NBA Sour Rankings: Injury-plagued Nuggets tumble to No. 1

NBA Sour Rankings: Injury-plagued Nuggets tumble to No. 1

At the approximately one-quarter mark of the NBA season, I would have expected we'd get a clearer picture of the league hierarchy.

That is not so.

First place and 13th place in the Eastern Conference are separated by just six games. Fourth place to 10th place in the Western Conference are just a game-and-a-half apart. So many franchises have been hit with obstacles in such a short time that, aside from a handful of bottom-feeders, it's tough to discern the contenders from the pretenders leaguewide. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a tier of "most chaotic" teams that fill up our rankings.

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 generally underwhelming play will earn you a spot on this list.

The central question is ultimately this: How good should you feel about the direction of each franchise? Let's get going:

Escaping the Sour Rankings: The Atlanta Hawks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies continued to build on positive consecutive weeks. They're all back to .500 or better with some statement wins, and thus, sneak out in lieu of some falling squads.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-10)

After finally ending a five-game losing streak with a nice win over the lowly Orlando Magic, Cleveland gets a chance to turn the tide back around with Evan Mobley healthy. 

(Last week: 10)

9. Philadephia 76ers (10-10)

Philly went 2-7 in the stretch Joel Embiid missed while he was recovering from COVID-19. In his return, Embiid dropped 42 points, but the 76ers still lost in double-overtime against the (rival?) Timberwolves. It's certainly great to have Embiid back, and the 76ers will no doubt return to winning soon, but the skid was a sobering reminder that this team does not have the depth to sustain injuries or other absences to its stars.

(Last week: Unranked)

8. Detroit Pistons (4-16)

This is not meant as a dig toward Cade Cunningham; the No. 1 pick is still woefully inefficient as a shooter, but has shown plenty of other promising flashes so far. The problem is little else jumps out as exciting across the roster — aside from Killian Hayes' catch-and-shoot threes. The Pistons have lost six in a row with a roster that really isn't super young. Zero players on the league's worst offense shoot over 37% from long range. Among the bottom-dwellers, this has been one of the uglier rebuilding seasons.

(Last week: Unranked)

7. Toronto Raptors (9-12)

All that talk about Toronto's length-fueled defensive juggernaut has yet to translate, as the Raptors have the NBA's second-worst defense over the past two weeks. After taking down the Grizzlies, the Raptors lost twice by double digits to the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics — two squads in the same apparent tier of playoff contention. Should the playoffs even be the focus for a young team rebuilding on the fly? That's up for debate, but if you're expecting a postseason appearance, things currently look grim.

(Last week: Unranked)

6. Sacramento Kings (8-13)

Beating the Los Angeles Lakers in a triple-overtime thriller sure feels great for Kings fans, but that got nullified pretty quickly when Sacramento gave up 128 points to a Ja Morant-less Grizzlies team. The Kings forced just nine Memphis turnovers and got outrebounded 68-49 in the blowout loss. Opponents have scored 120 or more points in 4 of the last 5 contests. For interim head coach Alvin Gentry, that's the first task: get something out of a traditionally inept defense.

(Last week: 5)

5. New Orleans Pelicans (5-17)

How about the Pelicans? A 2-2 week with wins over the Washington Wizards and Utah Jazz is nothing to sneeze at. Devonte' Graham's game-winner against Utah gave NOLA fans their highlight of the season, and we're starting to get promising flashes from young players like Kira Lewis Jr. and Herb Jones. Jones, in particular, has been a defensive revelation as a second-round rookie who now starts; he has three or more steals in each of his last three games.

(Last week: 1)

4. New York Knicks (11-9)

Tom Thibodeau said Monday that Kemba Walker will not be part of the Knicks' rotation for the time being, and Alec Burks will start at point guard on Tuesday against the Nets. Regardless of how you feel about the recent 2-1 stretch, that's a pretty rough look for one of the marquee additions of the offseason. New York has had the 21st-ranked offense through the past two weeks as RJ Barrett continues to flounder. 

(Last week: 4)

3. Los Angeles Lakers (11-11)

Despite winning the night before Thanksgiving, the Lakers should sure be glad they played Detroit on Sunday night. Things were looking ugly after the fully healthy squad lost to the Kings to fall back under .500. L.A. is one of the worst rebounding teams in basketball; they're 27th in offensive-rebound percentage, per Cleaning the Glass, and sixth-worst in opposing offensive rebound percentage. With a mediocre offense and a below-average defense, second-chance opportunities become even more devastating.

(Last week: 3)

2. Houston Rockets (3-16)

The Rockets have a nice little winning streak going after snapping their 15-game slide with narrow victories over the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets. Christian Wood dropped 33 points and 16 rebounds, and Kevin Porter Jr. put up 23 points and 12 assists, in the wild overtime win over Charlotte.

That's nice and all, but I need to see more from more young players to consider moving the Rockets — especially with the drama surfacing about Stephen Silas on the hot seat and John Wall asking for (and not getting) playing time.

(Last week: 2)

1. Denver Nuggets (9-10)

Denver is riding a six-game losing streak with the worst defense and worst point differential in the NBA over the past two weeks. The team lost PJ Dozier for the season due to a torn ACL, and are reportedly losing Michael Porter Jr. for the year as well when undergoes the third back surgery in his short career. No need to dive much deeper; it's pretty obvious the Nuggets are in a tailspin. 

(Last week: 6)

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