The disparity between playoff teams and lottery locks will grow in the coming weeks, but all 30 teams remain in the theoretical postseason race entering Monday night. October is a season for optimism, even as misplaced as it may be. A slide from Cleveland is likely imminent. Sacramento may be hitting the panic button. Yet it’s too early to count any team out given such a small sample size. Let’s keep things on the bright side with just one week in the books.
With that in mind, we at The Crossover dove into our second power rankings of the season, highlighting reasons for optimism for all 30 teams.
30. Knicks – The tankathon has already begun and New York has a depressing point guard battle on its hands. R.J. Barrett can drown out the noise, though. His 26 points against Boston on Saturday was an encouraging start.
29. Kings – Three double-digit losses including blowout losses to the Jazz and Suns is a real cause for alarm. There’s still offensive talent here, especially in the backcourt. Perhaps De’Aaron Fox can stabilize the ship before the season takes a dark turn.
28. Pacers – There are serious question marks in Victor Oladipo’s absence. Adding Malcolm Brogdon could prove to be one of the offseason’s most valuable moves if Indiana remains in the playoff race.
27. Cavs – Kevin Love logging a full season would be a stabilizing force for a young team with plenty of questions. The veteran forward is a perfect safety valve for Darius Garland and Collin Sexton.
26. Hornets – P.J. Washington’s strong start could signal a draft steal for a team desperately needing a win entering 2019-20. The forward scored 27 points against the Bulls on opening night, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to score throughout the season. Charlotte might as well let the kids play.
25. Wizards – A solid frontline could be emerging with rookie Rui Hachimura pairing with Thomas Bryant. Bradley Beal will keep the franchise respectable, a relative win for a franchise far off course. There could be light at the end of the tunnel if John Wall ever returns relatively healthy.
24. Bulls – Coby White should earn significant point guard minutes as a rookie. He outplayed Ja Morant in a win over Memphis on Friday, and the North Carolina product appears comfortable running pick-and-roll with Chicago’s mobile forwards. The Bulls may have found one of the draft’s best players at No. 7.
23. Pistons – Contract year Andre Drummond appears engaged if his 32-point, 23 rebound performance on opening night is any indication. Will Detroit commit to a major deal this summer in free agency? An expensive Drummond-Blake Griffin duo doesn’t inspire much confidence.
22. Pelicans – Brandon Ingram is a pure scorer, efficiency critics be damned. He’ll lead New Orleans in scoring this season, then emerge as a Pelicans building block, or the team’s most valuable trade asset.
21. Grizzlies – Morant is absolutely electric. The No. 2 pick carried Memphis on Sunday, tallying 30 points and nine assists in a win over the Nets. Buy his Rookie of the Year stock ASAP.
20. Warriors – Things are bleak in the Bay after two blowout losses. There are no positives from the team’s performance thus far, though any group with Steph Curry should have a ceiling over 30 wins. The lowered expectations in Golden State are jarring.
19. Nets – The Kyrie Irving Show is thus far more of a jovial affair than last year’s dour season in Boston. Brooklyn’s new point guard has been as advertised in his first three games, and he could challenge for the East scoring title. The Nets should be a solid playoff team even without Kevin Durant.
18. Thunder – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander may be ready for the keys to Oklahoma City’s offense sooner than expected. The 21-year-old point guard is emerging into a dynamic scorer in his second season after an impressive defensive year as a rookie. SGA looks like the jewel of the Paul George trade.
17. Orlando Magic – There’s reason for legitimate optimism regarding Markelle Fultz in Orlando. His shot is still a major question, but there are enough skills and more than enough length for the former No. 1 to be a quality rotation player with the Magic. His progression is leaps ahead from his career nadir last season.
16. Phoenix Suns – A legitimately deep rotation has paid off in a big way to kick off year one of the Monty Williams era. Devin Booker waving goodbye to Patrick Beverley is also quite the encouraging sign.
15. Atlanta Hawks – Trae Young is among the league’s most gifted passers. If he unleashes Curry-esque bombs consistently, look out. Atlanta could be gunning for the playoffs ahead of schedule.
14. San Antonio Spurs – Dejounte Murray appears healthy after missing all of 2018-19 with a knee injury, and the 6’5” guard is likely San Antonio’s most prized asset moving forward. Not bad value for the No. 29 pick in 2016.
13. Dallas Mavericks – Speaking of good health, Dallas’ dynamic duo should be among the league’s best in the coming years if Kristaps Porzingis’ legs hold up. The former Knicks’ star bullied Portland’s front line with 32 points and nine rebounds on Sunday. There should be plenty of similar performances throughout 2019-20.
12. Portland Trail Blazers – Questions surrounding Portland’s roster limit expectations in a loaded Western Conference. But the Blazers are a likely playoff team as long as Damian Lillard is in town. Another top-five MVP finish is in play.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves – Karl-Anthony Towns has been downright unstoppable at 32 points and 13 rebounds per game. He could have an edge over Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic as the best offensive center in basketball.
10. Toronto Raptors – Is Pascal Siakam going to earn MVP votes? Kawhi Leonard’s departure dampens Toronto’s ceiling, but Siakam looks ready to assume the lead role. Toronto likely made a worthy investment.
9. Utah Jazz – Bojan Bogdanovic's arrival has given Utah a major scoring upgrade on the wing. The 30-year-old is a sharpshooter from three, and he’s a defensive asset against forwards like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard. He ultimately may be more impactful than Mike Conley in Utah.
8. Miami Heat – There are plenty of reasons for optimism in Miami, but let’s take a minute to highlight Bam Adebayo. The Kentucky product has gobbled 33 rebounds in three games, and he shined in an overtime win over the Bucks on Saturday. The Heat won’t miss Hassan Whiteside anytime soon.
7. Boston Celtics – Boston’s interior defense has largely held up to start the season despite losing Al Horford and giving major minutes to Enes Kanter. Brad Stevens will likely continue to go small, perhaps dabbling with Marcus Smart as a small-ball five.
6. Los Angeles Lakers – Anthony Davis is to be making some concessions in Los Angeles regarding his minutes at the five, and the move paid off against Utah. The more Davis plays center the better for the Lakers’ offense.
5. Houston Rockets – Russell Westbrook has fit right in through two games with Houston, including a triple-double in Saturday’s win over the Pelicans. Would we ever dare hear MVP chants for Brodie in the Toyota Center?
4. Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo’s quest for back-to-back MVPs is alive and well. The Greek Freak dropped a triple-double in the season opener against Houston on Thursday, then finished with 29 points and 17 rebounds in an overtime loss to the Heat. The Bucks remain the favorite to finish with the No. 1 seed in the East thanks to their 24-year-old superstar.
3. Denver Nuggets – Jamal Murray is playing like the second star Denver needs to make a Finals run. Denver’s $170 million man is averaging 20.5 points per game while shooting 45.5% from three. The Nuggets’ investment is paying early dividends.
2. Philadelphia 76ers – Philadelphia’s defense is as good as advertised through two games. The Sixers’ starting five is absolutely mammoth. Their size advantage could prove critical in seven games against Milwaukee.
1. Los Angeles Clippers – What’s not to like? The Clippers’ boast one of the NBA’s deepest supporting casts, and Kawhi Leonard remains in Finals MVP mode. This is the league’s best team, one that will add Paul George in the coming weeks. 60 wins is now the expectation.