“Nothing matters, the Golden State Warriors are going to win it all, regardless of playoff seeding.” This quote is something a friend of mine often cynically said the last few seasons. However, thankfully, free agency changed the narrative of the NBA. In succession of all the duo stars aligning on numerous teams, parity is back in the league. NBA Previews are fun again. For the first time in three seasons, there is no unanimous favorite for the title. Finally, the 2019-20 NBA Power Rankings are upon us.
NBA Power Rankings for the 2019-2020 Season
30. Charlotte Hornets
If the Charlotte Hornets had a theme song based on their fans’ mood, it would either be Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” or “I Feel Like Dying” by Lil Wayne. Notwithstanding irrational fans’ expectations, the hope in the former song will end up with the ultimate depressing title of the latter by season’s end.
Mitch Kupchak, the man behind the Timofey Mozgov debacle in 2016, found it necessary to not only refuse to re-sign the only player who’s mattered to the franchise this decade but also managed to overpay for a glorified sixth-man point guard. Even if you are excited about the wildcard that is Malik Monk, the rest of the roster is full of players who inspire the Inside the NBA’s “Who Does he Play for” segment.
There isn’t much on the depth chart to hope for an even playoff-contending roster for the bottom seeds in the Eastern Conference.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Honestly, this next slot is interchangeable with the 28th position. Kevin Love won’t end the season as a Cavalier, and that is a significant factor in evaluating the overall placement of a former championship franchise. Even if Love is on the roster for the duration of the season, the depth of this team isn’t ankle-deep.
The backcourt of Collin Sexton and rookie Darius Garland has the makings to blow up in the face of Cleveland’s front office. Cedi Osman, although a darling in every sense of the word, doesn’t scream, “I will get us out of this mess.” The Eastern Conference is sprinkled with teams who either don’t have much hope or positioned to trade the remnants of a star player; the Cleveland Cavaliers is the latter team.
28. Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal is still a member of the Washington Wizards. After months of speculation, the Wizards and Beal extend their relationship with a two-year, $72 million extension. The Mystics won the championship, and Beal didn’t leave; There is still hope in Washington. However, John Wall isn’t stepping on the court anytime soon, and the roster doesn’t ooze of winning basketball.
Thomas Bryant had an admirable sophomore season for a former second-round pick, starting 52 games and finishing with a team-high 67 percent true-shooting percentage. Despite the promising numbers, I’m still not sold on the young center. It’s hard to judge how good a player is when the stakes are low. The rebuild is near, even if John Wall truthers assume his return sparks a resurgence for a tired core. Look for Washington to be a one-person show while successfully claiming its stock in the lottery race.
27. Memphis Grizzlies
The Eastern Conference is a heap of teams carelessly drifting into an abyss. Unfortunately for the Western Conference’s bottom feeders, the annually losing teams out east leave room in late-lottery hell for slightly more competent teams who suffer from stiffer competition. After you get past the young and promising core, the remaining roster is riddled with destitute NBA players. Besides players not named Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, the Memphis Grizzlies‘ depth chart is filled with G-League All-Stars and to put it nicely, a reluctant Grizzly, Andre Iguodala.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves
It’s an absolutely soul-crushing exercise inserting a prolific offensive player such as Karl Anthony-Towns so low in any ranking. Disappointment isn’t even the word to describe a team led by two players who are outright underperforming from a team aspect. Jimmy Butler, although a toxic personality in his tenure with the Minnesota Timberwolves, gave an unproven squad an edge it desperately needed. Andrew Wiggins Island is now a haunting Bermuda triangle song cursed with Draft Day by Drake playing on an infinite loop.
25. Phoenix Suns
Devin Booker is known for scoring a somewhat contrived 70 points in a contest with the Boston Celtics. Other than that, we also know he doesn’t like being double-teamed in pickup games. Still, despite the easy-to-pick at flaws, he is an offensive gem, albeit at the bottom of the barrel.
Sophomore center Deandre Ayton is back to make up for all of the failed frontcourt draft picks by the Phoenix Suns over the years. In a stats-driven league, Ayton ranked tenth in field goal percentage, 15th in total rebound percentage, and 16th in effective field goal percentage. Regardless of the glaring defensive void in his game, he has enough skill to wrestle the Suns out of the bottom five of the league. Also, playing devil’s advocate, the front office finally signed a capable point guard in Ricky Rubio. Although the Suns aren’t the absolute dumpster fire of just last season, it’s too soon to label them a competent team.
24. Atlanta Hawks
Now that the facade of a race for 2018-19 Rookie of the Year is in the past, the Atlanta Hawks can focus on building off of the momentum Trae Young gained late last season. The Hawks aren’t a playoff team, but the young team will entertain the fans. Per Basketball-Reference, the 29-win Hawks squad led the league in pace.
It’s only natural Atlanta continues its speed-induced offense. John Collins, a formidable frontcourt player in either conference, will flirt with All-Star status this season. We mustn’t forget about the spokesperson for the fountain of youth, Vince Carter. Yes, the offense is fun to watch, but consequently, the Hawks’ weak defense won’t allow the youthful core a playoff seed.
23. Chicago Bulls
Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen mirrored some Coach Carter moments last season. Boylen’s archaic tactics were enough for the players to contact the Player’s Union. The team nearly practiced a mutiny out of spite for its head coach. Nonetheless, Bulls’ Executive Vice President John Paxson sat in on some player-coach meetings and was thoroughly impressed. Boylen, this offseason, was granted a multiyear extension.
Out of the heavy smoke Boylen created, there was one player who publicly supported the controversial coach: Zach LaVine. The former UCLA star may sneak into the NBA’s top-ten scoring ranks. However, this Bulls roster, though filled with gems, isn’t primed for a playoff-worthy performance. Chicago is a season away from making noise in the Eastern Conference
22. New York Knicks
Honestly, the “New York Knicks signed a million power forwards” joke is reaching the eye-rolling territory. Still, it holds true and sometimes having too many players at one position is a detriment to team chemistry. Not to mention, the starting point guard role isn’t solidified, with the odd trio of guards Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Ntilikina, and Elfrid Payton competing for the position.
However, no matter the logjam of players at certain positions, the mixture of youth and veterans, along with players’ coach David Fizdale make for an improved team. It’s highly likely trades break up the team causing New York to dip in the standings later in the season.
21. Detroit Pistons
Joe Johnson had himself quite the year. Not only did he win the Big 3 MVP, more importantly, but he also led the Triplets to its league’s championship. With all due respect to Johnson, the NBA isn’t a slow-paced, three-on-three played, middle-aged slugfest. If this is the Detroit Piston’s answer to the contenders in the Eastern Conference, this won’t cut the top eight.
Update: Johnson didn’t make the cut for the regular-season roster.
20. Indiana Pacers
Injuries, sadly, are a part of the game. Though never a serious contender, the Indiana Pacers typically act as an annual nuisance in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The talk around this team is quite ominous. Even with the signing of Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo‘s ruptured quad is the deciding factor of the team. Indiana inevitably slips down a few spots in the standings.
19. Miami Heat
Since the San Antonio Spurs dismantled the Miami Heat in 2014, the star power down in South Beach was noticeably dimmer. Now, with Jimmy Butler in the fold, a playoff berth and a chance to acquire another marquee name aren’t farfetched. With the malcontent Hassan Whiteside off to the Western Conference, the Heat are clear of anyone who would contradict Butler’s competitive nature.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder
Chris Paul returns to Oklahoma after a two-year stint as a Houston Rocket. For the first time since its inception into the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder is void of a superstar. Even so, the Thunder still have a collective group of NBA talent, unless Sam Presti trades everyone.
17. Orlando Magic
Continuity is the theme of the 2019-2020 Orlando Magic. It was apparent the team was on the right track when they stole a game from the eventual champions Toronto Raptors this past postseason. Aside from the core returning, the Magic’s front office acquired Al-Farouq Aminu, a wing defender with an efficient offensive game. The Magic won’t regress after finding its stride last yeat.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
It’s ok to feel excitement for the New Orleans Pelicans yet realize the team needs another year before it explodes into the postseason. Besides the Zion Williamson injury concerns, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram are equipped with red flags of their own. The two-way stud Jrue Holiday is the player you want surrounding young talent. Still, the injury concerns for this team outweigh the abundance of veterans on the roster.
15. Dallas Mavericks
Basketball in Dallas is relevant again. The Dallas Mavericks rebuilding phase is theoretically coming to a stop. Dallas proudly touts Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis as the future; however, the rest of the roster provokes questions from critics. Kristaps Porzingis, though blessed with Dallas’ elite training staff, will get the load management treatment. The third-best player on the depth chart has yet to emerge. Dallas will improve upon a horrible second-half season performance but are a year away from playoff success.
14. Sacramento Kings
To say the Western Conference is full of stiff competition would be a drastic understatement. If Adam Silver abolished the playoff system and went with a top-16 format, the habitual Eastern Conference bubble teams don’t make the trip. The current seeding system is unfortunate for up-and-coming teams such as the Sacramento Kings. Once again, the season ends with the De’Aaron Fox huffing and puffing at the finish line, only to miss the playoffs as the ninth-best team in the conference.
13. San Antonio Spurs
There is an unwritten rule in the NBA: don’t bet against Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs. At this point, if you don’t pick the Spurs to make the playoffs, it’s an open admittance to insanity. Until Popovich retires, the Spurs make the postseason.
12. Golden State Warriors
After four years of dominance, the Golden State Warriors demigod-like roster has dissolved. Stephen Curry will have to perform like a unanimous MVP for the Warriors to make the playoffs in such a tough top-to-bottom conference. It’s hard to imagine such a bare roster making much noise in the west without an elite performance from one of the best shooters of all time.
11. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets would be a top-five team if Kevin Durant weren’t slated out for most if not all of the season. Kyrie Irving is a nice pickup, but if history proves anything, he isn’t what a team needs as the go-to player and, consequently, the leader of a young hardnose team. DeAndre Jordan‘s role on the team is solely based on a popularity contest. The Nets are a few games better than last season, but they aren’t contender status just yet.
10. Toronto Raptors
There is no championship hangover in Toronto, except for Marc Gasol‘s actual hangover from winning two championships in one year. Asterisks in sports, though appropriate at times, can’t take away from the raw in-the-moment emotion winning a championship gives a franchise and its fans. Pascal Siakam is positioned for an All-Star season, and with most of the championship team returning, looks to lead the Toronto Raptors to homecourt advantage in the first round.
9. Boston Celtics
The mood has changed in Boston. No more drawn-out press conferences confused for thought-provoking dialogue. A talented team finally surrounds Kemba Walker. Play variance replaces the isolation ball-dominant offense Kemba Walker made work in Charlotte. Unfortunately, the Boston Celtics‘ defense will suffer without Al Horford. Thanks to a balanced roster, the Celtics team bodes well for regular-season play.
8. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard‘s offseason activities rival those of champions. Between the $196 million deal and his rap beef with Shaquille O’Neal, Lillard is living a fulfilling life. The only ether the Portland Trail Blazers need is to figure out the roster outside of Lillard and CJ McCollum.The depth of the Portland Trail Blazers is a glaring issue for a team that reached the Western Conference last season. Expect the Western Conference runner-ups to slide down the standings.
7. Los Angeles Lakers
There is no such thing as bad publicity. The Los Angeles Lakers won an abysmal 163 games in six seasons. However, in true Laker fashion, they found themselves at the center of the water cooler conversation by trading for Anthony Davis. Instantly, the Lakers are a playoff team with two of the greatest players in the game. However, injuries and questionable guard play forbid the Lakers as the title of a truly elite team.
6. Houston Rockets
Aside from the “do we comment or not” on China debacle, the Houston Rockets have multiple issues throughout the organization. Head coach Mike D’Antoni is in the final year of his contract with no talks of an extension; as alluded to earlier, Daryl Morey went under heavy fire from a single tweet. Now, onto the on-court dynamic. James Harden and Russell Westbrook are at a crossroads in their respective careers.
Harden, with the Warriors seemingly out of the way, is a step closer to championship success. However, the championship window might have closed last season after the Rockets failed to beat a Durant-less Warriors squad. Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker‘s decline is imminent. Despite the bad press surrounding the team, there is enough talent and smart people within the organization to stay afloat in the Western Conference.
5. Utah Jazz
2018 Rookie of the Year runner-up, Donovan Mitchell had himself quite the sophomoric-slump performance in the playoffs last year. Once again, at the hands of the Houston Rockets, Mitchell and the Utah Jazz as a whole played inefficiently. Mitchell, the volume-scoring guard, made it clear he needs a backcourt mate who can steer the ship.
In true sneaky Jazz fashion, the acquirement of Mike Conley is still one of the more under-the-radar moves of the summer. Thanks to some upgrades to the personnel, the offense won’t suffer from stale possessions anymore, especially with the addition of Bojan Bogdanovic.
Notwithstanding the substantial improvements on offense, it’s still Rudy Gobert as the island on defense. Conley can hold his own, yet he isn’t a defensive anchor. Sure, Joe Ingles isn’t a slouch, but if he is your answer for the elite wings out west, then a championship season is unfathomable.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
A four-bounce,buzzer-beating, game-winning shot from Kawhi Leonard ultimately stood between the Philadelphia 76ers and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead of running it back with the same crew, general manager Elton Brand shook free agency by obtaining jack-of-all-trades Al Horford.
Jimmy Butler, though a dependable player for Philadelphia in the stressful sequences of fourth-quarter play, pulled off a sign-and-trade deal to land in Miami. Guard Josh Richardson is a difference makes between the margins. Overall, the balance of star-level talent and legitimate NBA rotation players put the 76ers in serious title contention.
3. Denver Nuggets
Nothing about the Denver Nuggets offseason spells “regression,” especially in regards to the downhill momentum of a team built on continuity. A projected MVP candidate, Nikola Jokic, is steadily improving, and the players surrounding him enable the team to succeed with a center as their best option.
Explosive guard Jamal Murray is the x-factor of whether or not the team reaches the Western Conference Finals and beyond. In terms of defense, Jerami Grant was the ultimate acquisition for climbing the championship ladder. Even if the Nuggets aren’t the best roster on paper, it’s entirely plausible they win the west, mainly due to Jokic’s MVP performance and the depth allotted to coach Mike Malone.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Alas, the regular season is upon us, and all year long, I won’t call Giannis Antetokounmpo the “M” word, that is until he wins the MVP award in 2020. Despite losing Malcolm Brogdon due to salary tax reasons, the Milwaukee Bucks will lead the Eastern conference and stand as the gatekeeper to reaching the Finals.
Brook Lopez doesn’t depend on athleticism, so his three-point shooting and interior defense shouldn’t falter much regardless of being on the wrong side of 30. Speaking of stumbling, Eric Bledsoe performs well in the regular season; however, the stocky guard can’t afford to lay another egg in the playoffs sans Brogdon, for the Bucks to win it all.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
In a summer where the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis after months of speculation, the Los Angeles Clippers uncharacteristically stole the show. After Kawhi Leonard had two countries on hold for nearly a month, he chose the Los Angeles Clippers as his next home, following the Clippers blockbuster trade for Paul George.
The Clippers, an already deep team, opened the basement for more depth. Patrick Beverley isn’t the only defensive threat on the roster anymore with additions of All-NBA defense superstars Leonard and George. Lou Williams will yet again tear up the league off the bench, and Montrezl Harrell is the best second-unit center in the league. The Clippers barring any significant injuries are the pick for winning it all this season.