NBA Power Rankings 2021: Each team’s biggest concern through Week 4

We’re officially one month into the 2021-22 NBA season, meaning the small sample sizes are starting to grow and teams are beginning to reveal their true identities.

It’s still too early to deem anything we’ve seen so far as concrete, but there are trends starting to set in across the league, both good and bad. In this week’s edition of our NBA Power Rankings, we highlight each team’s biggest concern through the first four weeks of the season.

As a reminder, these power rankings are a reflection of where teams stand up to this point in the season and not a projection of where they may land later in the season.

Take a look at where your favorite team landed this week.

The undefeated and the winless

Undefeated: Suns (4-0), Nuggets (4-0), Wizards (2-0)

Winless: 76ers (0-4), Kings (0-3), Rockets (0-3), Magic (0-2)

Biggest riser

Wizards: 16 → 8

Biggest faller

76ers: 5 → 13

Weekly scoring leader

Stephen Curry: 34.8 points per game

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NBA Power Rankings 2021

(Getty Images)

1. Golden State Warriors

  • Previous rank: 3
  • Overall W-L: 11-2
  • Last week: 3-1
  • Upcoming: at Nets, at Cavaliers, at Pistons, vs. Raptors

Biggest concern: Frontcourt depth

The Warriors are humming along and doing a great job of taking care of the soft schedule in front of them, but when Draymond Green went down on Wednesday with a right thigh contusion things could have gotten very real, real quick. While the Warriors backcourt depth has been a pleasant surprise so far this season even without Klay Thompson, are we really sure the frontcourt has the horses to withstand any adversity?

Yeah, the Warriors won the game and Green avoided missing serious time, but you can’t help but worry about what would happen if their depth were to take that kind of hit.

– Carlan Gay

2. Brooklyn Nets

  • Previous rank: 4
  • Overall W-L: 10-4
  • Last week: 3-1
  • Upcoming: vs. Warriors, vs. Cavaliers, vs. Magic

Biggest concern: Which version of James Harden will the Nets get?

It’s been an up-and-down start to the season for Harden, who is averaging his fewest points per game (19.5) since 2011-12 at the lowest efficiency of his career (42.6% FG) aside from his rookie year. 

However, there have been some bright spots like his 39-point, 12-assist double-double in a win over the Pelicans this past week where he looked like his usual, prolific scoring self. He also has three triple-doubles on the season, all of which have resulted in wins for the Nets.

With Kyrie Irving’s absence, it’s increasingly vital for Brooklyn’s championship aspirations that Harden finds a groove and plays to his All-Star capabilities consistently.

– Kyle Irving

3. Phoenix Suns

  • Previous rank: 8
  • Overall W-L: 9-3
  • Last week: 4-0
  • Upcoming: at Timberwolves, vs. Mavericks, vs. Mavericks, vs. Nuggets

Biggest concern: Keeping momentum rolling at full strength

With consistent minutes, it appears as though Frank Kaminsky can be a big-time contributor to the Suns’ frontline. He’s gotten the opportunity with Deandre Ayton sidelined. Frank the Tank won’t have many 31-point nights like he did last week against the Blazers, but he does give the Suns a solid scoring option on their second unit. When Ayton comes back to the lineup, how will the Suns continue to get the most out of Frank?

– Carlan Gay

4. Chicago Bulls

  • Previous rank: 6
  • Overall W-L: 9-4
  • Last week: 3-1
  • Upcoming: at Lakers, at Trail Blazers, at Nuggets, vs. Knicks

Biggest concern: The frontcourt dropoff after Nikola Vucevic

Before he entered the league’s health and safety protocols, Vucevic wasn’t playing up to his usual standards. The two-time All-Star is averaging just 13.6 points per game and shooting under 40 percent from the field through 11 games. But Vucevic is still a guy opposing defenses must respect, unlike backup big men Tony Bradley and Alize Johnson. His absence will put even more weight on the shoulders of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

— Jordan Greer

5. Denver Nuggets

  • Previous rank: 10
  • Overall W-L: 9-4
  • Last week: 4-0
  • Upcoming: at Mavericks, vs. 76ers, vs. Bulls, at Suns

Biggest concern: Creating more offense around Nikola Jokic

The Nuggets are scoring at a rate of 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which ranks them 24th in the league. They’re missing a big part of their offense in Jamal Murray, who is still a long way away from coming back. Denver ranks in the 96th percentile on cuts, according to NBA Stats. The only problem with that is the Nuggets only average 6.0 possessions of that per game. For a team with the best passer in the league to not take advantage of that by cutting way more is almost criminal. It feels like the Nuggets are leaving points on the table by not cutting more, especially with Murray out. 

– Carlan Gay

6. Miami Heat

  • Previous rank: 1
  • Overall W-L: 8-5
  • Last week: 1-3
  • Upcoming: at Thunder, vs. Pelicans, vs. Wizards, at Wizards

Biggest concern: 3-point shooting

The Heat have been a well-oiled machine early on in the season and while you could make the case that lack of depth is their biggest concern, I’m going with 3-point shooting.

In this day and age, you have to knock down 3s in order to keep up with the most high-powered offenses in the league. Through their first 13 games, the Heat rank 20th in 3-pointers made per game (11.2) and 16th in 3-point percentage (34.0%). Known sharpshooter Duncan Robinson hasn’t been his typical self, shooting 33.3 percent on 9.2 attempts per game. Kyle Lowry is shooting 32.9 percent from 3, his lowest mark since 2009-10.

With their two best players – Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo – reluctant to shoot the 3-ball, guys like Robinson and Lowry need to start converting a higher clip to create space for the team’s two go-to scoring options.

– Kyle Irving

7. Utah Jazz

  • Previous rank: 2
  • Overall W-L: 8-5
  • Last week: 1-2
  • Upcoming: vs. 76ers, vs. Raptors, at Kings

Biggest concern: Producing offense when Donovan Mitchell’s on the bench

Utah’s offense falls off a cliff when Donovan Mitchell isn’t in the game. Going into last Friday’s action, the Jazz are scoring at a rate of 117.3 points per 100 possessions with Mitchell on the floor. When he sits, that number drops to 103.2. Utah needs more offense outside of Mitchell or it’ll face the same fate it has the past few years in the playoffs. 

– Carlan Gay

8. Washington Wizards

  • Previous rank: 16
  • Overall W-L: 9-3
  • Last week: 2-0
  • Upcoming: vs. Pelicans, at Hornets, at Heat, vs. Heat

Biggest concern: Is this start sustainable?

Owning the best record in the Eastern Conference, Washington is thriving with a group of players that were seen as outcasts from their former teams. Montrezl Harrell has been a monster, averaging 18.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Spencer Dinwiddie has been a jolt of offense, posting 16.1 points and 5.5 assists per game. Kyle Kuzma has stepped up massively in a new role, posting 15.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, recently knocking down a game-winner over the Cavaliers.

Is this Wizards team for real? Or will they fizzle out as the season goes on?

– Kyle Irving

9. Milwaukee Bucks

  • Previous rank: 7
  • Overall W-L: 6-8
  • Last week: 2-2
  • Upcoming: vs. Lakers, vs. Thunder, vs. Magic

Biggest concern: Getting Jrue Holiday’s shot back on track

If you take a glance at Holiday’s shooting numbers in a few November games, you may start feeling pain in your eyes: 3 of 8, 6 of 16, 4 of 14, 6 of 25. Yikes. It’s important to keep in mind that the Bucks have struggled with health issues to start the season, and Milwaukee’s “Big Three” of Holiday, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo has only logged 21 total minutes together. Still, it would be nice to see Holiday move closer toward being the guy who shot 50.3 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from 3-point range last season.

— Jordan Greer

10. Dallas Mavericks

  • Previous rank: 11
  • Overall W-L: 8-4
  • Last week: 2-1
  • Upcoming: vs. Nuggets, at Suns, at Suns, at Clippers

Biggest concern: Getting more out of Kristaps Porzingis

The Mavericks just need to be getting more out of Kristaps Porzingis. He’s averaging just 17.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per game while shooting an ugly 42.1 percent from the field. With Porzingis on the floor so far this season, the Mavs are being outscored by 11.5 points per 100 possessions. When he’s off the floor, they’ve been playing teams pretty even with a net rating of 2.7. Porzingis may not ever get back to the All-Star he was early in his career, but he can be far better than this.

– Carlan Gay

11. Los Angeles Lakers

  • Previous rank: 12
  • Overall W-L: 8-6
  • Last week: 3-1
  • Upcoming: vs. Bulls, at Bucks, at Celtics, at Pistons

Biggest concern: Does anyone value the ball?

The Lakers’ turnover problems start with Russell Westbrook. He leads the league in turnovers per game, but he isn’t the only one in Los Angeles who deserves some blame for the early offensive struggles. Other primary ball handlers such as Rajon Rondo, Malik Monk and even LeBron James have been far too careless. These Lakers simply aren’t good enough right now to throw away so many possessions.

— Jordan Greer

MORE: How much time will LeBron miss?

12. New York Knicks

  • Previous rank: 9
  • Overall W-L: 7-6
  • Last week: 1-2
  • Upcoming: vs. Pacers, vs. Magic, vs. Rockets, at Bulls

Biggest concern: Losing their identity 

Last season, the Knicks were below average offensively and elite defensively. So far this season, they’ve been elite offensively and well below average defensively. Their starting lineup in particular has been a disaster on that end of the court. The Knicks are unlikely to reach the defensive heights they did last season — they made the moves they did in the offseason to address their offense — but it’s hard to see them making noise in the Eastern Conference again if the teams are going to continue scoring on them this easily.

— Scott Rafferty

13. Philadelphia 76ers

  • Previous rank: 5
  • Overall W-L: 8-6
  • Last week: 0-4
  • Upcoming: at Jazz, at Nuggets, at Trail Blazers

Biggest concern: What if the offense isn’t for real?

One of the biggest surprises this season has been Philadelphia’s success despite Ben Simmons not playing and having to deal with extended absences from Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid. The biggest surprise? The 76ers entered the weekend with the most efficient offense in the league after ranking 13th in offensive efficiency last season. Maybe this team will be dynamite offensively all season long, but what if they’re not? Are we still looking at a top-five team in the Eastern Conference?

— Scott Rafferty

14. LA Clippers

  • Previous rank: 19
  • Overall W-L: 8-5
  • Last week: 3-1
  • Upcoming: vs. Spurs, at Grizzlies, at Pelicans, vs. Mavericks

Biggest concern: Figuring out how Serge Ibaka fits into the equation

It’s easy to forget how big of a deal it was when the Clippers landed Ibaka in free agency in 2020. He joined LA following a season that saw him average a career-best 15.4 points per game on .512/.385/.718. Last season, he was limited to 41 games due to a back injury that required surgery. This season, he’s only appeared in two games. It’s going to take Ibaka time to find his groove again, but both Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein have been an important part of the team’s early success. It’s going to be interesting to see how they work him back into the rotation.

— Scott Rafferty

(NBA Getty Images)

15. Boston Celtics

  • Previous rank: 18
  • Overall W-L: 6-7
  • Last week: 2-1
  • Upcoming: at Cavaliers, at Hawks, vs. Lakers, vs. Thunder

Biggest concern: Finishing games

Of the Celtics’ seven losses, two have come in overtime, two have been blown double-digit leads and one ended at the fate of a Luka Doncic game-winning buzzer-beater.

Boston let a 19-point lead slip away against the Bulls a few weeks back and clearly didn’t learn its lesson. This past weekend, they blew another 19-point lead, this time to the Cavaliers, falling in Cleveland by two points.

There aren’t many teams that are more unpredictable on a night-to-night basis than the Celtics and they’ll have to start closing games if they want to reach their potential as one of the top teams in the East.

– Kyle Irving

16. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Previous rank: 20
  • Overall W-L: 9-5
  • Last week: 2-1
  • Upcoming: vs. Celtics, at Nets, vs. Warriors

Biggest concern: Replacing Collin Sexton’s offensive production

The Cavaliers are rolling early on in the season, but they did receive some devastating news this past week.

Former No. 8 overall pick Collin Sexton was diagnosed with a torn meniscus, sidelining the guard indefinitely. The 22-year-old’s scoring average was down to 16.0 points per game due to Cleveland simply having more mouths to feed, but that was still good for second-most on the team.

Sexton is a crucial part of Cleveland’s offensive gameplan and it will need players like Evan Mobley, Ricky Rubio and even Cedi Osman to step up and replace that scoring output while Kevin Love and Lauri Markkanen remain sidelined due to the league’s health and safety protocols.

– Kyle Irving

17. Toronto Raptors

  • Previous rank: 13
  • Overall W-L: 7-7
  • Last week: 1-2
  • Upcoming: at Trail Blazers, at Jazz, at Kings, at Warriors

Biggest concern: Re-incorporating Pascal Siakam

When you go six months without playing competitive basketball it’s hard to get back into rhythm. Now, add being a team’s best player at the highest level of basketball and you’ll see why it’s going to take time for Siakam to get back to his old ways.

For the Raptors, it’s a matter of when and not if Siakam gets back to form, but what will that in-between period bring? After a tough outing for Siakam in Boston, Fred VanVleet said, “He’s finding himself, finding his legs… He’ll be OK. It’s gonna take some time, obviously. We would all like it to be tonight or yesterday, but that’s not how these things work.”

The Raptors can’t reach their ceiling without Siakam, but the lows that the process might be frustrating at times. The quicker they can get through the process, the better.

– Gilbert McGregor

MORE: Is Barnes the favourite to win Rookie of the Year?

18. Charlotte Hornets

  • Previous rank: 22
  • Overall W-L: 8-7
  • Last week: 3-1
  • Upcoming: vs. Wizards, vs. Pacers, at Hawks

Biggest concern: The defense

After a well-documented hot start to the season, Charlotte came back down to earth rather quickly. During a five-game losing streak, the Hornets allowed 116.4 points per 100 possessions, a rate that would rank dead last among all 30 NBA teams.

Making matters worse is that when you look through a wider lens, Charlotte’s defensive rating of 110.6 still ranks 27th in the league ahead of only the Hawks (111.4), Pelicans (113.0) and, almost surprisingly, the Grizzlies (113.4).

– Gilbert McGregor

19. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Previous rank: 17
  • Overall W-L: 6-8
  • Last week: 1-3
  • Upcoming: vs. Raptors, vs. Bulls, vs. 76ers

Biggest concern:  A franchise in disarray

The Trail Blazers’ issues extend beyond the court. Portland opened an investigation into president of basketball operations and general manager Neil Olshey earlier this month following allegations of workplace misconduct. But the front office turmoil didn’t stop there. CEO and president of business operations Chris McGowan recently decided to step down, and though he said the timing of his decision had nothing to do with the investigation, it is another worrying sign for a franchise that desperately needs stability. 

— Jordan Greer

20. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Previous rank: 15
  • Overall W-L: 6-7
  • Last week: 1-3
  • Upcoming: vs. Rockets, vs. Clippers, at Timberwolves

Biggest concern: Jaren Jackson Jr.’s efficiency

Jackson has shot well from 3-point range to start the season. It’s inside the arc where he’s struggled, having converted a career-low 41.3 percent of his 2-point attempts to date. That’s not a great number for a 6-foot-11 big man who sports a 7-foot-4 wingspan. Important as his 3-point shooting is, the Grizzlies would benefit from Jackson being a more efficient scorer around the basket and floater range.

— Scott Rafferty

21. Atlanta Hawks

  • Previous rank: 14
  • Overall W-L: 5-9
  • Last week: 1-3
  • Upcoming: vs. Magic, vs. Celtics, vs. Hornets

Biggest concern: Falling in too deep of a hole

Sure, slow starts aren’t out of the ordinary, but large-scale success is still relatively new to this Hawks team. SN’s Scott Rafferty gave the Hawks a 4 on our “panic meter,” citing their turnaround last season, but I’m afraid they won’t be able to get back on track.

There are a number of contenders in the East that are separating themselves and the Hawks want to be more than a Play-In team. If they fall further below .500, that might be the only way they see the postseason.

– Gilbert McGregor

22. Indiana Pacers

  • Previous rank: 24
  • Overall W-L: 6-8
  • Last week: 2-1
  • Upcoming: at Knicks, at Pistons, at Hornets, vs. Pelicans

Biggest concern: Is this core good enough?

The Pacers are off to an underwhelming start to the season and it might be time to look in the mirror.

While Indiana has plenty of talented players like All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert, is that foursome enough to compete with the best teams in the league?

Injuries have played a role in the Pacers struggles, especially when you consider that arguably their best scorer, TJ Warren, still hasn’t returned to the court with a foot injury that caused him to miss almost all of last season.

But even when he is added to that core, will that be enough to lift the Pacers to the top tier in the East? Judging by the first couple weeks of the season, it doesn’t seem so.

– Kyle Irving

23. Sacramento Kings

  • Previous rank: 21
  • Overall W-L: 5-8
  • Last week: 0-3
  • Upcoming: at Pistons, at Timberwolves, vs. Raptors, vs. Jazz

Biggest concern: Closing games

Of the 13 games the Kings have played this season, 10 have been decided in the clutch — the last five minutes of a five-point game. Their record in those games? 3-7. Only the Pelicans have lost as many games that have gone down to the wire as the Kings. The numbers point to their defense being OK in the clutch. It’s their offense that has fallen off a cliff, as they’re shooting only 31.4 percent from the field and turning the ball over at a sky-high rate. The way they lost to the Thunder on Friday was particularly rough.

— Scott Rafferty

24. San Antonio Spurs

  • Previous rank: 25
  • Overall W-L: 4-9
  • Last week: 1-2
  • Upcoming: at Clippers, at Timberwolves

Biggest concern: Is this the backcourt of the future?

This isn’t to question Dejounte Murray, who is having a Most Improved Player of the Year caliber season averaging 18.1 points, 7.8 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game, all of which are career-highs.

This question is directed toward Derrick White, who the Spurs signed to a four-year, $73 million extension last December. White has struggled to start the year, averaging just 10.8 points per game while shooting 37.9 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from 3-point range, both of which are career-worst marks. He’s a strong defender which helps his case, but is the 27-year-old the right backcourt mate for Murray to build around for the future?

– Kyle Irving

25. Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Previous rank: 23
  • Overall W-L: 4-8
  • Last week: 1-3
  • Upcoming: vs. Suns, vs. Kings, vs. Spurs, vs. Grizzlies

Biggest concern: Avoiding long losing streaks

Karl-Anthony Towns said it best following the Timberwolves third-straight loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, Nov. 3, “We’re on a three-game slide right now in the NBA. If I know one thing about slides here in Minnesota, it could go from three to 18 to 19, 20 really quick.”

Towns may have been foreshadowing a bit, as the Timberwolves ended up losing six-consecutive games before finally getting back in the win column with a statement victory over the Lakers.

Minnesota has plenty of exciting young pieces, but it is having trouble stringing together wins. Last year, it had two separate losing streaks of longer than seven games, burying any chances of staying in the playoff hunt. If the Timberwolves want to at least compete for a Play-In Tournament spot, they’ll have to avoid falling into long stretches of losing.

– Kyle Irving

26. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Previous rank: 27
  • Overall W-L: 5-7
  • Last week: 2-1
  • Upcoming: vs. Heat, vs. Rockets, at Bucks, at Celtics

Biggest concern: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s All-Star campaign

Okay, this isn’t really a “concern,” per se. The Thunder are playing with house money this season as their historic rebuild is underway in full force. They’ve earned some quality – and surprising – wins early on, but no one is expecting them to compete for a playoff spot.

The most important thing this season is the development of their young talent, and wouldn’t it be awesome to see Gilgeous-Alexander take the leap to All-Stardom?

The 23-year-old has been fantastic so far, averaging 22.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. While his scoring, assists and shooting efficiency are down in the slightest from last year, he still has plenty of opportunities to raise those averages to All-Star caliber numbers. It may be hard to receive consideration for a spot if the Thunder are toward the bottom of the West, but don’t count out a possible All-Star bid for Gilgeous-Alexander if he can ramp up his production.

– Kyle Irving

27. Detroit Pistons

  • Previous rank: 30
  • Overall W-L: 3-9
  • Last week: 2-1
  • Upcoming: vs. Kings, vs. Pacers, vs. Warriors, vs. Lakers

Biggest concern: Guys… please… make a shot

OK, that concern may seem way too general, but Detroit is a historically bad shooting team. After a 98-78 loss to the Cavaliers, the Pistons dropped down to 39.6 percent shooting from the field, the worst mark by any team since 1960. They have three starters (Saddiq Bey, Cade Cunningham and Killian Hayes) shooting below 40 percent. They own the worst offensive rating in the league by a significant margin. No one expected the Pistons to be a playoff team this year, but man, this is rough.

— Jordan Greer

28. Orlando Magic

  • Previous rank: 28
  • Overall W-L: 3-10
  • Last week: 0-2
  • Upcoming: at Hawks, at Knicks, at Nets, at Bucks

Biggest concern: Jalen Suggs’ shooting numbers

It’s been a rough start to Suggs’ career. According to NBA.com, the No. 5 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft is currently shooting 57.1 percent in the restricted area, 20.0 percent from floater range, 17.6 percent from midrange and 20.6 percent from 3-point range through 12 games. It’s still way too early to hit the panic button on any rookie, of course, but there were some concerns about Suggs’ jump shot coming into the NBA. It’s something to monitor the rest of the season, if nothing else.

— Scott Rafferty

29. Houston Rockets

  • Previous rank: 26
  • Overall W-L: 1-12
  • Last week: 0-3
  • Upcoming: at Grizzlies, at Thunder, at Knicks

Biggest concern: Young backcourt’s early struggles

This season is strictly about the development of Houston’s young talent, but it’s been a slow start for No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green and his backcourt mate Kevin Porter Jr.

Green has had some serious bright spots, but averaging 13.8 points per game while shooting 35.2 percent from the field and 27.0 percent from 3 is certainly lower than expectation. Porter is posting 13.2 points and 5.2 assists, but he’s also shooting poorly at 37.5 percent from the field and 31.0 percent from 3 and his 4.4 turnovers per game are fourth-most in the NBA.

At 19 and 21 years old, respectively, this tandem is learning through experience. It’s going to take patience in Houston and it should be fun watching Green and Porter grow together as the season goes on.

– Kyle Irving

30. New Orleans Pelicans

  • Previous rank: 29
  • Overall W-L: 2-12
  • Last week: 1-3
  • Upcoming: at Wizards, at Heat, vs. Clippers, at Pacers

Biggest concern: Getting and staying healthy

Unfortunately, it’s been the story of the season so far for the Pelicans. Zion Williamson has yet to play and Brandon Ingram has been sidelined lately with a hip injury. It looks like Ingram will return soon, but it’s still unclear when we could see Williamson on the court again. The reality is, as long as the Pelicans are without their two-best players, wins are going to be hard to come by.

— Scott Rafferty

MORE: Expert medical analysis on Williamson’s injury

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