My issue with current Power Rankings is that there’s inconsistencies in how good a team actually is compared to how well they’re playing at that moment.
This is especially apparent at the beginning of the regular season. Newly formed teams with a lot of talent on their roster, like the Thunder, haven’t had enough games under their belt to mesh well together.
Although it’s difficult to factor in who will actually make the playoffs, a vast majority are virtually locks. Of course, there will be injuries and mid-season acquisitions, but here’s how we expect each team to fare in the playoffs with their current rosters:
1.Golden State Warriors (1 Seed):
The Warriors should be heavily favored to repeat as champions. They seem to have somewhat of a Championship hangover early on in the season, but we don’t expect motivation to be a problem when it really matters.
Although they aren’t on pace to reach 73 wins, this Warriors team is built to be the best playoff team they’ve had.
They have another year of valuable playoff experience and integrating KD into their system. The additions of Casspi and Swaggy P should also help their depth and shooting, both of which they didn’t really need help with.
The path will likely be more difficult with an even more loaded west, but look for the Warriors to once again claim the title and bring up legitimate conversations about being the greatest team of all time.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (2 Seed):
The Cavs have been playing extremely well as of late, currently holding the highest win-streak at 9 with their win yesterday over the Heat. LeBron has been playing arguably the best basketball of his career.
They also recently reported that Isiah Thomas is expected to return in mid-December, which will be a huge boost for a team in need of a PG following Derrick Rose’s injury and recent temporary (?) departure from basketball.
This is the deepest team LeBron has ever had and it will be fun to watch them figure it all out as the season progresses.
They may not be the 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but, if I’m a betting man (and I am), I’d say LeBron reaches the Finals for the 8th straight season.
3.Houston Rockets (2 Seed):
The Rockets are already atop the Western Conference with a 16-4 record and have only recently gotten CP3 back from injury. Although the Cavs are much more likely to make it to the Finals because they’re in the East, we actually like the Rockets’ chances to beat Golden State more due to how well they matchup.
They are the only team that have the combination of playmakers, shooting, and wing-defenders to compete with Golden State. Clint Capela has been a monster in the interior and James Harden is easily the current favorite in the MVP race, which I go into more detail about here: Early MVP Favorites
Obviously this will depend on how well Paul and Harden can complement each other, but this Rockets team has been playing extremely well and will continue to get better.
Someone needs to tell D’Antoni to bring back the ‘stache, though.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (5 Seed):
This is a perfect example of a talented team that would be ranked in the middle-of-the-pack because of their early struggles to figure out how to coincide with one another.
There are certainly some issues the Thunder need to address before we even begin to think about the playoffs – who’s their 5th starter, lack of bench depth, reliance on isolation plays, crunch time performances – but, more often than not, talent prevails in the postseason.
And they have a lot of talent.
Westbrook, George, and Hoodie-less Melo’ will scare a lot of teams in the playoffs.
5. Boston Celtics (1 Seed):
Losing Hayward particularly hurts the Celtics in the postseason, where stars are relied on to carry the load even more so.
They would be a legitimate contender against the Cavaliers if it weren’t for the injury, but for now we view them as a team that is better-equipped for regular season success.
Yes, they have a great record, but they’re also extremely young; although it makes for a bright future, we don’t necessarily like their chances against the best players on the planet where those youthful mishaps are so pivotal.
From an organizational standpoint, they’re still in the best position outside of the Warriors with young players, multiple draft-picks, and Hayward hopefully returning back to full strength soon.
6. San Antonio Spurs (3 Seed):
The Spurs have been playing well despite Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker being out. Parker just returned and Kawhi is expected to in a couple of weeks.
Credit to Popovich for having his team 3rd in the West at 13-7 without their MVP-caliber player. Also have to acknowledge how well LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing, averaging 22 points and 8 rebounds on 50% FG.
The Spurs’ system continues to optimize their talent and should be a tough-out in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. Don’t forget that they were up 1-0 in the Warriors’ series and 25 points in game 2 before Kawhi stepped on Zaza’s foot and shifted the entire series.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (4 Seed):
On paper, the Timberwolves are much better than the Spurs. Butler, KAT, Wiggins, and Teague are one of the best cores in the league. Yet, they aren’t as much of a threat as they should be.
For one, there are a lot of question marks about them defensively; KAT is getting better but still not good, Wiggins is still developing and lacks fundamentals, and their entire bench outside of Dieng is a huge liability.
They are extremely explosive at times on offense. But their youth, lack of depth, and lack of defense prevents them from being on the same tier as the Rockets and Spurs once the playoffs roll around.
8. Milwaukee Bucks (4 Seed):
The Bucks got significantly better with their recent trade for PG Eric Bledsoe. They boast a very defensive-minded, lengthy lineup that will create matchup problems for teams in the playoffs.
The leader of those matchups problems is the Greek Freak himself, Giannis Antfeojawf;ajfmpo. I think that’s how you spell it. Anyways, the Bucks are only 10-9 but should get much better as the season continues and as Bledsoe becomes integrated in the offense.
Although they’re young, their unique (yet talented) roster composition is the most intriguing aspect of this team that could lead to playoff success this season.
9. Washington Wizards (3 Seed):
The Wizards seemed to be locked into being that 3-6 seed that might reach the Conference Finals best case scenario, but isn’t a true threat to contend. They need one more player to become true contenders in the East, but obviously can’t get anyone due to their cap situation.
All things considered, it’s a very formidable roster led by a top 5 PG in John Wall. But it’s becoming increasingly frustrating to watch them every year because you can sense their angst to get over that hump.
They will be a tough out in the East and will make for some entertaining playoff matchups because they’re very evenly matched to teams like the Bucks and Raptors.
10. Toronto Raptors (5 Seed):
Basically everything mentioned up above regarding the Wizards can be applied to the Raptors, too. For whatever reason, there’s a part of me that wishes DeMar DeRozan didn’t re-sign with the Raptors a while back.
#WeTheNorth have some questions to address if they fail to reach the Conference Finals again, like what to do with Jonas Valanciunas. But, at least OG Anunoby seems to be shaping out to be a solid pick in the meantime.
11. Denver Nuggets (6 Seed):
A lot of credit has to be given to the Nuggets front office for quietly forming an impressive roster headlined by their front-court duo of Jokic and Millsap.
A couple problems keeping them from being higher are their youth and inconsistency, which are certainly intertwined. They seem to play as well as their young point guards Emmanuel Mudiay and Jamal Murray play, which is usually very good, but you have to question if they’re going to be consistent enough to win 4 games in a tough series.
2. New Orleans Pelicans (8 Seed):
The Pelicans are a tough matchup for a lot of teams by having the best two big-men in the NBA in a guard-heavy league. Boogie Cousins has been performing exceptionally well, averaging 25.5 ppg, 12.6 rpg, and 5.4 apg, propelling himself in the MVP conversation.
It would be interesting to see them play the Warriors in the first round if this were to be the matchup, as teams with dominant centers seem to be the best way to attack them.
13. Portland Trailblazers (7 Seed):
Terry Stotts is one of our favorite underrated coaches, too. He’s done a tremendous job with the Blazers, who are also still one star player away from competing with the Thunder, Spurs, and Timberwolves.
However, it seems much more likely that the Blazers will make the playoffs than expected going into the season, in large part due to the Clippers’ and Grizzles’ unfortunate injuries.
They aren’t going to make it out of the first round, but they’re a fun team. You have to check out Dame D.O.L.L.A rap if you haven’t before. Dude spits bars.
14. Miami Heat (7 Seed):
Miami is an intriguing playoff team because of their experience and depth, which puts them over the Pistons in our opinion.
Dragic and Whiteside are also talented enough to give teams trouble. Specifically, we think they would give the Celtics a matchup problem if they were to meet in the first round with how well centers have played against them so far this seaosn. Which isn’t to say they’d win, but I think it’d go to 6 or 7 games.
15.Detroit Pistons (6 Seed):
The Pistons have been the biggest surprise so far this season, and we’re in the processing of writing an article about whether or not this early season success is sustainable (they’re 14-6 right now). Andre Drummond has to be one of the favorites for Most Improved player.
A lot of that has to do with the way they’re utilizing him, running the offense through him more by giving him the ball at the high-post (he’s averaging 3.7 apg). Tobias Harris is also officially underrated – he’s been quietly but steadily getting better each year and has finally figured out how to play efficiently, shooting 47% FG and 47% 3PT.
16. Philadelphia 76’ers (8 Seed):
Predicting the 8-seed that comes out of the East is going to be very difficult this year. The Sixers, Pacers, Hornets, and, to a lesser extent, Knicks are all in the conversation.
For the Sixers, it’s heavily dependent on how many games Embiid plays. At times he’s looked like one of the best centers in the league already. Ben Simmons is also incredible and is going to win ROY as long as he stays healthy.
We don’t see them being serious threats in the playoffs if they do end up making it due to their lack of experience, but it’s clear the process is finally being trusted in Philly.
We have a long way to go, but it’s fun to speculate. Sometimes it’s hard watching regular season games because they seem to lack significance.
That’s what our Power Rankings are for.
And beer 😉
By: Reese Kunz
Featured image credit: The Big Lead