Author's Note: For the complete Google Doc/spreadsheet of my updated NBA 2021 Power Ratings, which include each team's net rating, offensive rating, defensive rating and current record, just click here.
In order to create a betting line between two of the teams listed below, simply find the difference between the two teams' power rating and give the home team an additional 1.5 points for home court advantage.
Example - the Los Angeles Lakers play the Golden State Warriors in L.A., and the Lakers are 6 points better according to the power rankings. The Lakers are also home, which is worth 1.5 points. The line in this case should be Lakers -7.5 (6 points added for PR difference + 1.5 points added for HCA). Each week I will also highlight notable movements between NBA teams and their new power rating scores listed here below:
Utah Jazz (Current: +6.5; Start: +2.5; Change: +4)
The Utah Jazz were a pre-season darling last year, adding veteran point guard Mike Conley to a core that boasted one of the best defenses in the league, in addition to a bevy of three-point shooting marksmen and a rising star in shooting guard Donovan Mitchell. The hype might just have been simply one year too soon for Utah, however, and now that Conley and Mitchell have developed a natural rapport as a backcourt, the Jazz have looked unstoppable as of late, currently boasting a 20-1 SU & 19-1-1 ATS run.
Milwaukee Bucks (Current: +5.5; Start: +6.5; Change: -0.5)
The Milwaukee Bucks continue to be defined by periods of dominance followed by close losses against good teams. Milwaukee has the second best net rating the league, but it's now 0-9 when trailing after three quarters. The theory of this latest version of the Bucks was to retain their defensive dominance and three-point acumen while consolidating their depth into a higher-end scoring option at point guard with Jrue Holiday. Holiday has flourished so far on his new team, shooting over 50% from the field (nearly 40% from 3-point range) while playing elite on ball defense and limiting opposing point guards. This team clearly needs its point guard healthy. This week, Bucks fell to 1-4 SU on the season when Holiday sits, and although they may be less consistently dominant this regular season compared to seasons in the past, I am more optimistic about the Bucks playoff chances now than I have been in recent years. Unfortunately for the Bucks, however, Giannis now has Kevin Durant to contend with for Eastern Conference superiority.
Philadelphia 76ers (Current: +5; Start: +2.5; Change: +2.5)
Head coach Doc Rivers is the new face on this team, but the lion's share of credit for Philadelphia's excellent start has to go to their star center, Joel Embiid, who is finally realizing his potential to be the NBA’s next dominant two-way big. Only luminaries like Shaq, Giannis & Anthony Davis have put up 28/11 this century. Embiid is not doing only that, but he's also improving his passing while making a strong case to be the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year. Ten of the last 12 MVP winners have been on a #1 seed in their conference, and 10 of the last 12 MVP have also been #1 in the NBA in PER. Embiid fits the bill in both departments currently. And the great Dave Essler said it best - “politics aside, Embiid is the MVP.”
Brooklyn Nets (Current: +5; Start: +4.5; Change: +0.5)
Despite changing their stripes more than any other team this season (outside of Houston), the Brooklyn Nets somehow has almost the exact same Power Rating now as they did to start the season. Gone are Spencer Dinwiddie due to injury, and Caris LevVert/Jarrett Allen due to the Harden trade. Here to stay, however, is James Harden & Kyrie Irving, two world class players that are also below-average defenders in the league. Many are projecting this team to add numerous buyout players, which could solidify them as 2021 champion contenders. By late spring though, I expect these Nets to be legitimate title contenders too. For now, they are simply a wildly entertaining - yet dangerously thin - traveling fireworks brigade.
LA Clippers (Current: +4.5; Start: +5.5; Change -1)
New additions Nicholas Batum and Luke Kennard have surprisingly been better fits with the Clippers' elite wings in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George than Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams were as turbo-charged benched scorers for L.A. during last year's 2019-2020 season. These Clippers have a historically efficient offense, but they have slipped on the defensive end, falling from top five last year to middle of the pack currently. Whether the Clippers choose to move off of Lou Williams for more defensive help or not, they have enough talent to beat anyone in a game or in a series. But the question remains: was Paul George’s abysmal play and the team's inexplicable playoff collapse last year a fluke? Or was it a sign of a fundamental frailty within the team that will show up again once the stakes are at their highest?
LA Lakers (Current: +3.5; Start: +6.5; Change: -3)
LeBron James & Anthony Davis are playing near the lowest minutes per game marks of their respective careers. The Los Angeles Lakers have chosen to manage their stars through the grind of the season in order to remain fresh for championship defense come playoff time, and this decision has hardly cost them in the standings, as they sit only a 1/2 game out of the number one seed in the western conference. L.A. has also collected a deep enough roster to manage just fine with slightly less production from their stars, as Dennis Schroeder and Montrezl Harrell have each excelled in their first year with the team. In addition to playing less, LeBron has also been smartly playing farther from the rim this late in his career, knowing that the playoffs we will be more physical. LeBron is taking his lowest percentage of shots at the rim since 2010-11 (32%), as well as the highest percentage shots from three-point range (37%) in his career.
Denver Nuggets (Current: +3; Start: +3.5; Change: -0.5)
Nikola Jokic may have the most diverse set of offensive skills we have ever seen at the center position. The problem is – historically, as well as today – the center position’s primary responsibility is to anchor the team’s defense. The fact that the Nuggets are a bottom 10 defensive team is the reason both A.) The Nuggets are not a top tier team and B.) Jokic has some ground to make up on Joel Embiid in the MVP race.
Phoenix Suns (Current: +2.5; Start: +2; Change: +0.5)
Much like he did last year with the Thunder, Chris Paul has elevated this young Phoenix Suns team to be the upside surprise of the season so far. Chris Paul teams the last two years are 63-41 ATS (including these Suns at 16-11 ATS so far). Paul's game is relatively non-reliant on his physical speed, making his prime longer and more productive than Allen Iverson. Paul is also now in prime position to lead this team into the playoffs, all while helping the Sun’s best player, SG Devin Booker, ascend from good to great.
Dallas Mavericks (Current: +2; Start: +1.5; Change: +0.5)
Dallas’s offense has gone from the most efficient regular-season offense ever (last year) to now 8th in the league currently in offensive rating. Believe it or not, a lot of it has to do with not having Seth Curry (yes, that Curry), and not having the same dynamism from their bench. Kristaps Porzingis coming from injury has helped some, but the team does not look close to realizing the potential they projected when they teamed Porzingis up with rising star Luka Doncic. Porzingis has continued to be a good player on both ends, but he has not greatly improved in any area, and his lack of nimbleness and mobility makes him increasingly hard to play in this new pace-and-space NBA. As long as Luka continues to make strides in his development, Mavericks fans have much to look forward to. When Luka has his first run to the Finals, however, it might be with a squad that looks very different than the one currently assembled in Dallas.
Toronto Raptors (Current: +2; Start: +2.5; Change: -0.5)
The Raptors have perhaps the most difficult task performing to their standards during this covid season. Playing their home games in Tampa has proven a challenge, as the Raptors have met expectations on the road, but are only 4-8 ATS at home. Adding to their problems, the Kyle Lowry era may be coming to an end in Toronto, as he reportedly expects to be traded. Moving on from Lowry may be in the team’s best interest, so that they can move their best guard, Fred VanVleet to the PG position and bring in a more defensive-minded player to play Shooting-Guard.
Boston Celtics (Current: +1.5; Start: +4; Change: -2.5)
The Celtics shot out of the gates this season, posting an Eastern conference-best 8-3 record through mid-January. Then their star $34M per year PG Kemba Walker came back to the team. Cue the problems. Since Walker’s return on January 17th, the Celtics have gone 6-11 SU. Walker is having his worst season as well, shooting a lowly 36% from the field with a -6 Net Rating (the only Celtics starter with a negative number). Walker is off his game for sure, but this is a bigger problem for Boston than just Kemba's personal shooting woes. For three years now, the Celtics have been pretty good overall but much worse when their starting PG's have been healthy and playing. It may be time for the C's to scrap the idea of a high-volume scorer at PG alongside wings Brown/Tatum. The defensive-minded Marcus Smart may be an option to start at PG when he returns from injury for these reasons. In the meantime, something to keep in mind when live-betting Boston: the Celtics have been far worse when Walker is on the court this season.
Miami Heat (Current: +1; Start: +4; Change: -3)
The Miami Heat were the hardest hit by COVID-19 protocols in the early part of the season. They have used an NBA-high 16 different starting lineups overall, but now that their best players are back and working their way back into form, this Heat team are out of excuses with a deep hole to climb out of at 11-17. The Heat are 8-8 when Jimmy Butler plays, and 3-11 otherwise. Miami will make the playoffs, sure, but this team is a far cry from the contenders they appeared to be for a brief moment in the bubble.
San Antonio Spurs (Current: +0.5; Start: -2; Change: +2.5)
Perhaps it was a happy accident when the San Antonio Spurs were forced to play without LaMarcus Aldridge last year in the bubble. With slim playoff chances at the outset in Orlando, San Antonio found a new high-energy playing style that caught teams by surprise. Aldridge has limited mobility, forcing the Spurs to play a slower, more methodical style, and working him back into this team has proven to be a struggle so far this season. Aldridge has a team-low -7 Net Rating, which is 6 points worse than the team's Net Rating overall. Since Aldridge has been out with a nagging injury of late, however, San Antonio is back to playing faster and looser. But will they be able to incorporate Aldridge back into their system effectively when he returns, or will they cut bait with the 7X All-Star and lean into what’s working now?
Indiana Pacers (Current: +0.5; Start: 1; Change: -0.5)
On paper. these Indiana Pacers came into the season with viable chance to make the Eastern Conference Finals. They had five above-average starters who were well balanced at each position. However, a new head coach and a star player in Victor Oladipo that wanted to move away from the team increased the difficulty of this squad's cohesion. Now that Oladipo is gone, Indiana is able to build around Domantas Sabonis in the frontcourt, but they lack the star power on the perimeter to seriously challenge the East.
GS Warriors (Current: +0.5; Start: -1; Change: +1.5)
After an injury-riddled season last year, Steph Curry is back to his MVP-level form, scoring nearly 30 per game on 49/43/93 shooting splits. Unfortunately, Curry has gotten very little help from the rest of the Dubs. Draymond Green and Kelly Oubre have been particularly woeful, each shooting under 40% from the field. With rookie Jason Wiseman showing significant upside, the Golden State Warriors remain a team that is one or two moves away from serious contention once Klay Thompson returns from injury. Until then, they are simply a fun team that can beat anybody on any given night. What they don't have, however, is the depth or the defense to seriously compete against the best of the best in the NBA this season.
Atlanta Hawks (Current: -0.5; Start: 0; Change: -0.5)
Coming into the 2020-21 NBA season I thought of the Atlanta Hawks as "The East version of the New Orleans Pelicans" - all offense, no defense, and an exciting young star in Trae Young. However, for much of the season, the Hawks have actually been better on defense than they have on offense. In recent weeks though, these same Hawks have regressed on defense to what I had expected more of in the pre-season: Atlanta now owns the third worst defensive rating in the league so far in the month of February.
New Orleans Pelicans (Current: -0.5; Start: 0; Change: -0.5)
The Zion Williamson hype machine got derailed sometime this past summer, as it became evident that, despite his spectacular stats and highlights, that he was a net negative for the New Orleans Pelicans in the bubble. Zion's lack of defensive polish and acumen led to the Pelicans blowing their chance to make the playoffs despite an easy bubble schedule. In his second year, however, Zion is quietly making strides from young phenom to a legitimate NBA star player. Williamson has improved his rebounding rate by 20% and his block rate by 75%, all while continuing to be the most unstoppable force in the league once he gets the ball in the painted area. Zion's conditioning still remains an issue though, which is one reason why the Pelicans are third in the league in first-quarter margin, but they only rank 14th overall in the standings.
Memphis Grizzlies (Current: -1; Start: -3; Change: +2)
The Memphis Grizzlies have been without their best two-way player in Jaren Jackson Jr. throughout the season, yet they have not missed a beat from their surprisingly strong campaign last year. Memphis continues to play excellent defense while PG Ja Morant continues to develop into an NBA superstar. If Jaren Jackson Jr. returns this month and regains his excellent form from last year - especially in the bubble - then this team could in fact knock another quality Western Conference team out of the playoff picture.
Portland Blazers (Current: -1; Start: + 1.5; Change: -2.5)
The Portland Trail Blazers seem to be wrecked by the injury bug to start every season. This year it struck them worse than ever, however as Portland lost its second and third best players over the course of a week. Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum will both be unavailable due to injury at least until mid-March, and if Damian Lillard is able to keep this team afloat in the western conference with this current supporting cast, then "Dame" both could and should earn serious consideration for All-NBA and NBA MVP 2021 honors.
Sacramento Kings (Current: -1.5; Start: -2; Change: +0.5)
The Sacramento Kings continue to prove to be the Portland Trail Blazers of the south. They have a high-energy fan base and a fun team philosophy led by an excellent point guard in De'Aaron Fox. But unlike the Blazers, who have more established stars, unless these Kings improve on their bottom-five ranked defense, then they simply have no shot to compete for the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference.
Houston Rockets (Current: -2; Start: -1.5; Change: +1.5)
These Houston Rockets, for the vast majority of the past decade, were built for and around one of the highest usage players in NBA history, James Harden. Now that he is gone, however, this team has to find an identity, and find it fast. The Rockets have done it somewhat on the defensive end this year, posting the fourth best Defensive Rating in the league since the Harden trade. On offense, however, the adjustment has not been so rosy, as the Rockets rank 25th in that department since Harden went to Brooklyn.
Charlotte Hornets (Current: -2.5; Start: -5.5; Change: +3)
With maybe 1/10th of the hype that Zion Williamson had last year, the 19-year-old LaMelo Ball has quietly been the story of the season. Ball has now solidified himself as Charlotte’s starting PG as the teams eyes its first playoff berth in five years. While Hornets head coach James Borrego initially said Ball would have to earn more minutes by limiting his turnovers and playing better defense, Ball has impressed so much on the offensive end of the floor that Borrego has had no choice but to play the rookie more. The Hornets are 10-6 SU when Ball plays 27+ minutes, compared to 3-9 SU when he plays fewer than that.
NY Knicks (Current: -2.5; Start: -7; Change: +4.5)
Tom Thibodeau still has his fastball. Thibs has gotten this young New York Knicks core to buy in to his defensive philosophy and intensity. After being near the bottom of the league last year with largely the same roster, New York is somehow fourth overall in defensive rating this year. Now that the team has added a scoring in punch in Derrick Rose - who was the MVP in his days with Thibs about a decade ago - the franchise goal should be geared towards breaking the Knicks' eight-year playoff drought. I like their chances to get that done, too, with in Rose in tow and with this team commitment to the defensive end.
Washington Wizards (Current: -3; Start: -2; Change: -1)
The best part of this season for Washington Wizards fan has come off the court, where star SG Bradley Beal (and his agent) have reiterated that Beal wants to be in Washington in the near future. Along with his encouraging words, Beal’s play has given Wizards fans plenty to cheer for as well. Leading the NBA in scoring while maintaining solid efficiency, Beal is proving he could be the best player on a contender. At the other guard position, however, new addition Russell Westbrook has been incredibly disappointing. Westbrook is scoring 25% fewer points than he did last year and committing 10% more turnovers. Moreover, the Wizards are a paltry 5-14 SU with Russ playing, compared to a 4-3 record when he sits.
Chicago Bulls (Current: -4; Start: -4.5; Change: +0.5)
Last year, the Bulls had some spectacular offensive performances, but they could never compete due to a porous defense. This year is no different, and leading scorer Zach La'Vine continues to be the focal point of this dilemma. On one hand, the two-guard has continued to improve his scoring production and efficiency in every year of his young career. On the other hand, La'Vine has never been part of even a halfway decent team in the NBA. La'Vine's challenge to not only score points, but to lead a competitive team, will only grow harder going forward, as Chicago's other best player, Lauri Markkanen, is set to miss several weeks.
OKC Thunder (Current: -4; Start: -3.5; Change: -1)
The Oklahoma City Thunder were the #1 ATS team in the league last year, thanks largely in part to their acquisition of Chris Paul and how well he played. This year, however, the Thunder seemed to be falling off a cliff with the lowest pre-season win total in the NBA after shipping Paul out of town. Future star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has refused to go easily into the lottery though, and he has improved in all aspects of his game this year while continuing to be one of the most promising U-23 players in the entire league.
Orlando Magic (Current: -4.5; Start: -1.5; Change: -3)
The Orlando Magic have had two distinct seasons so far. The first season looked a lot like last year: a disciplined, defensive-minded team, led by an underrated vet in Nikola Vucevic and an up-and-coming point guard in Markelle Fultz. That team started this year 6-2 and looked poised to make the playoffs for the third year in a row. Then Fultz went down with a season-ending leg injury. Since then, the Magic have won just 5 of 21 games, and rookie Cole Anthony has failed to prove himself capable of fulfilling the role of a starting NBA point guard. The rest of the team looks incapable of consistently generating quality offense for themselves as well. In truth, losing Fultz meant more to this team than just losing a league-average point guard; it took from Orlando the hope of ascending to a new tier in the NBA, and now it looks like they are fine with finally bottoming out. I have actually upgraded the Magic now that Anthony himself is due to miss several weeks with injury, as I expect the Magic veterans to play better now that the franchise does not need to worry about their rookie point guard's development and force the extra minutes upon him.
Cleveland Cavs (Current: -5; Start: -6; Change: +1)
After starting off the season on fire, the Cleveland Cavaliers' stats and record have started to resemble what the market and I each expected coming into the season. JB Bickerstaff looked like a genius through the first 12 games of the season, with the Cavs posting the second best Defensive Rating prior to January 14th. After that hot start, however, the Cavs look like the lottery team we expected on defense, ranking 28th in Defensive Rating over the past three weeks, and losing 9 of their last 10 games in the process.
Detroit Pistons (Current: -5.5; Start: -6; Change: +0.5)
The Detroit Pistons are in the middle of a transition season, shedding some of their better veterans with an eye towards building around Jerami Grant and rookie guard Killian Hayes. The first part of the process was executed last week in shipping Derrick Rose to New York for the younger Dennis Smith Jr. Next up: trading Blake Griffin and hoping to offload one of the most cumbersome contracts in the NBA. More likely to happen this year though, in my opinion, is that the Pistons will grant Griffin some sort of buyout deal.
Minnesota Timberwolves (Current: -6; Start:-2.5; Change: -3)
It has been a disastrous season so far in Minnesota. Karl Anthony-Towns was finally working his way back from a wrist injury, only to be sidelined for another few weeks after contracting COVID-19. Towns was then back for less than a week before starting point guard D’Angelo Russell announced a surgery that will keep him out more than a month. While some of the Timberwolves' woes this season must be chalked up to simply bad luck, head coach Ryan Saunders' performance also has to called into question. In 2018, Saunders took charge of a Minnesotra team that had made the playoffs the year prior. Under Saunders, however, the Wolves have won just 43 of 135 overall games, including two of their past 10 games total.