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HomeBasketballNBAPreseason NBA Power Rankings: defending champion Nuggets lead a deep field of...

Preseason NBA Power Rankings: defending champion Nuggets lead a deep field of contenders

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

The holidays are great but I’m talking about the start of a new NBA season.

With the season being less than a week away, we’re ranking the teams from the squads with the best shot at winning the NBA championship, to the teams with the best shot at winning the 2024 Draft Lottery.

Each week during the season, these rankings will be available every Monday.

We start with the defending champs.

  1. Denver: The defending champion Nuggets have the best core in the league. Denver went through last season’s playoffs relatively untested. We haven’t seen a back-to-back champion since the Durant/Curry Warriors in 2017 and 2018. There’s no reason to believe the Nuggets can’t climb the mountain again.
  2. Boston: The Celtics to start the season have the best odds to win the NBA title. Boston has one of the best duos in the league in wings Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The Celtics essentially replaced one strong defensive guard (Marcus Smart) with another (Jrue Holiday). Guard Derrick White is one of the more underrated players in the league. The addition of Kristaps Porzingis gives Boston something it hasn’t had in its current incarnation: a big who can protect the rim on defense and who’s a real threat on the offensive end. Porzingis is coming off his most productive season as a pro. Is Porzingis the final piece to the Celtics’ championship puzzle?
  3. Milwaukee: The addition of Damian Lillard makes Milwaukee one of the favorites to win the 2024 title. It takes some of the offensive load of perennial MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. The addition of Lillard, though, will add to Giannis’ defensive load, and that of center Brook Lopez. Losing guard Jrue Holiday in the Lillard trade gives the Bucks no real point-of-attack defender. Will new coach Adrian Griffin be able to find a defensive scheme that works over the next nine months?
  4. Phoenix: Phoenix should have one of the most potent offenses in the league. On the defensive end is where the Suns will have to prove some people wrong. Health is a question, too, as Kevin Durant and new Suns guard Brad Beal have missed more than a few games the last few seasons. Guard Devin Booker should be an MVP candidate this season. 
  5. LA Lakers: The Lakers quietly have one of the deepest rosters in the league. The team should be OK when LeBron James or Anthony Davis inevitably misses a stretch. Last season showed the Lakers could make a run as a play-in team. LA if it takes the regular season seriously shouldn’t have to worry about fighting its way into the postseason.
  6. Golden State: I could be ranking the Warriors this high out of respect. How much better will they be with Chris Paul? Is this the year one of Golden State’s young guys breaks out and becomes a real contributor? Steph Curry doesn’t seem to be slowing down heading into year 15, though. And that’s enough for me to see the Warriors as a contender.
  7. Philadelphia: 76ers are a tough team to figure out. On one hand, they have the reigning MVP in center Joel Embiid, a rising star in guard Tyrese Maxey, and reigning assist leader who can also get you 30 on a given night in Harden. On the other hand, Philly may just be a second round and out playoff team. The ongoing Harden situation isn’t helping its prospects, as he’s on his way to blowing up third team in four years.
  8. Sacramento: Continuity will be big for Sacramento. That and health are the biggest reasons the Kings had a resurgence last season. Sacramento has to improve on defense if it wants to take the next step. I don’t see the team faring as well as it did in 2023, as a handful of teams have upgraded their talent to a level the Kings didn’t this offseason.
  9. Miami: I can’t bet against Miami. Who knows, though, if the Heat will take the regular season seriously? Miami lost its starting backcourt from the Finals, and lacks overall depth. Head coach Erik Spoelstra will have Miami ready in the spring, though.
  10. Cleveland: After how last season’s playoffs went, the Cavs have to figure out the Mobley/Allen pairing. Free agent signing Max Strus will give Cleveland a real player at small forward. Guard Donovan Mitchell isn’t expected to sign an extension next summer. Will that have a negative effect on the team?
  11. Memphis: The Grizzlies won’t have star guard Ja Morant the first 25 games. Memphis is decent without Ja, amassing a 37-25 mark in games he’s missed since Morant entered the league. The Grizzlies without Ja don’t have a lot of firepower, though. Memphis will ask a lot of guard Desmond Bane over the first third of the season until Ja is able to return.
  12. LA Clippers: The Clippers would be much higher if we knew we’d get 65-70 games each from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Depth is a question. I don’t understand the James Harden interest unless LA is planning to trade Russell Westbrook.
  13. Minnesota: This should be Anthony Edwards’ team now. How will Karl-Anthony Towns react to that? 
  14. Oklahoma City: The Thunder has a wealth of young talent. Gilgeous-Alexander is a star. “Rookie” Chet Holmgren’s versatility on both ends of the floor should make Thunder a playoff team.
  15. New York: The Knicks roster peaked last season, winning a playoff series for the first time in a decade. Guard Jalen Brunson is a difference maker, but not a ceiling raiser.
  16. New Orleans: With a healthy Zion Williamson, the Pelicans will finish higher. Otherwise New Orleans is bound for the play-in for a third straight year.
  17. Atlanta: The Hawks should be better with a full offseason under coach Quin Snyder. Trae Young puts up nearly the same numbers as Luka Doncic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander but gets nowhere near the same love.
  18. Toronto: The Raptors have a lot of “B” and “B-plus”  talent. Toronto will be competitive, but the Raptors don’t have the high-end talent to do anything significant.
  19. Brooklyn: if Ben Simmons gives them anything, the Nets will almost certainly make the playoffs. Would you bet on Simmons, though, at this point?
  20. Dallas: The Mavericks have more depth with addition of Grant Williams, Seth Curry and two first-round draft picks. I don’t think Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, with how bad both are on defense, will be enough for Dallas to compete in the west.
  21. Utah: The Jazz shockingly raced out to a 10-3 start last year. Will Hardy is a great young coach. Center Walker Kessler will be Defensive Player of the Year one day.
  22. Orlando: The Magic has the best young frontcourt in the league with forwards Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero, and center Wendell Carter Jr.. Orlando would be squarely in the playoff race if it had better backcourt play. 
  23. Indiana: The young Pacers should play hard every night. The health of all-star guard Tyrese Haliburton, who missed 26 games last season, is key.
  24. Chicago: The Bulls have good vets but the team continues to just kind of be there. Chicago has a lot of pieces that could be moved to contenders at the trade deadline.
  25. Washington: Another odd mix but with some guys with playoff stripes. Can Tyus Jones run a team for a whole year? Will Jordan Poole average 25 points a game?
  26. Houston: new coach Ime Udoka and big free agent signing Fred VanVleet give Houston some grownups in the locker room. In getting wings Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore, the Rockets had the best draft outside of San Antonio.
  27. Detroit: if The Pistons get 65 or more games out of Cade Cunningham, they won’t finish this low.
  28. Charlotte: The team has been in purgatory for 30 years. That will continue this season.
  29. Portland: The Blazers have an odd mix of vets and youth. Will DeAndre Ayton be willing to take a backseat to rookie Scoot Henderson after all Ayton endured in Phoenix?
  30. San Antonio: Victor Wembanyama makes the Spurs must-watch, but after Slick Vic, the Spurs have a lot of nothing going on. 
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