For the first time in five years, the NBA is wide open. The Golden State Warriors are still contenders, but without Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and with Klay Thompson sidelined, they are far from the prohibitive title favorites they once were.
The reigning champion Toronto Raptors don’t even have a shot at a title defense with Kawhi Leonard leaving for the Los Angeles Clippers. He’s joined by Paul George on a roster that might be the best in the NBA from top to bottom.
Most of the title contenders this season come from the Western Conference. Anthony Davis joins LeBron James as he searches for his first playoff appearance in Los Angeles. The Rockets, already a regular season powerhouse, add Russell Westbrook to the fold. The Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trailblazers, and San Antonio Spurs are all solid teams that could make noise if the star-studded teams falter.
Just like last year, it seems like the Eastern Conference winner will just be a sacrificial lamb to the Western Conference winner. At least that’s what we thought: until the Raptors defeated the Warriors.
The Eastern Conference is also ripe for the taking, but the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks have a little distance from the pack. The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets will look to make the leap into that conversation.
These are my preseason power rankings, so even though I’m three day lates, I won’t be factoring in the NBA’s opening slate of games. It’s important to have a base power rankings to refer back to, so these won’t take things the Clippers two dominant wins into account.
However, as always, these are in the moment rankings, so injuries matter.
Preseason NBA Power Rankings
- Los Angeles Clippers (Projected Record: 62-20)
- Even with Paul George sidelined for the start of the season, the Clippers roster is loaded to surround Kawhi Leonard with opportunities to win.
- Houston Rockets (Projected Record: 58-24)
- The James Harden-Russell Westbrook tandem is set to be explosive, and this team could be a regular season powerhouse.
- Philadelphia 76ers (Projected Record: 56-26)
- There’s talent all over the floor surrounding Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid: can they make it count this year?
- Milwaukee Bucks (Projected Record: 55-27)
- The Bucks finished with the best record in the NBA last season. Can they do it again behind Giannis Antetokounmpo?
- Los Angeles Lakers (Projected Record: 51-33)
- There will likely be some growing pains for the top-heavy Lakers, but having LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the court probably wins you the game more than half of the time.
- Portland Trailblazers (Projected Record: 53-29)
- Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have been putting up numbers and win in Portland for years, and are set to do it again this season.
- Golden State Warriors (Projected Record: 50-31)
- Klay Thompson: sidelined for the season. Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala are gone. This will be a new-look season for Golden State, but Steph Curry, D’Angelo Russell, and Draymond Green will still lead the Warriors to a Top-10 record in the NBA.
- Utah Jazz (Projected Record: 48-34)
- I have the Jazz finishing 7th in the loaded Western Conference, but make no mistake: the combination of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert is lethal.
- Boston Celtics (Projected Record: 47-35)
- Out goes Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, in comes Kemba Walker. The Celtics young core is talented, and they’ll finish high in the East. But the teams ahead of Boston in these rankings are just flat-out better.
- Denver Nuggets (Projected Record: 49-32)
- Fresh off a season with the 2nd-best record in the West, the Nuggets find themselves struggling to keep up in the even more crowded standings this year. They’re still set to be an elite regular season team, but they may be overmatched come playoff time.
- San Antonio Spurs (Projected Record: 47-35)
- Gregg Poppovich has led San Antonio to the playoffs for 22 straight years. The competition in the West will be tough, and the Spurs are a step below the elite teams in the conference. But I see them claiming a 7th or 8th seed.
- Brooklyn Nets (Projected Record: 45-37)
- Brooklyn adds Kyrie Irving and DeAndre Jordan to a Nets core that made the playoffs with D’Angelo Russell last season. This should be an interesting season for “New York’s second team,” even without Kevin Durant.
- Dallas Mavericks (Projected Record: 44-38)
- The Kristaps Porzingis-Luka Doncic duo is set to take the NBA by storm. But in the Western Conference, they may not even be a playoff team.
- Indiana Pacers (Projected Record: 46-36)
- Indiana’s well-rounded roster may lead them to a Top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they’re still not overly intimidating.
- New Orleans Pelicans (Projected Record: 43-39)
- Even with Zion Williamson out for 6-8 weeks to start the season, this is still an interesting New Orleans squad. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, and J.J. Reddick highlight a talented lineup, and if Jahlil Okafor has anything left, that would be icing on the cake.
- Miami Heat (Projected Record: 43-39)
- Miami should make the playoffs with Jimmy Butler, but can he elevate his star status by doing more than just making the playoffs?
- Toronto Raptors (Projected Record: 43-39)
- Both times LeBron James has left the Cleveland Cavaliers, they’ve went from title contenders to a lottery team overnight. The Raptors won’t suffer the same type of drop-off in the post-Kawhi Leonard-era, and they’ll probably make the playoffs. They no longer have the tools to win in the postseason.
- Detroit Pistons (Projected Record: 40-42)
- I forgot that not only Andre Drummond, but also Blake Griffin is on this team. Still, 8th in the East sounds like a realistic starting point for Detroit this season.
- Sacramento Kings (Projected Record: 37-45)
- While they finish outside the playoff race, the Sacramento Kings can still ruin anyone’s day if you don’t take them seriously.
- Orlando Magic (Projected Record: 38-44)
- Orlando will have every opportunity to over-achieve and reach the playoffs. Markelle Fultz could be an X-factor if he plays well.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (Projected Record: 34-48)
- It’s a story of wasted potential when it comes to Karl Anthony-Towns and this Minnesota team.
- Chicago Bulls (Projected Record: 35-47)
- This Bulls team could be fiesty and steal some games, but they still have work to do to be a playoff team, even in the East.
- Washington Wizards (Projected Record: 33-49)
- John Wall is out for the forseeable future, but as far as I’m concerned, this is a poor Washington team with or without him.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (Projected Record: 32-50)
- I don’t see any kind of feel-good story coming out of the Chris Paul-Oklahoma City relationship.
- Memphis Grizzlies (Projected Record: 30-52)
- The Grizzlies are still a few key players away from contention, but I’m interested to see how Ja Morant fares in his rookie season.
- Atlanta Hawks (Projected Record: 26-56)
- Trae Young will a be a must-watch player this season, but the Hawks themselves won’t be anything to write home about.
- New York Knicks (Projected Record: 25-57)
- After overpaying an assortment of role players in free agency, the Knicks finish a lottery team once again.
- Phoenix Suns (Projected Record: 22-60)
- Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton put up numbers, but not wins in Phoenix.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (Projected Record: 22-60)
- I’m a fan of a lot of these players, but there is just no direction for this Cleveland squad.
- Charlotte Hornets (Projected Record: 16-66)
- Without Kemba Walker, I project the Hornets to be the worst team in the NBA.
- Preseason Predictions: Standings, Playoff Teams, Super Bowl Matchup
- Weekly Picks: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
- Power Rankings: Post-Week 4, Post-Week 5, Post-Week 6, Post-Week 7
- 2019-20 NBA Predictions: Standings, Playoff Teams, MVP and Finals Matchup
- Kawhi, Clippers Take Opening Night Matchup Against LeBron, Lakers
- Clippers Rout Warriors, Establish Themselves as NBA’s Best Team
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