NBA Summer Power Rankings: Warriors still on top, but Lakers, Raptors climbing
The dust of the NBA offseason has largely settled after the Kawhi Leonard trade — sure, Carmelo Anthony has yet to be released in Oklahoma City, but we know he will ultimately land in Houston — and between free agency and Summer League we have a sense of what teams will look like come the fall. So here are the “everyone is chasing Golden State” power rankings as we get to the end of July.
1. Warriors (Last season 58-24). The NBA’s best team improved this summer, which had some people calling it unfair and asking the league to change the rules. Which is wrong-headed, but that’s another story. The Warriors’ biggest move this summer was to secure Kevin Durant, and there was an under the radar decisions such as inking Jonas Jerebko. The Warriors were the one team that could patiently wait for DeMarcus Cousins to get healthy, then give him a reputation-changing platform, so he asked in, and that gives the Warriors options.
2. Celtics (55-27). Despite the rampant rumors and fervent excitement of some Celtics fans — “trade up for a top five pick” or “trade for Kawhi Leonard” — Danny Ainge knew he had the best hand in the East already, so he didn’t take risks. He largely stood pat. A Marcus Smart is not yet done but likely will be soon. The Celtics are going to get healthy (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward) and key players will improve (Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum) next season. They will set the bar in the East and could be a threat to the Warriors thanks to that defense.
3. Rockets (65-17). The clear second best team in the NBA last season got a little worse this summer — it was not a disaster, but their depth and defense took some hits, and with the Warriors ahead of them there was little margin for error already. GM Daryl Morey did lock up Chris Paul (on a fair four-year deal). However, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute are gone now, and Clint Capela remains unsigned (he’ll be back, the question is the price). Carmelo Anthony can fit with them on offense (if he can accept a role), but he doesn’t help on the other end of the court (James Ennis will help there, some).
4. 76ers (52-30). They were a 52-win team that will be better next season because key players — Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric — will improve, plus Markelle Fultz will get added to the mix. This team is well positioned and going to take a step forward. Maybe not as fast a Brett Brown and fans wanted — the Sixers went big game hunting this summer and came up empty — but they can afford to be patient. A big name player will come, eventually. It’s good to be a Sixers fans right now.
5. Raptors (59-23). Kawhi Leonard may not want to be there, but if he’s fully healthy — and that remains a question mark — Leonard elevates the Raptors up to a team with a legitimate chance to come out of the East (and that makes them a contender). That the Raptors were able to keep OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet gives this team depth and versatility. Nick Nurse, you’ve got a contender with an unhappy superstar on it, welcome to your first NBA head coaching season. Good luck.
6. Jazz (48-34). Of all the teams clumped in the West at seeds 3-12 (the potential for 46 to 52 wins), Utah is the one I trust the most because they will defend. Every night. Even if Donovan Mitchell plateaus in his second season, Utah has Ricky Rubio back, adds Grayson Allen, and should have a full season of Rudy Gobert protecting the paint (and Derick Favors back if he does miss some time). Plus, I trust Quin Snyder to keep them sharp and competing night in and night out.
7. Thunder (48-34 LW 9).. OKC got their biggest prize — Paul George chose them, and that makes the Thunder a threat for years to come. They are soon going to lose Carmelo Anthony, which helps their defense (but dings them on offense a little). The Russell Westbrook/George/Andre Roberson/Steven Adams foursome is as good as you’ll find in the league, but they still need to find some depth around those guys. I like re-signing Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton, but that’s not enough.
8. Lakers (35-47). Los Angeles won the summer — they landed LeBron James. He should pair well with Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma (and better with Lonzo Ball than some think), but every other move was far more about keeping cap space and flexibility to get another star than it was winning now. Magic may say he wanted winners/playmakers, he’s going to grasp the need for shooters fast. Rajon Rondo is good when he cares, JaVale McGee can fill a role, but Lance Stephenson is a head scratcher. This is a playoff team as constructed, but expect more moves.
9. Spurs (47-35). They did not hit a home run in their trade with the Raptors, but they got what they wanted — an All-NBA level player who can make them dangerous and keep them relevant for a couple of years (until Gregg Popovich retires and the rebuild starts). This team won 47 games last season basically without Leonard, DeRozan makes them a little better (at least on offense). No Tony Parker just feels strange. Adding Marco Belinelli will be a good fit thanks to his shooting.
10. Pacers (48-34). They quietly had a very good summer. Indiana added Tyreke Evans for bench scoring, Doug McDermott and Evans for shooting, some depth a the point with Aaron Holiday, and a bruiser in the paint with Kyle O’Quinn. Put them in the mix around Victor Oladipo and the existing core and this team could have home court in the first round.
11. Bucks (44-38 LW 18). Their smartest move of the summer was landing the best Xs and Os coach on the board in Mike Budenholzer, who should put all that talent in better positions than a year ago. Coach Bud will make Giannis Antetokounmpo better. The Bucks desperately need shooting and floor spacing and the additions of Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez help with that, to a degree. Will they miss Jabari Parker? I don’t think that much.
12. Pelicans (48-34). They lost DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo, but with the addition of Julius Randle they can better embrace the fast pace at which the team thrived the second half of last season (Randle can play with either Anthony Davis or Nikola Mirotic). There’s still not much to like about this team on the wing, but if Jrue Holiday can stay healthy the Pelicans will cause problems in the West.
13. Nuggets (46-36).. The most important thing Denver did this summer was lock up Nikola Jokic long term, that keeps this team relevant for years, he is a cornerstone big man. Great roll of the dice on Isaiah Thomas, and if he is willing to take on the sixth man role he can thrive at a mile high. Keep Paul Millsap healthy this season and the Nuggets are a playoff team (and maybe even if he isn’t).
14. Trail Blazers (49-33). This was the three seed in the West last season and they are bringing back Jusuf Nurkic in the paint to keep their top-10 defense going. They added more shooting and depth with Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas, plus in the draft picked up Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. Despite rumors of a shakeup, there were no dramatic moves, which means team is still going to rise and fall with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
15. Timberwolves (47-35, LW 13). They made a leap forward into the playoffs last season, but can they take another step forward this season? They lost Nemanja Bjelica and probably Jamal Crawford, and Anthony Tolliver does not make up for that. Bigger question: Will the strained locker room dynamics hold this team back? Will Jimmy Butler be traded? Can Andrew Wiggins find a way to fit his game into this roster this season?
16. Wizards (43-39). Marcin Gortat is out, he clashed with John Wall, so the chemistry issues in the Washington locker room should get better, right? Oh yea, they added Dwight Howard. They added Austin Rivers as well. The Wizards are solid, but Washington has never consistently lived up to its potential, what will make next season any different?
17. Heat (44-38). Miami wanted to make a bold move this summer, but with no takers for the Hassan Whiteside or Tyler Johnson contracts, they essentially have to run it back with the Goran Dragic led team of a season ago. They kept Wayne Ellington, which was smart, but to get better Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow need to make leaps. Everyone is keeping an eye on the decisions of Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, will they retire?
18. Mavericks (24-58). Dallas is not coasting through Dirk Nowitzki’s final season (although they will use that to sell tickets at every turn). They made the move of the draft getting Luka Doncic, then made an aggressive move to land DeAndre Jordan at center. Pair those two with Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews, and Nowitzki and you have a team that could have one of the biggest single-season leaps in wins in a long time, and maybe make the playoffs in the West.
19. Grizzlies (22-60). They are not tanking, on the orders of ownership they are aiming for the postseason. The Grizzlies had a strong offseason adding Jaren Jackson Jr. (maybe the best player of the draft at Summer League), Jevon Carter, and through free agency Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi. The real question to how good the Grizzlies can be comes down to one simple thing: How many games can Mike Conley and Marc Gasol stay healthy and play together? If that number is north of 65, the playoffs are not out of the question.
20. Pistons (39-43). Stan Van Gundy is out and Dwane Casey is in as coach, but what is he going to do with a roster built around Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Reggie Jackson. If those three stay healthy this can be a playoff team in the East, but would you bet on that health? If Casey can get more out of Stanley Johnson and Luke Kennard that would help this team considerably.
21. Clippers (42-40). Despite losing Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, JJ Redick, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford — all in just more than a year — the Clippers are not going into rebuild mode. They have a roster of good players with Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat, Danilo Gallinari, Avery Bradley, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverly and more, but everything has to go right for them to make the playoffs. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander impressed in Las Vegas.
22. Hornets (36-46). It still feels like “Kemba Walker vs. the World” in Charlotte. They have gotten a little better around the fringes — Dwight Howard is out and Bismack Biyombo is in, Malid Monk impressed in limited Summer League run, and they add Miles Bridges — but it’s on new coach James Barego to get more out of them somehow. Seeing Tony Parker in teal rather than black and silver is just going to look strange.
23. Bulls (27-55).. They have more than $38 million wrapped up next season in guys coming off ACL surgeries in Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker, which is a big gamble. Wendell Carter Jr. showed real promise — on both ends of the floor — in Summer League. Put all of them with Lauri Markkanen (and Kris Dunn) and you have a team that can score buckets but is not going to stop anybody. If this team doesn’t rise up this year, Fred Holberg’s seat is going to get warm.
24. Cavaliers (50-32). LeBron James is gone, and while they say they want to compete shouldn’t take long for owner Dan Gilbert to fully embrace the rebuild and trade Kyle Korver, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and every other veteran. After that, they can see what a young core of Collin Sexton, Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman and the rest can do.
25. Knicks (29-53, LW 22). There was good news out of Summer League, where Kevin Knox showed a lot of potential with his athleticism, and Mitchell Robinson averaged 13 points and four blocks a game. The bad news, Frank Ntilikina looked pedestrian (not good for a second-year player). With Kristaps Porzingis out likely at least half the season (and he could miss it all) this team isn’t going anywhere this year, it’s about development.
26. Magic (25-57). For the first time in a long time, the Orlando Magic are going to be interesting. They re-signed Aaron Gordon, and at Summer League the young front line of Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba showed a lot of defensive potential. Throw Jonathan Simmons in the mix with defensive-minded coach Steve Clifford, and the Magic should get plenty of stops. The offense will be a work in progress, but the Magic will be a team worth watching.
27. Suns (21-61). Phoenix did the smart things this summer: they locked up Devin Booker and drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1. They can roll out an interesting young core — Booker, Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Ayton that will be fun to watch, and Trevor Ariza will provide some locker room guidance (although at $15 million the question is why?). The rebuilding plan is starting to take shape, and their could be an interesting team to watch (except at point guard).
28. Kings (27-55). They can roll out an interesting young core of De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles (who looked solid at Summer League), and maybe the best of them all Marvin Bagley III. They are rebuilding and not going to win a lot of games yet, but there is some potential there. Also, the Kings still have more than $20 million in cap space, expect them to do something with it (they can take on a bad contract for a first-round pick, if they want).
29. Nets (28-54). Just what will Brooklyn get out of D’Angelo Russell in a contract year? It’s an interesting story line in Brooklyn, along with watching the development of Jarrett Allen at center and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. New GM Sean Marks has done a great job digging Brooklyn out of the hole the last administration dug, now he can really put his vision together for this rebuilding team.
30. Hawks (24-58). Trae Young was down then up at Summer League, eventually adapting to the length and athleticism of defenders at that level — but come October that level is going to take another massive jump. John Collins at center impressed a lot at Summer League, he could be a future star. Will the Hawks get anything out of Jeremy Lin (between him and Dennis Schroder, someone is getting traded). Embrace the rebuild, Hawks fans: It’s going to be a rough year, but look for signs of growth and hope.