Power Rankings

Offseason Power Rankings: Suns, Lakers emerge in West

Phoenix and the Los Angeles Lakers start on top in this early ranking of each team in the Western Conference.

Phoenix is the defending champion of the West and returns a solid core in 2021-22.

Injuries affected both sides of the 2021 playoff bracket, but they were particularly brutal in the Western Conference.

Jamal Murray tore his ACL before the postseason began, Anthony Davis didn’t make it out of the first round, Mike Conley missed the first five games of the conference semis, and Kawhi Leonard was lost later in that same series. Chris Paul fought through one injury to push the Phoenix Suns to The Finals, but needed wrist surgery after the season was over.

Unfortunately, two of those injuries will spill over into the 2021-22 season, with Murray and Leonard expected to miss all or most of the season. (Klay Thompson, meanwhile, might not make his long awaited return until December.) That seemingly takes two teams out of title contention, but there are many issues in the West to address.

The Los Angeles Lakers have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but there’s no telling if the acquisition of Russell Westbrook was a plus or a minus. The Suns just reached The Finals, but Paul is a year older. The Utah Jazz had the league’s best record, but flamed out in the playoffs.

Maybe the Dallas Mavericks can climb into that top tier. And maybe Thompson’s eventual return has the Warriors recapturing their magic.

For this (sure-to-be-proven-wrong) projection, it’s the Suns, Lakers and Jazz at the top, with L.A.’s volatile offseason making them a little less of a sure thing than the defending conference champs.

For these offseason rankings, we’re looking at each conference separately, with the Eastern Conference having been published last week. All stats refer to the 2020-21 regular season unless otherwise noted.


Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league averaged 99.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 111.7 points scored per 100 possessions last season.

NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.

2020-21 record: 51-21
Pace: 98.0 (24), OffRtg: 116.3 (7), DefRtg: 110.4 (6), NetRtg: +5.9 (3)

Key addition(s): JaVale McGee
Key departure(s): Torrey Craig

Three numbers to know…

• The Suns had the best record (26-10, 0.722) in regular-season games played between the 15 teams that finished the season with winning records. They were the only team with a better record against that group than they had against the 15 teams that finished at or below .500 (25-11, 0.694).

• The Suns shot 49.0% on pull-up 2-pointers, the best mark for any team in eight seasons of player tracking. Chris Paul (6.9) and Devin Booker (6.5) ranked second and third in pull-up 2-point attempts per game. Paul’s 52.5% on pull-up 2s ranked second among 35 players who attempted at least 200. Booker had the second biggest differential between his success rate on pull-up 2s (49.9%) vs. pull-up 3s (30.8%) among 54 players who attempted at least 100 of each.

• In the regular season, the Suns were outscored by 5.7 points per game, the league’s worst discrepancy, combining points in the restricted area and on free throws. In The Finals, they were outscored by 13 points per game in the restricted area (-11.0) and at the free throw line (-2.0). They were -2.6 per game through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Key question: How do they get better?

This season’s Suns are kind of like last season’s Heat, except that Jae Crowder didn’t leave. There’s no asterisk in regard to their trip to The Finals, but getting back promises to be more difficult. The Suns were one of just two teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and as noted, they were very good against good teams. There’s obviously room for improvement with their young starters — Deandre Ayton (22), Booker (25 in October) and Mikal Bridges (25) — but it’s fair to wonder if Paul (36) can remain at the level he’s been at the last two seasons.

It feels like they’re still missing a piece on the frontline (with Dario Saric possibly out for the season), but McGee can help the Suns inside. That restricted-area-plus-free-throws differential was much worse with Ayton off the floor (-7.4 per 48 minutes) than it was with him on the floor (-4.4, still not great), so you can see the need for a more traditional back-up center. McGee had the second best rim-protection mark (opponents shot 47.7% at the rim when he was there) among 247 players who defended at least 100 total shots at the rim, and he’s obviously a much better lob threat than Saric or Frank Kaminsky.

2020-21 record: 42-30
Pace: 98.8 (21), OffRtg: 109.8 (24), DefRtg: 106.8 (1), NetRtg: +2.9 (8)

Key addition(s): Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, the 35-and-older crowd
Key departure(s): Almost everybody

Three numbers to know…

• There were 201 players who attempted at least 200 shots from outside the paint last season. Among them, James (48.4%), Westbrook (41.9%) and Davis (36.4%) ranked 159th, 193rd and 201st in effective field goal percentage on those shots. They’re three of the 12 players who shot worse than 40% on at least 150 mid-range attempts. The Lakers have had the league’s biggest differential between their field goal percentage in the paint and their effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint in each of the last two seasons.

• The Lakers were 11.1 points per 100 possessions better with James on the floor (+9.2) than they were with him off the floor (-1.9) last season. That was the tied for the fifth biggest differential among 233 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team. The Lakers outscored their opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions in 601 minutes with both James and Davis on the floor, better than their mark of +8.0 (in more than twice as many minutes) in 2019-20.

• Only four players from last season’s Lakers, representing just 28% of their regular season minutes, remain on the roster. Every other team is returning at least seven players at at least 43% of last season’s minutes.

Key question: How do Westbrook and James work together?

If the Lakers aren’t back to being the best team in the West (and maybe they are), they’re at least back to being one of the league’s most fascinating experiments. Looking back at Westbrook’s single season playing alongside James Harden in Houston … his touches and time of possession were down, but his usage rate was still high, and his true shooting percentage (53.6%) was his highest mark of the last four years, in part because he got to the basket more, with 47% of his field goal attempts (a career-high mark) coming in the restricted area. If the Lakers can get him to the basket that much, they’ll be in great shape.

Russell Westbrook possession and usage, last 5 seasons

Season Touch/36 TOP/G TOP% USG% TS%
2016-17 98.7 9.21 27% 40.2% 55.4%
2017-18 94.8 9.15 25% 32.6% 52.4%
2018-19 91.1 7.71 21% 30.1% 50.1%
2019-20 76.9 5.75 16% 33.0% 53.6%
2020-21 94.1 8.46 23% 29.5% 50.9%

Touch/36 = Touches per 36 minutes
TOP/G = Time of possession (minutes) per game
TOP% = Time of possession / Total minutes on the floor
USG% = Percentage of team’s possessions used (via field goal attempts, turnovers and trips to the line) while on the floor
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 * FTA)))

Layups and dunks come easiest in transition, and transition starts with defense. In the last 25 years, only seven teams have repeated as the No. 1 defense in the league, but one of those seven was Frank Vogel’s Pacers (2012-13 and 2013-14) and the Lakers still ranked fourth defensively over the four-plus weeks in which both James and Davis were out last season. Now, Vogel’s defensive culture faces the challenge of a major roster overhaul, with several of the guys who helped build that culture having been sent away, replaced by some lesser (or older) defenders.

2020-21 record: 52-20
Pace: 99.4 (16), OffRtg: 116.4 (4), DefRtg: 107.5 (3), NetRtg: +9.0 (1)

Key addition(s): Rudy Gay, Eric Paschall
Key departure(s): Derrick Favors, Georges Niang

Three numbers to know…

• The Jazz were the 10th team in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data to finish in the top four in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They were the third of those 10 teams to fall short of the conference finals.

• The Jazz outscored their opponents by 17.6 points per game from 3-point range, the second biggest differential in the 43 seasons of the 3-point line and more than double that of any other team last season (Portland ranked second at +8.5 points per game). They were the only team that ranked in the top five in both 3-point percentage (38.9%, fourth) and the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (48.8%, first). They were also the only team that ranked in the top five in regard to opponent 3-point percentage (34.1%, second) and the (lowest) percentage of their opponent shots that came from 3-point range (34.8%, second).

• The Jazz defense allowed 14.2 more points per 100 possessions in the playoffs (121.7, 12th of 16) than it did in the regular season (107.5, third of 30). Only Boston (+16.2) saw a bigger jump. The 127.7 points per 100 possessions the Clippers scored in the conference semifinals was the second most efficient series for any team in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data, topped only by Brooklyn’s 128.0 in the first round vs. Boston.

Key question: Are they versatile enough?

Gay only played 121 minutes of small-ball five last season, but the Spurs outscored their opponents by 7.1 points per 100 possessions (allowing just 103.1 per 100) in those minutes. The Warriors were outscored by 1.1 per 100 in 382 minutes with Paschall at the five (without Draymond Green), but that wasn’t too bad considering Golden State’s lack of depth. How much the Jazz use those two guys to back up Rudy Gobert (instead of traditional centers Hassan Whiteside and Udoka Azubuike) in the regular season will be something worth monitoring. They certainly have the perimeter depth to put together some fun and effective small-ball lineups.

No matter the depth, the continued development of Donovan Mitchell (turning 25 on Sept. 7 and at the start of his five-year, $163 million extension) remains critical. Mitchell has seen a jump in effective field goal percentage on pull-up jumpers in each of the last three seasons (his 49.8% ranked 24th among 83 players with at least 200 attempts last season), but ridiculous pull-up numbers in each of the last two postseasons haven’t pushed the Jazz far enough, largely because the Utah defense hasn’t held up.

Donovan Mitchell pull-up shooting

Season FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% eFG%
2017-18 194 550 35.3% 89 304 29.3% 43.4%
2018-19 224 583 38.4% 96 289 33.2% 46.7%
2019-20 259 632 41.0% 90 280 32.1% 48.1%
2020-21 207 521 39.7% 105 289 36.3% 49.8%
20 and ‘21 playoffs 95 210 45.2% 68 143 47.6% 61.4%

eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

2020-21 record: 42-30
Pace: 97.9 (26), OffRtg: 114.6 (8), DefRtg: 112.3 (21), NetRtg: +2.3 (10)

Key addition(s): Reggie Bullock
Key departure(s): Josh Richardson
Coaching change: Rick Carlisle out, Jason Kidd in

Three numbers to know…

• The Mavs were one of two teams — Utah was the other — that ranked in the top five in both the percentage of their possessions that were pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions (21.8%, fifth) and points per possession on ball-handler possessions (0.98, third). Luka Doncic ranked second (behind Trae Young) with 873 total points as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, while Jalen Brunson’s 1.09 points per possession ranked fourth among 73 players with at least 200 ball-handler possessions.

• The Mavs have had a worse-than-average defense in eight of the last nine seasons, though last season was their first in the bottom 10 since 2013-14.

• Doncic had a usage rate of 39.1% in the playoffs. That was the highest mark for a player with at least 200 playoff minutes in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data. The Mavs scored 118.3 points per 100 possessions in his 281 minutes on the floor and just 83.0 per 100 in his 55 minutes on the bench.

Key question: Can Kristaps Porzingis get back to elite rim protection?

Given the ball-dominance of Doncic, Porzingis will remain the most secondary of secondary options on offense. But he was much, much more efficient playing alongside the Mavs’ star (true shooting percentage of 63.8%) than he was playing without him (49.5%) last season. And more important than Porzingis’ offense may be his impact on defense, where he took a big step backward. Through his first four seasons, he averaged 2.3 blocks per 36 minutes and opponents shot just 52.4% at the rim when he was there to protect it. Last season, those numbers were 1.6 blocks per 36 and 61.9%.

Doncic will certainly keep getting better offensively, and with the additions of Bullock and Sterling Brown, the Mavs have seven players around the 22-year-old Doncic who shot the league average or better on at least 100 3-point attempts last season (only the Nuggets have more). But this team needs to climb back out of the bottom 10 defensively, and better rim protection from the 7-foot-3 guy could certainly help in that regard. The 117.7 points per 100 possessions that the Mavs allowed in 862 total minutes with Doncic and Porzingis on the floor together was the third worst mark among 309 two-man combinations that played at least 750 minutes.

2020-21 record: 47-25
Pace: 97.6 (28), OffRtg: 116.7 (3), DefRtg: 110.6 (8), NetRtg: +6.1 (2)

Key addition(s): Eric Bledsoe
Key departure(s): Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo

Three numbers to know…

• The Clippers led the league in 3-point percentage at 41.1%, the fourth highest mark in NBA history. They led the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (42.8%), corner 3-point percentage (46.7%) and above-the-break 3-point percentage (39.1%), ranking third in pull-up 3-point percentage (37.3%).

• Kawhi Leonard averaged 30.4 points on a true shooting percentage of 67.9% in the playoffs. The latter mark was the highest for any player who averaged at least 30 points per game in 10 or more postseason games, with only one other player (Kevin Durant in 2017) having a higher mark (68.3%) while averaging 25 or more (see below).

• In the regular season, the Clippers were 16-18 (0.471) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 31-7 (0.816) otherwise. That was the league’s biggest differential between a team’s non-clutch and clutch winning percentage. In the playoffs, they were 3-8 in clutch games (including 0-3 in the conference finals), scoring just 43 points on 54 clutch possessions (79.6 per 100).

Key question: Can they keep Paul George from getting overloaded?

George is the only player who’s shot 40% or better on at least 200 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts in each of the last five seasons. But in each of the last four, he’s played no fewer than 890 (and as many as 2,328) minutes alongside Russell Westbrook or Kawhi Leonard. This season, with Leonard out, George is the star of the show. He registered career-high marks in assists per game and assist ratio last season, and he’ll continue to create for others. But to keep his efficiency up (his true shooting percentage of 59.8% was also a career-high mark) and his legs fresh, others will need to create for him.

Bledsoe provides more juice off the dribble than Beverley, and both Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann are coming off of strong postseasons. Luke Kennard proved to be useful on occasion. They might need big seasons from all of those guys to stay in the top six in the West, but maybe there’s a chance that Leonard (who suffered just a partial tear of his ACL) returns by the end of the season, and we know that he’ll be around for at least two more.

Highest true shooting % while averaging 25+ PPG in 10+ playoff games

Player Year GP PPG TS%
Kevin Durant 2017 15 28.5 68.3%
Kawhi Leonard 2021 11 30.4 67.9%
Kawhi Leonard 2017 12 27.7 67.2%
Kevin McHale 1988 17 25.4 67.0%
LeBron James 2014 20 27.4 66.8%

TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGM + (0.44 * FTA)))

2020-21 record: 47-25
Pace: 97.7 (27), OffRtg: 116.3 (6), DefRtg: 111.5 (11), NetRtg: +4.8 (6)

Key addition(s): Jeff Green
Key departure(s): N/A

Three numbers to know…

• The Nuggets outscored their opponents by 14.2 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the best mark for any team in any quarter. Their 125.5 points scored per 100 possessions in the first quarter was also the best mark for any team in any quarter.

• Nikola Jokic led the league in touches (101.0), frontcourt touches (58.0), and elbow touches (8.8) per game. But he ranked just 40th in time of possession (4.6 minutes per game).

• Jokic saw the biggest drop in assists per game from the regular season (8.3, sixth in the league) to the playoffs (5.0, 19th).

Key question: Can Michael Porter Jr. do more off the dribble?

Porter is a special player. His 77.5% in the restricted area ranked third among 97 players with at least 200 restricted-area attempts. His 46.5% on catch-and-shoot 3s ranked fourth among 86 players who attempted at least 200 last season. He had an effective field goal percentage of 52.4% on pull-up jumpers (17th among 112 players who attempted at least 150), but can he maintain that efficiency at a higher volume? Can he play pick-and-roll, having used just 101 ball-screens last season?

There’s no better offensive hub than Jokic, the league’s best passer and a 26-points-per-game scorer whose true shooting percentage (64.7%) ranked fourth among the 48 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher last season. But in the absence of Murray — who accounted for 300 (33%) of their 910 total pick-and-roll ball-handler points — the Nuggets could use more punch off the dribble, and maybe the 23-year-old Porter can provide it.

2020-21 record: 39-33
Pace: 102.8 (3) OffRtg: 110.5 (20) DefRtg: 109.4 (5) NetRtg: +1.1 (15)

Key addition(s): Andre Iguodala, Otto Porter Jr., Two Lottery picks
Key departure(s): Kent Bazemore, Kelly Oubre

Three numbers to know…

• The Warriors had the league’s biggest home-road differential, both in regard to winning percentage (25-11 vs. 14-22) and point differential per 100 possessions (+5.1 vs. -3.0). The differential was much bigger on offense (114.0 vs. 106.9 points scored per 100 possessions) than on defense (108.9 vs. 109.9 allowed per 100).

• Stephen Curry led the league in scoring at a career-high 32.0 points per game. His 11.4 points per game in the third quarter were 1.4 more than any player has averaged in any quarter in the 24 seasons for which by-quarter stats have been tracked.

• Opponents shot 47.3% at the rim when Draymond Green was there to protect. That was the best rim-protection mark among 72 players who defended at least 200 total shots at the rim. He also allowed just 0.46 points per possession on isolations, the best mark among 86 players who defended at least 50, according to Synergy tracking.

Key question: James Wiseman.

The roster additions, along with the (eventual) return of Thompson and the emergence of Juan Toscano-Anderson, should give the Warriors more small-ball options. Without Thompson, they outscored their opponents by 8.2 points per 100 possessions in 871 minutes with Green at the five last season. But that was just 44% of Green’s total minutes, and at 6-6 and 31 years old, he obviously can’t be a full-time center. Kevon Looney remains solid and Nemanja Bjelica can play some at the five, but it would be nice if Wiseman wasn’t the plus-minus sinkhole that he was as a rookie. His on-off differential — the Warriors were 13.5 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor (-8.8) than they were with him off the floor (+4.7) — was the worst among 363 players who played at least 500 minutes for a single team.

Interestingly, the differential was much bigger on offense (10.9 per 100) than it was on defense (2.6), where Wiseman ranked dead last in deflections per 36 minutes. The 75.4% he shot in the restricted area was the best mark for a rookie with at least 150 restricted-area attempts in the 25 years for which we have shot-location data, but there wasn’t much beyond the finishing at the rim. Of course, it’s asking a lot of a rookie (who played just three college games) to get on the same page as Curry and Green, who run a nightly clinic on offensive improvisation. Year 2 will another chance to catch up.

2020-21 record: 42-30
Pace: 99.0 (19), OffRtg: 117.1 (2), DefRtg: 115.3 (29), NetRtg: +1.8 (12)

Key addition(s): Larry Nance Jr.
Key departure(s): Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Jones Jr., Enes Kanter
Coaching change: Terry Stotts out, Chauncey Billups in

Three numbers to know…

• The Blazers led the league in points per possession on both isolation possessions (1.06) and pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions (1.00).

• The Blazers have had the league’s worst defense over the last two seasons, allowing 114.8 points per 100 possessions.

• In the first round, the Blazers’ starting lineup outscored the Nuggets by 47 points in its 112 minutes, allowing Denver to score just 103.1 points per 100 possessions. All other Portland lineups were outscored by 55 points in 186 minutes, allowing 135.4 per 100.

Key question: Just how urgent is this situation?

How good do the Blazers need to be — and how quickly do they need to be that good — for the Damian Lillard chatter to quiet down? Is extending the league’s longest active playoff streak (eight seasons) good enough?

Snagging Nance in the Lauri Markkanen sign-and-trade deal was a nice move, though maybe just a modest upgrade. The Blazers’ starters were solid defensively last season (the 104.8 points per 100 possessions they allowed ranked ninth among 30 lineups that played at least 200 minutes), but have players who are 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-3 on the perimeter remains a tough ask on that end of the floor. Starting Robert Covington and Nance (sixth and ninth, respectively, in deflections per 36 minutes last season) — with Norman Powell moving to the bench — would add size and better neutralize the defensive deficiencies of the backcourt. The departures of Anthony and Kanter will help the defense, too, though the frontline would seemingly be less likely to withstand a third straight season where Jusuf Nurkic missed extended time.

Internal improvement will have to come from the coaching change, though teams that have made an offseason hire over the last 10 years have been more likely to improve on offense (43/69) than on defense (26/69).

2020-21 record: 38-34
Pace: 100.8 (8), OffRtg: 111.7 (15), DefRtg: 110.5 (7), NetRtg: +1.2 (14)

Key addition(s): Steven Adams
Key departure(s): Jonas Valanciunas, Grayson Allen

Three numbers to know…

• The Grizzlies are the only team that has seen improvement, both in regard to winning percentage and point differential per 100 possessions, in each of the last three seasons, going from 22-60 (0.268) and -6.8 per 100 in 2018-19 to 38-34 (0.528) and +1.2 last season.

• The Grizzlies led the league in fast break points (17.3), points in the paint (55.8) and second chance points (15.0) per game. Only one other team (New Orleans) ranked in the top 10 in all three.

• Ja Morant shot 34.4% from 3-point range after the All-Star break, up from 23.3% before the break. That was the biggest post-break jump among 162 players with at least 75 3-point attempts both before and after the break.

Key question: What does Jaren Jackson Jr. do with a healthy summer?

The first question is if the Grizzlies and Jackson reach an agreement on a contract extension by opening night. (As of Monday morning, only four of the 2018 first-rounders have signed rookie-scale extensions.) Of course, it’s hard to know what Jackson is worth, given that he played just 16 games (including playoffs) last season after missing 8 1/2 months. And it’s hard to know, at this point, how much a healthy Jackson could lift the Grizzlies in a competitive Western Conference.

A healthy and bouncy Jackson that’s made the most of his summer can be an impact player on both ends of the floor. And with the departure of Valanciunas, he could be playing more at center, having split his minutes (in which the Grizz were outscored by 11.5 points per 100 possessions) pretty evenly between the four and five last season.

It’s difficult to project the Grizz making another big leap until they show it on the floor. But with two talented top-four picks — Morant and Jackson — entering their third and fourth seasons, respectively, the potential is certainly there.

2020-21 record: 23-49
Pace: 102.0 (5) OffRtg: 109.3 (25) DefRtg: 114.5 (28) NetRtg: -5.3 (26)

Key addition(s): Patrick Beverley, Taurean Prince
Key departure(s): Ricky Rubio

Three numbers to know…

• The Wolves were the only team that ranked in the bottom five in three of the four factors on defense, finishing 28th in opponent effective field goal percentage (55.6%), 26th in opponent free throw rate (26.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field), and 27th in opponent offensive rebounding percentage (28.3%).

• Karl-Anthony Towns is one of two players — James Harden is the other — to average at least 20 points per game (in 25 games or more) on a true shooting percentage of 60% or better in each of the last five seasons.

• Towns and D’Angelo Russell have both been available in only 25 (29%) of the 86 games that the Wolves have played since they acquired Russell from Golden State 18 months ago. Russell, Towns, Anthony Edwards and Malik Beasley played a total of 13 minutes (over three games) together last season.

Key question: How real was the post-break improvement?

The Wolves were the most improved team after the All-Star break last season, 6.3 points per 100 possessions better over their last 36 games (-2.1, 22nd) than they were before the break (-8.4, 30th). Alas, they had nowhere to go but up, 22nd best in the league is still ninth worst, and none of that improvement came on defense, where they ranked 28th after the break.

But, while Towns’ health was a big factor, much of the offensive improvement (+8.5 points scored per 100 possessions) came from Edwards. The rookie saw the fourth biggest jump in effective field goal percentage from before the break (43.4%) to after it (53.0%), along with the 11th biggest jump in free throw rate (16.2 to 27.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field) among 197 players with at least 150 field goal attempts in both the first and second halves of the season.

Also if coach Chris Finch could engineer that kind of improvement over the All-Star break (after joining the team five games before the break), it will be interesting to see what he can do with a full summer and a healthier roster.

2020-21 record: 31-41
Pace: 100.5 (10) OffRtg: 113.0 (11) DefRtg: 113.3 (23) NetRtg: -0.3 (18)

Key addition(s): Jonas Valanciunas, Devonte’ Graham
Key departure(s): Steven Adams, Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe
Coaching change: Stan Van Gundy out, Willie Green in

Three numbers to know…

• The Pelicans were outscored by 11.7 points per game from 3-point range, the second worst differential in the 43 seasons of the 3-point line. On offense, they were the only team that ranked in the bottom five in both 3-point percentage (34.8%, 26th) and the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (34.2%, 28th). On defense, they were one of two teams — Milwaukee was the other — that ranked in the bottom six in both opponent 3-point percentage (38.0%, 25th) and the percentage of their opponent shots that came from 3-point range (42.7%, fourth highest).

• The Pelicans were one of two teams (Utah was the other) that ranked in the top five in both offensive rebounding percentage (first) and defensive rebounding percentage (third).

• Zion Williamson’s 18.0 points per game in the restricted area were the most for any player in the 25 years for which we have shot-location data, topping his own mark of 15.8 per game as a rookie.

Key question: Is there a competent backcourt here?

The reports that the Pelicans swung and missed on Kyle Lowry are backed up by what’s remaining in the New Orleans backcourt, which is a bunch of guys — Graham, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kira Lewis Jr. and Garrett Temple — who don’t qualify as “starter on a good team” material. Not yet, at least. The hope has to be that Alexander-Walker (much improved numbers after the All-Star break last season) and/or Lewis (assist/turnover ratio of 3.65 as a rookie) can make a leap.

The other hope is that this is the coach that can get this group committed to playing defense. In his two years in Phoenix with Monty Williams, Green did help the Suns go from 29th (the season before they arrived) to 17th to sixth in defensive efficiency. Of course, Van Gundy had similar success (25th to eighth in three years) in his previous stop. The Pelicans are one of two teams — the Cavs (five straight seasons) are the other — that have ranked in the bottom 10 defensively in each of the last three seasons.

2020-21 record: 31-41
Pace: 100.7 (9) OffRtg: 112.7 (12) DefRtg: 116.5 (30) NetRtg: -3.8 (24)

Key addition(s): Davion Mitchell, Tristan Thompson
Key departure(s): Delon Wright

Three numbers to know…

• The Kings have had a worse-than-average defense in each of the last 15 seasons. Last season they allowed 1.2 more points per 100 possessions than the 29th-ranked Blazers’ defense, becoming just the eighth team in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data to allow at least a point per possession more than any other team.

• Last season, the Kings had a better-than-average offense for just the second time in those same 15 seasons. They saw the 10th biggest jump in effective field goal percentage (+1.5%), the eighth biggest drop in turnover rate (-1.2 per 100 possessions), and the fifth biggest jump in free throw rate (+1.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field).

• Buddy Hield saw the second biggest drop in usage rate (from 26.3% in 2019-20 to 20.1% last season) among 182 players who played at least 1,000 minutes in each of the last two seasons.

Key question: Can they be, like, not so horrible defensively?

Mitchell arrives with a rep for being a great defender, but improvement obviously has to come from more than the 6-foot rookie who’s playing behind the team’s highest-paid player (De’Aaron Fox) and the guy (Tyrese Haliburton) who finished third in Kia Rookie of the Year voting last season. And it was on the interior (paint defense and defensive rebounding) where the Kings’ defense really regressed (they ranked 19th defensively the season prior). Some minutes with the three guards playing together could be fun, though.

The Play-In Tournament changes the math, but (for simplicity sake) if we say that the Kings need 43 wins to avoid setting the record for the longest playoff drought in NBA history. That’s a winning percentage jump of 0.94. On average, six or seven teams pull that off every season. But it should be noted that the Kings, with a much better record in clutch games (22-20 – they had some wild wins early in the season) than otherwise (9-21), had the point differential of a team that was 27-45 last season. And they’ve made minimal changes to their rotation.

2020-21 record: 33-39
Pace: 99.4 (15) OffRtg: 110.5 (19) DefRtg: 112.0 (17) NetRtg: -1.5 (21)

Key addition(s): Doug McDermott, Thaddeus Young, Josh Primo
Key departure(s): DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Patty Mills

Three numbers to know…

• The Spurs were the only team that averaged fewer than 10 3-pointers last season. They ranked last in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range (31.4%), in the bottom seven for the sixth straight season. They also saw the league’s biggest drop in 3-point percentage, from 37.6% (fourth) in 2019-20 to 35.0% (24th) last season.

• The Spurs were the league’s best second quarter team (+10.8 points per 100 possessions). The 101.1 points per 100 possessions they allowed in the second quarter was the best mark for any team in any quarter. The 119.4 per 100 they allowed in the third quarter was the second worst mark for any team in any quarter.

• Dejounte Murray attempted 302 mid-range shots and 199 3-pointers. That ratio (1.5/1) was the fifth highest among 201 players with at least 200 total field goal attempts from outside the paint. (DeMar DeRozan had the highest: 4.5/1.) The 45.4% Murray shot from mid-range ranked ninth among the 18 players with at least 200 mid-range attempts.

Key question: Is there a future All-Star on this roster?

The Spurs were better with DeRozan off the floor than they were with him on the floor in all three of his seasons in San Antonio. But Gay and/or Mills were in the game for 76% of the DeRozan-off-the-floor minutes over those three years, and those guys are gone too. Thaddeus Young had similar veteran, off-the-bench, plus-minus magic in Chicago last season, but the departures of those three mainstays, especially when you consider the load they (DeRozan in particular) carried down the stretch of close games, makes this feel like a real reset in San Antonio.

None of the Spurs’ young guys were a super-high Draft pick, though they’ve certainly turned not-high picks into stars (or Hall of Famers) before. They don’t necessarily need a star to be competitive, either. But there’s some intrigue in the how Murray, Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell develop without the vets around.

2020-21 record: 17-55
Pace: 101.7 (6) OffRtg: 107.0 (27) DefRtg: 114.4 (27) NetRtg: -7.4 (27)

Key addition(s): Jalen Green and three more first-round draftees
Key departure(s): Kelly Olynyk

Three numbers to know…

• The Rockets saw the eighth biggest year-to-year drop in winning percentage in NBA history, from 0.611 in 2019-20 to 0.236 last season.

• For the second straight season, the Rockets allowed a league-high 23.8 transition points per game, according to Synergy tracking.

• Last season was the first time in eight years that the Rockets didn’t lead the league in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range. After three straight seasons over 50%, they saw the league’s second biggest drop and ranked second at 45.9%.

Key question: How quickly do the rookies take over?

The Rockets went all-in on the 2021 Draft, adding a first-rounder to the three they already had by trading a pair of future (protected) picks to Oklahoma City. Houston’s four first-rounders are all just 19 years old, so there’s no rush to push them into heavy minutes, and the G League is a practical tool for their development. But if this team isn’t going to compete for a playoff or Play-In spot, maybe it’s best to throw them all into the fire.

If the youth movement takes precedence, it might be tougher for John Wall (the least effective high-volume pull-up shooter in the league last season) and Eric Gordon (who played a total of 25 minutes after the All-Star break) to reestablish themselves as vets who can help a competitive team somewhere. At least Stephen Silas can go into his second season with a better idea of what kind of team he’s coaching.

2020-21 record: 22-50
Pace: 101.6 (7) OffRtg: 102.8 (30) DefRtg: 113.4 (24) NetRtg: -10.6 (30)

Key addition(s): Josh Giddey, Derrick Favors, Kemba …
Key departure(s): … Walker, Al Horford

Three numbers to know…

• Sixty percent of the Thunder’s minutes — the league’s highest rate by a wide margin — came from rookies (20%, fifth highest rate) or second-year players (40%, highest) last season. Minnesota was second at 42%.

• The Thunder had the biggest differential between their actual wins and their “expected” wins (via point differential). They were 22-50 with the point differential of a team that was 12-60.

• Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 1.12 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the second best mark among 73 players with at least 200 ball-handler possessions, according to Synergy tracking. He led the league with 25.2 drives per game, almost five more than any other player. He also shot 54-for-132 (40.9%) on pull-up 3s, the fifth best mark among 61 players who attempted at least 100.

Key question: Can they defend again?

The Thunder were 16-19 (with seven wins over eventual playoff teams) with Gilgeous-Alexander and 6-31 without him. They had the 11th-ranked defense through the last game that he played (March 22) … and then the bottom fell out as he sat the final eight weeks of the season. It will be interesting to see if they can defend at that level again, and if Gilgeous-Alexander can score so efficiently (his true shooting percentage of 62.3% ranked eighth among the 48 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher) over a full season.

It’s about the long game in OKC, though. Year 2 for Aleksej Pokusevski will be a fascinating measure of the Thunder’s ability to develop the 23-and-under crowd, which is now joined by the very intriguing Giddey, who doesn’t turn 19 until early October.