NBA power rankings: Who's actually in the running to win a title?



So, that offseason was wild.

It really doesn’t seem like that long ago since Kawhi Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to an NBA title. It really doesn’t. And, in true NBA fashion, the ensuing four months changed the entire landscape of the league.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are on the Nets, but they’ll have to wait a year to play together. Kawhi teamed up with Paul George on the Clippers. The Lakers got Anthony Davis. The Warriors are still good. The Rockets have Russell Westbrook now. The Sixers are tall. Zion is on the Pelicans. I mean, it was a rapid-fire exchange of superstars this summer.

The dust did settle, though. And it brought NBA fans a decidedly different looking league with power tilted towards the West. And here at For The Win, we went all in to make sense of the offseason mayhem. It’s no longer a Golden State-dominated league, which should be fun for everyone involved — even Golden State.

But when it all came down it separating the contenders from the pretenders, this was how we saw the NBA season playing out this year.

Tier 1 – The real contenders

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

1. Clippers
2. Rockets
3. 76ers
4. Bucks

I’ll let Clippers owner Steve Ballmer’s press-conference reaction speak for itself because, well, the Clippers are going to be that good.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are joining a core that already had playoff talent. And honestly, I can’t wait to see Leonard and Patrick Beverley playing defense together. The balance of power undeniably changed in the West this offseason, and the Clippers should be the clear-cut title favorite even out of a stacked Western Conference.

The Eastern Conference should really be a two-team race this season — assuming there are no major injuries — between the Sixers and Bucks. But the Sixers should have the most difficult lineup to defend in the East. At 6-foot-6, Josh Richardson will be the shortest player in the Sixers lineup. They’ll have Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Tobias Harris on the floor at the same time, which is just ridiculous size. There are some concerns about spacing and shooting — especially after losing J.J. Redick to free agency. But this could finally be the year that The Process results in a title.

Tier 2 – Contenders with questions

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

5. Warriors
6. Lakers
7. Nuggets
8. Jazz
9. Celtics
10. Raptors

NBA fans have tried to speak the downfall of the Warriors dynasty into existence after Kevin Durant’s departure, but I’m sorry to break it to you: The Warriors aren’t going anywhere just yet. Again, assuming Steph Curry can avoid injury, look for him to regain his MVP form and challenge his single-season record with 400-plus 3s. The addition of D’Angelo Russell was just what the Warriors needed to maintain a dynamic backcourt. And they still have Klay Thompson coming back from injury sometime in the second half. There are questions with the Warriors — particularly on the defensive end — but they very well could have the firepower to make it back to the Finals.

The Lakers have arguably the best player on the planet in LeBron. They now have Anthony Davis. That duo alone should make the Lakers a contender in the West. There’s no denying that. The major question all season with the Lakers will be their shooting. Danny Green and Troy Daniels are probably the Lakers’ best outside shooters, which shouldn’t exactly inspire confidence with the Lakers from outside. The Lakers were 29th in 3-point percentage last season, and quite simply, little was done to improve that area for 2019-20.

Tier 3 – Good but not good enough

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

11. Mavericks
12. Thunder
13. Pacers
14. Pelicans
15. Trail Blazers
16. Heat
17. Magic
18. Spurs

It’s not too often that a generational, transformative talent goes to a solid team right after being the No. 1 overall pick, but it happened here with Zion Williamson. The star out of Duke could have found himself in worse situations than New Orleans, and though it’s only preseason, the Pelicans (and Zion) have looked impressive. The chemistry between Lonzo Ball and Williamson seemed great from the start. There’s proven talent with Jrue Holiday, Redick, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart … even Derrick Favors can be a solid contributor.

It won’t be easy in the West, and we’re already seeing Zion’s NBA debut getting delayed due to injury. Can he stay healthy with that frame and style of play? If he can, the Pelicans have to like their chances of a postseason appearance in Zion’s rookie year. Also, enjoy some dunks.

Tier 4 – Bad but not bad enough

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

19. Nets
20. Hawks
21. Kings
22. Pistons
23. Wizards
24. Hornets
25. Timberwolves

By all indications, the Brooklyn Nets are content with waiting for Kevin Durant to return healthy for the 2020-21 season from his Achilles injury. And until that happens, the Nets can expect to compete for one of the final playoff spots in the East — at best. They’ll count on Kyrie Irving as a high-usage player, but this Nets team will struggle to score outside of Irving. Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris are solid pieces, but the Nets are an incomplete team without Durant.

The Hawks, on the other hand, should expect to trend upward in 2019-20. They may miss out on the playoffs, but they’ll be in the hunt. Trae Young played like an All-Star in the last couple months of the season, and John Collins is quietly becoming one of the East’s most exciting frontcourt players. The additions of De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish give Atlanta a talented lineup with Kevin Huerter in the mix. But their undoing may come with turnovers and lack of backcourt depth. When Young is off the court or having an off night, you’re giving up a lot by turning to Deandre’ Bembry.

Tier 5 – TANKING SZN

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

26. Grizzlies
27. Bulls
28. Suns
29. Cavaliers
30. Knicks

Where to start with the Suns? They hired Luka Doncic’s national team coach (Igor Kokoskov) last season only to pass on Doncic in the draft and fired that coach after one season. Now led by Monty Williams (whose only head-coaching experience was a mediocre five seasons with New Orleans), the Suns should be better on paper. This is a team that has Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Kelly Oubre Jr. — there is talent in Phoenix. But I’m not exactly sure that Ricky Rubio is the answer to the Suns’ point guard search when he’s coming off two of his least productive seasons. Even if Rubio does make an impact, you can expect the Suns to be near the bottom in defense and outside shooting yet again this season. They did hit 24 threes in a preseason game, though.

The Knicks tanked for Zion and ended up with the wrong Blue Devil. After big-name free agents all passed on Jim Dolan’s Knicks, it’ll be another long season in New York. But hey, LaMelo Ball will be draft eligible next year. Just saying, Knicks.

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Via OverwatchWire


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