A late-December opener. Endless COVID-related postponements. A condensed schedule. Despite the hurdles, every NBA team finished the regular season on Sunday with 72 games in the books, and now the play-in tournament and playoffs await. Everyone involved deserves a round of applause, as this was certainly not an easy season to get through.
Since the season is over, we're going to deviate from the standard week-to-week Power Rankings and look back on the season as a whole. When we do that, one thing is obvious: The Utah Jazz were the best team in the NBA. What happens in the postseason remains to be seen, but Utah was as dominant as any top team in recent memory with a plus-nine net rating for the season.
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Right behind them are the Brooklyn Nets, not necessarily because of their final record, but because of how well they performed with all three of their superstars in the lineup. Rounding out the top five are the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers, which leaves us with the curious case of the Los Angeles Lakers. They were great when they were healthy, but that was a rarity this season, so they end up in the seventh spot.
Surprises this season include the New York Knicks, who ended up ranked 11th, and the 14th-ranked Atlanta Hawks -- interestingly enough, they'll meet in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
It was a quirky, occasionally shocking and unpredictable season, and with what's gone on in the world over the past year and a half, we have to remember to be grateful for every second that we get to enjoy the sport we love. Here is the final set of NBA Power Rankings for the 2020-21 regular season.
|The Jazz were the best team in the NBA this season, and nobody can take that away from them. They led the league in net rating and 3-pointers per game, finished in the top four in both offense and defense, and their egalitarian approach to offense drew comparisons to the legendary 2014 Spurs. Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley were buoyed by leading Sixth Man of the Year candidates Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles to make 2020-21 the Year of the Jazz.||2||7-14|
|Brooklyn's regular season was more of a tease than anything else, giving us glimpses of the devastation that Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden could wreak when all three were on the court together. We only saw them for 186 minutes, but the Nets still finished with the best offensive rating in the history of the NBA at 117.3 points per 100 possessions. Questions about the defense and depth abound, but if those three are healthy then Brooklyn is the title favorite. End of story.||4||11-9|
|Trust. The. Process. Joel Embiid was the leading MVP candidate until an unfortunate injury, and his time with Ben Simmons on the court was more productive than ever. The addition of Seth Curry and Danny Green, along with the steady production of Tobias Harris, opened up the offense, while the stingy defense finished second in the NBA. All of this earned Doc Rivers' bunch the No. 1 seed, and a favorable path to the Eastern Conference finals, where they would have home-court advantage.||1||13-7|
|The momentum from an 8-0 bubble run to close out last season was bolstered by the addition of Chris Paul, but even the most avid Suns fans couldn't have seen this coming. Phoenix was one win away from entering the playoffs with the best record in the NBA, and Paul will surely get votes for MVP after meshing seamlessly with incumbent star Devin Booker. They earned the No. 2 seed in their first postseason appearance since 2010, and their reward is a potential matchup with LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Go figure.||--||12-9|
|The Clippers flew under the radar this season, never giving off the vibe of a championship juggernaut but finishing with the league's best 3-point percentage and second-best net rating nonetheless. They thoroughly dominated with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the floor together, outscoring opponents by a whopping 17.6 points per 100 possessions in over 1,000 minutes. Were it not for their epic playoff collapse in the bubble, more people would be talking about the Clippers as legitimate title contenders.||--||10-10|
|They weren't the regular-season wrecking crew we've seen over the past two seasons, but the Bucks still finished with the fourth-best net rating in the NBA. The defense slipped, but that's due to some experimentation with switching that took some time to figure out. Giannis Antetokounmpo won't win a third straight MVP, but he could based on his numbers, while Jrue Holiday looks like the perfect addition on both sides of the ball. Don't sleep on the Bucks this postseason.||5||15-6|
|It wasn't quite Murphy's Law, but it was close. Not many expected the Lakers to be slotted into a play-in matchup with the Warriors before the season, but injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis changed the team's projection in a hurry. That being said, they'll still be one of the favorites to come out of the West in the postseason, a fact bolstered by teams actively maneuvering on the last day of the season to avoid playoff matchups with them. Overall it was a season of attrition for the Lakers, who have a difficult road toward a title defense.||6||13-9|
|The Nuggets were looking like legitimate title contenders after the addition of Aaron Gordon, but those hopes took a hit when Jamal Murray went down with an ACL tear. Even so, Nikola Jokic, the likely NBA MVP, kept the team winning despite numerous injuries and Denver somehow secured the No. 3 seed in a brutal Western Conference. You can't say enough about how great Jokic was this season, averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game on 57/39/87 shooting splits. Goodness gracious.||1||14-8|
|The Mavs gave off an underachiever vibe this year, but they finished in the fifth seed with a better winning percentage than last season. Luka Doncic put up another All-NBA-caliber season and while Kristaps Porzingis never quite found his groove, the slack was picked up by the likes of Tim Hardaway Jr., Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith. Their reward is a repeat of last postseason's first-round matchup with the Clippers.||1||12-8|
|Portland was forced to navigate injuries to CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, which led to a banged-up Damian Lillard logging major usage to keep his team in the race. It worked, and now that McCollum and Nurkic are back, with the addition of Norman Powell, the Blazers closed the regular season winning 10 of 12 games and managed to avoid the play-in tournament. Terry Stotts is reportedly on the hot seat, but that would likely change with a deep playoff run.||1||6-14|
|What else can we say about the Knicks? They went from being projected as one of the worst teams in the league to hosting a first-round playoff series. In their first year under Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks went from 23rd to fourth in defensive rating and finished with the league's ninth-best net rating. Julius Randle improved as much as any NBA player in recent memory, and has a good shot at making an All-NBA team. Overall, it was a magical season for New York.||1||12-8|
|Steph Curry said it felt like the Warriors had "four seasons in one," because of the many directions the team took, and that seems like an apt description. They hovered around .500 for most of the season, but a Curry assault let to a strong finish that saw Golden State claim the No. 8 seed in a difficult Western Conference. Draymond Green showed he still has a lot left in the tank and Andrew Wiggins did everything that was asked of him. With Klay Thompson potentially returning next season, the Warriors could be true contenders once again.||2||10-11|
|This wasn't exactly the season we expected from Miami after a run to the NBA Finals in the bubble. They were ravaged by injuries and COVID, but Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler had outstanding seasons to help keep the team afloat and land in the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. Erik Spoelstra's team is built for the postseason, and they're not going to let a lower seed deter them from their goal of making it back to the Finals.||2||12-9|
|The Hawks spent a lot of money over the offseason in an effort to make the playoffs, and they ended up as a five-seed, thanks to a deep roster led by Trae Young, Clint Capela, John Collins and new addition Bogdan Bogdanovic. Atlanta looks to be successfully navigating the difficult task of staying competitive while developing young talent, but they'll eventually have some roster decisions to make. Until then, however, hats off to the franchise for accomplishing its goal and getting back to the postseason for the first time since 2017.||2||9-11|
|The Grizzlies were one win away from securing the No. 8 seed, an impressive feat for one of the youngest teams in the league that was without its second-best player, Jaren Jackson Jr., for most of the season. Ja Morant's scoring average went up, but his 3-point shooting dropped considerably -- something to keep an eye on as his career progresses. No matter what happens this postseason, the Grizzlies have a deep, talented roster and a strong foundation for years to come.||4||6-14|
|This Celtics season will go down as an utter disappointment, as a thin roster was further exposed by COVID and injury issues throughout the season. Jaylen Brown took another large step forward and Jayson Tatum had some prolific scoring efforts, but there's no way to view this season other than as a step backward for Boston.||1||15-5|
|How things can change. Halfway through the season, Russell Westbrook was awful, Bradley Beal was frustrated (again) and the Wizards were going straight toward the lottery. Fast forward, and a resurgent Westbrook has led them to the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference despite inconsistent contributions from everyone else on the roster except Beal. Will it be enough to convince Beal to stay long-term? Who knows? But it's a step in the right direction.||2||3-17|
|Indiana's offense improved, but first-year coach Nate Bjorkgren reportedly lost his locker room, which has put him on one of the hottest coaching seats in the league. Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis were excellent all season, and Caris LeVert had some outstanding performances after coming over from the Nets. Add a healthy TJ Warren and Myles Turner back into the mix next season, and the Pacers should continue to be competitive no matter who's at the helm.||5||11-8|
|The Spurs missed the playoffs for the first time in 22 seasons last year, and technically they started a new postseason streak by landing the final play-in spot in the West. DeMar DeRozan handled his role of primary playmaker with aplomb, but the future of the franchise lies in young guards like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker. San Antonio was once again at the bottom of the league in 3-point attempts, a trend that could change if DeRozan signs elsewhere as a free agent this summer.||1||3-17|
|What a year for the Hornets, who made the postseason for the first time since 2016 behind outstanding play from LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and Miles Bridges. Were it not for injuries to Hayward and Ball, they may have avoided the play-in altogether. Charlotte has a recipe to be good for a long time if it stays healthy, as its defense improved from 25th last season to 18th this year.||2||6-13|
|The Bulls fell short of their goal of reaching the postseason, but made a big move for the future by acquiring Nikola Vucevic to pair with Zach LaVine, who had a breakout All-Star campaign. There are still questions about Chicago's young pieces like Coby White and Lauri Markkanen, but Patrick Williams has the makings of an impact player.||--||8-14|
|Perhaps expectations were a little high for the Pelicans, who are still one of the youngest teams in the league with a new coach in Stan Van Gundy. This season was all about the development of Zion Williamson, one of the most dominant forces in the league at the ripe age of 20. New Orleans has a treasure trove of assets to help it in the future, but the team's inconsistency this season must have been frustrating for everyone involved.||6||12-10|
|Sacramento reached record levels of futility, tying the Clippers' NBA record by missing the playoffs for the 15th consecutive season. The Kings had the worst defense in the NBA by a wide margin, but there is some hope for the future, as De'Aaron Fox put up his best season yet and Tyrese Haliburton turned in an excellent rookie year. Outside of those two, however, the entire roster is up in the air and Luke Walton's job is tenuous, to say the least. Given the strength of the Western Conference, there's a good chance the postseason drought continues next year.||3||11-8|
|Chalk the Raptors' underwhelming season up to their temporary relocation to Tampa and a COVID outbreak just when they looked to be turning their season around. No matter what happens with Kyle Lowry this offseason, Toronto is set up to return to contention next season when things (hopefully) get back to normal.||--||9-12|
|The Wolves were a .500 team when Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell played together, and Anthony Edwards showed drastic improvement in the second half of the season, so the mood in Minnesota isn't as gloomy as it was earlier this season. They played much better under new coach Chris Finch, and they'll try to carry that momentum into next season.||--||16-4|
|Before they started more aggressive tanking measures, the Thunder were 17-22 in mid-March. It's a good sign that they were struggling to lose, even when that was the entire goal of the season. OKC has a foundational piece in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a bona fide defensive stopper in Lu Dort, a bevy of young talent that could eventually develop into meaningful role players and about six billion first-round draft picks. Not bad at all.||4||13-7|
|Surely the Cavs didn't pick up as many wins as they hoped, but you could do a lot worse than a foundation of Darius Garland, Collin Sexton and Jarrett Allen. The defense showed marginal improvement after finishing last or second-to-last in each of the past three seasons, so that's certainly a start. Now it's a matter of developing the young cornerstones an building pieces around them.||2||12-9|
|The Magic finally blew it up, and it's likely going to be a while before they sniff the postseason again. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz will hopefully return to full strength at some point next season to join young players like Cole Anthony, Chuma Okeke, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr., whose development will be a major focus moving forward.||2||14-7|
|We knew the win total would be low for the Pistons this season, but Troy Weaver and Dwane Casey have to be proud of the way the team competed despite a talent deficit in nearly every game. Jerami Grant proved he's capable of being a top-end scorer, especially if he gets more help, and Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes showed enough promise to be cautiously optimistic about Detroit's future -- especially if they get some lottery luck.||2||2-19|
|Tilman Fertitta is optimistic, but the road back to relevance for the Rockets is going to be long and arduous. Christian Wood is the real deal, Jae'Sean Tate and Kenyon Martin Jr. were pleasant surprises, but they're going to need a lot of lottery help over the next couple of seasons to put together a winning core. John Wall averaging over 30 minutes in 40 games was a feel-good story, and we'll see how he comes back next season.||2||9-9|