NBA Tier List: 76ers, Jazz exceeding expectations so far this season

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell lays the ball up during the first half of the team's NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

There’s still a lot of chaos that needs to be sorted out because of the ongoing problems of trying to play a season in the midst of a pandemic, but as we approach the quarter-way mark of the season around the league, it would seem there’s some clarity near the top of the league.

The middle of the pack is still a jumbled mess, but that will hopefully start to clear up in the coming weeks as the season continues to chug along.

Here’s how we view things in the latest edition of the NBA Tier List.

Top class of the NBA

There was expectation that the two Los Angeles teams would be among the best in the league, but who honestly thought the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz would be this good?

Utah, in particular, has seemingly come out of nowhere, having won eight straight games after starting the season a tepid 4-4 and enjoying a remarkable net rating of plus-15.5 over its streak.

The Jazz will eventually lose, but with the way their playing, that won’t be for much of an extended period.

Potential top tiers

All of these teams, on paper, have the potential to be elite, but right now they’re missing a key ingredient that could very well be corrected in the future.

In the case of the Boston Celtics, they’ve stumbled over their past five games after seeing three games of theirs postponed. The Milwaukee Bucks still look vulnerable as the book on how to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo remains the same as ever. The Brooklyn Nets are still trying to find their way with their superstar trio and the Denver Nuggets have only just recently found their stride after a sluggish start to the season.

The murky middle

There are nine teams here in the middle of the pack as it’s still difficult to define what any of these teams are at the moment.

For example, the Toronto Raptors look to be turning their season around, having won five of their last six games, but their poor start to the season still looms as they own a sub-.500 record.

On the flip side to this, the Phoenix Suns and Cleveland Cavaliers appeared to be two of the best teams in the league to start the season but are dropping like a sack of bricks right now.

There’s been wild swings of variance all over the place from each of these teams so it’s tough to determine, exactly, what they are just yet.

Surprising and unsurprising mediocrity

Heading into the season, if we were to tell you both the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets would be 6-9 15 games into their campaign, you’d probably say we were crazy. But it’s just been that kind of season for these two organizations as they’ve had to deal with COVID protocols and, in the case of Houston, make a lot of changes on the fly because of trades.

Look around at the rest of this level, though, you see more normalcy with the likes of New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder coming back down to earth and the Charlotte Hornets and Chicago Bulls being their usual OK selves that doesn’t really equate to much winning.

The bottom

The Orlando Magic were red hot to start the season, going 6-2, but since then they’ve won once in their last nine tries and have been reeling.

Ultimately, it might be for the best as Orlando is a team that hasn’t been able to get over the first-round playoff hump with much of the same personnel for the past two seasons now and even if they snuck in again this season, why would anything be any different this go-around?

Being bad this season may be a blessing in disguise for them given the supposed depth of talent near the top of this year’s draft.

Too many games postponed to make proper judgment

The Memphis Grizzlies have had their last five games postponed and the Washington Wizards had their last six games postponed before they were finally able to play again on Sunday.

There simply isn’t enough recent information to make a proper assessment for either of these teams this week.

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