2021 NBA Power Rankings (12/21/20)

The 2020-21 NBA season starts tomorrow! Hurray! It hasn’t even been that long since we last had basketball, but it feels like a long time. I’m going to be watching basketball all week (The Christmas day games will definitely be playing while we are at my Grandma’s). So these are my preseason power rankings. I took a few things into consideration: talent of roster (of course), predicted team success (these aren’t just regular season power rankings, they include playoffs too. A team that I think will do better in the playoffs will be higher than a team I think will do better in the regular season), previous season success (if a team’s roster didn’t change much, I considered how they looked last year. This doesn’t have much weight though), and what conference the team is in (it’s still easier to win games in the East, even though the East improved). So yeah. Here are my 2021 NBA power rankings!

1: Los Angeles Lakers (1st in West)

Potential Starters: Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol

The Lakers won a championship in 2020. Now they’ve improved. The best team in the league got better. The Lakers seem like a lock to be the best team in the league for 2021 (though that doesn’t mean they’ll win the championship again). LA’s roster is one of the most talented in the league, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis at the helm. Even if LeBron has a relaxed regular season, Anthony Davis will take over every game he plays (and be the number one option during the regular season). Dennis Schroder, KCP, and Marc Gasol are great fits for the starting lineup. Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, Alex Caruso, and Wesley Matthews is one of the best benches in the league. The Lakers are in a perfect position to repeat as champions, and that puts them at number one in my power rankings.

2: Brooklyn Nets (2nd in East)

Potential Starters: Kyrie Irving, Caris Levert, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, Jarrett Allen

This is an example of a team I think is built for the playoffs. The Nets won’t be too worried about winning games in the regular season. But they will still win a lot of games. Even with one of Kyrie or KD out, a team of Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, is still capable of winning games. The Nets are looking really good.They are my favorites to make the finals in the East (sorry Bucks). Steve Nash is a first year coach, but Mike D’Antoni as an assistant will help him learn the ropes. The Nets only problem looked to be depth beyond their top seven, but the additions of Bruce Brown, Jeff Green, Landry Shamet as well as the returns of Tyler Johnson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will make them one of the deepest teams in the entire NBA. The only thing that could hold the Nets back next year is injuries.

3: Milwaukee Bucks (1st in East)

Potential Starters: Jrue Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

The Bucks did it. They got Giannis to resign. Now, they can focus on just winning. The Bucks have been a top regular season team for the last few years, and that will happen again. Jrue Holiday was a really good pickup to make them better. I think the Bucks depth improved by getting a whole new bench. The only thing the Bucks need to do now is make a deep playoff run. They’re geared to do it, and they matched up pretty well against the other top teams in the league. Now that Giannis has resigned, the Bucks are set for a competitive next 6+ years, and 2021 will be the first year of that.

4: Los Angeles Clippers (3rd in West)

Potential Starters: Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris Sr., Serge Ibaka

Last season, the Clippers were supposed to be a team that was built for the playoffs. They proved everyone wrong by blowing a 3-1 lead against the Nuggets. LA tried to improve this offseason. Serge Ibaka will be a better fit than Montrezl Harrell. They traded for Luke Kennard and gave him an extension worth $16 mil a year to only shoot. Kennard is one of the worst defenders in the NBA, which isn’t good for a defense based team. But I’m not really a fan of the Clippers roster behind Kawhi, PG13, and Serge Ibaka. Patrick Beverley isn’t very good. He’s a scrappy defender with an ok three-pointer, but he’s not even close to being a guy who can start at point guard for a championship team. Lou Williams is a great scorer, but they need to find a more balanced guy to be a 6th man (that’s why LAC wanted Rondo). Marcus Morris can score, but he got overpaid a little this offseason. The Clippers will still be capable of making a deep playoff run, but don’t be surprised if they get knocked out early by a team like Denver or Dallas.

5: Boston Celtics (3rd in East)

Potential Starters: Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Daniel Theis

Tatum and JB are a top young duo in the NBA. This is their year to shine as Boston attempts to return to the conference finals (and go further). What’s holding back Boston for me is Kemba Walker. He’s a great scorer and an unselfish teammate, but I think that this year he takes a step back. His knees are a problem. Boston needs him to at least average 18 PPG and 6 APG, as well as step up in the playoffs, if they want to reach their full potential. But Boston will be a top offensive and defensive team this year, as well as the 3rd seed in the East once again.

6: Miami Heat (4th in East) 

Potential Starters: Goran Dragic, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Kelly Olynyk, Bam Adebayo

The Heat had a surprisingly good 2020 season. Jimmy Butler is the perfect leader, and he turned a young Heat team into a contender. They will contend again this year with Jimmy, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, as well as a strong core of young players (Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn, Precious Achiuwa) and role players (Andre Iguodala, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Mo Harkless). Miami will be a top defensive team in the NBA again (Jimmy is a top five defender in the NBA, Bam Adebayo is the Giannis stopper). What would really push them to the favorites in the East would be bigger jumps from Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro.

7: Denver Nuggets (2nd in West)

Potential Starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokic

Jokic and Jamal Murray are another top young duo in the league. The Nuggets have been a great regular season team for the last few years, and will be again (hence why I have them being the 2 seed in the West). But after last year, they have shown they can also be a strong playoff contender as well. Jokic is the best center in the NBA, Jamal Murray can be a top thirty player this year, Michael Porter Jr. is looking to have an MIP type season, and the Nuggets group of role players is one of the best in the NBA (Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, JaMychal Green). The Nuggets will be a top team again in 2021.

8: Toronto Raptors (5th in East)

Potential Starters: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Aron Baynes

The Raptors are another team that has been great in the regular season during the last few seasons. This year, they will take a step back record wise. Toronto’s roster just isn’t built for the playoffs. They don’t have a player who can be the number one guy. Siakam choked in the 2020 playoffs. This team roster-wise could put them lower on these power rankings, but the Raptors are always a team with lots of chemistry who win a lot of games. I think OG will take a big jump this year. Hopefully Siakam won’t suck in the playoffs again. Cause if he does, then the Raptors could be facing a first round exit this year.

9: Dallas Mavericks (4th in West)

Potential Starters: Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson, Kristaps Porzingis, Dwight Powell

Welcome to the Luka show. If Luka Doncic wasn’t my MVP favorite this year, the Mavs would be lower on this ranking. Their roster works because of Luka. Kristaps likely won’t be the second best player on a championship team during his career, but there’s still a chance he can do it behind Luka. The role players around Luka are also really good. The Mavericks have a super deep roster, and with Luka at the helm, they will be a top five seed in the West looking to make a deep playoff run early in Luka’s career.

10: Philadelphia 76ers (6th in East)

Potential Starters: Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid

Philly’s success this season rides on Ben Simmons. Philly retooled their roster and added spacing. Trading Al Horford means that Tobias can slide back to his natural four spot. Joel Embiid is as good as he’ll ever be. It all depends on how well Ben can play. Can he become a top five point guard? Will he add a jump shot? We’ll see. But I think Joel Embiid won’t ever be the number one guy on a championship team (he’d be a perfect sidekick), so Ben Simmons will have to be the best guy. But I don’t think this is Philly’s year, and they’ll probably face another first round exit in 2021.

11: Portland Trail Blazers (5th in West)

Potential Starters: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Rodney Hood, Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic

Portland’s offseason was really good. The Blazer’s front office got a really good deep team around Dame. Robert Covington was a huge pickup for improving Portland’s defense. Bringing back Melo was good. Derrick Jones Jr, Enes Kanter, and Harry Giles are good bench pieces. This will be Portland’s most competitive team in a while. They will have a good regular season, and look to have a deep playoff run in 2021.

12: Golden State Warriors (6th in West)

Potential Starters: Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., Draymond Green, James Wiseman

The Klay Thompson reinjury is very unfortunate for Golden State. Wiggins and Oubre can match Klay’s production, but not his value. Luckily for the Warriors, Stephen Curry is really good. We know that. James Wiseman is a perfect fit for the Warriors. Draymond Green is still an excellent glue guy. The Warriors could have been a lot better this season if Klay didn’t get injured. But they fall here, as a team that no one will want to play in the first round.

13: Phoenix Suns (7th in West)

Potential Starters: Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton

After an 8-0 record in the bubble, Phoenix realized that now is the time to start competing. The Chris Paul trade reflects that. CP3 is the leader Phoenix needs. Devin Booker is on his way to superstardom, and will be the bucket getter that he always is, just now for a winning team. Ayton will have an MIP type year and will be a great third best player for Phoenix. Along with the collection of good young guys and solid role players that Phoenix has, their top three will lead them to a playoff appearance in 2021.

14: Atlanta Hawks (7th in East)

Potential Starters: Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins, Clint Capela

Atlanta is another 2020 lottery team who made moves to become competitive in the 2020 offseason. And those moves were good. The Hawks now have a super deep rotation. The Hawks won’t immediately be a contender, because they have a lot of young players that are still growing (Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Onyeka Okongwu, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter). But ATL is still looking good this season, and should clinch a playoff berth in 2021.

15: Utah Jazz (8th in West)

Potential Starters: Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert

Utah’s downfall for the 2021 season is that they simply didn’t improve. Utah has a solid roster. Donovan Mitchell is a top shooting guard, and has been the best player on a playoff team before in his young career. Bojan Bogdanovic brings the secondary scoring. Rudy Gobert is the defensive anchor. The Jazz are a solid team who can win games. They just aren’t good enough to be anywhere higher than the 8 seed for this season.

16: Washington Wizards (8th in East)

Potential Starters: Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal, Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant

The John Wall-Russell Westbrook trade makes the Wizards a playoff team in the East. The backcourt of Russ and Beal alone is good enough to make the playoffs as a bottom seed. But they also have a bunch of solid young players in Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant, Deni Avdija, Troy Brown, and Mo Wagner who are already good enough to be role players for a playoff team, but if they make jumps that would be even better for Washington. The Wizards have a solid future and a solid now, and they will finish as a playoff team in the East this year.

17: Indiana Pacers (9th in East)

Potential Starters: Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner

Just like the Jazz, the Pacers didn’t improve. The Pacers do have a really good starting lineup, but they don’t have a guy who can lead them to the playoffs again over the improving bottom teams in the East. The Pacers only hope is if Victor Oladipo can return to All-NBA level. I don’t think he’ll do that, and the Pacers will slide to mediocracy by missing the playoffs in 2021. 

18: New Orleans Pelicans (9th in West)

Potential Starters: Lonzo Ball, J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

The Pelicans starting lineup looks really solid. The Pelicans are just too young and inexperienced to make the playoffs. Brandon Ingram is really good, and Zion Williamson will look to show that he can produce in a full season (if he even stays healthy for a full season). But the New Orleans Pelicans have no one to replace Jrue Holiday as the guy who can be a leader on both ends, and they will feel that loss while trying to compete this year.

19: Houston Rockets (10th in West)

Potential Starters: John Wall, James Harden, Danuel House, Christian Wood, DeMarcus Cousins

The Rockets missing the playoffs? What? Well, I made this pick assuming James Harden won’t be on the Rockets for too much longer. Otherwise, this team would be in top 10 contention. John Wall will still be a really good point guard. Christain Wood is a young guy who is looking to replicate his production from last year, just in more games. DeMarcus Cousins will be a solid center. It all depends on who the Rockets get back for Harden if they win more games than this. The 10th seed is still good enough for the Houston Rockets to crack the play in tournament.

20: Memphis Grizzlies (11th in West)

Potential Starters: Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas

The Grizzlies almost made the playoffs last year. This year they’ll be further away from making it. The Grizzlies improvement will come from young guys getting better, but no roster improvement is what does it. The Grizzlies have a very bright future behind Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson, and Brandon Clarke, but this season they will fail in trying to replicate the borderline playoff year they had in 2020.

21: Orlando Magic (10th in East)

Potential Starters: Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier, James Ennis, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic

The Magic have been mediocre for the last few years. They only made the playoffs because they are in the East. Their roster is ok, as Nikola Vucevic is an All-Star type center, but they don’t have any actual perennial All-Stars. Jonathan Isaac getting injured really blows for the Magic. They will still crack the play-in tournament, but the Magic will be in the lottery this year.

22: Minnesota Timberwolves (12th in West)

Potential Starters: D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Anthony Edwards, Juan Hernangomez, Karl-Anthony Towns

The Timberwolves are trying to be competitive, and the D’Lo and Beasley trades last season reflected that. The problem is that the Timberwolves roster isn’t actually isn’t good enough to do it. KAT is a top three center, D’Lo is a top ten point guard, Ricky Rubio is a top playmaker, and Malik Beasley is a good two-way guard, but after that the roster falls off to a bunch of young dudes with mixed potentials who need to really improve if Minnesota wants to compete for a spot in the playoff tournaments. 

23: Chicago Bulls (11th in East)

Potential Starters: Coby White, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. 

The Bulls have boom-or-bust potential this season. They have four young guys in their starting lineup that are primed for good seasons. But all four would have to do it for the Bulls to be competitive. Zach LaVine is a top thirty player, and he will carry the Bulls offense again if Lauri Markkanen and Coby White don’t step up. The Bulls could be a playoff team in the next few years, but for now they fall down here.

24: Charlotte Hornets (12th in East)

Potential Starters: Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington, Cody Zeller

The Hornets could be surprisingly decent this year. Their roster looks ok. Their young core is pretty good, with Graham, Washington, Miles Bridges, and LaMelo Ball all having great upside. But they won’t be good this year, just decent. They might be fun to watch. We’ll see. I just think that their roster is good enough to win some games in the East.

25: Sacramento Kings (13th in West)

Potential Starters: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley, Hassan Whiteside

The Kings actually have a high upside as a young team. They just won’t be anywhere near that upside this year. The Kings just simply aren’t good enough to be competitive. De’Aaron Fox is a top young point guard, and Marvin Bagley still has high potential. Buddy Hield is a good player. But Sacramento will finish in the lottery again in 2021.

26: San Antonio Spurs (14th in West)

Potential Starters: Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jakob Poeltl

If the Spurs kept this roster all year, then they could compete for a spot in the play-in tournament. But I highly doubt they will. The young guys San Antonio has are really good. Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Lonnie Walker are all great backcourt guys, and Devin Vassell has some upside too (especially in the Spurs development system). They don’t have a bad roster, but they will be very mid this year until they trade DeMar and LaMarcus, which means they can then enter rebuild mode. 

27: Cleveland Cavaliers (13th in East)

Potential Starters: Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond

The Cavalier’s roster actually isn’t that bad. Drummond is a top ten center, Collin Sexton is a bucket,  and Kevin Love is still a good player too (though he’d be a lot more valuable for a competitive team). I wouldn’t be that surprised if the Cavs made a run at the play-in tournament this year. They just don’t have the depth or the All-Star to make them a lock for that 10th spot in the Eastern Conference. 

28: Detroit Pistons (14th in East)

Potential Starters: Killian Hayes, Delon Wright, Jerami Grant, Blake Griffin, Mason Plumlee

The Pistons have some decent young players. But why the heck would they throw the back at role players like Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee? Best case scenario, they trade those veterans for draft capital mid season. But if they don’t, then the Pistons made a big mistake for using roster spots on veterans instead of young guys. The only reason they won’t completely suck is because of those veterans, but if the Pistons want a high lottery pick next year, then winning some games isn’t what they will want. 

29: New York Knicks (15th in East)

Potential Starters: Elfrid Payton, R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson

The Knicks suck. The young guys they have never pan out because they can’t develop players. My example is how New York killed Dennis Smith Jr.’s career. They will be awful again this year. Obi Toppin will probably be a bright spot. I don’t have much else to say. 

30: Oklahoma City Thunder (15th in West)

Potential Starters: George Hill, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley, Al Horford

Taking the last spot on this list is the OKC Thunder. They will be terrible in the short term. But in the long term, OKC will be better. Their roster is full of young guys who could be something. They also own a buttload of draft picks. So OKC has a pretty bright future, but they will be the worst team in the NBA this season. 

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