After a crazy summer in the NBA, and tons of arguments via texts and at the water cooler, the time has come to rank these teams in my inaugural NBA power rankings for NoLimitJumper. I’ve been an NBA fan since the mid-90’s and I don’t ever remember a summer that was this crazy. This honestly felt like how I run my teams in NBA 2K and NBA Live (yes, I go that far back). Free agency is one of my favorite times of the year and this summer was an overdose.
The NBA has completely reshaped itself in front of our eyes, and of course, there is nothing I would rather do than rank the teams before one game has been played!
Tier 6: “What did you think of our summer league team?”
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Season: 19-63, 14th in East)
The Cavs had one of the worst records in the NBA last season and while Ohio natives and Cleveland faithful might think otherwise, this team did not improve much. The JR Smith-era is officially over … so I’m actually going to mark that down as a win. I am looking forward to seeing the growth of Colin Sexton & rookie Darius Garland, as well as where Kevin Love ends up, but I don’t see many bright days ahead in Cleveland … at least this season.
29. Phoenix Suns (19-63, 15th in West)
Despite having one of the best young players in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns have not been a good basketball team. They have averaged 21.8 wins a season over the last four years, and things don’t look any better for them moving forward. The Suns still do have Devin Booker, but I would like to see them win 30+ games before we say Book is a superstar. Is that too much to ask?
28. Charlotte Hornets (39-43, 9th in East)
Anytime you can free yourself from a team-friendly contract with one of the best point guards in the league and replace him with an overpaid, not-as-talented player, you do it every time, right? The Hornets waive bye-bye to one of the greatest Hornets ever, and say hello to Terry Rozier. At least Charlotte had the NBA All-Star game in 2019 and some of the greatest players in the league were there, so remember that when Rozier is taking his 9th three of the first half.
27. Washington Wizards (32-50, 11th in West)
The Wizards should just start re-branding themselves now to “Bradley Beal’s former team”. The Wizards have not traded the All-Star quite yet, but if they can find a taker for the worst contract in the NBA aka John Wall (maybe the Heat?), this trade may happen sooner rather than later. If it does, the Wizards will go into complete rebuild mode. What I’m trying to say here is … it doesn’t look good, Chocolate City.
26. Chicago Bulls (22-60, 13th in East)
The Bulls have some talent, including high-flying Zach Lavine and young-stud Lauri Markkanen, but both players seem to be injured more often than not. The Bulls did add Thad Young, a veteran with some playoff experience, but I don’t know if that’s enough for them to compete for the 8th spot. Coby White should be pretty entertaining in post game interviews for the Chicago area, because I don’t see the Bulls getting many prime time games. They might be one of the most exciting teams in the league that blows a lot of games in the fourth. Hopefully, the Bulls can get 75+ games from LaVine and Markkanen, but I need to see it to believe it.
25. Memphis Grizzlies (33-49, 12th in West)
The 2019 NBA Summer League champs should be the last team in the category. I am excited to see Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson play together, but this team is clearly a couple years away from a serious push at the postseason. The Grizzlies have acquired expiring contracts and young players, and the biggest decision the Grizzlies will make this year is what they will do with Andre Igoudala. This is the first season in a long time that the Grizzlies don’t have Gasol or Conley going into a season, but Morant and Jackson should help the fans get over it pretty quickly.
Tier 5: “It’s Too Soon To Tell“
24. New York Knicks (17-65, 15th in East)
Knicks fans, I feel you. Last season ends, and you have the worst record in the league. People around the NBA are confident that you will land Durant and/or Kyrie, with the possibility of adding Zion in the draft. Okay, so that didn’t work out, but this team will compete — RJ Barrett and Julius Randle will be entertaining, and they might actually … maybe even win some games. I know people think that they will stink, and there is a chance that happens … but I like Fizdale as a coach, the players they signed all play hard and compete, and there is still a trade to be made later. I may be in the minority, but I don’t think they will suck, that much.
23. Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33, 6th in West)
The Russell Westbrook era is officially over and I am little sad about it. Russ was an extraordinary talent, though his shot selection was awful at times. He represented the people of Oklahoma proudly, and it will be weird to see him in another jersey. Regardless, the Thunder now have CP3, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and a shit-load of draft moving forward. I don’t know what this team will look like, or if they will have CP3 past November. If they keep him, they could surprise some people.
24. Atlanta Hawks (29-53, 12th in East)
The Hawks were a fun team to watch last season, and I expect the same heading into this year. Trae Young and John Collins are now sophomores, and rookie Cam Reddish enters the fold. The Hawks will be one of the most exciting young teams around, especially in the wide-open East. The Hawks could flirt with .500 for most of the year, before fading down the stretch. However, I would not be surprised if they were the 8th seed. This team has a lot of unknown pieces, but in a good way, if that makes any sense.
Tier 4: “We win some, but we also lose the same amount“
21. New Orleans Pelicans (33-49, 13th in West)
The new-look New Orleans Pelicans will play one style of basketball, “fast”. Rookie sensation Zion Williamson is finally here, and the Anthony Davis saga is finally over. The Pelicans could have been better last year, but the AD “situation” really took over the season. Now, the Pelicans will pair newly acquired Lonzo Ball with Jrue Holliday in the backcourt, and combine Zion with Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors in a completely revamped starting 5. The Pelicans should finish around .500, and in the West, I don’t think that gets you into the postseason.
20. Orlando Magic (42-40, 7th in East)
The team meetings in the Orlando Magic’s office probably went something like this “does anyone want to sign here” *No* “Okay, let’s run it back!”. The Magic brought the gang back together for another run at the postseason, with the goal to win more than one game this time. The good thing is Kawhi is no longer in the East, which only helps the Magic. The real mystery around this team is Markelle Fultz. Is he still around? Can he play? Did he get abducted by aliens? Is he the new head coach? All of these could be a possibility with Fultz.
19. Minnesota Timberwolves (36-46, 11th in West)
The Timberwolves should be higher on this list. They should be a lot of things, but this is the reality of the Timberwolves. They still have Karl Anthony Towns, who is pretty good, but can’t seem to find a way to lead his team to the postseason. The Wolves thought they were getting D’Angelo Russell in the off-season, but that didn’t work out either. This team has all the talent to get it done, but can this group get it done? (Probably not).
18. Sacramento Kings (39-43, 9th in West)
The Kings competed for a playoff spot in the West for most of last season, but ultimately fell off near the end of the year. 39 wins was a great number for this group and I expect them to exceed that this year and compete for the playoffs all season long. The Kings have a great young nucleus, led by a up-and-coming backcourt with Fox and Hield. This team is still young, and may show it at times, but they are tough and will be a tough opponent, especially if they make the postseason.
17. Detroit Pistons (41-41, 8th in East)
The Pistons finished at .500 last season and the expectations are they will finish around the same this season. The Pistons did sign Derrick Rose, which could be fun?, but all-in-all, the Pistons are just a middle-of-the-road team. Rose & Griffin might be entertaining (and clunky) and times, but Blake Griffin is still a very good basketball player. The fit of Griffin and Drummond has not been perfect, but with more parody in the conference, the Pistons could win a few more games and get their record to 43-39. LOOKOUT LEAGUE!
Tier 3: The Playoff Seat-Fillers
16. Toronto Raptors (58-24, 2nd in East)
The defending NBA Champions probably won’t last long in the postseason to defend their title, but even after losing out on Kawhi Leonard, this team should have enough to make it back to the playoffs. The Raps still have Lowry, Siakam, Gasol, key role players, and head coach Nick Nurse. We don’t really know what this offense will look like moving forward, but it’s safe to expect Gasol and Siakam roles will expand on the offensive end. The Raps won’t be sniffing 60 games this season, but I can see them getting over 45.
15. Dallas Mavericks (33-49, 14th in West)
Mavericks legend Dirk Nowitzki has retired, and it’s time for the next generation of Mavs to take over. Reigning Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic is ready for his sophomore campaign and Kristaps Porzingis is finally ready to make his Mavericks debut. This young duo should be one of the most exciting in the league, as they try and get the Mavs back to the playoffs. The Mavs won 33 games last year and while we all expect them to win more than that, they are closer to the bottom of the West playoff teams than the top.
14. San Antonio Spurs (48-34, 7th in West)
To no one’s surprise, the Spurs are still hanging around the middle of the pack, mainly due to GM R.C. Buford and head coach Greg Popovich. Point guard Dejounte Murray is finally healthy, so I expect him to pick up right where he left off two years ago. The Spurs still have DeRozan & Aldridge, and re-signed Rudy Gay, so they have a solid group of vets that can compete in the league. The Spurs are well coached, well run, and have players that compete … that is usually a solid mix for a playoff team.
13. Miami Heat (39-43, 10th in East)
Miami plus Jimmy Butler should be a fun combo … too bad only one of those things is actually an NBA player. Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade has officially retired, and after some recruiting on Twitter, Jimmy Butler is set to take Wade’s place as the next star of South Beach. The Heat are not bad on paper, but I still feel like there is a trade to be made here. The Heat have some expiring contracts and have no issues taking on massive salary *cough … cp3*, so there might be some movement before the deadline. Regardless, in the East, the Heat should be in play for a spot in the top four.
12. Indiana Pacers (48-34, 5th in East)
The Pacers have been one of the league’s best stories the last two seasons, winning 48 games in back-to-back seasons. The Pacers played well last season even without star player Victor Oladipo, and now he’s finally ready to rock and roll (I think). The Pacers also signed Malcolm Brogdon away from the Bucks, so the Brogdon/Oladipo backcourt will be aggressive, feisty, and ideally … healthy. I really like Sabonis and if he can continue to grow, this team can make some noise. I’d like to see this team play together before moving them up in the ranks, but the Pacers will no doubt be one of the postseason teams in the East.
11. Brooklyn Nets (42-40, 6th in East)
The Brooklyn Nets were one of the biggest winners in the NBA off-season, getting Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the best player on the market … DeAndre Jordan. All jokes aside, the Nets turned their franchise from “borderline playoff team” to “perennial contenders .. when healthy”. With Durant out the majority of this upcoming season, this team becomes the 2018 Nets, with Kyrie Irving being subbed in for D’Angelo Russell. DLo fit in well with this bunch, so only time will tell how the Nets will fare with Kyrie as the new guy in charge. I still expect the Nets to be better, even if they are weirder.
Tier 2: If they are in the Finals, I wouldn’t be shocked
10. Golden State Warriors (57-25, 1st in West)
The Warriors amazing run at getting to NBA Finals might come to an end, but don’t get it twisted … the Warriors are still the Warriors. After losing Kevin Durant to the Nets, the Warriors were able to sign-and-trade away D’Angelo Russell from the Nets. Adding him to play alongside future hall of famer Steph Curry, especially while Klay Thompson recovers from his ACL injury in the Finals. The Warriors still have Curry, Draymond, now DLo, and still have Steve Kerr as the coach. While June is not a guarantee anymore, the Warriors will be around in May. The true ceiling this season depends on the health of the man with the dog named Rocco.
9. Boston Celtics (49-33, 4th in East)
The Boston Celtics let one problem go … and traded another away. Out goes Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier, and in comes Kemba Walker. The Celtics won 49 games last season, despite all the turmoil throughout the entire season. Adding a player like Kemba Walker to Brad Stevens’ offense projects itself to be a seamless transition and ideally, Jayson Tatum can regain him 2018 playoff form (now that Kyrie is gone). Now that Kemba is on board, the Celtics have enough fire power to compete for home-court advantage in the first round, but it doesn’t automatically make them the best team in the East.
8. Portland Trailblazers (53-29, 3rd in West)
The Blazers had a great season last year. They won 53 games and made it to the Western Conference Finals, even if they did get swept by the Warriors (don’t have to worry about that anymore). The NBA is in full duo mode now and the Blazers still have Dame and CJ as their duo, but the West is much deeper than it was one year ago. The Blazers are a deep, well coached team, that has two star players that can take (and make) clutch shots, repeatedly. The Blazers will be tested this year, without question, but they should feast on the weaker opponents to keep their win total above 50.
7. Utah Jazz (50-32, 5th in West)
The Jazz are one of the teams that I am very high on going into this season. The addition of Mike Conley will provide stability and leadership from the PG position and will allow Donovan Mitchell to play more off-ball. Quin Snyder is a creative and clever coach, so I imagine Mitchell will be used in many different ways this year. The Jazz also signed sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic from the Pacers, so the floor will be spaces for Mitchell and Conley to do their things. I feel the Jazz are a lock for the playoffs, which isn’t saying much, but I feel their ceiling is the top seed. Now, a lot has to happen in order for them to get the top spot, but they have all of the pieces needed.
6. Denver Nuggets (54-28, 2nd in West)
The Nuggets were fighting with the Warriors for the top spot in the West for most of last season and Nikola Jokic was in MVP talks, so why can’t they do it again … right? The Nuggets are bringing everyone back for the fold this year, including a very-wealthy Jamaal Murray, fresh off a new contract extension. As mentioned before, the West is much deeper than it was last year, so while 54 wins may not seem like a lot now, that number will be tougher to get to as West teams beat themselves up. Still, the Nuggets have a solid coach in Mike Malone, a superstar in Jokic, a borderline All-Star in Murray, and a super deep, hungry team that is fully healthy. This Nuggets group got a taste of the postseason last year, but it will take more than that this year to get to the WCF and beyond.
5. Houston Rockets (53-29, 4th in West)
The Rockets made HUGE waves in the off-season, trading away CP3 for Russell Westbrook, paving the way for Westbrook and James Harden to play together again. The Rockets struggled out of the gate last year, but finished with a flurry and won 53 games, losing to the Warriors in the playoffs. This team got to the West-Semi’s, despite their two best players not getting along (don’t let the State Farm commercials fool you!), so imagine what this team can do now. Sure, CP3 is a better shooter than Westbrook, but Russ is a freight train that doesn’t slow down, which will make James Harden’s job easier. Rockets GM Daryl Morey went all in on a title run with James Harden, which is exactly what you want your GM to do if you have a MVP-level talent on the roster.
4. Philadelphia 76ers (51-31, 3rd in East)
The Philadelphia 76ers were one shot away from beating the Raptors in the East Semi’s, or at the very least, they were one shot away from getting to OT, so they are not that far way. Jimmy Butler decided to say ‘peace out’ but the 76ers were able to work out a sign-and-trade with the Heat, getting back Josh Richardson in return. Richardson isn’t the shooter or play-maker that Butler is, but he is one hell of an athlete and can outright play some defense. The 76ers still have All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, with Simmons fresh off a fat contract extension, and the newly resigned Tobias Harris. Losing JJ Redick’s shooting is tough, but this team is as talented as any roster in the NBA, but it will come down to two things: Ben Simmons ability to take over games, and Joel Embiid’s endurance. If both hold up, the 76ers will find themselves deep in the 2019 playoffs.
Category 1: The Vegas Favorites
3. Milwaukee Bucks (60-22, 1st in East)
The Bucks had the best record in the league last season and were the only team to reach the 60-win plateau. They have the league’s reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning NBA coach of the year, and they are essentially bringing everyone back. The Bucks are the team that obviously benefits the most from Kawhi’s departure to the West, as they are the early favorites to finish atop the conference. The Bucks re-signed All-Star Khris Middleton to a crazy-expensive deal, brought back Brook Lopez (and his brother), signed shooter Wes Matthews, and even signed Giannis’ brother, Thanasis Anteteokounmpo. At this point, we all NEED to see Giannis play in an NBA Finals …. and there is no better time than right now.
2. Los Angeles Clippers (48-34, 7th in West)
The Clippers revamped their entire franchise around in one night, going from a team that could push a team in the second round, to a team that is competing for an NBA title. The Clippers swayed Kawhi Leonard to come play in Staples Center in Los Angeles, just not with the Lakers, and also got Paul George from OKC. The Clippers surprised a lot of people last season with their play, pushing the Warriors to six games. The same team is back again, this time with PG and Kawhi. The Clippers will be a force defensively. The length of Kawhi, PG, Pat Bev & Harrell will be tough to overcome for many teams. PG’s durability has to be questioned a little bit, but even if he’s injured, Kawhi can still get it done solo. Board man got paid indeed, but the clock is ticking on the Clippers to show Kawhi that this is the long-term solution for his career. The Clippers will battle for the top spot in the West for most of the year I imagine, but Kawhi is known for taking games off for rest, so they might not get the best record in the league. Nonetheless, the Clippers are a title contender for the first time in a very, very, very long time.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (37-45, 10th in West)
This summer, the Lakers did what the Lakers have done for decades, acquire a superstar. The Lakers punted away the young-core, minus Kuzma, in exchange for former-Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis. Despite what you say about Rob Pelinka (and the departed/not-so-departed Magic Johnson), the Lakers now have LeBron James & Anthony Davis on the same team for at least one season, though all indications are that AD sticks around long term. The pairing of a 26-year old Anthony Davis and LeBron James, who’s at the end of his prime, puts the Lakers on top, just barely. The Lakers are depending on a healthy Lebron season and he has defied logic and reason with his performance, so there is no reason not to suspect any decline … especially now that AD can shoulder the load. The Lakers added shooting this season, depth, and took a flier on Boogie Cousins, a player I have always rooted for. I think Vogel is a fine coach, but I am curious to see the dynamic in the locker room. The West will be tough and it’s as deep as it’s ever been, but if I were to pick two players to go to battle with in 2019/20, I’d chose Anthony Davis & LeBron James.
Thanks for reading! Please comment or hit me up on Twitter if you agree, disagree, or think I have no idea what I’m talking about. -Brandon