The Whiteboard: Power ranking the hottest teams in the NBA right now

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.

NBA All-Star Weekend is just days away and will provide a welcome break for some teams looking to get healthy or integrate new pieces. For others, it may be an unwelcome interruption to a season-changing hot streak.

Here are the five hottest teams in the NBA right now, the ones who will be looking to carry their current momentum through the rest of the week and hopefully revive it after the break.

5. Golden State Warriors

Since the beginning of December, Stephen Curry has been shooting 40.3 percent from the floor and 35.2 percent on 3-pointers. Since the beginning of December, the Warriors are 24-12, including 8-2 over the last 10 with wins over the Mavericks, Timberwolves, Nets and Lakers, outscoring opponents by an average of 5.8 points per 100 possessions. I can’t think of a better reflection of the kind of gravity and impact Curry can have even when he isn’t scoring well.

Klay Thompson, who has still been on a minutes restriction until recently, has been averaging 20.3 points per game, shooting 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. Andrew Wiggins is actually making his selection as an All-Star game starter a bit more defensible. Jonathan Kuminga, supposedly one of the biggest projects in the draft, has become an actual contributor playing meaningful minutes. Jordan Poole, Damion Lee and Moses Moody have hit 48-of-121 from beyond the arc in the past 10 (39.7 percent). With Curry struggling, this team is nowhere near its ceiling and it is still one of the best in the league.

4. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have won eight of their last 10 games and it took a one-point loss to the Denver Nuggets to break an eight-game win streak. Over this stretch, they’ve outscored opponents by an average of 8.4 points per 100 possessions, notched wins over the Heat (twice), Hawks (twice), Bulls and Hornets. Sitting in the No. 7 slot, they’re still likely facing the play-in tournament but they’re looking more and more like a dark horse to make some noise in the playoffs, especially with the addition of Thad Young at the trade deadline.

This run has coincided with an incredibly hot hand for Gary Trent Jr. and perhaps the best stretch of basketball of Pascal Siakam’s season. Trent Jr. is averaging 25.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 2.3 steals per game over his last 10, shooting 47.4 percent from beyond the arc. Siakam has averaged 24.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.7 steals per game, shooting 55.5 percent from the floor and 42.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Even though Thad Young duplicates skill already on the roster, he’ll provide some welcome depth to a rotation that has plenty of question marks off the bench. His playmaking will also be a huge help for a team without a lot of guard depth that asks its forward to handle a lot of the creation responsibilities. The Raptors have some obvious flaws and might not be able to sustain this torrid pace but they’re looking increasingly scary.

3. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA for a while now but things haven’t slowed down at all in the past two weeks. They are 8-2 over their last 10, outscoring opponents by an average of 10.0 points per 100 possessions. That includes wins over the Jazz, Clippers and Hornets and has helped move them into the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. As with their entire season, the driving force has been Ja Morant, who is averaging 31.2 points, 6.4 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game over his last 10.

The most interesting upshot of the Grizzlies surging in the standings may be the rising MVP candidacy of Morant. A few weeks ago, I compared Morant’s season to Derrick Rose’s 2010-11 MVP season and found a lot of similarities, both in their own numbers and in the muddled mix of candidates around them. The major difference was that the Bulls won 62 games that season and finished with the best record in the league. The Grizzlies may not catch the Suns for the best record in the league but they’re now on pace to win 57 games and are just 2.5 games behind the Warriors for the second-best record in the league. Morant, unsurprisingly, has moved up to No. 8 in Basketball-Reference’s MVP tracker, just a hair behind Luka Doncic. That model, of course, includes only statistical inputs and the Grizzlies’ season has been one of the most compelling stories in the league this season, something that will definitely help him in the voting. It could be a magical finish for Morant and the Grizzlies.

2. Phoenix Suns

The Phoenix Suns have been pacing the league since the earliest days of the 2021-22 season and haven’t slowed down at all lately. They’ve won nine of their last 10, outscoring opponents by an average of 9.9 points per 100 possessions, and they’ve only lost two games since the beginning of January. In fact, since their 1-3 start at the beginning of the season, they’re 45-7, a 0.865 win percentage. Only two teams in NBA history — the 2015-16 Warriors and the 1995-96 Bulls — have finished a full season with a higher win percentage. They still have to finish things in the playoffs but the Suns have been, by far, the best team in the regular season from start to finish.

1. Boston Celtics

The Celtics have been on an absolute tear. They’ve won nine of their last ten games, including eight in a row, outscoring opponents by an average of 18.2 points per 100 possessions and picking up wins over the Heat, Hornets, Nets, Nuggets and Hawks. Their defense has been exceptional over this stretch but their offense has also looked much more composed and fluid than it did early in the season.

Over their past 10, they’ve been averaging 310.4 passes and 49.9 potential assists per game, up from 290.7 and 44.4, respectively, across the season to that point. That’s correlated with far less ball-stopping from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who have seen the average length of their touches decrease and more off-ball movement. In addition, the systemic changes might pay further dividends down the road since the Celtics have pulled this off despite some relatively cold shooting on open and wide-open 3s over this run — just 33.3 percent. Even if their defense regresses a bit a corresponding progression in their shooting on wide-open shots could balance out and keep them on this hot streak.

And, the Celtics have only had two games so far to integrate Derrick White, their major trade deadline acquisition. He’s shot relatively poorly so far but he’s averaging 5.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.0 steals per game and the Celtics outscored the Hawks and Nuggets by a combined margin of 39-23 in the 15 minutes he was on the floor with Marcus Smart, Tatum and Brown.

This current stretch has brought them from eighth to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings, out of the play-in tournament and just two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers.

Things are looking up in Boston.

SUBSCRIBE. Get The Whiteboard delivered daily to your email inbox. light

Other NBA stories:

Lauri Markkanen is reportedly nearing his return to the Cavaliers, which should help them overcome their recent run of terrible first quarters.

The 76ers will have to get creative in figuring out how to help James Harden and Joel Embiid work together. But Harden’s potential negative impact on Tyrese Maxey could be an even more complex problem to solve. Jared Dubin has more on the challenges facing both teams in integrating their new parts.

The Lakers are teetering on the edge of missing the playoffs, with their odds now down to 25 percent per 538. The Nets, on an 11-game losing streak, could be headed to the lottery as well. Per 538, their playoff odds have shrunk to 62 percent after starting the season at 90 percent.

In Dan Devine’s assessment, the biggest winner at the NBA Trade Deadline may have been “Delicious, Delicious Irony.”

Looking for more good stuff to read? Sign-up for email newsletter service The Sample. You set your interests (sports, politics, science and more) and every day they’ll send you one edition of a new email newsletter to try. If you like it, subscribe with a single click. If you don’t, delete and you’ll never see that one again. Best of all, for every person who tries the sample through the referral link above, The Sample will help a new subscriber find their way to The Whiteboard.