in Lonzo Ball who is shooting a career-high 42.9% from three and Nikola Vucevic who is still posting his usual double-double and you have one of the league’s more versatile offensive groups.

Then on defense this team has arguably the best defensive guard tandem in the league with Ball and Alex Caruso. The two former Lakers have found a new home in Chicago and on defense they are already embodying the Windy City’s grit.

Caruso has already quietly been one of the best point of attack defenders in the NBA and now he leads the league in steals with 2.3 a game. He is the only player in the Top-10 who comes off the bench and is the only player playing less than 30 minutes a game.

Acting as his partner in crime, Ball’s 6-foot-9 wingspan helps him as a solid help defender and allows him to guard up positions including forwards and even some small ball centers.

The contrasting defensive abilities between these two make them a match made in heaven. They both know how to swarm for the ball, create tough looks or turnovers and then push the pace off misses and turnovers to create highlight plays.

Surrounded by athletes like Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr. and others, this team plays to their strengths. They are a run-n-gun team that is lethal in the open floor. But, they have two guys they can lean on in the half court if the game slows down or things get tight. Chicago may not have the same level of talent coming off the bench as the other four teams, but their effort on both ends makes up for the talent gap.

Through the first quarter of the season, it feels safe to say that all the offseason moves the Bulls made is paying early dividends.

Jalon Dixon
Jalon Dixon

BSL Analyst

Hi there! My name is Jalon Dixon, but most people just call me Jay. As an aspiring, young sports writer and podcaster, I enjoy discussing sports (mainly basketball and football) and sharing my knowledge with others. Growing up right in the middle of Towson University, Morgan State, Goucher College and others, I have gotten the chance to learn so much about a handful of the different athletic teams that thrive here in Baltimore. I want to be the voice of local fans and teams that may not get the same spotlight as others, but still play a big part in our everyday lives. My motto is “Always Embrace Conversation,” so if you ever want to give me feedback on a piece or even just have a friendly sports debate, feel free to email me! Hope you enjoy my work and maybe even learn something along the way.

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