NBA Power Rankings: Warriors open 2018-19 season on top where they belong; LeBron's Lakers crack the top 10
Also, don't sleep on the Jazz, who enter the new season as a legit top five team in the league
Time for a new weekly tradition: My Monday Power Rankings of NBA teams, from the defending champion Golden State Warriors all the way down to the 30th-ranked team.
What would it take for the Warriors to drop from the No. 1 spot? A major injury to a star? Two major injuries? A resurgent Carmelo Anthony who somehow turns the Rockets' offense into one of the best we've ever seen?
There isn't much that'll knock the Warriors off the mountaintop. Because even if they sleepwalk through parts of this season, we can still presume they'll be the team to beat once the playoffs start.
These power rankings will be based on teams' current record but will not be bound to that. In other words, if the Orlando Magic again start the season with an 8-4 record, I'm not going to vault them into my top 10 on that basis. I'll be using some common sense here. But if an out-of-nowhere team is still chugging come January, I'll reevaluate.
Here's the Power Rankings on the eve of the 2018-19 NBA season:
|1||Warriors||Duh. No explanation needed. Have you been paying attention the past four years?||--||57-25|
|2||Rockets||The Rockets' offseason was suspect -- losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute will hurt -- but this team is still a historic offensive powerhouse. If Carmelo Anthony can adapt to his new role like Chris Paul thinks he will, the Rockets could challenge the Warriors.||3||53-29|
|3||Celtics||The best-coached team in the NBA -- without a single top-10 player, but with five players ranked between 12 (Kyrie Irving) and 42 (Jaylen Brown) in CBSSports.com's top 100 ranking of NBA players. You're adding Irving and Gordon Hayward to a team that pushed the Cleveland LeBrons to seven games in the Eastern Conference finals.||1||49-33|
|4||Raptors||The NBA's fifth-ranked defense loses a player who dragged it down (DeMar DeRozan) and added a player who will lift it up (Kawhi Leonard). The Raptors defense will be elite.||--||58-24|
|5||Jazz||Speaking of elite defense, a healthy Jazz is as good as it gets. Donovan Mitchell's ascendance to NBA superstar is well on its way. The Jazz are one of the best-run franchises around.||2||50-32|
|6||76ers||The Sixers have two of the NBA's brightest young superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. If Markelle Fultz can begin to show a sliver of the promise that made him the No. 1 pick in 2017, the Sixers' ceiling gets even higher.||3||51-31|
|7||Nuggets||Who needs defense? Nikola Jokic is the fulcrum of one of the NBA's most exciting offenses. A fully healthy season from Paul Millsap will ease the burden on this team's youngsters like Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Trey Lyles.||8||54-28|
|8||Pacers||One of the most surprising success stories of the 2017-18 season was the rise of Victor Oladipo and the Pacers. The Pacers had a nice under-the-radar offseason, adding Tyreke Evans, Kyle O'Quinn and Doug McDermott as well as Aaron Holiday in the draft. A big jump by Myles Turner could put the Pacers into the Eastern Conference's top tier.||5||48-34|
|9||Lakers||These starters are going to be so fun to watch. The ball movement around LeBron during the preseason has been, at times, electric. That bench, though ...||1||37-45|
|10||Bucks||Under new coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks could be in line for a big improvement this season. Eric Bledsoe had a quietly excellent season last year. If Giannis turns in an MVP-caliber campaign, the Bucks will land a home playoff series.||1||60-22|
|11||Pelicans||Anthony Davis is an all-world player, and a trendy MVP choice. Can Jrue Holiday channel the All-Star-caliber play from last year's playoffs over an entire season? Lots of questions for the Pelicans, but lots of potential as well.||3||33-49|
|12||Thunder||Count me as skeptical about OKC's chance to rise in the West. When healthy, this team has clear potential to be a top-four team in the West, if not higher. But preseason knee surgery to Russell Westbrook plus a setback in Andre Roberson's recovery from his torn patellar tendon is a worrisome way to start a season.||3||49-33|
|13||Trail Blazers||Can one of the NBA's best backcourts overcome the offseason losses of role players like Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton? The Blazers' only offseason improvements came on the margins, which is worrisome in a conference where three games separated the Blazers, last season's three-seed, and the Nuggets, who finished out of the playoffs.||1||53-29|
|14||Heat||A Jimmy Butler acquisition would vault the Heat up a tier. As it stands, this is a team with great coaching, balance and depth but no star centerpiece. Without a star, though, the ceiling is capped.||4||39-43|
|15||Spurs||The crushing loss of starting point guard Dejounte Murray to an ACL tear just before the beginning of the season would be crushing to lesser franchises, and might be for the Spurs as well. But Gregg Popovich teams do things lesser teams do not. In a stacked West, however, you have to wonder if Murray's injury, paired with all the offseason changes, signal the end of the Spurs' two-decade-plus playoff streak.||9||48-34|
|16||Wizards||Too much reliance on Dwight Howard means too much volatility for this Wizards squad. Can All-Stars John Wall and Bradley Beal, plus rising wings Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre, nudge the Wizards above just being a fringe playoff team? They certainly can. Just not sure they will.||--||32-50|
|17||Clippers||I have a sneaking suspicion that people could be sleeping on the Clippers sneaking into the back end of the playoffs in the West. Doc Rivers has said that he believes Tobias Harris is in line for his breakout season, and lottery pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has star potential. This team has depth, especially in the backcourt -- maybe the most depth in the NBA.||--||48-34|
|18||Timberwolves||Who knows what to expect from the Wolves, as the Jimmy Butler sideshow appears primed to extend into the season. This team essentially stands where it was before it acquired Butler: With a franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns, with an enigmatic, underachieving talent in Andrew Wiggins, and with some intriguing young pieces (Tyus Jones, Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop). Oh, and a bunch of old Chicago Bulls. Making the playoffs would be a huge achievement and unreasonable expectation. A better goal would be to avoid drama and achieve some stability for the future.||6||36-46|
|19||Mavericks||Higher than you'll see the Mavericks in most power rankings, mostly because I believe Luka Doncic will win Rookie of the Year and the pairing of him and Dennis Smith Jr. will be a joy to see. Will Harrison Barnes, recently sidelined with a hamstring injury, become the alpha dog on a team that's more talented than a season ago, or will he fit better as a second or third option?||6||33-49|
|20||Pistons||The Pistons can certainly make a run at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference on the shoulders of the powerful Andre Drummond-Blake Griffin frontcourt -- if the two can figure how to play together better than they did in their short stint together last season. Which young players (Glenn Robinson III, Stanley Johnson, Luke Kennard) can contribute the most?||1||41-41|
|21||Hornets||The worst position you can be in in the NBA: Barely good enough to contend for an eight-seed, too good to get a high draft pick. It's difficult to imagine that situation changing much this season, unless Kemba Walker is traded and the Hornets go full-on tank mode.||3||39-43|
|22||Cavaliers||The potential of tearing things down and then building them up ended, at least temporarily, when the Cavaliers signed Kevin Love to a four-year, $120 million extension. There's still plenty of talent in Cleveland; the story of this Cavs season will be how that talent reacts to playing without LeBron. Collin Sexton has a shot to be one of the most electric players in this rookie class.||2||19-63|
|23||Nets||Plenty of nice pieces in Brooklyn, but nobody who resembles a star. This will be a season of developing youngsters (Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert), evaluating talents who'll soon become free agents (Spencer Dinwiddie, D'Angelo Russell), and positioning for 2019 free agency.||--||42-40|
|24||Grizzlies||A healthy Mike Conley, more minutes for Marc Gasol as the Grizz are no longer tanking, the addition of Kyle Anderson, the exciting potential of Jaren Jackson Jr. Reasons for tempered optimism in Memphis?||3||33-49|
|25||Bulls||Lauri Markannen's injury is a setback for the youth movement in Chicago. But a frontcourt that still includes Wendell Carter Jr., Bobby Portis and Robin Lopez, and a backcourt with Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn and Justin Holiday should mean the Bulls aren't the absolute bottom of the barrel in the Eastern Conference.||1||22-60|
|26||Magic||There's a young and exciting frontcourt of Aaron Gordon, Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac in Orlando -- but a lack of talent at point guard could doom this team from the start. The development of Bamba and Isaac are the two most important things to watch this season.||1||42-40|
|27||Suns||Deandre Ayton has looked dominant in the preseason. This team is nowhere near playoff contention, but with Ayton's potential, plus Devin Booker's star power, plus the excitement around any number of young prospects -- Mikal Bridges and Josh Jackson, Elie Okobo and De'Anthony Melton -- there's reason to hope for a brighter future.||1||19-63|
|28||Knicks||With Kristaps Porzingis' return from his ACL tear potentially not coming until 2019-20, this Knicks season is all about developing the youth: Frank Ntilikina, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson. The best thing for this franchise may be the Knicks being the worst team in the NBA and securing a top draft pick.||6||17-65|
|29||Kings||Not quite a "team," but filled with some interesting pieces. The questions that matter this season: Can De'Aaron Fox build on a disappointing rookie year? Can Marvin Bagley III prove he can play defense? Can Harry Giles live up to a fraction of his pre-injury potential?||--||39-43|
|30||Hawks||Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk is slowly filling an empty cupboard in Atlanta. Trae Young will provide his moments of excitement this season. The development of Young along with a few other youngsters, plus a high 2019 draft pick (or picks, depending on whether the Mavericks' protected pick falls outside the top 5 and the Cavaliers' protected pick falls outside the top 10), are the only things that matter this season.||--||29-53|
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