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NBA Preseason Power Rankings

Wynton Jackson, Contributor

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NBA Preseason Power Rankings

Wynton Jackson ’21, Contributor

 

With the NBA Preseason already underway, and the regular season starting in three weeks, I think it is time to rank the best five teams in the league. Of course, the Golden State Warriors are still overwhelming championship favorites, especially with the addition of superstar DeMarcus Cousins, but other teams have positioned themselves nicely for future progression. The teams are ranked not only by their star-power, but also how well the team could potentially play together.

  1. Golden State Warriors (58-24)

As mentioned before, the Warriors are still title favorites this year, even more so with another superstar. In the off-season, the Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins for a measly 5.3 million dollars. At this point, they are basically making an All-Star team, with the starting lineup all more than capable of making the All-Star Game. The Warriors are known for their selfless style of basketball, focused more on spacing the floor, making the extra pass for great shots, and finding the open man. They could not care less who takes the final shot of the game as long as it is a high-percentage shot. The team is also very adept on defense, with Kevin Durant averaging 1.8 blocks per game and Stephen Curry averaging 1.6 steals per game (basketball-reference.com). Combining this already loaded team with Cousins’ shooting ability, post-offense, and decent defense (when he tries), the Warriors become an even more daunting opponent.

 

  1. Boston Celtics (55-27)

Boston Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge has taken this team from a messy crop of young players and high draft picks into what I believe is the second best team in the league. The surprising trade last off-season between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Celtics shipped Kyrie Irving, a top-5 point guard in the league, over to Boston. That same summer, emerging star Gordon Hayward decided to play for his old college coach, Brad Stevens, and came to Boston, though in the first game of the year, in the first quarter, he broke his ankle. This injury allowed the newly acquired small forward Jayson Tatum, along with 2nd year player Jaylen Brown to earn quality minutes, and both proved their worth. Tatum even drew comparisons to Celtics legend Paul Pierce during the Summer League! Irving’s late injury also brought Celtics guard Terry Rozier to the spotlight, and he performed brilliantly. With Al Horford and Marcus Morris anchoring the team at big-man positions, along with deep playoff experience for the younger players, this Boston Celtics roster situated themselves for another potential dynasty, assuming that they all stay healthy.

 

  1. Houston Rockets (65-17)

Of all the few teams with a realistic shot at the championship, the Houston Rockets had probably the most disappointing off-season. They lost veteran forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute to free agency, and were very close to losing their newest star, Clint Capela. While the two forwards do not produce much on offense, the Rockets idolized their defensive efforts; however, Ariza’s 3-and-D style of play did help with the team’s hyper-offensive approach. Last year, head coach Mike D’Antoni thought it best to completely do away with the mid-range shot. He believed that there was almost no point in taking a jumper for only two points when a player could easily shoot a layup for the same reward. He also believed that, to beat the Warriors, the only way to win was to outscore them, so a lot of the offense relied on shooting (mostly) ill-advised three pointers. The addition of Chris Paul last off-season gave the team a tougher edge and somewhat more defensive mentality, they still fell victim to the many deep shots taken by James Harden, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, and more. James Harden’s all offense, no defense mind set does not pair well with the Rocket’s newest edition, Carmelo Anthony, who is also all offense, no defense, with an emphasis on the “no defense” portion. Last year, D’Antoni’s philosophy of chucking up threes and shots in the paint somehow got the team to the top seed in the West and a game away from the Finals, but the success rate of that style will be tested once again this season.

 

  1. Toronto Raptors (59-23)

Similar to the Rockets, the Toronto Raptors also had an interesting off-season, and their progress this year will likely be based off of their new superstar, Kawhi Leonard. Whereas Houston’s success will depend on Carmelo’s ability to defend, Toronto’s will depend on Kawhi’s willingness to play. The wacky, sloppy Spurs off-season ended up in a trade, centering around DeMar DeRozan’s swap to San Antonio, and Leonard’s potential quick-stop in Toronto. The Spurs (or Raptors, still weird to say) star had made it clear of his desire to return to his home in Los Angeles. Either team, the Lakers or the Clippers, were fine with Leonard, just as long as he ended up in L.A. Kawhi’s situation like Paul George, in which George also wanted to play in L.A. but ended up liking Oklahoma City better. Leonard may find Toronto to be an amazing place with amazing people, but time will tell.

Assuming Kawhi’s willingness to play and if the Raptors run a similar offense to last year, as they fired Coach of the Year Dwane Casey (yeah, that happened), the Raptors could be a very dangerous team. With two Defensive Player of the Year awards under his belt, Kawhi Leonard is heralded as one of, if not the best defenders in the league. He is also a prolific scorer and can get to the rim at will. Teammate Kyle Lowry’s play-making and the assumed style of spacing the floor (installed by Casey) will give Toronto a well-balanced offense. The team also sported one of the best and deepest benches in the NBA, which will make Toronto an interesting team to watch this year.

 

  1. Philadelphia 76ers (52-30)

 

Last season, the Philadelphia 76ers, lead by Joel Embiid and “rookie” Ben Simmons shocked the league. Embiid had previously established himself as a premier, must-see-TV player the season before, and the edition of Ben Simmons’ excellent court-vision, facilitation, and passing lifted the team into the playoffs. The 76ers also struck a nice balance between young players and veterans, with young players following the veteran’s composure in high pressure situations. The two main problems with the 76ers concern the health of their “dynamic duo” and Simmons’ ability to accurately shoot the ball. Both Simmons and Embiid are injury-prone, which doesn’t bode well, as they are reliant on each other’s skills. With Simmons out, the 76ers would be reliant on other guards, such as TJ McConnell or Jerryd Bayless for ball distribution. With Embiid out, they would lose a rim protector and their best scorer, which leads into the second problem: Ben Simmons’ abysmal shooting.

In a game rapidly shifting towards floor spacing and deep shooting, Simmons is lagging in the back. He almost never shoots three pointers, and is reluctant to take mid-range jumpers, which may hurt the team in the future. Markelle Fultz is also another injury-prone oddball. He had to completely reform his shot form after a severe injury to his shoulder, which is a little worrying, since shooting is his best quality. In the end, the 76ers are in a similar predicament to the Celtics: how to succeed with as minimal injuries as possible. Also similar to the Celtics, Philadelphia may become a threatening team is they stay healthy.

 

Photo source: https://www.nba.com/

 

 

 

 

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