NBA Power Rankings: Breaking Down Teams on the Rise Entering 2019-20

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2019

PLAYA VISTA, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Kawhi Leonard #2, Head Coach Doc Rivers, and Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers pose for a portrait during media day on September 29, 2019 at the Honey Training Center: Home of the LA Clippers in Playa Vista, California. 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 2019 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Good news, fellow hoop heads; the wait is almost over.

Before the night is over, the Houston Rockets will already have the first game of the NBA's 2019-20 preseason slate in the books. All training camps open by Oct. 1, and opening night tips Oct. 22.

It feels like the Association has been hibernating forever, and the basketball landscape looks dramatically different now from when the Toronto Raptors secured their first NBA title just a few months back.

So, it's the perfect time for a refresher on the league's hierarchy. We'll lay out our power rankings for the upcoming campaign below, then identify three teams poised to take massive leaps.

              

2019-20 NBA Power Rankings

1. Los Angeles Clippers

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2. Milwaukee Bucks

3. Philadelphia 76ers

4. Los Angeles Lakers

5. Utah Jazz

6. Houston Rockets

7. Denver Nuggets

8. Golden State Warriors

9. Portland Trail Blazers

10. Boston Celtics

11. Indiana Pacers

12. Brooklyn Nets

13. Toronto Raptors

14. San Antonio Spurs

15. Dallas Mavericks

16. Detroit Pistons

17. New Orleans Pelicans

18. Miami Heat

19. Sacramento Kings

20. Orlando Magic

21. Minnesota Timberwolves

22. Atlanta Hawks

23. Chicago Bulls

24. Oklahoma City Thunder

25. Washington Wizards

26. Phoenix Suns

27. Memphis Grizzlies

28. New York Knicks

29. Charlotte Hornets

30. Cleveland Cavaliers

                 

Three Teams on the Rise

Los Angeles Clippers

Last season's Clippers were a gritty, hard-working group of underrated hoopers. This year, they might have the perfect blend of blue-chip stars and blue-collar support players.

Summer imports Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are most responsible for catapulting this team atop the hoops' heavyweight ranks, on paper at least. Each is an All-NBA regular who has previously put a franchise on his shoulders. More importantly, each can also shine in a supporting role, as a lockdown defender, a spot-up sniper or a 100-miles-per-hour hustler.

Their ability to balance leadership duties and share them with the incumbents could be key in helping this club realize its towering potential.

"We are all the leaders in our own little lane," Patrick Beverley told reporters. "We just try to be the [best] in our roles that we can possibly be."

The Clippers, a 48-win team last season, could be a top-three performer at both ends this time around. Check those boxes, and L.A. might have everyone questioning why they thought this league was suddenly wide-open.

                  

Los Angeles Lakers

EL SEGUNDO, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: LeBron James #23 and Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers pose for a portrait during media day on September 27, 2019 at the UCLA Health Training Center in El Segundo, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Judging by the collective star power, this season may be defined by Hollywood's finest. The critical question, then, is which L.A. team is best-equipped to chase the crown.

Granted, the Lakers only sit fourth in our initial rankings, but their ceiling sits as high as any. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are both on this roster. Maybe that's reason enough for them to claim the top rung.

"I think we got the best of them, of all the duos," new Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. "We've got two top-five players, two guys that really just do it all. I'd put those two guys against anybody in the league."

Maybe Vogel is a bit biased, but the stat sheet says he might be right. James and Davis sit second and third, respectively, in career player efficiency rating, per Basketball-Reference.com. Their pick-and-roll might be this season's most unstoppable play.

The only question marks with this team come from the role players, starting with Kyle Kuzma's status. The scoring forward is out indefinitely with a stress reaction in his left foot. Since the Lakers never snagged a third star, they'll need the best version of Kuzma to help them complete their championship mission.

               

New Orleans Pelicans

Last season's Pelicans were blitzed by Anthony Davis' trade request and awkward part-time role down the stretch. This year's group has already been buoyed by the arrival of top pick Zion Williamson, plus recent top prospects Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, and sage veterans JJ Redick and Derrick Favors.

This team needs shooting. The Pels were precariously short on snipers before losing Darius Miller, a career 38.2 percent three-point marksman, to a ruptured Achilles. Having Redick helps, but they'll need better-than-expected sniping from Williamson and better-than-we've-seen outside shooting from Ball and Ingram.

But that might be the only problem area for these Pelicans.

Coach Alvin Gentry's up-tempo system is perfect for this young, athletic roster. Lob passes should come early and often, as Ball and Jrue Holiday are gifted distributors and Williamson, Ingram, Favors and Jaxson Hayes are all above-the-rim finishers.

If Williamson lives up to his billing as a once-in-a-generation prospect, New Orleans should zoom past last year's 33-49 record.   

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