Way Too Early 2018-2019 NBA Power Rankings
During the dog days of August when all NBA fans could do nothing but clamor for the return of the league we all love, it is tons of fun to generate anticipation of what promises to be yet another interesting season ahead. The past offseason has become one to remember, with two of the best nominal small forwards in the world, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard changing conferences, going to the Lakers, and Raptors respectively. The signing of DeMarcus Cousins, however, prompted lots of fans to prematurely declare the Warriors champions, which, to be fair, basically everyone expects. But as we learned from the Rockets last season, nothing is set in stone. Maybe Kevin Durant rolls his ankle, or DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t recover fully and becomes a locker room problem, and the Warriors get bounced in the second round. (You’re right, that’s not happening.) Let’s face it; if the Warriors are healthy come playoff time, they’ll surely be raising their third straight championship and their fourth in five years, and that means that, yet again, all 29 teams are going to be looking up on Golden State, and the only question left to ask is just how far a team is from their level.
Note: My Win-Loss predictions did not come from statistical analysis but rather educated guesses guided by true statistical projections.
Without further ado:
30. ATLANTA HAWKS
ESPN Projected Record: 22-60
538 Projected Record: 28-54
My Projected Record: 20-62
Player(s) to Watch: Trae Young, PG; John Collins, PF/C
With Travis Schlenk, a former member of the Warriors staff, trying to build his own version of the Warriors with his 2018 first round draft picks (Young, Kevin Huerter, and Omari Spellman), it’s a good reminder that the Warriors definitely did not expect to be the juggernaut they became after drafting Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Back in 2013, Green was nothing but an enforcer off the bench who shot dreadfully (22%) from beyond the arc, and Thompson was perceived to be merely a better version of Danny Green due to his inability to create his own shot. Curry was just coming into his own after an injury-marred start to his career, but nobody thought he’d change the game the way he did. No one thought they’d become the centerpieces of a 73-win team that was good enough to lure another MVP from a good situation in Oklahoma City. It’s a relevant and significant reminder that literally everything had to go their way for them to become 3-time champions. Everyone trying to emulate the Warriors is bound to fail. God bless you, Travis Schlenk.
29. SACRAMENTO KINGS
ESPN Projected Record: 24-58
538 Projected Record: 21-61
My Projected Record: 23-59
Player(s) to Watch: De’Aaron Fox, PG; Marvin Bagley III, PF
Here’s another team with delusions of being the Warriors. No one will ever forget Kings owner, Vivek Ranadive, dubbing Buddy Hield as “the next Steph Curry”. Anyway, that’s enough talking about the Warriors. The Kings own the longest active postseason drought, and they’re that team that when they look like they’re finally building something, they take shortcuts which costs them even greater in the long run. There’s that Mike Malone firing after a good start to the season. How about using two first-round picks to dump salary so they can sign Rajon Rondo and Marco frickin’ Belinelli? Here’s to hoping that they continue to build the right way because it’s slowly looking like they’ve got something brewing. If Fox’s shooting continues to grow, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic become bonafide two-way players, Harry Giles proves himself legitimate, and Bagley shakes off the “tweener” distinction to become a star, then the Kings are finally on their way up. But those are a lot of ifs, and that’s if they haven’t used them by then to dump salary.
28. NEW YORK KNICKS
ESPN Projected Record: 28-54
538 Projected Record: 25-57
My Projected Record: 26-56
Player(s) to Watch: Kevin Knox, SF/PF; Frank Ntilikina, PG/SG
Much like the aforementioned Kings, the Knicks love to take shortcuts, as seen in their 2016 offseason moves of acquiring past-their-prime stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. It’s safe to say that they’re building the right way under GM Scott Perry. The biggest thing to watch is the growth of Ntilikina. It’s probably too early for now to move him to off-guard without knowing just how effective he can be as the primary ballhandler. He needs to have that freedom to grow as a point guard, and with Trey Burke, and Emmanuel Mudiay in the way, not to mention the presence of Jarrett Jack last season, he just wasn’t able to explore his ability as the lead ballhandler. One thing’s for sure – they’re going to be a much improved defensive team. The addition of Knox and Mitchell Robinson, a high energy big man in the mold of JaVale McGee, gives them length and mobility across all positions, a defensive skill asked out of every player nowadays, not to mention the already-terrifying defensive presence of Ntilikina. But with their main man Kristaps Porzingis absent due to a Torn ACL, wins will be hard to come by this year.
27. CHICAGO BULLS
ESPN Projected Record: 28-54
538 Projected Record: 27-55
My Projected Record: 26-56
Players to Watch: Jabari Parker, SF/PF; Zach LaVine, SG
All eyes are on Parker and LaVine, the highest-paid players on the Bulls. Their defensive track record is brutal, but it’s their offensive ceiling that dictates just how far this team can go. I have to admit that I wasn’t a Lauri Markkanen fan, but with the way he balled out during his rookie year, it’s safe to say that he’s the rock and the centerpiece of this Chicago rebuild, and the Bulls are in a position to take chances on young players whose stars have dimmed to see who would fit around Markkanen. I’d have to say that I think Parker isn’t it – he loves to play along the mid-range, utilize isolation plays to score, which is Markkanen’s natural scoring position, and his defensive position is the 4, which is Markkanen’s for the long run after the selection of Wendell Carter Jr. LaVine is pricy but he was looked at as the prize in the Jimmy Butler deal so keeping him was understandable even if the price was too steep in the end. Overall, the Bulls are on the rise, especially after Kris Dunn’s emergence (however, keep in mind that he’s already 24 for some reason), but they’d need to target more two-way players to reach the next level.
26. ORLANDO MAGIC
ESPN Projected Record: 30-52
538 Projected Record: 33-49
My Projected Record: 29-53
Players To Watch: Jonathan Isaac, PF; Mohamed Bamba, C
The Magic are the perfect example that should be brought up by Hinkie stans everywhere – they’ve been stuck in an endless rebuild, cycling through high draft pick and high draft pick, ultimately turning some valuable pieces like Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris into an overpaid Terrence Ross. The Magic also haven’t really remedied its frontcourt logjam that the team seems to have been stuck with for eternity. Mo Bamba. Jonathan Isaac. Nikola Vucevic. Aaron Gordon. Timofey Mozgov, (Yeah, you’re right, he’s not gonna play.) The aforementioned four are big men whose best positions are at the 5. (Aaron Gordon is a natural 4, but his greatest strengths are his rim-running and vertical game, and he fits really well in super-small ball lineups with him at the 5.) Only time will tell if this supersized team can coalesce into a unit whose collective impact far exceeds their collective wingspans.
25. CHARLOTTE HORNETS
ESPN Projected Record: 35-47
538 Projected Record: 38-44
My Projected Record: 31-51
Players to Watch: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, SF/PF; Malik Monk, SG
I’m not high at all on the Hornets. Everything just feels meh. Kemba Walker is a good bet to be traded. (If the Hornets fall off and he becomes available at a discounted rate, why wouldn’t the 76ers, Pacers, or Knicks jump in? But Walker has said that he wants to stay in Charlotte.) Nicolas Batum is slowing down, the frontcourt is lacking, and a lot of what the Hornets would hope to become (be a playoff team) relies on the exponential improvement of Monk, immediate star-level impact from 11th pick Miles Bridges, and tons of internal improvement from Jeremy Lamb and Kidd-Gilchrist. Kidd-Gilchrist’s ceiling, at this point in his career, seems to be a longer version of Tony Allen (Which is not at all bad, but downright disappointing coming from the second overall selection.) He defends extremely well, but his shooting just never developed into anything close to league average. Many are also disregarding the loss of Dwight Howard, but he sure contributed a lot to a team that won just 36 games and, even with his warts and all, his presence is going to be missed on the court.