Basketball

Way Too Early 2023 NBA Power Rankings

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The Golden State Warriors have been crowned 2022 NBA Champions, their fourth title in the last eight seasons. While their victory does mark another chapter in the NBA history books, it also marks the beginning of the offseason, and in turn, the 2022-23 season. It’s never too early to look ahead, right?

In this Way-Too-Early power ranking, we’ll take into consideration the success each team had in 2022 and which players are projected to return next year – including those projected to come back from injury. We’ll also take a glance at the trade/free agency rumor mill, but NBA offseasons are nearly impossible to predict, so we’ll focus more on what we already know.

Title Threats

1) Golden State Warriors

There is little explanation needed here. Two years removed from being the worst team in the NBA due to injuries, Stephen Curry and crew climbed their way back to the mountaintop for the fourth time in the last eight seasons. The scariest part? The Warriors have quietly built one of the best young cores in the league with players like Jordan Poole (22 years old), Moses Moody (20), and Jonathan Kuminga (19). The Golden Dynasty isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

2) Boston Celtics

Despite falling to the Warriors in six games in the 2022 NBA Finals, the Celtics seemed to put all their pieces in place this season. It’s easy to forget that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are 25 and 24 respectively, giving them more of a Championship window than some might realize. The additions of Derrick White and Al Horford along with the emergence of Grant Williams also proved to be a winning combination, something we’ll likely see repeated next season – along with a healthy Robert Williams. For now, the Celtics are the team to beat in the East.

3) Miami Heat

The Heat have been on the verge of putting it all together for roughly three seasons now – dating back to their Finals appearance in the 2020 Orlando Bubble – thanks in large part to their bonafide superstar, Jimmy Butler. After trading for Kyle Lowry last offseason, the Heat spent most of the season as the No. 1 seed in the East. Don’t forget, they’ve already been linked to trade rumors involving Utah Jazz star, Donovan Mitchell. Without assuming too much, it appears the Heat are gearing up to make one more win-now push next season before their Championship window closes.

4) Milwaukee Bucks

Even without their second-best player Khris Middleton available for the entire series, the Bucks pushed eventual Finals-bound Boston to seven games in the second round of this playoffs. Giannis Antetokounmpo is only 27 years old and is widely argued as the best player on the planet – or at least somewhere in the Top 5. With their core seemingly firmly in place for the near future, these Bucks should be considered a title contender for as long as their superstar is healthy and able.

5) Los Angeles Clippers

Yes, I’m aware the Clippers failed to even make the playoffs this year. Keep in mind, however, that Kawhi Leonard is set to return to the hardwood after missing all of the 2022 campaign. Paul George and Marcus Morris also combined to miss 79 games due to injury this season. Yet somehow, the Clippers managed to earn the 8th seed before falling in the play-in tournament, thanks in large part to the additions of Norman Powell and Robert Covington at the trade deadline. If fully healthy, LAC should be considered title threats next season – though that’s a big if to assume. Remember, this team was two wins away from a Finals appearance in 2021 without Kawhi Leonard.

Borderline Contenders

6) Memphis Grizzlies

One of the most surprising teams in the NBA this past season, the Grizzlies are slowly setting themselves up to be a long-lasting dynasty in the near future. Their four best players are Ja Morant (22 years old), Desmond Bane (23), Jaren Jackson Jr (22), and Dillon Brooks (26). They gave Golden State worry in the second round of this year’s playoffs even without Morant healthy for the majority of the series. It may not be next season, but if this young core can stay together and healthy, they have a championship in their future.

7) Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic finally found a playoff matchup that didn’t involve Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. He promptly led his team to the Western Conference Finals and was stopped only by the eventual Champions. The addition of Christian Wood without giving up any core role players makes the Mavericks an interesting team to watch next season.

Could Luka earn his first MVP award? First Finals Appearance? First Championship? All cards are still on the table.

8) Denver Nuggets

The reigning back-to-back MVP deserves his flowers after his performance this season. Without essentially his second and third-best players, Nikola Jokic dragged his Nuggets into the No. 6 seed out West and managed to steal a game from the eventual Champions in Round 1 of the playoffs. Now, he’s likely to get Jamal Murray back next season and some semblance of Michael Porter Jr. With another year of continuity and health under their belts, the Nuggets are likely to reclaim their place in the mix for the No. 1 overall seed by the end of next season.

9) Phoenix Suns

A year removed from appearing in the 2021 NBA Finals, the Suns lost Games 6 & 7 of their second-round matchup against Dallas this year by a combined 60 points to end their 2022 playoff run. There are plenty of rumors already swirling about Deandre Ayton’s availability during free agency, and Chris Paul turns 38 before the end of next season.

Though their window appears to be closing, the Suns do maintain a solid young core and an All-NBA 1st Team member in Devin Booker. Don’t count them out just yet.

10) Chicago Bulls

DeMar DeRozan put on a clutch shooting clinic last season, earning him a spot as an All-Star starter and placing his name in MVP talks for much of the season. The Bulls as a whole, however, never proved their ability to beat elite teams – during the regular season of playoffs – as was evident in their five-game, first-round loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Lonzo Ball’s return from injury should help, and though Zach LaVine‘s future remains slightly murky, Chicago appears to be at least one piece away from true title contention.

Playoff Threats

11) Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers once again saw their season end a few games short of the Eastern Conference Finals. Though Joel Embiid played like an MVP virtually all season, James Harden appeared to be a shell of his former self by the time he arrived in Philly. Now reports are surfacing that nearly everyone aside from the two stars is available on the trade block.

One trade, free-agent signing, or breakout star could turn the Sixers into true contenders as soon as this season, but they’re slowly tip-toeing toward a full rebuild in the coming seasons.

12) Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland took positionless basketball to another level this season when they rolled out a starting lineup consisting of three seven-footers in their front court. The emergence of Darius Garland to go along with their unconventional oversized lineup makes Cleveland one of the scariest young teams in the entire league. Throw Collin Sexton (or the return of a potential Sexton trade) back into the mix, and we’re looking at a team knocking on the door of title contention.

13) New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have quietly built one of the best young cores in the NBA. After trading for CJ McCollum near the trade deadline, New Orleans finished the season on a 13-10 stretch to make the play-in tournament and ultimately earn the No. 8 seed in the playoffs. Brandon Ingram is blossoming into a full-blown All-Star right in front of our eyes, and the trio of Pelican rookies (Herbert Jones, Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy III) formed perhaps the best draft class for any single team last season. Oh, and they have Zion Williamson coming back next season.

14) Los Angeles Lakers

Perhaps the most disappointing season in recent memory came from the 2022 Los Angeles Lakers. The preseason title favorites failed to even appear in the play-in game. However, they’re set to return a trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. This Big Three didn’t pan out this season for multiple reasons, but a productive offseason of adding shooting and defense around these three stars – combined with good health – could quickly turn the Lakers back into the title contenders they were three seasons ago.

15) Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota has seemingly found a gem in Anthony Edwards. Though they weren’t able to get through Memphis in the first round this season, the young Wolves have laid the foundation for many more playoff appearances in their near future. They might be a few years of development away from being true contenders, but Minnesota is certainly headed in the right direction.

Wildcards

16) Toronto Raptors

The Raptors planted themselves firmly in the playoff race in 2022, earning the No. 5 seed in the East. Scottie Barnes made an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball like few rookies are capable of doing. This offseason could get interesting for Toronto, however. They’ve been rumored to be searching for a big man ever since Marc Gasol left the team in 2020. A plethora of trade rumors leaves this team with a wide range of outcomes next season. Regardless, they’ll likely be a playoff team in the East again next season, but exactly where they slot into the playoff picture is still up in the air.

17) Brooklyn Nets

Any team with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant will be playoff contenders – and likely title contenders – but until Brooklyn can get a handle on their off-court turmoil, they won’t be considered title favorites on many lists. Reports have surfaced that the Nets’ front office is hesitant to offer Irving any long-term contract with the star guard’s hesitancy to receive a COVID Vaccination. This led to rumors of unease between Durant and the Nets’ front office should Irving take his talents elsewhere.

Then there’s Ben Simmons who had one of the strangest NBA seasons in recent memory without ever even touching the court. Between all the off-court drama, it’s easy to forget that this team also faced real struggles on the court this past season, primarily in their lack of wing defense and depth.

18) Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks seem to have many of the right pieces in place to make a playoff push, but they’re continually linked to trade rumors surrounding John Collins, Clint Capela, and others. Should the Hawks decide to go in a different direction with their frontcourt this offseason, they’re another team with a wide range of possible outcomes, from potential title contenders to play-in pretenders. All we know for certain is that any team with Trae Young at the helm will be fun to watch.

19) Utah Jazz

Utah is perhaps the biggest question mark in the NBA heading into next season. The distrust between their two stars has been evident ever since Rudy Gobert’s controversial actions at a press conference mere weeks before his positive COVID test played a role in shutting down the entire league. Now, one or both stars could be shipped out this offseason. Should either remain in Utah, the Jazz will be playoff threats. If both are gone, however, Salt Lake could be the newest city to enter full rebuild mode.

20) Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets are another team with a flurry of off-court storylines that could potentially distract from their on-court success. Between Miles Bridges‘ blossoming rap career and Montrezl Harrell‘s recent drug-related arrest, the Hornets seem to be building more off-court distractions than on-court chemistry as of late. LaMelo Ball is a prime candidate to take another step forward after his first All-Star appearance in 2021, but after getting bounced from the play-in game for the second consecutive year, it’s hard to tell right now which direction the Hornets’ next step will be in.

Play-In Threats

21) Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard played in only 29 games for the Blazers this season. In those games, he shot a career-low 32% from 3-point range and averaged only 24 PPG – his lowest since the 2014-15 season. The Blazers also traded away Lillard’s sidekick in CJ McCollum to load up on more potential 3-and-D role players. Portland will likely go as far as their superstar takes them next season, and after the unusually subpar performance he had in 2022, that may not be a good thing.

22) Indiana Pacers

Indiana pulled off one of the best trades of the season in 2022, nabbing a young-and-coming Tyrese Haliburton from the Kings in exchange for star big man Domantas Sabonis. Not only did this bolster their backcourt, but it also cleared the way for Myles Turner to be the focal piece of their frontcourt. Should this young core stay together, the Pacers are laying the foundation for another run of playoff pushes in the near future.

23) New York Knicks

After winning Most Improved Player in 2021, Julius Randle returned to being a sub-31% 3-point shooter in 2022, a major reason why the Knicks fell out of the playoff picture entirely in 2022. Despite their young talent, the Knicks haven’t found much consistency over the last few seasons. Could one more year of development be just what the doctor ordered for New York fans? Perhaps, but we’re not holding our breath waiting on any playoff in New York success just yet.

24) San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs hold an underrated gem in 25-year-old Dejounte Murray. After averaging a near 20-point triple-double (9.2 APG and 8.3 RPG) and leading the league in steals per game (2.0) this season, the sky is the limit for the Washington product. He’ll need some help, though. Greg Popovich is nearing the end of his coaching career, and not many other Spurs seem poised to have an All-Star caliber season anytime soon. Can the Spurs work their developmental magic once more, or will they continue their three-year streak of missing the postseason in 2023?

25) Washington Wizards

After playing in only 40 games this season, Bradley Beal will likely return from injury early next season. Whether or not he joins Kristaps Porzingis in Washington is still up for debate. Even if Beal does rejoin the Wizards for another run, he and Porzingis’ ability to lead a team deep into the postseason is also up for debate. The Wizards have more question marks than they have valuable playoff pieces for the time being.

Rebuild Mode

26) Detroit Pistons

The Pistons did exactly what they needed to do in 2022: take care of their young star, Cade Cunningham, while allowing other young stars to develop. Their top six scorers from the 2022 season have an average age of 22.8 years old, and that doesn’t include their 20-year-old starting center, Isaiah Stewart. Now, they hold the No. 5 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft to pair with Cunningham and their young core. Of all the teams in rebuild mode, the Pistons look to be set up the best for the near future.

27) Oklahoma City Thunder

The combination of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey composes a promising backcourt of the future in OKC. Combined with other parts of their young core, the Thunder have set themselves up nicely to develop and potentially trade their way into being a contender out West. They have also amassed a plethora of picks in the coming drafts, including the No. 2 and No. 12 picks in the upcoming 2022 NBA Draft. Whether they use their impressive draft capital to build an army of youth or eventually pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade, the Thunder’s future is far brighter than their recent on-court track record might suggest.

28) Sacramento Kings

In one of the more puzzling moves of the past season, Sacramento traded away their blossoming point guard in Tyrese Haliburton for a 26-year-old fringe All-Star in Domantas Sabonis. Understand, this is not a knock on Sabonis, but trading a 21-year-old floor general full of potential for a much older, defensively-limited big man feels like a feeble attempt at a win-now move that arguably left the Kings in a worse position than they were, to begin with. They do hold the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft and boast just enough talent to keep them from ever competing for the No. 1 overall pick, but it will be an uphill battle for the Kings to climb into the Play-In tournament next season.

29) Orlando Magic

The most intriguing part of this Magic squad is the impending No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 Draft. General consensus stats the Magic will decide between Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga and Jabari Smith of Auburn, both capable and promising big men. This would leave the Magic with essentially a modge-podge combination of young talent struggling to stay healthy and fit together after another poor season on the court in 2022. This youth could eventually come together to push Orlando back into the playoff hunt, but it’s unlikely to happen in the 2023 season.

30) Houston Rockets

After finishing with the worst record in the NBA last season, the Rockets traded away arguably their second-best player in Christian Wood to the Dallas Mavericks for a mediocre haul of bench players that could fill temporary roster holes before the 2022 NBA Finals even ended. They do hold the No. 3 overall pick for the second draft in a row, meaning they will likely get whoever is left between Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, and Paolo Banchero – or potentially Jaden Ivey – but none of these soon-to-be rookies will move the needle enough for Houston to be competitive in year one.

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