It's hard to maintain your place in the Sour Rankings.
Most teams come and go throughout the season, making spot
appearances as they experience a slump or stumble into your
run-of-the-mill NBA drama. The New York Knicks are making their
first appearance in the Sour Rankings this week, but time will tell
if the current underachievement is a blip or a theme.
The true stalwarts, however, are trapped in severe on-court
disappointment and off-court turmoil. Our top (or bottom, depending
on your point of view) squad holds down the fort for a third
consecutive week. That's not an easy feat, and it's not exactly the
recognition the franchise wants 14 games into the season.
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 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: Four teams
broke free this week. The Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns are
riding serious hot streaks, and have gone a combined 13-2 over the
last two weeks. The Pistons may be losing, but Cade Cunningham's
20-point outing against the Rockets and 2021 No. 2 pick Jalen Green
should inspire some confidence.
The Hornets also jumped back out after a thrilling 106-102 win
against the Golden State Warriors. That alone is a feather in the
cap for such a young team.
10. Milwaukee Bucks (6-8)
Honestly, I don't know how to feel about placing Milwaukee in
here. Bucks fans shouldn't be panicking; the team is still working
its way through injuries to Brook Lopez and George Hill, as well as
Khris Middleton's COVID-related absence and Donte DiVincenzo's
long-term injury. But Milwaukee is under .500 and has struggled to
generate positive momentum in the early season. The Bucks wield an
18th-ranked offense and 22nd-ranked defense. It's just been a slog
(Last week: Unranked)
9. Boston Celtics (6-7)
The Celtics have rather quietly locked down with the league's
third-best defensive rating (102.3, per Cleaning the Glass) over
the past two weeks. That comes without Jaylen Brown for most of the
stretch, and also some missed time between Al Horford and Josh
Richardson. The streaky shooting and general offensive
inconsistencies are still confounding. But Ime Udoka has overhauled
the defense in his first year as head coach, and things seem to be
clicking into place relatively early.
(Last week: 3)
8. Houston Rockets (1-12)
Houston remains in about the same place as the past two weeks: a
very bad basketball team with some, but not enough (yet) flashes of
promise. The Rockets have lost 11 in a row, and it's tough to think
about how the agreement to sit John Wall is costing the young
players some on-court stability from a veteran.
Alperen Sengun has been a bright spot off the bench. He's
6-of-14 from three-point range to start the year, and recently had
a 10-point, 10-rebound, 4-assist performance in Sunday's loss to
(Last week: 9)
7. New York Knicks (7-6)
Tommy Beer has aptly summed up
the complete derailment of New York's defense and starting lineup.
In general, the team's shooters have hit a massive dry spell. The
Knicks are hitting 26.8% of their corner threes. RJ Barrett is
7-for-32 from long range in his last six games. Evan Fournier is
8-for-35 since the start of the month. There's reason to believe in
positive regression, but that only takes the Knicks so far with a
(Last week: Unranked)
6. Los Angeles Lakers (8-6)
Anthony Davis kept things pretty real after a
107-83 loss to the Timberwolves last Friday:
“We gotta decide who we want to be. A championship team? That's
not us right now,” Davis said.
L.A. did go 3-1 last week, narrowly beating the Charlotte
Hornets, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. Davis himself put up 34
points and 15 rebounds in the most recent victory over San Antonio.
We'll see if his words and actions generate some meaningful change
over the next week; the Lakers still have a bottom-five offense
over the past two weeks.
(Last week: 6)
5. Sacramento Kings (5-8)
We have our first report of a coaching job in jeopardy! Shams Charania of The Athletic
reports that Luke Walton could be on the hot seat if the Kings
keep adding to their four-game losing streak. In fairness, the
current skid includes defeats of five points or less to the Pacers,
Suns and Thunder. Sacramento has two very winnable games against
the Pistons and Timberwolves coming up. At least for Walton's
future, those matchups are becoming inflection points in the
(Last week: Unranked)
4. Memphis Grizzlies (6-7)
This might be the greatest free-fall of any NBA team right now.
Last week, Memphis lost to the Hornets and Pelicans by 10 and the
Suns by 25. Over the last two weeks, the Grizzlies are one of three
NBA teams in the bottom-10 of both offensive and defensive ratings
(you'll see the other two shortly). Opponents are shooting a
league-high 41.3% from deep against the Grizzlies and 51.2% from
the corners (?!?!) on the season.
Memphis is also second in transition frequency, but 24th in
points per transition play. The team gives up the most points per
play in the halfcourt among all its peers. The more I research, the
worse it gets...
(Last week: Unranked)
3. Atlanta Hawks (5-9)
We arrive at the worst defensive team in the NBA over the last
two weeks, and it just lost one of its better defenders in De'Andre
Hunter for two months due to wrist surgery. The Hawks are giving up
118.2 points per 100 possessions since November began, which is far
and away the worst mark in the NBA. They also force the fewest
turnovers per game.
A 42-point barrage from Trae Young helped Atlanta finally end
its six-game losing streak on Sunday against the Bucks.
(Last week: 5)
2. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-8)
Remember that eye-popping Timberwolves defense? Me neither;
Minnesota is 27th in defensive rating over the last two weeks. The
Wolves randomly crushed the Lakers, but are 1-7 in their past eight
Amazingly, they not only get to the line at the third-worst rate
in the league, but also give up the most free throws per 100 shots
in the entire league. Malik Beasley has a horrendous 43.2% True
Shooting percentage. Things are bad. But at least Minnesota got the
front office drama out of the way before the season, unlike our No.
(Last week: 4)
1. New Orleans Pelicans (2-12)
Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report wrote last week that David Griffin is on the hot seat in
New Orleans, and that the Pelicans president of basketball
operations got into an altercation with former head coach Alvin
Gentry. Zion Williamson is still without a timetable on his injury
recovery pathway. The Pelicans are one of the worst teams in the
NBA, and are demonstrating little in the way of prospect
And that, folks, is how you lock up the No. 1 spot in the Sour
Rankings for a third straight week!
(Last week: 1)