Power Rankings and NBA Championship Odds for Every Team in Orlando
The NBA is back.
No more tune-up scrimmages. There are actual stakes attached to these bubble-based battles now as the league starts the seeding games with a two-tilt slate Thursday night.
At this point, it's a mad dash to the finish line. The playoffs will open in less than a month. The Finals will tip some six weeks after.
It's a perfect time, then, to reset the hoops hierarchy with a fresh batch of power rankings. These will be ordered based on our assigned championship odds. When multiple teams have identical odds, we'll order them by the usual measures of production, advanced analytics and recent trends.
22. Washington Wizards (Championship Odds: 2,000-1)
The Wizards are—objectively speaking—the worst team in the bubble. They're the only participant with a sub-.400 winning percentage (.375), and their minus-3.9 net rating trails every club in Orlando (and two others who didn't make the cut).
Oh, and those less-than-impressive stats were compiled before Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans tapped out. So, in addition to entering play with the Association's worst defense, the District is also down its top two scorers. While almost anything feels possible in topsy-turvy 2020, a Wizards run to the title might be one of the few exceptions.
21. Brooklyn Nets (2,000-1)
How many bubble-based Nets do you actually know? Their depleted roster might as well be sponsored by the "Who He Play For?" segment. Seriously, they've given scrimmage starts to Chris Chiozza and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Google will be a necessity when watching this version of the Nets.
That said, Caris LeVert with a neon-green light should be fun, and Jarrett Allen is as strong a candidate as any to provide the best block at the bubble. Add a 40-years-young Jamal Crawford to the mix and the Nets could at least be entertaining.
20. San Antonio Spurs (2,000-1)
The Spurs seem like their entire existence has involved a perpetual push for maximum competitiveness. They hand-picked DeMar DeRozan to anchor their return for Kawhi Leonard, after all.
So, it was no minor development when 71-year-old skipper Gregg Popovich told reporters that "my goal is development" for the season's restart.
While the Spurs are searching for a 23rd consecutive playoff trip, they also seem cognizant of the fact they're fighting an uphill battle. They haven't been great this season (19th in net rating), and now they're without LaMarcus Aldridge (shoulder surgery) and Trey Lyles (appendectomy). These are not your slightly older sibling's Spurs anymore.
19. Phoenix Suns (1,000-1)
The Suns are finally closing in on competence; they already have more wins than in any season since 2014-15 (26). Devin Booker earned his All-Star debut, Deandre Ayton threw his hat in the Most Improved Player race, and Ricky Rubio stabilized what had arguably been the worst position group this side of the Process.
But this team isn't quite ready for the bright lights. The offense and defense both rank outside the upper half, and the roster is still missing at least one legitimate difference-maker. Phoenix's win total, while good by this franchise's standards, still ranks worst among the West's bubble teams.
18. Orlando Magic (1,000-1)
Good news for Orlando: It is virtually guaranteed a playoff spot given the enormous voids left in Washington and Brooklyn. Better news for the Magic: Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are back to show everyone the future of this franchise.
Not-so-awesome news for the Magic: This roster has the least amount of top-level talent among all the likely playoff participants. Nikola Vucevic has taken a step back from last season's All-Star emergence, and Evan Fournier might not be a No. 2 option for anyone else. Unless Isaac suddenly engineers a superstar ascension, Orlando is probably exiting these playoffs quickly and quietly.
17. Sacramento Kings (1,000-1)
De'Aaron Fox's fittingly speedy recovery from an ankle injury ensures the Kings have at least a puncher's chance at the postseason. The third-year floor general was scorching hot before the campaign's suspension (22.6 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting over his final 16 outings), and his ability to set the tone helps put everything into place.
Sacramento is nearing a clean bill of health, save for Marvin Bagley III, who's down with a season-ending foot injury. If two-way player DaQuan Jeffries proves his mini-breakout was more than a scrimmage mirage, he'd add an explosive element to this wing rotation. The Kings should be competitive, but snagging a playoff ticket probably requires ridiculous runs from Fox, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic.
16. Memphis Grizzlies (500-1)
The Grizzlies control their own destiny as the West's No. 8 seed, and the electric young combo of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. won't cede it easily. Maybe the two 20-year-olds will show their age at some point, but they haven't yet. Morant is a fearless, dynamic attacker who might count playmaking as his greatest skill, and Jackson boasts the unicorn blend of shooting, shot-blocking and defensive versatility.
Losing Justise Winslow to a season-ending hip injury is a tough blow as his do-it-all game would've fit perfectly among the wings. That increases the pressure on Josh Jackson to execute in that role, and considering his track record—the Suns sacrificed actual assets to dump his contract last summer—that can't be the most comfortable scenario for Memphis.
15. Indiana Pacers (250-1)
Victor Oladipo played in all three of Indiana's scrimmages, though it's still unclear if he'll participate in the seeding games. But the Pacers' biggest worry (literally and figuratively) is the absence of All-Star center Domantas Sabonis, who leads the team in rebounds and ranks second in points and assists per game. He recently vacated the bubble to receive medical treatment for plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
"It's quite obvious how much we miss Domas," T.J. McConnell said, per J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star. "You can't replace that. Everyone's going to have to do a little bit more."
Indy does play a more modern game without Sabonis as it ups the tempo and gets more shooters on the floor. But how many teams are better minus their best player? Because with Oladipo still feeling the effects of 2019 knee surgery, Sabonis pretty clearly wears that label for the Pacers.
14. New Orleans Pelicans (125-1)
Zion Williamson is out of quarantine and back on the practice floor. If New Orleans' fantastic freshman is ready for Thursday's opener, this could become the club no one wants to face in the opening round.
Once he debuted in late January, the Pels posted a top-10 net rating (plus-4.0, eighth), and he stuffed the stat sheet with 23.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists in fewer than 30 minutes per night. Tack on Brandon Ingram's All-Star arrival, Lonzo Ball's big leap forward, Jrue Holiday's two-way impact and JJ Redick's sharpshooting, and this team can be trouble.
13. Portland Trail Blazers (125-1)
The Blazers have a new lease on life, and their disappointing, injury-riddled season could be turned all the way around in a hurry. They finally have their preferred frontcourt intact with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins back from lengthy injuries. More importantly, they have a fully fired-up Damian Lillard itching to get the proceedings going.
"Anything can happen right now," Lillard told The Athletic's Jason Quick. "We haven't played in four months, and our focus is to get into the playoffs and anything is possible, literally, because of the circumstances we are playing under. So going forward, that's where my mind is, and where I want our team's mind to be. I want to get it done and win it all."
Portland's playoff stint could be brief since it can't pluck a lockdown wing defender out of thin air. But this was a 53-win conference finalist just last season, and it's never received better production from Lillard (28.9 points, 7.8 assists and 3.9 three-pointers per game).
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (100-1)
This might be an undersell of the Thunder's championship chances. They have the fourth-best winning percentage since the calendar changed to 2020 and the eighth-highest net rating over that stretch. Their three-lead-guard attack should hold up against playoff defenses, and the return of Andre Roberson gives them a legitimate defensive answer to all the problems posed by the West's elite wings.
But their high ceiling is undercut a bit by their slim margin for error. It's tough to say whether their three-guard look can manage on the defensive end, and there aren't many backup plans for head coach Billy Donovan with this top-heavy roster.
11. Utah Jazz (100-1)
The Jazz focused their offseason efforts on balancing their team with offensive upgrades, and it worked. After failing to field a top-10 offense in any of the previous six seasons, they enter the seeding games slotted eighth in the category. But they're also heading into them without second-leading scorer and top shooter Bojan Bogdanovic, who's out after wrist surgery.
Replacing the points and spacing won't be easy. No one player can elevate to that degree, so it instead falls on Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles to collectively lift their games. If Utah can't replicate its two-way balance, it won't have the offensive juice to push past the postseason's opening round.
10. Dallas Mavericks (90-1)
The Mavs might be seventh in the Western Conference standings, but they're sixth in the league's net rating rankings (plus-5.8 points per 100 possessions). And they're closer to second place (Los Angeles Lakers, plus-7.1) than seventh (Houston Rockets, plus-3.4).
The offense is historically proficient (115.8 points per 100 possessions), and it starts with wunderkind-turned-MVP-candidate Luka Doncic. The 21-year-old has been toying with defenders all season to the tune of 28.7 points and 8.7 assists per game. He also has a more-than-capable co-star in 7'3" sharpshooter Kristaps Porzingis, who has averaged 25.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.2 triples and 2.3 blocks over his last 15 outings.
Dallas has depth beyond this duo—though Dwight Powell's Achilles injury limited the frontcourt options—but it's not always consistent. If Tim Hardaway Jr. can heat up (his 58.1 true shooting percentage easily sets a career high), this club could play in the conference finals. If the Mavs are searching for steady support scoring, they won't be around long.
9. Miami Heat (80-1)
The Heat can hang with anyone in the East. Actually, that might be an understatement. Miami has amassed a 9-1 record against the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors. It can't figure out the Boston Celtics (1-5 over this season and last), but it has bullied the rest.
So, why doesn't Miami land higher than ninth here?
The roster might have too many one-way players to compete. All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo play both ends, but neither is a shooter. The Heat can surround them with scorers (Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, Kelly Olynyk), but the defense will suffer. They can overload the defense (Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, Derrick Jones Jr.), but the spacing gets compromised.
Between head coach Erik Spoelstra and a team-wide commitment to nonstop hustle, the Heat might have the intangibles to make a deep playoff run. But this is basically a .500 team since the New Year, and depending on how the lineups are assembled, it's liable to stumble at either end of the floor.
8. Denver Nuggets (75-1)
The Nuggets have few certainties outside of All-Star center Nikola Jokic. But at least that part of their equation is rock-solid. The 7-footer either keeps creeping closer to being unguardable or is already there. He might be the best passing big man in NBA history, and this is his second straight season with better than 20 points and 10 boards per game.
Moving beyond the super-skilled center creates a slew of questions. Some are wildly intriguing. Others are worrisome.
How big of a role will head coach Michael Malone extend to Michael Porter Jr.? Will Bol Bol's eye-opening play at the scrimmages buy him spot minutes? Those are the fun ones. Can Jamal Murray finally find the elusive key to consistency? Will Gary Harris find his way out of a two-year offensive skid? Those are the potentially problematic ones.
Jokic will give Denver a chance in any series, but he needs a full-fledged co-star. Murray has a co-star's contract, but now he needs the numbers to back it up.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (75-1)
The 76ers are tied for 11th in winning percentage and 12th in net rating. They don't have a statistical argument to rank this high as the sum of their individual parts has been far greater than the whole.
But that's kind of the point. Even after five months of middling results, it's tough to give up on a team this talented. If Philly somehow stumbles into the perfect chemistry formula, it has clear-cut championship upside.
The Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons combo is on a short list of the league's best duos, and it could be further weaponized by Simmons' move to the 4. That puts an extra shooter on the floor (Shake Milton, 45.3 percent from range) and gives the stars more room to work. It also doesn't diminish a defense that looked downright vicious during the most relevant portions of the scrimmage schedule.
"In all three scrimmages, the Sixers were stingy," NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick wrote. "During the first half of those games—when the regulars were playing—the Grizzlies (28.6), Thunder (36.7) and Mavericks (35.6) all struggled from the field against the Sixers."
Assuming Embiid's calf injury isn't a major concern (knocking on wood), Philly has the pieces to reach the Eastern Conference Finals or beyond—provided head coach Brett Brown can get them all to fit the same puzzle.
6. Houston Rockets (40-1)
Add a late arrival to the bubble to the list of things that can't stop James Harden. The soon-to-be three-time scoring champ should've been rusty given the four-month layoff and the fact that he entered the bubble nearly a week after his teammates. But normal rules don't apply to him. Even in this scrimmage setting, he was bingeing on buckets (90 points in three games, only one of which he cleared 30 minutes).
Speaking of statistical absurdities, anyone remember how Russell Westbrook looked once Houston leaned all the way into its super-small-ball approach? After Clint Capela vacated Space City, Westbrook went rampaging at a rate of 31.7 points per night on 54.6/38.5/72.6 shooting.
"Russ is finally leveraging his absurd athleticism to constantly parade to the rim, mixing in some post ups and pull-up twos along the way," SI.com's Rohan Nadkarni wrote in late February. "Ultimately, the combination of four floor spacers on the court at all time and Westbrook's commitment to taking high-percentage shots is quickly turning Houston into one of the most feared teams in the West."
There are more elements to Houston's playoff push than Harden and Westbrook—Eric Gordon's ankle injury hurts—but the former MVPs are the keys to championship contention. If the Beard and the Brodie go berserk, few clubs can keep up.
5. Toronto Raptors (20-1)
If the Raptors were supposed to abandon the championship race once Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green went back south of the border, they never got the memo. This is still the fourth-best team in basketball according to net rating.
Their roster held a season-long battle with the injury bug, and head coach Nick Nurse found a way to make it work with whoever was left standing at the time. Now that Toronto looks as healthy as it's been in what feels like forever, the defending champs aren't going to give up the belt without a furious fight.
"I wouldn't put anything past them," an Eastern Conference scout told B/R's Yaron Weitzman.
Toronto has a genius-level basketball IQ, a deep roster that competes on both ends and the versatility to form a lineup for virtually any situation. The question the Raptors must answer over the coming weeks is whether Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry can muster up enough star power to collectively fill the massive void left by Leonard.
4. Boston Celtics (15-1)
On paper, the Celtics have everything they need to compete for the crown.
They pair the Association's fourth-best defense with a fifth-ranked offense that routinely torches opposing teams off the dribble. Boston has the league's best effective field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers (49.0 percent), plus four of the 25 players with a 50-plus effective field-goal percentage on at least 100 attempts.
Between Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward, the Shamrocks have four players who can create shots, consistently score (17-plus points per game) and rain down triples (37-plus percent from deep).
Tatum made his first All-Star appearance this season, Hayward has flirted with a 50/40/90 slash, and Brown made a strong Most Improved Player bid. Walker made his fourth consecutive All-Star trip, and while he encountered knee trouble before the shutdown, that issue is apparently behind him.
The Celtics aren't without question marks. It remains to be seen how their Al Horford-less frontcourt will handle the league's best bigs, and their focal points are relatively new to playoff pressures. But their wing versatility is unrivaled, and if Tatum re-ignites his red-hot play from before the shutdown and Walker is really healthy, their star power won't be matched by many.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (10-3)
The Clippers have effectively waited all season to see their loaded roster in action, playing just 11 games with a full complement of players due to various injuries. They still don't have a full squad just yet, but they're trending in the right direction. Paul George said his shoulder feels "great," per NBC Sports' Kurt Helin, and he thinks the entire club is fresh after the lengthy break.
"This time off has given us what we needed," he explained. "We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100."
The Clippers, who are still awaiting the returns of Lou Williams (quarantine) and Montrezl Harrell (family emergency), might have the best roster in basketball when it's all put together. The George-Kawhi Leonard combo is a two-way cheat code, the Williams-Harrell tandem is the NBA's best bench duo, and the additions of Marcus Morris Sr., Reggie Jackson and Joakim Noah only increased the options at head coach Doc Rivers' disposal.
L.A. will be considered championship favorites in a lot of places. ESPN recently polled 16 of its experts for NBA championship predictions, and eight picked the Clippers (no other team had more than four votes). But it lands third here due to defensive questions at the center spot and the problems that would present against either of the top two teams on our list.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (3-1)
If these rankings were only meant to reflect regular-season performance, the Bucks would have the top spot to themselves. They have an .815 winning percentage; no one else is clearing .780. They have a plus-10.7 net rating; the category's silver medalist has a plus-7.1.
The Deer are meant to be feared. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most unstoppable paint scorer since Shaquille O'Neal was in his prime. Just 25 years old, he could be closing in on a second straight MVP after averaging—wait for it—29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.0 blocks.
"Giannis, in our minds, has done more than enough to deserve a back-to-back MVP," head coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters on July 17. "What he does for us on both ends of the court, what he does every night, the way he sets the bar for us, culture-wise, work ethic-wise, just as a teammate. He's an incredible teammate, plays unselfishly, does everything."
The Bucks have built a brilliant supporting cast around Antetokounmpo with no shortage of shooters or versatile defenders. But two of the team's more prominent players have playoff questions to answer. Eric Bledsoe has flopped the past two postseasons, and Brook Lopez, who's been in a season-long shooting funk, lacks the mobility to defend on the perimeter.
It's a given Milwaukee's opponents will sell out to stop Antetokounmpo. The Bucks' ability to counter that approach, both by creating opportunities for him to attack and by getting consistent production from the players around him, may well determine whether the Badger State has something to celebrate in October.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (5-2)
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are on the same roster. Who has an answer for that?
Apparently no one. When Hollywood's hoops stars have shared the floor this season, the Lakers have walloped opponents by 10.3 points per 100 possessions. Considering the challenges of defending both a 6'9", 250-pound point guard and a bouncy, 6'10" big man who ran the point in his past, it's almost surprising that number isn't higher.
"It's everything I expected and more," James told ESPN's Dave McMenamin of playing with Davis. "Obviously, that's why I wanted him here. When you get a generational talent like that and you got an opportunity to get him, you just try to do whatever you can to get him."
James and Davis give the Lakers an advantage in any series they enter. The Clippers don't have a great answer for Davis. No one has a great answer for James.
It'll take more than these two to win a title, of course. With Avery Bradley opting out of the restart and Rajon Rondo sidelined by thumb surgery, L.A. needs players like Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters and JR Smith to help cover their absences. They also need to find the right niche for Kyle Kuzma, who's a gifted scorer but has struggled to fit alongside James and Davis.
Saying that, if you're picking a favorite in this race, the easiest option is taking the team with an all-time superstar pairing.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.