Sports Update: NBA Week 1 Power Rankings (12/22/20) By: Stephen Biddix
After just a 10-week layoff the NBA season returns tonight with two powerhouse games: The Golden State Warriors at the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers at the Los Angeles Lakers. There are many great storylines heading into this season with perhaps the headliner being Lebron James entering his 18th season and defending his NBA title. With Anthony Davis resigning, and the Lakers retooling, they are the prohibited favorites to win the championship again this year. The Lakers don't have to look too hard for their top competition, however, as they share a building with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers re-signed Paul George long-term and look to bounce back from a disappointing postseason run. Along with the two Los Angeles teams fighting for the Western Conference, you have a young Denver Nuggets team that is only improving and a Dallas Mavericks team with a surging Luka Dončić. The Western Conference will be the most competitive it has been in years and multiple over .500 teams may miss the playoffs. Flying over to the other side of the NBA, the East this year is extremely intriguing. The Brooklyn Nets with a now healthy star duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving look to turn heads and be a top competitor along with the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat. Giannis Antetokounmpo fresh off the largest contract in NBA history has a lot to prove this year still looking to reach his first NBA finals, and prove he is worth the supermax contract Milwaukee gave him. The start of the new season means the start of new power rankings. With a slate of 40 games this week, NBA teams have chances to prove me wrong but here are my rankings on the first day of the season. Let's Ball.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The defending champion Lakers had a great offseason and vastly improved their team from last season which is bad news for the NBA. The Lakers resigned Anthony Davis and extended Lebron James to long term deals, securing their two cornerstone players for the long haul. Free-agent additions like Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell create versatility and depth the Lakers did not have last season. The Lakers are once again the favorites to win it all again this year.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis and the Bucks have a lot to this prove this year after another disappointing postseason run. Milwaukee shuffled up the frontcourt this offseason trading Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, and draft picks for Jrue Holiday. With Giannis committing to the
Bucks for the foreseeable future, the pressure is on for Milwaukee to finally make some noise in the postseason.
3. Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn is the most interesting team in the NBA this season with the return of Kevin Durant and his debut with Kyrie Irving. If Durant can return to pre-injury form or anything close to it and clicks with Kyrie, this team is an instant top-three team in the NBA. With surrounding pieces like Caris LaVert and Spencer Dinwiddie, I cannot wait to watch this team this year.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers had a very quiet offseason besides the firing of Doc Rivers and promoting Tyronn Lue to head coach. The Clippers did also resign Paul George long term to a questionable max extension. The Clippers are hoping to improve chemistry which is one reason for the quiet offseason, and need to find an on and off the court leader between Kawhi Leonard or George.
5. Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler and the Heat are running it back with almost the same squad as last year hoping for improvement from their young stars. Bam Adebayo signed a max extension this offseason and must become a dominant second option for Miami. The development of Tyler Herro will also be exciting to see after a strong regular season and a stronger bubble run. It's time to see if the Heat are legit this year after many raised questions about if they just severely overachieved in the bubble.
6. Denver Nuggets
Denver's young core looks to take another step in the right direction this season after a strong postseason showing. Denver may have the most boom-or-bust roster in the NBA with wildcards Michael Porter Jr., Bol Bol, and rookie RJ Hampton. The return of Gary Harris and Will Barton cannot be understated and will provide a boost to the starting lineup. The dynamic duo of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic look to cement themselves as a top duo in the league this year as well.
7. Boston Celtics
Boston's young stars are under a lot of pressure this season with the departure of Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker's knee injury. With Hayward and Walker's playmaking out of the picture for the time being, it will be interesting to see how Boston runs their offense. However, I do love the signing of Tristian Thompson. Boston has lacked a physical big-man the last few seasons and Thompson will fill that gap perfectly.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia had perhaps the best offseason out of any team by signing Daryl Morey and new head coach Doc Rivers. Daryl Morey immediately fixed the 76ers biggest issue in shooting and built a real contender. By adding Danny Green and Seth Curry, Philly now has real sharpshooters again that can spread the floor for Ben Simmons. I believe this team has the potential to finish top three in the East and make a real championship push.
9. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Dončić is the best young player in the NBA at 21 years old and continues to get scarier for opposing teams every year. His combination of shooting, passing, and playmaking is lethal and can take Dallas to great places. I'm a big fan of the addition of Josh Richardson, as he adds some real defense to a team that needs it. One thing that will hold this team back, however, is the injured Kristaps Porzingis who is expected to miss the beginning of the season. When healthy, this team has a shot to be a title contender.
10. Toronto Raptors
Every season the Raptors seem like they should get worse but always find a way to be a top team in the East. This season may end that pattern with the loss of Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, to which Toronto didn't do much to replace them. Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby need to take massive steps in the right direction to help Kyle Lowry carry this team to another top seed in the East.
11. Portland Trailblazers
Portland comes back with a healthy roster after an injury-riddled 2019-2020 season. In addition to resigning Carmelo Anthony, the Blazers added Robert Covington, Enes Kanter, and high-flying Derrick Jones Jr. These additions plus the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum puts Portland in the dark-horse title contention group.
12. Utah Jazz
Utah enters the new season fresh off long-term extensions with their two stars Donavan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Mitchell has cemented himself as a franchise player and should only continue to get more dominant. The signing of Derrick Favors gives Utah more physicality and increases their chances of having the best defensive frontcourt in the league. For Utah to be legit, Mike Conley needs to have a bounce-back season after a disappointing first season with Utah.
13. Phoenix Suns
Phoenix is dead set on making the playoffs this year after making a blockbuster trade for Chris Paul over the offseason. Paul will add a veteran savviness and playoff experience the team lacks, not to mention a great mentor to Devin Booker. If Paul can stay healthy, and Deandre Ayton continues to progress, Phoenix will be a fun and competitive team to watch.
14. Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry is back healthy and will have to put the Golden State on his back this season. James Wiseman is a promising-looking prospect, but the jury is still out and he has a lot to prove. The addition of Kelly Oubre should help the team if he plays the same way he did at the end of last season for Phoenix. Warriors fans will have their fingers crossed this season in case Curry gets injured again, which could lead to Golden State ending up a bottom-tier team once again.
15. Houston Rockets
Houston will not be an elite team in the West this season for the first time in years. Even with the additions of John Wall and Demarcus Cousins, the James Harden sweepstakes continue and he will likely not be on the team for long. This team is revolved around injury-prone players. It would not be surprising if they miss the playoffs this season.
16. Indiana Pacers
Victor Oladipo returns from injury this season and needs to put together a healthy effort for Indiana to be in the playoff push. With a new coach and system in Indiana, it will be interesting to see how it affects the young core of Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and TJ Warren.
17. New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson's sophomore year will begin with a different surrounding cast from last year. The addition of Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe should help improve the starting lineup and front-court offense. The loss of Jrue Holiday however will be noticeable on defense as he is a top-five defensive guard in the league. Look for New Orleans to secure a playoff spot this year or at worst qualify for the play-in tournament.
18. Washington Wizards
Washington committed highway robbery by swapping John Wall and a first-round pick for a much healthier and proven asset in Russell Westbrook. I think Russ and Bradley Beal will complement each other extremely well and create a fast-paced dynamic offense. The defense will still be a massive question for this team and the determining factor for if this team can make the playoffs.
19. Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant has looked outstanding in the preseason and seemed to raise his basketball IQ over the offseason. Memphis will be held back by the absence of Jaren Jackson who will miss the beginning of the season. Memphis has little to no room for error this season in a stacked Western Conference.
20. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta finally has a squad that can push for a playoff spot or at least grab a bid for the play-in tournament. The development of Trae Young will be key, and how Clint Capela meshes with this offense. Atlanta was one of the worst defensive teams last year which must change, starting with Trae Young.
21. San Antonio Spurs
Gregg Popovich will have to pull off one of his best coaching performances to get this team to the playoffs. The Spurs' two main assets of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge aren't getting any younger and could also become trade targets for contenders come trade deadline time. Young guards like Lonnie Walker IV, Derrick White, and Dejounte Murray are subtly emerging but still have much to prove this year.
22. Orlando Magic
Orlando did not change much and will be running it back with their core of Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Markelle Fultz this season. The Magic were a strong defensive team last season but terrible on the offensive end. First-round draft pick Cole Anthony looks to change that with his explosive and high energy play. I believe Anthony has a good shot to win rookie of the year and provide a spark for this offense.
23. Sacramento Kings
De'Aaron Fox and the Kings don't have much going for them this season after losing Bogdan Bogdanovich and Kent Bazemore in the offseason, and not getting much in return. The addition of Hassan Whiteside will be interesting giving Sacramento a quality level big man, but way past his prime. Rookie Tyrese Haliburton could be fun to watch and can give Fox more off-the-ball looks and spread the offense around.
24. Charlotte Hornets
The revamped Hornets come into the new season with the playoffs on their mind. Additions of Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball add energy to a franchise that desperately needed it. LaMelo has shown off great playmaking skills in the preseason but is still very raw. Don't sleep on Devonte' Graham either who was top ten in three-point shots made last year.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota has a new young core in D'Angelo Russel, Karl-Anthony Towns, and number-one overall pick, Anthony Edwards. They could create a fun backcourt and offense but have an abysmal defense. Anthony Edwards needs to develop fast for this team to be contenders this year.
26. Chicago Bulls
Chicago has slowly but surely put together a solid young core with Zach LaVine, Coby White, and Lauri Markkanen. Chicago also revamped their front office this offseason and brought in head coach Billy Donovan coming off a surprising playoff appearance with the Thunder. Look for Chicago to turn a few heads this year and grab a play-in tournament spot if things go well.
27. Detroit Pistons
Detroit has created an interesting roster, where their success depends on an aged Blake Griffin. Detroit let Christian Wood walk who has become a solid young player and did not draft any immediate impact players. Detroit fans can expect a tough physical team but not much to show for it.
28. New York Knicks
The Knicks have once again restarted by bringing in a new front office and hiring Tom Thibodeau to be the new head coach. Homegrown rookie Obi Toppin has promising potential, but the Knicks are already clogged at the forward position so playing time may be limited. RJ Barrett is also on the clock now after a terrible rookie year. He has to show a lot this year to prove he is a valuable asset for this Knicks team.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland will be a bottom-five team in the NBA again this year and will focus on developing their young guards. Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, and rookie Isaac Okoro will get lots of playing time and will look to impress their new head coach. Kevin Love will also most likely be traded at some point this year making Cleveland even less competitive.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have now entered full rebuild mode after trading Chris Paul and Steven Adams and will continue to trade assets for more draft picks. The Thunder have established Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as a piece they will build around but it is open season for the rest of the roster.