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SR’s Way-Too-Early NBA Power Rankings

Despite the return to form of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors last season, the NBA remains extremely competitive heading into the 2022/23 season. There are perhaps a dozen teams with a legitimate shot at a deep run to the finals, though there are, of course, some clear favorites.

Which teams can we expect to be battling it out deep into the 2023 NBA playoffs? Which teams will hit rock bottom during the coming season? Let’s take a closer look in our way-to-early NBA Power Rankings:

Bottom Of The Barrell

30. Houston Rockets (2021/22 record: 20-62): The post-James Harden rebuild continues in Houston. While there is a light at the end of the tunnel, with key pieces such as Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., and Kevin Porter Jr., this team is still a year away from being four years away from being a legitimate threat in the league again.

29. San Antonio Spurs (2021/22 record: 34-48): In sending Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks, the Spurs have once again hit the reset button and have initiated a full-scale rebuild. The fact that Gregg Popovich is still on the sidelines keeps them out of last place on this list, and the young talent they do have (Keldon Johnson, Jacob Poeltl) should keep them in some games.

28. Indiana Pacers (2021/22 record: 25-57): The Pacers have a great coach in Rick Carlisle, and a few solid young building blocks in Tyrese Haliburton, Miles Turner, Buddy Hield, rookie Bennedict Mathurin, and Chris Duarte. However, they are still very much in the midst of a rebuild, and expectations will be very low in Indiana this year.

27. Detroit Pistons (2021/22 record: 23-59): While this will likely be another challenging season in the Motor City, there is no doubt that the Detroit Pistons are trending upward. They have a growing collection of solid young pieces led by Cade Cunningham, rookie Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart, and Saddiq Bey. The team has added some reliable veterans to flesh out the lineup, including Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Kemba Walker. Of the teams near the bottom of these NBA power rankings, Dwane Casey’s squad has the most potential to surprise some folks.

26. Oklahoma City Thunder (2021/22 record: 24-58): The Thunder added promising rookies Chet Holmgren, Jalen Williams, and Ousmane Dieng to a young core of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey, and Lu Dort. Like the Pistons, the Thunder are trending upward. They probably won’t win many games in 2022/23 but could be on the other side of another Sam Presti rebuild and back into relevancy within the next couple of seasons.

25. Orlando Magic (2021/22 record: 22-60): The Magic have continued stockpiling young talent and could find themselves fighting for a spot in the play-in tournament in 2022/23 if Jalen Suggs, Cole Anthony, and Franz Wagner all take a step forward and top overall pick Paolo Banchero can come in and contribute immediately.

24. Sacramento Kings (2021/22 record: 30-52): The Sacramento Kings have enough talent to take a solid step forward in 2022/23. De’Aaron Fox is a borderline All-Star talent, coming off a 2021/22 campaign that saw him average 23.2 points and 5.6 assists per game. Domantas Sabonis is a legitimate All-Star talent and one of the most talented bigs in the NBA. Harrison Barnes, Kevin Huerter, and Malik Monk are solid complimentary pieces, and first-round pick Keegan Murray should be ready to contribute right away. The Kings will improve on their 30-win performance last season, but still, likely have the ceiling of a play-in tournament or first-round playoff team at best.

23. Washington Wizards (2021/22 record: 35-47): The Wizards committed to their centerpiece Bradley Beal for the long term by giving him a five-year extension this summer. While it was well deserved for the team’s loyal superstar, it most likely keeps the Wizards trapped in familiar mediocrity for the foreseeable future. While there are some new faces in town, including former All-Star big Kristaps Porzingis, Beal’s supporting cast is still relatively weak. The Wizards will most likely be battling for a play-in tournament spot by season’s end.

22. Charlotte Hornets (2021/22 record: 43-39): The Charlotte Hornets have found their young centerpiece in LaMelo Ball, who was an All-Star selection in his sophomore season and averaged over 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 7.1 assists per game. Ball led the team to a winning record and a play-in tournament berth. However, Ball still has a lot of room to grow, and his supporting cast, led by injury-prone Gordon Hayward and decent support pieces like Terry Rozier and PJ Washington, doesn’t provide him with a true number-two option. The Hornets will likely have a similar end result in 2022/23.

21. Utah Jazz (2021/22 record: 49-33): The Jazz are blowing things up. Rudy Gobert was shipped to Minnesota and Donovan Mitchell is being shopped around the league. If Mitchell sticks around, he is a good enough player to keep the Jazz around the middle of the pack. If Mitchell is moved for picks and developmental pieces, the Jazz will be thrown into a full rebuild and may fall even lower on these NBA power rankings.

20. New York Knicks (2021/22 record: 37-45): The Knicks took a big step back in 2021/22, finishing with just 37 wins and missing the playoffs after a shockingly successful run the previous season behind Julius Randle’s breakout campaign. The Knicks’ backcourt experiment with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier was a disaster. Randle saw his numbers go down across the board and he became frustrated with Knicks coaching and management. The Knicks still have talent and could get back into playoff contention if R.J. Barrett can take the next step and become the team’s true number-one option and leader. That is far from a guarantee, however, and it is most likely that the Knicks are a mediocre team once again in 2022/23.

A Puncher’s Chance

19. Portland Trail Blazers (2021/22 record: 27-55): Damian Lillard is still one of the best scorers and point guards in the NBA. He is good enough to will this team back into playoff contention by himself. Unfortunately, he will probably need to if this team is to go anywhere in 2022/23. That’s not to say they don’t have some talent. Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic are all good players, but none of them are true number-two options behind Lillard at this point. I would expect the Blazers to return to playoff contention, but they are not a serious threat.

18. Cleveland Cavaliers (2021/22 record: 44-38): The Cavaliers are a team on the rise. They notched a winning season and a play-in tournament seed in 2020/21, and their young core of Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, Lauri Markkanen, and hopefully Collin Sexton (who remains unsigned at this point after an injury-shortened 2021/22 season) should only be better this season. The Cavaliers could find themselves surprising a lot of people in 2022/23.

17. Chicago Bulls (2021/22 record: 46-36): The Bulls got off to a hot start in 2021/22 behind a solid, veteran core of Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic, Demar DeRozan, and Zach Levine. The latter two were All-Star selections. Unfortunately, the team came back down to Earth down the stretch. The team finished with 46 wins and the sixth playoff seed in the East. The Bulls are a very good team, but not great, just like their four best players. Not unlike DeRozan’s Raptors teams from the previous decade, their ceiling is that of a second-round playoff team.

16. Brooklyn Nets (2021/22 record: 44-38): If the Nets make peace with Kevin Durant and run it back with their superstar, the Nets will be legitimate contenders. That is just how great a player Kevin Durant is. However, it looks more and more each day that the relationship between player and team is broken beyond repair, particularly after Shams Charania’s report that Durant issued team ownership an ultimatum (it’s either KD or the duo of head coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks staying in town). If Durant gets moved, regardless of the haul of players and picks that come back, the Nets will likely find themselves in the middle of the pack, at best.

15. Los Angeles Lakers (2021/22 record: 33-49): The Lakers are a tough team to evaluate. If Anthony Davis stays healthy, the duo of Davis and Lebron James alone makes the team more than good enough to get the Lakers back into the playoffs and at least into the second round. However, at 38 years old, Lebron can’t do it by himself. We saw last year that Russell Westbrook was a bad fit. It looks like the Lakers will have no choice but to run it back with the same big three, regardless. Best case scenario, Davis stays healthy and Westbrook adapts even slightly, and Lebron wills this team into a deep playoff run. Worst case scenario, the Lakers find themselves trapped in mediocrity once again.

14. Atlanta Hawks (2021/22 record: 43-39): The Hawks took a step back in 2021/22, sneaking into the play-in tournament after a 43-win season. Lest we forget Trae Young and company are just a year removed from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. This team is still very good and very young and could easily find themselves back in contention in the East this season.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves (2021/22 record: 46-36): The Timberwolves have a ton of talent on paper. Karl Anthony-Towns and Anthony Edwards are home-grown All Stars. D’Angelo Russell is a very good point guard and a borderline All Star in his own right. Coming off a 46-win season, Minnesota is hoping that former DPOTY Rudy Gobert will be the piece that puts Minnesota over the top. On paper, that is a heck of a starting five, perhaps the best in franchise history.

12. Toronto Raptors (2021/22 record: 48-34): The Toronto Raptors have assembled and developed a solid young core. Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are All-Star-level players. O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. are excellent two-way players on the wings. Scottie Barnes, last year’s NBA Rookie of the Year, showed a ton of potential in his first season. Can he become the superstar the team has been missing since Kawhi Leonard left town? If so, the Raptors could find themselves climbing up the ranks into contender status.

11. New Orleans Pelicans (2021/22 record: 36-46): The Pelicans were a relatively competitive team last season even without their best player and centerpiece Zion Williamson. The supporting cast, led by Brandon Ingram (who also missed time last season) and C.J. McCollum (who spent half the season in Portland) is very, very good. If Zion (who averaged 27.0 points per game when healthy in 2020) comes back in shape and mentally locked in, this team could make waves.

The Contenders

10. Dallas Mavericks (2021/22 record: 52-30): Luka Doncic is so good that it seems safe to assume he can elevate a still relatively soft supporting cast back to contender status in 2022/23. The addition of Christian Wood was a great pickup, and Spencer Dinwiddie seems to be an effective backcourt running mate. The Mavericks are dangerous.

9. Miami Heat (2021/22 record: 53-29): The Heat are extremely well-coached under Erik Spoelstra and have a championship culture. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are excellent players. Kyle Lowry has lost a step but is still a steady floor general. Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson are great shooters who can score in bunches. All of those factors make the Heat a very good team, but is it enough to make Miami legitimate contenders against teams with truly elite players like Giannis, Kawhi, and Steph Curry?

8. Denver Nuggets (2021/22 record: 48-34): The return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. to a lineup around MVP Nikola Jokic will put the Nuggets firmly back in the conversation for championship contenders. Jokic is an amazingly unique talent (27.1 points, 13.8 boards, and 7.9 assists per game last season) but he can’t do it alone. This year, he won’t have to.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (2021/22 record: 51-31): This team has a ton of talent. What will a full season of James Harden and Joel Embiid look like? Which James Harden will we see in 2022/23? If things come together, this team could be as good as any squad in the league.

6. Memphis Grizzlies (2021/22 record: 56-26): The 2021/22 season saw Ja Morant elevate his game to true superstar status. Morant is one of the most dynamic scorers in the league, and has the Grizzlies poised to become legitimate contenders for the chip.

5. Los Angeles Clippers (2021/22 record: 42-40): The pairing of a healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George once again make the Clippers one of the scariest teams in the league. If the superstar duo can stay on the court together, this could be the franchise’s best opportunity ever to win its first championship.

4. Milwaukee Bucks (2021/22 record: 51-31): Giannis Antetokounmpo is arguably the best player in basketball and could easily lead the Bucks back to the finals in 2022/23.

3. Boston Celtics (2021/22 record: 51-31): The Celtics are a well-balanced squad that plays great basketball on both ends of the floor. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the rest of head coach Ime Udoka’s squad are once again the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference and are still heavily involved in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes.

2. Phoenix Suns (2021/22 record: 64-18): Coming off a franchise record 64-win regular season, the Suns locked up Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker with long-term extensions and are poised to be the biggest threat to a Golden State championship repeat in 2022/23. Does a 37-year-old Chris Paul have enough left in the tank to lead this group to the promised land?

1. Golden State Warriors (2021/22 record: 53-29): The Warriors’ dynasty is alive and well, as Steph Curry, Steve Kerr, and company won their fourth NBA championship in the last eight seasons. They aren’t getting any younger, but the Warriors are, without question, still the team to beat in the NBA.



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