23-year-old shooting guard Bradley Beal has nearly equaled his age in points per game, as the Wizards continue their stellar play (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

While nine teams held the same ranking from our previous edition, six squads rose or dropped at least six spots. Leading the way among most improved from last edition, the Washington Wizards jumped from 22nd to 12th. Thanks to lethal 3-point shooting, the Rockets continued their ascent to fourth even as starting center Clint Capela will be sidelined for the next month at the very least. The Nuggets also impressed the panel, playing extremely well in their first stretch as a completely healthy unit. The returns of Danilo Gallinari and Gary Harris have Denver fans feeling as high as their city’s altitude. The Lakers, however, continue their slide and can no longer use injury as the lone excuse for dropping 11 of their last 12 games. Since our second edition, which was published four weeks ago, the Lakers have dropped from 13th to 27th or seven spots every two weeks.

Biggest Jumps: Washington Wizards (+10), Denver Nuggets (+7), Dallas Mavericks (+6)

Biggest Falls: Los Angeles Lakers (-7), Portland Trail Blazers (-7), Detroit Pistons (-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. 21, 2016. There were five contests on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016, that are not reflected in the rankings but have been taken into account for the blurbs and team records.

  1. Golden State Warriors (26-4, Previous Rank: 1)
  2. San Antonio Spurs (23-6, Previous Rank: 2)
  3. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-6, Previous Rank: 3)
  4. Houston Rockets (22-8, Previous Rank: 6) – In coach Mike D’Antoni’s first season in Houston, his team looks virtually unbeatable of late, having lost a single game through the first 22 days of December. Even then, it was a two-point loss that required a furious late-game comeback by the feisty Spurs. Patterned after Moreyball and D’Antoni’s usual up-tempo approach, the Rockets employ a fast, wide-open style that features 3s, 3s and even more 3s. In fact, they easily lead the league with 38.9 attempts per game, while the second- and third-ranking teams try “just” 33.3 per game. Newcomers Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have managed to stay healthy while converting a combined 42.0 percent of 15.1 3-point attempts per game. Gordon has embraced his role as sixth man too, despite coming into the season as a starter in all but 20 career contests. James Harden’s highly efficient play thus far merits serious MVP consideration and is arguably on pace to best any Suns season ever put forward by two-time MVP Steve Nash. – Aaron
  5. Toronto Raptors (20-8, Previous Rank: 4) – Toronto’s offense has been on fire this season. If they’re able to keep up this pace, the Raptors’ league-leading 115.2 Offensive Rating would be the best mark in NBA history. Though star DeMar DeRozan is not known for his outside shot, the rest of the squad compensates by collectively making 40.6 percent of their 3-pointers. Overall, the team ranks third in the league in 3-point accuracy, trailing only Cleveland and San Antonio. This number is buoyed by Kyle Lowry shooting 45.3 percent on 7.2 attempts per game. Among NBA lineups that have played over 120 minutes together, the lineup of Lowry and four bench players (Cory Joseph, Bebe Nogueira, Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross) has the best Net Rating (+30.3), even better than the Warriors’ Mega-Death lineup which has played fewer minutes. – Loren
  6. Los Angeles Clippers (22-8, Previous Rank: 5)
  7. Utah Jazz (18-12, Previous Rank: 7)
  8. Memphis Grizzlies (19-12, Previous Rank: 10) – Despite losing its past three home games, Memphis appears to be trending upward with the return of injured starters Mike Conley Jr. and Chandler Parsons. While these two shake off the rust, Tony Allen continues to rack up steals while playing heavy minutes for the No. 1 defense in the NBA at 99.4 points allowed per 100 possessions. Allen, who turns 35 next month and has never been known for his offense, has posted four 15+ point performances in eight games over the past two weeks. Eight of the team’s next 11 contests come against squads currently in the playoff picture, and just three will be played inside the friendly confines of the FedEx Forum. – Joshua
  9. Boston Celtics (17-12, Previous Rank: 9)
  10. Oklahoma City Thunder (17-12, Previous Rank: 8)
  11. Charlotte Hornets (16-13, Previous Rank: 11)
  12. Washington Wizards (13-15, Previous Rank: 22) –  Climbing 10 spots in our rankings, the Wizards are just a half game out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. While coach Scott Brooks continues to trot out his starters for an exhaustingly high percentage of each game, the Wizards bench is finally coming alive. Marcus Thornton, Trey Burke and Jason Smith have led the second unit, combining to shoot 50 percent on 49-98 field goals in the eight games since our last edition. To sustain the team’s considerable progress, Washington needs to be careful not to burn out its stars and must win on the road. The Wizards are just 3-9 away from D.C. this season. – Joshua
  13. Milwaukee Bucks (13-14, Previous Rank: 12)
  14. New York Knicks (16-13, Previous Rank: 14)
  15. Atlanta Hawks (14-15, Previous Rank: 18)
  16. Indiana Pacers (15-16, Previous Rank: 16)
  17. Chicago Bulls (14-14, Previous Rank: 17) – The Chicago Bulls have held steady at No. 17 despite losing four of their last five games, including blowing a 21-point lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves. On one hand, they’re only two-and-a-half games behind the third-seeded Boston Celtics. On the other, they’re only two-and-a-half games ahead of the 12th-seeded Orlando Magic. So, like many teams in their conference, the Bulls are in a position where any prolonged hot or cold streak could mean significant movement within the standings and our power rankings. This season, the Bulls got off to a surprisingly hot start shooting the 3, given that they are led by three guards not particularly known for their outside shooting in Rajon Rondo, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. Since then, Chicago has come crashing back down to earth and now sits dead last in the NBA in 3-point attempts, makes, percentage, rate…nearly every 3-point shooting statistic. – Loren
  18. Denver Nuggets (12-17, Previous Rank: 25)
  19. Sacramento Kings (12-17, Previous Rank: 21) – There’s no shortage of drama around DeMarcus Cousins these days whether it’s on or off the court. On Tuesday night, Boogie dropped 55 points on just 28 field-goal attempts in a game in which he was ejected and subsequently un-ejected. The Kings narrowly defeated the Blazers in front of their home crowd that night, marking the first game at Golden 1 Center since the enigmatic center’s feud with the Sacramento Bee went public. The following night, Ty Lawson provided a boost off the bench to give the Kings a one-point victory in Utah, resulting in the first two-game win streak for Sacramento since a month prior. The Kings will have the luxury of playing nine of their next 12 games in their brand new arena. There, they’re sporting a .500 record at 6-6. – Aaron
  20. Detroit Pistons (14-17, Previous Rank: 13) – “Team meeting, my ass,” said outspoken basketball philosopher and head coach Stan Van Gundy after Detroit’s 31-point loss in Chicago Monday. “Unprofessional, humiliating, embarrassing,” he added. SVG has seen his squad drop five of its last six. Especially troubling, Detroit has suffered a 3-7 record since starting point guard Reggie Jackson made his season debut. At this point, Jackson doesn’t appear to be the same player physically, and his return has negatively impacted Ish Smith’s production. Since being relegated to the bench, Smith’s facilitating is missed in the starting lineup and his shooting percentage has dropped precipitously, though he still logs upwards of 20 minutes per game. – Aaron
  21. Orlando Magic (13-18, Previous Rank: 19)
  22. Portland Trail Blazers (13-18, Previous Rank: 15) – After losing eight of their last nine games, the latest being an embarrassing home loss to a Mavericks team without Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut that left their social media manager speechless, the Portland Trail Blazers officially now have the worst Defensive Rating (110.7) in the NBA and find themselves in a three-way tie for eighth in the West with Denver and Sacramento. Festus Ezeli has already been ruled out for the season with a knee injury, but that may not even be the most disappointing offseason signing for the Trail Blazers. Evan Turner, brought over on a four-year, $70 million contract, has an overall plus/minus of -186, ahead of only Phoenix’s Brandon Knight. According to shot tracking data, every single one of Turner’s 51 3-point attempts has been either “open” (closest defender 4-6 feet away) or “wide open” (over 6 feet away), but despite that, he’s shooting under 30 percent. Possibly a blessing in disguise for the Blazers, Turner is currently day-to-day with an ankle injury. – Loren
  23. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-19, Previous Rank: 24)
  24. Dallas Mavericks (8-21, Previous Rank: 30)- Two weeks ago, we ranked the Mavericks dead last, and now they have risen to 24th. The extremely injury-prone Deron Williams has stayed healthy and is playing like an All-Star, averaging nearly 19 points and seven assists, while shooting north of 47 percent over his past six games. Another guard with a concerning injury history, Wesley Matthews, has provided gritty defense. In addition, his offensive performance this season has served as a key indicator of team success. In wins, Matthews averages 18.4 points on 45.3 percent from the floor and 44.9 percent from distance. In losses, he averages 14.5, hitting just 35.8 percent from the field and 35.3 from deep. J.J. Barea, who is enjoying a career season, returned this week after missing 17 games, only to depart his second game back with Achilles soreness in the same leg. – Joshua
  25. New Orleans Pelicans (10-21, Previous Rank: 26)
  26. Miami Heat (10-20, Previous Rank: 23)
  27. Los Angeles Lakers (11-21, Previous Rank: 20)
  28. Philadelphia 76ers (7-21, Previous Rank: 29)
  29. Phoenix Suns (8-21, Previous Rank: 28)
  30. Brooklyn Nets (7-21, Previous Rank: 27) – The Nets’ 4-5 start must seem like an awfully distant memory. At 7-21, the Nets struggle in virtually every facet of the game, ranking 29th in Net Rating (-7.5), 28th in Defensive Rating (109.1), 24th in Offensive Rating (101.6), 26th in Rebound Percentage (48.3) and next to last in Assist-to-Turnover Ratio (1.23). On December 12, starting point guard Jeremy Lin returned after a five-week injury hiatus. Although Brooklyn has lost all five of those games with Lin, three were road losses decided by single digits, including a four-point loss at Houston in Lin’s first game back. Well, at least Brook Lopez is having fun letting it fly from deep. Coming into the season with 31 total 3-pointers attempted for his career, the 28-year-old big man has already launched 136 bombs in 25 games this season (and he’s converting better than 35 percent). – Aaron

Thank you for reading. Our previous edition can be accessed here.