NBA Power Rankings, summer edition: Warriors start on top, but Celtics, Bucks knocking on door
Usually by this point in the summer all the big offseason moves are made. Not this year — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Donovan Mitchell all could be on new teams before the start of next season. Still, with offseason action slowing down and teams’ rosters largely filled out, it felt like time to do a Summer NBA Power Rankings. With, of course, the defending champions on top.
1. Warriors (53-29). The defending champions deservedly start the next season on top of these power rankings, but to stay there will require some of their younger stars — Moses Moody (who looked fantastic at Summer League), Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — stepping into larger roles to fill the gap left by Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. Plus the youngsters need to help keep the minutes under control for Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Donte DiVincenzo was a smart pickup and could have a big bounce-back season in the Bay Area.
2. Celtics (51-31). Brad Stevens nailed this offseason. The Celtics’ run to the Finals showed the need to add some depth (keeping the minutes for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown under control) and a little more shot creation. Enter Malcolm Brogdon (in a trade that cost them none of their core) and free agent Danilo Gallinari. The Celtics enter this season knowing who they are and what they want to do — something they figured out during the middle of last season — and they will be in the mix to finish the regular season on top of the East.
3. Bucks (51-31). Why is everyone seemingly sleeping on Milwaukee as a title contender? If Khris Middleton were healthy during the Celtics series, we might be talking about the back-to-back champion Bucks. No big moves this offseason, but they wisely resigned Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis to keep them in house. Joe Ingles could get healthy the second half of the season and provide some playoff depth. The Bucks bring back basically the same team that won it all two seasons ago, and that may be good enough again.
4. Clippers (42-40). Finally healthy, this team is scary good — keeping it healthy is what will keep Tyronn Lue and everyone in the Clippers organization up at night. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are two-way wings who can drive the offense and lock down opposing wings on the other end. They are surrounded by a good and versatile supporting cast with Norman Powell, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris, Robert Covington, Luke Kennard and the list goes on. Signing John Wall was a good move, he will split time with Reggie Jackson at the point. Losing Isaiah Hartenstein stings, but this team has the depth to cover it up.
5. Grizzlies (56-26). They took care of job No. 1 this offseason: Lock up franchise cornerstone Ja Morant. After that they largely kept the band together, re-signing Tyus Jones and John Konchar, and using the draft (Jake LaRivia, David Roddy, the latter of whom impressed at Summer League) to replace Kyle Anderson (the Timberwolves) and De’Anthony Melton (the 76ers will love him). Last season’s breakout team should see further player development and the rotation on this deep team should solidify, but is the team that made it to the second round of the playoffs last season ready for another step.
6. 76ers (51-31). James Harden is taking less money to win — exactly how much less is TBD — and Daryl Morey used that spending cash well to bring in P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and trade for De’Anthony Melton. With Tyrese Maxey ready to take another step forward, this team has all the role players needed to contend — it now falls on Joel Embiid and Harden to show they can be the two superstars on a title team. Not worried about Embiid being able to do that (if he can stay healthy), but Harden? The playoff pressure to perform will fall on him.
7. Suns (64-18). Deandre Ayton is back and, after all the drama, is saying the right things about wanting to be there. Monty Williams will know how to make things right. The Suns extended their superstar in Devin Booker and essentially are running it back — which is the smart move for a team that won a league-best 64 games last season. If 37-year-old Chris Paul can keep playing at this level, the Suns have to be considered contenders, but will they be good enough to come out of a deeper West where the top teams are a little more versatile than them? Or will they look back and rue the missed opportunity to land Kevin Durant?
8. Heat (53-29). The team with the East’s best regular-season record last go around spent the summer trying to land another star to go next to Jimmy Butler, but as of now Durant is still in Brooklyn (and not likely going anywhere for a while) and Miami currently lacks the first-round picks to match the Knicks in the Donovan Mitchell sweepstakes. Losing P.J. Tucker is going to sting, especially in the playoffs. Bringing back Victor Oladipo, Caleb Martin, and Dwayne Dedmon is nice, but this feels like a team ready to take a step back. Unless Pat Riley has another bold move we didn’t see coming.
9. Nuggets (48-34). Finally healthy, with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back in the rotation next to a just-extended Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets are poised to be a contender. Their offseason put players around that core that will help in the playoffs: Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Losing Monte Morris hurts a little, but Ish Smith will be solid as the backup point. If everyone can stay healthy and this team meshes, this ranking will be too low for them by the end of the season.
10. Timberwolves (46-36). No team pushed all their chips to the middle of the table this offseason like Minnesota — trading for Rudy Gobert (and giving up a lot of picks do so), extending Karl-Anthony Towns on a max contract, and bringing in quality role players such as Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes. With Anthony Edwards entering his third season and poised to make a leap, the Timberwolves should be a much better defensive team, win a lot of games, be a playoff team and maybe even host a round (although, in the very deep West, hosting may be asking a lot). Playoff questions abound about this roster, but it should solidly get there and that is a step forward.
11. Mavericks (52-32). This may be too low for a team that puts the ball in the hands of Luka Doncic and surrounds him with shooters, plus played better than expected defense last season. The loss of Jalen Brunson for nothing hurts and puts a lot of pressure on Tim Hardaway Jr. to become the secondary scorer and shot creator the Mavericks need. The addition of Christian Wood is a good one. Look for Doncic to come in more focused and have an MVP-level season, but how far can he carry this roster?
12. Raptors (48-34). Toronto continues to lurk as a potential Kevin Durant trade destination (although all KD trade talks have slowed for now), but aside that the Raptors are largely running it back with their long, switchable, interchangeable and hard-to-play-against system. They signed Otto Porter Jr. as a free agent and he should fit right into this system, and the Raptors also re-signed Chris Boucher and Thaddeus Young.
13. Nets (44-38). I have zero idea where to put the Nets in these rankings, so this is the spot they land. If Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving show up for training camp, and Ben Simmons is ready to play and accept a role, this is a top-five team in this ranking, maybe top three. If Durant and Irving are traded by (or during) training camp, then it depends on who comes back in return, but this spot could be too high. Maybe Durant comes back but not Irving. If either or both come back, how is their attitude and how does it impact the team? Picking up T.J. Warren, trading for Royce O’Neal, and re-signing Nic Claxton and Patty Mills are good moves for a win-now Nets team... but what kind of team are the Nets?
14. Pelicans (36-46). New Orleans made both the right move and a big bet on health in maxing out Zion Williamson (in a smaller market, they had no choice). Just how good can this team be with a healthy Zion paired with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram? Potentially very good. Playoff good. At the very least this team is going to be League Pass favorites and must watch, there will be highlights. Tough blow for the Pels draft pick E.J. Liddell to tear his ACL at Summer League, hopefully he can bounce back in a year.
15. Bulls (44-36). Is this ranking based too much on the final third of last season and the playoffs, after Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso got hurt and the Bulls’ defense fell apart? Maybe. The first half of the season Bulls would be higher than this. Chicago re-signed Zach LaVine on the max, which was the smart and only real move they had. Bringing back Derrick Jones Jr. and signing Goran Dragic is nice, but there were no bold moves from the Bulls this offseason. Chicago is good but still feels like a playoffs but not dangerous team in the East.
16. Hawks (43-39). Dejounte Murray is the perfect backcourt mate next to Trae Young, at least on paper. Murray provides good defense at the point of attack, secondary shot creation, and someone who can keep the offense afloat when Young sits (a long running issue in Atlanta). How far can this backcourt take the Hawks? A lot may depend on the seasons Clint Capela and De’Andre Hunter have? The Hawks now have two Holiday family members in Justin and Aaron, plus they traded for Maurice Harkless.
17. Cavaliers (44-38). This ranking feels too low — the Cavs could finish ahead of teams like the Bulls and Hawks. They did the right thing maxing out Darius Garland (and maybe Collin Sexton still returns, that shockingly still hangs out there), Ricky Rubio is a good pickup once he gets healthy, and Robin Lopez will provide depth beyond Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Ochai Agbaji looked like a guy who can help from Day 1 during Summer League. All those moves are nice, but whether this ranking does prove to low will depend on what kind of steps forward Mobley and Garland take this season.
18. Lakers (33-49). Rob Pelinka learned from last year’s roster mistakes and assembled a more athletic and interesting supporting cast this season by getting Lonnie Walker IV, Thomas Bryant, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Damian Jones, and Troy Brown. However, the Russell Westbrook saga hangs over this team — will he be traded before training camp opens? If he does come to camp, will he buy into the role that new coach (and great hire) Darvin Ham wants? Or will this look like last season? However the Westbrook situation shakes out, the success of the Lakers’ season will hinge on how healthy Anthony Davis is and if his jumper returns to form. L.A. needs bubble Davis to have a chance.
19. Kings (30-52). Keegan Murray was one of the standouts of Summer League, winning MVP but more importantly looking like a guy who could step in and contribute for Sacramento from Day 1. Murray running some dribble handoff action with Domantas Sabonis could become a staple in new coach Mike Brown’s offense. Sacramento made moves that could help turn this into a playoff team by bringing in Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter. If De’Aaron Fox can take a step forward and Brown can coach up the defense, even if this team does not have a very high ceiling it could be a playoff team and break the streak. They will need luck and health in a deep West, but the Kings have a solid roster.
20. Knicks (37-45). While trade talks for Donovan Mitchell have stalled out a little, the Knicks remain the clear frontrunner because they have what Danny Ainge and the Jazz want: Draft picks. Mitchell with just signed Jalen Brunson in the backcourt and RJ Barrett at the three could form Portland East — an entertaining and solid playoff team, one that could have the occasional nice playoff run, but not one that’s a title threat. How many picks should the Knicks give up for that? Re-signing Mitchell Robinson was smart, and Knick fans will love Isaiah Hartenstein, a great signing.
21. Trail Blazers (27-55). Damian Lillard is going to make north of $60 million in a few years and the Trail Blazers have built an interesting roster around him with Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II. But how good is this team? To make the playoffs they will need vintage, All-NBA level Lillard. There are legitimate depth concerns with the roster. Unfortunately a shoulder injury prevented us from getting to see meaningful minutes from Shaedon Sharpe at Summer League, but No. 57 pick Jabari Walker looks like a find.
22. Hornets (43-39). Charlotte had a quiet offseason, with a nice draft of Mark williams and re-signing of Cody Martin, but maybe the biggest news was LaMelo Ball changing to No. 1. However, the Hornets slide down these rankings because the team’s leading scorer from last season, Miles Bridges, has been charged with felony counts of domestic violence and child abuse. His status for the upcoming season is unclear (the Hornets retain his rights through a qualifying offer, but right now nobody is going near him with an offer).
23. Wizards (35-47). They re-signed Bradley Beal to a massive extension and tried to surround him and Kristaps Porzingis with solid role players such as Will Barton, Monte Morris, and Delon Wright (but they let solid role players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Thomas Bryant. Will that be enough in a deep East? The Wizards drafted Johnny Davis at No. 10, but after watching him at Summer League we’ll see how much he can contribute during the season.
24. Pistons (23-59). Jaden Ivey was injured in too early into Summer League to make much of an assessment (he was explosive but raw in his debut), however Jalen Duren was a standout — blocking shots, throwing great passes out of the post, and finishing at the rim. Him playing with Cade Cunningham could be promising. Re-signing Marvin Bagley III and rolling the dice on Kevin Knox were solid moves for a young, developing team. Detroit is not going to win a lot of games but they should be entertaining.
25. Thunder (24-58). Chet Holmgren looks better in person than on television/in highlights, and had a strong Summer League. He can impact the game with rim protection from the start of the season, and he and Josh Giddey started to show some chemistry. Add in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder may not win a lot but they will be entertaining and League Pass favorites. Ousmane Dieng, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams have more developing to do, but showed a little promise. Good re-signing of Lugentz Dort.
26. Rockets (20-62). Jabari Smith showed real promise on defense at Summer League (as much as anyone defends in Las Vegas), although his offense is going to take a while to come along. Smith combined with the impressive Tari Eason brought something Houston needs to the court in Houston. TyTy Washington could be a steal at No. 29 (the latest in a long line of Kentucky guards to shine outside of Lexington). There’s a lot of growth to do, but with Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. driving the offense, and the just re-signed Jae’Sean Tate, there is a strong young core in Houston.
27. Pacers (25-57). The rebuild is on in Indiana, and Bennedict Mathurin stood out in Las Vegas and looked to be a key part of it, scoring 19.4 per game and almost never turning the ball over. Mathurin paired with Tyrese Haliburton is a start. The Pacers did not succeed with the bold move of landing Deandre Ayton, but expect more moves — Myles Turner and Buddy Hield are available via trade and it would be a surprise if either ends the season in a Pacers uniform.
28. Magic 22-60). Paolo Banchero lived up to the hype as the No. 1 pick at Summer League, showing off a versatile offensive game and the shot creation ability the Magic need. He and Franz Wagner creating shots for Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs (who needs to take a step forward from last season), Wendell Carter Jr., Markelle Fultz and others could make for an entertaining and interesting season in Orlando. Caleb Houstan looks like a second round draft steal. The most interesting thing to watch with the Magic is the possible return of Jonathan Isaac — if he’s back and playing to form on defense, this team suddenly has a potentially dangerous core.
29. Jazz (49-33). Rudy Gobert is gone, Donovan Mitchell trade talks stalled out but will eventually get done, and the Jazz are tearing it down to the studs for a Danny Ainge rebuild. Expect more moves with every veteran on the roster — Mike Conley, Patrick Beverley and others — all available. Utah’s biggest asset in all the moves likely is its own pick for 2023, which could well be top five in a draft with several franchise players at the top of the board.
30. Spurs (34-48). The long-anticipated rebuild is on in San Antonio, and Keldon Johnson is now being paid to be at the heart of it. We didn’t get to see Jeremy Sochan at Summer League, but Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley showed flashes of promise in Las Vegas. This is the kind of teaching, developmental job that Gregg Popovich enjoys as a coach, and this team will get better (and likely not finish last in these rankings), but this team also isn’t going to win a lot of games. It’s a rebuild that will take a few years.
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