NBA: Every team ranked for the 2018 season

Oct 16, 2018, 11:55 AM | Updated: 11:58 am

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)


After waiting a mere four months, the NBA is back in full swing and we’re ranking every team in the NBA to get you prepared for the season.

Every team has been ranked starting from worst to best and includes the teams projected wins.

The entire ranking system is based on a “best of sixteen” playoff format and includes three separate categories per team.

The three categories for each team are:

Starting Five: The starting lineup is based on the respective team’s depth chart according to and should only be taken with a grain of salt due to potential matchups, injuries, etc.

Draft: This section will highlight each team’s first-round draft pick(s) if a pick was available, as well as that pick’s corresponding college.

Expectations: Expectations will be calculated based on multiple points including injured players, starting rookies, front office/coaching stability, etc. and will be ranked as Playing to Lose, Middle of the Pack, On-the-Outside Looking In, Playoffs, Eastern/Western Conference Finals Contender, and Championship Contender.

Let’s get started!

#30 – Atlanta Hawks (17-65)

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Trae Young, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon

Draft: Luka Doncic (Real Madrid, Spain) – 1st round, 3rd pick*
*Traded Doncic for Trae Young (University of Oklahoma) – 1st round, 5th pick

Expectations: Playing to lose

Make no mistake, the Atlanta Hawks have two goals this season.

Have a successful season and develop their most prized asset — Trae Young.

Last year, the Hawks finished 24-58 with an offensive rating of 103.4, 25th in the league, both of which are going to be substantially lower this season.

The loss of Dennis Schröder is not going to shake the team but it is going to create an offensive void from a familiarity standpoint. Schröder slowly grew into the ball-handling role for the Hawks and was becoming more productive and efficient until being traded this offseason after stalling midseason.

That’s where Young will have to pick up a majority of the ball-handling and attempt to create some form of normalcy and consistency for a team that has no offensive weapons and is going to focus on adding to its other two first-round draft picks.

Unfortunately for Young, he is going to come into the NBA undersized and underdeveloped, as well as suffering a first-round exit in the Big 12 Tournament while playing for Oklahoma after catching fire early in the season.

He’s going to have a hard time getting to the basket off pick-and-rolls, but if he can consistently hit from beyond the arc, then his life will get a little bit easier during the regular season.

#29 – Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63)

NBA Ranking

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Starting Five: George Hill, JR Smith, Rodney Hood, Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson

Draft: Collin Sexton (University of Alabama) – 1st round, 8th pick

Expectations: Playing to lose

The Cleveland Cavaliers have little to be optimistic about following the loss of one of the greatest basketball players we have ever seen in LeBron James. LeBron’s first departure from Cleveland left his image tarnished and the city disheartened.

This time, things seem different. Kevin Love inked a new 5 year / $113,211,750 max contract this summer, and after drafting an offense first point guard in Collin Sexton, the team will at least be able to retain some form of intrigue for Cavs fans.

Sexton is no Kyrie Irving and he’s going to struggle from the three after only hitting 33% during his time with the Crimson Tide, but with a savvy veteran in George Hill, Sexton is sure to learn the ins-and-outs of the league and what it will take to run an offense in today’s game.

Almost the entire roster from last years playoff run is returning but their goals are going to be drastically different this time around — unless you ask Tristan Thompson.

I actually think Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is stubborn enough to try and get into the playoffs, but there’s only one way this iteration of the Cavs should go and that’s for a number one draft pick.

#28 – Sacramento Kings (23-59)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Starting Five: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Zach Randolph, Willie Cauley-Stein

Draft: Marvin Bagley (Duke University) – 1st round, 2nd pick

Expectations: Playing to lose

When DeMarcus Cousins was traded away from the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Buddy Hield and a first-round pick that would later turn into De’Aaron Fox, the front office decided to go in a completely different direction, trading all hope for immediate relevancy.

There are no signs of that changing any time soon.

The team has so many glaring issues. They’re struggling with a lack of shooters, too many ball-handlers, big men who can’t defend the pick-and-roll, and role players who are going to be fighting to get their share of stats. After all, Ben McLemore is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2019 and will be looking to cash in.

Hield and Fox will attempt to make some sense of an offense under head coach, Dave Joerger. There will be a familiarity between Joerger, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter from their Memphis days which should be able to provide a sense of stability between the vets and the coaches to help create some sort of culture.

#27 – Orlando Magic (23-59)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Starting Five: D.J. Augustin, Evan Fournier, Jonathon Simmons, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic

Draft: Mohamed Bamba (the University of Texas at Austin) – 1st round, 6th pick

Expectations: Playing to lose

The Orlando Magic are heading into their fifth year with Aaron Gordon and the first year of his 4 year / $80,000,000 contract. His athleticism has slightly dipped from when we saw his breakout performance in the 2016 All-Star Dunk Contest and his shooting hasn’t gotten dramatically better to offset his offensive output. He’s shooting a career 30% from the three and is surrounded by a crowded frontcourt. The magic suffer from a serious lack of shooting.

Their most recent draft choice in Mo Bamba is only going to make that even harder. Still, Bamba’s low-risk potential gives the Magic a sense of security if they decide to start shopping Gordon.

Jonathon Simmons brings some athleticism and an insight into what it takes to win after being traded away from the Spurs in 2016. His game is focused on moving effectively without the ball and taking advantage of inattentive defenders, but an offense orchestrated by D.J. Augustin and Even Fournier isn’t going to provide the same opportunities that helped Simmons shine so well in San Antonio.

Evan Fournier has been flirting with a 20-point season for the past two years and is set to become an offensive pillar for the Magic if he can step up.

The introduction of former Charlotte Hornets head coach, Steve Clifford, should help introduce a new chapter into the offense, but it is definitely not enough to push the needle.

#26 – Memphis Grizzlies (25-57)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Mike Conley, Wayne Selden, Kyle Anderson, JaMychal Green, Marc Gasol

Draft: Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State University) – 1st round, 4th pick

Expectations: Playing to lose

The Memphis Grizzlies are coming to a fork in the road and this year is going to determine which way to go.

The two options are to trade their franchise player for a potential first-round/second-round pick or to continue on life support with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. The term “Grit-and-Grind” no longer applies to this team with the departure of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. If they’re looking for a new motto, they should consider “Low-and-Slow”. They have no offensive weapons and two of the slowest players in the league: Kyle Anderson and Gasol.

The Grizzlies still have their IQ, which is going to keep them in games. But unfortunately, the league has passed them by yet again. I would not be shocked to see a team that no longer has Gasol on the roster by the All-Star break, with Jaren Jackson Jr. taking his place.

#25 – Dallas Mavericks (29-53)

(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan

Draft: Trae Young (University of Oklahoma) – 1st round, 5th pick*
*Traded Young for Luka Doncic (Real Madrid, Spain) – 1st round, 3rd pick

Expectations: Middle of the pack

I’m not sure if it’s the overall intrigue of Luka Doncic or the addition of DeAndre Jordan, or maybe just the fact that Dirk Nowitzki is going to be coming off the bench, but the Dallas Mavericks are going to be one of the best-worst teams to watch this year.

The team is set to feature 19-year-old EuroLeague MVP Luka Doncic. Doncic averaged 16.1 points with 4.4 assists for Real Madrid last year and is one of the clear frontrunners for Rookie of the Year. He’s going to be paired with All-Star Dunk Contest participant Dennis Smith Jr., who repeatedly shows up on social media highlight reels thanks to his athleticism.

The two are going to create a dynamic offensive backcourt. They’re sure to make DeAndre Jordan feel right at home with the number of lobs he’ll be receiving on a nightly basis, which will probably leave Dallas fans satisfied with whatever happens this season.

Nowitzki is presumably out for the first two weeks of the season due to ankle surgery he had in April, but as the scoring legend heads into his 21st season with the team, the thought of Nowitzki contributing meaningful minutes is less relevant.

His impact on Dallas basketball is set in stone after beating the Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA finals. This year will be an opportunity for basketball fans everywhere to show their gratitude towards the sixth leading scorer of all time.

#24 – New York Knicks (30-52)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Trey Burke, Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Mario Hezonja, Enes Kanter

Draft: Kevin Knox (University of Kentucky) – 1st round, 9th pick

Expectations: Middle of the pack

The amount of talk surrounding the New York Knicks this summer has got Knicks fans everywhere extremely hopeful. Kristaps Porzingis is set to become a restricted free agent next summer after declining to resign his rookie extension.

This decision isn’t so much about Kristap’s angst against his franchise or even his projected health after his return from a torn ACL, which could be well into midseason. It has more to do with leverage.

Kevin Durant and Porzingis appear to be locked into what will be a season-long conversation about whether Durant will go to New York or not.

It’s all speculative right now, but garners weight none-the-less. A world where Durant wins his third straight NBA title AND Finals MVP is not so far-fetched when you analyze the pieces involved — but will that be enough for Durant?

Durant becoming New York’s savior will be talked about as often as LeBron bringing a title to the Lakers, so, of course, Knick’s fans are hopeful and will be set to roll out all of the recruiting stops as early as possible as their franchise unicorn recovers from one of the worst big men injuries in the game.

#23 – Chicago Bulls (31-51)

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen, Robin Lopez

Draft: Wendell Carter (Duke University) – 1st round, 7th pick

Expectations: Middle of the pack

As soon as the Chicago Bulls decided to bring in Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to the Jimmy Butler-led Bulls in 2016, the team was bound for a rebuild. By the start of the next season, Butler would eventually be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Rondo was released and signed with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Wade would sign to the Cavaliers.

In return, the Bulls were prepared to turn a new leaf with Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn at the helm, but injuries and midseason fights would hinder any form of growth for the team.

One of the only bright spots to come from last season for the Bulls was the emergence of Lauri Markkanen. In his first year in the league, the Finnish native put up 15 points per game on 43% shooting from the field and 36% from the three playing 30 minutes per game. That’s on par with his single year playing at Arizona, so prepare yourself for lots of Markkanen.

The Bulls actually have a well-rounded starting five, but it comes with one of the worst caveats in the NBA: they’ll only be well-rounded if they’re healthy.

Both LaVine and Jabari Parker have experienced ACL injuries and appear to be somewhat injury prone, which has unfortunately halted their promising upsides.

LaVine’s athleticism and Parker’s starting spot may both be at risk due to the injuries. But if the Bulls find themselves healthy heading into a quarter of the season, they might be able to put up a fight on a night-to-night basis as long as they can improve their team defense.

#22 – Phoenix Suns (33-49)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Elie Okobo, Devin Booker, TJ Warren, Ryan Anderson, Deandre Ayton

Draft: Deandre Ayton (University of Arizona) – 1st round, 1st pick
Zhaire Smith (Texas Tech University) – 1st round, 16th pick

Expectations: Middle of the pack

When Phoenix Suns’ guard Devin Booker scored 70 points, setting the Suns franchise record for most points in a game, it came at a time when the season was about to start winding down and teams were beginning to tank. Still, the thought of 20-year-old Booker pulling off such an incredible feat left Suns fans exhilarated and wanting more.

That seemed like it might be the best highlight coming out of Phoenix — until the team drafted Deandre Ayton with the number one pick in June.

Overnight, the thought that Booker and Ayton might be the new Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal began to spread across NBA Twitter like a wildfire. Booker, a traditional, shoot-first scoring guard; Ayton, a once-in-a-lifetime big man with an incredibly high upside — the comparison is interesting.

Ayton will come into the NBA after one year at Arizona, averaging 24 points, 13.8 total rebounds, shooting 64% from the field, and 73% from the free-throw line.

Most importantly, he is physically ready for the NBA. Measuring in at 7’1″, 250 lb, Ayton will be prepared to dominate in the paint against most teams as the NBA transitions to a smaller, more fast-break focused league.

Ayton will have issues against traditional big men like Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, and Joel Embiid, but his fingerprint will be on almost every possession he plays for the Suns. For a team that hasn’t made waves since the Steve Nash “7 Seconds or Less” era, Phoenix should be more than grateful to give Ayton all the possessions he wants.

#21 – Brooklyn Nets (35-47)

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Starting Five: D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jarret Allen

Draft: Dzanan Musa

Expectations: Middle of the pack

It’s been quite the ride for the Brooklyn/New Jersey Nets this decade, but they come into the season with a sliver of hope after underperforming for the past three years.

The team has seen a relocation, six different coaches, one of their most famous franchise players turn into a 44-38 coach in Jason Kidd, a loss of 3 first round picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and the gradual decline of Deron Williams.

They are currently sitting on two 2019 first-round picks from Cleveland and Dallas, as well as a second-round pick from Charlotte. On top of the draft picks, the Nets have enough cap space to sign two max players next year. The only players signed to contract through next year are Jarrett Allen and rookies Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs.

What does that mean for this season? I’m not quite sure.

D’Angelo Russell will come back as the primary ball-handler in a contract year. Russell, however, seems to have hit a plateau due to his injury and multiple off-the-court issues since coming into the league. Russell only played 48 games last season and his goal for this season is to play all 82. That’s borderline nightmare-inducing, given that Russell is only 22.

Combine that with the growth of third-year net Spencer Dinwiddie, and it seems that, at this point, a logjam almost inevitable.

With all that said, no one on this roster should feel safe. The Nets have never shied away from big moves. Next summer should be no different.

#20 – LA Clippers (37-45)

(Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Patrick Beverly, Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat

Draft: Miles Bridges (Michigan State) – 1st round, 12th pick*
*Traded Bridges for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (University of Kentucky) – 1st round, 11th pick

Expectations: On the outside, looking in

It’s safe to say that no one expected this version of the Los Angeles Clippers to be in playoff contention last year. By February, the team would feature Lou Williams, Tobias Harris, and an injured Danilo Gallinari and would somehow gather enough momentum to position themselves as the 10th seed in one of the most packed Western Conferences we’ve ever seen.

But how does that stack up heading into this season?

On paper, the Clippers have one of the best defensive backcourts in Patrick Beverly and Avery Bradley, as well as one of the biggest frontcourts with Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic. Gallinari still holds promise as a crafty facilitator when healthy and has an insane passing IQ.

This offense should be able to hold its own, even with a lack of shooting on the perimeter.

Harris has the potential to become a habitual 20-point scorer if given more minutes and touches, especially if the team begins to experience injuries.

Head Coach Doc Rivers is coming into his first full season, strictly as the team’s head coach, and Lawrence Frank is taking over basketball matters as executive vice president of basketball operations. That should allow Rivers to focus on what he does best.

#19 – Washington Wizards (42-40)

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Starting Five: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr., Markieff Morris, Dwight Howard

Draft: Troy Brown (University of Oregon) – 1st round, 15th pick

Expectations: On the outside, looking in

The Washington Wizards are in the same predicament as another team on this list: the Portland Trailblazers. John Wall and Bradley Beal are heading into their eighth season together in Washington, a feat that is as rare as it is torturous.

With Wall and Beal as the starting backcourt, the team has never progressed past the Eastern Conference semifinals. That’s mainly because LeBron James has dominated the east for the past decade, but also because the pairing has never truly connected.

Both players appear to have the abilities to be the leading man on a given team, but injuries and success have derailed that possibility.

Washington is set to pay Wall $37,800,000 next season following his 4 year / $169,344,000 extension. Signing a player to a 4-year deal should halt any questions about that player’s future with the team, but it seems that, more than ever, Wall’s destiny is in question.

The inclusion of Dwight Howard can be seen two ways: as an upgrade from Marcin Gortat or the beginning of a long, combative season with the Wizard’s franchise.

Head Coach Scott Brooks is heading into his third year with the Wizards, and he’s going to have a lot on his shoulders managing this team.

#18 – Minnesota Timberwolves (44-38)

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Jeff Teague, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, Karl-Anthony Towns

Draft: Josh Okogie (Georgia Institute of Technology) – 1st round, 20th pick

Expectations: On the outside, looking in

The state of the Minnesota Timberwolves is an ever-evolving situation.

Their offseason has been riddled with passive aggressive moves from Jimmy Butler’s camp, which has led to both off and on-the-court issues. After a trade demand – in which Butler asked to be traded to either the Nets, Miami Heat, or the Los Angeles Clippers – Butler has reportedly been unwilling to appear in either training camp or any preseason games.

During that time, Butler has put the franchise in a strange position. They have to either trade a talented player or call the small move forward and focus on the team’s home opener against San Antonio on Wednesday.

No matter what happens with Butler, it’s going to be hard for a team that was on the cusp of the playoffs last year to perform at that same level, with or without him.

Jeff Teague has appeared to plateau after peaking during his time playing for the Hawks, and Andrew Wiggins has yet to grow into the offensive powerhouse many saw him as when he was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2014.

Karl-Anthony Towns is still the foundation of the Timberwolves moving forward. The team extended Kat’s contract just days after the Butler trade demand leaked, and he has the highest upside out of anyone on the team.

This team does have its flaws, and almost all of them are public. They will underperform defensively every night under head coach Tom Thibodeau, and the entire roster will be to blame unless they can get on the same page and come together.

If not, trades are inevitable.

#17 – Charlotte Hornets (44-38)

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller

Draft: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (University of Kentucky) – 1st round, 11th pick*
*Traded Gilgeous-Alexander for Miles Bridges (Michigan State) – 1st round, 12th pick

Expectations: Playoffs

The Charlotte Hornets haven’t made it out of the first round of the playoffs since the 2001 season. In a weaker conference devoid of LeBron James, the Hornets have to be hoping to break that streak.

Kemba Walker is heading into his eighth season as a Hornet/Bobcat and has been the bright spot for the franchise for the past three years. He’s survived the Dwight Howard experiment, four different coaches, and – most importantly – mediocrity. He is universally loved by the league. He has blossomed into a 20+ point scorer on any given night and has won the NBA Sportsmanship award in back-to-back years.

Walker is in the last year of his contract and is set to become an unrestricted free agent next year. That is either going to lead to a lifelong stay in Charlotte or his eventual move away from the Hornets, which will determine the team’s overall goal.

Luckily for Charlotte, the talent pool in the East is so sparse that this year that the Hornets may just make some moves in the playoffs.

#16 – Detroit Pistons (45-37)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Reggie Jackson, Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson, Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond

Draft: No 1st round pick

Expectations: Playoffs

The Blake Griffin experiment with the Detroit Pistons is in full effect.

After being acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers midseason last year, Griffin averaged 19.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 6 assists – stats that should definitely pick up over the course of this season. If newly acquired Coach of the Year winner Dwane Casey can find a way to excel with both Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond (a Defense Player of the Year candidate) on the court at the same time, the Pistons may just have some success this year.

Coach Casey should be able to tap into whatever potential is left in Reggie Jackson. But, unfortunately for both Jackson and backup point guard Ish Smith, the only offenses they’ll be able to run are going to be through pick-and-rolls or feeding into the post. They just don’t have enough shooters to spread the floor.

Offensively, the team ranked 19th last year, but 10th in defense. I would not be surprised to see their defense and offense rating improve over the course of the season in the weaker Eastern Conference.

#15 – Miami Heat (45-37)

(Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Josh Richardson, James Johnson, Hassan Whiteside

Draft: Bam Adebayo (University of Kentucky) – 1st round, 14th pick

Expectations: Playoffs

The Miami Heat have seen it all.

The growth of Dwyane Wade, the celebration of winning a title in 2006, the hardship of losing to the Mavericks in 2011, the rise and fall of dynasties (including their own), and the growth from within. The franchise has created one of the hardest things to replicate in professional sports: a culture.

The Heat allowed the growth of one of the best coaches in the league in Erik Spoelstra, as well as doing right by the bringing back Wade to celebrate his last year in Miami. His efficiency is nowhere near where it once was, but his IQ on the court has never been better.

While Wade may be more injury-prone in the final stage of his career, his knack for getting to his spot is as reliable as ever. At this point, reliability is all the Heat front office can ask from the Miami legend.

The successor to Wade is still up in the air, with no real suitor in sight. Point guard Goran Dragic is heading into his 15th year in the league. He is probably a safer bet in an off-the-bench type role, but there just isn’t a great alternative. Dion Waiters is going to perform well in his role off the bench, but the team is starving for a young, athletic point guard to give them new life — and that’s just not there.

Hassan Whiteside is set to have a great year, but just like the rest of the traditional big men, the league may be moving past what makes Whiteside great.

The one outlier that is sure to keep the Heat in the running for the playoffs is culture. They have a desire to play and to play hard. An alarming amount of teams in the league don’t have that, and that may be enough.

#14 – New Orleans Pelicans (46-36)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, Julius Randle, Anthony Davis

Draft: No 1st round pick

Expectations: Playoffs

The clock is officially ticking for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Anthony Davis signed with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports in September, a move that sent social media into a frenzy. A lot of people have been tracing Davis’ path directly to LA to join LeBron James and the Lakers, but it may not be that simple. Davis can resign with the Pelicans next year to become a max player, but he’s come out and said that he isn’t thinking that far ahead. That has New Orleans fans worried.

Davis is heading into his 7th year in the league and has performed beyond all expectations. He has willed the Pelicans to the playoffs twice, placed third in MVP voting last year, and become a top-five talent in the league. But all that leaves Davis with a big question: should he stay in New Orleans and possibly make the playoffs or join another team to compete for a championship?

New Orleans is doing everything in their power to convince Davis to stay. They brought in NBA veteran Rajon Rondo last year to mentor starting point guard Jrue Holiday, brought in more offense with the introduction of former Laker Julius Randle, and didn’t resign DeMarcus Cousins. That last one is a move that is sure to please everyone — except for Cousins.

Unfortunately for the Pelicans, the Western Conference is as tough as it has ever been. Teams like the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets only seem to be getting better, while the Pelicans may have stalled.

#13 – Milwaukee Bucks (47-35)

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

Draft: Donte DiVincenzo (Villanova University) 1st round, 17th pick

Expectations: Playoffs

If the Pelicans are facing a potential crisis with Anthony Davis, the Milwaukee Bucks are in the complete opposite position.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has blossomed into one of the best players in the league and has yet to hit his ceiling.

With the introduction of head coach Mike Budenholzer, Giannis is set to have a breakout year. The Bucks are bringing back most of the same roster as last year, but with Coach Bud at the helm, the Bucks should see an increase in both offensive and defensive rating from last year, creeping near the top ten for both.

Another year with point guard Eric Bledsoe should only further cement the chemistry between him and Giannis, and a full year with a healthy Khris Middleton should allow for a long season for the Bucks as well as MVP talk for Giannis.

#12 – Denver Nuggets (48-34)

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic

Draft: Michael Porter (University of Missouri) – 1st round, 14th pick

Expectations: Playoffs

One of the greatest things to come from NBA League Pass is being able to watch players who rarely get their due on national television. One of those players is the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic.

Jokic is 7′ tall and weighs 250 lbs, so when he decides to fake a pass or thread the ball between opposing players legs, it truly looks like he is playing against high schoolers. The Nuggets, under head coach Mike Malone, have narrowly missed the playoffs for the past two seasons. This year is going to be the year they break through.

The team has one of the deeper benches in the league, with Mason Plumlee and Trey Lyles. And they’ll be adding Isaiah Thomas to that list once he gets healthy, although we still don’t know when that’ll be.

Jamal Murray is set to start his second year as a Nugget and has been officially handed the keys to the offense. With savvy vets like Paul Millsap and Will Barton around, the team should be set for nothing but growth.

#11 – San Antonio Spurs (48-34)

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Patty Mills, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol

Draft: Lonnie Walker (University of Miami) – 1st round, 18th pick

Expectations: Playoffs

The San Antonio Spurs experienced something last season that they haven’t had to deal with since tanking for legend Tim Duncan: dysfunction.

The Kawhi Leonard saga has officially ended and, in the ashes, a scorn and revenge-hungry DeMar DeRozan has risen. I’m sure DeRozan would love nothing more to have an MVP-type season, leading the Spurs to the NBA Finals against none other than the Toronto Raptors. Unfortunately, trades and injuries have left the team dismantled.

Would-be starting point guard Dejounte Murray suffered an ACL injury in practice last Monday, further crushing the hopes of Spurs fans everywhere. Murray has performed well and was beginning to blossom into a good starting point guard in the league, but he’ll now be replaced by NBA veteran Patty Mills.

Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol will all be returning to the starting lineup. They’ll be one of the older starting fives, but also one of the smartest. Veteran Marco Belinelli will provide some much-needed shooting from the perimeter and will be able to break down defenses with his off-the-ball movement, and ex-Raptor Jakob Poeltl should bring in a youthful bounce to the frontcourt, which will be great news for Gasol during the regular season.

Offseason drama and injuries aside, the Spurs are the Spurs. A world without them in the playoffs is a world I’m not ready to see just yet.

#10 – Los Angeles Lakers (50-32)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Lonzo Ball, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Brandon Ingram, JaVale McGee

Draft: Moritz Wagner (University of Michigan) – 1st round, 25th pick

Expectations: Playoffs

When deciding whether to leave the Los Angeles Lakers out of the playoffs, I just had to ask myself one question — will LeBron James miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005?

Either I’m not ready to see it or I just can’t fathom it.

Last year, LeBron James led a Cleveland Cavs team that ranked 5th in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency to the NBA Finals. To say that this year’s Lakers team is going to be a top-five offensive team would be an extreme stretch, but head coach Luke Walton has already come out and said that they plan to play with a fast pace, and they have the tools to do it.

Lonzo Ball is set to start in his second year with the Lakers and has been given every tool to succeed. With James and Rajon Rondo on the team, Ball will have every opportunity to understand opposing defenses and search out weak spots, and he already has a high passing IQ.

I’m still not sure of his shot, which has the possibility of turning into a Markelle Fultz-type meltdown, but I’m optimistic.

The biggest question mark for this roster is Brandon Ingram. I’ve never seen a player with Ingram’s frame move as he does since Kevin Durant’s rookie years in Seattle, where then-head coach PJ Carlesimo was playing Durant at the two. Ingram can break through perimeter defense and drive to finish or handoff to a rolling big, but if Ingram can extend his shot to reliably hit the three, the Lakers offense will see new heights.

#9 – Indiana Pacers (51-31)

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Darren Collison, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, Myles Turner

Draft: Aaron Holiday (University of California, LA) – 1st round, 23rd pick

Expectations: Playoffs

Last season, basketball fans everywhere saw something they never expected with Victor Oladipo’s coming out party.

A year with Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder did wonders for the former Hoozier. By the end of the season, Oladipo would walk away with the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, as well as a selection to both All-NBA and All-Defensive teams. His points per game increased from 15.9 to 23.1, shooting 48% from the field and 37% from the three.

The introduction of Tyreke Evans, who is coming off the bench for Oladipo, is going to create a spark that Indiana has desperately needed. Evan’s deal is only for one year, but it’s not impossible that he’ll continue to wear a Pacers uniform even when this season is over.

Myles Turner will be coming into his fourth year as a Pacer and, after signing a 4-year(s) / $72 million extension this week, is set to become a staple within the offense.

Somehow, the post-Paul George era Pacers have masterfully adapted their roster to a more traditional, fast-paced offense in a matter of a year. They should be seeing the playoffs for years to come.

#8 – Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Damien Lillard, CJ McCollum, Maurice Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jusuf Nurkic

Draft: Anfernee Simons – 1st round, 24th pick

Expectations: Playoffs

The Portland Trail Blazers backcourt, consisting of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, has produced so many great off-the-court experiences, ranging from podcasts to mixtapes. The duo are coming into their sixth year playing together, and they have produced every year.

The Blazers have made the playoffs every year since their culmination in 2013. The fact that they encountered two dominant dynasties (the Spurs and the Warriors) in league history shouldn’t discredit their success.

When analyzing whether to take the Clippers route and just blow this iteration of the Blazers up, I had to look at how effective last season was for the Blazers. The team ranked 15th in offensive rating and 8th in defensive rating, leading to 49 wins in the Western Conference. There are currently teams that are doing everything in their power to get that many wins, let alone into the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the team would face a well-equipped Pelicans team that would ultimately lead to back-to-back sweeps for the Blazers, just as they were swept the year before by the Golden State Warriors. A big-three with Lillard, McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic is a hot commodity, whether fans are sick of seeing it or not.

I just hope that Portland’s GM, Neil Olshey, sees it that way as well.

#7 – Philadelphia 76ers (51-31)

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Joel Embiid

Draft: Mikal Bridges (Villanova University) – 1st round, 10th pick

Expectations: Eastern Conference Finals contender

It happened. It finally happened. We’ve been waiting for so many years to see the Philadelphia 76ers turn around, and it looks like we’ve gotten our wish.

Joel Embiid is healthy and ready to dominate the regular season, which could potentially turn into an MVP-laden year if the 76ers can reach the 1-3 seed in the East. Last year, Embiid averaged 23 points per game and played in 63 games. I would expect both of those numbers to increase if Embiid plans to quiet all of the injury talks.

Ben Simmons is finally coming into his own during the regular season, and that’s beginning to translate into the playoffs. In the ten games played during the playoffs, Simmons averaged 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. The way Simmons sees the game is incredibly rare and, statistically, his shot should continue to grow. However, his lack of three-point shot will cause issues down the road, especially in the playoffs — just like we saw with LeBron James in 2011.

The team is going to be looking for shooters to benefit from Simmons’ drive-and-kick opportunities, which makes Markelle Fultz’ growth so important and directly correlates with the teams overall success.

#6 – Oklahoma City Thunder (51-31)

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Dennis Schroder, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Patrick Patterson, Steven Adams

Draft: No 1st round pick

Expectations: Western Conference Finals contender

The Oklahoma City Thunder gambled and came out on top, big time.

5-time All-Star Paul George decided to re-sign with the Thunder as soon as free agency arrived. It was a long shot, but , somehow, Russell Westbrook went from being the teammate who never campaigns to keep a player to the teammate that won George’s commitment.

The Thunder starting five consists of players who have logged serious playoff minutes. This team plays with the playoffs in mind. There will be learning curves, especially with Westbrook letting go of the offensive play calling for ex-Hawk point guard Dennis Schroder, but everyone seems to be on the same page.

Unfortunately, both Andre Roberson and Westbrook are listed as out in the season opener against the Golden State Warriors. Westbrook had microscopic surgery on his knee during the offseason, and Roberson is still reeling from a knee injury with no ETA on when he’ll return.

If the Thunder can somehow force their way back into the top ten in both defensive and offensive rating, their Western Conference Finals chances are high.

#5 – Toronto Raptors (52-32)

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas

Draft: No draft pick

Expectations: Eastern Conference Finals contender

I’m not sure what it says about your franchise when you fire the head coach who led your team to the playoffs 5-7 seasons and then won Coach of the Year two months later — but that’s what the Toronto Raptors decided to do.

But all that is over now. Kawhi Leonard is in town, at least for a little while.

In a trade that shocked fans everywhere (but mostly DeRozan), the Raptors decided to trade their franchise player, DeMar DeRozan, for another franchise player in Leonard. They also replaced head coach Dwayne Casey with former Raptors assistant coach Nick Nurse.

There is definitely something to be said about whether you believe in karma or not, but, with the inclusion of former Spurs Leonard and Danny Green, this team is set to not only succeed but thrive in the weaker Eastern Conference.

One key piece that isn’t really being talked about is Kyle Lowry. I’m not sure where Lowry is mentally after his franchise traded away his best friend, but, from a numbers perspective, the Raptors weren’t wrong. Kawhi Leonard is a Finals MVP, a champion, and a defensive monster. As great as DeMar was as a Raptor, the playoffs never played well with his game. Perhaps a shakeup was necessary.

The Raptors are set to be one of the best teams in the league next year — but at what cost?

#4 – Utah Jazz (55-27)

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert

Draft: Grayson Allen (Duke University) – 1st round, 21st pick

Expectations: Western Conference Finals contender

The Utah Jazz are an anomaly in every sense of the word.

In an era of basketball that awards fast-paced, high-scoring offenses, the Jazz have somehow zagged when everyone else is zigging, and they did it so hard that they may have broken the mold.

Let’s be clear: what the Jazz have done can’t be replicated. The team has completely adhered to Coach Quin Synder’s style of play, which emphasizes communication on the defensive end and funneling opposing ball handlers toward the towering giant that has taken up real estate under the basket.

Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, has made his mark on the NBA as one of the league’s most prolific shot blockers, and he is only 26-years-old.

Joe Ingles has carved his way into somewhat of a Utah legend after breaking the Jazz all-time threes in a season record last season, but what is rarely accounted for is his defensive prowess. Watching Ingles attempt to get into the head of Thunder center Steven Adams will forever go down as one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen play out on a basketball court.

Again, what the Jazz have can’t be replicated. Sometimes you just have to get lucky, and that’s what happened when the Jazz drafted Donovan Mitchell. At 13, many teams had the opportunity to draft Mitchell, but, fortunately for the Jazz, he fell into their arms. Nothing has been the same since.

Mitchell has taken over all of Utah and social media alike after creating one of the most dominant Rookie of the Year campaigns in recent memory, even if he ultimately lost out to 76ers point guard Ben Simmons. During the playoffs, Mitchell increased his overall scoring from 20 points during the regular season to 24 points and averaging 37 minutes per game.

The team will still have its struggles against teams that can average 110+ points per game, but if they can continue their top-three defensive rating, they’ll cause havoc in the West.

#3 – Houston Rockets (58-24)

(Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Chris Paul, James Harden, PJ Tucker, Carmelo Anthony, Clint Capela

Draft: No 1st round pick

Expectations: Championship contender


That is the number of consecutive missed threes the Houston Rockets had last season during the playoffs. It was the worst three-point shooting stretch in playoff history, and you know what the Rockets did? They doubled down.

In the off-season, the Rockets decided to let Trevor Ariza walk and brought in Carmelo Anthony, in doing so attempting to trade out Ariza’s defensive acumen for the upside of Anthony’s shooting. Defensively, Carmelo is going to struggle in almost every scenario as he enters his 16th season in the league, but the idea that he can still pull up from the three is not uncommon. It didn’t play out well during his stint in Oklahoma City, but he committed offensively to their system. Houston should be a piece of cake.

James Harden is coming back with another loss on his playoff record, but as an MVP. Unfortunately, the same reason he was so effective during the regular season is what failed him in the playoffs. The referees began to allow a more physical game, making it dramatically harder for Harden to get the line. That force him to rely on his three-point shot, which just never connected.

But with all of that said, they were so close.

The Rockets were up heading into halftime during both game six and game seven against the Golden State Warriors. Chris Paul would eventually get injured in game five and was completely ruled out for game seven.

Last season, the Rockets were 1st in offensive rating and 6th in defensive rating. That proved to be their secret weapon during the regular season. If they can stay within the top ten defensively, they’ll be in every game they play.

#2 – Boston Celtics (59-23)

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford,

Draft: Robert Williams (Texas A&M University) – 1st round, 27th pick

Expectations: Championship contender

Death Lineup – a group of smaller basketball players on the Golden State Warriors of the NBA.

The “Death Lineup” has not only altered how general managers create their teams, but it has been one of the core concepts that have lead to the Warriors dynasty. As the league begins to transition to small ball, one team waits in the shadows, ready to pounce:

The Boston Celtics.

The Celtics are currently sitting on one of the most dangerous lineups, designed to take advantage of over-sized frontcourts, weak perimeter defenders, and transition defenses throughout the league. They have Al Horford, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kyrie Irving: a lineup that will be able to switch defensively and push a pace very few will be able to match.

That’s not to say that the Celtics won’t have their share of struggles. They will be introducing Gordon Hayward back into the lineup after suffering a season-ending ankle injury on opening day last season. They have one of the deepest benches in the league, if not the deepest. That alone creates a problem in itself, especially for Head Coach Brad Steven, who will be sure to experiment with every line-up they may need for a long playoff run.

#1 – Golden State Warriors (62-20)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Starting Five: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Jordan Bell

Draft: Jacob Evans (University of Cincinnati) – 1st round, 28th pick

Expectations: Championship contender

For the first time in history, the Golden State Warriors can potentially begin the playoffs with a starting five that consists of five All-Stars from the previous year.


As fans of the NBA, we never fully appreciate the game as much as we should. This one of those times that we’ll look back on and wonder how we even got here.

The Warriors are set to cement their legacy as one of the most dominant dynasties of all time in professional sports. While I was completely enamored with the thought of someone being able to dethrone the Warriors, whether it’s an unprecedented LeBron James-led Lakers team or a complete mirror in the Boston Celtics, I think I’m just going to sit back and relish this iteration of the Warriors.

As surrounding teams begin to prepare for a fight, the Warriors are sitting on top of a throne looking down, scheming their own place in history. Withstanding an injury to multiple pieces of their starting five, they should feel fairly secure, even with a depleted bench and lack of drive during the regular season.

The team is on course to win four titles in five year, with possibly three of the greatest shooters of all time. But at the end of the day, nothing lasts forever — except for championships.

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