NBA Power Rankings are back!
With just two weeks and change to go before training camps open, The Committee (of One) is ready to unveil its 1-to-30 pulse take in the wake of an unpredictable offseason
Who would dare take on the NFL on the opening Sunday of the gridiron football season?
You guessed it: Your fearless Committee (of One).
In our ESPN days, we would always publish a new season's Training Camp Edition of the Power Rankings on the last Friday before the leaguewide date for Media Day. In our Substack era, it's proven more useful and enjoyable to unveil them earlier.
So with most of the NBA's offseason business complete, allow us to introduce our first 1-to-30 ladder for the 2022-23 campaign ... with the intent to continue retreating to the rankings dungeon to hash this all out on a monthly basis as opposed to the weekly cadence you see on many sites.
We repeat: It's fun to be different.
Allow us, furthermore, to issue this reminder: This sentence seems to be skipped over by many readers every year, but the first batch of rankings is NOT meant to represent straight-up predictions for how the 2022-23 standings will unfold. In the Training Camp Edition, how a team fared with its summer business and recent injury developments are major factors that, in addition to a team's big-picture outlook, determine where it lands.
Prime example: Cleveland is No. 9 in these rankings not because we are proclaiming with certainty in early September that the Cavaliers will be the fourth-best team in the East. It's largely because we loved the Cavs' summer — highlighted, of course, by Cleveland's acquisition of Donovan Mitchell to join Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland.
We know from experience that the above disclaimer will be overlooked and that complaints are surely forthcoming about Milwaukee sitting one spot ahead of Boston, Denver and the LA Clippers landing above Phoenix, Minnesota and New Orleans climbing past Dallas, etc. Hopefully you'll register your quibbles (and other pertinent thoughts) in the comments below so we can respond and expound upon The Committee's thinking.
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1️⃣ Golden State Warriors
The reigning champions always start out at No. 1 with The Committee and it's an even easier decision than usual given that the Warriors expect to have a much more effective Klay Thompson in his second season after devastating knee and Achilles injuries. The Warriors likewise presume that Draymond Green will play more than 46 regular-season games … and they believe Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and, of course, James Wiseman are all poised to take on larger roles. Even the moves to replace the outgoing Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. — in come Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green — should help the team with four titles in the past eight seasons move forward.
2️⃣ Milwaukee Bucks
The sense here, even after the Bucks closed out a championship as recently as July 20, 2021, is that we're still sleeping on this team somehow. Giannis Antetokounmpo is bound to be at least a little bit better than he was when we last saw him as he moves into his 10th NBA season. Khris Middleton is coming back to reunite with Giannis and Jrue Holiday after a knee injury prevented him from logging a single second in Milwaukee's second-round exit to Boston in the spring. And they've still got a strong supporting cast that will be even stronger if newcomer Joe Ingles can bounce back from last season's ACL tear. This team is still as tough as anyone in the East; Middleton’s return is what swayed us to put it right behind the reigning champs.
3️⃣ Boston Celtics
It's still hard to believe, as a new season gets cranked up, that Ime Udoka’s Celtics were mired at No. 11 in the East as recently as mid-January. Yet there does have to be some concern within the Celtics' ranks, impressive as they were advancing all the way to the NBA Finals, that they squandered a precious chance to win it all with so many teams looking so dangerous (at least on paper) as we start anew. The season-ending knee injury Danilo Gallinari suffered with Italy last month is a dagger, because so much of the optimism about Boston's follow-up to that Finals run was the offensive boost it hoped to get from Gallinari and fellow newcomer Malcolm Brogdon. That bummer end to summer is also why the Celts are No. 3 rather than No. 2 as we get going again.
4️⃣ Denver Nuggets
Getting Jamal Murray back from a full-season's injury absence figures to rival any free-agent signing in the league. A more wary approach is wise to maintain when it comes to Michael Porter Jr.'s comeback — let's see first if he is healthy as he proclaims to be — but new Nuggets lead executive Calvin Booth is off to a promising start thanks to the acquisitions of Bruce Brown and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to spruce up Denver's wing depth beyond the anticipated returns of Murray and Porter. Two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokić will have far more help than he did when we last saw him. The short-term reward is this heady boost into the top four.
5️⃣ LA Clippers
It has been 454 days since we last saw Kawhi Leonard in an NBA game. Paul George was only healthy enough to play 31 of 82 games himself last season. It's thus a leap of faith to vault the Clippers straight back into the league's upper echelon, but we're good with making that leap (for now). Further influences include Tyronn Lue's status as one of the league's best (and still somehow underrated) coaches and another potential boost: Ongoing murmurs we've been hearing about newly signed John Wall looking good during his summer workouts.
6️⃣ Phoenix Suns
The Suns won eight more games than any other team in the league last season. They ultimately retained Deandre Ayton and still have essentially the same group that finished two wins shy of the first championship in franchise history in 2020-21. Yet there's an unavoidable sense, as a byproduct of the Suns’ embarrassing Game 7 home loss to Dallas and the acrimonious nature of contract negotiations with Ayton going back months, that this team has taken a step back. They’ll have to prove that they have moved past all that to move back into our top five.
7️⃣ Philadelphia 76ers
The wisdom of holding out for James Harden at all costs like Daryl Morey did throughout his first year and a half in Philadelphia remains an open question that will depend on how much Harden rebounds on the floor (and in the conditioning realm). But give Morey this much: He was able to convince Harden to sign a new contract that left sufficient salary cap space to make room for fellow Rockets alumni P.J. Tucker and Danuel House Jr., plus De'Anthony Melton via trade. Then Montrezl Harrell joined them on a minimum. The Sixers’ summer exceeded all expectations.
8️⃣ Memphis Grizzlies
The league office and its network partner in Central Connecticut certainly believe in the Grizzlies given Memphis’ Christmas Day assignment at Golden State. The Committee is nonetheless a bit wary about how Ja Morant and Co. will cope in a Western Conference that looks more like the stacked West you expect — and with Jaren Jackson Jr. likely sidelined until at least November after right foot surgery. One more variable: How the Grizz handle being the hunted now after 56 wins and the highest playoff seed (No. 2) in team history. They won’t surprise anyone this season.
9️⃣ Cleveland Cavaliers
Count your friends from The Committee among those who admire the Cavaliers' go-for-it spirit. We wouldn't bet on Donovan Mitchell retiring as a Cav, but we're fascinated by the prospect of a Mitchell/Evan Mobley/Jarrett Allen/Darius Garland core. How many All-Stars will Cleveland send to Salt Lake City in February? How long before Mobley supplants Mitchell as the Cavs' best player? When was the last time Cleveland could pose such compelling questions without LeBron James? The Cavs, remember, haven’t won a playoff series without LeBron since (gulp) 1993.
🔟 Miami Heat
The Heat came too close to an NBA Finals berth to drop them all the way out of the top 10. Some slippage, though, seems inevitable after a frustrating offseason in which Miami lost P.J. Tucker to Philadelphia and found itself teasingly linked to Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell in constant trade speculation that didn't actually result in a meaningful deal. It would be classic Heat if they can nurse a strong bounce-back season out of Kyle Lowry and/or continue to generate more production than anyone ever expected from the likes of Max Strus and Ömer Yurtseven. The problem: Miami realistically needs more than that to keep up with the other East title contenders.
1️⃣1️⃣ Minnesota Timberwolves
Our typical posture is to celebrate teams that take the most significant offseason swings, but The Committee is admittedly struggling to talk itself into loving the Rudy Gobert gambit ... even as longtime Gobert fans. The Wolves figure to be a 50-win team in the West with Gobert, because his defense is that valuable in the regular season, but we struggle to envision Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns thriving side-by-side in the playoffs. There are many Wolves fans, mind you, who will gladly welcome a guaranteed playoff spot if that's all that adding Gobert delivers. Remember: Minnesota has advanced past Round 1 of the playoffs only once — ONCE — in the club's 33-season history.
1️⃣2️⃣ New Orleans Pelicans
The Clippers and Nuggets are mentioned constantly when people talk about teams in the West that will be vastly improved because of the previously injured players they're getting back. What about the Pelicans? How does the prospect of a Zion Williamson redemption story, once Willie Green lines him up alongside Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, generate so little buzz? Perhaps we will regret getting sucked in, given that Williamson has appeared in just 85 of a possible 226 games in the NBA, but #thiscommittee is rather high on the Pelicans' potential to land in the West's top six.
1️⃣3️⃣ Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks want to believe they’ll be stronger than they were last season because Christian Wood and JaVale McGee have arrived to fortify a frontline that badly needed a boost. Yet there's no dodging the reality that the Western Conference finalists, after that fairy-tale playoff ride, lost their second-best player without compensation when Jalen Brunson bolted for the Knicks. So it’s difficult to see how Dallas, even with all the damage Luka Dončić does and the tremendous response Jason Kidd got from his players in Year 1 on the Mavericks' bench, stays in the West's top six given how much deeper the conference looks this season.
1️⃣4️⃣ Brooklyn Nets
Considerable skepticism persists leaguewide about how Steve Nash can ever coach Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving again after Durant called for the firings of Nash and GM Sean Marks in August. Maybe he can't. Maybe these Nets are destined to unravel even further. Yet what if, after a season of chaos and an even more tumultuous summer, it actually happens and Brooklyn's principal characters all move on? What if Ben Simmons actually gets back on the floor and reinvents himself as a small-balling center who lives up to the belief that he fits so much better alongside Durant and Irving than he did beside Joel Embiid? This remains Mr. Spock's kind of team: Endlessly fascinating.
1️⃣5️⃣ Atlanta Hawks
Trading three first-round picks to acquire Dejounte Murray doesn't sound all that expensive anymore after the price tags Utah successfully affixed to Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Optimistic as The Committee is about the Trae Young/Murray partnership, given how badly those two seem to want to play together, it's unclear how far that backcourt can push the Hawks back up the East ladder ... especially when they also face the tricky task of reintegrating John Collins as part of the club's core after months of rampant trade rumors. A spot right in the middle, while Atlanta figures all that out, seems wisest for now.
1️⃣6️⃣ Toronto Raptors
My NBA.com colleague John Schuhmann recently noted that the Raptors will start the season with more continuity than any other team in the league, bringing back 14 players who accounted for 96% of last season's minutes. That's the good news. The bad news: Finishing in the East’s top six figures to be much tougher this season given the splashy trades Cleveland and Atlanta made and all the talent on the Nets' roster to offset all the tumult that has become so commonplace in Brooklyn. You tell us (in the comments): What’s the ceiling for a Scottie Barnes/Pascal Siakam/Fred VanVleet core?
1️⃣7️⃣ Portland Trail Blazers
The news we presume Blazermaniacs most want to hear — that Jody Allen has agreed to sell the team to longtime Nike impresario Phil Knight — has not yet materialized. The Blazers were as busy as they could be apart from a sale with the re-signing of Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons to new deals and the acquisitions of Jerami Grant and Gary Payton II, but the West looks so much deeper now that it's difficult to see Portland avoiding missing out on the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Still: Our-star-is-back points nudged the Blazers to the brink of the league’s top half.
1️⃣8️⃣ Los Angeles Lakers
Do you remember back in April when LeBron James announced that "I can/will not miss the postseason again" via this tweet? The Committee's next question: Do you believe him? Perhaps if James, who turns 38 in December, and Anthony Davis each play 70 games this season — and then if new coach Darvin Ham can actually usher Russell Westbrook to some sort of productive role even after Patrick Beverley's recent arrival seemingly made Lakerland even more combustible — maybe then LeBron and Co. can snag one of the West's lower seeds. Let's just say a lot has to go right, after one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history and a monthslong inability to find a Westbrook trade, to make James' 20th NBA campaign memorable for anything other than his expected passing of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leading scorer.
1️⃣9️⃣ Chicago Bulls
For a team that committed $215 million to re-signing Zach LaVine, this was an awfully quiet offseason in Chicago. The Bulls did not hear the good news they were hoping to get on Lonzo Ball, who remains sidelined by a mysteriously stubborn knee injury now expected to prevent him from starting the season on time. The signings of veterans Andre Drummond and Goran Dragić add some depth and wisdom, but it's hard to argue against the idea that the Bulls have quickly lost ground in the East after such a splashy offseason just one summer ago — unless Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams are sufficiently healthy to make noisy returns.
2️⃣0️⃣ New York Knicks
Our question for those applauding the Knicks' restraint in the Donovan Mitchell trade talks: Who is the proven All-Star eager to embrace life in Gotham that they're going to acquire instead of Mitchell for a lesser price? After three offseasons in charge, Leon Rose has amassed an enviable draft pick haul and a few youngsters you'd certainly qualify as promising, but the fact remains: Rose's most significant move so far is signing a virtual family member in Jalen Brunson. This puts immediate pressure on Brunson to find yet another gear or three ... and on Rose to validate his Mitchell posture by hatching a tremendous backup plan.
2️⃣1️⃣ Sacramento Kings
The Kings are certainly due after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs. They've added summer league MVP Keegan Murray, Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter to a roster headlined by De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis and which has been handed to former Cavaliers and Lakers coach Mike Brown. It's become trendy to predict that this is indeed the Kings' year to finally bring a halt to that seemingly interminable postseason drought, but — as we must point out for what feels like the umpteenth time in these rankings about both conferences — it would be a huge Year 1 achievement for Brown just to steer Sacramento into the play-in zone in this West.
2️⃣2️⃣ Washington Wizards
After landing a five-year deal worth $251 million and getting shoutouts at the US Open from surprise semifinalist (and Wizards-area native) Frances Tiafoe, now Bradley Beal has to convince skeptics that he won't want to ask out of Washington in a season or two. He also has to build a partnership with Kristaps Porziņģis, who looked rejuvenated last month with Latvia's national team after unveiling a new beard but who still hasn't logged a single minute beside Beal yet. The Wiz, though, would appear to have some surprise potential depending on what they get from the likes of Kyle Kuzma, Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija and newcomers Will Barton and Monte Morris.
2️⃣3️⃣ Charlotte Hornets
Only four teams made coaching changes in the offseason ... and only Michael Jordan's Hornets took the truly untraditional route of hiring a coach (Steve Clifford) they had already fired. Yet it remains to be seen if Clifford, dismissed after the 2017-18 season but known for fielding teams that defend, can generate substantive improvement with a group that hasn't changed much beyond losing its second-best player (Miles Bridges) indefinitely as well as Montrezl Harrell. (Discussing Bridges any further in a basketball context continues to feel wholly inappropriate given the gravity of the domestic abuse charges against him.)
2️⃣4️⃣ Detroit Pistons
The Committee will always be suckers for Care Factor, so we love seeing how much rookie Jaden Ivey wants to be a Piston. With Ivey and Cade Cunningham teaming up, Detroit — as politely as we can put it — should be one of the league's most watchable bad teams for all the valid concerns about the Pistons’ ability to put enough shooting around those two. (An aside/warning: It’s going to take us some time to process and understand the return of those garish teal uniforms and how passionately so many in Motown feel about them.)
2️⃣5️⃣ Orlando Magic
The Magic supplied a significant amount of intrigue on draft night with their selection of Paolo Banchero, after they were widely expected to select Jabari Smith Jr., and Banchero's presence should make the Magic, like Detroit, more watchable than their win total suggests. Ditto for Franz Wagner, who had such a promising rookie season and has been flashing further potential on EuroBasket duty with Germany. We are running out of room here, actually, to talk about everyone vying for frontcourt minutes in the Magic Kingdom; what no one can tell you at this juncture is how Jalen Suggs and the rest of the guards on the roster will develop.
2️⃣6️⃣ Houston Rockets
The Rockets hold either outright control of Brooklyn's pick or the right to swap picks with the Nets in the next five NBA drafts. As we await more clarity on how bountiful that trade haul for James Harden turns out to be over the next half-decade, player development — and all the growing pains that go with it — remains the focus in Clutch City. Do you think Houston can legitimately fashion a bankable core to build around from the fivesome of prized rookie Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Şengün and Jae'Sean Tate?
2️⃣7️⃣ Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s a serious strain to find the sunny side after prized No. 2 pick Chet Holmgren sustained a season-ending foot injury in August in a Jamal Crawford-hosted Seattle Pro-Am game. The Thunder, though, appear to be quietly building something interesting, with a core that also features Lu Dort, Josh Giddey, Kenrich Williams and, of course, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. OKC likewise still has an enviable cache of future draft picks — no less than 10 first-rounders in the next three drafts — to sweeten trades or keep for themselves and use to go prospecting. The Thunder, even down near the bottom of this ladder and even without Holmgren, have to be monitored.
2️⃣8️⃣ Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have identified their next cornerstone player, but it's difficult to speak with certainty about much else in Indy beyond their determination to build around Tyrese Haliburton. Will they trade or extend Myles Turner? Is Buddy Hield destined to be packaged with Turner in some sort of megadeal? Can Pacers owner Herb Simon really stomach the rebuilding road that his franchise has embraced? A second straight season in the lower reaches of the East almost certainly looms.
2️⃣9️⃣ Utah Jazz
The word was, back in December when the Jazz hired Danny Ainge to take over their front office, that Ainge might have lost his fastball in his early 60s. Good one. Ainge not only is as decisive as ever — determined to hold out for what he wants in trades even when the outside world is howling about how he'll never get it — but also commands tremendous buy-in from ownership on his strategy. After months of talk about how badly Jazz owner Ryan Smith hoped to see two Utah players in this season's All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, Ainge convinced him to go for an all-out rebuild instead.
3️⃣0️⃣ San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio's 50th anniversary season could be the last for Gregg Popovich, who turns 74 in January. Yet it would actually be somewhat poetic if the rebuilding Spurs, who appear almost certain to post one of the league's worst records, muster a win total in the 20s. Don't forget that's how Popovich began his storied career on the Spurs’ bench, going 17-47 (for a 27-win pace) in his maiden season in charge and looking like anything but the coach who would go on to win five championships and post the league's highest all-time wins total (1,344). The question: Is there another Tim Duncan in San Antonio’s future after all the losing ahead?