NBA Power Rankings: Breaking Down Teams on the Rise Entering 2017-18

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - SEPTEMBER 25: Carmelo Anthony #7 and Paul George #13 of the Oklahoma City Thunder pose for a portrait during the 2017 NBA Media Day on September 25, 2017 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
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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 

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - SEPTEMBER 25: Paul George #13, Russell Westbrook #0 head coach Billy Donovan, Carmelo Anthony #7 and Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder pose for a portrait during the 2017 NBA Media Day on September 25, 2017 at the Chesapeak
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

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.

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

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

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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. 

METAIRIE, LA - JULY 19:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the New Orleans Pelicans poses for portraits on July 19, 2017 at the New Orleans Pelicans Practice Facility in Metairie, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or
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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

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Brook Lopez #11, Julius Randle #30, Luol Deng #9, Lonzo Ball #2 and Brandon Ingram #14 of the Los Angeles Lakers pose for a portrait during media day at UCLA Health Training Center on September 25, 2017 in El Segundo, Calif
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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.

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with his teamate Jordan Clarkson #6 during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on September 30, 2017 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. NOTE TO USER: User exp
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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.