1. Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis. Jrue. Middleton. Brook is back. If they are healthy they are the team to beat.
2. Golden State Warriors - Could be even better, but relying on their young guns to take veteran minutes. Easier said than done.
3. Boston Celtics - Best defensive team in the league. Offense is shaky at times, Brogdon will help. Continuity will aid their quest to make it back to the finals, but coaching controversy is worrying.
4. Los Angeles Clippers - Could argue most talented team in the league, but its two best players are rarely healthy.
5. Philadelphia 76ers - Have legitimate depth now, and with Maxey looking to become a star may take some burden off of Harden in playoffs
6. Denver Nuggets - If healthy***, should have the best offense in the league. Bruce Brown and Bones should round out a decent bench.
Conference Finals Dreamers
7. Phoenix Suns - They haven't gotten any better (or younger), and losing Crowder will hurt their defense. Still talented, but much more of an uphill climb this year.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves - If everything breaks right they could be battling for the 1 seed. But as it stands there are too many variables (DLo, Ant, Jaden, Nowell, frontcourt fit) to put them higher.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers - They will rely on their frontcourt to cleanup the backcourt's messes, but bigger questions arise in their depth. If Rubio is healthy, Love is still bombing 3s, and Dean Wade is Dean Wade, they will be battling for home court.
They Look Worse but Culture Means Something
10. Memphis Grizzlies - Melton and Anderson are gone. JJJ is out for some time. But bet against the Grizz at your own peril. Their track record of quickly developing rookies and outcompeting teams on a nightly basis speaks for itself.
11. Miami Heat - Their old core is 1 year older and they added no significant offseason players. They still play defense at a high level and can shoot the 3 well. That's enough for most nights.
Questions Outweigh the Talent
12. Toronto Raptors - No ones doubts Toronto's willingness to innovate and the quality of Nick Nurse, but they will need to improve their half court offense to be considered a true threat in the East.
13. New Orleans Pelicans - They really came together after the All-Star break, and they add a potential top 5 player to that core. But how well will the starting 5 defend with Zion in the mix?
14. Atlanta Hawks - Young, Murray, Hunter, Collins, and Capela should dominate their minutes. Can they care enough to defend and is their depth up to snuff?
15. Brooklyn Nets - A more talented and dysfunctional Phoenix. The list of outcomes are too long to count, but the potential fit of Simmons next to two of the best iso-scorers in the league is tantalizing. Warren, Curry, Harris, Mills, and Thomas form a underrated if undersized bench unit.
One Player Away
16. Dallas Mavericks - There should be significant doubt that Christian Wood can adequately replace Brunson. With Luka though, and a very stingy defense, this team can make some noise.
17. Chicago Bulls - With no Lonzo Ball, can their defense hold up? Does DeRozan repeat his All-NBA year? Can Lavine stay healthy? Is Vuc traded by the deadline? Find out these answers and more, next, on Windy City Hoopers.
Stuck in Mediocrity
18. New York Knicks - Clowning the Knicks is the NBA fan's favorite national pastime, but Brunson should address their PG void in a very meaningful way. A bounce back season from Randle and growth from their plethora of young talent could lead to a playoff berth.
19. Sacramento Kings - The quest for 40 wins begins now. The Fox-Sabonis pairing proved fruitful in limited minutes, and adding Huerter, Murray, and Monk should help address their shooting woes. While defending will still remain optional for this team, it's hard to overlook the scoring talent and coaching potential of Mike Brown on this Kings squad.
20. Washington Wizards - The poster child for going nowhere, at least the Wizards have a talented top 3, with Beal, Porzingis, and Kuzma. Monte Morris, Will Barton, Deni, Rui, Gafford, and Wright all provide adequate minutes as well. But it's hard to see this team capping out at anything more than a Round 1 exit.
21. Portland Trail Blazers - The Blazers did what they could this free agency to provide a defensive infrastructure around a healing Dame Lillard, adding the Little Glove Gary Payton II and Jerami Grant. Their frontcourt depth remains a huge problem however, and it will tough to overcome the defensive shortcomings of a Lillard-Simons backcourt.
22. Los Angeles Lakers - Who is the 3rd best player on this team? Pat Bev? The Lakers will be relying more than ever on the LeBron-Davis duo to carry them, even as their net-rating together last year was negative and both will likely struggle to stay on the floor. The failure to add dependable shooting, offload Westbrook (so far), and add any defensive pieces will likely cripple their chances at a deep run, even if the star tandem can play up to their potential.
Starting to Care
23. Orlando Magic - The likely best out of the rebuilding bunch, the Magic have a bevy of young starlets looking to make a run at a play-in berth. Their top 10 defense post All-Star break gives the most hope of achieving this.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder - It sucks Chet is out. Sucks sucks. But they still have Shai going for triple doubles and a first All-Star berth, Giddey making Rubio-like passes, and some interesting pieces in the J Williams(es) and Tre Mann. They will likely win more games than they should, as the annual 2nd half tank will not offset their 18-24 start.
25. Charlotte Hornets - LaMelo alone has the talent to keep the Hornets out of here, but with Bridges gone for nothing and no helpful additions, I would anticipate an undisclosed injury for Ball comes up late this season in the quest for Wemby and Scoot.
26. Houston Rockets - It's hard not to like the Rockets young talent, with Jabari Smith, Jalen Green, Sengun, Eason, TyTy, and others forming a promising core. This team can't defend anyone however, and that will significantly hamper their play-in hopes, not that they want to win anyways.
27. Detroit Pistons - They added significant talent in Ivey, Duren, and Bogdanovic, but this was the worst team by net rating last year. It's hard for a young team to make a huge jump, even with Cade, Bey, and Beef Stew improving. They also have no shooting whatsoever.
28. Indiana Pacers - The Isiah Jackson-Haliburton connection is going to be fun. Mathurin looks like a sleeper candidate for ROTY. Ohae Brissett is... something. Not sure what else though for Pacer's fans, as Hield and Turner are likely gone by the winter for more picks and the chance at a high lottery selection.
29. Utah Jazz - Conley. Sexton. Markkanen. Clarkson. Vanderbilt. Olynyk. Beasley. The Jazz have some legitimate NBA talent. How much of it stays in the team is the question. The answer is likely very little, as offloading your stars in the offseason gives very little indication of competing. Until that happens though, this team will win more than most think.
30. San Antonio Spurs - Primo is cool. Vassell is cool. Tre Jones is kind of cool. This is the least talented roster in the Association, and will likely get worse as McDermott and Poetl get offloaded. The scary thing is, with the Spurs track record of getting franchise altering 1st overall picks, they could be right back in the mix next year.
Final East Standings:
10. New York
Final West Standings:
1. Golden State
2. Los Angeles Clippers
7. New Orleans
11. Los Angeles Lakers
12. Oklahoma City
15. San Antonio
---Brooklyn over Atlanta
---Atlanta over New York
East 1st Round
---Milwaukee over Atlanta (close)
---Boston over Brooklyn
---Philadelphia over Toronto
---Cleveland over Miami
East 2nd Round
---Milwaukee over Cleveland
---Boston over Philadelphia
---Milwaukee over Boston
---New Orleans over Dallas
---Sacramento over Dallas
West 1st Round
---Golden State over Sacramento
---New Orleans over Los Angeles Clippers
---Memphis over Denver
---Phoenix over Minnesota
West 2nd Round
---Golden State over Phoenix
---Memphis over New Orleans
---Golden State over Memphis
---Milwaukee Bucks over Golden State Warriors (4-2)