You know how the saying goes: New year, new me.
“Same me, though.” – Hornets star LaMelo Ball.
To kick off the New Year the right way, we’re recommending a New Year’s Resolution for all 30 NBA teams in this week’s Power Rankings, from the Nets learning to play with a part-time player in Kyrie Irving to the Lakers getting LeBron James some help and more.
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.
Got it? Great. Let’s get to it.
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NBA Power Rankings 2021
1. Utah Jazz
Previous rank: 4
Overall W-L: 26-9
New Year’s Resolution: Commitment to winning a title
This is the year for the Jazz. They’ve had three second-round exits and two first-round exits in the last five seasons. If they’re ever going to do it, this season is the one. Brooklyn, Phoenix and Golden State have been incredible, but they’re not unbeatable. Utah needs to commit and focus on getting the job done, doing whatever it takes to win the first title in franchise history.
— Nick Metallinos (@NickMetallinos)
2. Golden State Warriors
Previous rank: 2
Overall W-L: 27-7
New Year’s Resolution: Stop floating out trade rumors
The Warriors are the title favorites in many people’s minds without having seen Klay Thompson or James Wiseman on the floor this season. As the trade deadline approaches, we’re going to hear rumors about the Warriors looking to improve by adding a third superstar. Cut it out, let’s stop. Keep the squad you have now and see if you can get back atop the mountain in June.
— Carlan Gay (@TheCarlanGay)
3. Chicago Bulls
Previous rank: 5
Overall W-L: 23-10
New Year’s Resolution: Shore up their frontcourt
The Bulls have made it clear that they are one of the best teams in the NBA, but they still need to add frontcourt depth if they are going to contend for a championship. Even with Patrick Williams expected to return at some point this season after receiving wrist surgery, they still need more than just him, Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. to get the job done upfront. Adding another forward (or two) could be the key to taking this team over the top.
– Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
4. Phoenix Suns
Previous rank: 1
Overall W-L: 27-8
New Year’s Resolution: Sign Deandre Ayton
Look, Deandre Ayton isn’t a max player. We know this, Suns ownership thinks this, and I think deep down inside, Ayton himself knows it. But Phoenix should try their best to get Ayton locked up long-term on a fair deal for both sides. He’s a key piece to what the Suns are building and he showed his worth in the playoffs. Get ink to paper.
5. Brooklyn Nets
Previous rank: 3
Overall W-L: 23-10
New Year’s Resolution: Learning to play with a part-time player
The Nets will welcome back All-Star guard Kyrie Irving on a part-time basis after the New Year, with Jan. 5 being a potential target date for his return. Irving will only play in road games (excluding road matchups against the Knicks and Raptors), so it will be a unique circumstance to get accustomed to only having the prolific scorer in certain contests. How will that affect the chemistry of a team that owns the best record in the East?
6. Milwaukee Bucks
Previous rank: 6
Overall W-L: 24-13
New Year’s Resolution: Make a decision based on Brook Lopez’s health
The Bucks have been without starting center Lopez since the first game of the season when he suffered a back injury that required surgery. Lopez’s timetable to return is still unknown and the Bucks may have to start considering other options for their frontcourt. DeMarcus Cousins has provided a surge off the bench since his signing, but Milwaukee might want to look into a replacement starter around the trade deadline.
7. Miami Heat
Previous rank: 7
Overall W-L: 23-13
New Year’s Resolution: Acquire depth at the trade deadline
The NBA’s COVID-19 outbreak has hit every team hard, but it has also exposed some depth weaknesses among certain rosters. The Heat are a prime example of that, with holes in their frontcourt showing without Bam Adebayo (thumb), Dewayne Dedmon (knee), PJ Tucker (leg), Markieff Morris (neck) or Udonis Haslem (protocols). The Heat could solidify themselves as true title contenders with a move or two to add depth at the February trade deadline.
8. Memphis Grizzlies
Previous rank: 9
Overall W-L: 23-14
New Year’s Resolution: Stop with the underdog narrative
At some point, Memphis is going to have to come to terms with the fact that no one thinks of it as underdogs anymore. We know how good Ja Morant is. In fact, he was amongst most people’s candidates for MVP before he got hurt. We’ve seen how good the Grizzlies were without Morant, they stayed afloat in the West and are in a position to fight for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. There will always be people who don’t take small market teams seriously, but ignore them and pay attention to the folks who see and acknowledge how good and deep this team is.
9. Philadelphia 76ers
Previous rank: 11
Overall W-L: 19-16
New Year’s Resolution: Sort out the Ben Simmons situation
This issue has really dragged on too long now and needs a resolution. The will-he or won’t-he play preseason question has turned into a definitive “no,” so now it’s on Daryl Morey to close this chapter and start to rebuild with what he gets back in return for the All-Star. If Simmons doesn’t get traded by the deadline, it’ll be a wasted season for both the player and the franchise.
10. Cleveland Cavaliers
Previous rank: 8
Overall W-L: 20-15
New Year’s Resolution: Continue to develop the young core
The Cavaliers have exceeded all expectations this season. Darius Garland and Evan Mobley have been fantastic and Jarret Allen is playing like an All-Star reserve this season. With both Colin Sexton and Ricky Rubio now out for the remainder of this season, the Cavaliers will be relying on their young trio to lead them forward.
11. LA Clippers
Previous rank: 10
Overall W-L: 18-18
New Year’s Resolution: Keep rolling without Paul George or Kawhi Leonard
Tyronn Lue has done a magnificent job with the Clippers, illustrated by the fact that the team is 18-17 through the first 35 games with Leonard absent and George missing nine games. The LA franchise has been competitive since 2010 but after Lue took over as head coach, there seems to be a difference in culture which includes plenty of player development.
— Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694)
12. Denver Nuggets
Previous rank: 13
Overall W-L: 17-16
New Year’s Resolution: Rally around Nikola Jokic
Given the absences they are facing with prolonged injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., there’s not much the Nuggets can do this season. They’ll have to use their depth to rally around reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and try to rise as high as possible in a relatively wide-open Western Conference, compared to previous seasons.
13. Boston Celtics
Previous rank: 12
Overall W-L: 17-19
New Year’s Resolution: Learn to win close games
The Celtics have been horrendous in clutch situations (described as games within five points in the final five minutes) this season. Their 20 clutch games are tied for third-most in the league, but their 14 losses in those situations are tied with the Pacers for the most in the NBA. Their inability to close out close games helps describe how this team is under .500 nearly halfway through the season.
14. Charlotte Hornets
Previous rank: 18
Overall W-L: 19-17
New Year’s Resolution: Stop accepting average center play
Look this is no disrespect to Mason Plumlee. He has played to the best of his ability this season for the Hornets, but Charlotte needs to stop accepting average play from their bigs and go out and find a true starting-caliber center.
15. Los Angeles Lakers
Previous rank: 15
Overall W-L: 18-19
New Year’s Resolution: Get LeBron James some help
The Lakers have had plenty of moving parts through the 2021 portion of the 2021-22 season, with a number of injuries early on and recent absences due to the league’s health and safety protocols. That has forced LeBron James to rack up the minutes, playing in every game since missing 12 of the team’s first 23.
If the Lakers have any realistic goals of a championship, they need James at his healthiest in the postseason. Right now, through games on Dec. 31, he ranks among the league leaders for average minutes played. It’s important to preserve him for the home stretch, but they continue to lose games despite some superhuman numbers from The King.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous rank: 14
Overall W-L: 16-19
New Year’s Resolution: Keep winning ways going, don’t settle for losing
After a 4-9 start, the Timberwolves seem to have begun to figure things out with a 12-9 record through all the COVID-19 related absences. There’s certainly something brewing in Minnesota, credit largely in part to their Big 3 of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell finally playing multiple games together.
17. Washington Wizards
Previous rank: 16
Overall W-L: 18-17
New Year’s Resolution: Start playing defense again
Remember back when the Wizards started this season 10-3? They’ve gone 7-14 since then, large in part to reverting back to their ways as one of the worst defenses in the league. Through their first 13 games, the Wizards owned a defensive rating of 102.7, good for fifth-best in the league. Over their last 21 games, they own a defensive rating of 115.9, tied for third-worst in the league. They’ll have to come up with stops again if they want to stay in the playoff picture.
18. Dallas Mavericks
Previous rank: 17
Overall W-L: 17-18
New Year’s Resolution: Commit to getting Luka Doncic more help
It’s clear the Mavericks’ roster is not a contender. Sure, Kristaps Porzingis has shown he’s a quality player when healthy and they do have some nice pieces in Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber and Jalen Brunson, but they need one more superstar-level guy to complement Doncic.
19. New York Knicks
Previous rank: 21
Overall W-L: 17-19
New Year’s Resolution: Fix the defense.
Under Tom Thibodeau last season, the Knicks ranked No. 1 in points allowed and No. 3 in defensive rating. That has not been the case in 2021-22, as New York is currently 21st in defensive rating in the league and 13th in points allowed. They’ve really struggled to defend the 3-ball – they are 24th in the league in that department. Thibodeau needs to figure this out if they are to make a late-season push for the playoffs.
20. Toronto Raptors
Previous rank: 19
Overall W-L: 15-17
New Year’s Resolution: Get back to the playoffs
It seems like a lofty goal, but the Raptors are sitting just outside of the Play-In Tournament picture. Between injuries and health and safety protocols, Toronto’s starting lineup has been a revolving door but with Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes all returning to the lineup, this team should be able to start rattling off some wins.
21. Atlanta Hawks
Previous rank: 20
Overall W-L: 16-19
New Year’s Resolution: Channel your inner March 2021
The Hawks have dealt with plenty of adversity to start the season and have been largely disappointing after a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. March 2021 signified the start of a 27-11 finish to the season for Atlanta and it will need a similar turnaround to save this season.
– Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)
22. Sacramento Kings
Previous rank: 25
Overall W-L: 15-22
New Year’s Resolution: Hand the keys to Tyrese Haliburton
The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 and while there are a number of resolutions they could make, any changes made in Sacramento should revolve around Haliburton being the guy moving forward.
23. San Antonio Spurs
Previous rank: 24
Overall W-L: 14-20
New Year’s Resolution: Push for Dejounte Murray’s All-Star campaign
I don’t think Murray’s season is being talked about enough. Averaging 17.8 points, 8.8 assists, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, Murray is doing something only two all-time greats in NBA history have achieved. If he were to finish the season with those averages, he would join Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan as the only players in league history to average at least 15 points, eight assists, eight boards and two steals per game.
24. Indiana Pacers
Previous rank: 22
Overall W-L: 14-22
New Year’s Resolution: Pick a direction and make roster changes accordingly
Yes, the Pacers are under a new head coach in Rick Carlisle, but they’ve been a middle-of-the-pack team the entire season so far. It’s worth considering an active trade deadline to make the necessary roster changes, whether short-term or long-term, and get the team out of their current rut of mediocrity.
25. Portland Trail Blazers
Previous rank: 23
Overall W-L: 13-22
New Year’s Resolution: Keep the playoff streak alive
The Blazers have made the playoffs for the past eight seasons, but as it stands now, they’re not even in contention for the Play-In Tournament spot. They’ve had five first-round exits in that time frame and even though Damian Lillard may say his career won’t be defined by rings, the competitor in him would still want to be in contention.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous rank: 26
Overall W-L: 13-22
New Year’s Resolution: Make some shots
Would it kill the Thunder to make a couple of field goals? OKC is ranked 29th in field goal percentage, dead last in 3-point percentage and 24th in free throw percentage. It’s a small miracle their offense is averaging over 100 points per 100 possessions.
27. New Orleans Pelicans
Previous rank: 27
Overall W-L: 13-22
New Year’s Resolution: Act as if Zion’s return isn’t happening
The entire basketball world is anxiously awaiting the return of Zion Williamson and while we can’t wait to see him back on the court, the Pelicans shouldn’t count on it happening, for their sake. Keeping this mentality will only be of their benefit if and when he does return, because they’re starting to figure things out in his absence.
28. Houston Rockets
Previous rank: 28
Overall W-L: 10-26
New Year’s Resolution: Change Jalen Green’s green light to a yellow one.
Many still believe Jalen Green can be a 20-plus point per game scorer in the league, but if he’s going to get there, he’s going to have to start to be more responsible with his shot selection. Green is shooting under 40.0 percent from the field. I know he’s a rookie, but some of the shot attempts he takes leaves you scratching your head. He has a green light and that light needs to change to yellow until he can prove to be more efficient.
29. Orlando Magic
Previous rank: 29
Overall W-L: 7-29
New Year’s Resolution: Continue to focus on the development of Franz Wagner
Jalen Suggs stole all of the headlines from the Magic’s 2021 NBA Draft but nearly halfway through the season, Wagner has been their Rookie of the Year candidate. He recently dropped a rookie class-high 38 points in a game and has been averaging 20.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.2 steals over his last 14 games. It is important for his development (and the franchise’s future) that they continue to put the ball in his hands and run offense through Wagner.
30. Detroit Pistons
Previous rank: 30
Overall W-L: 5-28
New Year’s Resolution: Help Cade Cunningham realize his superstar potential
Having won five of their first 33 games, there hasn’t been much to cheer for in Detroit other than the play of their No. 1 pick Cunningham. After his slow start, he’s shown remarkable improvement and the team should be focused on helping him realize his superstar potential to build around him as a franchise cornerstone.
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