The NBA Extravaganza: A Deep Dive Into Every NBA Team And Where They'll Stand At The End of the Year
To all of my fellow NBA fans and self-proclaimed connoisseurs: We made it.
We're in it now. The 2019-20 NBA season tipped off last night with the debut game being brought to us by the Raptors beating the Pelicans in the world's least wanted overtime, and was followed by the first installment of the new and improved Lakers-Clippers rivalry.
This article's purpose is to provide a general context for what I believe the NBA season will look like this year as far as winners and losers go. I'll be providing you with my predictions for the end of the year standings in each respective conference, which will be followed up by a Power Rankings that includes all 30 NBA squads at the end of the piece.
I'm as excited for this season as I've ever been, and am stoked to see how the season plays out with all of the refreshed rosters.
The Almighty Western Conference
It's important to note that the Western Conference has been the superior conference for well over a decade now. The East has been anything but "almighty" in that time span, although they are the conference that's featured the most dominant player in the league for the last decade and a half (LeBron from 2005-2017, then Giannis from 2018-the foreseeable future). But not even Giannis or LeBron is great enough to catapult the Eastern Conference above the West, and that's because of the unparalleled depth in the West.
There are somewhere between 10-12 teams competing for a playoff spot in the West, while there's only like five or six organizations in the East that could perform up to the West's gaudy standards if they were to somehow infiltrate the conference.
So, like I've said before and will say many times hereafter, disintegrate the idea of conferences already, Adam Silver. Just give us the 16 best teams in the league, and let them duel it out for the championship. It's only fair to the teams like Dallas, Sacramento, OKC, and San Antonio that might have to sit on the couch and watch the New York Fucking Knicks play basketball in May instead of them.
Here we are, only a few days before the season even starts, and I'm already fired up and pissed off about the unfairness of the modern playoff seeding format. Let's just talk actual basketball already.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (57-25)
The only thing restraining my intense LeBron James and James Harden bias from putting the Lakers or Rockets at the top of the Western Conference Standings is the overwhelming amount of depth, and sheer talent level on this Clippers roster. We truly haven't seen anything like it in quite some time as far as all-around versatility goes.
They have three of the ten best defenders in the league in Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Patrick Beverley, and their bench mob consisting of Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and Landry Shamet is as talented as a lot of team's starting units.
With Doc Rivers as the undisputed vocal leader of the squad, he'll be chasing his second ring as an NBA coach (his first since 2008 with the Boston Celtics). And although Paul George won't be seeing legitimate playing time till around November, the Clippers will be able to hold their own with Kawhi leading their scoring attack until then.
2. Houston Rockets (56-26)
The Rockets have been one of the two best teams in the Western Conference for the last several years since James Harden became the best offensive player in the league (and arguably one of the three best of all-time).
With the addition of Russel Westbrook, the Rockets have gained another attack-first mentality guard, and a player who is at the peak of his powers. It's also important to mention that Westbrook is as thirsty for a championship as anybody in the league including his running mate, James Harden.
Another key aspect to this offseason in Houston was that they maintained the majority of their key role players: Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, Austin Rivers, and Danuel House in their deal to acquire Westbrook. There's a sense of familiarity with their roster, and the only difference is that Westbrook is a couple of inches taller than Chris Paul, a few years younger, and a hell of a lot more athletic at this point in their careers.
D'Antoni will have a lot of fun this year from a schematic standpoint, and has the privilege of staggering the two most ball-dominant players in league history. If Westbrook can accept his role as a cutter in half court sets while Harden's on the floor, then the Rockets have the potential to be hands down the most dangerous offensive team in the world.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (52-30)
In case you didn't know, LeBron James is entering his 17th season (and he'll gladly remind you of that), and he's coming into this season alongside the best player he's ever had the pleasure of playing with: Anthony Davis. Yes, 2019 Anthony Davis is a better all-around player than 2011 Dwyane Wade or 2016 Kyrie Irving.
There's an argument for AD as the best player in the league at this very moment. Full stop. He has an offensive arsenal that few big men have ever achieved in the history of the league. His face-up game is lethal, his back to the basket game is dominant, and he has the best handle out of all of the seven-footers in the league not named Kevin Durant.
The tandem will have to carry the majority of the offensive load with Boogie Cousins sidelined for the season with injury, but they won't be entirely alone considering they have Kyle Kuzma and Danny Green surrounding them. I for one don't expect a whole lot out of Kuzma because I personally believe he's a rather overrated and overhyped player, but I'm aware of the scoring potential he possesses. What I would like to see out of him though is a legitimate commitment to the defensive side of the ball, much like the player that Danny Green has been since his time in a Spurs uniform.
The most vital question for the Lakers this season will be how well the rest of the role players (Javale McGee, Dwight Howard, Quinn Cook, Rajon Rondo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) can perform on a night-to-night basis because we know what we're going to get out of the two Gods in Lakers uniforms.
4. Utah Jazz (51-31)
Donovan Mitchell finally has a backcourt partner that's somewhere near his caliber of talent, and that backcourt partner's name is Mike Conley. A man who has been itching for a championship-level roster since the early 2010's teams he led in Memphis alongside Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
It's important that we don't overlook the other relatively minor acquisitions that the Jazz made by adding talents like Bojan Bogdanovic and Ed Davis. With Gobert anchoring the defense, Mitchell and Conley orchestrating the offense, and Joe Ingles (AKA Throw Singles) and Bogdanovic spotting up from three-point range, the Jazz should be towards the top of the league as far as contenders go.
5. Denver Nuggets (50-32)
Can the Nuggets take the next step? They had a disappointing exit last year in the playoffs and didn't have a go-to bucket getter when it came down to clutch moments against the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round of the playoffs.
There are no questions about the depth of their roster; they have between 10-11 guys that are more than deserving of significant playing time in the world's best basketball league. The big question is who is going to be on the floor in the final minutes of close contests against the other contenders throughout the league.
6. Golden State Warriors (48-34)
The Warriors lost Kevin Durant this offseason, and in the simplest terms possible: that really fucking sucks for them. But it's easier for them to look on the bright side than it was for OKC now that KD's departed for, in his mind at least, greener pastures.
The Dubs acquired the supremely talented, and still relatively young D'Angelo Russel in a sign-and-trade deal with the Brooklyn Nets this offseason. He'll be splitting reps at point guard with Stephen Curry, and is more than capable of playing off-ball as a combo guard when he's on the floor with the greatest shooter ever. It seems like everybody gets at least a little bit better when they put on a Golden State uniform, and much of the credit deserves to go to Steve Kerr: a genuine offensive genius.
Once Klay Thompson gets back (if he does, in fact, return this season after suffering a Torn ACL in the Finals in June), that's when shit's going to get real for the Warriors and the rest of the league. A lineup consisting of: Steph, D'Lo, Klay, Draymond and Willie Cauley-Stein is still one of the most talented starting fives in all of basketball.
Steph should be towards the top of the MVP race for the majority of the regular season, and we can anticipate him to return to the style of play we saw him utilize during his back-to-back MVP seasons when he made five three pointers per game and averaged 30 points. As a D'Lo fanatic, I just hope that Steph takes the young guard under his deadeye wing and helps shape him into the third splash brother.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (46-36)
What is there to say about the Blazers that hasn't already been said? They've been the most mediocre-good team in basketball for the last several years, and until they take the next step it's tough to predict that they'll be a legitimate contender.
It's not their fault that they've ran into the Warriors dynasty the last few postseasons, but if they're ever going to take that next step and finally make the Finals, it'll have to be this season. I wish them the best because they're comprised of some really good dudes in Dame and C.J., but sports don't give a fuck about feelings or behaviors. They only give a fuck about wins.
8. Sacramento Kings (44-38)
In my mind, this will be the season that finally breaks the playoff drought in Sacramento. Fox has been one of the few bright spots in the franchise that's lived in mediocrity for the entire decade, and his backcourt partner Buddy Hield is widely regarded as one of the five or ten best shooters in the world.
As a Kings fan, I'll be praying before all 82 games this year in order to contribute what little I can to help Sacramento make a splash in the playoffs.
9. New Orleans Pelicans (42-40)
This is what I'll say about the Pelicans: they're going to be really fucking fun to watch this year. Lonzo and Zion are going to the peanut butter and jelly that Cleveland wanted D-Wade and Bron to be a couple seasons ago. And Brandon Ingram is about to take that next step from a consistently good starter to a borderline all-star this season.
Also, I'd feel guilty if I didn't mention that the Pelicans have the potential to play an all Duke starting lineup:
Point Guard: Frank Jackson
Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick
Small Forward: Ingram
Power Forward: Z
Center: Jahlil Okafor
So, I promised myself I wouldn't say it in this piece, but promises are meant to be broken (isn't that how the saying goes?), so brace yourself because here it comes...
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-41)
Dear Everybody Who Thinks Chris Paul is Washed,
Y'all might be right once the playoffs come around or whatever, but you can't dispute that he's one of the five best point guards of all-time, and I can promise you that this dude isn't going to let OKC go down without a fight.
The Point God Advocate
11. Dallas Mavericks (37-45)
Luka and Kristaps have the potential to be the most talented duo in the league for the next decade and a half. They're the European Wonderboys who have versatile games on the offensive end, and they're only a combined 44 years old.
I just don't think that this year is the year that the Mavs make the playoffs for the first time since the glory days of Perc Nowitzki.
12. San Antonio Spurs (36-46)
For the first time since the beginning of basketball, the Spurs won't be making the playoffs this season. Is that true? Probably not, cause Coach Pop is immortal and they have some really quality players at almost every position in Derozan, LA12, Dejounte Murray, and White. But I just don't think their talent level or style of play will be enough to boost them into a crowded Western Conference playoff race.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (29-53)
The Timberwolves play in Minnesota, and they should trade Karl Anthony Towns for his benefit and their own as a franchise because these fuckers are going nowhere this season.
That's all I got for them. Sorry to all fifteen of the Timberwolves fans out there.
(Before you guys scold me, I've been to three different T'Wolves games in my life and all three of those games featured like 60% crowd attendance at most.)
14. Memphis Grizzlies (24-58)
While Ja Morant will be towards the top of the Rookie of the Year race, the Grizzlies will be far from a legitimate playoff contender. The only thing that Memphis fans should be excited for this season is the pairing of Ja and Jaren Jackson Jr., which has the potential to be one of the more devastating duos in the league for the next decade.
15. Phoenix Suns (13-69)
Somebody get Devin Booker a friend, a legitimate teammate (Sorry, Ayton, you just aren't my cup of tea yet), or a plane ticket out of Phoenix. Much like what I had to say about the T'Wolves, these fuckers are hopeless.
The only reason I'll watch any of their games this season will be to see how the boy Ty Jerome performs in the pros cause I think he has the potential to be an above average backup point guard, or a just below average starter for a good amount of time in this league.
The Top-Heavy Eastern Conference
The Eastern Conference is a two-headed horse without any sort of body behind it. There are the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks, and then there's everybody else. You can try to convince me that the Celtics, Heat, or Pacers will make a severe impact on the regular season, but once the playoffs roll around those teams are going to get steam-rolled over by the two Goliaths in Philly and Milwaukee.
If it weren't for these two teams, the Eastern Conference playoffs would be practically unbearable to watch come April. But it's not April! It's October, and the regular season is a time to inspire hope and confidence in mediocre basketball teams located on the East Coast and in the Midwest.
1. Philadelphia 76ers (59-23)
Breaking news: the Sixers are fucking HUGE. Their smallest starter is going to be Josh Richardson who's listed at 6'6", and apparently Ben Simmons is drilling threes now, so the rest of the league should be put on notice throughout the regular season.
While we've seen the trend of small-ball become popular since the Golden State dynasty ascended, the Sixers have decided to go in the opposite direction, and they fully intend on bullying the living shit out of every team that comes their way. And that mindset of physicality first will be crucial when they have to face Giannis in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If I were to pick any team to win the championship this season, then I would probably take the Sixers right now. Maybe that's recency bias because I'm still drunk off of the Ben-Simmons-Jumper cocktail I chugged over the offseason, but I legitimately believe that they have the most talented starting five when considering the talent at each position. It's no secret that Embiid, Horford and the city of Philadelphia are as hungry for a championship as any trio in the world, so there's a large part of me that anticipates Philly to be the kings of the NBA by the end of the season.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (57-25)
The Bucks lost Brogdon, and added veteran guard Wesley Matthews, but that wasn't the offseason acquisition that I want to talk about here...
Milwaukee now has both Lopez brothers on their roster, Brook and Robin, and that's the most dangerous sentence I've ever typed in my life. If you aren't familiar with the Lopez brothers, well, they're fucking full blown psychos. And they're going to set the city of Milwaukee on fire when they get trounced 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals this year by the Sixers because Giannis won't be able to shoot outside of eight feet from the basket.
With that being said, Giannis is going to develop into more of a Greek God than he already is, and will probably average like 30 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists or some crazy shit like that, which will definitely gain him his second MVP award in a row. But this just isn't their year as far as that bling-bling-championship-ring goes.
Sorry, Bucks fans.
3. Boston Celtics (52-30)
The circus in Boston has finally ended, and now they're left with a team that's stuck in contender's purgatory: not good enough to win the Finals, and not quite deep enough asset-wise to deal for a franchise changing player like Bradley Beal, KAT, or Devin Booker without severely altering their future.
Look on the bright side though Boston fans. If you fast forward five years later, then Jayson Tatum will be winning his 3rd Finals MVP in a row* and well on his way to cementing himself as the second greatest Celtic ever behind Larry Legend.
*Jaylen Brown will be in a corner somewhere else bricking 3's, and making 30 millions dollars per season.
4. Indiana Pacers (46-36)
Until Victor Oladipo comes back, it'll be tough to tell how legitimate the Pacers are when it comes to contending with the rest of the Eastern Conference.
I don't know what else you want me to say here: they're just a boring basketball team that happens to be located in Indiana. Unless you're super into offensive rebounds and slow-paced basketball, then I guess this just isn't the team you'll want to spend your free time watching.
5. Brooklyn Nets (44-38)
Okay, now this is a team I'm excited to talk about.
How fucking fun is it to watch Kyrie self-produce a Hoopmixtape worthy highlight reel night in and night out while the rest of his team just stands and watches? Probably not very fun for the purity of basketball enthusiasts, but incredibly fun for the guy who literally lives in a house labeled The Kyrie Irving Fan Club (that's me, I'm that guy).
I'm excited to see how the rest of the team in Brooklyn reacts to Kyrie's arrival, because they were genuinely one of the more fun teams to watch celebrate and cheer for last year when they were dancing on the bench and telling each other from the sidelines that, "He can't guard you! Dance on him!" Kyrie is perhaps the number one asset in the world when it comes to the bench feeling confident about talking shit to the guy who is guarding him, because in most cases, the defender literally can't guard him. So dance on them, Kyrie. Do your fuckin' dance before KD comes back next year and you guys are real-life contenders and not just a wet dream of mine.
6. Orlando Magic (42-40)
The Magic aren't anything you're going to really need to keep your eye on this season for the umpteenth year in a row. If there's anything or anyone to pay attention to here: it's Markelle Fultz.
The number one overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft is 100% healthy for the first time in his young career, and I'm not saying he'll ever live up to the hype surrounding him when he was selected with the first pick, but I'm definitely not disregarding the possibility of him as an all-star in a weak Eastern Conference two years from now. It'd be ludicrous to assume his jump shot will be anywhere near the league average for the point guard position, but Fultz knows how to do just about everything else on the floor at a pretty solid level.
7. Toronto Raptors (41-41)
I'm so happy for Drake, Toronto, Kawhi Leonard and everybody else who was apart of the Raptors championship run last year. Congratulations. You guys deserve it. Especially Drake: the "Global Ambassador" for the Raptors, or whatever the fuck that means. And I truly hate to break it to you guys, but you're going to be full blown garbage this season in comparison to last. Kawhi's too big of a loss to just move on this quickly. It's like a one-sided breakup to end a relationship that lasted less than 365 days. You just saw it coming. One person was really into the other, but the feeling was just never mutual, and they knew it in the back of their minds the whole time.
8. Chicago Bulls (40-42)
For the first time since the Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah era, the Bulls are going to be fun to watch play basketball. If you're not a believer in the Bulls already, then allow me to attempt to encourage you:
Zach Lavine will be a top ten scorer in terms of points per game.
Lauri Markannen is a unicorn.
Wendell Carter Jr. will surely surge in his sophomore season.
Grand Theft Otto has been a consistent bucket getter for two years now.
And lastly, Satoransky, Dunn, and Coby White will all be surrounded by above average weapons when running point guard.
9. Miami Heat (39-43)
Point Justise has the potential to be the most improved player of the year. Yeah, I have an intense Duke bias and everything, but he has all the modern intangibles you'd want out of your franchise point guard and he's 6'6". He's an elite defender, has excellent vision for a forward, and a competitive edge that's unbreakable. If the Heat decide to start him at point guard, Tyler Herro at the two, Jimmy Butler at small forward, Olynyk or James Johnson at the four, and Bam at the five, then they'll have a top five starting lineup in the East. Which isn't saying much, but still: they'll be a competitive group in a weak Eastern Conference and are one trade away from leaping into contention.
10. New York Knicks (37-45)
I'm a lot higher on the Knicks than I should be, especially when I consider the fact James Dolan is still their own. I don't know, it's probably just the Duke bias in me, but I think that they'll at least contend for the eighth spot in the East because it's such a tragic conference.
11. Atlanta Hawks (36-46)
The Hawks may be the worst defensive team in the league, but that doesn't mean they won't be fun to watch. In the mean time, they have a few urgent questions that need to be answered if they ever want to be above mediocre:
Can Trae Young or John Collins play even a hint of defense?
Are Hunter and Reddish going to be the 3-and-D wings they were drafted to be?
Is Kevin Huerter a solid third best player on your team, or just a dude who got buckets as a rookie and was a fun story? (It's all love over here for Red Velvet).
Will Vince Carter have a retirement tour? And if he does, then will this be a Kobe's Lakers type season for them?
12. Detroit Pistons (33-49)
I hate this, I really do, but I just feel like the Pistons are destined to be riddled with injuries. If they do manage to have Griffin, Rose and Drummond for 65+ games, then I think they can compete for the 4th or 5th seed in the East. But if history has taught us anything, it's that we simply can't trust Rose or Griffin to be healthy at the same time for that many games.
This is also the year that the Pistons need to find out if Luke Kennard is just going to be remembered as that guy who was drafted before Donovan Mitchell. There's a potential in him that could boost him up to 17-19 points per game, and that would be absolutely pivotal for a Detroit team that lacks bucket getters.
13. Washington Wizards (22-60)
The Wizards are going to be very bad. It's really as simple as that. Bradley Beal is the only person who will be able to win them games, and there's no foreseeable time table for Perc'd Out John Wall to come back.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-62)
I feel like the Cavs are the best worst team in the league out of the Suns, Hornets, Wizards, and themselves. Don't ask me why: it could be Kevin Love, or Darius Garland's potential to be 80% of Damian Lillard. I honestly have no idea why, it's probably just cause those other teams are just so unbelievably awful.
15. Charlotte Hornets (9-73)
The Hornets aren't even worth talking about.
NBA Power Rankings
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Lakers
Golden State Warriors
Portland Trail Blazers
New Orleans Pelicans
Oklahoma City Thunder
San Antonio Spurs
New York Knicks
Thanks for reading, and tune into Burbs throughout the season for all things hoops.