Post Free Agency NBA Power Rankings, Nuggets start on top

new balance


I have put off doing an off-season NBA Power Rankings for a couple of weeks, waiting to see if a trade for Damian Lillard, James Harden or Pascal Siakam would come through and change the dynamic. I’m done waiting, so here are the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings as of this summer. Again, these rankings reflect where we are now (Harden a 76ers, Lillard a Blazer).

Denver Nuggets Primary Logo

Denver Nuggets Primary Logo

1. Nuggets (53-29 last season). The defending champions return all five starters from the team that just lifted the Larry O’Brien trophy — Denver sets the bar for next season. They lost Bruce Brown and Jeff Green in free agency, which means they will need more out of Peyton Watson and Christian Braun to fill those gaps. Still, the Nuggets return the best player on the planet in Nikola Jokić and a perfect match for him at the point in Jamal Murray (bet on him making his first All-Star Game next season). The road to the NBA Finals goes through Denver next season.

Milwaukee Bucks Primary Logo

Milwaukee Bucks Primary Logo

2. Bucks (58-24). The Bucks chose to run it back with the team that had the best record in the NBA last season ( who knows what happens in the playoffs if Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t injure his back against the Heat). The Bucks re-signed Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez this summer, which put them a couple million above the dreaded second tax apron, but they did well to keep those contracts shorter for an aging team so Milwaukee can pivot in a couple of years. This season they will be one of the top teams in the East and the team that has the fewest question marks going into training camp.

Boston Celtics Primary Logo

Boston Celtics Primary Logo

3. Celtics (57-25). Trading away Marcus Smart (plus letting Grant Williams walk) to bring in Kristaps Porzigis are moves that make Boston better on paper, but will it play out on the court? Smart brought defense and toughness to the table that the Celtics will miss. Porzingis was brilliant last season in 65 games — 23.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 38.5% from 3 — but he has a long injury history and Boston bet on him being on the court. Then there is the heart and soul question: This team didn’t play hard unless its backs were against the wall, and they didn’t show mental toughness — Porzingis over Smart solves that problem? Boston did upgrade the coaching staff around Joe Mazzulla. Boston will be one of the best teams in the NBA, the questions they need to answer will come in the playoffs, but we will get a vision of what they can be during the regular season.

Phoenix Suns Primary Logo

Phoenix Suns Primary Logo

4. Suns (45-37). The Suns got bounced from the playoffs due to a lack of depth around Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, and their answer to that was to trade picks and depth to add a third star in Bradley Beal. Considering that move basically just left minimum contracts to offer, the Suns did a good job bringing in/back Eric Gordon, Josh Okogie, Damion Lee, Yuta Watanabe, Drew Eubanks and Keita Bates-Diop to have a potentially strong bench. Phoenix also fired coach Monty Williams and brought in a defense-first guy with a ring but very little ego in Frank Vogel. The Suns are going to win a lot of regular season games thanks to Booker and Durant, but can Vogel turn Deandre Ayton into a defensive anchor drop-back center, and can Vogel find the depth and rotation this team needs to contend? The Suns’ ceiling may be higher than the Nuggets, but you know Denver will play at their peak. Phoenix has to prove they can.

Miami Heat Primary Logo

Miami Heat Primary Logo

5. Heat (44-38). This may seem low for a team that just reached the NBA Finals, but if anything this ranking is higher than I think they might land during a season if they go with the roster as currently constructed. Two of the starters that helped them reach the Finals — Gabe Vincent and Max Strus — are gone, although they would add back Tyler Herro, who missed the playoff run with his fractured hand. Right now it’s just a waiting game on the potential Damian Lillard trade (good luck finding anyone around the league who doesn’t think Lillard starts next season in Miami, the trade just likely happens closer to training camp). Miami was mentally tougher than the teams they faced in the playoffs, they will bring that back no matter what happens with Lillard.

Philadelphia 76ers Primary Logo

Philadelphia 76ers Primary Logo

6. 76ers (54-28). As currently constructed — with Joel Embiid, James Harden, an improving Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris — Philadelphia is a title contender. That’s the pressure on GM Daryl Morey in any Harden trade, the Sixers need to get back enough that this team continues to have a realistic shot at a title. With Embiid in his prime (and turning 30 before the playoffs start next season), the 76ers cannot afford a gap year. Can Morey convince Harden to come back and play nice for a season? Only Harden can answer that. At this point, the 76ers have tinkered around the edges of the roster but have not made significant upgrades — can a new coach in Nick Nurse get more out of this group and lead them past Boston/Miami/Milwaukee to make the Finals?

Cleveland Cavaliers Primary Logo

Cleveland Cavaliers Primary Logo

7. Cavaliers (51-31). This team won 51 games last season, had an elite defense, and addressed their biggest need — shooting at the three — by adding Max Strus from the Heat. Strus also brings the kind of playoff experience this team needs. I am higher on the Cavaliers than many because I think they are ready to take a step forward off last season — they addressed their most glaring weakness in free agency, young stars Evan Mobley and Darius Garland are poised to take another step forward, and the Knicks taught this team a lesson about attention to detail and playing hard every possession in the postseason. Can the Cavaliers apply those lessons in a crowded top of the East and be ready for a step forward? I am betting yes.

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Warriors logo

Warriors logo

8. Warriors (44-38). Jordan Poole is out, Chris Paul is in, Draymond Green has returned and the Warriors are getting the band back together for another run at it. There are plenty of stylistic questions about how the very deliberate pick-and-roll game of CP3 will fit with the chaos the Warriors thrive in — not to mention questions about Paul starting or coming off the bench — but this is still a very dangerous team if they can find their groove, play good enough defense, and are healthy come the playoffs. The Warriors no longer set the bar in the West (or NBA), but so long as Stephen Curry is at his peak surrounded by smart players, this is a very dangerous team. Especially in the playoffs.

Memphis Grizzlies Primary Logo

Memphis Grizzlies Primary Logo

9. Grizzlies (51-31). A lack of maturity — not just from Ja Morant but the entire young roster — found the Grizzlies earning the No. 2 seed last season, but not impressing down the stretch then getting knocked out in the first round by the Lakers. Exit Dillon Brooks, and in his place comes Marcus Smart (and on the bench Derrick Rose), bringing both a will to win and a no-nonsense veteran to the locker room. Morant will miss the first 25 games of the season, Smart and re-signed Desmond Bane will have a lot on their hands, but with the still-improving Jaren Jackson Jr. in the paint I can see Memphis finding its stride in the second half of the season and being a playoff force. Don’t sleep on this team.

Los Angeles Lakers Primary Logo

Los Angeles Lakers Primary Logo

10. Lakers (43-39). The Lakers had a good offseason, sticking with the plan of putting shooting and defense around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers made smart moves all around: Re-signed Austin Reaves on the biggest steal of a contract this offseason, re-signed Rui Hachimura (maybe a slight overpay but not bad), brought back D’Angelo Russell on a fair contract and signed Gabe Vincent to be the guy that takes over D’Lo’s minutes in the playoffs. I see the Lakers as a 4-6 seed in the regular season but if they can get LeBron and AD to the playoffs rested and healthy they are a threat in the West when things get serious next April.

Sacramento Kings Primary Logo

Sacramento Kings Primary Logo

11. Kings (48-34). In the afterglow of breaking the drought and making the playoffs, the Kings didn’t do anything bold or grand, but they didn’t over-reach and blow it, either. They will basically run it back after re-signing Harrison Barnes, doing a renegotiate-and-extend with Domantas Sabonis, and keeping them together with the core of De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray. They did add Chris Duarte and Sasha Vezenkov. The Kings caught a break with health last season, but it feels like the West took a step forward while Sacramento stood pat, and while they should be a playoff team again in the West I don’t see a step forward.

New York Knicks Primary Logo

New York Knicks Primary Logo

12. Knicks (47-35). The hallmark of the Leon Rose era is patience and the Knicks made that the mantra again this offseason — and it was the wise play. The stars available right now (Harden, Lillard) are old, expensive and do not fit naturally on a team where nobody wants to take the ball out of Jalen Brunson’s hands. New York’s big move was to bring in Donte DiVincenzo, who will fit well with the Thibodeau-insipired gritty Knicks of Brunson and Josh Hart (it’s a Villanova reunion). The Knicks will be good again, a playoff team again, and for now they wait for the right superstar to take a swing at.

Dallas Mavericks Primary Logo

Dallas Mavericks Primary Logo

13. Mavericks (37-42). This could be too low a ranking for Dallas if everything comes together. Dallas and Kyrie Irving reached terms on a three-year contract and now he’s got a full offseason and training camp to mesh with Luka Dončić. Around that elite duo they added defense and toughness with Grant Willians, shooting with Seth Curry, and some underrated play up front with Richaun Holmes. This should be a good team next season. That said, the trust isn’t earned yet with this squad, I’m not sold they can get enough stops to be a real threat, so they slide close to the middle of the pack in these offseason Power Rankings. But if you told me by Thanksgiving they would regularly be in the top 10 of the NBC Sports weekly in-season power rankings, I would not be shocked.

Los Angeles Clippers Primary Logo

Los Angeles Clippers Primary Logo

14. Clippers (44-38). Whatever happens with a potential James Harden trade (something L.A. may not have the players to get done, even if Terence Mann is in the offer), the book on the Clippers remains the same: If Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are healthy in the playoffs this team is a threat. In those first two playoff games against the Suns, Leonard was the best player on the court and the Suns had Durant and Booker. But are you willing to bet on that health? Both Leonard and Paul George are extension eligible this summer and that is going to be a fascinating negotiation — how many years do the Clippers want to be locked in with their star wings? The Clippers re-signed Russell Westbrook on a very good deal for the team and traded for K.J. Martin, but this remains a good roster and a dangerous one when Leonard and George both play.

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New Orleans Pelicans Primary Logo

New Orleans Pelicans Primary Logo

15. Pelicans (42-40). The ultimate “I don’t know what to do with this team” roster, so they land dead in the middle of these rankings. The potential of this roster is “top four in the West, serious playoff threat” but out of a possible 116 games we have seen Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum on the court together for 10 games. Zion is saying all the right things, Ingram will be one of the best scorers on Team USA at the World Cup (his game should make him a natural in international play) and McCollum is reliable. They have great young role players in Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III, and solid veterans around them starting with Larry Nance Jr. The potential is there, but how much do you trust them to live up to it?

Minnesota Timberwolves Primary Logo

Minnesota Timberwolves Primary Logo

16. Timberwolves (42-40). The Timberwolves are Anthony Edwards’ team. Or, at least they need to be. Put the ball in the hands of the guy they just gave a max rookie contract extension to and build the roster around him, that is the path to contention. Can both Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert be part of that future? There’s a reason everyone keeps hearing whispers of Towns trades (Gobert is virtually untradable because of his contract) but for now there is no real momentum to make that major a change. With Mike Conley healthy and back at the point with Edwards, Towns and Gobert this team should win regular season games, but how good they will be this season depends upon how big Edwards’ next step forward is and if Minnesota really leans into that future and not past mistakes.

Atlanta Hawks Primary Logo

Atlanta Hawks Primary Logo

17. Hawks (41-41). To believe in the Hawks is to believe that giving Quin Snyder a full offseason and training camp will mean getting the most out of Trae Young and Dejonte Murray, getting them to blend in a more selfless, ball-moving style of play. Atlanta shipped out John Collins in a salary dump and Saddiq Bey likely moves into his spot next to Clint Capela on the front line. Expect more run for Jalen Johnson, De’Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu. This is a solid roster, but can Snyder get this backcourt to mesh or are their bigger moves coming down the line? This season feels like a tryout for who will and will not fit in Snyder’s world.

Indiana Pacers Primary Logo

Indiana Pacers Primary Logo

18. Pacers (35-47). This is a team I am quietly high on and would bet they finish much higher in the end-of-season power rankings next April than this slot. This was a playoff team last season before Tyrese Haliburton got hurt, and now they added Bruce Brown to go with Buddy Hield on the wing, Bennedict Mathurin should take a step forward in there as well, and Obi Toppin was a great pick-up and a perfect stylistic fit next to Myles Turner at center. With Rick Carlisle running the Xs and Os, Indiana looks like a playoff team in the East building toward something interesting in the coming years.

Toronto Raptors Primary Logo

Toronto Raptors Primary Logo

19. Raptors (41-41). Kawhi Leonard left without Toronto getting anything in return (except for a title). Then Kyle Lowry left and nothing came back. Now Fred VanVleet left for nothing. That’s a bad pattern and it feels like there is about to be a shift in Toronto… probably. The Raptors experiment with a very switchable lineup of 6’6″ to 6’9″ guys didn’t work out, but the pivot to whatever is next has been awkward. The Raptors did re-sign Jakob Poeltl and bring in Dennis Schroder, and they have Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby on the roster, but what are they trying to evolve to? Siakam trade rumors were flowing in Las Vegas as other teams really wanted Anunoby to be available (he is not), but don’t expect the Raptors to let Siakam play out the last year of his contract without getting either an extension or a trade done. Eventually.

Oklahoma City Thunder Primary Logo

Oklahoma City Thunder Primary Logo

20. Thunder (40-42). This was a play-in team a season ago and if you’re looking for a team that looks ready to make the leap to the playoffs, the Thunder are a good bet. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an All-NBA player running the show a solid backcourt mate in Josh Giddey who is taking steps forward, an impressive rookie in Jalen Williams and now Chet Holmgren returns from his foot injury to bring some defense. OKC is slow-playing this growth for now and trying to do it all organically, but this is a young core ready to be a problem every night in the NBA and advance out of the play-in this year.

Utah Jazz Primary Logo

Utah Jazz Primary Logo

21. Jazz (37-45). This is a hard team to predict but Utah could be headed back to the playoffs. Lauri Markkanen, John Collins and Walker Kessler form a massive front line that can score and defend — Collins could have a bounce-back season out of the box he was put in with the Hawks. Collin Sexton is at the point, Jordan Clarkson is back to be the sixth man, and Keyonte George showed at Summer League he is going to be a bucket from Day 1 in the league. Will Hardy did a great job as coach fitting odd pieces together last season in Salt Lake City and if he does it again this team could be headed to the postseason.

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Orlando Magic Primary Logo

Orlando Magic Primary Logo

22. Magic (34-48). After a slow start last season, this looked like a play-in team the second half of the year (21-24 over the last 45 games), and with Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero ready to take a step forward expect the same from the team. They have an underrated coach in Jamahl Mosley and good young talent in guys like Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. Point guard Markelle Fultz will split time with just-drafted Anthony Black, but it was easy to see at Summer League how Black (if he develops a respectable shot) could grow into the PG of the future for the Magic.

Chicago Bulls Primary Logo

Chicago Bulls Primary Logo

23. Bulls (40-42). Chicago is not a bad team and the core of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic (who just re-signed this summer) is going to win enough regular season games to be respectable, but what are they beyond that? Lonzo Ball will miss all of next season following a major, hopefully reconstructive knee surgery, which is a huge blow in bringing this roster together. Expect the Zach LaVine trade rumors to just get louder and louder as the season moves along, and some DeRozan rumors will fly as well.

Houston Rockets Primary Logo

Houston Rockets Primary Logo

24. Rockets (22-60). So much for letting things happen organically. The Rockets have an interesting young core — Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Tari Eason, etc. — and they added to it with the impressive athleticism of Amen Thompson. But the Rockets aren’t waiting around to get better and signed free agents Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks and Jeff Green. With VanVleet at the helm this will be a respectable team, but for the long term they need to develop Thompson to take over from VanVleet in a couple of years, the potential for an elite point guard is in there.

Portland Trail Blazers Primary Logo

Portland Trail Blazers Primary Logo

25. Trail Blazers (33-49). This is going to be Scoot Henderson’s team — he was everything Portland and their fans could have asked for in 23 minutes of Summer League basketball. More than the impressive athleticism, it was the mature and team-first decision making that impressed with Henderson. He is ready to have the ball in his hands, and pair him with Anfernee Simons and Shaedon Sharpe and this is one interesting team. That said, expect them to lose a lot, we have them this high in the rankings right now because Damian Lillard is still on the roster and by himself could push this to be a play-in team. But Lillard gets traded before training camp starts so Henderson and his young teammates don’t have to deal with the fallout, right?

San Antonio Spurs Primary Logo

San Antonio Spurs Primary Logo

26. Spurs (22-60). The Spurs are going to slow-play the development of Wembanyama. That doesn’t mean he will not win the Spurs some games — especially with his defense, which looks to be elite from Day 1 — and even with his offense as he gets more comfortable. However, we all know Gregg Popovich and company are not going to play him 38 minutes a night for 82 games — this will be about building up his body, his conditioning and his game over a few seasons. While there is talent around him — Tre Jones, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell, Jeremy Sochan — and some nice pickups with Cedi Osman and Reggie Bullock, the Spurs are going to ignore the talking heads screaming at them on television and do everything at their own pace. In a few years, everyone will see this is the smart play.

Brooklyn Nets Primary Logo

Brooklyn Nets Primary Logo

27. Nets (45-37). This may be too low a ranking for the Nets, I like their young core, but I just don’t see this team winning a lot of games. They have Mikal Bridges and re-signed Cam Johnson, plus they have a solid center in Nicolas Claxton, but this is a team starting a serious retooling. I did like the pickups of Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV, but the guy who could help this team make a leap up the standings (and these rankings) is Ben Simmons. Bet on that if you wish, we’ll wait to see what this all looks like.

Charlotte Hornets Primary Logo

Charlotte Hornets Primary Logo

28. Hornets (27-55). This is an organization in transition as Michael Jordan looks to sell the team, with both GM Mitch Kupchak and coach Steve Clifford in the final years of their contracts. This team could and should be better than a season ago if LaMelo Ball stays healthy, the addition of No. 2 pick Brandon Miller on the wing (he had a rough Summer League but that is just a stepping off point, it’s about development), and Miles Bridges coming back to the team after missing a season following domestic violence charges (he will be suspended for the first 10 games of the season). When there are questions around the organization that usually filters down onto the court, which is why it’s hard to see a step forward next season.

Detroit Pistons Primary Logo

Detroit Pistons Primary Logo

29. Pistons (17-55). Not sure the Pistons will win a lot of games, but if Cade Cunningham is back and can stay healthy, and with the promising Ausar Thompson on the wing, plus Killian Hayes and Jaden Ivey, this should be an entertaining team. Jalen Duren has shown a lot of promise, but this is a crowded front court with the just re-signed Isaiah Stewart, James Wiseman, Marvin Bagley III so expect some more moves. Don’t be surprised if Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris and Alec Burks trade rumors swirl around this team though camp and into next season.

Washington Wizards Primary Logo

Washington Wizards Primary Logo

30. Wizards (34-47). Finally this team is going through a much needed total rebuild, but that is going to mean a few rough seasons for the Wizards. They traded Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis, and landed Chris Paul but then traded him again. The re-signed Kyle Kuzma and landed Jordan Poole, expect both of them to look great on fantasy teams as they have green lights and rack up points, but don’t expect a lot of wins in our nation’s capital. Curious to see how Bilal Coulibaly develops, the young Frenchman shows a lot of potential.

new balance



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