NBA Preseason Power Rankings: LeBron's Lakers, Kawhi's Clippers lead most wide-open title race in years
With so many unknown commodities for the upcoming season, the safest thing to rely on is star power
For the last four seasons we could have pretty much copied and pasted the intro to the preseason Power Rankings. A few details and names would change here and there, but the message would be the same: Here's who can win the title, if something crazy happens to the Warriors.
Well, something crazy did happen to the Warriors. Their decline, coupled with an unprecedented summer of player movement that led to the formation of several superstar duos, means that this is the most wide-open title race that we've had in years -- and NBA fans are in store for some serious fun. Following his first time missing the playoffs in over a decade, LeBron James now finds his Lakers at the top of the Power Rankings to begin the season, thanks to the acquisition of his new running mate, Anthony Davis. What a whirlwind, indeed.
In the first set of preseason Power Rankings, we're looking at how teams will start -- not how they'll finish. It's a heat map of the best teams in the league right now, rather than a prediction of how the standings will look at the end of the season. As such, they'll change from week to week as the league shifts throughout the year. Here is the first set of 2019-20 NBA Power Rankings.
|1||Lakers||The Clippers might be the best team in the NBA, but the Lakers are more equipped for a hot start. Assuming Anthony Davis and Kyle Kuzma are good to go by opening night, the team's veteran supporting cast will adapt more easily to their new surroundings than some of the other new pieces around the league. LeBron is rested and giddy, Davis is out to establish himself as the league's most dominant big man and Kuzma wants to prove the hype around him emanating from Los Angeles is deserved -- that's all a recipe for the Lakers being the best team in the NBA to start the season -- the real question is, how long will it last?||2||49-14|
|2||Clippers||The Clippers are prepared to deal with superstar injuries as well as any team in the league, but being without Paul George to start the season drops them a peg below the Lakers to start the year. Kawhi Leonard appears ready to go, but we know load management is in his future. In contrast to the Lakers, who have motivation to jump out of the gates, the Clippers appear perfectly content to play the slow game, building to hit their stride in April as the playoffs begin. Even without George they're going to be one of the best teams in the NBA. When he gets back, it gets downright scary for opponents.||1||44-20|
|3||76ers||As intriguing as any team in the league, the Sixers will head into the regular season with all their main pieces healthy and could have the best defense in the NBA to start the season. Length, versatility and basketball IQ abound, and they're anchored by an elite rim protector in Joel Embiid. Offensively it might take a bit more time to click, but when you have Ben Simmons in transition and Embiid in the halfcourt surrounded by shooters, the points will follow. Depth is the main issue here, but that won't be much of a factor until injuries arise because of the way Brett Brown will stagger his stars.||1||39-26|
|4||Bucks||Are you ready to see reigning MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo on a mission? With the bitter taste of a rough playoff exit and a disappointing FIBA showing fresh in his mind, the Greek Freak should reach a whole new level this season in terms of focus and production. The Bucks proved last year that Mike Budenholzer's system is a regular-season juggernaut, and they might be higher on this list to start the season were it not for an injury to Eric Bledsoe. Milwaukee was already searching for a way to replace Malcolm Brogdon in the rotation, so Bledsoe's injury leaves them thin at the guard position. That being said, as long as Giannis and Khris Middleton are healthy, it's pretty much plug-and-play with the rest of the rotation.||--||53-12|
|5||Nuggets||Owners of the league's best home record last season, the Nuggets bolstered their already-deep rotation with the acquisition of Jerami Grant and the health of Michael Porter Jr., who has turned some heads in the preseason. With Nikola Jokic running the show and Jamal Murray ready to make a leap, it's going to be very hard to beat Denver this season. In an offseason with so much player movement, the Nuggets' continuity should allow them to get off to a strong start.||2||43-22|
|6||Jazz||Donovan Mitchell has shouldered pretty much the entirety of the playmaking duties over the past two seasons -- so the Jazz brought in Mike Conley. Utah's 3-point shooting was dreadful in the playoffs -- so they signed Bojan Bogdanovic, who knocked down a career-high 42.5 percent of his 3s last season. Add those pieces to the second-best defense in the league, and you have a team that could contend for the Western Conference's top seed.||1||41-23|
|7||Rockets||The dynamic between James Harden and Russell Westbrook is hard to predict, but we have to give Mike D'Antoni the benefit of the doubt that he'll figure something out. At the very least Westbrook adds a transition element that the Rockets have lacked, and it will take opponents some time to gameplan for it. With Harden you know the Rockets will score, but defense is a question mark after the team fell from seventh in the league in 2017-18 to 17th last season.||1||40-24|
|8||Warriors||The preseason has revealed the exact conundrum that makes the Warriors so hard to predict. They occasionally look like a mess on both ends, with so many new players trying to acclimate themselves to Steve Kerr's system. But on the other hand they have one of the best offensive weapons of all time in Stephen Curry and one of the best defensive weapons of all time in Draymond Green. No matter who they're missing from previous years, the presence of those two makes Golden State formidable. As the season goes on and they start to figure things out, the Warriors could surprise some people who have already written them off as title contenders.||3||15-50|
|9||Celtics||The Celtics can convince themselves that the offense will be fine despite the loss of Kyrie Irving, given the addition of Kemba Walker and the expected improvement of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. Defense, however, is another story. Going from the elite defense of Al Horford to the average-at-best Enes Kanter is going to hurt significantly. The big wild card with Boston is whether a less turbulent locker room situation will lead to a happier, more productive team, but the pieces -- including Brad Stevens -- are certainly there.||--||43-21|
|10||Spurs||We're running out of analogies for the unprecedented consistency the Spurs have displayed over the last 20 years. Once again San Antonio appears likely to be pushed out of the Western Conference playoffs, and once again they'll somehow find themselves in the mix when the postseason arrives. The Spurs get a big boost this season with the return of a healthy Dejounte Murray, an All-NBA defender with untapped offensive potential. Derrick White took a huge step forward last season to complement the steady presence of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge. They're not flashy, but the Spurs just continue to get it done under Gregg Popovich.||3||27-36|
|11||Trail Blazers||We continually pick the Blazers as the team that will take a step back and fall out of the playoffs, and they continually prove us wrong. This season, however, they've made significant personnel changes that will at least take time to mesh. The Hassan Whiteside experiment is interesting, while their lack of a true power forward will lead to some unconventional combinations. Terry Stotts and his staff have plenty to explore, but the ability to lean on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum as they navigate the process is quite a luxury.||3||29-37|
|12||Nets||The plucky Nets made the postseason ahead of schedule this past spring, and then pulled off one of the biggest coups in NBA history by landing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency. With Durant expected to miss the season, the Nets likely won't be competing for the East title yet, but they'll still be solid with a revitalized Irving, a rising star in Caris LeVert and steady role players throughout the roster led by sharpshooter Joe Harris and rim-protector Jarrett Allen.||2||30-34|
|13||Heat||The Heat finally got the post-Big Three star they were looking for, but the question of whether Jimmy Butler is good enough to be the best player on a championship team remain valid. He'll be surrounded by a supporting cast chocked full of veterans, but perhaps Miami's most intriguing piece is Bam Adebayo, coiled and ready to spring forth from the very large shadow of Hassan Whiteside. Justise Winslow has also developed into a steady contributor, and could be the key to how far this Heat team can go.||8||41-24|
|14||Raptors||Sure the defending champs lost arguably the best player in the NBA, but this team is still a well-oiled machine capable of winning a lot of games. Pascal Siakam is ready to emerge as the focal point of the offense, surrounded by capable veterans like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, with steady production from Fred VanVleet. If OG Anunoby plays the way the Raptors think he can in extended minutes, this team should be strong on both ends of the floor once again.||2||46-18|
|15||Magic||After getting back into the postseason for the first time since 2012, the Magic will look to take the next step behind All-Star Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and breakout candidate Jonathan Isaac. Orlando went on a huge second-half run last season to make the playoffs, so we'll have to see if they can sustain that over the course of a whole year.||2||30-35|
|16||Pelicans||We're not supposed to buy into preseason hype, but the Pelicans are making it really difficult. Zion Williamson seems like he hasn't missed a shot, Lonzo Ball looks like the player the Lakers thought they drafted and Nickiell Alexander-Walker could be the steal of the draft. When you buoy the young pieces with a borderline All-Star in Jrue Holiday, a 20-point-per-game scorer in Brandon Ingram and a veteran sharpshooter JJ Redick, the Pels have one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. Whether that transfers to wins remains to be seen.||1||28-36|
|17||Pacers||It was easy to overlook the Pacers' offseason moves since they didn't acquire any superstars, but president Kevin Pritchard and Co. did quite well for themselves by adding Malcolm Brogdon, TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb. All three of them give Indy some extra scoring punch and 3-point shooting as they await the return of Victor Oladipo. If Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis continue to improve and Oladipo comes back healthy, the Pacers could be a legit contender to win the East. But they're not there yet.||5||39-26|
|18||Thunder||The Thunder trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook not only set them up wonderfully for the future, but it also left them with a pretty decent team in the present that should contend for one of the lower playoff seeds out West. Chris Paul will have a lot to prove after being jettisoned by Houston, Danilo Gallinari is coming off a career year and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has the makings of a future All-Star. OKC could eventually choose to trade away assets for a rebuild, but to start the season it's a solid squad.||4||40-24|
|19||Kings||Sacramento took a huge step forward as a franchise last season led by young sparkplug and future All-Star De'Aaron Fox. He's flanked by shooter Buddy Hield and exciting second-year forward Marvin Bagley III, creating an electric offense for first-year Kings coach Luke Walton. They'll play a fast, fun brand of basketball, but unless they improve on last season's 21st-ranked defense (offseason additions Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon should help), wins will be tough to come by in a stacked Western Conference.||5||28-36|
|20||Pistons||The Pistons got back into the playoffs last season, a stated goal of the franchise, but were limited in their offseason moves due to money tied up in the contracts of Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. Griffin is coming off a career year, but can they really count on him to play 75 games again? If he's out for any extended period of time, they're going to have trouble putting the ball in the basket.||2||20-46|
|21||Mavericks||With a healthy Kristaps Porzingis -- suddenly looking like Ivan Drago -- set to join Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, the Mavericks have one of the most exciting young cores in the league. The surrounding pieces aren't quite there yet, but Delon Wright and Maxi Kleber are young players on the rise.||2||40-27|
|22||Hawks||Man, you have to love what Travis Schlenk and the front office are building in Atlanta. Trae Young looks like a future superstar, with John Collins emerging as a potential All-Star. The pieces around those two provide shooting, versatility and length, which should make the Hawks one of the league's most fun teams to watch this season. Their youth and defensive struggles will probably keep them out of the playoffs this season, but this might be the last year we'll be able to say that for a long time.||1||20-47|
|23||Timberwolves||The Wolves are in a tough division and a tough conference, but they have one of the league's best players in Karl-Anthony Towns. The franchise has been waiting on Andrew Wiggins to turn the corner, and maybe young coach Ryan Saunders can bring it out of him, but the Wolves' success or failure will hinge on the defensive end -- where they've been one of the worst teams in the league for the past five seasons.||3||19-45|
|24||Bulls||There's no questioning the talent on the Bulls roster -- Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter, Wendell Carter, etc. -- but we're still not quite sure how those pieces fit together. Chicago has a crowded backcourt with the additions of free agent Tomas Satoransky and rookie Coby White, so don't be surprised if they make a deal before the season's done.||--||22-43|
|25||Suns||Are the Suns actually ready to take a step forward? Finally getting a true point guard in Ricky Rubio is a good start, and Devin Booker is due for another phenomenal individual season. With Dario Saric, Kelly Oubre and a maturing Deandre Ayton, the Suns have enough firepower to escape their previous status as the doormat of the league under new coach Monty Williams.||2||26-39|
|26||Knicks||The disappointment of the Knicks' offseason has been well-documented, and they're left with a team full of question marks and positional redundancy. Players like Julius Randle and Marcus Morris may contribute to a few more wins, but the real progress the Knicks will look for is with young players like Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina and RJ Barrett.||--||21-45|
|27||Wizards||The Capitals and Nationals may be changing the face of sports in our nation's capital, but the Wizards won't contribute to the renaissance any time soon. Washington has assembled one of the worst rosters in the NBA to surround All-Star Bradley Beal, with John Wall expected to miss the entire 2019-20 season. The Wizards front office insists they're not trading Beal, but we'll see how long he can put up with the level of losing this squad is about to endure.||2||24-40|
|28||Cavaliers||The Cavs will be in the thick of the tankfest this season among the league's bottom-dwellers, which means they are almost certainly looking at options for Kevin Love. Collin Sexton and Darius Garland essentially play the same position, but that's the least of Cleveland's problems. They're just looking for any glimmer of hope from their young players this season while they pray for lottery luck.||--||19-46|
|29||Grizzlies||Look, the Grizz aren't going to win a lot of games, but that doesn't mean they're not going to be fun. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. comprise one of the most electric young duos in the league and Jonas Valanciunas was an absolute monster last season after coming over from the Raptors. They're playing for ping pong balls, but at least the rebuild has a strong foundation.||--||32-33|
|30||Hornets||After losing Kemba Walker and replacing him with the bloated contract of Terry Rozier, the Hornets will vie for the worst record in the league this season. They still have high-priced veterans with little trade value (Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller), which could create a logjam for the young players who should be getting those minutes amid the rebuild (Miles Bridges, Malik Monk, PJ Washington, etc.). Whether they go with the youth movement or ride the vets, it's going to be a rough year in Charlotte either way.||--||23-42|
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