NBA Power Rankings: Which Teams Will Benefit Most from Shutdown Rest?
After nearly three months away, real details are finally emerging on the NBA's planned restart in July at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
On Wednesday, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported 22 of the league's 30 teams would participate in a return to action that would include a handful of regular-season games and a potential play-in tournament leading into the postseason.
"The top 16 teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences will be joined by teams currently within six games of eighth place in the two conferences—New Orleans, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, Phoenix and Washington," Wojnarowski wrote. "The play-in tournament will include the No. 8 and No. 9 teams—if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth, sources said. In that case, the No. 8 seed enters a double-elimination tournament and the No. 9 seed a single-elimination tournament."
Now that we know the league is coming back, it's time to assess where all 30 teams stand, including the eight who are done for 2019-20. Those will be included in one slide at the top of the power rankings, with the 22 still competing to follow.
30. Golden State Warriors (15-50)
Since the season is over for the Warriors and the rest of this slide's occupants, we'll look at their season from a more macro perspective than a power ranking typically does.
There's no getting around it; the Warriors were terrible this season. The obvious caveat is that Klay Thompson missed the entire campaign, and Stephen Curry missed most of it. Kevin Durant leaving didn't help.
But even in the 86 minutes in which Curry shared the floor with Draymond Green this season, Golden State was minus-43.
29. Detroit Pistons (20-46)
Detroit finished the season 24th in simple rating system (SRS combines point differential and strength of schedule), but the Pistons predictably unraveled after the Andre Drummond trade.
From that point to the end of the campaign, Detroit was dead last in net points per 100 possessions at minus-9.1. It went 1-12 in that 13-game stretch.
With Drummond gone, the team will obviously pivot to a different future. And despite stellar play from 24-year-old Christian Wood, that future is murky.
28. Atlanta Hawks (20-47)
The Hawks have a great top two in place with Trae Young and John Collins. Atlanta was minus-1.7 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor, compared to minus-7.6 overall. And the idea of starting Clint Capela alongside them is intriguing.
But the rest of the roster should probably be considered available, or at least in an evaluation phase.
27. Chicago Bulls (22-43)
Chicago's two highest-paid players, Otto Porter and Zach LaVine, only shared the floor for 419 possessions this season. The Bulls posted a solid plus-2.0 net rating in those possessions.
But they don't get points for what might've been without injuries. And in the nearly 4,000 possessions in which LaVine played without Porter, Chicago had a minus-5.1 net rating that ranked in the 25th percentile.
The biggest issue was the team's inability to make shots. Among the Bulls' top 10 in total field-goal attempts, only Wendell Carter and Ryan Arcidiacono had above-average effective field-goal percentages (eFG%).
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46)
But this season, sophomore guard Collin Sexton became a ray of hope for the franchise. Only nine players in the league currently match or exceed his marks for points per game, threes per game and three-point percentage. And he's the youngest of that bunch by nearly a year.
If he can expand his playmaking for teammates, Sexton has an All-Star's ceiling. If one or two of the other youngsters hits, Cleveland could have a nice path back to relevance.
25. Charlotte Hornets (23-42)
The Hornets and point guard Devonte' Graham were one of the league's feel-good stories in the early going of 2019-20.
From the start of the season through his 40-point game on Dec. 11, Graham averaged 20.0 points, 7.6 assists and 3.8 threes, with a 53.8 eFG%. Since then, Graham has averaged 16.8 points, 7.4 assists and 3.2 threes, with a 46.2 eFG%.
Following the downturn, Graham may be another question mark on a roster filled with them.
The old guard, represented by Nicolas Batum and Cody Zeller, seem more like memories than part of any future plans. Miles Bridges still brings some intrigue, but that has been accompanied by inconsistency. Terry Rozier averaged a career-high 18.0 points and shot 40.7 percent from three, but the three-year, $56.7 million deal he signed last summer still feels like a reach. P.J. Washington, the rookie stretch big who shot 37.4 percent from three, may be the biggest reason for optimism.
The sum of these parts leads to wondering whether there's anything the Hornets can do in the short term to progress from hovering just below mediocrity.
24. New York Knicks (21-45)
Difficult as it may be to believe from the team that is dead last in winning percentage over the last 20 years, the Knicks showed signs of life under interim head coach Mike Miller.
They started the season with David Fizdale, who went 4-18 (.182) before being fired. Miller went 17-27 (.386), including an 8-9 stretch from Feb. 1 on to the end of the campaign.
And over those final 17 contests, New York had a defense that actually threatened top-half-of-the-league status in points allowed per 100 possessions.
Center Mitchell Robinson deserves some credit for that (he leads the NBA in blocks per 75 possessions over the last two seasons). And RJ Barrett, Frank Ntilikina and Kevin Knox all possess various levels of potential.
If they can maintain some semblance of stability going forward, it's not hard to imagine this young core competing for a playoff spot one day.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45)
D'Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns appeared in just one game together. They shared the floor for 25 minutes, and the Wolves were outscored 74-88 in that stretch.
Still, at least from an offensive perspective, it's hard not to get excited about this duo's fit and potential. And with solid recent acquisitions like Malik Beasley, Juan Hernangomez and James Johnson supporting that top two, Minnesota being pesky down the stretch would not have surprised.
Now, Timberwolves fans have to wait out a prolonged and atypical offseason in which Beasley enters restricted free agency.
22. Washington Wizards (24-40)
When Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans are both on the floor, the Wizards score a blistering 121.7 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile) and outscore opponents by 2.4 points per 100 possessions (65th percentile).
Are they a long shot to get within four games of eighth place in the East and force a play-in against the Orlando Magic or Brooklyn Nets? Sure. But that offense can catch fire in a hurry, and Washington is only 5.5 games back of eighth right now.
With eight regular-season games to play, it's not impossible to make up that gap.
21. San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
LaMarcus Aldridge missed six straight games before returning to the lineup for San Antonio's last pre-hiatus game on March 10. Perhaps that has something to do with the Spurs' minus-4.3 net rating that ranks 23rd in the league since Feb. 1.
But even when he was healthy, San Antonio struggled to slow down any opposing offenses, especially when he shared the floor with DeMar DeRozan.
In those situations, the Spurs ranked in the 49th percentile in points per 100 possessions, the 29th percentile in points allowed per 100 possessions and the 37th percentile in net points per 100 possessions.
With mostly playoff-caliber teams returning to action in Florida, it's difficult to imagine the Spurs leapfrogging two of the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings or New Orleans Pelicans, let alone staying within four games of the Memphis Grizzlies.
20. Phoenix Suns (26-39)
Even before the season shut down, FiveThirtyEight's projection system gave the Suns less than 1 percent of a chance to make the postseason.
The truncated return likely won't help their chances much, but they can at least make some teams sweat as they try to narrow the gap between them and the eighth seed from six games to four.
And after what will be nearly five months off by the time the league resumes play, Phoenix should be healthy enough to be competitive.
Prior to the hiatus, the Suns were plus-7.2 points per 100 possessions (89th percentile) when Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Ricky Rubio were all on the floor.
19. Sacramento Kings (28-36)
The Kings were starting to find a groove before play stopped in March. After going 21-33 (.389) before the All-Star break, Sacramento put together a 7-3 stretch in which they had the NBA's eighth-best net rating. And in those games, the Kings were plus-30 in the 91 minutes De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield played together.
Budding chemistry among what figures to be Sacramento's backcourt of the future is important in these early years of the partnership. And the opportunity to continue fostering that in Orlando should help.
18. Orlando Magic (30-35)
Like Steve Clifford-led teams of years past, defense is how the Magic are going to secure a postseason berth in 2020.
They currently rank 22nd in the league in offense and 11th in defense. And unless rotation staples like Markelle Fultz, Aaron Gordon and Michael Carter-Williams figured out how to shoot during their time off, those offensive numbers aren't likely to improve against a schedule of mostly playoff-caliber opponents.
Instead, the length and disruptive defensive tendencies of players like Gordon, Fultz, MCW and Mo Bamba will have to help Orlando hang on.
Of course, a return from Jonathan Isaac, who recently told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck he may be healthy enough to play when the league resumes, would help.
17. Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
The placement of Orlando and Brooklyn in these spots almost feels like a coin flip. The Nets not having Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving for the return to action would suggest the Magic should be higher, but Brooklyn has been more than pesky since Irving was lost for the season.
Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and the rest of the Nets who were Irving's background for portions of the season don't figure to go down without a fight.
16. Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
It may feel unfair to have the eighth-place Grizzlies behind a couple teams they currently lead in the standings, but the Blazers and Pelicans were both decimated by injuries during the pre-hiatus season. And each squad has reinforcements on the way.
Of course, the time off should help Memphis too. Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow should all be ready to go when play resumes. Just before the shutdown, the Grizzlies PR department posted promising updates on minor injuries to all three.
And with way-ahead-of-schedule Ja Morant leading the charge, the Grizzlies should have a good shot at keeping their claws in that eighth seed. But Portland and New Orleans have veteran help on the way to support superstars. It won't be easy for Memphis to secure that final playoff spot in the West.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)
Way back on March 9, The Oregonian's Jamie Goldberg reported on the possibility of Jusuf Nurkic playing the following Sunday. It's been almost three months since that report, which makes Nurkic's return in Orlando feel likely. And if he's even 80-85 percent of the player he was in 2018-19, the Blazers could be a problem.
Portland was a Western Conference finalist in 2019. And in the preceding regular season, the Blazers were plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions (95th percentile) when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum shared the floor with Nurkic (they were minus-5.1 points per 100 possessions when Lillard and McCollum played without Nurk).
With a superstar guard in Lillard, a mid-range savant in McCollum and two centers who can take over stretches of games (Hassan Whiteside was better than you realize pre-hiatus), Portland has a chance to steal that final playoff spot from Memphis.
14. New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
Zion Williamson is already a star, so much so that the league wanted to "make sure" he was a part of this reboot.
And that's understandable. We've never really seen a player with this combination of size, athleticism and charisma in a single player. There are elements of Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and Larry Johnson there. And he's not just fun to watch. Zion is also immensely helpful to his team's basketball bottom line.
On the season, New Orleans was plus-10.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-2.0 with him off, giving him a plus-12.2 swing that ranked in the 97th percentile. His 27.5 points per 75 possessions ranks 11th in the NBA. And no one matches or exceeds both of his current marks for points per 75 and true shooting percentage.
With Zion surrounded by Lonzo Ball and healthy veterans like Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors, the Pelicans clearly have a shot to snag the final playoff spot out West.
Before the shutdown, FiveThirtyEight's statistical model gave New Orleans a 60 percent shot to get in, while Memphis and Portland were at 15 and 14 percent, respectively.
13. Indiana Pacers (39-26)
The Pacers should have their starting backcourt intact and healthy for the first time this season when play resumes. Victor Oladipo missed most of 2019-20 with a quad injury, and shortly after his return, Malcolm Brogdon suffered a torn left quad muscle.
With those two at full strength, T.J. Warren at the 3 and the frontcourt occupied by All-Star Domantas Sabonis and three-and-D specialist Myles Turner, Indiana may be able to snag home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. The Pacers are currently two games behind fourth-place Miami.
12. Utah Jazz (41-23)
In purely basketball terms, the hiatus may have hit the Jazz harder than anyone. Bojan Bogdanovic, an offensive linchpin for Utah, underwent surgery to repair a lingering wrist injury during the shutdown.
No one in the NBA matches or exceeds Bogdanovic's 2019-20 marks for points per game (20.2), threes (3.0) and three-point percentage (41.4). And the Jazz's offense scores 6.0 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Making up that combination volume and efficiency seems like a nearly impossible task for the rest of Utah's roster. Joe Ingles, Royce O'Neale, Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell figure to each get slight bumps in offensive responsibility, but fully replacing the loss of the team's second-leading scorer may not be in the cards.
That could mean an even heavier burden for two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who was already carrying a defense that struggled mightily to contain opposing guards and wings on the perimeter.
11. Miami Heat (41-24)
The term "three-and-D" has been around for a while. Now, we might need to coin something for players like Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Dimes-and-D? Mull it over.
In the meantime, consider the versatile skill sets of those two All-Stars. Among the top 50 in FiveThirtyEight's defensive RAPTOR rating (a catch-all metric that incorporates tracking and play-by-play data, as well as box-score numbers), Butler and Adebayo rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in assists per game.
When they're joined on the floor by sweet-shooting Duncan Robinson, their playmaking is leveraged to stellar results. With those three playing, Miami scores 118.6 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile), allows 105.5 points per 100 possessions (89th percentile) and outscores opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile).
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
The Oklahoma City Thunder have defied a number of expectations in 2019-20. Their preseason over/under was set at 31 wins, a number they cruised by before the season even went on hiatus.
And their above-average offense is driven by the oft-maligned mid-range jumper. On the season, Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are third, 16th and 19th in twos made from five feet and out. All three convert those attempts at an above-average rate.
And when they share the floor, OKC's offense jumps up to an eye-popping 135.8 points per 100 possessions (100th percentile).
As we've seen in the past, an ability to score from that second level can become far more important when defenses lock in and games grind to a slower pace. In the pressurized moments of the shortened season and the playoffs, the Thunder should have one of the game's more reliable attacks.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (39-26)
The break from basketball could help the Philadelphia 76ers on a couple fronts.
Most importantly, the time off gave Ben Simmons an unexpected window in which to rehab an ailing back.
"He's been outstanding," coach Brett Brown said of Simmons' rehab, per The Athletic's Rich Hofmann and Derek Bodner. "It could be a little bit of a silver lining of this pandemic, being able to get somebody as important as Ben back into our team."
Prior to the hiatus, Simmons had missed eight straight games. And over the course of his career, Philadelphia scores roughly two more points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor.
But that impact has reversed in 2019-20. This season, he actually has a minus-2.2 offensive rating swing, a number that can be deceiving until you explore that second front.
It appears Philadelphia may be leaning toward a new lineup upon the league's return to play. Mike O'Connor and Derek Bodner, both of The Athletic, speculated that the starting group could be Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid and Shake Milton, despite zero minutes logged together before the shutdown.
If the Sixers go with that group, the offensive issues could be alleviated. This season, Philadelphia scored 116.6 points per 100 possessions (93rd percentile) when Simmons and Embiid were on the floor without Al Horford.
Surrounding those two with more wings and shooting makes sense. And Milton is 48-of-106 (45.3 percent) from three this season.
8. Denver Nuggets (43-22)
The hiatus may have done more good than harm for Paul Millsap, who has struggled with injuries for much of his three seasons with the Denver Nuggets.
"All Millsap knows is his vertical leap is now higher than it was when the NBA abruptly suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic, a result of the offseason-style program centered around plyometrics he began just a few days later," Nick Kosmider wrote for The Athletic. "For much of the past two months, the 35-year-old’s focus has been on 'maximum gains,' individual workouts geared toward making him faster and stronger than he was when the season paused."
As long as Millsap is on the floor, the Nuggets play like a title contender (which should say something about the depth of talent in the NBA right now, given that this team comes in at No. 8 here).
The wide-ranging defensive abilities of Millsap, as well as a laser-focused three-point shot (he's at 44.0 percent from deep this season) make him an ideal complement to Jokic's game. And if Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton can find another level when play resumes, this team (along with seven or eight others) has a chance to make a real run at the championship.
7. Houston Rockets (40-24)
The Houston Rockets are plus-9.1 points per 100 possessions (93rd percentile) when James Harden and Russell Westbrook are on the floor without a traditional center. And though the Clint Capela trade happened not long before the shutdown, at over 1,000 possessions, the sample size on that number may be more robust than many realize.
Perhaps the driving force behind micro-ball's success (to this point) is what these lineups have done for Westbrook. With the floor spaced and Westbrook operating in many ways as a point center on offense, his numbers are among the best he's ever posted.
Over the course of the entire season, when no traditional 5s are playing, Westbrook has averaged 28.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists per 75 possessions with (and here's the truly notable number) a 59.2 true shooting percentage. Prior to this season, his career TS% was 52.9.
Along with Steve Nash's two MVP campaigns, Jeremy Lin's Linsanity, a season in which Kendall Marshall averaged 8.8 assists and a handful of other point guard success stories, finding a way to make Westbrook a scorer with this level of efficiency is another bullet point on Mike D'Antoni's resume.
We already know all about Harden's exploits and accomplishments. Adding positionless basketball and this version of Westbrook to his ridiculous scoring ability will make the Rockets plenty dangerous in Florida.
6. Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
The 2019-20 Dallas Mavericks operate one of the most prolific offenses in the history of the NBA. Their 116.7 points per 100 possessions is the highest mark of all time. And their relative offensive rating (team's points per 100 possessions minus the league average) is 26th all time.
The generational point forward at the heart of that attack is Luka Doncic, a 21-year-old sophomore posting numbers that would've been considered ludicrous just a few years ago: 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 2.9 threes and 1.1 steals per game with an above-average true shooting percentage.
When he shares the floor with Dallas' next two players on the three-point attempts leaderboard, Tim Hardaway and Kristaps Porzingis, the attack jumps up to 119.8 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile).
With the floor spread and Doncic surrounded by shooting, the Mavs are pretty much unstoppable. Few players can survey the floor the way he can. And he exploits passing lanes and angles that few others can even identify.
With reliable receivers like Hardaway, Porzingis and Seth Curry, defenses generally have to stay attached to the perimeter. And Doncic exploits that too. He's 20th in the NBA in shots made within three feet of the rim. And, among the 75 players with at least 200 attempts from that range, Luka's 75.4 field-goal percentage ranks eighth.
With him at the controls, Dallas has an offense that could put a scare into just about any playoff opponent. Of course, the 17th-ranked defense will be tested once the league rolls into the postseason.
5. Boston Celtics (43-21)
The ideal outcome for Kemba Walker and the Boston Celtics was him providing roughly the same production as Kyrie without all the drama.
Mission: Largely Accomplished.
Any slight edge in production for Kyrie is overcome by Kemba's no-nonsense approach.
But the biggest reason for Boston's presence among title contenders may be Jayson Tatum's star turn. Tatum's 23.6 points per game leads the Celtics. And if you sort every qualified player by the average of their ranks in catch-all metrics from around the internet, Tatum comes in at No. 12.
His volume from the mid-range declined, while his three-point attempt rate went up, which made him a more efficient scorer. And his switchability and length made him a key cog in a defense that ranks fourth this season.
Jaylen Brown took his own leap in 2019-20 as well. Marcus Smart continued to provide the intangibles he has for years. And Gordon Hayward approached his All-Star-level play of a few years ago, albeit in a much smaller role.
Boston is deep, well-coached, top five on both ends of the floor and primed to give the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors a real fight for a trip to the Finals.
4. Toronto Raptors (46-18)
Consider Nick Nurse's case for Coach of the Year.
After losing both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to Los Angeles last summer, the Toronto Raptors have a 46-18 record through 64 games. Last season's title-winning Raptors had the exact same record through 64 games.
What's more, Toronto has lost more win shares to injuries this season than any other team in the NBA. Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and Marc Gasol have all missed at least 11 games due to injury. Gasol has missed 28.
And yet, the Raptors have an above-average offense and the second-best defense in the NBA.
On the rare occasions they were at full strength, Toronto looked like a juggernaut. When Lowry, Gasol, Siakam and OG Anunoby are all on the floor, the Raptors are outscoring opponents by 13.0 points per 100 possessions (98th percentile).
And by the time the action gets rolling again, the roster should be mostly whole. The Raptors may not be quite in the same tier as the next three teams, but they're not far behind.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
Another team that might actually benefit from nearly four months off, the Los Angeles Clippers didn't have a ton of opportunities to play fully healthy this season.
And it might have one of the league's scariest weapons come playoff time: a well-rested Kawhi.
Last season, he averaged 30.5 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.3 threes and 1.7 steals over 24 playoff games, a run that culminated in him earning his second career Finals MVP.
Few players can reach the heights Kawhi can when he's on the game's brightest stage. And his supporting cast in L.A.—a group that includes George, Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Ivica Zubac and Marcus Morris—is loaded.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
Despite a close loss to the Brooklyn Nets in their final pre-hiatus game, the Los Angeles Lakers were rolling before the league shut down in March.
Before the hiccup against Brooklyn, L.A. had won four straight. The playoff-contending New Orleans Pelicans, the playoff-bound Philadelphia 76ers and, most importantly, two title contenders in the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers all fell to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, arguably the league's top duo.
With those two in the game, the Lakers have a 10.2 net rating that ranks in the 95th percentile. LeBron-to-AD is the league's top assist combo. And both average over 24 points per 75 possessions with above-average true shooting percentages when they share the floor.
And as difficult as it is to imagine defending those two, the real strength of this team may actually be its own defense.
Led by LeBron—and make no mistake, his impact on this defense was far greater than AD's—L.A. is third in the league on that end. And when James is on the floor, they allow just 103.3 points per 100 possessions, compared to 113.0 when he's off.
His commitment to on-ball and help defense this season seems to be infectious. Among the Lakers' 10 players with at least 500 minutes, nine have an above-average defensive box plus/minus.
If the whole group remains locked in during the league's return and eventual playoffs, it's that defense that will lay the foundation for a potential title run.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
Fortunately, the injury isn't serious. And almost four months off means the presumptive MVP should be at full strength when play resumes. That means trouble for the rest of the league.
Antetokounmpo's production this season is absurd, a blast to watch and literally unprecedented. His 32.9 points, 15.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists per 75 possessions would give him the only 30-15-5 (per 75) season in league history
Put another way, among players who averaged fewer than 31.0 minutes per game, Giannis is on track to finish:
- First all time in points per game by a margin of 6.0
- Fourth all time in rebounds per game
- Second all time in two-pointers per game
Simply put, this is one of the most dominant players the game has ever seen. And the fact that his team is so overwhelming when he's on the floor depresses his individual numbers.
This, of course, isn't a one-man show, though.
If you sort every player with 500-plus minutes this season by the average of their ranks in various catch-all metrics, Khris Middleton comes in at No. 13. His 24.0 points per 75 possessions would be the sixth-highest mark in a 50-40-90 campaign if Middleton is able to pull his field-goal percentage from 49.9 to at least 50.0.
And beyond that top two, Milwaukee has seven more players with at least 500 minutes and an above-average box plus/minus.
The Bucks don't have the championship experience provided by Kawhi or LeBron, but at full strength, they should still be considered the favorite.