NBA Power Rankings: Where all 30 teams stand at the start of the season
NBA power rankings: The Milwaukee Bucks will look to defending their NBA championship once the season gets going in mid-October. Others fancy themselves as contenders following a busy offseason. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets could be seen as one of the most-talented teams in Association history. Here’s our most-recent NBA power rankings heading into the start of the preseason.
NBA power rankings, the cream of the crop
1. Los Angeles Lakers (Last week: 2)
Preseason struggles mean very little for this Lakers team. LeBron James has said as much with the team having lost all six of its exhibition matchups. However, we’re a little concerned about how recent acquisition Russell Westbrook has fit in. He’s averaged just five points on 21% shooting while turning the ball over an absurd 7.5 times per outing. Injuries to Trevor Ariza and Talen Horton-Tucker will also have an early-season impact. With games coming up against the Warriors and Suns this week to open the season, we’ll see where Los Angeles is at.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (Last week: 3)
After the brilliant performance we saw from Giannis Antetokounmpo in the NBA Finals, it’s hard to imagine having another team leapfrog them in the top three. Sure there’s some issues with a supporting cast in Milwaukee. But what the Greek Freak showed on the biggest stage the Association has to offer tells us a story of a team that’s not going away any time soon. The loss of P.J. Tucker to the conference rival Miami Heat hurts. However, Milwaukee did add to its depth with George Hill and Rodney Hood while retaining Bobby Portis.
3. Brooklyn Nets (Last week: 2)
The Kyrie Irving situation represents a major backdrop here. He remains unvaccinated from COVID-19 , meaning that the NBA champion will not play this season until his stance changes. That volatile personality aside, James Harden and Kevin Durant are enough to lead this team to the NBA title. A deep bench that includes Patty Mills, Bruce Brown, Paul Millsap, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin adds another layer to this. Outing against the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers in the first week will tell us how this team can operate without Irving in the mix.
4. Phoenix Suns (Last week: 4)
We know what Chris Paul and Devin Booker will bring to the table for the defending Western Conference champs. It’s now all about the progression of Deandre Ayton inside as he’s mired in a contract stalemate with Phoenix. He’ll be the difference between another late run in the playoffs and a Finals appearance.
NBA Power rankings: Other title contenders
5. Miami Heat (Last week: 5)
South Beach as a premium landing spot is not new. We’ve saw this first-hand during the summer. Fresh off an ugly first-round loss in the NBA Playoffs, the Heat added star guard Kyle Lowry in a sign-and-trade with the Toronto Raptors . They also brought in fellow veterans in that of P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris to team up with the core of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. This team now must be seen as a legit NBA title contender. However, Tyler Herro will likely be the difference here. Many are expecting a big jump after some major struggles from the guard as a sophomore last season.
6. Denver Nuggets (Last week: 6)
Even without Jamal Murray in the mix and playing with a backup backcourt, Denver shocked the masses by defeating Damian Lillard and Portland in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic averaged 33.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in that series . Denver’s Murray-less run then came to an end via a four-game sweep at the hands of the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals. This team will be back and as good as ever once Murray returns. The question here is when that might happen with no timeline currently set for him to take to the court. This will impact Denver’s standings in our NBA power rankings moving forward.
7. Utah Jazz (Last week: 8)
Boasting the best regular-season record in the NBA last season at 52-20, we can no longer discount Utah as a top-end title contender moving forward. The question now becomes whether a core group led by Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and the recently re-signed Mike Conley can have postseason success following a second-round exit in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. Perhaps, the additions of Rudy Gay and Hassan Whiteside will help matters.
8. Golden State Warriors (Last week: 9)
We knew that the Warriors were going to be in trouble after Klay Thompson went down with an Achilles’ injury prior to last season. However, Stephen Curry played historical basketball en route to leading Golden State to a 39-33 record and a spot in the play-in tournament. The question now becomes whether the Warriors can walk that tight rope between championship contention and looking to the future. Right now, this team is much deeper than the 2020-21 iteration after the additions of Otto Porter Jr., Andre Iguodala and Nemanja Bjelica. Golden State will have early tests to open the season with outings against the Lakers and Clippers over the first three days.
9. Chicago Bulls (Last week: 7)
Sweet Moses. Chicago’s acquisition of Nikola Vucevic during the March NBA trade deadline was obviously a sign of things to come for Chicago. Despite missing out on the playoffs last season, the Bulls proved to be a preferred destination this past summer. That includes adding Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan to team up with Vucevic and fellow All-Star Zach LaVine. Picking up veterans Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr. and Stanley Johnson should also help from a depth perspective. This is an underrated conference title contender. With a pretty darn easy early-season schedule against the Pistons (twice), Pelicans and Raptors, there’s a good chance this team will also get off to a hot start.
10. Atlanta Hawks (Last week: 10)
Led by Trae Young and a talented young core group, these Hawks seem destined for championship contention over the long-term. That was magnified by their appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago. The addition of veteran Delon Wright to back up Young at point guard is also going to help here. However, Atlanta’s status as a contender will likely depend on what it gets from Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari after up-and-down initial seasons with the team.
NBA power rankings: Playoff hopefuls/contenders
11. Dallas Mavericks (Last week: 11)
Luka Doncic is one of the best handful of players in the NBA at this point. The 22-year-old averaged 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists this past season. He also dominated big time in the first round of the playoffs despite his Mavericks falling short in seven games against the Clippers. The question now becomes whether Dallas’ new brass did enough to help him. The acquisitions of Sterling Brown, Moses Brown and Reggie Bullock might not be enough.
12. Boston Celtics (Last week: 12)
General manager Danny Ainge shockingly resigned. He’s was replaced in that role by head coach Brad Stevens, who is moving away from the bench . Such is the nature of the beast following a first-round exit one year after earning a trip to the conference finals. It’s now up to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to lead this team to title contention. We’re also intrigued to see if new acquisitions Josh Richardson, Dennis Schroder and Enes Kanter provide enough as secondary players. With a relatively easy early-season schedule, Boston could end up ascending our NBA power rankings in short order.
13. Charlotte Hornets (Last week: 13)
We absolutely love what the Hornets were able to do this past offseason after losing in the play-in-tournament. Selecting James Bouknight in the 2021 NBA Draft to pair up with reigning NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball was a steal. This is a darn good core group that also includes forwards Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington. The Hornets were then also able to pick up free agents Ish Smith and Kelly Oubre. Watch out for Charlotte in 2021-22.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (Last week: 15)
Ben Simmons. Ben Simmons. More Ben Simmons. The three-time All-Star finally reported and is now practicing with the team ahead of its season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans. The question here is how long Simmons will be in Philadelphia. There’s still a darn good chance that he’s dealt in December after making it clear he wants to play elsewhere. Even more than reigning NBA MVP finalist Joel Embiid, this is the story that will define Philadelphia in 2021-22.
15. New York Knicks (Last week: 14)
What an amazing turnaround under new head coach Tom Thibodeau. After winning all of 21 games in 2019-20 these Knicks finished as the fourth seed back east with a 41-31 record last season. Madison Square Garden was absolutely lit during New York’s first-round playoff series loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Unfortunately, this past summer was not met with the same optimism. Flush with $55 million in cap room, New York’s biggest additions were Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker . Will that be enough to ascend the standings in the Eastern Conference? We’re not too sure.
16. Los Angeles Clippers (Last week: 16)
The ACL injury to Kawhi Leonard drops Los Angeles down big time in our most-recent NBA power rankings. The two-time Finals MVP is expected to miss the entire 2021-22 season. Meanwhile, Los Angeles whiffed big time in attempting to add another star behind Paul George. Even after acquiring Eric Bledsoe , issues at point guard are not settled. While this is still a playoff team, not having Leonard takes Los Angeles out of championship contention. Though, they’ll have a chance to make an early-season statement against the Warriors Thursday evening.
17. Portland Trail Blazers (Last week: 17)
This could very well end up being a make-or-break season for the Blazers. They just fell in the first round of the NBA playoffs, only to fire head coach Terry Stotts. General manager Neil Olshey remains very much on the hot seat. The off-season was filled with Damian Lillard trade rumors, too. Can the Blazers get enough behind him this season to contend out west? If not, things could blow up in relatively short order. With early-season games against the Suns and Clippers, these Blazers will have a chance to ascend our NBA power rankings early on.Also Read:
NBA playoff predictions: Bracket picks & 2022 Finals champion
NBA power rankings: Rising talent, some struggles
18. Indiana Pacers (Last week: 18)
On paper, these Pacers are much better than what we saw last season. The firing of head coach Nate Bjorkgren after one season , only to replace him with Rick Carlisle was a step in the right direction. We’re also talking about a talented core group of Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, T.J. Warren, Caris LeVert and rookie Chris Duarte. It’s now time for everything to come together. If not, this could be one of the most-active teams ahead of the trade deadline.
19. Washington Wizards (Last week: 19)
There’s an argument that can be made that Washington improved by trading Russell Westbrook to the Los Angeles Lakers for a package including Kyle Kuzma and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. It also turned said trade into the acquisition of Aaron Holiday. With Bradley Beal now committed to playing in D.C., this team appears to be on an upward trajectory. Adding Spencer Dinwiddie to replace Westbrook also doesn’t hurt. After games against the Raptors and Pacers to open the season, Washington takes on Brooklyn Oct. 25. That’s an early-campaign test for this team.
20. Memphis Grizzlies (Last week: 20)
Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. represent one of the better young tandems in the NBA. It led to a surprising appearance in the 2021 NBA Playoffs after a play-in win over the Golden State Warriors . With that said, we can’t be sold on this team until Jackson Jr. proves he can stay healthy. That’s the biggest thing holding Memphis back in our most-recent NBA power rankings.
21. Toronto Raptors (Last week: 21)
NBA champions three years ago and a surprisingly frisky foe in their title defense, the Raptors aren’t who they were when Kawhi Leonard was on the team. That’s come out in droves with Pascal Siakam and Co. struggling during 2020-21 regular season in Orlando. Now, Kyle Lowry has moved on to South Beach. While we’re expecting somewhat of a rebound performance in 2021-22, it’s going to be hard early on with games against the Wizards, Celtics, Mavericks, Bulls and Pacers over the first week.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last week: 22)
Baby steps. These Wolves have proved themselves to be pretty darn good when Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and rookie No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards were on the court together during the latter stages of last. After starting out with a 14-42 record, Minnesota won nine of its final 16. While Minnesota was largely inactive last summer, that core three should be good enough to stay in playoff contention throughout the 2021-22 campaign. We’ll see soon enough with early-season games against inferior opponents such as the Rockets and Pelicans (twice) over the first week.
23. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week: 23)
These Cavaliers are on an upward trajectory in our most-recent NBA power rankings. Stealing center Evan Mobley with the third pick in the 2021 NBA Draft to team up with recently re-signed big man Jarrett Allen was a coup. Guard Darius Garland has improved leaps and bounds. None of this even takes into account the team’s leading scorer, Collin Sexton. If we factor in the addition of Lauri Markkanen, this could end up being a bottom-end playoff contender in 2021-22.
NBA power rankings, outside looking in
24. Sacramento Kings (Last week: 27)
On the surface, Sacramento has star power in that of De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton. That did not translate to much success last season. Unfortunately, it was announced that Luke Walton would be retained . Adding another layer to the issues in California’s capital city is the fact that the Kings added another guard in Davion Mitchell with the ninth pick in the draft. While he’s going to be good, we’re questioning the roster-building method of general manager Monte McNair.
25. New Orleans Pelicans (Last week: 25)
Ouch. What a disastrous offseason it was for these Pelicans. Fresh off another disappointing campaign, New Orleans lost point guard Lonzo Ball for almost nothing in a sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls. It then downgraded at that position while giving up a future first-round pick for a career 39% shooter in Devonte’ Graham. It’s safe to say that the Pelicans’ franchise is in the midst of a defining moment with star guard Zion Williamson and his camp apparently unhappy about the direction of the organization. With no timeline for Williamson to return from off-season surgery , things likely won’t start out swell for New Orleans, either.
26. Detroit Pistons (Last week: 26)
Cade Cunningham. Cade Cunningham. More Cade Cunningham. Detroit’s rebuild under up-and-coming general manager Troy Weaver will depend heavily how the rookie No. 1 pick and generational talent performs. However, the presences of 2020 first-round picks Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes and Isaiah Stewart will also help matter. Detroit is a talented, but inexperienced team. It will be fun to watch in 2021-22. But don’t expect much growth in our NBA power rankings from this unproven squad.
27. San Antonio Spurs (Last week: 24)
DeMar DeRozan and Patty Mills are gone. The Spurs overspent for marginal players in free agency . That’s the best way to describe a team that is stuck between bottom-end playoff contention and complete irrelevance. Expecting a team led by Derrick White and Keldon Johnson to compete in the Western Conference is a joke. Why not just start anew with a rebuild?Also Read:
NBA trade rumors: Updating potential blockbusters
NBA power rankings: The bottom three
28. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last week: 28)
The future is bright for these Thunder. They legitimately have like 20 first-round picks over the next half-decade. However, that did not lead to success last season after trading away star guards Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder . Oklahoma City now has Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a newly-minted extension and just added stud guard Josh Giddey to the mix with the sixth pick in the draft. It’s now time for that rebuild process to take hold in OKC.
29. Orlando Magic (Last week: 29)
Orlando now begins what promises to be a lengthy rebuild with Cole Anthony and 2021 top-five pick Jalen Suggs leading the charge. This coming season likely won’t be pretty for the Magic. However, new head coach Jamahl Mosley has a great reputation in the player development department. Orlando fans could not have asked for a better hire with this young group of core players.Also Read:
2022 NBA mock draft: Early look at the top prospects
30. Houston Rockets (Last week: 30)
The current iteration of these Rockets looked like one of the worst teams in the NBA following the James Harden blockbuster trade. That’s not hyperbole. Here’s a team that lost 45 of its final 51 regular-season games. The good news? Houston added a potential franchise cornerstone in Jalen Green with the second pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.