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NBA Power Ratings And Playoff Odds: The Cavs Make A Move

Last week, we introduced our NBA Power Ratings, an estimate of each team’s strength over the next week of action. The ratings are based on Real Plus-Minus (RPM) player ratings provided by Jeremias Engelmann and Steve Ilardi; for a more detailed explanation of the process behind these numbers, see our debut rankings post.

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A few thoughts on the past week’s action:

  • Golden State once again tops our list, having widened its lead over the second-ranked San Antonio Spurs. This year’s Warriors have looked like the second coming of the 1996 Chicago Bulls in the season’s first half, and a lot of it is due to a vastly improved offense — which in turn owes credit to the blossoming of Klay Thompson. After Thompson officially cemented his stardom by dropping an NBA record 37 points on the Sacramento Kings in a single quarter last Friday, it was hard to remember that the stats favored Thompson’s inclusion in a potential Kevin Love trade (which the Warriors ultimately backed out of because they didn’t want to part with Thompson). Thompson has easily been the better player this season, and the fortunes of his and Love’s respective teams have also reflected the difference.
  • Speaking of Love, his Cleveland Cavaliers were one of the week’s biggest gainers in our power rankings. While Love’s numbers still haven’t lit the world on fire, LeBron James has seemed an awful lot like his old self again during the team’s recent winning streak, and Kyrie Irving is finally showing signs of growth in what has been a disappointing season thus far. Then again, don’t discount the ongoing effect of Cleveland’s recent trades, either. Newcomer Timofey Mozgov played better last week, while more minutes went to two ex-Knicks — J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert — than expected, with fewer going to Shawn Marion and Mike Miller. Marion and Miller are viewed much less favorably by RPM than Smith and Shumpert.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, the Charlotte Hornets are seeing the league’s biggest drop in the rankings over the past week. They’ve won three of their four games since last Monday, but injuries to Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams and Bismack Biyombo have hit the team hard. (Walker’s absence is particularly damaging; he’s easily Charlotte’s best player by RPM, but has missed three of the team’s last five games with knee pain that might require surgery.) There may also be some subtraction by addition at work here, in the form of Al Jefferson. Jefferson, who returned from a groin injury last week to average 24.6 minutes over the Hornets’ last four games, is not traditionally a player valued highly by the plus-minus numbers.
  • We love to rag on our hometown New York Knicks here at FiveThirtyEight, but they are no longer bringing up the rear of the rankings. Why the improvement? Most of it boils down to playing time re-allocation. Jose Calderon’s injury paves the way for more minutes for Pablo Prigioni, a far superior player by RPM, while big man Cole Aldrich (regarded horribly by RPM) was moved to the bench. But some of the team’s improvement is owed to the genuine emergence of guard Langston Galloway, who rose from the D-League to New York’s starting lineup in less than a month. RPM still considers Galloway a well-below-average player, but his play over the past week has caused his rating to improve quickly, giving him a better mark than any of the Knicks’ other backcourt options.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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