2021-22 Power Rankings: Who Has the Best Chance to Dethrone Milwaukee Bucks?
With the 2020-21 NBA season over, it's already time to start thinking about 2021-22.
While some rosters are already stacked heading into next year, others are a mystery box of cap space and/or draft picks, meaning they could look far different in just a few weeks.
For these rankings, only the current rosters are being considered for placement. This means soon-to-be free agents don't count as part of the rosters anymore, Cade Cunningham isn't a Detroit Piston yet and the New York Knicks' cap space means nothing right now.
Players with 2021-22 player options also won't count as members of the roster unless they've already opted in, thus affecting the rankings of the Los Angeles Clippers (Kawhi Leonard), Phoenix Suns (Chris Paul) and others.
These rankings will certainly change after the 2021 NBA draft, free agency and trade season. For now, here's how all 30 teams stack up heading into a busy offseason.
30. Orlando Magic
Orlando went 6-22 after trading Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier, posting a net rating of minus-13.4 in the final 28 games of the season.
Steve Clifford is gone, replaced by first-time head coach Jamahl Mosley, who's now tasked with leading the franchise through a rebuild.
There's plenty of young talent, but some of it is coming off major injury (Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz), and there's no future All-Star on the roster just yet.
Owning the Nos. 5 and 8 overall picks will help in the long run, but this is still one of the NBA's youngest teams, and it's not ready to win anytime soon.
29. Oklahoma City Thunder
Before Shai Gilgeous-Alexander suffered a significant tear in his plantar fascia in late March, the Thunder were a respectable 19-24 on the season. A minus-5.8 net rating ranked just 27th in the league, however, and that number plummeted to minus-17.6 after his injury.
OKC pulled off a masterful tanking job down the stretch, going a league-worst 3-26 after the injury to Gilgeous-Alexander, and the star point guard can only do so much even when healthy.
If the Thunder don't trade a pick, they'll be bringing in six rookies to a team that has just one player (Kemba Walker) with over three years of experience in the league.
There's a strong chance Walker gets moved to a contender before the season even starts, but if he stays in Oklahoma City, even a backcourt of he and Gilgeous-Alexander can't make up for the inexperience on this roster.
28. Detroit Pistons
This roster will instantly get better after the draft with the likely addition of Cade Cunningham, but for now Detroit is still one of the worst teams in the NBA.
In 2020-21, only the Houston Rockets finished with fewer wins than the Pistons (17 to 20), who are run by a collection of players years away from hitting their primes.
Killian Hayes battled injuries and a shaky outside shot (27.8 percent from three) during his rookie year, scoring just 6.8 points after being the No. 7 overall pick. Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart both looked like keepers, however, and Jerami Grant proved himself as a borderline All-Star.
The Pistons have built a solid foundation (especially when they presumably draft Cunningham) but are still probably a few years away from making a significant playoff run. The focus this season should be on player growth, not win total.
27. Houston Rockets
If healthy, a core of John Wall, Christian Wood, Eric Gordon, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae'Sean Tate may win too many games and take the Rockets out of the running for the No. 1 overall pick in 2022, something this team will need for long-term success.
Wall averaged 20.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.1 steals, but durability remains a concern (he missed 32 games), as does his overall shooting efficiency (40.4 percent overall, 31.7 percent from three). Houston isn't going to find a trade partner for Wall, either, given the two years and $91.7 million remaining on his contract.
Although it should exceed the NBA-worst 17 wins from last year, Houston is still in a weird state of veterans and young talent. Adding the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft will be huge for the future, be it Jalen Green or Evan Mobley.
Houston should explore trades for Gordon, D.J. Augustin and Danuel House Jr. (while testing the market for 25-year-old Christian Wood) and focus on the development of Porter, Tate, Kenyon Martin Jr. and whoever the team takes second overall.
26. San Antonio Spurs
A 33-39 finish last year combined with a trio of veterans hitting free agency could make for an ugly year in San Antonio—unless this young group can grow up fast.
DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will be unrestricted free agents, meaning the Spurs could be losing their leading scorer and first two vets off the bench. Mills has been a key contributor for the Spurs since 2011-12, helping them take home the 2014 championship.
There's a lot to like from Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV, but none have made an All-Star Game yet. The Spurs could be spenders in free agency with $49.1 million in cap room, but there's not a lot of star power available.
While having young talent and cap space is never a bad thing, the Spurs seem destined for a third straight lottery trip.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers
Entering the fourth year of their rebuild, the Cavaliers have assembled some good, young pieces and should start thinking about competing for the play-in tournament.
Collin Sexton (24.3 points, 4.4 assists, 37.1 percent from three) and Darius Garland (17.4 points, 6.1 assists, 39.5 percent from three) have become an extremely productive (albeit undersized) backcourt, and 2020 fifth overall pick Isaac Okoro came on strong at the end of the year (16.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists over his final 12 games) while regularly taking on the most difficult defensive assignments.
Kevin Love (plus-4.1 net-rating swing) still makes this a better team when he's healthy with his outside shooting and rebounding, and Larry Nance Jr. is one of the best role players in the NBA.
Jarrett Allen (restricted free agent) should return, and Cleveland holds the No. 3 overall pick in the draft. The Cavs' young core probably needs another year or two to become a serious threat in the East, but there's a lot to like on the shores of Lake Erie.
24. Sacramento Kings
Sacramento should rip the Band-Aid off and trade Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes, but keeping them on the roster at least gives this team an outside shot at the postseason.
Re-signing unrestricted free-agent center Richaun Holmes should be a priority, as the 27-year-old averaged 14.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on 63.7 percent shooting. The Kings are incredibly short on big men with Hassan Whiteside also hitting free agency and Marvin Bagley III previously in trade talks.
De'Aaron Fox upped his scoring to 25.2 points per game and remains one of the NBA's best young point guards. He and Tyrese Haliburton give Sacramento a backcourt it can build around.
After sputtering to a 31-41 record in each of the past two years, there's no reason to believe this group as is will be much better, however.
23. Chicago Bulls
The trio of Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and Patrick Williams should have the Bulls in the playoff hunt in 2021-22, but there's still a lot of questions to be answered with this roster.
Coby White's shoulder surgery is expected to keep him out of the majority of training camp, Lauri Markkanen is going into restricted free agency, and Chicago has to choose between keeping Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young or waiving the pair for some extra salary-cap space.
The Bulls could clear up to $31.1 million in space at the cost of losing three of their rotation members, something they could consider if they land a franchise point guard.
LaVine's upcoming free agency could serve as a distraction, especially if the Bulls get out to a slow start. If Williams and White can make the leap, however, this could be a seventh or eighth seed in the East.
22. Toronto Raptors
Toronto already has a solid base for next season, with a roster that could get much better in a few weeks.
Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby combine plenty of scoring and defense, and Chris Boucher was a pleasant surprise last season with his rim protection and outside shooting.
Gary Trent Jr. isn't technically guaranteed to return, but as a restricted free agent, Toronto should be happy to give him a juicy new deal after trading Norman Powell to Portland for him at the deadline.
The Raptors also own the No. 4 pick in the draft (hello, Jalen Suggs?) and could have over $20 million in cap space to spend.
Even if Kyle Lowry leaves in free agency, the franchise should be in good hands moving forward.
21. Washington Wizards
A leap from Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and Daniel Gafford is probably key to the Wizards being any more than an eighth seed in the East, as Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook are already in their primes.
A fast start is key for Washington, as Beal will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022. Any significant losing streak will only spark more trade chatter, noise that could leak into the locker room and affect the team.
Getting Thomas Bryant back from an ACL injury will be a nice boost, as the 23-year-old center has shot 41.1 percent from three over his past 56 games.
This isn't one of the best rosters in the East, but it isn't one of the worst, either.
20. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have the young talent and draft picks to make a run at a star (Damian Lillard? CJ McCollum at least?), but for now this is just another good roster in a Western Conference full of great ones.
Zion Williamson looks like a generational talent after scoring 27.0 points per game on 61.1 percent shooting from the field, Brandon Ingram has already been an All-Star and Nickeil Alexander-Walker put up 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists on 41.2 percent shooting from three in 13 games as a starter.
Lonzo Ball is no guarantee to return as a restricted free agent, however, as The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that New Orleans is "unlikely to match a significant offer sheet" on the 23-year-old point guard.
This isn't a playoff team as currently constructed, but executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin has the assets to turn it into one.
19. New York Knicks
The Knicks at 19?
With Derrick Rose, Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks and Reggie Bullock all hitting free agency, yes.
New York will likely jump back up in the rankings after it spends its projected $52.7 million in cap space. Two first-round picks (Nos. 19 and 21) will help bring in some additional young talent as well.
For now, a core of Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox II, Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley and Mitchell Robinson may not even be good enough to make the playoffs in the East. That's not a knock on these guys as much as it is praising the contributions of Rose, Noel, Burks and Bullock.
The Knicks have the money to bring in a player like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Mike Conley Jr. or any other star free agent on the market. They also have the draft capital and young talent to chase a player like Damian Lillard via trade as well.
They have plenty of avenues to end up in the top 10 in the next few weeks.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves
Hampered by injuries for much of the 2020-21 season, Minnesota actually finished the year 8-6 as bodies began to return to the lineup.
The Wolves also posted a net rating of plus-4.9 in the 327 minutes Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell shared together, a good sign the core is working.
Towns and Russell are both going into Year 7 and should be more than ready to win. Edwards looked like a seasoned pro over his final 17 games (23.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 47.4 percent shooting).
Ricky Rubio, Malik Beasley, Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid and Jarrett Culver give the Wolves a good bit of depth outside of their Big Three as well. Don't be surprised to see Minnesota in the play-in tournament next season, if not the playoffs themselves.
17. Boston Celtics
A team with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the roster should be playoff-worthy, but this Celtics team no longer resembled a title contender.
Marcus Smart is likely the starting point guard following Kemba Walker's trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Boston has to hope 35-year-old Al Horford has at least one more good season left in him. Horford should at least be well rested, as the Thunder shut him down for the year on March 24 to start playing Moses Brown more.
Speaking of big men, this team suddenly has A LOT of them.
Horford, Brown, Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams III are all capable of starting at center, although only two are likely to see enough minutes to stay happy. There's also a lot of young, unproven talent on this roster (Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, Carsen Edwards) that could be flipped as trade assets or developed this season.
Losing Brad Stevens as head coach shouldn't be overlooked, either.
16. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets looked like a surefire playoff team before LaMelo Ball fractured his wrist last season and should find themselves in the postseason next year as long as the 2020-21 Rookie of the Year can stay healthy.
Ball conducts the orchestra in Charlotte, but there's a lot to like about the rest of the roster.
Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward looked good as the primary scoring options, and Miles Bridges made the leap in his third season (18.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 41.8 percent from three in 19 games as a starter).
The Hornets still need a starting center, however, a position they'll need to either fill in the draft (11th overall pick) or free agency (up to $26.8 million in cap space if the team renounces Malik Monk and Devonte' Graham).
15. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers would be far higher on this list if they had Leonard under contract (players with player options were not considered for this ranking) and he was healthy. He will likely miss at least half of the regular season rehabbing from a right ACL injury.
While all signs point to his return to Los Angeles either via player option or opting out and signing a new deal, Leonard could technically leave for teams like the New York Knicks, Miami Heat or Dallas Mavericks if he wants to.
Even without Leonard, this is a good team that can be carried by Paul George until the postseason begins. George averaged 28.7 points per 36 minutes with Leonard on the bench, compared to 22.0 points per 36 minutes when the pair shared the floor this past season.
Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Rajon Rondo, Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac and playoff hero Terance Mann are all under contract for next season, and Serge Ibaka could choose to return on a $9.7 million player option.
The Clippers should hang around the bottom of the West playoff picture until Leonard returns, assuming he re-signs or opts in.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
Well, this roster could certainly look different by the start of next season.
Even if Damian Lillard stays, the pressure is on the front office to make some significant upgrades around him. No one outside of Lillard should feel safe.
For now, this is a typical Portland team. The backcourt with Lillard and CJ McCollum remains one of the NBA's best while Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington are fine frontcourt pieces. Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little provide some hope for the future, but this is still a squad that ranks as one of the worst in the NBA at getting stops (115.3 defensive rating, 29th overall).
Norman Powell (17.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 36.1 percent from three) is an unrestricted free agent, one the Blazers can't afford to lose.
13. Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis finished 38-34 and made the playoffs last season despite Jaren Jackson Jr. playing in just 11 games (and starting four) following a return from knee surgery.
A healthy Jackson should continue his trajectory as one of the best young big men in the game, able to score from and defend nearly everywhere on the court. Morant could very well make his first All-Star team after dropping 19.1 points and 7.4 assists this past season.
The supporting cast of Jonas Valanciunas, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Grayson Allen, Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, Tyus Jones, De'Anthony Melton and others make this one of the deepest rosters in the West, one where every player is still on an upward career trajectory.
Memphis should be a postseason lock if Jackson stays on the court, with a first-round victory being a real possibility.
12. Indiana Pacers
Indiana's roster should look quite similar next season, as all of the team's projected starting five (Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner) are under contract for at least one more year.
Bringing back Rick Carlisle as head coach could be all this team needs to make a return to the postseason, as Sabonis is already a two-time All-Star, Turner is a yearly candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and LeVert (20.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.5 steals) has thrived as both scorer and playmaker.
A healthy Warren will be a big boost, as the veteran forward lasted just four games last year before undergoing foot surgery to repair a stress fracture. The 27-year-old averaged 19.8 points on 40.3 percent shooting from three in 2019-20.
The Pacers could lose two key pieces off the bench, however, as both T.J. McConnell and Doug McDermott are free agents.
11. Miami Heat
One of the most disappointing teams in 2020-21, Miami still has the potential to be a title contender this upcoming season.
Jimmy Butler (21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 2.1 steals) is still playing at an All-Star level, and Bam Adebayo is one of the league's best two-way big men already at age 24.
Tyler Herro and Precious Achiuwa have bright futures in the league, although there's a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the rest of the roster.
Miami holds team options on Goran Dragic ($19.4 million) and Andre Iguodala ($15 million), players who can still play important roles on a championship-level team. Of course, the Heat could decline both and have $20.5 million in cap space, even with cap holds for restricted free agents Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn.
Landing a free agent like Kyle Lowry would do wonders for Miami's title hopes, but for now this is a good-but-not-great roster in the East.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic will play basketball for Dallas next season, which is enough to say that the Mavericks will still be good.
Their ceiling ultimately depends on the supporting cast, however, one that contains (at least for now) Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Trey Burke.
Tim Hardaway Jr., who averaged 16.6 points and shot 39.1 percent from three, will be an unrestricted free agent and Josh Richardson ($11.6 million player option) could potentially leave as well.
Dallas will have over $30 million in cap space if Richardson doesn't opt in and should be an attractive landing spot for free agents. The Mavs may have taken a step back with their coaching hire, though, with Jason Kidd replacing Rick Carlisle.
9. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray for at least a few months as he recovers a torn ACL, likely knocking Denver from the very top of the Western Conference.
Still, they have reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, who averaged 29.7 points, 11.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists per 36 minutes without Murray on the floor this past season. Michael Porter Jr. could make an All-Star leap and should have the ultimate green light. The 23-year-old shot 54.2 percent overall and 44.5 percent from three en route to his 19.0 points.
Will Barton has already turned down his player option, however, a big blow to Denver if he ultimately doesn't re-sign. JaMychal Green holds a $7.6 million player option that he's yet to decide on.
Denver needs to get some more offense from Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris and possibly even Bol Bol to stay competitive in the West until Murray can return.
8. Golden State Warriors
The combination of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green should be enough to carry the Warriors back to the playoffs, no matter who the team uses as center.
James Wiseman is still around and recovering from knee surgery, although he'd likely be the first piece in any trade package should Golden State pursue another star. Kevon Looney is good enough to start, but getting someone like Myles Turner could completely change the team's defense.
Players like Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall and Juan Toscano-Anderson have gotten some valuable experience with Thompson sidelined and should help improve a previously weak Warriors bench.
Owners of the Nos. 7 and 14 overall picks in the draft, the Warriors could bring in some good, young talent if they don't find a trade to their liking.
7. Phoenix Suns
Making the jump from lottery team to the NBA Finals was a huge accomplishment for the Suns, who fell just shy of the first championship in franchise history.
Still, there's plenty to stay excited about, as Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Jae Crowder are all under contract for next season.
Of course, the ceiling of this team will depend on Chris Paul, who carries a $44.2 million player option for 2021-22, and therefore was not considered on the roster for this ranking. There's a good chance Paul will opt in and return to Phoenix or re-sign instead on a longer deal, which would naturally bump the Suns higher in these rankings.
While a team like the New York Knicks can offer Paul a max contract and a starting job on a playoff squad, leaving a Suns team and moving further away from Los Angeles where his family is located may be a step back for Paul.
Phoenix should even be better next year thanks to the playoff experience, and 2020 No. 10 overall pick Jalen Smith could turn into a valuable rotation piece as well.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
No matter what the 76ers ultimately do with Ben Simmons, this is still going to be one of the best teams in the East next season.
It's easy to forget about Simmons' regular season, where he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting while averaging 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists and 1.6 steals on 55.7 percent shooting.
Simmons doesn't need to average 20 points a game with Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris on the team, either. Embiid has become a yearly MVP candidate with his dominant play on both ends, and Harris is a skilled scorer and passer who hit 39.1 percent of his threes this past season.
The Sixers also have plenty of emerging talent with Matisse Thybulle, Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton, while vets like George Hill and Seth Curry help space the floor.
Danny Green will be an unrestricted free agent, however, and a Simmons trade could shake the roster up at any time.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
Having LeBron James and Anthony Davis is good enough to be a top-5 team in the NBA, even if the rest of the roster is a mystery.
Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Marc Gasol are the only other Lakers with guaranteed contracts for next season, as Los Angeles has a plethora of starters and reserves able to become free agents.
Talen Horton-Tucker is the only restricted free agent of the bunch, and at age 20, should be retained for his upside alone. Montrezl Harrell has a $9.7 million player option and has recently shared his displeasure with a lack of playing time on social media. He shouldn't be viewed as a lock to return.
Despite so many players hitting free agency, the Lakers are still operating over the cap due to their existing salaries, so getting any notable outside help is probably out of the question.
A team with a healthy James and Davis can still win a title, even with a less talented roster around them.
4. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta jumped from 20 wins to 41 before going on to secure a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals thanks to its combination of young talent and proven vets.
Trae Young runs the offense (25.3 points, 9.4 assists), but he's received plenty of help. Nine total Hawks averaged at least 10.0 points per game this season, and seven are under contract for 2021-22. An eighth, John Collins, is a restricted free agent who's almost guaranteed to return as well.
We didn't get to see a complete healthy season from De'Andre Hunter or Cam Reddish, players who could turn into two-way stars in Atlanta. Onyeka Okongwu didn't have to play a big role as a rookie thanks to the presence of Clint Capela, but the No. 6 overall pick in 2020 has the tools to become an elite rim protector.
Outside of Collins, Lou Williams is the only core piece from the Hawks set to become a free agent this summer—a good sign for the team's continuity in 2021-22.
3. Utah Jazz
Utah finished with the best regular season record (52-20) and had the highest net rating (plus-9.0) of any team this year before a disappointing second-round loss ended its title dreams.
Winning a championship is still very much in play for this core, though, as Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are about to begin their five-year extensions. Joe Ingles, Jordan Clarkson, Royce O'Neale, Derrick Favors and Bojan Bogdanovic are all under contract for next season, too.
The only potential setback is the free agency of Mike Conley Jr., who should be looking to cash in one last time at age 33. As The Athletic's Tony Jones writes, "Utah wants Conley back and will make every attempt to keep the All-Star in a Jazz uniform once free agency opens."
A new deal for Conley will push Utah deep into the luxury tax, with little options or cash left to improve the team in free agency.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
While the Bucks should spend plenty of time celebrating the franchise's first title since 1971, they don't have the best team heading into 2021-22.
The core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday are all under contract for the next three years, meaning Milwaukee should once again be competing for a championship. Joining them are Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo and Pat Connaughton, giving this team at least six reliable returning pieces.
The Bucks could use some big pieces in the frontcourt, however, as Bobby Portis has a $3.8 million player option and has earned himself a significant raise. P.J. Tucker is an unrestricted free agent who's made a noticeable mark on the team with his defense and experience.
Diving into the luxury tax and sending out future first-round picks in the Holiday trade mean upgrading this team will be difficult. Luckily, there doesn't appear to be much work to do.
1. Brooklyn Nets
When healthy, there's simply no stopping this loaded Nets team.
A hobbled Brooklyn still took the eventual-champion Milwaukee Bucks to seven games in their second-round playoff series, with Kevin Durant looking like the best player in the league for stretches.
Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving played in just eight regular-season games together, a number that should certainly increase with Harden beginning 2021-22 on the roster. Finding a starting center is important, but it's not crucial. Durant, Harden, Irving and Joe Harris registered a net rating of plus-18.0 in 140 minutes together, no matter who shared the floor with them.
Nic Claxton looked like he could be the guy at the 5 moving forward, with DeAndre Jordan and Landry Shamet serving as sixth and seventh men. Bruce Brown is a restricted free agent and should be retained, and Brooklyn can either re-sign Spencer Dinwiddie or explore sign-and-trade opportunities.
Having three of the best offensive players in the NBA will make up for a lot of defensive weaknesses, with health likely serving as the only thing that can stop the Nets from winning a title in 2022.
All salary information via Basketball Insiders.