Congratulations! You’ve endured a miserable, warm NBA offseason complete with trips to the beach and Hardwood Classics viewings. But now it’s time to bring that throwback jersey out of the closet and get to watching some ball.
While this season doesn’t seem like the one that will see the Warriors dethroned, it still promises to bring about some competition their way. Cleveland, Houston, Oklahoma City, Boston and Minnesota have all made enticing additions, and others like Milwaukee and Washington are in position to take a step forward.
For most of these teams, though, the hope present now will slowly fade into darkness with each Kevin Durant three. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh took a year to settle into their new assembly of superstars, so why would your favorite superteam fare better? Besides, while the Rockets and Thunder learn to play together, the Warriors’ chemistry will also increase in year two. Then again, an injury, deadline deal or internal rift could change the outlook of the league.
Enough talk, let’s get to ranking some teams! Haven’t you missed tireless NBA debates?
30. Chicago Bulls
Did you know Quincy Pondexter is on this team? I had no idea.
29. Orlando Magic
I’ll be patiently waiting on breakout years for Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton. Even if they come, it’s doubtful Orlando finishes outside of the league’s bottom five.
28. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta—the winner of one of my favorite games, ‘Where’s Marco Belinelli now?’—has good coaching, but is clearly in rebuilding mode. Their variety of so-so vets should keep them from the absolute bottom of the NBA, but won’t help them much more than that.
27. Indiana Pacers
This is perhaps the league’s most interesting roster—and that’s not just because it includes Lance Stephenson. They won’t be very good, but they should be compelling, and Indiana just might find one or two guys to hang on to.
26. Brooklyn Nets
This young team could make a little noise this year with some fun wins, but they’ve got a long road ahead of them as they climb the ranks.
25. New York Knicks
24. Sacramento Kings
The bottom 10 is pretty much a crapshoot, but it doesn’t seem like the Kings deserve to be any higher than this, because they’re the Kings. At least they have Willie Cauley-Stein.
23. Phoenix Suns
With Carmelo Anthony shipped off to Oklahoma, I’d argue Eric Bledsoe is the league’s newest superstar wasting his prime years on a rebuilding team. The 27-year-old guard might find himself in a new city come February, which would further rebuilding efforts in Phoenix. Bledsoe and Devin Booker alone are enough to deserve this spot.
22. L.A. Lakers
LaVar Ball says Lonzo’s going to carry them to the playoffs, so it’s gonna happen… right? Right? Honestly, stranger things have happened. A young, talented backcourt with Brook Lopez and a slimmed-down Julius Randle? I’m kind of rooting for L.A.
21. Dallas Mavericks
This might be Dirk’s last season, and if it is, Dallas better make it a halfway-decent one.
20. Philadelphia 76ers
Is Joel Embiid healthy? That’s the burning question facing Philly entering the season. This team should be fun this season, but they might still be one year away from the playoffs.
19. Detroit Pistons
This seems like it could be a playoff team. It all depends on whether or not Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson play consistent basketball. Don’t sleep on them.
18. Utah Jazz
This is the year Joe Ingles makes an All-NBA team. I’M SURE OF IT.
17. Charlotte Hornets
Before the injury to Nic Batum, I actually had them a couple spots higher. They have capable role players behind Kemba Walker, and now have Dwight Howard, too. Still not entirely sure why, or what it’s going to look like.
16. Memphis Grizzlies
I’m looking forward to the Chandler Parsons resurgence this season. It won’t make or break the Grizz—they’ll still go as Marc Gasol and Mike Conley go—but it’s going to happen.
15. New Orleans Pelicans
It’s pretty easy to talk yourself into the Pels this season. They’ve got name-brand players like Rajon Rondo and Tony Allen (he counts, right?) coupled with a few stars. This is on you, Alvin Gentry. Help Boogie Cousins prosper.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
Come here, have a seat. You hear that music in the background? That’s Damian Lillard’s new album. Good, right? Here, drink this. It’s the Jusuf Nurkic Kool-Aid. Now, how are you feeling about these Blazers?
13. Denver Nuggets
Could the Nuggets possibly keep up that offensive production that they flashed last season? Well, I’m not so sure Wilson Chandler is going to compete for Sixth Man Of The Year again, but this team does have an abundance of potent offensive players.
12. Miami Heat
Ah, yes, we’ve reached the highly-controversial tier of the rankings. Do hot streaks like the one the Heat rode on last season always carry over? Nope, in fact, they rarely do. Just as Dion Waiters bet on himself last season, though, I am betting on Dion Waiters this season. Hassan Whiteside has grown into a legitimate weapon, and Goran Dragic is still around. That’s a big three if I’ve ever seen one. Mix in (hopefully!) a full season of Justise Winslow and some more steady contributions from James Johnson and you’ve got a squad here. I’m really in love with them, for some odd reason. I realize the wagon I’ve hitched myself to.
11. L.A. Clippers
I get made fun of for saying this all the time, but Blake Griffin has been a legitimate MVP candidate the past couple of seasons when healthy. Without Chris Paul, he’ll have the opportunity to take over this team, though he’ll now be catching lobs from Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers. I say he continues to round out his game (perhaps shoots more threes?), Danilo Gallinari averages 18 per game again and the Clippers mess around and finish fifth in the West.
10. Milwaukee Bucks
It seems like we’ve been getting way too excited about the Bucks way too early, but this could be the year they make it out of the first round! Giannis Antetokounmpo is now beginning to hit jumpers, and if he can have the MVP-caliber season many hope he can, the pieces around him should fill in nicely. Oh, also: All aboard the Thon Maker train. Remember, he is Batman.
9. Washington Wizards
The talent in the backcourt is undeniable, but I still have some questions. Just how good is Otto Porter? And how does Markieff Morris mix in after missing training camp and preseason?
8. Minnesota Timberwolves
As soon as Jimmy Butler gave out his actual phone number, I knew this would be a special season. As long as Thibs doesn’t run Karl-Anthony Towns into the ground (always a possibility!) this team should have no issue playing well on both sides of the ball.
All eyes will likely be on Andrew Wiggins, who is stuck in one of the strangest extension negotiations I’ve ever seen. First, the Timberwolves reportedly wanted him to promise he’d improve (who wouldn’t for all that money!). Next, they were closing in on an agreement before the start of camp. Now he’s saying he’s in “no rush” to sign. He’d better sign this damn thing before he suffers the wrath of Tom Thibodeau’s rotation.
7. Toronto Raptors
Ben Golliver ranked DeMar DeRozan No. 36 in his Top 100 this season, so you can bet your bottom dollar he’s dominating this season. DeMarre Carroll is spending most of his time at the Park Slope Co-Op these days, but other than that the Raptors will return most of their core. They still have the league’s largest collection of anonymous twenty-somethings on the bench, and I’m anticipating one or two of them become…not…anonymous…this season. Maybe it’s Bruno Caboclo!
6. Boston Celtics
The last time Kyrie Irving inherited his own team, he was 19. NINETEEN. And he still averaged 19, 5 and 4. I’m not knocking him for doing nothing with his own team as he matured into an adult, and neither should you. This time around, he’s old enough to rent a car, he’s got championship experience and he’s also got incredible talent all around him. Speaking of, was there a more underrated move this offseason than the acquisition of Marcus Morris? Boy, this Celtics team is going to eat.
5. San Antonio Spurs
They still have the same core. They still have the same coach. Yes, this offseason has produced some incredibly compelling teams in the top 10, but the Spurs aren’t going anywhere. This could be Kawhi’s MVP season.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Somehow, without giving up much of consequence, the Thunder are here. They are a top-five team in the NBA again, with three legitimate stars: Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Raymond Felton. I kid, but seriously, how great will it be to see third quarter minutes from Ray come April? Can’t wait.
I’ve doubted the players around Russell Westbrook for some time, but I’ve come to realize it really doesn’t matter. He’s going to carry them to the playoffs, no matter what. Melo and Paul George will take this team from good to great.
3. Houston Rockets
It’s hard to believe that, as good as they were last season, the Rockets just got even better. Not only did they add Chris Paul, but more importantly they added P.J. Tucker, who was a real difference-maker for the Raptors down the stretch last season. I still don’t see a way any team outside of the Warriors and Cavs outscore them, and now with Tucker and Paul in the fray, their defense gets a bump.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
There are a lot of factors in play here, but the biggest one is obviously LeBron James. They’ll struggle a bit to score a bit without Kyrie Irving, but perhaps this just opens up more shots for the potent shooters on this team. We saw in Game 4 of the Finals just how ridiculous their attack from three can be.
And count me among the believers in 35-year-old Dwyane Wade. Whenever they decide they want to fully unleash Flash, they’ll ascend to another level. He’ll spend a hefty amount of the regular season resting those legs, but he’ll be ready when Ty Lue needs him. The possibility of big D-Wade minutes gives them a boost in these rankings.
1. Golden State Warriors
Golden State won it all in year one of the Durant era, which saw its fair share of growing pains and frustrating losses during the regular season. Things will only get tougher for the rest of the league with a more cohesive core of players, and a post-China Klay Thompson