In this edition of my early NBA Power Rankings, I have teams ranked 11-20. These teams include the last of the "Playoff Hunt" teams from my previous article ranking teams 21-30, as well as a few of the "2nd Tier Contenders" which will be continued in the 1-10 rankings. If you missed my rankings of teams 21-30, you can check those out here.
Some notes before I begin:
The "Playoff Hunt" Teams Continued:
20. Oklahoma City Thunder:
*If OKC continues to clean house as expected, these players could all be on the move soon. Ranking is VERY subject to change.
If this roster doesn’t change before opening night, the Thunder could actually be a serious contender for a playoff spot. However, no matter how many reports come out saying that Chris Paul has no suitors and a trade is looking less and less likely, I just can’t trust that he or another key piece like Steven Adams won’t be traded by then. Sam Presti will say all of the right things about remaining competitive, but there’s no question that Oklahoma City would prefer to go through a full scale rebuild rather than an on-the-fly rebuild where they collect assets while still trying to contend.
If players like Paul, Adams, or Roberson are dealt, we don’t know what OKC will get in return. If it’s players on expiring deals like Goran Dragic and James Johnson, they may remain more competitive as they will still have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to build around. If they receive primarily draft picks in return for the traded players, they’ll obviously fall even farther down the Power Rankings.
For right now, I rank this team behind some of the other, younger, playoff hunt teams in the West because they probably have a pretty high floor but not nearly as high of a ceiling as those teams like the Kings, Mavs, Wolves, and Pelicans.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves:
Is it foolish to still hold out any hope for the Timberwolves? While teams below and around them in last year’s standings such as the Mavs, Pelicans, Kings and Suns are looking more and more promising, the T-Wolves have pretty much been treading water.
They were able to make a draft night trade to move up to the sixth spot and grab Jarrett Culver, but in the process they lost Dario Saric and will likely be forced to play a lot of small ball next year with Wiggins and Covington playing in the frontcourt alongside Towns often. Their starting lineup isn’t bad, it’s just hard to expect more from them than they’ve shown us over the last couple of years, and unless they’re able to get a team to take on Wiggins’ massive contract, there likely isn’t much change coming in the near future.
I only have three other Western Conference teams behind them in my rankings, but in what might be the deepest Western Conference I can remember, that should still mean they’re relatively competitive. WIth Towns entering his 5th year, I think they should still be able to win 30-40 games, they just don’t really have the ceiling that some of the teams I rank ahead of them have. I put them over the Suns for the simple reason that 35 wins is likely the ceiling for the Suns this year and where I would like to see them end up, and that is a mark the Wolves already topped last year.
18. Orlando Magic:
After a summer with tons of roster turnover around the league, the Magic may be one of the few teams across the league that benefit from roster continuity. In early continuity rankings, the Magic’s roster ranks second behind Denver league-wide with 11 returning players that make up for 86% of their team’s 2018-2019 minutes played. The only other Eastern Conference playoff teams from last year to earn top-10 continuity ranks are the Detroit Pistons (8th with nine returning players, 65% returning minutes) and the Raptors (10th with eleven returning players, 62% returning minutes)
Not only did the Magic retain all of their key players from last year’s 7-seed team, but they also made a significant addition to their rotation with the signing of Al-Farouq Aminu in free agency. On top of that, last year’s draft selection, Mo Bamba, and his fellow big man Jonathan Isaac, should both take significant steps forward in their development next year. I expect there to be another fight to the end in the East for the last 2 playoff spots as there was last year, and the Magic should have as good a chance as any of the teams to earn one of those thanks in part to the chemistry they have together.
17. Dallas Mavericks:
It’s hard to predict exactly what the Mavericks will be this upcoming year because their success relies so heavily on what Kristaps Porzingis looks like coming back from an ACL injury that kept him out all of last season. One has to think that he must look like his old self still given that the Mavs just shelled out a five year max deal to him this summer.
If he and Luka Doncic, who may already be an All-Star next year in a star-studded Western Conference, are able to click like we expect them to, this team is immediately a threat for a seed in the back-end of the playoffs. The one concern I might have however, is if they can balance managing Kristaps’ load as he works back into a rhythm on the court and still winning games. The Western Conference playoff race may come down to the final days of the season and every win will count, so Luka may have to take on a relatively large load at times in order to give Kristaps time off.
Outside of signing Kristaps, the Mavericks actually had a sneaky good free agency. I really liked the signings of both Delon Wright and Seth Curry as those two and Jalen Brunson give them a bevy of competent guards on the roster around Luka Doncic. In the frontcourt, they brought back both Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber who served as a fine 1-2 punch for them last year. I expect the Mavericks to be around 40 wins, with some upside to finish higher than that if Kristaps is his old self and doesn’t miss too much time, and some potential to finish around where they did last year if that isn’t the case.
16. Sacramento Kings:
The Kings quickly became one of the most likeable young teams in the league last year, largely because of how fun and exciting their young duo of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield were to watch. In the home stretch of the season, it seemed like the Kings actually had a shot at making the playoffs, and even though they went out and acquired Harrison Barnes at the deadline for that push, they still fell short by nine games, finishing 9th in the conference.
Though their playoff push came up short, last season was actually a promising one for the Kings. Their 39 wins was their highest win total since the 2005-2006 season when guys like Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic were still playing, and their success was largely reliant on a core of super young guys. Of the 11 Kings players with the most minutes last season, only two were over the age of 26. The 5 players who attempted the most field goal attempts were all under 26 years old. Of their 13 players to average over 5 points per game, 11 were under the age of 26. They saw Hield (26), Fox (21), and Bagley (19), post combined per game averages of 53 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists per game. Yet, for some reason they still fired their head coach.
Next year, the Kings will return that same core of young players along with new head coach Luke Walton. If Walton can get those young guys to develop like we expect they will, while also having a full season of Harrison Barnes and some new veteran additions in Cory Joseph, DeWayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza, this team can be special in the coming years. They will certainly be competitive this year, but there’s just so many teams ahead of them right now that I think they are another year or two from seriously challenging for a playoff spot. I’d predict a 30-35 win season where, although their record is worse than last year as a product of a tougher Western conference, they show the individual improvement we expect to see from their young guys.
15. New Orleans Pelicans:
The Pelicans might be the most fascinating team in the league this year, and honestly, to me, they’re one of the most fascinating teams in recent memory. From lottery night on, the last few months have been like a dream for New Orleans fans after the future seemed so grim upon Anthony Davis’ trade demands in early February. On lottery night, they ended up with the #1 pick despite having just a 7.5% chance at getting it, while the Lakers also ended up with a top-4 pick, strengthening the package that they would end up sending in a trade for Anthony Davis. On draft night, not only did they get a generational, franchise altering talent in Zion Williamson, but new President of Basketball Operations David Griffin ended up flipping the #4 pick for the #8 and #17 pick. With those selections, he chose Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who both went on to make All-Summer League teams this past week. In Free Agency, rather than taking the long term approach that many of us expected them to take while building around Zion, Griffin opted for signing “win-now” players, like JJ Redick and Derrick Favors. He would later tell Howard Beck on his “The Full 48” podcast that he wants this team to grow together in a competitive environment from the start, and for the young guys to learn what it takes to win immediately from players like JJ, Derrick and Jrue Holiday.
I don’t quite know what to make of this team’s ceiling. We haven’t really seen Ingram and Ball play in a competitive, winning situation for more than half a season last year, and outside of that you could argue that a lot of their stats have been empty and insignificant. As for the rookies, there’s no telling what to expect. Griffin indicated that Hayes’ first season might be like a redshirt year, but that was before he excelled in Summer League. Will Zion have a Luka-Doncic like immediate impact on his way to Rookie of the Year, or will his game take more time to translate to the next level? I think that this team has legitimate 8-seed upside this year if everything clicks, but they could also find themselves as a competitive, 35-win 11 or 12 seed. There is a lot to be uncertain about with this team entering next year, but you can be certain that David Griffin is building something special here, and they will at the very least be a highly competitive and exciting team that tops the League Pass popularity rankings.
The “2nd Tier Contenders”: Teams that are very likely to make the playoffs, but aren’t legitimate contenders for a championship. The ceiling is probably the conference finals for these teams.
14. Indiana Pacers:
If Victor Oladipo was starting the year healthy and I knew that he would pick up right where he left off before his injury, I may place the Pacers as high as 8th in my rankings and 3rd in the East. I really like their roster construction and I think that they did a really nice job this offseason in making up for the losses of Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph. Unfortunately, Oladipo likely won’t be back until the calendar turns to 2020, and the Pacers’ 16-19 record last year after his injury leaves me reluctant to trust them too much without him this year.
In the draft, the Pacers drafted European center Goga Bitadze, a promising prospect that I really liked as an option for the Celtics as well. With Domantas Sabonis on the final year of his contract, Bitadze gives the Pacers some insurance for him should they be unable to keep him next summer or choose to trade him before this year’s deadline. In free agency, the Pacers continued to fill the holes in their roster by signing guards Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb and TJ McConnell to replace Joseph and Collison, and trading for TJ Warren from the Suns as a replacement for Bogdanovic.
I personally think the Pacers got better on paper this year, but they’re going to be relying a lot on their newcomers in Brogdon, Lamb and Warren until Oladipo comes back. It seems like a situation where he’s going to come back in February with the team in something like the 6th seed in the East with an uphill battle ahead of them for better seeding.
13. San Antonio Spurs:
The Spurs are returning largely the same core as last year’s team that took Denver to 7 games in the first round of the playoffs, with 11 players returning who made up 84% of the team’s total minutes played last year. This puts San Antonio behind only Denver and Orlando in continuity rankings. For San Antonio, that type of continuity is a large part of what’s made them so successful over the last 2 decades, and it’s why I think they have the inside track at the 8 seed over some of the younger, more inexperienced teams below them like the Pelicans, Kings, and Mavs.
The Spurs also have a really nice mix of veteran players and young guys. At the start of next season, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli will all be 30 or older, but they all have some gas left in the tank. On the younger end of things, they have Dejounte Murray (22), Jakob Potl (23), Derrick White (24), Bryn Forbes (25), Trey Lyles (23), and Lonnie Walker (20).
The biggest question for the Spurs this season is probably how Dejounte Murray will look after missing all of last year due to a torn ACL he suffered in a preseason game just a week before the regular season started. In the first two years of his career, Murray put up per-36 numbers of 14 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists and showed incredible defensive prowess for a second year player by making the All-Defensive 2nd team in 2017-2018. That year, Murray finished 5th in the league in steal percentage, 5th in defensive rating and 6th in defensive box plus/minus. People seem to have already forgotten about him over the last year, and he should be eager to get out and remind people who he is.
12. Brooklyn Nets:
2018-2019: ALL KYRIE ANGER ASIDE, I think this year is going to be sort of a feeling out year for the Nets as they figure out how to play together before KD comes back next year. When KD comes back, they'll instantly be a top 3-5 team, but right now what am I supposed to believe in? Kyrie with an aging, veteran center and a bunch of young guys with less experience than the Celtics' young guys? I really like almost all of their players outside of DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler, but I can’t see them clicking right off the bat and wouldn’t be surprised to see a start to their season like the Celtics had last year where they go something like 12-8 or 10-10 in their first 20 games. There’s a lot of talk out of Brooklyn about how different things are going to be for Kyrie there, but then again Boston fans thought the same thing when he arrived from Cleveland despite all of the warning signs and red flags.
The DeAndre Jordan-Jarrett Allen dynamic will be interesting to watch as well. There’s little question that Jarrett Allen should be the starter, but Kyrie and KD requested for DeAndre to be brought into town, and one can only assume that he’ll start instead. Role uncertainty was something that killed Kyrie’s Celtics last year, so Nets fans better hope that Jarrett Allen can buy into a role coming off the bench.
I gave the Raptors the nod ahead of the Nets because I feel like the Raptors deserve it as they return a majority of their core that just won a finals and made some nice additions in the wake of losing Kawhi Leonard. The Nets on the other hand had a lot of roster turnover, and they actually ended up losing every single player on their roster that had a positive on-court net rating last season with at least 500 minutes played. A lot of those guys were rotation players and not their key guys, so maybe that ends up not mattering much, but it is something to keep in mind. If I was to predict the Nets’ finish, I would guess that they end up fighting for the 4 seed in the East with the Raptors, although I do think that they have 3 seed upside.
11. Portland Trail Blazers:
The whole grouping of teams ranked #8 through #12 on my list was really tough to put in order, and there’s probably at least 5 different ways you could rank them and still have a solid argument for your choices. The Blazers are one of the tougher teams to rank within this group because of a few factors. First, Jusuf Nurkic is out for at least half of the year and there’s no way of knowing how Hassan Whiteside will perform and mesh with the other starters while he fills in for Nurkic. On top of that, I don’t really see them finishing anywhere higher than 5th in the conference and it wouldn’t really shock me if they finished as low as 7th just because of how competitive the West will be night in and night out.
I think the Blazers deserve some respect for making the Western Conference Finals last year, and that’s part of the reason I chose to put them ahead of Brooklyn, but their path to get there wasn’t exactly the toughest possible route and I’m not sure I buy into them as that legitimate of a contender, healthy or not. I absolutely love the Dame and CJ duo and I think CJ showed in the playoffs that he may be a little underrated still, but in getting swept by a KD-less Warriors team, the Blazers showed that they weren’t as legitimate as your typical team that makes it to the conference finals.
Another worry I have for this team is their bench. When Nurkic comes back and Whiteside moves to the bench, that will help things some but it’s still really shaky. If Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little develop quickly and reach their full potential, then we can talk, but for right now it’s a scary sight. I like the Blazers’ team and felt the need to give them some credit for last year, but there’s at least 6 teams out West and 4 teams in the East that I would take over them as things stand.
Photo: Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images