The 2020-21 NBA season is upon us, with training camps opening on Dec. 2 (IST).
With the greater majority of offseason moves behind us after a whirlwind few weeks that included the NBA Draft, free agency and a number of trades, which teams improved and which teams regressed?
In the first Power Rankings since the end of the 2019-20 season, take a look at where teams stand heading into the new NBA year.
All projected win totals are via ActionNetwork (Nov. 30). Remember, records are based off of a 72-game season.
10. Golden State Warriors
2019-20 record: 15-50, 15th in Western Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 39-33
After an entire season of waiting for Klay Thompson to rehab his torn left ACL from the 2019 NBA Finals, the Warriors were dealt terrible news as Thompson is now expected to miss all of the 2020-21 season with a torn right Achilles. Thompson has already had successful surgery to repair his Achilles and is expected to make a full recovery, but Golden State will be without its All-Star guard yet again this season.
In an effort to replace Thompson's production, the Warriors traded for Kelly Oubre Jr. to fill out their starting lineup. Along with James Wiseman, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, Golden State has re-tooled its roster a bit to remain competitive should two-time MVP Stephen Curry stay healthy.
Curry only played in five games last season due to a variety of injuries but the star guard is expected to return to full health this upcoming season. As long as Curry's on the court, you can expect the Warriors to return to being one of the best teams in the league.
9. Dallas Mavericks
2019-20 record: 43-32, 7th in Western Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 42-30
The Mavericks had an early exit in the 2020 NBA Playoffs but not before superstar guard Luka Doncic put the world on notice in his first postseason appearance.
Averaging 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game with a pair of 40-point outings (including one in a triple-double effort capped off by a game-winner), Doncic made his presence felt before Dallas was eliminated. After taking a giant leap from Rookie of the Year in Year 1 to an All-Star starter and All-NBA First Team player in Year 2, Doncic is set to make a run for the league's Most Valuable Player this upcoming season.
Although the Mavericks will have to begin the year without star forward Kristaps Porzingis, who is still rehabbing a torn meniscus suffered in the playoffs, they have added a handful of new pieces highlighted by Josh Richardson that should help them stay afloat until the roster gets back to full strength. Dallas should be one of the deepest rosters in the NBA once Porzingis and starting centre Dwight Powell (torn Achilles) can get back on the floor.
8. Portland Trail Blazers
2019-20 record: 35-39, 8th in Western Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 41-31
The Trail Blazers were bit by the injury bug last season and their record took a hit because of it. As they began to slowly but surely return to full strength over the NBA's hiatus, we saw them make their push toward the playoffs once play resumed, even taking the first game of the series off of the eventual-champion Lakers.
Falling out of the postseason in five games, Portland's upper management knew it had to get All-NBA guard Damian Lillard some help and it did just that as the Blazers had one of the most successful offseasons of any team.
Trading for 3-and-D forward Robert Covington and reserve centre Enes Kanter along with re-signing Carmelo Anthony and Rodney Hood and additions of versatile players in Derrick Jones Jr. and Harry Giles in free agency gives four quality pieces to go with a core of Lillard, CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Trent Jr. and Zach Collins.
This Portland roster is beginning to look much like the team that went to the Western Conference Finals in 2019 and they should be among the best in the NBA this upcoming season.
7. Denver Nuggets
2019-20 record: 46-27, 3rd in Western Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 44-28
The Nuggets made history during their improbable run to the 2020 Western Conference Finals, coming back from down 3-1 in consecutive series to beat the Jazz and Clippers.
The hot stretch not only solidified Nikola Jokic's place as the best centre in the NBA but also saw Jamal Murray blossom into superstardom with a handful of downright ridiculous playoff performances. Averaging 26.5 points, 6.6 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 50.5% from the field and 45.3% from 3, Murray turned into the Human Torch en route to two 50-point games and two 40-point games, leading the entire playoffs in scoring at the time Denver was bounced by the Lakers.
The Nuggets will need Murray to keep that same energy in the 2020-21 season after losing a few key rotation players such as Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Torrey Craig in free agency although they did add JaMychal Green and an overseas star in Facundo Campazzo along with first-year players Zeke Nnaji and RJ Hampton to help replenish their depth.
With the tandem of Jokic and Murray, as well as the hopes of young forward Michael Porter Jr. taking another step forward in his progression, Denver should have no trouble returning to the near-top of the West.
6. Boston Celtics
2019-20 record: 48-24, 3rd in Eastern Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 46-26
The Celtics fell short in the Conference Finals for the third time in four seasons but they'll be back to make a push for the best team in the East this year.
Jayson Tatum was rewarded for his first All-Star and All-NBA nods of his career, earning a $195 million max contract extension following a breakout season. In averaging over 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block per game in the playoffs, Tatum joined a shortlist of only LeBron James and Larry Bird to achieve said feat while bringing a team to the Conference Finals (or beyond). With Jaylen Brown also coming off of a career-year, entering the first year of his four-year contract extension, Boston has its franchise cornerstones locked up for the future as it looks to break through that wall to reach the NBA Finals.
The Celtics may have lost Gordon Hayward to the Hornets, but the deal has turned into a sign-and-trade that created the largest trade exception in league history, meaning Boston's roster could still improve at some point this season.
They also added key pieces in veterans Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague, with Thompson filling an immediate need for some physical frontcourt depth. With All-Star guard Kemba Walker needing until after the New Year to fully heal a nagging knee injury that has lingered over from last season, the Teague signing becomes much more important, too.
Finding answers to a handful of needs this offseason, the Celtics will surely be in pursuit of their first NBA title since 2008 this upcoming season.
5. Miami Heat
2019-20 record: 44-29, 5th in Eastern Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 43-29
The Heat made an unexpected push to the NBA Finals last season and even gave the Lakers a run for their money despite injuries to All-Star centre Bam Adebayo and starting guard Goran Dragic.
Jimmy Butler was incredible during the playoff run and took his game to another level in The Finals, averaging 26.2 points, 9.8 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game as he solidified himself as one of the best players in the league today. Adebayo was equally as impressive prior to suffering the various ailments that hindered his Finals performance, averaging 17.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for the playoffs to cap off a breakout season.
Speaking of breakouts, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson proved their value as key rotation players during the postseason and look to make an even bigger impact in 2020-21. Although the Heat lost Jae Crowder (Suns) and Derrick Jones Jr. (Blazers) in free agency, they added Avery Bradley and Moe Harkless, as well as a solid rookie in Precious Achiuwa to help this team stay in title contention.
While their ceiling as a championship team relies on Butler and Adebayo replicating what they did last postseason, Miami's roster is deep enough to assure that they'll remain toward the top of the East.
4. LA Clippers
2019-20 record: 49-23, 2nd in Western Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 47-25
The Clippers were a hard team to place in these rankings after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets, falling well short of their aspirations in the first year with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Leonard was a monster in the playoffs, averaging 28.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.3 steals per game, but there wasn't much consistent help outside of his production. George had his moments but couldn't continuously string together big games. The typically unstoppable bench tandem of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell disappeared in the playoffs, and now Harrell has made his way to the dark side, signing with the Lakers in free agency.
The Clippers filled that void with a player that's as solid as they come in Serge Ibaka, and his playoff experience and veteran savviness may be exactly what the locker room needs to achieve their goals. While ironing out internal differences is equally as important as the talent on the roster, adding another quality rotation player in Luke Kennard along with a new head coach in Tyronn Lue, the Clippers should once again be a threat to win the West and make a run at the first title in franchise history.
3. Brooklyn Nets
2019-20 record: 35-37, 7th in Eastern Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 45-27
It may seem like an overrating placing the Nets at No. 3 without seeing the form of either of their recovering superstars, but when you look at the talent on the roster, there's no question Brooklyn is one of the top teams in the league.
Yes, we've seen an overly-talented team go sideways with Kyrie Irving at the helm but when you add Kevin Durant into that mix - a player that was receiving consideration as the best in the league prior to his Achilles injury in the 2019 NBA Playoffs - it looks a lot harder to fail as long as he's close to full strength. Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen add to the team's depth and they've made a few impactful acquisitions this offseason in Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet and Jeff Green, giving new head coach Steve Nash plenty to work with.
We've waited a full season to see what KD and Kyrie might look like together on the court and if it goes as planned, they'll rival LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the most unstoppable tandem in the league.
While there's always the risk of things not working out in the first season with a new roster (see: LA Clippers last year), Brooklyn gets placed here under the assumption that they'll live up to the hype heading into the 2020-21 season.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
2019-20 record: 56-17, 1st in Eastern Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 49-23
In the second consecutive season finishing with the best record in the NBA with no title to show for it, the Bucks still land at No. 2 in the preseason Power Rankings for one reason: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The reigning two-time MVP may have hit a wall in the playoffs again but his talents alone will surely have Milwaukee in one of the top spots in the Eastern Conference yet again. Around him there are still a lot of familiar faces like All-Star Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo, but the Bucks roster has seen some turnover this offseason.
Trading Eric Bledsoe and George Hill returned one of the best two-way guards in the league in Jrue Holiday, who should fit in perfectly with Milwaukee. They also lost rotation players from last season in Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, Kyle Korver and Marvin Williams but have replaced those spots with DJ Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Bobby Portis and Nik Stauskas.
With some new energy in the locker room, it could take the Bucks a bit to look like their dominant selves again, but there's no doubt they'll be a top title contender once the new pieces settle in.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
2019-20 record: 52-19, 1st in Western Conference
Projected 2020-21 record: 48-24
This was an easy choice as the 2020 NBA champions have only gotten better since the time they hoisted the Larry O'Brien trophy in Orlando.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis clearly aren't slowing down any time soon and although they lost a handful of players like Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Danny Green, Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee from their title-winning roster, the Lakers had no trouble replenishing that talent.
Trading for a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in Dennis Schroder was a great start, as was adding a 3-and-D veteran in Wesley Matthews. Then, they shocked the NBA world by signing reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell to help their frontcourt but Los Angeles wasn't done yet, signing an NBA champion in Marc Gasol.
Adding Schroder, Matthews, Harrell and Gasol to a rotation that just won the title should have the rest of the league trembling as we head into the 2020-21 season.
The rest of the NBA
11. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have revamped their roster to surround All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with shooters like Danny Green, Seth Curry and first-round pick Tyrese Maxey to give the team a new look heading into this season. But after failing to reach the high expectations Philly faced last season, they fall outside of the top-10.
12. Houston Rockets
With all the turmoil the Rockets have faced this offseason surrounding the unhappiness of star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Houston lands at No. 12. The reason they still rank this high is that we've seen for eight seasons now that if Harden is on the roster the Rockets will be a playoff team, holding the longest active playoff streak in the league since acquiring the three-time scoring champ.
13. Utah Jazz
Although the Jazz let a 3-1 lead slip away in the first round of the playoffs, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert each had encouraging postseasons to carry into the 2020-21 season. Utah was also missing scoring forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who missed the entire league restart with a wrist injury. With the team back at full strength, re-signing Jordan Clarkson and adding Derrick Favors back into the mix after one season in New Orleans, the Jazz will be one of the toughest teams in the West.
14. Phoenix Suns
Despite going 8-0 in the bubble, the Suns still just missed out on the playoffs after digging themselves too deep of a hole prior to the league's restart. The team showed enough promise for the front office to make a move to try and snap their playoff drought, trading to get future Hall of Famer Chris Paul to pair in the backcourt with All-Star Devin Booker. Adding another key piece like Jae Crowder to go with a core headlined by Deandre Ayton makes Phoenix the most intriguing team heading into the new season.
15. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are used to being overlooked - that's when they're at their best. Re-signing Fred VanVleet was a huge step in the right direction but losing their centre rotation of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka leaves a huge void to be filled by players like Aron Baynes, Chris Boucher and Alex Len. With a core of VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, though, there is no doubt Toronto will remain a playoff team in the East.
16. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers lost All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis at the worst possible time last season, suffering a foot injury just after teams entered the bubble. He'd go on to miss the rest of the restart and playoffs as Indiana was eliminated in four games to the Eastern Conference champion-Heat. The Pacers core is still intact but the East is getting more competitive, and top-heavy, each and every year. Will Indiana be able to keep up with the best teams in the conference?
17. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies just missed out on the playoffs last season, falling to the Trail Blazers in the first-ever NBA Play-In game. Rookie of the Year Ja Morant is going to have to replicate his successful first season in the league if Memphis is going to keep up with the loaded Western Conference.
18. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have been one of the most active teams this offseason, making an effort to get back into playoff contention. They've given All-Star Trae Young his most talented roster yet, adding Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Rajon Rondo, among others, to try and snap a three-year playoff drought. Atlanta will be an interesting team to follow along with as they try and separate themselves from the bottom of the East.
19. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans seemed like a sleeper playoff team ahead of last season but when Zion Williamson was only able to play limited minutes in 24 games his rookie season, the team's hopes were derailed pretty quickly. After trading for Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams to go with the young core of Williamson, reigning Most Improved Player of the Year Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, New Orleans should be knocking on the door of the playoffs once again this season.
20. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets had their busiest offseason in quite some time, drafting an exciting, potential franchise player in LaMelo Ball with the No. 3 pick and signing Gordon Hayward in free agency. With pieces like Terry Rozier, Devonte' Graham, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington already in place, Charlotte has an opportunity to fight for one of the bottom seeds in the East.
21. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs saw their 22-year playoff streak come to an end last season and it was a very quiet offseason in San Antonio. They added a shooter in Devin Vassell in the draft, but will that be enough help for DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge to bring this team back to the playoffs?
22. Orlando Magic
The Magic have made the playoffs two years in a row now but have been bounced in the first round in each appearance. Losing Jonathan Isaac for the 2020-21 season after tearing his ACL in the bubble will hurt Orlando, but the rest of their core is still there to try and make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.
23. Washington Wizards
The return of John Wall makes the Wizards one of the biggest wild card teams in the East this upcoming season. Add to it that they drafted Israeli prospect Deni Avdija in the draft - a player whose potential is extremely high, should he reach his ceiling - and Bradley Beal's squad could make some noise to return to the playoffs.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder were the surprise team of the 2019-20 season, nearly eliminating the Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. But with 16 first-round picks over the next six NBA Drafts, Oklahoma City has finally entered its anticipated rebuild, trading Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams this offseason. They've acquired some useful assets like Al Horford, Trevor Ariza and George Hill, but I wouldn't expect a duplication of last year.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves
We didn't get to see much of the Timberwolves franchise cornerstones and best friends Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell paired together last season, as they traded for Russell at the deadline just before Towns suffered an injury, then the season came to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. That makes Minnesota among the most interesting teams this upcoming season, also adding No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards into the mix. The T'Wolves could find themselves in the hunt for a spot in the Play-In Tournament in the West.
26. Sacramento Kings
The Kings let a handful of rotation players walk in free agency but they still have their core of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley. Adding another talented guard in the draft in Tyrese Haliburton with the No. 12 pick, Sacramento continues to try and add young talent in hopes it'll one day flourish to a perennial playoff NBA team. Fox and the Kings couldn't overcome a slow start last season, playing catch up all year in trying to make a postseason push, so they'll have to get off to a better start this year if they want to make an impact.
27. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls come in low in these Power Rankings but could easily rise up under new head coach Billy Donovan, who is coming off of a Coach of the Year-calibre campaign in helping a young Thunder team reach the playoffs. The talent is getting there in Chicago, and they'll need No. 4 overall pick Patrick Williams to live up to his selection to fast-track the team's success. Surrounded by players like Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls have a chance to be a sleeper playoff team in the East.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers had a quiet offseason, only losing Tristan Thompson from their crowded frontcourt. They'll return their core of Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Kevin Love and Andre Drummond, among others, while adding No. 5 pick Isaac Okoro into the mix, giving Cleveland a much-needed boost on the defensive end. We saw Sexton turn the corner and raise his game to a different level prior to the regular season's hiatus last year - can he carry that momentum into this season to keep the Cavs competitive?
29. New York Knicks
The Knicks didn't make a lot of noise between the draft and free agency, which isn't a bad thing. They made a safe, yet solid pick in the draft in taking National Player of the Year Obi Toppin at No. 8 and quietly added some solid bench depth in guys like Austin Rivers, Nerlens Noel and Alec Burks. The focus in New York should be developing RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson and in the first season under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, maybe the Knicks can surprise some teams this season.
30. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons had the most confusing free agency period of any team, bringing in what appears to be a completely new roster core aside from Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Sekou Doumbouya and Svi Mykhailiuk. They've added the former Nuggets reserve frontcourt of Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, as well as other backups like Jahlil Okafor and Josh Jackson. They were active in the draft, landing three top-20 picks in Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, proving this team is thinking about the future, but things are going to need time to develop in Detroit.
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