Pre-Season Power Rankings
Basketball really has (almost) become a year round sport, however, August and September seem to be the dullest of the dull when it comes to anything NBA. Training camp is still weeks away and all of the roster movement that was going to happen has come and gone. Now we wait. September is a lovely month, don't get me wrong. The final days of summer are fantastic but WHEN WILL IT END? After everything that has changed around the league I can't take it anymore. I need to watch some basketball. I've given some thought to the league as it stands and have pieced together what may be an awful list. It may also be great, but with the monumental shift of talents in the league it's all one big guessing game until the season tips off on October 16th. Here are my official pre-season power rankings.
1 - Golden State Warriors
If you’ve been around the NBA at all in the last 4 years you’ll understand. The Golden State Warriors are in a tier of their own. While you might refer to Houston as “Elite”, you would have to elevate your assessment of the Warriors to something like “Cheat Code”. They’re winners of 3 of the last 4 titles and added a recovering DeMarcus Cousins this summer. When you add an All Star to a team who already has 4, expectations can be no lower than the very best.
2 - Houston Rockets
While Golden State is living life at the top of the mountain, Houston is alone in the NBA’s second tier of competition. Losing Trevor Ariza and Mbah a Moute hurts, especially on the defensive end but with Harden and Chris Paul thriving the way they did and presenting the closest thing to Warriors mortality in last years conference finals, the Rockets are still separated as the leagues runner-ups. Let’s not forget the Carmelo Anthony signing, a move many see as a wildcard. His presence on the court and in the locker room could be as positive as pushing the Rockets to their ceiling or as negative as the closure of Houston’s championship window.
3 - Boston Celtics
The Celtics are one of the most talent rich teams in the league. After accumulating and capitalizing on a glut of assets, it’s time for Danny Ainge’s team to put it all together. With a healthy Gordon Hayward and the return of Kyrie Irving on top of what was almost a miracle season from a young and inexperienced squad the expectations are sky high in an even more depleted eastern conference. With unproven teams like the Sixers and a Raptors team surrounded with questions, the C’s are a near lock for the top spot in the weaker of the conferences.
4 - Oklahoma City Thunder
Addition by subtraction has never been a more appropriate phrase. After re-calibration the Thunder are running back a much better team that the one who fell to the rookie lead Utah Jazz. The departure of Carmelo Anthony should help the Thunder keep the ball moving so long as Russ doesn’t view his teammates as walking assist machines and instead brings his ferocity to what has been a puzzling (if existent) offensive strategy under Billy Donovan. Oh yeah, they also got Paul George back. Who knew all a small market team needed was good fishing.
5 - Utah Jazz
The Donovan Mitchell hype is real. Riding the wave of a highly successful season has many touting the Jazz as one of the top teams in the league. They were a feel good story last year but it’s possible for Mitchell to feel the sophomore slump. Personally, I think it’s unlikely. His two years in college make him less susceptible than your average "one and done" rookie. If he can avoid the decline, Rudy Gobert can stay healthy and Ricky Rubio can compete like he did in the playoffs, it’s time to invest in one of the most promising teams in the league.
6 - Toronto Raptors
There are so many questions. What version of Kawhi are we getting? Who is this Nick Nurse guy? Well, we know who Nick Nurse is but how will this team respond to a new head coach and does Kawhi have a real, human voice? Luckily these questions include some possible answers that figure as high as the best team in the East and tumble as low as a team, struggling at the deadline, one trade away from a looming rebuild. The Raptors still have one of the best benches in the league and a steady starting five so regardless of how Leonard's time in T.O. pans out they should still be an extremely competitive team.
7 - Denver Nuggets
"The best offence is a good defense." or was it the other way around? Let's hope so. The Denver Nuggets need their offense to be among the league's elite if they're going to repeat as one of the leagues worst defensive teams. A full season of Paul Millsap plus the growth of guys like Jokic, Murray and Harris should make for an improvement over the team that missed the playoffs by a single overtime period last season. Adding Isaiah Thomas to the mix fills the much needed point guard role and the mystery of Michael Porter Jr. adds just a bit of fun. Are they potent enough when the playoffs role around? Maybe, but chances are they'll be there to show us.
8 - Minnesota Timberwolves
Call it a gut feeling, but I sense that the current construction of the Wolves roster and front office may look a little different after the February trade deadline. Fortunately the team they'll run out on opening day looks much like one that is poised to exceed last year's win total. The Timberwolves were steadily holding the third spot in the West when Jimmy "Buckets" Butler went down with a meniscus injury that had him sitting out for most of what remained of their season. A full season from Butler and the hopeful improvement on the defensive end should have the Wolves comfortably in the playoffs. However, it is entirely possible that coach Tom Thibodeau somehow acquires Joakim Noah and Luol Deng in which case they have to usurp the Warriors as the favourite right? Yikes.
9 - Los Angeles Lakers
After adding Pacers legend Lance Stephenson the Los Angeles Lakers are back. With LeBron James by his side "Born Ready" will bring Showtime back into relevance. Jokes aside, any team that has the greatest player of our generation on it's roster belongs near the top of the league. While their other additions have been questionable, last years Lakers finished with a record of 35-47 and LeBron plus a year of growth from their young core is enough to see them into the playoffs and even closing in on 50 wins. The focus has been on the additions of Javale McGee, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson, the idea of the "meme team", well, it needs to be clear that these are depth moves before we can be sure that this team makes any sense. While the season remains in doubt, a LeBron lead team is a monster in any playoff series.
10 - Philadelphia 76ers
After a compelling run to end the season and a first round win over the Miami Heat the Philadelphia 76ers caught all of our attention. Unfortunately they nearly stood pat this off season as their competition improved. Development goes a long way for this young team but it's likely their outside shooting will diminish which was something that contributed to their success in a huge way down the stretch. The mystery of Markelle Fultz is compelling one and a possible making or breaking point for the teams future. He could bounce back and be the third star that this squad needs to take the next step or he could be the same concerning jump shot we saw in all those Instagram videos last year.
11- San Antonio Spurs
There’s a new star in Texas and he might have a chip on his shoulder. The Kawhi Leonard era is finally behind them and the Spurs can move forward with the offensively gifted DeMar DeRozan. If anyone can take DeMar to the next level it’s coach Pop, it’s possible that we see him take strides on the defensive end and silence his critics but it’s unlikely he’ll replace the top 3 talent of Leonard. The Spurs won 47 games without their star last year so the expectation should be no lower than that. Don’t be surprised if San Antonio are back to their 50 win ways.
12 - Indiana Pacers
Indiana just finished a feel good season in which they bounced back from the loss of Paul George by landing the most improved player of the year in Victor Oladipo and further developing Myles Turner. Their roster is built on steady contribution and the addition of Tyreke Evans only elevated expectations. After losing to the Cavaliers in 7 it seems that the top of the East may be in their grasp. It’s unlikely they take a step back but just how much of a leap is possible?
13 - New Orleans Pelicans
In a vacuum trading Demarcus Cousins for Julius Randle seems like a huge downgrade but if you’re the Pelicans it may be just the right fit. After Cousins went down with an Achilles tear the Pelicans really turned the corner and figured things out. If we take that version of the Pelicans and add the overpowering presence of Randle down low we might have the perfect marriage. I see the Pelicans continuing their end of season success in the 18/19 season. However, this team feels like they're one perimeter player away from taking yet another step towards the top of the league.
14 - Portland Trail Blazers
After being swept in the first round the question has once again been raised. Should the Blazers split up their dynamic back court? I’m not here to answer that but rather to point out that this team has and will perform at a high level all season long. This year, however, it may not be enough. The Portland Trailblazers find their form early and it is represented in their exceptional regular season play. The problem is that the playoffs demand just a little bit more and that level remains out of reach for this team as it stands. Splitting up Dame and C.J. won't solve their problems on that end but when you have the salary configuration that they do, shipping out a star may be the only way to send out some of their other puzzling contacts and give them a chance to reset and reevaluate their approach.
15 - Milwaukee Bucks
This is the year Giannis must prove himself. He’ll have a much better coach, a Brook Lopez who can stretch the floor at Center and a full year with Eric Bledsoe. Proving himself doesn’t necessarily mean reaching the finals but showing that he can thrive under improved direction and a better supporting cast can indicate how his career will play out with the small market Bucks or if he’ll need a bonafide star in a big city to get it done at the highest level.
16 - Washington Wizards
The only locker room I want access to more than the Lakers. If this were a toxicity power ranking the Wizards would be the Warriors. Unfortunately this is about their likely performance which I anticipate will be wildly inconsistent and mediocre. How many times is a team going to add Dwight Howard and expect an improvement? Lord knows Austin Rivers and his personality aren’t the glue that this team needs to make it work.
17 - Memphis Grizzlies
It’s tough to get a read on what this years Grizzlies will look like. Keeping Bickerstaff as coach sets a lower ceiling in that regard but a healthy Gasol and Conley also raises their floor. After Jaren Jackson Jr. hit four thousand threes in his summer league debut I imagined them sweeping the Warriors (not really) but after looking at the rest of their roster they’re a bottom dwelling team. I can’t make up my mind but with the competition in the West I have to go low.
18 - Dallas Mavericks
The Luka Doncic era has begun. While Luka’s reputation precedes him, no one on earth has seen this kid play a second of NBA basketball and that is enough to build the mystery and suspense that has us all waiting on his debut. Dennis Smith Jr. is likely to improve in his second year and what is likely the final year of Dirk Nowitzki makes every game they play a sentimental one for those who grew up admiring the German legend.
Throw in DeAndre Jordon and the Mavs get better than just bad.
19 - Los Angeles Clippers
This team narrowly missed the playoffs last year but failed to get any better in the offseason. Losing Jordon and taking on Gortat is even a step backwards. They will once again find themselves on the outside looking in and will rely on their chance at next years free agents to change their fortune in either direction.
20 - Miami Heat
Same old south beach. The most exciting news out Miami may be that Dwayne Wade likely wants to retire there. They look like a possible playoff team while not looking like a threat at all. Whiteside seems as unhappy with the team as they are with him and the rest of the roster is simply lacklustre. Miami is boring but not bad, that’s it.
21 - Detroit Pistons
This is Blake Griffin’s team now, what that means is tough to say. Luckily this team is in the East and that makes them a likely playoff team. Landing the reigning coach of the year in Dwayne Casey definitely helps. If this locker room can gel and remain healthy they seem destined to lock up one of the bottom two playoff spots.
22 - Cleveland Cavaliers
Losing the best player on the planet hurts, bad, but they must have seen this coming. His departure was luckily not a “scorched earth” scenario and the Cavaliers still have some talent. The excitement around Collin Sexton and a look at Kevin love as the number one option are at least interesting enough for them to avoid irrelevance.
23 - Charlotte Hornets
First, I’d like to say FREE KEMBA. Next I’d like to ask, what does Mozgov know about Mitch Kupchak? There are definitely skeletons in that closet and Kupchak is making sure Timo gets paid. The Hornets are starting to feel a bit like Sacramento East, directionless and hopeless. Give me a Malik Monk breakout season please.
24 - Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, DeAndre Ayton and Miles Bridges. The young core of top draft picks should scream potential but I’m not sold. Devin Booker has proven that he can fill the basket but can he lead a team? Is Josh Jackson playing in the wrong era? Does Ayton have what it takes to change the trajectory of a franchise? These are all questions who’s answers aren’t settled but until we see the proof it’s easy to doubt a team that has looked like the worst in the league since the Nash/Stoudemire days.
25 - New York Knicks
While the Kevin Knox hype was real this season may just be another chapter in the Knicks rebuild devoid of any real steps forward. Kristaps Porzingis is their most important piece and it is rumoured that he may even miss the entirety of the 2018/19 season. This is a year for Ntilinka, Knox and the outstanding Mitchell Robinson to develop and learn the NBA game.
26 - Chicago Bulls
Chicago made some moves this summer, whether they were advantageous remains to be seen. After getting often injured Zach Levine paid they took a chance on former 2nd overall pick in Jabari Parker (also often injured). Signing Parker was a little questionable but the Bulls had money to spend and his contract won’t get in the way of their next big swing in free agency. However, a starting lineup of Lavine, Markannen, Dunn, Parker and Carter Jr. is something I’ll watch.
27 - Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn’s front office has begun to redeem its team’s future. They’ve had to dig themselves from one of the biggest holes in NBA history but hope is on the horizon. They finally own their very own draft pick and have begun to piece together a young, talented roster. I think everyone should be a fan of Spencer Dinwiddie and D'Angelo can put on a show. They're at least trending towards watchable.
28 - Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic must be the longest team in the league. They’ve been terrible for 10 years and I’m not sure that’s about to change. Luckily (I’ll keep saying it) the east is also terrible. Orlando started off on fire last season and earned headlines declaring them a playoff team who was young and hungry. In an impression turn of fortune they plummeted back to where they belong with the bottom dwellers of the league. That hot start was brought on by volume three point shooting and the miraculous success of luck. As that quickly finished it unveiled the lowsome Magic we’ve grown to... not care about.
29 - Sacramento Kings
Did you know that Buddy Hield once scored 46 points in a college game? Amazing.
My mom always taught me to say something nice before criticizing someone so now that that’s out of the way the Sacramento Kings are terrible. Drafting Marvin Bagley III with the second pick in this years draft left many scratching their heads and ensures that the Kings have a future full of bountiful mediocrity at best. The Kings finished 29th in offensive rating and 28th on defense, this means they have plenty of room to improve with it's young guys coming back a year older, it also leaves room for them to drop lower. Who says they can't be 30th on both ends? While no one is exactly sure what Sacramento is doing, it's worth noting that being bad leads to draft picks and all it takes is one nailed pick to turn the fortunes of a franchise. The question is, can this front office do anything right?
30 - Atlanta Hawks
Let’s just say the pressure is on for Atlanta’s Trae Young. After being traded for the much hyped Luka Doncic his summer league debut was less than stellar. If summer league is any indication (it is and isn’t) the Hawks made a big mistake. No team is more enveloped in rebuild mode than Atlanta, they’re at the bottom of the league and can only get better. Let’s hope this rebuild happens quickly because the emptiest Arena in the league may soon be a ghost town. Winning is at the bottom of their priority list this year and watching them play basketball should be at the bottom of yours.