NBA Power Rankings: Luka Doncic’s heroics lead to a new No. 1

Thanks to Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, we have a new No. 1 team as we enter the final month of the calendar year.

The Milwaukee Bucks, winners of 11 straight, leapfrog the Los Angeles Lakers this week after Doncic worked his magic Sunday afternoon in an impressive win on the Lakers’ home court. The Mavs are rolling too, victorious in seven of their past eight games.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Andre’ Snellings, Royce Young and Bobby Marks, and The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears) 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: Week 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Camp | Free agency | Post-Finals


1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 17-3
Week 6 ranking: 2

The Bucks just completed a November in which they won 15 of 16 games, and they currently have the longest active win streak in the NBA at 11 games. They are accomplishing this by winning the battle in the paint at both ends of the floor. The Bucks are second in the NBA in free throws attempted per game, while their opponents have shot the sixth-fewest free throws per game. The Bucks also lead the league in defensive rebounds by more than three full boards per game, while allowing the ninth-fewest offensive rebounds per game. — Snellings

This week: NY, @DET, LAC

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 17-3
Week 6 ranking: 1

The Lakers just had one of the greatest months in franchise history, going 14-1 in November. December started in the opposite direction with a 114-100 home loss to Dallas on Sunday, but the Lakers still are tied with Milwaukee for the league’s best record at 17-3. The loss to the Mavericks was the first for the Lakers since Nov. 10. — Spears

This week: @DEN, @UTAH, @POR, MIN

3. LA Clippers
Record: 15-6
Week 6 ranking: 3

It was kind of a weird hiccup to lose to the Spurs, ending a seven-game winning streak for the Clippers that featured victories over the Celtics, Rockets and Mavericks. But since Paul George made his debut, the Clippers are 8-2 with a positive net rating approaching double digits. They’re 5-1 when George and Kawhi Leonard both play, which means they’re really just getting started. — Young

This week: POR, @MIL, @WSH

4. Denver Nuggets
Record: 13-4
Week 6 ranking: 4

After a six-game win streak, the Nuggets finally had a letdown against the Kings. It’s the kind of game that falls firmly under the “it happens” category, in which you blow a 17-point lead to lose in overtime and you move on. There were symptoms in that contest of some potentially larger issues that might need attention (late-game execution, namely), but for now, it’s an ugly loss for a team that is rolling along near the top of the West. — Young

This week: LAL, @NY, @BOS, @BKN

5. Boston Celtics
Record: 14-5
Week 6 ranking: 5

We saw the toughness of Kemba Walker on display last week. After thankfully suffering only a concussion in Denver, Walker would miss just one game (his first since 2017-18) and return to score 39 points in a win over Brooklyn. From a team standpoint, there are two areas of concern for the Celtics: the inability to guard the 3-point line and inconsistent bench production from their rookies. In the two-game miniseries vs. Brooklyn this week, the Nets shot 39.2% from 3 and averaged 48.5 attempts. The Celtics’ bench ranks second to last in points per game, and it saw Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards shoot a combined 5-of-25 from the field last week. — Marks

This week: MIA, DEN

6. Houston Rockets
Record: 13-6
Week 6 ranking: 6

James Harden continues to raise the standard for high efficiency with a heavy workload. He is the only player in NBA history to post a true shooting percentage higher than 60 with a usage rate above 35% for a full season. He did it in each of the past two seasons: 61.9% true shooting on 36.1% usage rate in 2017-18 and 61.6% true shooting on 40.5% usage rate last season. Harden’s numbers so far this season: 64.0% true shooting on 39.2% usage rate. — MacMahon

This week: @SA, @TOR, PHX

7. Toronto Raptors
Record: 15-4
Week 6 ranking: 11

The Raptors, riding a seven-game win streak, continue to prevail with defense. Toronto has held five of its past seven opponents under 100 points, and the signature win of the week over the 76ers came with the Raptors holding All-NBA center Joel Embiid scoreless for the first time in his career. The Raptors’ stifling defense gives them a legitimate chance to defend their Eastern Conference title despite the departure of Kawhi Leonard.. — Snellings

This week: MIA, HOU, @PHI

8. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 13-6
Week 6 ranking: 9

Since a 1-3 rut that somehow included two losses to the Knicks, the Mavs have won seven of their past eight games, a stretch that includes road routs of the Rockets and Lakers. Luka Doncic, of course, has put up ridiculous numbers (33.1 points, 9.4 rebounds and 10.1 assists per game) during Dallas’ 7-1 run. Tim Hardaway Jr. has averaged 18.2 points on 55.4% shooting in six games since joining the starting lineup. — MacMahon

This week: @NO, MIN, NO, SAC

9. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 14-6
Week 6 ranking: 8

We can certainly pick apart the shooting, but what cannot be discarded is the defensive impact that Ben Simmons is having. One of the early candidates for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Simmons is third in the league in steals (2.3 per game), including four (three in the last 14 seconds!) in a win over Indiana. And he is third overall in deflections at 4.0 per game (against the Pacers, Simmons had five). — Marks

This week: UTAH, @WSH, CLE, TOR

10. Miami Heat
Record: 14-5
Week 6 ranking: 10

You play the schedule you have, and it’s not the Heat’s fault that theirs has been a tad soft on the front end. And to their credit, they’ve handled business and padded their record before things turn in December. This week, they play at Boston and Toronto in a measuring stick back-to-back. — Young

This week: @TOR, @BOS, WSH, CHI

11. Indiana Pacers
Record: 12-7
Week 6 ranking: 12

The Pacers might have had their five-game winning streak snapped in a close road loss to the 76ers, but their strong 11-5 record in November has catapulted them right into the mix near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. They have returned to near full strength with Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis back in the starting lineup and producing. More help is also on the way, as All-Star Victor Oladipo has been cleared for full-contact scrimmages and is currently practicing in the G League to work himself into shape. — Snellings

This week: @MEM, @OKC, @DET, @NY

12. Utah Jazz
Record: 12-8
Week 6 ranking: 7

This has been a brutal road trip for the Jazz, who gave up a 50-point game to Giannis Antetokounmpo and were blown out by the Pacers and Raptors. The lone win so far on the five-game trip, which wraps up Monday night in Philadelphia, required a comeback from a 15-point halftime deficit in Memphis. — MacMahon

This week: @PHI, LAL, MEM

13. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 10-9
Week 6 ranking: 14

While the improved play of Andrew Wiggins has drawn significant attention this season, Karl-Anthony Towns has quietly been having an MVP-caliber season. Towns’ current averages of 25.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists would all constitute career highs, and he has also turned himself into a marksman from downtown. His 3.8 made 3s per game are second only to James Harden, and Towns is making a whopping 42.1% from behind the arc at heavy volume to stake his claim as the best shooting big man in the NBA. — Snellings

This week: @DAL, @OKC, @LAL

14. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 10-10
Week 6 ranking: 15

The injury to Kyrie Irving likely will cost Spencer Dinwiddie some Sixth Man of the Year votes. However, the play of Dinwiddie in Irving’s absence should generate attention when it comes to the All-Star Game in February. In the nine games without Irving, Dinwiddie has kept Brooklyn afloat, leading it to six wins on 25.0 points and 7.3 assists per game. The logical move when Irving does return is to move him back to his previous role and help stabilize a Brooklyn bench that has ranked second to last in points with Dinwiddie in the starting lineup. — Marks

This week: @ATL, @CHA, DEN

15. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 8-12
Week 6 ranking: 21

The Blazers have stabilized a bit, winning three of their past four. He did it! Carmelo Anthony saved their season! (Well … also, Damian Lillard returned from injury exactly four games ago.) And the three wins have been against the Bulls, Thunder and Bulls again. But that’s not to dismiss Melo’s positive impact. He has been excellent in his role thus far, and that’s kind of the point: With Lillard back, Melo can fit how he is supposed to and complement Portland’s dynamic backcourt as a spacer and sometime-iso scorer. This week will tell us a lot more about the fit, though, with games against the Clippers and Lakers looming. — Young

This week: @LAC, SAC, LAL, OKC

16. Phoenix Suns
Record: 8-10
Week 6 ranking: 13

The Suns have lost six of their past seven games, and issues in the paint have something to do with it. Over the past 10 games, the Suns rank 29th in the NBA in paint points allowed per game, according to NBA.com/stats. The Suns recently went 1-4 without center Aron Baynes due to a hip injury. And keep in mind that center Deandre Ayton, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, still is serving a 25-game suspension for taking a banned diuretic. — Spears

This week: @CHA, @ORL, @NO, @HOU

17. Sacramento Kings
Record: 8-10
Week 6 ranking: 16

Success for Harrison Barnes has led to success for the Kings. Barnes is averaging 18.5 points, shooting 52.2% from the field, nailing 45.5% of his 3-pointers and nabbing 1.3 steals per game in eight wins. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 15.3 points, shooting 48.3% from the field, 33.3% from 3-point range and nabbing 0.8 steals per game in 10 losses. — Spears

This week: CHI, @POR, @SA, @DAL

18. Orlando Magic
Record: 8-11
Week 6 ranking: 17

The Magic dropped four of their past six games, including two losses to the defending champion Raptors, before getting a schedule reprieve against the last-place Warriors on Sunday. All four of those losses were to teams that made the playoffs last season, a group against whom the Magic have struggled, registering two wins in their first 13 such games. They have a chance at strong results this week, with three games against teams that finished in the lottery last season. — Snellings

This week: @WSH, PHX, @CLE

19. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 8-11
Week 6 ranking: 20

There was some curiosity within the Thunder that, in spite of the tumultuous offseason, this roster might still be good enough to flirt with a playoff spot. Many saw it as a long shot, and it’s not like the Thunder are exceeding expectations at 8-11. It’s just the back end of the West is doing the opposite, leaving an apparent door open to be in the early conversation. The longer they stay in it, the better, with it creating a little more value and leverage in trade conversations. — Young

This week: IND, MIN, @POR

20. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 7-14
Week 6 ranking: 19

DeMar DeRozan is averaging an efficient 21.6 points per game, but he is a big part of the defensive problems that are sinking the Spurs. San Antonio allows 115.0 points per 100 possessions with DeRozan on the floor, which would rank dead last in team defensive rating. When DeRozan rests, the Spurs allow 104.2 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 12th in the league. — MacMahon

This week: HOU, SAC

21. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 8-13
Week 6 ranking: 22

The good news is that Charlotte is 5-2 on the season in one-possession games. The downside is that in the 13 losses, the Hornets have a point differential of minus-15.7, including 17- and 41-point losses last week to Miami and Milwaukee, respectively. If there was a positive in the two wins against Detroit, it’s that PJ Washington snapped out of a mini rookie slump. Before averaging 21.5 points in the home-and-home sweep of Detroit, Washington scored a combined 29 points in five games. — Marks

This week: PHX, GS, BKN, ATL

22. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 6-14
Week 6 ranking: 18

The Pelicans have the league’s worst clutch offense, scoring only 79.1 points per 100 possessions during clutch situations, when the score is within five points in the final five minutes of regulation or overtime. Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday, the two players the Pelicans count on to create offense, are a combined 12-of-40 on clutch shots. — MacMahon

This week: DAL, PHX, @DAL

23. Washington Wizards
Record: 6-12
Week 6 ranking: 23

It has been a journey to get there, but the seemingly inevitable has happened: The Wizards are now officially last in the league in defensive rating. There are a lot of ways to dissect how bad their defense has been; they’ve allowed teams to score 150 or more twice, which is the same number of times they’ve held someone to under 100. The irony of it all is that the Wizards actually are pretty good on offense: They rank fourth in the league, and when Bradley Beal is on the floor, they have the second-best offense in the NBA. If they could do something — anything — to just moderately improve defensively, they might actually be kind of OK. — Young

This week: ORL, PHI, @MIA, LAC

24. Detroit Pistons
Record: 7-13
Week 6 ranking: 26

The Pistons lost a home-and-home set to the Hornets this week, making Detroit 0-5 against the Hornets and Bulls this season. Those five losses, against two teams that are a combined 9-27 against every non-Pistons team in the NBA, have been enough to drop the Pistons out of early-season playoff contention despite an otherwise solid start. On the bright side, the team is getting healthier with Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose having played together in five straight games after injuries derailed them earlier in the season. — Snellings

This week: @CLE, MIL, IND

25. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 6-13
Week 6 ranking: 24

Point guard Ja Morant has established himself as the Rookie of the Year front-runner, averaging 18.6 points and 6.4 assists per game before being sidelined by back spasms that will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. But power forward Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies’ other high-lottery foundation piece, is dealing with somewhat of a sophomore slump. His scoring (14.9 points per game) and rebounding (4.8) are up slightly from his rookie season, but Jackson hasn’t been the defensive presence he is expected to be. — MacMahon

This week: IND, @CHI, @UTAH

26. Chicago Bulls
Record: 6-14
Week 6 ranking: 25

It’s hard to guess what rookie guard Coby White will do from game to game as a scorer. The former North Carolina star has put up more than 25 points three times this season. White also has registered 10 or fewer points seven times for the struggling Bulls. — Spears

This week: @SAC, MEM, GS, @MIA

27. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 5-14
Week 6 ranking: 28

Since going on a two-game winning streak in early November, Cleveland has gone 1-9, including an 0-3 week against Brooklyn, Orlando and Milwaukee, all at home. Against the Magic, the Cavaliers turned the ball over a season-high 25 times, including 13 from Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. — Marks

This week: DET, ORL, @PHI

28. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 4-16
Week 6 ranking: 27

It has to be hard for Trae Young to enjoy his success in November with the Hawks mired in a 10-game losing streak. Young averaged 28.9 points, 8.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 3-pointers made per game in November. Meanwhile, Atlanta has not won a game since Nov. 12. — Spears

This week: GS, BKN, @CHA

29. New York Knicks
Record: 4-16
Week 6 ranking: 29

There was a red flag right away this summer when the Knicks signed four forwards in free agency and how it would impact Kevin Knox. That concern was warranted when Knox received his first DNP-CD in Friday’s loss to Philadelphia. (Knox would start, however, in Sunday’s loss to Boston.) The former top-10 pick has seen his minutes decrease from 28.8 last year to 19.9 — including 14.8 in the previous four games. — Marks

This week: @MIL, DEN, IND

30. Golden State Warriors
Record: 4-17
Week 6 ranking: 30

Forward Draymond Green played only 19 minutes in a 122-105 loss at Miami on Friday. Why? Coach Steve Kerr said that Green will have a minutes restriction moving forward in hopes of “not wearing him down.” The Warriors have just four wins and don’t expect much improvement with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and D’Angelo Russell out too. — Spears

This week: @ATL, @CHA, @CHI

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