The NBA season is back in full swing this week. The season kicked off on the 19th with the Milwaukee Bucks defeating the Brooklyn Nets and The Golden State Warriors taking down the Los Angeles Lakers. This is the first set of power rankings for the year, so expect a lot of movement on what could be a crazy season. There was not a lot of movement in the offseason to make any team much different than last, so for now, it will be some familiar faces at the top and at the very bottom.
No. 30: Orlando Magic
Expect the Magic to be around this range for the whole NBA season. This is a rebuilding roster that does not have a lot of proven talent at the moment. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are still working back towards returning and the Magic don’t have much firepower on offense. This season is going to be about finding the right guys to build around for the future and the wins are not going to mean much. That is a good thing because there are not going to be many wins this season in Orlando.
No. 29: Oklahoma City Thunder
Much like the Magic, the Thunder are not in a position where they are going to be caring very much about the win and loss column. This season is going to be one of development for OKC. The reason that the Thunder are above the Magic, for now, is the fact that they have an established young star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Orlando does not. Aside from that, these teams are similar and both are waiting for the NBA Draft lottery in May. Look out for Josh Giddey, who the Thunder selected in the top ten of this past year’s draft.
No. 28: Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets have some intriguing young talent, but that does not mean they are going to win many games this season. Jalen Green is going to be one of the top contenders for rookie of the year and the backcourt of Green and Kevin Porter Jr. could be one of the building blocks to get this franchise back to relevance. Christian Wood should be a stats machine this year and Jae’Sean Tate has shown flashes. Houston is heading back to the top of the draft lottery, but they are going to be infinitely more entertaining than either OKC or Orlando.
No. 27: Detroit Pistons
The winners of last year’s draft lottery, the Detroit Pistons enter the 2021-2022 season with a franchise building block in Cade Cunningham. Cunningham will get the headlines, but this is a team with some intriguing young pieces around them. Forward Saddiq Bey and center Isaiah Stewart showed some flashes last season. One player that should be concerning is Killian Hayes. Hayes was the top pick for the Pistons in 2020, but he has struggled so far. Hayes needs to show that he can be a part of the future this season.
No. 26: New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are a team that has high upside when healthy, but this team also gives vibes of a team that could be on the brink of disaster. The Pelicans did not have the best offseason, losing Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, and Steven Adams. Ball is the one player that is going to be tough to replace and Devonte’ Graham might just be an average replacement. Most importantly, the Pelicans star, Zion Williamson, is injured again and it is unclear when he is going to play. This team could make the play-in tournament or be a disaster.
No. 25: Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland is an intriguing team this season. The backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland could be a lethal duo. Last year’s lottery pick, Isaac Okoro still needs to work on his offense, but the defensive upside has already been shown. Cleveland got the second pick in this year’s lottery and selected USC forward/center Evan Mobley. Mobley has a high upside and could be the best player from the draft. Cleveland got Jarrett Allen signed to a long-term deal as well. It is unclear what Cleveland can expect from Kevin Love this season, but it can’t be worse than last year. This is a dark horse team to make a run at the play-in tournament.
No. 24: Sacramento Kings
The Kings were a team that was close to making the play-in tournament, despite having the worst defense in the league. The good news was that rookie Tyrese Haliburton looked like a good pickup in last year’s draft and the Kings still have De’Aaron Fox leading the way. Sacramento re-signed center Richaun Holmes to a new contract and still has one of the game’s elite three-point shooters in Buddy Hield. The big question might be head coach Luke Walton, who has not impressed since being hired. The Kings are another team that could be in the race for the play-in, but the lottery is more likely.
No. 23: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have fallen far from their championship years and have fully embraced a bit of a youth movement. That was proven by the team deciding not to re-sign DeMar DeRozan and getting back some assets in a trade with the Chicago Bulls. The Spurs have some talented players with point guard Dejounte Murray and Derrick White and Keldon Johnson. This is a team that is probably lottery-bound and not very fun to watch, but it would be foolish to totally discount Gregg Popovich as a head coach.
No. 22: Washington Wizards
Washington traded away Russell Westbrook this offseason and is still trying to build around Bradley Beal. The team signed Spencer Dinwiddie to be the new point guard and new additions Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell hope to make their presence known. Washington needs to see growth from young guys like Rui Hachimura and Deni Avdija and while a playoff push is not to be expected, the Wizards do have an elite player in Beal and a high upside player in Dinwiddie, so they won’t be a total pushover.
No. 21: Toronto Raptors
The 2018-2019 NBA champs fell hard last season and missed the playoffs entirely. Toronto did have some luck in the draft lottery however and was awarded the fourth overall pick, where they selected Florida State forward Scottie Barnes. Gone is franchise icon Kyle Lowry and the Raptors will also be without Pascal Siakam for a period of time. They still have Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, but this team has plenty of holes as well. Set your expectations low for this team this season with so many new faces.
No. 20: Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota had a bit of a dysfunctional offseason. The team fired their general manager not long ago and this is a franchise that seems to always have something wrong internally. If Minnesota can get everyone on the floor, this has a chance to be a better team than most people think. Karl-Anthony Towns is one of the most skilled big men in the league and last year’s number one overall pick Anthony Edwards is hoping to take his game to the next level on both ends of the floor. D’Angelo Russell is an offensive threat and Minnesota has other intriguing young players. If the defense improves, this team could be in the play-in tournament.
No.19: Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are a team that has some established players and are hoping that new head coach Rick Carlisle can get more out of this team. Staying healthy is going to be the key for the Pacers. With Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert in the backcourt, scoring should not be a big issue. Myles Turner should compete for defensive player of the year with his ability to block shots. Domantas Sabonis is looking to take another step and is an offensively talented player who has shortcomings on the defensive end. T.J. Warren is a guy that Indiana needs to have healthy, but it is unknown when he will be back. Rookie Chris Duarte should be able to contribute right away. This was a play-in team last season and it would not be surprising to see them right back there.
No. 18: Memphis Grizzlies
One of the most talented young rosters in the NBA, the Grizzlies got a taste of playoff success last season beating the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament before falling to the Utah Jazz in the first round. This is a team that is led by a young star in Ja Morant and has other talented players like Jaren Jackson Jr and Desmond Bane. One move that can be scrutinized can be swapping Jonas Valančiūnas for Steven Adams, a move that did not make much sense. Playoff star Dillon Brooks looks to take another step forward on both ends. This is a team the at will be right in the hunt for another spot in the playoffs.
No.17: Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte has one of the most exciting players in the league in LaMelo Ball and the Hornets will have one of the most intriguing teams to watch this year in the Eastern Conference. With guys like P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges, along with veterans like Gordon Hayward, it is easy to see why there is such optimism in Charlotte. The Hornets made the play-in tournament last season but had a disappointing showing. They are not going anywhere and will be one of the most fun teams to watch.
No.16: Los Angeles Clippers
This ranking might seem low to some, but the Clippers could experience a slip-up this season and might be in danger of being in the play-in tournament. Without one of the NBA’s best players in Kawhi Leonard for most of, if not the whole season, the Clippers are going to be worse. It is going to be up to Paul George and Reggie Jackson to try and keep this team at the top of the Western Conference. New addition Eric Bledsoe could provide a nice scoring option and the Clippers still have Marcus Morris and Ivica Zubac. Terance Mann looks like he might be in line to be a solid player as well. This will be a good team, but without Leonard, this team will fall back a little bit.
No.15: Chicago Bulls
There might not be a team in the NBA that people have sharper opinions on than the Chicago Bulls. Some will look at their offensive talent and think that it is good enough to carry them to the postseason. Critics will point to the fact that their defense is likely to be bad and that might keep them from being a serious threat. Chicago went out and got Lonzo Ball, DeRozan, and Alex Caruso this offseason and was one of the most active teams out there. It is likely to be a mixture of both good offense and bad defense from this squad this season, which will be good enough to land them in the back half of the Eastern Conference.
No. 14: Portland Trail Blazers
This is a team that could be much lower on this list by the season’s end. The Blazers have the black cloud of a potential Damian Lillard trade hovering over them and if the season were to start off poorly, the rumors are only going to get louder. On paper, this starting five has a chance to be at the top of the Western Conference. Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Jusuf Nurkic are a really good group. It is the depth that is concerning. Larry Nance Jr was a nice pickup, but it is the rest of the roster that is filled with question marks. Not to mention, Portland has a rookie head coach in Chauncey Billups. Portland is a solid playoff team, but they need to perform well to be able to keep Lillard.
No. 13: New York Knicks
The Knicks were the surprise team in the entire NBA last season, getting the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference and Julius Randle earned second-team All-NBA. The Knicks were dominated by the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs and made some changes to the roster this offseason. Kemba Walker is returning to his hometown to play and the Knicks signed Evan Fournier, while also retaining Derrick Rose and Nerlens Noel. Defensively, the Knicks might be a little worse with Walker and Fournier on the court, but will certainly be better offensively if Walker stays healthy. With leaps from RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin, this team should be right back in the thick of the playoff race.
No. 12: Golden State Warriors
This is a team that could be higher in these rankings by the time the season ends. If Klay Thompson can come back healthy and close to what he was pre-injury, this could be a team that can make it to the finals. Stephen Curry is still the best point guard in the NBA and Draymond Green should once again be a candidate for defensive player of the year. Jordan Poole is starting in Thompson’s absence for now and he could be a most improved player. Andrew Wiggins saw growth last season and the Warriors have young talent in recent lottery picks like James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody. This is a high ceiling team that will be fascinating to watch all year.
No. 11: Philadelphia 76ers
In case anyone has not heard, there is a lot of drama going on with the 76ers and their disgruntled star Ben Simmons. The Simmons situation makes predicting the Philadelphia season tough because, with him, they are one of the best teams in the NBA. Without him, they will still be a tough team but will miss his All-defensive capabilities. The good news for Philadelphia is that they still have MVP candidate Joel Embiid. Embiid had a terrific season a year ago and looks to be even better. Tobias Harris will be depended on more now that Simmons is gone and Philadelphia is going to need a leap from players like Tyrese Maxey and Matisse Thybulle. Thybulle has the potential to be an All-Defensive staple in the future for Philadelphia.
No. 10: Miami Heat
One of the most aggressive teams in free agency this offseason, the Miami Heat went out and got Kyle Lowry after he hit free agency. The Heat also got P.J. Tucker, who is fresh off of a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks. Tucker is more of a move for the playoffs, but he was a nice pickup after all. There are reasons to be concerned with Miami however. While a starting five of Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Tucker, and Bam Adebayo will be formidable, this team’s depth is a question mark. Tyler Herro needs a bounce-back season as a sixth man and Dewayne Dedmon is a solid backup center, but the rest of the roster is questionable. Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in basketball and will likely figure it out, but that is something to keep in mind.
No. 9: Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are going to be a good team this season, but the status of Jamal Murray might be what makes them a finals contender or not. Murray suffered a knee injury late last season and Denver could not recover from it. The Nuggets are healthier and have the reigning MVP in Nikola Jokic and a candidate for the most improved player in Michael Porter Jr. Porter Jr is going to have to carry a larger offensive load with Murray out for so long. Guys like Will Barton, Monte Morris, JaMychal Green, and Jeff Green make up a solid bench for Denver to work with. This will be a dangerous team as long as Jokic is healthy, but they will need Murray if they want to make a run to the finals.
No. 8: Dallas Mavericks
Dallas is a team that could have their season go in several different directions. They have one of the games best players in Luka Doncic, but the rest of the roster looks less than spectacular. The Mavericks also made a risky hire in Jason Kidd as the head coach, who did not work with the Milwaukee Bucks or Brooklyn Nets. If Dallas wants to take a leap, they are going to have to get more from Kristaps Porzingis, who had a very disappointing postseason run. Jalen Brunson is a solid backup point guard and Reggie Bullock was a nice get from the New York Knicks. Dallas has potential, but they have to be more than just Doncic.
No. 7: Boston Celtics
Boston seems to be the team that nobody is talking about as much as they should in the Eastern Conference. Jayson Tatum is close to being a superstar now and Jaylen Brown is coming off of an All-Star appearance. The Celtics brought back Al Horford and signed Dennis Schroder to a very team-friendly deal and that will give them depth. Boston struggled with health last season and if they can have better luck, they should be in the top half of the Eastern Conference. Marcus Smart will still bring an All-Defensive mentality and Robert Williams is one of the most intriguing players in the league. This has a chance to be a sleeper team in the NBA this season.
No. 6: Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks are fresh off of a postseason run for the ages last season and are back and wanting more this time around. Trae Young looks like he has taken that leap into superstardom and is ready to challenge for all kinds of awards and All-NBA teams. The thing that makes the Hawks so dangerous is the fact that they have a lot of depth. Atlanta traded for Delon Wright to be the new backup point guard, third-year player Cam Reddish is flashing some high upside potential and Atlanta still has Danilo Gallinari to be their scorer off the bench. The biggest obstacle for the Hawks might be their health. It nearly derailed Atlanta last year with injuries all over the lineup. If Atlanta is healthy, expect another postseason run.
No. 5: Phoenix Suns
The Suns had one of the more unexpected runs to the finals in recent memory and are looking to find their way back and finish the job. The core of the team is returning with Phoenix re-signing Chris Paul to an extension, as well as Mikal Bridges. A point of concern might be that Phoenix was unable to sign former number one pick Deandre Ayton to his extension and it would be a mistake for Phoenix to let that contract dispute get in the way of a really talented team making another run at the finals. Devin Booker is one of the elite young players in the game and has gotten better each season in the NBA. The Suns also made nice bench additions with Landry Shamet and JaVale McGee. Look for this team to stay at the top of the Western Conference.
No. 4: Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers reshuffled their entire team and now find themselves to be one of the more popular picks to win the Western Conference. A lot of that is going to hinge on their two biggest stars in LeBron James and Anthony Davis staying healthy. Health was the biggest problem for the Lakers last season and it could be this season given the age of the roster. The headline move in the offseason was Russell Westbrook, but the Lakers signed countless players including Carmelo Anthony, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, Wayne Ellington, and Trevor Ariza. They also brought back key playoff rotation guys from their championship team in Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard. There are things to be concerned about, like health, age, and team fit, but until otherwise, it is hard to count out a team that has James and Davis on it.
No. 3: Utah Jazz
The Jazz had the best record in the regular season last year and have a good shot at doing it again. They had a disappointing playoff exit, but this team did get better in the offseason and should be right back in the hunt for a spot in the NBA Finals. Health was also an issue for the Jazz in the postseason, with Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley suffering injuries. Utah made some moves that included signing Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside and trading for Eric Paschall. This will be a deeper team and one that should be considered a contender to win the Western Conference. The pressure is on in Salt Lake City.
No. 2: Brooklyn Nets
Anyone could make the case that the Nets should be number one and it would be tough to argue. However, with Kyrie Irving‘s absence, the Nets go from being a shoo-in to winning the title to be among the other favorites. This is a really deep team that made some interesting moves in the offseason and by the way, they have two of the five best players in the world in Kevin Durant and James Harden. Brooklyn can win the title, even without Irving, but their margin for error is thinner. Durant and Harden have to stay healthy and offseason additions like Patty Mills, Paul Millsap, James Johnson, and Jevon Carter have to provide that quality depth that they are capable of. This team has the highest ceiling in the league and if healthy, should be able to reach it.
No. 1: Milwaukee Bucks
If Irving was playing for Brooklyn, the Nets would top this list. Since he is not, the Bucks and Nets are pretty similar teams and in the inaugural power rankings, Milwaukee earns the top spot due to being the defending world champions. Giannis Antetokounmpo finally ascended to the top of the NBA and proved many doubters wrong on his way to doing so. Jrue Holiday is back, alongside Khris Middleton and Milwaukee feels like they are even being underrated heading into the season because of the attention Brooklyn and the Lakers get. The Bucks will be right back at the top of the league and until proven otherwise, are the team to beat in the NBA.
Follow Jackson Caudell on Twitter @jacksoncaudell
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