Updated: Jun 30, 2020
(Image via Central Florida Lifestyle)
The NBA season is set to resume July 30, and the collective of American sports fans are clamoring for some sort of return to normalcy in the form of professional sports. The resumed season will look vastly different, with all games taking place without fans at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports and only 22 teams taking part. The players will largely still be the same, however, as will be the goal of bringing home a ‘ship. As we anxiously await the end of July, these power rankings will provide a look into which teams I believe are most likely to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season. (Odds to win the championship are provided by Caesar’s Sportsbook)
1. Los Angeles Clippers (+325 to win championship)
The Clippers have the most depth, flexibility, and the clearest identity of all the teams vying for the title. Doc Rivers is an NBA championship coach, they have three 1st team all-defensive players, including two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard, and the league’s most exciting 6th man in “two girls and they get along like I’m” Lou Will. Kawhi has proven he can carry a team to a title, and he won’t have to given how loaded this team is. Montrezl Harrell comes of the bench for this team and is 18th in the league in PER (Player Efficiency Rating), ahead of teammate Paul George (#29 in PER). I think this team has a higher ceiling than any other in the league, and with PG and Kawhi able to play the 2-4 spots, they can play small or big depending on the matchup. Look out for the Clips in Orlando this summer.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (+180 to win championship)
Any conversation about the Lakers will immediately begin with LeBron, but its Anthony Davis who is ranked higher in PER than his superstar running mate (AD is 3rd, Lebron is 9th). I think AD will have to carry a large load for this team to win the Finals based on what top competitors like the Clippers and the Bucks have at SF to contain Lebron. While AD is a top 5 player in the league, he has limited playoff experience and hasn’t proven himself on that stage yet, which is why I have the Clippers as favorites over the Lakers. Another factor to consider is Avery Bradley’s absence. While his stats certainly don’t jump off the page, this is a 1st team all-defensive guy who brings an attitude to the team. JR Smith will certainly bring attitude as well, but it might not be the attitude the team wants or needs. All that said, a shirtless JR for an LA championship parade would be a sight to see.
3. Milwaukee Bucks (+240 to win championship)
As incredible as the Bucks have been this year--Giannis Antetokounmpo made the strong case for back-to-back MVP campaigns after leading them to the NBA best record--I still have reservations about this team’s ability to win it all. Most of those reservations revolve around Giannis lacking a real 2nd superstar to play with that the top 2 teams on this list have. Khris Middleton (Khris 🧐??) has certainly stepped up this year, but he’s not the caliber of player that Paul George or Anthony Davis is. This team also lost Malcom Brogdon from last year’s team, who was quietly one of the team’s most important pieces (he became the 8th player to join the elusive 50-40-90 club last year). While Giannis is close to unstoppable, the first 2 teams on this list have the defensive talent that should somewhat be able to limit him.
4. Philadelphia 76ers (+2500 to win championship)
(Image via NBC Sports Philadelphia)
While it may seem odd to rank the 6th best team in the East as the 4th best team in the league, this list is based on the chances that the team could win the title. No team came closer to knocking off the Raptors last year than the Sixers, and while they lost Jimmy Butler, they still boast one of the most formidable starting fives in the league. This team is built to cause matchup problems with anyone they play, with Ben Simmons running point and Joel Embiid dominating down low. Their depth is certainly a problem, but that might matter less with players being fresher coming off a 4-month break once the season resumes. This team could surprise a lot of people in Orlando.
5. Boston Celtics (+1500 to win championship)
(Image via Mary Schwalm/Assoicated Press)
Boston boasts one of the most balanced teams we’ve seen in recent memory. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are budding stars in the league, and Kemba has proven to be a much better fit with this roster than Kyrie was last year. The biggest area where I can see this team struggling is with post defense. Daniel Thies and Enes Kanter aren’t exactly lock down interior defenders, and with a potential 1st round matchup against Embiid and the Sixers, they could run into trouble.
6. Houston Rockets (+1200)
Again, this list is based on who has the best chances in my opinion to win the title. Houston has two legitimate superstars in Russ and Harden that will carry this team’s playoff hopes, but if they are both on their game, this team will be hard to stop. If the Rockets can move up to the 4 or 5 seed, they will likely avoid the Nuggets and a major mismatch for them in Nikola Jokic (more on him below), and have a better path through the playoffs. Their obvious deficiencies are on defense and on the interior, but their willingness to fully embrace small ball provides a unique matchup for any team. They’re also 15-11 versus teams above .500 this year, meaning they have what it takes to hang with playoff level teams. This team is swinging for the fences and could easily miss, but their ceiling is that much higher based on their choice to go all in.
7. Denver Nuggets (+2200)
This team is an anomaly for me. I watched them blow an 18 point lead in game 7 of last year’s Western Conference Semi’s against the Trail Blazers, which makes me question if they have the playoff chops needed to make a deep run. Jokic is an absolute boss and skinny Jokic could be even better (the drastic weight loss could be linked to Jokic's recent diagnosis of coronavirus, but I'm no doctor 🤷🏼♂️), but Jamaal Murray hasn’t become the #2 option that I or others hoped and still believe he could be. This team is very deep however, and has the talent to surprise some people in the playoffs.
8. Toronto Raptors (+1700)
(Image via SLAM)
It feels wrong to have the Raptors this low on the list with how unexpectedly dirty they’ve been this year, but the playoffs are a different beast than the regular season. The Raptors are a ridiculous 35-4 against teams under .500 this year, versus a mediocre 11-14 versus teams with a winning record this year. As much as I love Spicy P and as good of a coach as Nick Nurse is, this team doesn’t seem to have the makeup of a squad that can make a deep run.
9. Miami Heat (+4000)
(Image via Church Cook/USA Today)
The Heat have been one of the sneakiest teams in the league this year. With Pat Reilly running the franchise, you know they’re never going to tank, which is refreshing in a league where teams consistently seem to be trying to lose games. While Jimmy Butler will always be Jimmy buckets, and Bam Adebayo is a most improved player candidate, this roster really doesn’t excite you. The thing about this team is that they will not beat themselves. Without many true top teams in the East, I think Miami is a big sleeper that can make some noise in this year’s playoffs.
10. Dallas Mavericks (+3500)
(Image via Dallas Morning News)
While this team is likely a couple years away from becoming a serious contender, I’m sure no team will be looking forward to face the Mavs in this year’s playoffs. The Mavs have put together the most exciting young tandem in the game with Doncic and Porzingis, and this team will certainly feel like anything they do in this year’s playoffs is a bonus to a really strong season where they proved these two guys can play together very effectively. Granted, this team likely won’t make it out of the first round, but they have a much higher ceiling than teams above them on the standings.
11. Indiana Pacers (+12500)
Indiana is one of the most balanced teams in the league, with seven players averaging double figures and no one averaging over 20 PPG. This is another team that’s probably a couple years away from reaching its potential, with its top 8 scorers all being 28 or younger. This team has done very well with Vic Oladipo out most of the year and could sneak up on some teams if they’re not respected, but the fire power doesn’t seem to be there for a deep run.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (+6000)
The Thunder have definitely been a lot better than people expected this year. Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have formed a strong starting backcourt, and Dennis Schroder is a legitimate 6th man of the year candidate. My beef with this team, like the Raptors, is that they beat the teams they’re supposed to and lose to the teams they’re worse than. A 9-17 record against te