Summer NBA Power Rankings: Warriors No. 1; one worse than Kings
The only big name still clearly available via trade or free agency is 36-year-old Dwyane Wade, who is pondering a final contract to close out a Hall of Fame career. So, finally, it is safe to examine the NBA from bottom (Hawks) to top (Warriors).
Here is our summer version of the NBA Power Rankings:
They’ve cleared the locker room of vets, creating enough cap space to dive headlong into free agency next July. Meanwhile, they’re turning things over to Trae Young and hoping he’s at least a poor man’s Stephen Curry. Wild Card: John Collins. Can the promising rookie of last season prove himself a legit player?
The team that couldn’t make the playoffs with Boogie Cousins and Isaiah Thomas won’t come close with Marvin Bagley III and De’Aaron Fox. Through the growing pains, and there will be many, they could be entertaining. WC: Harry Giles. My hand is on my wallet, but can he convince me to buy?
While New Yorkers fall in love with rookie F Kevin Knox, we must admit to being big fans of new coach David Fizdale. We only hope ownership, so stunning in its ineptitude, gives him a fair chance to succeed. WC: Kristaps Porzingis. If he looks like his old self, Coach Fiz should be able to sleep at night.
We like the rookies (Mo Bamba, Melvin Frazier). We like Aaron Gordon. We like the new coach, Steve Clifford. That’s about it, though, for this team is going nowhere anytime soon. The best shooter, Mo Speights, won’t be back; he’s off to China. WC: Whoever becomes the regular PG. We have no idea.
They dumped big contracts (Jeremy Lin, Timofey Mozgov) and still added vets (Kenneth Faried, Ed Davis, Jared Dudley) to lead the kids. That will help. Meanwhile, the future is brighter than it was a few months ago. WC: Spencer Dinwiddie. He emerged last season. Can he stay ahead of D’Angelo Russell?
The scrutiny and national TV exposure are gone. Kevin Love (with his new $120 million extension) returns to the low profile he knew before LeBron. We discover the limits of Tyronn Lue’s coaching ability. WC: Tristan Thompson. OK, big boy, are you a poor man’s Dwight Howard, or a creation of LeBron?
It’s sad that this once-proud franchise is struggling, but owner Robert Sarver has done little to pursue greatness. The additions of wily vet Trevor Ariza should push young talents Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. WC: Ayton. If the No. 1 overall pick makes an impact, they’ll cause problems for a lot of teams.
The sleeves of new coach James Borrego will be rolled up all season. Kemba Walker may start screaming toward the skies. Tony Parker is better as an unofficial assistant coach than a player. But, hey, Dwight Howard is gone. WC: Miles Bridges. Can this talented rookie become a starter and do real damage?
Pat Riley hasn’t made many epic mistakes, but handing Hassan Whiteside a four-year pact worth $98 million qualifies. He undoes much of what Erik Spoelstra (who is tremendous) tries to do. If not for Coach Spo, this is a 30-win team. WC: Dion Waiters. Coming off ankle surgery, can he bring much-needed swag and buckets?
Maybe I’m blinded by the spectacle that was Summer League Wendell Carter Jr., but I kind of like what they’re building. They overpaid Zach LaVine because they had to, overpaid Jabari Parker because they wanted to. WC: Parker. Can he stay healthy and get enough buckets to offset those he gives up?
Out goes Stan Van Gundy, in comes Dwane Casey. He’s a better fit for this roster. We have no use for Reggie Johnson, but Andre Drummond has his purpose. They need shooters, and Blake Griffin needs a real PG. WC: Stanley Johnson. Can Casey get into his mind and unlock his diverse skills?
Jerry West is a wizard, but this redirection is, um, challenging. Avery Bradley is legit. Tobias Harris and Lou Williams can score. The Clips think they got a draft steal in rookie PG Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Hmm. WC: Patrick Beverley. If healthy, he’ll do his part to see that this unexceptional roster doesn’t sleep.
They’ll be considerably better, particularly if rookie G Luka Doncic lives up to his billing. Harrison Barnes is solid, Dennis Smith Jr. is almost as good as he thinks he is and DeAndre Jordan will provide legit paint presence. WC: Doncic. If he’s good enough to crack the rotation, he could be worth four or five wins.
The departure of “Grindfather” Tony Allen and the injury to Mike Conley pushed this squad off the NBA map and cost a good coach his job. Conley is healthy. The additions of Garrett Temple and Kyle Anderson should help. WC: Conley. If he can stay healthy (always a concern), they could fight for a playoff berth.
We marvel at the Teflon that protects GM Ernie Grunfeld. Bad deals, bad rosters, rotten environment. And the solution is . . . Dwight Howard. Ohhhh K. Guards John Wall and Bradley Beal once thought they were elite. There is no proof. WC: Team chemistry. Selfishness has failed them. Are they capable of uniting?
If any team is ripe to underachieve, it is this one. The Pups grew up last season, but according to Jimmy Butler aren’t determined to reach their ceiling. Anthony Tolliver will help the deep shooting woes. WC: Karl-Anthony Towns. Does he want to compile pretty stats or chase certified greatness?
New coach Mike Budenholzer wants ball movement, and now. He will give this club a recognizable offense. They could use a shooter (besides Khris Middleton), but they’ll be lethal in transition. And, well, there’s Giannis. WC: Eric Bledsoe. Is he a good player on bad teams, and simply limited no matter where?
The mighty have fallen. Moreover, their once-impenetrable firm core has been shaken. Four rotation players are gone. Despite that, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge will be a load for defenders. Let’s see what you got, Pop. WC: Dejounte Murray. Someone will have to set up the scorers, and the job falls to him.
When last we saw this bunch, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were getting double-teamed and begging for help. Not much arrived over the summer. One good forward could make a difference, but he’s not on this roster. WC: Jusuf Nurkic. Tremendous when inspired, invisible when not. Please decide.
They basically traded Lance Stephenson for Tyreke Evans, Kyle O’Quinn and Doug McDermott. Vic Oladipo must be rubbing his hands in glee and wishing he had another crack at Playoffs LeBron. WC: Myles Turner. He’s a monster one night, a mouse the next. If he fixes that, Indy is a top-four playoff team in the East.
We cannot forget how coldly they swept Portland from the playoffs in April. The unstoppable Anthony Davis recruited Julius Randle, so they’d better make music with Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic. WC: Elfrid Payton. If he adds consistency to his skill, he’s a baller.
This was not an easy call. But the Nuggets are explosive, fearless and inspired after missing the postseason by the sparse hairs on the head of Michael Malone. We love some Nikola Jokic. WC: The health of Isaiah Thomas and Michael Porter Jr. Subtract one win for every 10 games each misses.
LeBron James instantly pulls a team from mediocrity into the playoffs. Magic Johnson gave him a crayon box of veterans to turn into something worth watching. They’ll be fun. Interesting. WC: Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley and Lance Stephenson. If they are on their games, LA is looking at 50 wins.
No LeBron and no Kawhi Leonard. So the identity of the squad, tied to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, remains intact. It is, however, more experienced. That matters. WC: Embiid. He played 63 games last season. If he can get to 70, they’ll fight for the No. 2 seed in the East.
The defense reached an insane level over the second half of the season, lifting this team from lottery land into the thick of the playoffs. Donovan Mitchell carried the offense. So Utah made no significant changes. We get it. Will the second-half roll continue? WC: Dante Exum. He got paid. It is time potential becomes production.
LeBron is gone, and so is the need for tranquilizers in the postseason. Still like the backcourt, even without DeMar DeRozan, but the frontcourt made strides last season. Will a new coach (Nick Nurse) matter? WC: Kawhi Leonard. If he’s a healthy, two-way beast, he sharpens the teeth of the Raptors.
The jump last season was mostly a product of improved defense (the rating dropped from 18th to sixth). But adding Carmelo Anthony, and losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, is a significant net loss. Do you really trust James Harden when stakes are high? WC: Chris Paul’s hamstrings.
Anthony’s departure is a win, making things easier for Billy Donovan, Paul George and also Russell Westbrook. The acquisition of Dennis Schroder, along with Andre Roberson, makes this a top-5 defensive team. The bench is the best since Harden was the Sixth Man. WC: Roberson. If he’s recovered, OKC is a load.
They reached Game 7 of the EC Finals without their two best players. If Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward (his workouts are gaining intensity) are healthy, they’ll blow past the 60-win mark and fight for the No. 1 overall seed. WC: Hayward. If he regains All-Star form, the offense could be as good as the defense.
All four All-Stars are back, as are the two primary reserves. They added the best available big man and don’t need him in October; they’ll be thrilled if DeMarcus Cousins returns in February. WC: Jordan Bell. He’s a lock for the opening night starting lineup if he stays committed and continues to develop.