NBA Power Rankings: Chet Holmgren, Thunder move up two spots; rookie class check-in – The Athletic

Zach HarperFeb 27, 2024

There weren’t a lot of games to go through in the half week back from the All-Star break, which makes this a perfect time to check in with this season’s rookies. (Notice I said the rookies and not the players from the 2024 draft, because we need to make sure we fit Chet Holmgren into this check-in.)

Some guys are struggling to find their way early on, and some guys are showing they’re the future of their respective organizations and maybe even the league. But we’ll make sure to hit all of the first-round guys from 2024 (and Holmgren) and the second-round guys who apply to the conversation. And, of course, we’ll rank all 30 teams flawlessly.

Reminder: The Power Rankings don’t just rank the 30 teams. We divide these teams into tiers, which teams can move in and out of. We currently have the tiers broken into seven new categories:

  • Incomprehensibly bad – These guys are historically inept right now.
  • Not tanking but maybe someday — They haven’t started tanking yet, but it’s on the table this season.
  • Looking to make the Play-In — They’ve been rebuilding/retooling and think they can crack the top 10 in their respective conference.
  • Play-In Tournament teams or better — They should be in the mix unless something disastrous happens.
  • Playoff teams — Probably don’t have to worry about dropping down to the Play-In Tournament.
  • On the brink of contention — A piece away from us believing they can win the title.
  • Contenders — They are contending for the championship, barring a massive injury.

As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.

Here’s how the Power Rankings work:

  • It’s up to my discretion how the rankings shake out. For some teams, they’ll be hit in the short term. Others will be given the benefit for the long term. Yes, it is entirely subjective.
  • If I have a team ahead of another team, there’s no reason to ask why they’re ranked above the team you like. The answer is pretty simple: I think that team is set up better for success.
  • Yes, I watch the games. And yes, I watch your favorite team.
  • This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have fun.

With all that said, let’s dive into Week 19 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings. Stats and records are through Monday’s action.

Conference Eastern WesternTier Tier 1 – The Contenders Tier 2 – Brink of Contention Tier 3 – Playoff Teams Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly badExpand allCollapse allLoadingTry changing or resetting your filters to see more.Tier 1 – The Contenders1

Boston Celtics

4Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Chet Holmgren | second pick (2022)

We could go a lot of different directions with this Thunder squad because Cason Wallace (10th pick) has looked excellent off the bench. But we’ve got to highlight redshirt rookie Holmgren. The shooting and shot blocking get the most attention, and those are two aspects of his game that make him special. But I just love seeing his feel for the game on the court. He knows when to flare to the perimeter or find the gaps on the interior as a reliable passing option. He competes on the perimeter defensively and rarely sells his team out with gambling. Without Victor Wembanyama existing, Holmgren would be a no-brainer Rookie of the Year pick.

Key StatsRecord40-17Offensive Rating119.6 (3rd)Defensive Rating111.4 (4th)Net Rating8.2Rank over timeWinsClippers129-107Wizards147-106at Rockets123-110WesternTier 1 – The Contenders3

Denver Nuggets

2Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Leonard Miller | 33rd pick

We haven’t really seen anything from Leonard Miller in the NBA so far, and that’s a good thing for the Wolves. Their big man trio of Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid have been good and healthy. It’s given Miller time to get in more work at the G League level (it’s his second year in the G League after playing for the Ignite last season). Minnesota grabbed him knowing it had time to work with him, and we’ve seen a nice 3-point shot development so far. Miller has only played 26 minutes at the NBA level.

Key StatsRecord40-17Offensive Rating114.8 (17th)Defensive Rating107.9 (1st)Net Rating6.9Rank over timeWinsNets101-86LossesBucks112-107WesternTier 1 – The Contenders5

LA Clippers

6Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Craig Porter Jr. | Undrafted

Yes, the Cavaliers have Emoni Bates as the more intriguing prospect moving forward, but Porter emerged in summer league and has stuck around. Porter did a great job filling in when Darius Garland was out, and he hasn’t been used much since Garland’s return. That’s understandable, but it feels like Cleveland has a very cost-effective and capable backup guard in case of emergency. Porter probably won’t play much in the postseason, but he was a great find by the front office.

Key StatsRecord37-19Offensive Rating115.9 (15th)Defensive Rating110.4 (2nd)Net Rating5.5Rank over timeWinsat Wizards114-105LossesMagic116-109at 76ers104-97EasternTier 2 – Brink of Contention7

Milwaukee Bucks

9Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Dereck Lively II | 12th pick

I’m glad the Mavericks got some interior depth with the Daniel Gafford trade, but it’s not because of a lack of ability or impact by Lively. He’s been way more than what is reasonable to expect for a rookie big man, essentially manning the middle by himself for most of the season. Now, the Mavs don’t have to worry too much about taxing him, and there’s less pressure on him to be perfect. His defensive instincts are impressive, and he’s been excellent stretching the floor vertically on pick-and-roll action.

Key StatsRecord33-24Offensive Rating117.5 (9th tied)Defensive Rating116.4 (21st)Net Rating1.1Rank over timeWinsSuns123-113Lossesat Pacers133-111WesternTier 2 – Brink of Contention9

Phoenix Suns

10Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Jacob Toppin | Undrafted

The Knicks sent out their first-round pick (23rd) in the Josh Hart trade, and Portland ended up grabbing Kris Murray with it. The Knicks didn’t have any draft picks from 2024, but they do have undrafted rookie Jacob Toppin – brother of former Knick Obi Toppin – on the squad. He’s barely seen action on the court, but he did get robbed of a 50 score on his first dunk in this year’s dunk contest at All-Star Weekend. I would’ve rather seen him in the final over Jaylen Brown anyday.

Key StatsRecord35-23Offensive Rating117.9 (6th)Defensive Rating113.3 (9th)Net Rating4.6Rank over timeWinsat Sixers110-96Pistons113-111LossesCeltics116-102EasternTier 3 – Playoff Teams11

Miami Heat

8Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Jordan Hawkins | 14th pick

Hawkins was great for the Pelicans in January, but we haven’t seen much consistency in shot making outside of that. It’s surprising because he’s one of the best shooters in the draft. He’s struggled a lot making shots inside the arc. I would expect his role to increase again a bit with Dyson Daniels out. And I think Hawkins can help down the stretch. He’s still a threat to make shots and could have plenty of importance in those minutes if paired with Zion Williamson for floor spacing.

Key StatsRecord34-24Offensive Rating116.7 (14th)Defensive Rating112.4 (6th)Net Rating4.3Rank over timeWinsRockets127-105LossesHeat106-95Bulls114-106WesternTier 3 – Playoff Teams13

Sacramento Kings

14Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Anthony Black | sixth pick

The Magic had two picks in the lottery with Anthony Black and Jett Howard (11th pick). We’re going to focus on Black here because he’s actually played for them and has been good. He’s been a much better shooter than most of us assumed he’d be right away. His playmaking shows some glimpses of why people believe he can be a tall lead guard. His defense has been solid in this great team concept and execution. The Magic just can’t give him a ton of time because of what they need Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony to do each night.

Key StatsRecord32-26Offensive Rating113.0 (23rd)Defensive Rating112.2 (5th)Net Rating0.8Rank over timeWinsat Cavs116-109at Pistons112-109Lossesat Hawks109-92EasternTier 3 – Playoff TeamsTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better15

Indiana Pacers

18Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Brandin Podziemski | 19th pick

This was one of the best picks of the draft, and you can argue whether Podziemski or Jaquez is the ultimate steal. Podziemsk was given more opportunities with the struggles of Klay Thompson throughout the season, and he made it impossible for Steve Kerr to keep him out of the rotation. He’s competitive defensively and sacrifices his body, and he’s smart with the ball on offense. He doesn’t really have any deficiencies in his game.

Key StatsRecord29-27Offensive Rating117.5 (9th tied)Defensive Rating116.0 (18th)Net Rating1.5Rank over timeWinsLakers128-110Hornets97-84LossesNuggets119-103WesternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better17

Philadelphia 76ers

16Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Jalen Hood-Schifino | 17th pick

It’s way too early to have any definitive opinion on what Hood-Schifino could be because he hasn’t had an opportunity (102 minutes in 18 games) to be on the court for this team fighting for its Play-In life. But considering Jaquez (UCLA alum) was taken right after Hood-Schifino, that’s a pretty big miss with the early returns. We have seen 2022 35th pick Max Christie get some run in the rotation, and I do like his long-term prospects quite a bit. But I doubt we see much of Hood-Schifino unless major injuries hit.

Key StatsRecord31-28Offensive Rating114.5 (18th)Defensive Rating115.1 (15th tied)Net Rating-0.6Rank over timeWinsSpurs123-118Lossesat Warriors128-110at Suns123-113WesternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or BetterTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In19

Chicago Bulls

21Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Amen Thompson | fourth pick

After a slow start to his rookie season, we’ve seen Thompson have a great January and February. The jumper isn’t there, and much like his twin brother, Ausar, he’s mostly just getting by on athleticism right now. But we’ve seen solid playmaking, defense and instincts of moving without the ball. Houston has a bit of a logjam on the perimeter, so it’s been nice to see Amen get a lot of run over this past month. He can play one through three on the court on both ends of the floor, so the versatility will help keep him in the mix.

Key StatsRecord25-32Offensive Rating112.8 (24th)Defensive Rating112.8 (8th)Net Rating0.0Rank over timeWinsSuns114-110Lossesat Pelicans127-105Thunder123-110WesternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In21

Utah Jazz

25Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Gradey Dick | 13th pick

Dick’s rookie campaign has been very disappointing. However, since the trades up to the deadline, we’ve seen the Raptors rookie start to put together a pretty good month of February. Over his last 17 games, Dick has averaged 9.6 points in 19.6 minutes of action. That’s decent production. The real good part of this is he’s shooting 53.4 percent from the field and 48.4 percent from deep. Would love to see him keep up this sharpshooting for the rest of the season, regardless of role.

Key StatsRecord22-36Offensive Rating114.3 (19th)Defensive Rating117.2 (22nd tied)Net Rating-2.9Rank over timeWinsNets121-93at Hawks123-121at Pacers130-122EasternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In23

Atlanta Hawks

22Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Noah Clowney | 21st pick

Brooklyn had back-to-back picks with Clowney at No. 21 and Dariq Whitehead at No. 22 this past June, and neither player has really been on the court. They haven’t even combined for 100 minutes on the floor this season. Clowney has had a solid showing in the G League. We haven’t seen the same from Whitehead (and he’s now out for the season). Eventually, you’d like to see Clowney be the depth behind Nic Claxton. Maybe Kevin Ollie will try it out with the Nets falling away from Play-In contention.

Key StatsRecord22-35Offensive Rating113.7 (20th)Defensive Rating116.1 (19th)Net Rating-2.4Rank over timeWinsat Grizzlies111-86Lossesat Raptors121-93at Wolves101-86EasternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-InTier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday25

Memphis Grizzlies

29Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Brandon Miller | second pick

Miller was kind of the forgotten prospect going into the draft because everybody was so focused on Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson. But the No. 2 overall pick last year has given a great performance during his rookie campaign. He’s been a little quieter with playmaking than I expected him to be, but that’s more nitpicking than anything. He’s shot the ball well and is creating good shots for himself. And we’re seeing some encouraging defense for the future. Great pick by the Hornets.

Key StatsRecord14-42Offensive Rating108.9 (28th)Defensive Rating119.1 (27th)Net Rating-10.2Rank over timeWinsat Jazz115-107at Blazers93-80Lossesat Warriors97-84EasternTier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad27

San Antonio Spurs

26Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Ausar Thompson | fifth pick

We saw Thompson cool off from his great start, and Monty Williams has been perplexing people all year long with his rotations. But I love what we’ve seen from Thompson. His defense is above what’s reasonable to expect from a rookie wing. He hasn’t shown much of a jumper, but he’s still able to utilize his absurd athleticism to make plays on both ends. He’s also a walking poster dunk on anybody not meeting his body outside the paint.

Key StatsRecord8-49Offensive Rating111.1 (25th)Defensive Rating119.8 (30th)Net Rating-8.7Rank over timeLossesat Pacers129-115Magic112-109at Knicks113-111EasternTier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad29

Portland Trail Blazers

30Last Rank

Did the draft serve them well? Bilal Coulibaly | seventh pick

The latest news of Jordan Poole getting moved out of the starting lineup should mean good things for the Wizards rookie. Coulibaly has only started a few games this season, but we’ve mostly seen good results when he’s on the court. He’s still extremely raw for a wing at the NBA level, but he’s had some solid shot making. I also think he could end up being a good playmaker at this level. Right now, making shots in the middle of the floor is a problem, but he was one of my favorite prospects in the draft. He’ll have a great end to his rookie campaign.

Key StatsRecord9-48Offensive Rating110.5 (26th)Defensive Rating119.7 (29th)Net Rating-9.2Rank over timeLossesat Nuggets130-110at Thunder147-106Cavs114-105EasternTier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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(Top photo of Chet Holmgren and Jaime Jaquez Jr.: Jim Rassol / USA Today)

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Zach Harper is a staff writer for The Athletic, covering the NBA. Zach joined The Athletic after covering the NBA for, CBS Sports and FRS Sports since 2009. He also hosts radio for SiriusXM NBA and SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio. Follow Zach on Twitter @talkhoops