On Saturday, the 2017 NBA preseason tipped off with the Denver Nuggets opening with a 108-102 win over the Golden State Warriors and the Minnesota Timberwolves taking a 108-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. The scores don't carry any consequence, but exhibition play gives fans and coaches a look at the 2017-18 rosters. It's also a perfect time for early power rankings.
The New York Knicks' trade that dealt 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony to the Oklahoma City Thunder capped a busy offseason for some of the premier players in the league. With all that movement, the NBA hierarchy will reflect significant changes from top to bottom.
Typically, the previous year's NBA Finals teams take the top spots, but the Boston Celtics' offseason moves that landed Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward caused some to consider a new leader atop the Eastern Conference.
The race behind the defending champions intensified in the Western Conference after the Houston Rockets acquired Chris Paul and the Thunder traded for Paul George and Anthony. Did either or both clubs surpass the San Antonio Spurs in the preseason power rankings?
Which non-playoff teams from the previous year deserve your attention for the upcoming season as squads on the rise?
2017 NBA Preseason Power Rankings
1. Golden State Warriors
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
4. Houston Rockets
5. San Antonio Spurs
6. Boston Celtics
7. Washington Wizards
8. Toronto Raptors
9. New Orleans Pelicans
10. Minnesota Timberwolves
11. Denver Nuggets
12. Portland Trail Blazers
13. Detroit Pistons
14. Dallas Mavericks
15. Charlotte Hornets
16. Miami Heat
17. Milwaukee Bucks
18. Memphis Grizzlies
19. Los Angeles Lakers
20. Utah Jazz
21. Indiana Pacers
22. Los Angeles Clippers
23. Phoenix Suns
24. Sacramento Kings
25. Orlando Magic
26. New York Knicks
27. Chicago Bulls
28. Philadelphia 76ers
29. Brooklyn Nets
30. Atlanta Hawks
High Rise: Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 3
The Thunder squeezed past the Rockets with their final offseason blockbuster trade. Whether or not Hoodie Melo joined Russell Westbrook and George, he's still capable of scoring 20 or more points a game, create his own shot at any level on the court and close the contest with the ball in his hands.
Westbrook scored nearly twice as many points per game as Victor Oladipo (31.6-15.9), who ranked second on the team during the 2016-17 campaign. Enes Kanter ranked third at 14.3. The front office sent both players away for All-Star pickups in separate trades.
Anthony can pick and choose his spots as a pure scorer in the lineup. Of course, he'd yield on some nights to George, who can also finish as well as Westbrook on the offensive end.
Opponents will have a tough time defending the Thunder's new trio, but expect the three All-Stars to go through an extended jelling period. According to NBA.com, Westbrook, Anthony and George ranked No. 2, No. 3 and No. 11 in isolation possessions per contest during 2016-17.
Like most superteams that are assembled, Oklahoma City's star players will make adjustments to accommodate each other for optimal results. Nonetheless, there's enough firepower in the starting lineup to outscore the Spurs and compete with the Warriors.
Moderate Rise: New Orleans Pelicans at No. 9
The New Orleans Pelicans crack the top 10 with a moderate rise after a 34-48 season. The front office acquired DeMarcus Cousins near last year's trade deadline and went 7-10 with him.
The Pelicans have a small sample size with Cousins, so it's too early to label the transaction with the Sacramento Kings to acquire him as a disappointment.
Head coach Alvin Gentry's starting lineup will feature a trio of Kentucky products with Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo and Cousins for the upcoming season. The team's depth chart lists Jrue Holiday as an off-guard, which indicates a new wrinkle for the ninth-year veteran.
With Rondo as the primary facilitator, Davis and Cousins benefit with a pure passer at point guard.
The lineup lacked outside scoring after Buddy Hield was dealt in the Cousins trade. Holiday has increased his three-point shooting volume over the past few seasons, and he's capable of spreading the floor. Most importantly, he needs to stay healthy.
Jordan Crawford shot 39 percent from beyond the arc in 19 games last season and should serve as a primary spark off the bench.
Low Rise: Los Angeles Lakers at No. 19
Is it the Lonzo Ball hype? No, the Los Angeles Lakers put together a competitive roster for the upcoming season with a good blend of developing talents and veterans who will serve as the glue on and off the court.
The front office opted to trade D'Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to acquire a 10-year veteran Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the 2017 draft, which became Kyle Kuzma.
During free agency, the Lakers brass upgraded the shooting guard spot with Kenatvious Caldwell-Pope, who plays both ends of the court. Luol Deng, who signed with the team during the previous offseason, and Andrew Bogut bring quality veteran experience to the locker room.
Furthermore, general manager Rob Pelinka and team president of basketball operations Magic Johnson may have picked up an unheralded rookie gem in Kuzma, who put together an impressive 19-point performance in the preseason opener.
However, no matter what LaVar Ball says, it's not a playoff roster, but head coach Luke Walton's group should win about 35 games (after 26 last season) with a clear path to a brighter future.