NBA Power Rankings: Impressive Bucks finish regular season on top, but they're not league's biggest overachiever
The Bucks should be applauded for their job to this point, but it's the Clippers who really knocked it out of the park
Would you believe me if I told you it actually wasn't the Milwaukee Bucks who most outperformed their preseason expectations this year?
We've reached the end of the NBA regular season and are waiting for the playoffs to begin. There's no better time than during the final CBS Sports Power Rankings of the season to judge which teams have most overachieved compared to SportsLine's preseason projections -- and which teams have most underachieved.
The Bucks are close to the most overachieving team. Remade by Mike Budenholzer as the perfect team to maximize Giannis, the Bucks won 17.5 games more than their preseason projections.
But the most overachieving team of the 2018-19 season was actually … the Los Angeles Clippers, who won 18.6 games more than their preseason projections. It was an incredible season: A team that very few (other than this guy right here) thought would make the playoffs did so, and were able to do so after making a forward-thinking trade of their best player (Tobias Harris) at the trade deadline. That's one reason why I voted for Doc Rivers for second place in the Coach of the Year voting. (Budenholzer got my first-place vote, of course.)
So the five most overachieving teams in the NBA, in order, go like this: The Clippers (18.6 wins over preseason projections), the Bucks (+17.5), the Orlando Magic (+14.4), the Sacramento Kings (+12.5) and the Portland Trail Blazers (+11.7).
As far as the most underachieving? Perhaps you won't be surprised to hear that two of the top five most underachieving teams were involved in the central drama of the 2018-19 season, when the Los Angeles Lakers engaged in very public trade talks to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans.
Because of a rash of injuries, we never got to see what a full-strength Pelicans team could have been. (My guess: Pretty damn good. See below.) But due to injuries and then Davis' trade demand, this became the most underachieving team in the NBA, winning 15.1 fewer games than preseason projections.
Here's our final Rower Rankings of the 2018-19 season.
|1||Bucks||Preseason projected win total: 43.5. Difference: +17.5 wins. You couldn't imagine a more impressive regular season for these Milwaukee Bucks. Through smart roster construction and smart coaching, Jon Horst and Mike Budenholzer unlocked everything that is once-in-a-generation about Giannis. Now the only question that remains -- other than whether Giannis wins MVP -- is if the Bucks can succeed in the playoffs. Anything short of the Eastern Conference finals will be a massive disappointment.||--||60-22|
|2||Warriors||Preseason projected win total: 62.1. Difference: -5.1 wins. Weird to think that the team that won the Western Conference just turned in a disappointing -- and some might say predictive of a surprising playoff struggle -- regular season. After all, this is the fewest number of regular-season wins from the Warriors since their dynasty began. And yet we all know it doesn't really matter -- all that matters are the playoffs. Anyway, they got the 1-seed, and they're going into the playoffs healthy. That should be considered the definition of a successful regular season for the Warriors.||1||57-25|
|3||Raptors||Preseason projected win total: 58.0. Difference: 0.0 wins. They are who we thought they were -- except the Raptors have done it in a completely different way than last year's team that secured the 1-seed out East. This season, the Raptors posted a 112.5 offensive rating (fifth in the NBA) and a 106.8 defensive rating (fifth in the NBA). Only the Bucks rank in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Last season the Raptors ranked second in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency, the only team in the NBA to rank in the top five in both. And yet this team feels completely different than last year's team -- as if they were built for the playoffs and conducted this entire season with playoff success in mind.||1||58-24|
|4||Nuggets||Preseason projected win total: 47.2. Difference: +6.8 wins. An incredible season for the Nuggets, who missed the playoffs on the final night of last season and then flirted with the 1-seed in the West this entire season before the Warriors ended up pulling away. As the second-youngest team in the NBA, the future is even brighter than the present for the 2-seed in the West. And yet, despite this season that overachieved anyone's preseason expectations, the present is still a bit concerning. One reason is this first-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs won't be easy. The Nuggets split their season series with the Spurs. And the Nuggets didn't exactly end the season on a high note. After Feb. 27, the team went 12-10, ranking 21st in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating during that stretch.||2||54-28|
|5||Rockets||Preseason projected win total: 57.0. Difference: -4.0 wins. This team is the opposite of the Nuggets: Started the season by digging an enormous hole, ultimately underperformed those preseason expectations, but are on a roll just at the right time, as they head into the playoffs. Since Dec. 8, when this team was sitting at 11-14, the Rockets have gone 42-15 -- the second-best record in the NBA during that stretch, one game worse than the Bucks -- and posted the NBA's top offensive rating while ranking a respectable 11th on defense. Only the playoffs matter to this team. The biggest failure of this regular season is that their slow start has set the Rockets up for a potential second-round matchup against the Warriors, which is not what they wanted.||1||53-29|
|6||Trail Blazers||Preseason projected win total: 41.3. Difference: +11.7 wins. The loss of Jusuf Nurkic so soon before the playoffs is devastating. But this team just won its most games in a season since the 2013-14 season. And somehow, perhaps because of an easy end-of-season schedule, the Blazers have gone 7-2 since Nurkic's injury.||3||53-29|
|7||76ers||Preseason projected win total: 54.3. Difference: -3.3 wins. Weird to think that the Sixers -- with Markelle Fultz and without Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris -- were actually projected to win more games in the preseason than they actually ended up winning. There's little doubt, though, that this is a better team now than it was back in October. Or at least they have a higher ceiling, when healthy. The "when healthy" part is key -- Joel Embiid might miss the start of the playoffs with his lingering knee problems, and this team's depth makes them especially ill-equipped to deal with any injuries, especially not injuries to its most important player. The Sixers are 8-10 when Embiid doesn't play.||2||51-31|
|8||Jazz||Preseason projected win total: 48.7. Difference: +1.3 wins. Even with the rough beginning to the regular season -- due to Donovan Mitchell's struggles and a brutal first-half schedule -- the Jazz are exactly where we expected them to be. Mitchell has played at an All-Star level the second half of the season. In his final 41 games, as the Jazz went 30-12, Mitchell averaged 26.9 points per game on 41.5 percent 3-point shooting.||1||50-32|
|9||Celtics||Preseason projected win total: 58.5. Difference: -9.5 wins. I don't get it either, you guys. It seems like even Brad Stevens doesn't quite get it, why this team hasn't coalesced. Is it that there are too many stars and only one basketball? Is it that the youngsters don't get along with the veterans? Is it that Kyrie Irving is too mercurial of a star? You can see a scenario where the Celtics suddenly put things together in the playoffs, though the Marcus Smart injury that will shelve him the first two rounds of the playoffs will make that much more difficult. Maybe the Celtics are exactly who they've told us they are all season: A team that's not built to make the Finals, or likely not even the Eastern Conference finals.||2||49-33|
|10||Thunder||Preseason projected win total: 47.1 Difference: +2.1 wins. Yes, they ended with five wins in a row to secure the 6-seed. And yes, they outperformed preseason expectations. But given how we were thinking of the Thunder at the All-Star break -- as the 3-seed in the West, perhaps better, and maybe the biggest Western Conference threat to the Warriors -- you can't help but feel a bit disappointed by how this season ended. The Thunder went 12-13 after the All-Star break, with an offense that ranked 23rd (gross) and a once-dominant defense that ranked 11th during that stretch.||3||49-33|
|11||Spurs||Preseason projected win total: 42.7. Difference: +5.3. I counted out the Spurs at so many times during this season: When they made the trade for DeMar DeRozan, which seemed to fly in the face of their defense-first philosophy ... when starting point guard DeJounte Murray went down to a season-ending injury in the preseason ... when they were below .500 in mid-December ... when they lost seven of eight games on the Rodeo Road Trip. Lesson: Never doubt Pop. There hasn't been enough discussion about what an incredible coaching job it's been this season in San Antonio.||1||48-34|
|12||Clippers||Preseason projected win total: 29.4. Difference: +18.6 wins. Whoa! I was optimistic about the Clippers heading into the season, and thought they'd make a run at the playoffs. But even the most optimistic people (outside the Clippers' locker room, at least) couldn't have seen this season coming. Bravo, Doc Rivers. If the Clippers make a free-agent splash (Kawhi?) this offseason, they'll be close to the top of the West. Even if they don't, there's a solid foundation laid for the future.||4||48-34|
|13||Nets||Preseason projected win total: 32.2. Difference: +9.8 wins. Sean Marks showed the rest of the NBA how to rebuild a squad with one hand -- at times two hands -- tied behind your back. Taking fliers on guys like D'Angelo Russell, Joe Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie paid off in a major way. He hit home runs in the mid/late in the first round with Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. An impressive season from a team with a great culture -- and with a shot at upending things in a first-round playoff matchup with the enigmatic Philadelphia 76ers.||3||42-40|
|14||Pacers||Preseason projected win total: 49.6. Difference: +1.6 wins. The Pacers finishing only 1.6 wins over their projected preseason total understates exactly how impressive this team has been since Victor Oladipo's season-ending injury to stay in the mix. Yes, the Pacers struggled at the end of the season, going 16-19 after Oladipo's injury. But even to win that many games -- and to post a top-10 defense -- after Oladipo went down is an impressive achievement. A shame we couldn't see this team at full strength in the playoffs.||2||48-34|
|15||Kings||Preseason projected win total: 26.5. Difference: +12.5 wins. The Kings were projected to have the second-worst record in the NBA. They didn't fall out of the playoff race until the last couple weeks. The development of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles and Bogdan Bogdanovic gives the Kings an enviable young core. Let's hope they don't screw it up, because Dave Joerger's team was one of the most exciting in the NBA to watch this year.||2||39-43|
|16||Magic||Preseason projected win total: 27.6. Difference: +14.4 wins. Steve Clifford just wins -- at least, in the second half of his first season with a young team. It's what he did in his first season in Charlotte, and it's what he did in his first season in Orlando. After Jan. 31, the Magic went 22-9 for the third-best record in the NBA, and posted the league's best defensive rating.||1||42-40|
|17||Pistons||Preseason projected win total: 39.8. Difference: +1.2 wins. This Pistons' season was all about one thing: the Blake Griffin renaissance. It's incredible that Griffin, despite (rapidly) declining athleticism, has reinvented his game to turn back into a completely different type of All-Star. This team never had all that high of a season. They came close to reaching it.||3||41-41|
|18||Hornets||Preseason projected win total: 31.3. Difference: +7.7 wins. The end of Kemba in Charlotte? We may have just seen it in Charlotte. Without Kemba, the Hornets would be one of the worst teams in the NBA next season. But bottoming out post-Kemba and going into a massive rebuild could be the best thing for this franchise long-term; with all of the greatness that Kemba has brought, the Hornets have still topped out at mediocre.||2||39-43|
|19||Heat||Preseason projected win total: 42.7. Difference: -3.7 wins. The Heat have now made the playoffs only twice in the five years since LeBron left. It's tough to foresee a way forward for a team that's not in an enviable cap situation. A shame to not get to see Dwyane Wade get one last run in the playoffs, but this team was the definition of mediocre all season long.||1||39-43|
|20||Lakers||Preseason projected win total: 48.8. Difference: -11.8 wins. Amazing to think now, but CBS Sports' projections put the Lakers at third in what was expected to be an incredibly tight West. Whoops. What a complete disaster; everything from Christmas Day, when LeBron injured his groin, until the final day of their season, when Magic Johnson abruptly resigned, was a disaster. What can the Lakers do in the offseason to put this team on the right path?||1||37-45|
|21||Timberwolves||Preseason projected win total: 42.2. Difference: -6.2 wins. I don't even know how to judge the Timberwolves season. A disaster? Certainly. But the two core parts of what made this team a disaster -- Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau -- are gone. It's hard to judge Ryan Saunders given the absurd amount of injuries he had to deal with. The ceiling of this team feels capped because of Andrew Wiggins' awful contract. But the ceiling is certainly higher than this year. The Wolves could -- maybe even should -- make the playoffs next year.||2||36-46|
|22||Pelicans||Preseason projected win total: 48.1. Difference: -15.1 wins. What could have been? Check out the net rating for the Pelicans' two best five-man lineups: The lineup of Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, E'Twaun Moore, Anthony Davis and Elfrid Payton had an insane +29.3 net rating -- but played only 71 minutes together all season. The lineup of Jrue Holiday, E'Twaun Moore, Anthony Davis, Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle had a net rating of +17.7 -- but played only 116 minutes together all season. It's depressing to think how good Anthony Davis' New Orleans time could have been if it weren't for injuries and terrible depth. But it's all but assured that we've reached the end of his time there. Would a perfectly healthy season have changed his mind on whether he wanted to stay?||--||33-49|
|23||Mavericks||Preseason projected win total: 38.1. Difference: -5.1 wins. Here's how I feel about the Mavericks: really, really optimistic. Weird feeling that way about a team with the seventh-worst record in the NBA. But that's exactly how you should feel about a team with Luka Doncic heading into his first offseason, with Kristaps Porzingis on the mend, with a really nice young player in Jalen Brunson and with a boatload of cap space heading into this offseason.||3||33-49|
|24||Wizards||Preseason projected win total: 40.3. Difference: -8.3 wins. Well, we learned this season that Bradley Beal can absolutely be the No. 1 star on a team. Sure, the injury plagued Wizards weren't exactly good after John Wall's season-ending injury -- 19-28 the rest of the way -- but Beal was a star. He averaged 27.2 points and 6.0 assists after Wall's final game of the year in late December.||1||32-50|
|25||Grizzlies||Preseason projected win total: 34.1. Difference: -1.1 wins. There was a glimmer of hope at the beginning of this season that the Grizzlies had turned back time. A month into the season, they were one of the biggest surprises in the NBA, with an excellent defense. And then: oof. They ended up trading away one of their two franchise cornerstones, and it sure doesn't seem like Mike Conley wants to stick around much longer. This team began their rebuild too late. They will go down before they go up.||1||33-49|
|26||Hawks||Preseason projected win total: 23.1. Difference: +6.1 wins. Buy stock in the Hawks (even if the Trae Young-John Collins duo doesn't exactly scream "good defense"). This team outperformed expectations, mostly because its young core -- Young, Collins and Kevin Huerter -- were great, and look like a core to build around. Now the Hawks will likely get two more shots in the lottery with their pick and the Dallas Mavericks' pick.||1||29-53|
|27||Bulls||Preseason projected win total: 28.8. Difference: -6.8 wins. Funny to think that some pie-in-the-sky Bulls fans were predicting a playoff appearance at the beginning of this season. But one thing that must be noted about this team: Because of all the injuries, we don't really know what this young core looks like together. There's certainly a scenario where the Bulls are on the rise, and where this young core -- specifically Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr. and, maybe, Kris Dunn -- can turn into something nice.||--||22-60|
|28||Cavaliers||Preseason projected win total: 32.0. Difference: -13.0 wins. Cleveland's Post-LeBron Era (Part II) began with a bad decision, when they signed Kevin Love to what might be an untradeable four-year, $120 million extension. That could very well come back to bite a team that should have gone into a full rebuild from the moment LeBron left for the Lakers. Cedi Osman and Collin Sexton could turn into potentially good players for the Cavs. Other than that, there's not much to crow about with this roster.||1||19-63|
|29||Suns||Preseason projected win total: 27.3. Difference: -8.3 wins. The defense was not as bad as the Cavs' -- but it was the second-worst in the NBA. This team has some nice pieces, at least for those who prefer traditional counting stats over the advanced stats that take defense into account. Devin Booker is an offensive star; Deandre Ayton could become one. But this team is still a long way away.||1||19-63|
|30||Knicks||Preseason projected win total: 28.1. Difference: -11.1 wins. The optimism at Madison Square Garden has everything to do with the possibility of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Zion Williamson all becoming Knicks in the offseason. It's not impossible!||--||17-65|
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