NBA Power Rankings and Championship Odds for Every Playoff TeamAugust 17, 2020
NBA Power Rankings and Championship Odds for Every Playoff Team
After a months-long hiatus and two weeks of seeding games, the 2020 NBA playoffs are finally here.
And with only 16 teams left, it's time to figure out where they all stand at the outset of this quest for a title.
To determine where each should rank, we'll use FiveThirtyEight's ELO ratings, Basketball Reference's simple rating system (point differential plus strength of schedule), ESPN's basketball power index, FanDuel's championship odds and a dash of subjectivity.
With all those ingredients in the pot, we cooked up the following power rankings. Bear in mind, that's exactly what they are. This isn't necessarily a prediction of who will win the title.
The FanDuel championship odds found on each slide take matchups into account, but the teams are sorted by overall strength.
16. Orlando Magic
The Orlando Magic entered the bubble with reason for guarded optimism. After missing much of the season with a knee injury, versatile forward Jonathan Isaac was set to make his return.
"I feel like it's a movie," he said before the seeding games. "Getting hurt, and then having this long pause and being able to work on my leg and my game, and now I'm back with the team and in the bubble. So, I feel good about it and I'm glad that we had this little break, but sorry for all of the effects of the coronavirus."
After just 31 minutes of regular-season action, Isaac tore his ACL. The Magic then proceeded to spiral to five straight losses and the eighth seed.
Now, they enter the postseason with very little momentum—a win against the New Orleans Pelicans' backups notwithstanding—and a series against a full-blown juggernaut.
Nikola Vucevic will surely have a good game or two. Aaron Gordon may bother Giannis Antetokounmpo on a handful of possessions.
But the Magic's stay in the bubble probably won't last much longer.
Championship Odds: +24000
15. Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets are without each of their top four players in 2019-20 salary: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and DeAndre Jordan.
That's not even the full extent of their absences, but what remained turned into one of the scrappiest teams in Disney.
Caris LeVert went for 25.0 points, 6.7 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Joe Harris added 20.0 points and 3.3 threes per contest while shooting 54.1 percent from deep.
Neither played against the Milwaukee Bucks on Aug. 4, which went a long way toward explaining the massive 19-point line that favored the Eastern Conference's top seed. However, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot stepped in with 26 points, and the Nets gave the NBA its biggest upset since 1993 (at least in terms of betting lines).
This feel-good story feels near its end, though. Even with LeVert, Harris and Jarrett Allen (15.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game in the bubble) playing as well as they are, Brooklyn is thoroughly outmatched against the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
Championship Odds: +24000
14. Indiana Pacers
Just a few slides in and we already have a difficult placement.
Even without Domantas Sabonis, the Indiana Pacers went 6-2 in the seeding games. T.J. Warren averaged 31.0 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.7 threes and 1.2 blocks. And even if his numbers don't leap off the screen, just having Victor Oladipo on the floor had to help.
However, unlike the teams further up the rankings, it feels like this version of the Pacers may have already hit its peak.
Over the course of the entire season, Indiana was plus-4.3 points per 100 possessions with Sabonis on the floor and minus-1.1 with him off. Without his low-post scoring and facilitating, the Miami Heat's defense should be more confident staying home on the perimeter.
And while Warren, Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon will all likely get loose at times during that series, having their inside-out attack would've made these Pacers less predictable.
Championship Odds: +10000
13. Portland Trail Blazers
The bubble version of the Portland Trail Blazers is a much different team than the one that went 29-37 before the reboot.
Carmelo Anthony looks better than he has in years. Gary Trent Jr. is suddenly a bona fide three-and-D complement to Damian Lillard. And most importantly, Jusuf Nurkic is back.
He averaged 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.4 steals in the seeding games while bringing balance to an attack that heavily relies on Lillard's and CJ McCollum's perimeter creation. And that may have as much to do with his passing as it does his scoring.
"Nurkic is a rock-solid two-way player," ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote. "He is light on his feet and can really pass—from a standstill, and on the move."
There's an added layer of unpredictability when you have a 5 who can create for others. Doubling in the post has become a rarity in today's three-happy NBA, but it's even more treacherous when you have someone who can punish that strategy with the pass.
Nurkic's playmaking opportunities lead to inside-out catch-and-shoot opportunities for the rest of the team, and that angle can help shooters (their eyes don't have to move from the side of the floor to the basket before shooting).
One big problem remains for Portland, though.
The bench is among the shallower groups in the playoffs. Head coach Terry Stotts had to play both Lillard and McCollum over 40 minutes per game in Florida. Mario Hezonja—358th among 387 qualified players in box plus/minus during his career—is a staple of the eight-man rotation.
Championship Odds: +5000
12. Philadelphia 76ers
According to FiveThirtyEight's "full-strength" ELO ratings, the Philadelphia 76ers are the fourth-best team in the NBA.
Of course, they're not currently at full strength.
Ben Simmons recently underwent knee surgery and is out indefinitely. Not having his playmaking and versatility on defense is huge, especially when Philadelphia opens its postseason against a talent-rich and largely positionless roster like the Boston Celtics.
"We can see [Simmons] tends to guard #1 options on PHI (has one of the highest rates in the league) while also being one of the most versatile players in the league," Basketball Index's Krishna Narsu tweeted.
Without Simmons, the assignment to cover Jayson Tatum will likely fall to the much smaller Josh Richardson. And like dominos, a handful of other matchups will become worse for Philadelphia.
Sixers fans looking for hope likely know the next point, though. On the season, Philly is plus-1.8 points per 100 possessions when Simmons and Joel Embiid share the floor. That net rating flies up to plus-11.6 (on decent volume) when Embiid plays without Simmons.
This may end up being the playoff run that sells the front office on an "Embiid and four shooters" philosophy going forward.
Championship Odds: +6500
11. Utah Jazz
Bojan Bogdanovic's season-ending wrist surgery was a crippling blow to the Utah Jazz's hopes for a deep playoff run.
On the season, they were plus-6.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and minus-3.5 with him off. His ability to space the court was critical for a team that features a rim roller like Rudy Gobert and a No. 1 option who loves to slash.
When he played with Bogdanovic, Donovan Mitchell had a 52.5 effective field-goal percentage that was just shy of the league average. It dropped to 49.7 when he played without the wing. The impact on Gobert's efficiency was similar.
Additionally, not having Bogdanovic means bigger roles off the bench for players like Georges Niang and Royce O'Neale.
Emmanuel Mudiay and Jordan Clarkson will also be called on for more responsibility. Starting point guard Mike Conley left the bubble for the birth of his son and will miss multiple games.
There are reasons to believe Utah can still push the Denver Nuggets in their first-round series, though.
Jamal Murray is dealing with a hamstring issue, and Gary Harris and Will Barton have yet to return from their own injuries.
And with Gobert, Joe Ingles and Royce O'Neale, the Jazz at least have a skeleton for a good defense (though it's difficult to overcome the lack of size Conley and Mitchell bring to the backcourt).
With or without Bogdanovic and Conley, they create good looks. In the bubble, their expected effective field-goal percentage ranked sixth, but their actual effective field-goal percentage was 22nd.
It'll come down to whether they can actually hit the open shots they manufacture. Bogdanovic certainly helped with that.
Championship Odds: +5000
10. Oklahoma City Thunder
Chris Paul and the Oklahoma City Thunder are one of this season's best stories, thanks in large part to the dedication of the future Hall of Fame point guard who wasn't even sure to be a part of the team when he was first traded for Russell Westbrook, though that quickly changed.
CP3 didn't allow that to sour him on spending the 2019-20 campaign with OKC.
"When he first got traded and we spoke for the first time, I told him, 'I don't know about all the rumors,'" head coach Billy Donovan told Sports Illustrated's Rohan Nadkarni. "And he said this: 'I only know how to do it one way. Both my feet are in the circle here, and you're going to get all I can give to this organization.' And he's totally lived up to that."
Basketball Index's simple average impact, which combines catch-all metrics from around the internet into one number, pegs Paul as this season's 11th-best player.
Even at 35, he remains one of the league's most effective, efficient and competitive point guards. And under his leadership, a roster that included a good mix of veterans (Steven Adams, Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schroder) and a rising star (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) annihilated its preseason over/under.
Over a year after the trade, OKC now has a real chance to beat Paul's old team in the first round. It would likely face the Los Angeles Lakers at that point, an opponent that would be heavily favored to end this story.
But however things play out, this season has done as much as any for Paul's legacy.
Championship Odds: +6500
9. Miami Heat
Over the course of the regular season, the Miami Heat were plus-290 when Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson were all on the floor. The Milwaukee Bucks were the only team in the league that boasted three-man lineups with higher raw plus-minuses.
With Robinson spacing the floor for the playmaking and slashing of Butler and Adebayo, Miami plays like a juggernaut. And it has felt like a more versatile one since the season resumed.
The Heat have committed to playing Adebayo at the 5 and starting Jae Crowder as the de facto 4. The latter is no sharpshooter, but he's just accurate enough to force defenses to pay attention, and he makes Miami's own defense more switchable.
It's still probably a star away from real contention, but this is a team that could make Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks uncomfortable in the second round.
This season, Giannis shot 12-of-28 (42.9 percent) when defended by Bam.
Championship Odds: +3000
8. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks finished the 2019-20 campaign with the highest average for points per 100 possessions in NBA history (and a top-40 mark in points per 100 possessions minus the league average, or relative offensive rating).
The leader of that attack, Luka Doncic, is off to one of the fastest starts to a career in NBA history. His No. 2, Kristaps Porzingis, is averaging 26.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 threes and 2.2 blocks with a 6.3 box plus/minus since Feb. 1. Their supporting cast features plenty of shooting from the likes of Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith (39.5 percent in the bubble) and Maxi Kleber.
Altogether, this group can pour in points at a ridiculous rate. It just happens to be matched up with one of this season's top contenders in the first round.
The Los Angeles Clippers can throw Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley or Paul George at Luka. Their ability to switch all over the floor should restrict the kick-out threes a bit.
With a different path in front of them, the Mavericks might be a good call for a sleeper run. As it stands, Luka's first postseason experience probably won't last too long. But he's just 21 years old, and Porzingis is 25.
If the Clippers knock them out, they'll be back.
Championship Odds: +5000
7. Houston Rockets
Among the teams still standing, the Houston Rockets may have the widest range of realistic outcomes.
A first-round loss to Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn't be shocking. A run all the way to the title probably shouldn't be, either.
James Harden is one of the greatest offensive players in NBA history, and Russell Westbrook may well have been optimized as the micro-ball point center.
On the season, Houston is plus-7.8 points per 100 possessions when Harden and Westbrook play without a traditional 5, and Russ' true shooting percentage in those alignments is 58.3 (much higher than his 52.9 career mark coming into this season). With the paint cleared out, he's free to relentlessly attack the rim, and swapping out plenty of bad jumpers for drives has done wonders.
Of course, the former MVP is going to be out for at least Game 1 against OKC with a quadriceps injury. If his absence is drawn out much longer, Houston could be in trouble (though the season-long numbers on Harden playing without Westbrook are good).
If Westbrook is healthy and aggressive with Harden at the controls and micro-ball staples like P.J. Tucker, Robert Covington and Eric Gordon hitting threes, this team has a chance to win a revolutionary title.
Championship Odds: +1300
6. Denver Nuggets
Last year, the Denver Nuggets introduced us to playoff Nikola Jokic, who didn't disappoint in his debut.
Over his first two postseason series, the first-team All-NBA center averaged 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks. In eight reboot appearances this year, he looked ready to build on that postseason resume with averages of 17.9 points, 8.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds in just 29.3 minutes per game.
But the real key to a deep postseason run might be rookie forward Michael Porter Jr., who looks like a nearly perfect complement to Jokic.
"Porter hunts efficient shots within the flow. He cuts for dunks, and flies inside for putbacks. He trucks little guys," ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote. "You know who's good at tossing those entry passes? The best big man passer in history—Nikola Jokic."
Over the course of the season, the Nuggets scored 121.0 points per 100 possessions (99th percentile) when Jokic and Porter were both on the floor.
If Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton, who all nursed injuries in Disney, can get back to full strength, Denver is a real threat to the West's top tier.
Championship Odds: +2400
5. Toronto Raptors
"I'm telling [Toronto] Raptors fans and everybody: Don't lose one day of sleep, one second of sleep," president of basketball operation Masai Ujiri said following the 2019 departures of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. "We're gonna be just fine."
At the time, that may have sounded like somewhat cliched executive speak, but this season has proved Ujiri right in resounding fashion.
The 2019-20 Raptors had a 5.97 SRS, slightly better than last season's 5.49.
Despite the shortened season, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell all had more wins over replacement player than they did in 2018-19. Pascal Siakam was an All-Star in his first season as the No. 1 option. Marc Gasol looks almost as spry a defensive leader as he did during his Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 2012-13. Serge Ibaka was one of the game's top stretch bigs, and Terence Davis came out of nowhere to be a real contributor as a rookie.
Toronto may have lost Leonard and Green to the Los Angeles Clippers, but they didn't take the team's championship moxie with them.
With one of the game's best coaches at the helm in Nick Nurse, the scrappy Raptors won't give up their title without a fight.
Championship Odds: +1000
4. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics may be the legitimate title contender hiding in plain sight.
They're second in net rating and the only team that's in the top four on both offense and defense (the Los Angeles Clippers are close at second and fifth, respectively). They have two bona fide top scorers who can get buckets in the grind of postseason possessions, and they have plenty of largely positionless talent to back those two up.
After years toiling away with the Charlotte Hornets, Kemba Walker having help has led to career highs in both box plus/minus and true shooting percentage. His ability to break down point-of-attack defenders leads to plenty of open looks and opportunities to blow by rotations for his teammates.
The other No. 1-level scorer is Jayson Tatum, who averaged 27.1 points and 3.8 threes while shooting 46.3 percent from deep from Feb. 1 to the end of the season. His abandonment of high-volume mid-range jumpers has done wonders for his efficiency, and he's already shown a penchant for big postseason moments.
As for the supporting cast, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart can all create for others and defend three or four positions. Daniel Theis is undersized, but he, too, brings defensive versatility, and he hits just enough threes to keep defenders honest.
Finally, there's the emergence of Robert Williams III, who adds yet another layer to this multifaceted team. His size and athleticism suggest a prototypical rim-rolling center (and he can do that), but better-than-you-realize passing gives him the potential to be more versatile than most centers in that mold.
Put it all together and it isn't difficult to imagine a deep playoff run.
Championship Odds: +1700
3. Los Angeles Lakers
The reboot didn't provide much evidence that the Los Angeles Lakers should be considered favorites to win the title in 2020.
Over the course of the eight games in Florida, L.A. was 21st in offensive rating, 12th in defensive rating and 20th in net rating. Anthony Davis and LeBron James both had negative point differentials, averaged 22.0 or fewer points and posted below-average effective field-goal percentages (way below for AD).
Were they just taking it easy with the No. 1 seed already wrapped up? Or are there real reasons for concern with this team?
If you lean toward the latter, the supporting cast's inability to carry the team on off nights for the stars is something to point toward. That may not matter in the first round, but against deeper teams like the Los Angeles Clippers or Milwaukee Bucks, the stars will need all the help they can get.
If you're among those who believe the Lakers simply had their foot off the gas in the bubble, you can point to LeBron's past. Few superstars across the sport's history have been better at preserving their energy for the game's biggest stage.
Since his first season back with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2014-15), LeBron has an 8.2 box plus/minus in the regular season and a 10.4 box plus/minus in the playoffs.
Championship Odds: +320
2. Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are loaded, boasting a top two that's at least close to the level of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, as well as a much better supporting cast (at least on paper).
Kawhi Leonard is one of the greatest postseason performers of all time. Along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron, he's one of three players in league history with Finals MVPs for more than one team. He's also fourth in NBA history in career playoff box plus/minus.
This season, he has another top-tier defensive wing alongside him to battle the West's best duos.
Paul George finished third in MVP voting last season. And though he missed a decent chunk of 2019-20 with injuries, the two stars looked comfortable together. L.A. was plus-12.1 points per 100 possessions (97th percentile) when both played.
Backing those two up with Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr., Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams is just ridiculous.
Championship Odds: +300
1. Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks trail both the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in FiveThirtyEight's full-strength ELO rating, but they're first in every other criterion used for this exercise, including FanDuel's championship odds.
It's not hard to see why they're the favorite.
For the second season in a row, Giannis is putting up literally unprecedented numbers. In 2019-20, he averaged 33.2 points, 15.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists per 75 possessions. But he was far from alone in leading Milwaukee to a 63-win pace.
Khris Middleton averaged 24.0 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.7 threes per 75 possessions while shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from three and 91.6 percent from the line.
George Hill shot 46.0 percent from three. Brook Lopez averaged 3.1 blocks per 75 possessions for a historically dominant defense. Eric Bledsoe averaged 19.0 points and 6.8 assists per 75 possessions. Donte DiVincenzo was one of the league's better perimeter defenders. Marvin Williams and Pat Connaughton both had comfortably above-average box plus/minuses, and Wesley Matthews shot a "better at least pay attention to me" 36.4 percent from three.
This team is deep, talented, balanced and brimming with chemistry.
The Bucks may not win the title this season. The NBA features more parity than it has in years. But there's also no reason to think they can't.
Championship Odds: +260
Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, PBPStats.com, Basketball Reference or Cleaning the Glass. All odds provided by FanDuel.