NBA Power Rankings: Where the James Harden trade sends the Nets


James Harden is a Brooklyn Net, finally answering the biggest question hovering over the early part of this NBA season. The next question is how Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving share the court. The Nets answered part of it in Harden’s debut Saturday night against the Orlando Magic, as The Beard recorded a 32-point triple-double and KD added a season-high 42 points.

The league’s newest big three has Brooklyn on the rise. But let’s not forget about the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who are rolling and showing no signs of relinquishing their No. 1 spot in these rankings.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Eric Woodyard, Royce Young and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4

1. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 11-3
Previous ranking: 1

Things are going so well for the defending champions — off to an 11-3 start while ranking first in defensive efficiency and fifth in offensive efficiency — you couldn’t blame Kyle Kuzma when he actually entertained a recent question about the “D” word: dynasties. “We’re trying to get to that plateau and peak to continue to win championships,” Kuzma said, adding that LeBron James can provide some experience in that realm for the new guys to follow. “A tough, lofty goal, but I think that’s what we all put out to do.” — McMenamin

This week: GSW, @MIL, @CHI

2. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 10-4
Previous ranking: 2

Paul George declared he had no choice but to come back “with vengeance” from last postseason’s debacle. And he continued his torrid shooting start, punctuating it with a forceful dunk in a dominant victory over his former Pacers team on Sunday. Kawhi Leonard looks stronger and more explosive with each game. The two stars helped the Clippers go 4-0 this past week despite Lou Williams missing two games and Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka out for one game each. And Ty Lue’s team still hasn’t reached full potential. — Youngmisuk

This week: SAC, OKC, OKC

3. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 9-4
Previous ranking: 3

After a 2-3 start, the Bucks are rolling again. Milwaukee racked up three victories this week, and it has dropped just one game in its past eight contests. The Bucks topped Luka Doncic and the Mavericks on Friday to win a season-high four straight games. Reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points and nine rebounds against Dallas despite going 1-for-10 from the free throw line, which represented the worst free throw percentage in franchise history (minimum of 10 attempts), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. — Woodyard

This week: @BKN, LAL, WAS, ATL

4. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 8-4
Previous ranking: 6

Yes, the Celtics saw their five-game winning streak snapped by the Knicks on Sunday. But if Kemba Walker is able to stay spry and healthy — and he looked that way in the 20 minutes he played in his season debut — Boston will be thrilled. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been outstanding so far this season, but for the Celtics to get where they hope, they’ll need Walker at his best. That’s why Walker saying he was pain-free was all that mattered on Sunday. — Bontemps

This week: @PHI, @PHI, CLE

5. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 record: 9-5
Previous ranking: 4

Philadelphia is now 9-2 this season when Joel Embiid plays and 0-3 when he sits. That two of those losses came on the road against teams the Sixers should’ve beaten — the Cavaliers and Grizzlies — is a cause for some concern. Embiid has arguably been the league’s MVP so far this season, but Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and supporting players should be enough to win games against non-playoff teams. — Bontemps

This week: BOS, BOS, @DET

6. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 record: 8-6
Previous ranking: 11

One game in and the James Harden trade is looking pretty great for the Nets. Harden and Kevin Durant combined for a cool 74 points, with Harden having a triple-double in his Nets debut. Durant has scored 25 or more in nine straight games and is averaging more than 30 points a game. The firepower feels pretty Death Star-ish for Brooklyn right now. But it all comes with a caveat, as Kyrie Irving‘s expected return to the lineup is coming. Durant and Irving make a great duo. Durant and Harden make a fantastic duo. But what kind of trio do Durant, Harden and Irving make? Combustible is a word that comes to mind. — Young

This week: MIL, @CLE, @CLE, MIA

7. Utah Jazz
2020-21 record: 9-4
Previous ranking: 9

Utah has won its past five games, matching the Lakers for the league’s longest active winning streak. Jordan Clarkson, an early Sixth Man of the Year contender, has averaged 20.8 points with a 64.7 true shooting percentage during the streak. The Jazz are allowing only 100.4 points per 100 possessions during the roll, which includes road wins over the Bucks and Nuggets. — MacMahon

This week: NOP, NOP, GSW

8. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 7-4
Previous ranking: 5

Thanks to three consecutive postponements, Phoenix will go a week between games when they tip off Monday against the Grizzlies. On Sunday, Suns coach Monty Williams said the team was just waiting to hear back from the league last week to see when they could finally get back together. — Lopez

This week: @MEM, @HOU, DEN, DEN

9. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 record: 8-5
Previous ranking: 7

It was an interesting week for the Pacers, to say the least. For starters, Saturday’s game at Phoenix was postponed because of ongoing contract tracing within the Suns’ squad. Then, Indiana became part of a four-team blockbuster trade, landing Caris LeVert while giving up Victor Oladipo, only to learn LeVert would be out indefinitely after an MRI discovered a small mass on his kidney. — Woodyard

This week: DAL, ORL, TOR

10. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 6-6
Previous ranking: 10

Luka Doncic has triple-doubles in four of the Mavs’ past six tilts. He missed triple-doubles by one assist and one rebound in the other games. His averages in that six-game span: 31.5 points, 12.2 rebounds and 11.8 assists. Doncic now has 29 career triple-doubles, tying Grant Hill for 15th all time, one more than Michael Jordan. — MacMahon

This week: @TOR, @IND, @SAS, HOU

11. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 6-7
Previous ranking: 13

Nikola Jokic is having an MVP-like season with five triple-doubles in 13 games. And he missed four others by one rebound or one assist. But coach Michael Malone continues to wait for the Nuggets to reach full strength. Jamal Murray is trying to shake off an aching elbow, Michael Porter Jr. remains sidelined by COVID-19 and Gary Harris just returned from a two-game absence. The Nuggets are getting closer to finding their rhythm. — Youngmisuk

This week: OKC, @PHX, @PHX

12. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 8-5
Previous ranking: 12

Another season brings another adverse situation the Blazers must endure. Jusuf Nurkic will be out at least eight weeks because of a broken wrist, thinning the team’s front line and putting even more pressure on its backcourt. Portland dodged more problems with CJ McCollum‘s foot injury only being a strain, but he could miss some time, as well. So as it goes for the Blazers: It just means Damian Lillard will have to do some carrying. — Young

This week: SAS, MEM, MEM, NYK

13. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 7-6
Previous ranking: 15

It was a big week for Spurs second-year man Keldon Johnson. It wasn’t until the bubble last season that Johnson really came into his own, averaging 14.1 points and 5.0 rebounds in eight games in Florida. He has picked up where he left off, averaging 14.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds so far this campaign. Last week, Johnson posted a career-high 29 points against Houston and committed just one turnover in three games. — Lopez

This week: @POR, @GSW, DAL, WAS

14. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 6-6
Previous ranking: 14

At .500 heading into a showdown with LeBron James and the Lakers on Monday, the Warriors continue to have up-and-down moments as the young group adjusts to playing with Stephen Curry. The good news: Andrew Wiggins has started the season with a better defensive edge than in years past. The bad news: Kelly Oubre Jr.’s shooting woes continue to hamper the offense. — Friedell

This week: @LAL, SAS, NYK, @UTA

15. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 4-7
Previous ranking: 8

At 4-7, the Heat’s bubble hangover continues to get a little worse each week. On top of a lack of consistency, they are struggling with injuries and coronavirus-related protocols that kept Jimmy Butler and Avery Bradley out of Saturday’s blowout loss to the Pistons. The Heat don’t like to make excuses — but they’ve got plenty at the moment. — Friedell

This week: DET, @TOR, @TOR, @BKN

16. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 record: 6-6
Previous ranking: 24

If you were looking at a team ranked 29th in offense, 18th in defense and 28th in net rating, you wouldn’t think it was playing .500 basketball, right? But that’s what the Thunder are, getting back to 6-6 after their 22-point comeback against the Bulls on Friday. OKC has found a way to win a number of close games, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shining in them. Against Chicago, he finished with a career-high 33 points and 10 assists and made a flurry of big plays in the fourth quarter. — Young

This week: @DEN, @LAC, @LAC

17. Orlando Magic
2020-21 record: 6-7
Previous ranking: 16

The Magic limped to an 0-3 record this week, with losses to three of the best teams in the East (Milwaukee, Boston and Brooklyn). Not only did the schedule do them no favors, the Magic are still dealing with the emotional impact of guard Markelle Fultz‘s season-ending ACL tear. — Friedell

This week: @NYK, @MIN, @IND, CHA

18. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 record: 5-7
Previous ranking: 18

The Pelicans ended a five-game losing streak on Sunday night with a win over the Kings. New Orleans’ week started with a postponement in Dallas before two losses in Los Angeles, to the Clippers and the Lakers, without point guard Lonzo Ball. In his absence, Nickeil Alexander-Walker stepped up, averaging 19.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 57.1% from 3. Oh, and Zion Williamson is still doing Zion things. In Sunday’s win over Sacramento, Williamson became the youngest player in the past 35 seasons to have at least 30 points while shooting at least 85% from the field and going perfect from the free throw line. — Lopez

This week: @UTA, @UTA, @MIN

19. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 record: 4-8
Previous ranking: 20

Toronto finally got itself headed in the right direction with a pair of nail-biting victories over the Hornets this week. If the Raptors had been able to do anything short of disaster in close games over the first few weeks of the season, they’d likely be .500 or better. Still, Toronto is going to need to get more from centers not named Chris Boucher moving forward. Aron Baynes, in particular (4.3 points per game on 37.5% shooting), has been a disappointment thus far. — Bontemps

This week: DAL, MIA, MIA, @IND

20. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 record: 6-6
Previous ranking: 27

Ja Morant recovered from a Grade 2 ankle sprain faster than anticipated, returning in less than three weeks. The Grizzlies managed to go 4-4 in the eight games that their young star missed. Xavier Tillman, the No. 35 pick in the 2020 NBA draft, is proving he is an instant quality rotation player. He has a team-best plus-13.3 net rating in 20 minutes per game. — MacMahon

This week: PHO, @POR, @POR, SAC

21. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 record: 6-7
Previous ranking: 23

Andre Drummond has been putting up huge numbers, topping his 26-point, 24-rebound performance in a loss at the Bucks with a 33-point, 23-board effort in a home win versus the Knicks six days later. We’ll see how long that production will last, as the Cavaliers traded for 22-year-old Jarrett Allen this week, after getting involved in the James Harden deal. With Allen, Drummond and JaVale McGee creating a glut at center, many believe the Cavs aren’t done making moves. — McMenamin

This week: @WAS (postponed), BKN, BKN, @BOS

22. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 record: 6-8
Previous ranking: 21

After a win over the Knicks on Monday, the Hornets lost three straight to close the week, including a pair to a Raptors team that has struggled to start the season. It also was a shaky week for rookie LaMelo Ball, who went 15-for-46 during the four-game stretch. — Friedell

This week: WAS, CHI, @ORL

23. New York Knicks
2020-21 record: 6-8
Previous ranking: 22

The Knicks were able to break a five-game losing streak in Boston on Sunday. Tom Thibodeau’s team is lacking in talent, but he has the Knicks playing hard, and he is giving the young guys (including RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley) a bunch of minutes. If that keeps up, the Knicks will get a lot out of this season, no matter where their record winds up. — Bontemps

This week: ORL, @GSW, @SAC, @POR

24. Houston Rockets
2020-21 record: 4-7
Previous ranking: 17

Houston didn’t land a young franchise cornerstone in the James Harden trade, opting for Brooklyn’s offer headlined by a historic haul of draft picks over a package with the 76ers’ Ben Simmons as the centerpiece. But the Rockets might have added a building block when they signed 25-year-old center Christian Wood, who is thriving in his first season as a full-time starter, averaging 23.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. — MacMahon

This week: @CHI, PHX, @DET, @DAL

25. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 5-7
Previous ranking: 19

Since winning four of five to start the season, it’s been tough sledding for the Hawks. Atlanta has lost six of its past seven, with the lone victory coming last Monday against a short-handed 76ers squad that was still battling absences because of health and safety protocols. Over those seven contests, Hawks point guard Trae Young averaged only 17.9 points per game while shooting 32.8% from the field — and just 7-of-37 from 3-point range. — Lopez

This week: MIN, DET, @MIN, @MIL

26. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 record: 5-9
Previous ranking: 25

A commanding 43-point, 13-assist, 4-steal game from De’Aaron Fox wasn’t enough to keep the Kings from dropping their third straight game on Sunday. The loss to the Pelicans capped a 1-3 week that Sacramento started with an impressive win over Indiana but included an embarrassing 38-point drubbing by the Clippers. In a bit of a silver lining, Marvin Bagley III had one of his finest games as a pro in that New Orleans loss, putting up 26 points and 10 rebounds in a season-high 36 minutes. — McMenamin

This week: @LAC, NYK, @MEM

27. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 record: 5-8
Previous ranking: 26

With a new head coach and a revamped front office, there are growing pains in Chicago — in addition to COVID-19 hitting the team hard, with Chandler Hutchison and Tomas Satoransky recently testing positive. On the basketball court, however, Billy Donovan said it bluntly after his team blew a 22-point lead in Friday’s overtime loss to the Thunder: The Bulls “don’t know how” to win yet. Zach LaVine was putting up career-best numbers through 12 games, averaging 28.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists. — Woodyard

This week: HOU, @CHA, LAL

28. Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 record: 3-8
Previous ranking: 28

It has been just an unfair season so far for the Wolves, with Karl-Anthony Towns‘ recent positive COVID-19 result another item to add to the pile. Their 2-0 start feels like it happened five years ago, as they’ve now lost eight of their past nine games. Their schedule lightens a bit over the next couple of weeks, but of course that coincides with Towns’ new absence. — Young

This week: @ATL, ORL, ATL, NOP

29. Washington Wizards
2020-21 record: 3-8
Previous ranking: 29

After losing Russell Westbrook for at least a week due to a quad injury, Washington put together its best total effort in a rout of Phoenix on Monday. But then everything came to a halt due to COVID-19. The Wizards have had four consecutive games postponed, with six players testing positive and three more players in health and safety protocols as of Friday. — Youngmisuk

This week: CLE (postponed), @CHA, @MIL, @SAS

30. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 record: 3-9
Previous ranking: 30

Friday’s game against the Wizards was postponed in Motown due to the NBA’s COVID-19 protocols. However, Detroit followed up with a 20-point win in Miami on Saturday for its first road victory of the season. Jerami Grant continues to shine. He posted 24 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 blocks and 2 steals against Miami to become the first Piston with a 20-5-5-2-2 stat line game since Andre Drummond in December 2019. — Woodyard

This week: @MIA, @ATL, HOU, PHI

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