How much should poor play be discounted by injuries?
It's one of the core philosophical questions of these Sour
Rankings, and a layered thought that produces different answers in
different viewers. Obviously, fans should feel distraught when a
player gets hurt, especially when it results in a long-term injury.
But if a team starts losing in the absence of key contributors, how
much does that matter?
My answer is: It depends. This week (spoiler alert), the 5-5 Los
Angeles Lakers make their Sour Rankings season debut in part due to
LeBron James being sidelined. The Milwaukee Bucks, however, do not,
with Brook Lopez, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton out.
Milwaukee knows what it has in about 85% of its roster, and
things should click when those players return. But the Lakers are
still figuring things out, and when the centerpiece of all
centerpieces goes down for an extended period, that severely
impacts team development. You'll hear more about the Lakers
If you're new to the Sour Rankings, here's a refresher. Unlike
the typical "power rankings" that repeat themselves throughout
sports media, Sour Rankings are a bizarro-world counter. These
rankings highlight the top-10 most frustrating NBA franchises
throughout the season, and they will be updated every week to match
the twists and turns of the league.
This is not merely a bottom-10 of your typical best-to-worst
power rankings. You will see championship contenders and playoff
hopefuls mixed in with struggling squads. Teams well-under .500 may
never touch the Sour Rankings because they are on track with their
respective processes. Injuries, drama, transactions and general
underwhelming play will all be considered.
The central question is ultimately this: How good should you
feel about the direction of each franchise? Some teams value wins
this season and paths to a title, while others are looking down the
road at long-term pieces. Let's get going:
Escaping the Sour Rankings: The Brooklyn
Nets are cruising as winners of four straight, and have potentially
outlived their place in these rankings for good. Portland continues
to split weeks, but at 5-5, has room to grow once Damian Lillard
rounds into form.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Clippers used a 4-0 week to complete
turn their early-season outlook around. And though I still loathe
much about the Dallas Mavericks, they are 6-3, and Luka Doncic's
buzzer-beater was perhaps the highlight of the past week,
10. Charlotte Hornets (5-6)
Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball may be lighting things up, but the
Hornets have lost four games in a row thanks to some eye-sore
defense. Charlotte ranks 29th in half-court points allowed per
play, according to Cleaning the Glass, and has given up an average
of 121.8 points during its four-game skid.
Opponents have been shooting a 56.1% Effective Field Goal
percentage (second-highest) and taking 19.3 free throws per 100
shots (fifth-most). Charlotte has to clean things up with some
high-powered offenses coming down the pipe.
(Last week: Unranked)
9. Houston Rockets (1-9)
The Rockets have the longest losing streak in the NBA at eight
games. That's not necessarily a huge issue given the team's
rebuilding focus. But Houston has been difficult to watch at times
as the backcourt of the future undergoes some serious growing
Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green are averaging a combined 8.2
assists against 7.4 turnovers per game, while neither holds a True
Shooting percentage over 48% (very bad). Houston turns the ball
over more than any other team, and fans just kind of have to ride
the wave at this point.
(Last week: 9)
8. Detroit Pistons (1-8)
Detroit's offense has been blindingly bad for most of the
season. The Pistons sport a league-worst 45.2 eFG%, which is over
three percentage points lower than the No. 29 Oklahoma City
Thunder; for context, three percentage points separate OKC from the
19th-ranked Clippers. Cade Cunningham cannot buy a perimeter bucket
to save his life (though he's still shown positive flashes early),
and neither can most other Pistons players.
However, I'll concede a small positive: Killian Hayes has made
38.1% of his threes, albeit on just 21 total attempts. He's found
some touch from the corners with a 40% clip. I'd feel a lot better
if the rest of his scoring efficiency wasn't so abysmal.
(Last week: 8)
7. Indiana Pacers (4-7)
Even without Malcolm Brogdon, the Pacers found a nice little
groove this week, going 3-1 with wins over the Spurs, Knicks and
Kings. They're still middle-of-the-road for most basic metrics in
classic Pacers fashion, but things were really getting scary, and
maybe some positive momentum can get them out of the Sour Rankings
I'm intrigued by this four-man group of Chris Duarte, Caris
LeVert, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. That's a lot of scoring
and playmaking versatility in my mind, and it could flourish with
Brogdon or TJ McConnell at point guard. The aforementioned group
has outscored teams by 26 points per 100 possessions in 64 minutes
together (smal sample size alert).
(Last week: 2)
6. Atlanta Hawks (4-6)
What's going on in Atlanta? The Hawks went 1-3 this week —
though they were tough losses against Brooklyn, Utah and Phoenix —
and are 1-5 in their last six games. Surprisingly, this group ranks
28th in three-point frequency, per Cleaning the Glass. That's
despite John Collins, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari and
De'Andre Hunter all shooting over 40% from downtown. Atlanta is
also 23rd in rim-attempt frequency, but second in mid-range
(Last week: Unranked)
5. Los Angeles Lakers (5-5)
In a 1-2 week, L.A. lost and struggled to score against two
pretty terrible Thunder and Blazer defenses. In fairness, the
Lakers were without Anthony Davis against Portland, and Carmelo
Anthony has really shined as a spark plug off the bench.
But this is all about LeBron James, who the Lakers said will
miss at least a week with an abdominal strain. Los Angeles' former
trainer thinks it could be more like 4-8 weeks.
It's extremely ominous that the 36-year-old James is missing
extended periods in multiple seasons after multiple shortened
offseasons... and that the Lakers are struggling to win without
(Last week: Unranked)
4. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-5)
This rapid downhill spiral feels all too familiar for Minnesota,
who lost all three matchups this week by double digits. The
Timberwolves take the most threes in the entire NBA, but make just
32.1% of their attempts. They're also making a mind-numbing 22.8%
of their corner three attempts, nearly eight percentage points
worse than any other team.
Quite honestly, I don't see how the latter rate improves looking
at this roster. D'Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards, who are
streaky in their own right, won't be chilling in the corner often.
Outside of Malik Beasley, the rest of the team doesn't possess much
perimeter upside, meaning it's on Beasley and Karl-Anthony Towns to
carry the load.
(Last week: Unranked)
3. Boston Celtics (4-6)
What an absolutely wacky week for the Celtics. They were
outscored in that 39-11 fourth quarter in the loss to Chicago
(prompting a players-only meeting), and then
stomped the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat on a back-to-back before
losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Dallas Mavericks on
Saturday. Now Boston will be without Jaylen Brown for 1-2 weeks due
to a hamstring strain.
It feels like everyone, including myself, has been shouting at
the team to attack the basket. The Celtics are 27th in the league
in rim-attempt frequency despite being ninth in field goal
percentage at the basket. The problem is they lack the consistent
downhill players to apply more pressure outside of Dennis
(Last week: 4)
2. Phoenix Suns (5-3)
Sure, the Suns are on a four-game winning streak. But that pales
in comparison to the bombshell ESPN report on Robert
Sarver's alleged racism and sexism that was finally released
this past Friday.
Obviously, due process exists, and the NBA will have to finish
its full investigation before final judgement is passed. But this
report didn't just contain one-off instances; there was a clear
alleged pattern of discrimination and disrespect that began with
Sarver and spread throughout Suns management. It's yet another
reminder of how easily owners and teams can cover up toxicity in
(Last week: 6)
1. New Orleans Pelicans (1-9)
Yeesh, the Pelicans are awful. They've lost six in a row, and
the margin of defeat has increased with each subsequent contest.
New Orleans isn't doing anything particularly well right now
outside of rebounding, and that's essentially attributed to Jonas
Valanciunas and his 14.1 boards per game. Pick a non-rebounding
team stat, and you'll likely find the Pelicans near the bottom. I
feel for Brandon Ingram right now.
(Last week: 1)