Let the games begin!
The preseason is over and the regular season is finally here.
Following a long offseason packed with near unprecedented superstar movement and even more speculation about how it will all shake out, we're finally ready to find out.
In a league that's shaping up to be as wide open as it's been in nearly a decade, expect volatility in this space each week as teams find their footing and experiment with rotations and roles to find just the right balance.
When it comes to determining the order, the preseason certainly matters but it's not the end-all-be-all. Starters don't play extended minutes, many sit out games and the actual results are often determined by players who won't see significant time. Even though preseason is certainly taken with a grain of salt, it's impossible to ignore certain developments and adjust accordingly.
See: Williamson, Zion.
That said ... expectations on the whole carry more weight than preseason results. As a result, the rankings in his space should help give you an idea of where teams stand heading into the 2019-20 season. As we do each week, we'll count down the top 10 before ending with 11-30.
All projected records are based off of the Westgate odds in Las Vegas.
10. Boston Celtics
Projected record: 50-32
The Celtics are coming off of one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history in terms of never reaching their full potential. A team pegged by nearly every pundit at the start of the season to reach the NBA Finals instead bowed out unceremoniously in the 1st Round. It's time to let bygones be bygones.
After some roster turnover with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford both gone, All-NBA guard Kemba Walker will lead Boston as he takes over as the floor general and leader of this team.
They may no longer be favourites, but the talent is still there for the Celtics to go as far as the NBA Finals. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown should continue their progress as one of the most promising young duos in the league. Gordon Hayward looks like he has his bounce back and Marcus Smart will remain one of the best defenders in the NBA.
Their frontcourt depth poses potential issues, but if Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis and Robert Williams can find a way to maximize their production, the Celtics will be right near the top of the Eastern Conference again.
9. Portland Trail Blazers
Projected record: 46-36
The Trail Blazers get counted out every offseason and time-and-time again, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum lead their team to one of the best records in the Western Conference.
They've now made the playoffs in six consecutive seasons with last year's trip to the Western Conference Finals being the best result we've seen from Portland's backcourt tandem.
The Blazers signed both Lillard and McCollum to contract extensions this offseason, showing their belief that the duo has what it takes to reach the NBA Finals and win a title.
However, the rest of the roster underwent a complete makeover. They'll now rely on Hassan Whiteside to hold down the centre position until Jusuf Nurkic can return from his season-ending leg injury last year. Players like Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and Mario Hezonja will have key roles on their new team while returning pieces Rodney Hood and Zach Collins will be asked to play larger roles. Another name to watch? Anfernee Simons. The 2nd-year guard and 2018 1st Round pick is ready to contribute after spending the majority of his rookie season observing and learning.
The new-look Blazers might take some time to mesh, but you can count on Lillard and McCollum to keep this team in the playoff hunt no matter what's going on around them.
8. Golden State Warriors
Projected record: 48-34
It was confusing seeing the Warriors take the floor for the first time in the preseason - with Klay Thompson out and Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston no longer on the roster, there were a ton of new faces getting significant playing time for the team that controlled the league the past five seasons.
Centres Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein missed the preseason with injuries, paving the way for Marquese Chriss and Omari Spellman to man the frontcourt. Should either of the aforementioned miss time in the regular season, the Warriors will be relying on two unproven players to step up. Rookies Eric Paschall and Jordan Poole have jumped right into big roles with the team's second unit, and Poole looks like he's ready to take over as the leading scorer off the bench.
D'Angelo Russell is still working on getting accustomed to playing alongside his new teammates, but Stephen Curry looks like he's ready to make a push for MVP again this season.
40 points- Golden State Warriors (@warriors) October 11, 2019
preszn work from SC30 📹 pic.twitter.com/e8ej3lk4iR
Curry, Russell and Draymond Green will have to bring their A-game all season long to keep the Warriors among the top teams in the loaded Western Conference.
7. Utah Jazz
Projected record: 54-28
We've gotten a small taste of what the Jazz's new backcourt duo of Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell are capable of.
Conley's preseason debut wasn't anything to write home about, but Utah's ceiling is an NBA title with a player of his calibre taking over at point guard.
The Jazz will again be one of the league's best defences, anchored by reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Donovan Mitchell should have less attention from opposing teams with scorers like Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic by his side now ready to ease the burden.
Utah is deep and possesses everything a championship team needs - veterans, quality role players, multiple offensive weapons and a great defence. It might take a few games for all of their new pieces to get adjusted, but Utah will be a threat to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
6. Denver Nuggets
Projected record: 54-28
The Nuggets exceeded expectations last season and with their entire rotation returning, are banking on continuity to carry the day in a conference largely defined by change.
MVP candidate Nikola Jokic headlines a roster that is loaded with talent and the Nuggets will surely be one of the deepest teams in the NBA again this season. Jamal Murray took his play to the next level last postseason and if he can replicate that this year, the Nuggets will be tough to beat.
The two biggest additions are defensive stalwart Jerami Grant and 2018 lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. who has finally taken the floor and looks ready to make an impact after missing all of last season.
MPJ scores his first points on an NBA floor!!- Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) October 9, 2019
(and that step-back too 👀)#MileHighBasketball pic.twitter.com/WTPT52OstZ
Denver won't be sneaking up on anyone and it's about to find out what the 82-game grind feels like with a target on the back. But the potential is there and if they can live up to lofty expectations, the Nuggets have as good a chance as any of these teams to reach the NBA Finals and potentially win the whole thing.
5. Houston Rockets
Projected record: 55-27
We got the chance to see the Rockets' new duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook and Houston looks like a problem for the rest of the league.
.@JHarden13 & @RussWest44 put on a show in Tokyo! 🚀 🇯🇵#OneMission | #NBAJapanGames pic.twitter.com/8GuXzaCdHi- Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) October 11, 2019
Harden wasted no time to get back to his ways as the league's most prolific scorer, going for 30-plus points twice and 40 points once in the preseason. Westbrook's seen limited action but in the little time he did play alongside Harden, it appears these two former OKC teammates won't take long to get used to once again playing alongside each other.
With Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and PJ Tucker rounding out the starting unit, Harden and Westbrook have plenty of help around them and the Rockets' depth doesn't seem to be as much of an issue as it's been in years past. The Rockets did receive a blow to their depth with Gerald Green reportedly out for the season , but Austin Rivers, Danuel House, Tyson Chandler still make for a very solid second unit.
Houston will be right near the top of the Western Conference in hopes of finally returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1995.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
Projected record: 55-27
The biggest news out of the 76ers preseason came in their very first game when All-Star point guard Ben Simmons knocked down the first 3-pointer of his career, sending the NBA world into a frenzy.
BEN SIMMONS HIT HIS FIRST NBA 3-POINTER. pic.twitter.com/yFMRqLzDFc- SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 9, 2019
This was a big step for Simmons and if he could add the occasional 3-ball or outside jumper to his game, that could be bad news for the rest of the NBA as a player that already averaged 17 points per game without that in his arsenal.
Philadelphia is a legitimate title contender this season after adding Al Horford and Josh Richardson to its trio of Simmons, Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris. It will take time for Horford and Embiid to get comfortable playing next to each other, but once that tandem figures things out they'll be the best frontcourt in the NBA. It's the biggest team in the league and when taking into consideration the likes of youngsters Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith, the 76ers will be a pain to play against and should have the NBA's stingiest defence.
With Kawhi Leonard no longer in the Eastern Conference playing the role as Toronto Tormentor, the pressure is on the 76ers to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2001.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
Projected record: 58-24
The Bucks dominated the NBA last year on their way to a 60-win season behind the play of league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In the preseason, Antetokounmpo picked up right where he left off going for massive double-doubles in limited playing time.
Giannis in 23 minutes vs. Dallas:- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) October 12, 2019
34 PTS | 11 REB | 4 AST | 75% 3PT | 65% FG pic.twitter.com/ERYHxFwISu
If the Greek Freak is playing at the same level he did last season - or an even higher level - the Bucks will have no trouble retaining their spot at the top of the Eastern Conference. They may have lost key pieces like Nikola Mirotic and Malcolm Brogdon, but their core of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez is still intact and they've brought in key role players like Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver that can help this team get to the NBA Finals.
The top of the East for now projects to be a two-horse race and although the 76ers look formidable, the edge here goes to the reigning MVP and his band of merry men.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
Projected record: 50-32
The Lakers made their statement to the league with their preseason-opening win over the Warriors.
Anthony Davis' debut in a Lakers uniform did not disappoint as the MVP candidate scored from wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted while dominating the boards in the process.
Anthony Davis made it a debut to remember with 22 points and 10 boards in only one half of action. #LakeShow- Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 6, 2019
(📺: @SpectrumSN & TNT) pic.twitter.com/zdF8u2mixZ
With LeBron James running the show at point guard and the offence operating through Davis, the Lakers look like one of the scariest teams in the league as we expected. When Davis heads to the bench, James takes over as the lead scorer and dominates the game the way we've seen him do for 17 years now.
The preseason served up a tantalizing taste of just how special this duo can be. While questions remain up and down the rest of the roster, it's a mistake to think this team's fortunes hinge on anything other than LeBron and AD. If early returns are any indication, that duo projects to be as good or even better than advertised.
1. LA Clippers
Projected record: 53-29
We've yet to see the Clippers' new duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George take the floor together as George's shoulder injury is expected to keep him out for roughly the first 10 games of the regular season.
Leonard made his Clippers debut and in a very short stint of playing time he reminded us of how great he is and why he's considered by many as the best player in the world today.
📊 7 PTS | 6 AST | 1 STL@kawhileonard looked sharp in his preseason debut. pic.twitter.com/kxRgv3Sx2q- LA Clippers (@LAClippers) October 11, 2019
The Clippers depth alongside their superstar duo is what makes them the best team in the league heading into the 2019-20 season. With players like Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell as a supporting cast to Leonard and George, L.A. has one of the scariest defensive units while not having to sacrifice any offensive firepower.
The version that takes the floor the first few weeks may not be full strength but on paper, it's hard to argue against them being the top team in the league.
Rest of the NBA
11. San Antonio Spurs
Don't sleep on the Spurs who are looking to set an NBA record with their 23rd straight postseason appearance. It may be a loaded Western Conference, but San Antonio figures to be right in the mix from start to finish. One name to keep in the back of your mind? Dejounte Murray.
After missing all of last season with a torn ACL instead what many thought would be a breakout season, Murray is back to remind everyone of his immense potential. When we last saw him in 2017-18, a then 21-year-old Murray became the youngest All-Defensive team selection in NBA history.
12. Indiana Pacers
It only took one preseason game for the Pacers to figure out who will fill in as the team's leading scorer with Victor Oladipo out and Bojan Bogdanovic off the roster. Trading for TJ Warren this offseason already looks like it will play dividends as the prolific forward went for 30 points in his debut with Indiana.
3️⃣0️⃣ points from @TonyWarrenJr- Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) October 4, 2019
Including the 3️⃣ to send it to OT 👏 pic.twitter.com/Eu2mpXku4l
13. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors looked strong early on in the preseason behind the play of their new go-to guy Pascal Siakam. Even more encouraging than Siakam's play was Norman Powell's 22 points in their second preseason contest against the Rockets. Powell is one of the players that will need to step up in a bigger role this season and he's off to a good start in doing so.
Norm out here ballin'- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 10, 2019
14 pts - 4 3pm pic.twitter.com/Jtp1O3Gu9S
14. Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler is ready to return to All-Star status, Bam Adebayo is getting some "this year's Pascal Siakam" love and Justise Winslow remains an intriguing swiss army knife. Adding to the intrigue of Miami's potential as an Eastern Conference sleeper is cult hero Tyler Herro. The 13th pick in the draft plays with endless swagger which is a perfect fit for this team and looked like a revelation at times during the preseason. Watch out for Herro.
15. Brooklyn Nets
After sustaining a facial fracture one minute into the Nets' preseason opener, Kyrie Irving played in just one more preseason game. But despite the lack of preseason reps, Irving is ready to put on a show in Brooklyn and his arrival ushers in a new wave of excitement for a team that's been waiting for a bankable star. Even though Nets fans will have to wait another year to see Kevin Durant don the black and white, Irving - along with Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen - should have the Nets contending for a postseason spot.
16. Dallas Mavericks
Kristaps Porzingis was solid in his first game since the 2017-18 season going for 18 points and seven boards to open up his preseason. The Mavericks duo of the future is off to a hot start, as Luka Doncic went toe-to-toe with the league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the following game. Once this tandem clicks, the Mavericks could surprise people as a dark horse to make the playoffs in the West.
🎥: @luka7doncic ended with 27 points at last nights first of two home preseason games. #MFFL pic.twitter.com/khXbTHeLrk- Dallas Mavericks (@dallasmavs) October 12, 2019
17. Sacramento Kings
The Kings are itching to end a 13-year playoff drought. After flirting with a playoff berth last year before falling off at the tail end, Sacramento is ready to prove it can be more than a fun League Pass squad. De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield could be in the mix for All-Star selections this season, Marvin Bagley seems primed for a big sophomore season and Bojan Bogdanovic is coming off a summer in which he was one of the leading scorers at the FIBA World Cup. With new coach Luke Walton and veteran additions Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon, the Kings could play the role of spoiler in the West.
18. Orlando Magic
The Magic are one of those teams that could finish anywhere from third to 11th in the East and nobody would bat an eye. There's plenty of intriguing pieces on the roster, but none moreso than former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz. On a roster full of high variance talents, Fultz is the ultimate wild card, a player that could remain as a backup or one that could blossom into the star everyone though he'd be heading into the 2017 draft.
19. New Orleans Pelicans
Prior to the news that Williamson will miss several weeks with a knee injury, we had the Pelicans slotted all the way up at 11th. That's how sensational Williamson looked during the preseason as the 19-year-old simply toyed with the rest of the league. I mean ... c'mon!
29 points last game, 26 points tonight.- New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 12, 2019
Zion is already a force.#WontBowDown pic.twitter.com/H2CDR3I8QI
While the Pelicans have ruled out a severe injury to the rookie, his absence can't be overstated, especially given how the schedule shakes out. Based on preseason over/under win totals, New Orleans has the NBA's third-hardest schedule prior to the All-Star break. He's not expected to miss that much time, but if there's a cautious load management schedule upon his return, the Pelicans will be in an uphill battle to remain in the mix in a crowded Western Conference.
20. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder were assumed to be in a rebuilding stage after trading Paul George for seven first-round draft picks but they also got a promising young star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With how well SGA performed in his OKC preseason debut, this team looks like it could make some noise in the West and contend for a bottom playoff spot.
24 PTS | 4 3PM@shaiglalex shows out in his @okcthunder #NBAPreseason debut! #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/5n6XxSRABG- NBA (@NBA) October 9, 2019
21. Detroit Pistons
How much will the Pistons get from Derrick Rose?
The former MVP had a renaissance of sorts last season with the Minnesota Timberwolves in which he averaged 18.0 points per game on 48.2/37.0/85.6 shooting splits. Rose is the biggest change for a team that finished 41-41 and snuck into the eighth and final playoff spot. Even though Rose will likely come off the bench, he could help relieve significant pressure from Blake Griffin who at times appeared to single handedly carry Detroit on offense.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns is really good.
Exhibit A from the preseason:
MOVE OUT THAT MAN'S WAY 😤 pic.twitter.com/I4S3DqNn44- Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) October 18, 2019
After Minnesota made the switch to Ryan Saunders midway through last season, Towns took his game to another level and with the departures of Rose, Dario Saric and Taj Gibson, will have even more opportunities to pile up big numbers this season.
The biggest question for the Wolves? Who else steps up.
23. Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young and John Collins have some Steve Nash-Amar'e Stroudemire circa 2005 potential. Young finished with a flurry last season while briefly giving Luka Doncic a run for his money in the Rookie of the Year race. Collins just missed a 20-10 campaign and could have been an All-Star were it not for missing 15 games early in the season.
Don't let the presence of fellow youngsters De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando distract you from the scientific fact that Vince Carter has defeated Father Time. He's set to become the first player in NBA history to play 22 seasons.
24. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are a sexy sleeper team in the East with a versatile mix of high ceiling youngsters and above average veterans.
There's plenty to be excited about in Chicago, perhaps none moreso than the play of rookie point guard Coby White. If we're going to get carried away by Zion Williamson's electric preseason play, we should do the same for White who averaged 19.2 points per game, second among rookies behind only Williamson.
Care to guess how many other rookies over the last 15 years have averaged more points in the preseason?
Before White and Williamson, the most prolific preseason scorer in recent history is Kevin Durant who dropped 18.8 in 2007.
25. Phoenix Suns
Three players in NBA history have averaged 26 points and 6 assists per game at the age of 22 or younger: Oscar Robertson, LeBron James and Devin Booker.
While it's impossible to gloss over some of Phoenix's shortcomings, it's equally impossible to deny Booker's star potential on the offensive end of the floor where he's one of the most prolific young players we've ever seen. With Ricky Rubio in the fold, Booker will no longer need to masquerade as an out-of-position point guard and can get back to focusing on what he does best: get buckets.
26. Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal inked an extension which should ease the minds of Wizards fans who feared that he could be on the way out of town. Outside of another big season from Beal, the hope in Washington is that a second banana begins to emerge. Two potential candidates? Thomas Bryant and Rui Hachimura.
Bryant led the NBA in 2-point FG percentage last season and averaged 16.5 points and 10.2 rebounds over his final 10 games of the season. Hachimura meanwhile arrives after a stellar three-year college career at Gonzaga and should be an impact player from the jump.
27. New York Knicks
The Knicks have an intriguing roster with a mixture of young, high-ceiling talent (RJ Barrett, Dennis Smith Jr., Mitchell Robinson), mid-career "prove it" types (Frank Ntilikina, Bobby Portis, Elfrid Payton) and productive no-nonsense veterans (Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson).
Somewhere in that shuffle stands Julius Randle who inked a three-year, $63M contract in the offseason coming off the heels of a productive year in New Orleans where he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He could be a sneaky All-Star pick if the Knicks are able to win enough games with their collection of more-than-capable talent.
28. Memphis Grizzlies
The Ja Morant to Jaren Jackson Jr. combination is going to be fun.
Morant looks like he could be the second coming of Russell Westbrook while JJJ checks every box you'd want from a modern big man that can stretch the floor, run in transition and protect the rim. Memphis is playing the long game here so while the Grizzlies might not win many games in 2019-20, it has an undeniably bright future and two potential stars at arguably the league's two most important positions.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Get ready for the Kevin Love showcase. There's no denying that the future in Cleveland revolves around Darius Garland and Collin Sexton who would be the youngest starting backcourt in the NBA this season. But the elephant in the room is Love who is entering Year 1 of a massive four-year deal. If Love can prove he's still capable of contributing at an All-Star level, the Cavaliers should be able to dangle him on the market for teams who fancy themselves one major move away from contention. Love's contributions early in the season could result in a decent haul that bears fruit for years to come with the Cavs.
30. Charlotte Hornets
P.J. Washington might not generate the excitement of some fellow rookies, but the 12th overall pick out of Kentucky flashed some nice moments in the preseason and looks like he could play a valuable role in his first season. The Hornets have several players in Washington, Miles Bridges, Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon that they simply need to roll out with the freedom to play pressure-free ball and see what they can do. 2019-20 is about laying a foundation in Charlotte and Washington has shown glimpses that he might be a late lottery steal.
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