The Hawks earned a 13-spot demotion by struggling mightily after storming out of the gates with a 9-2 start (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

Due to stellar play from the Rockets, Jazz, Thunder and Celtics, the red-hot Grizzlies actually dropped a couple slots. The panel was indeed impressed by Memphis’ ability to win five of its last six games without Mike Conley Jr. on the court; it’s just those other teams were deemed to be even better. On the other side of the coin, the Hawks have been dreadful for nearly three weeks now and are paying for it by falling precipitously in this edition. Their 13-place drop on our list may be awfully difficult for teams to “beat” in future rankings.

Biggest Jumps: Milwaukee Bucks (+8), Orlando Magic (+7), Oklahoma City Thunder (+6)

Biggest Drops: Atlanta Hawks (-13), Chicago Bulls (-10), Denver Nuggets (-9), New Orleans Pelicans (-7), Los Angeles Lakers (-7)

Our three panelists, Loren Lee Chen, Aaron Fischman and Joshua Jonah Fischman, independently ranked the league’s 30 teams from top to bottom. Their averaged rankings produced this 1-30 list and took into account all NBA regular-season games up until and including Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2016. There were six contests on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, that are not reflected in the rankings but have been taken into account for the blurbs and team records.

  1. Golden State Warriors (20-3, Previous Rank: 1)
  2. San Antonio Spurs (18-5, Previous Rank: 4)
  3. Cleveland Cavaliers (15-5, Previous Rank: 3)
  4. Toronto Raptors (15-7, Previous Rank: 6)
  5.  Los Angeles Clippers (16-7, Previous Rank: 2)
  6. Houston Rockets (15-7, Previous Rank: 8) – Through the course of winning five of their past six, the Rockets have scored 122 points per contest. It has already been a huge December for Mike D’Antoni’s offense-centric squad, who defeated the Warriors in Oakland last week and walloped the Lakers by 39 points on Wednesday. Eric Gordon has drilled 44.5 percent of his 3-pointers and averaged nearly 18 points when coming off the bench this season, which he has now done for the past eleven games. For all their offensive firepower, the Rockets rank 23rd in Defensive Efficiency. It is this side of the ball that the team needs to address in order to crack our top five and contend for a championship. – Joshua
  7. Utah Jazz (14-10, Previous Rank: 12)
  8. Oklahoma City Thunder (14-8, Previous Rank: 14) – The statistical dominance of Russell Westbrook, who is on pace to become the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson, has recently shifted into an even higher gear. These aren’t empty statistics either as Westbrook’s streak of six straight triple-doubles also coincides with six straight wins for the Thunder. To say that the success of the Thunder rests solely on his shoulders would be an understatement, as Westbrook leads the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals, and leads the NBA with a usage rate of 41 percent, which actually seems low when watching him play. Whether the Thunder can parlay his historic season into home-court advantage in the first round remains to be seen, but for now, we can all enjoy the ride. – Loren
  9. Boston Celtics (13-9, Previous Rank: 11) – Despite playing eight games without both Al Horford and Jae Crowder, minus Horford for two others, and now Isaiah Thomas likely missing a second-straight tilt, the Celtics are tied for third in the East, a mere three games behind the conference-leading Cavaliers. In a reversal of their typical roles, the 6-10 Horford is averaging 5.3 assists and the 6-2 Avery Bradley is grabbing 7.8 boards per game. Boston ranks 26th in rebound differential per game this season. The only other team in the bottom 10 of this category that would make the playoffs if the season ended today is Portland. Thus far, the Celtics’ typically elite defense ranks 16th in efficiency. They were tied for fourth last season. – Joshua
  10. Memphis Grizzlies (16-8, Previous Rank: 8)
  11. Charlotte Hornets (13-9, Previous Rank: 8)
  12. Milwaukee Bucks (11-9, Previous Rank: 20) – It’s been an exhilarating three weeks for the Milwaukee Bucks. Ever since losing to the otherworldly Warriors by three points on November 19, Milwaukee has won six of eight, including a 17-point win over the Cavaliers and narrow losses to Toronto and San Antonio. Over that nine-game stretch, the Greek Freak has gotten pretty freaky, compiling a couple triple-doubles along with averages of 23.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.7 steals and 2.3 blocks. Outside of former No. 2 overall pick (2014) Jabari Parker, who’s scoring more than 19 points per contest, the Bucks boast an incredibly balanced scoring roster with seven players who average between 7.2 and 9.2 points per game while all playing upwards of 15.9 minutes per game. Just as important, each of those seven men has stayed healthy, logging at least 18 of his team’s 20 games. For better or worse, the Bucks will soon experience a scheduling quirk where they play three teams consecutively, two back-to-backs against Chicago and Cleveland, followed by a couple games against Washington that are separated by the Christmas holiday.  – Aaron
  13. Detroit Pistons (12-12, Previous Rank: 17) – The Pistons move up four spots in the rankings after beating the Clippers and Bulls at home and defeating the Hornets, Celtics and Hawks for three consecutive impressive road victories. Reggie Jackson has struggled through much of his first three games back from injury, but Stan Van Gundy is wisely limiting his minutes. Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer have been two of the team’s most pleasant surprises thus far, ranking second and third, respectively, on the roster in Player Efficiency Rating. The Pistons will be tested with five tough games to end the month. Memphis, Golden State, Cleveland and Milwaukee come to Detroit before the Pistons travel to Atlanta. – Joshua
  14. New York Knicks (12-10, Previous Rank: 15)
  15. Portland Trail Blazers (12-12, Previous Rank: 18)
  16. Indiana Pacers (11-11, Previous Rank: 21) – At times, the 2016-17 Pacers can be difficult to figure out. Since our previous rankings, Indiana has beaten the Clippers twice but followed each of those with a blowout loss (falling to the Blazers and Warriors, respectively). On the season, eight of the Pacers’ 11 losses have been by 16 or more points, and they’ve also won five games by at least 15 points. Plus, Indiana has neither won three straight nor lost three in a row. While it is promising that the Pacers won three of the five games in which both Paul George and C.J. Miles were out with injury, fostering some semblance of consistency will be critical for Nate McMillan’s squad. Part of this inconsistency stems from the starting point guard position, where free-agent addition Jeff Teague’s win-loss split stats speak volumes. Before this week, the Pacers had only one road win and now they have three, so there’s some progress. – Aaron
  17. Chicago Bulls (12-10, Previous Rank: 7)
  18. Atlanta Hawks (11-12, Previous Rank: 5) – It’s been a tale of two seasons so far for the Hawks, who own the ignominious honor of being our biggest drop this edition, falling from No. 5 all the way to No. 18. Through the first 11 games of the season, they were 9-2 and had the second best Net Rating in the NBA at +10.5 points per 100 possessions. Since then, they’ve gone 2-10 with a Net Rating of -11.6, finally snapping a seven-game losing streak with a win over the Heat on Wednesday. During those 12 games, the Hawks have had the worst Offensive Rating (93.6) in the NBA by a wide margin, and their previously elite defense has not been enough to make up for it. A major problem has been the play of their starters. Other than Paul Millsap, who has been playing through a hip injury the past week, none of the Hawks’ main starters (including Kyle Korver, and not Thabo Sefolosha at +0.1 who just replaced him in the starting lineup on Monday) has a positive individual plus/minus on the season. That fact was masked earlier on by the surprising play of their bench, especially Malcolm Delaney and Tim Hardaway Jr., but once that cooled off, the seemingly top-tier Hawks dropped with it. – Loren
  19. Orlando Magic (10-13, Previous Rank: 26)
  20. Los Angeles Lakers (10-14, Previous Rank: 13) –The Lakers have been hit hard by injuries in recent weeks. Most notably, D’Angelo Russell and Nick Young have been out, but Julius Randle and Larry Nance Jr. have also missed some time, and now Jose Calderon’s hamstring ailment will further test the team’s depth at point guard. How head coach Luke Walton and company respond to this adversity will go a long way toward assessing the quality of this season’s team. Prior to Thursday’s games, the Lakers ranked second-to-last in Defensive Efficiency with a 109.1 Defensive Rating, but the recent rash of injuries has affected Los Angeles’ offense even more. Other than super-sub Lou Williams, whose two monster scoring outputs resulted in Lakers defeats, no one else is scoring much. Before Thanksgiving, the Lakers ranked eighth in the NBA with a 107.0 Offensive Rating. Since then, they (93.3), along with the Hawks (92.4), easily rank among the bottom-two offenses when it comes to efficiency. – Aaron
  21. Sacramento Kings (8-13, Previous Rank: 22)
  22. Washington Wizards (8-13, Previous Rank: 24) – The Wizards have gone 6-5 since Bradley Beal has returned from injury. During this span, he is averaging nearly 26 points and shooting almost 49 percent. Prior to his injury, the fourth-year shooting guard shot below 34 percent. Other bright spots in the District include John Wall’s 52-point gem against the Magic on Tuesday, Gortat’s career-best rebounding and Otto Porter Jr. easily posting the strongest numbers of his young career. Unfortunately, the Wizards’ defense has been awful, and they possess the worst bench in the league. The Wizards’ bench allows nearly 19 points more per game than it scores. Perhaps because his bench is so weak, Scott Brooks has leaned heavily on his starters. No Washington bench player averages more than 20 minutes or 7.5 points per game this season. – Joshua
  23. Miami Heat (7-15, Previous Rank: 25)
  24. Minnesota Timberwolves (6-16, Previous Rank: 23)
  25. Denver Nuggets (8-15, Previous Rank: 16)
  26. New Orleans Pelicans (7-16, Previous Rank: 19) – In the last edition of our rankings, the New Orleans Pelicans were our biggest risers, as they were riding the high of Jrue Holiday’s return to four wins in a row. Almost on cue, after that was published, they proceeded to drop six of their next seven games, including double-digit losses to both the Mavericks and the Sixers, the bottom-two teams in our rankings. To add injury to insult, aforementioned catalyst Jrue Holiday and his backcourt mate E’Twaun Moore have both been sidelined with toe injuries in the last week. After a promising 16-point, 6-12 performance against the Thunder off the bench, rookie Buddy Hield was promoted to the starting lineup to fill that void. However, he’s still exhibiting growing pains there, shooting just 5-20 in his two starts. – Loren
  27. Brooklyn Nets (6-15, Previous Rank: 28)
  28. Phoenix Suns (6-16, Previous Rank: 27)
  29. Philadelphia 76ers (5-18, Previous Rank: 29)
  30. Dallas Mavericks (4-17, Previous Rank: 30)

We hope you enjoyed the list. Feel free use our previous rankings as a reference point.