Power Rankings, Week 1: Bucks, Clippers lead wide-open field
Several teams look ready to contend for the 2020 NBA championship
After a crazy summer of movement, it’s finally time to get things started again.
There are a ton of questions, both big and small, to be answered in the next eight months. Every game is a data point, and the first of 1,230 is Tuesday in Toronto (8 ET, TNT), when the Raptors begin a unique title defense with a visit from the New Orleans Pelicans, who will likely be without their own franchise centerpiece. Out West, we just couldn’t wait for Paul George to come back to get this Clippers-Lakers thing started (10:30 ET, TNT).
Next Monday’s Power Rankings may look a lot different than the ones below, which are sure to be way off in regard to a team or two (or three or four). The great thing about Power Rankings is that you get to try again next week.
Plus-Minus Players of the Preseason
- Sir Plus: James Harden (HOU) was a plus-95 in six preseason games.
- Minus van Pelt: Denzel Valentine (CHI) was a minus-57 in five preseason games.
Teams of the Preseason
- Make It Last Forever: Milwaukee (5-0) — The Bucks were one of two teams that ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency (when you discount games vs. international teams) in the preseason. The other – Boston – played three of its four games against Charlotte and Cleveland.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Cleveland (1-3) — The Cavs went 0-3 against NBA teams (with one of those games coming against a Celtics team missing its top seven guys), getting outscored by almost 24 points per 100 possessions in the three games.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the preseason: Dallas (+3), Toronto (+2)
- Free falls of the preseason: Indiana (-2), Sacramento (-2), Utah (-2)
Week 1 Team to Watch
- Houston — With all the player movement this summer, there are big questions about more than half of the league’s 30 teams. But the Rockets can seemingly go in two very different directions and their season begins with two very interesting games. They host the Bucks on Thursday and the Pelicans on Saturday.
- Mid-summer: Bucks and 76ers at the top of the East | Clippers sit atop new-look West
- This time last year: Raptors claim No. 1 spot, while Pelicans lead an offensive surge — The season was six days old and six teams were undefeated. Heat president Pat Riley said he was “pulling the plug” on trade talks for Jimmy Butler and a Rockets-Lakers skirmish resulted in suspensions for Chris Paul, Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo. Markelle Fultz was starting for the Sixers, Giannis Antetokounmpo was 0-for-10 from outside the paint, and Nik Stauskas tied his career high with 24 points in the Blazers’ opener. Jarrett Allen met Blake Griffin at the rim and the Warriors beat the Jazz with Jonas Jerebko’s buzzer-beating tip-in.
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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 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.7 points scored per 100 possessions last season.
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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.
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The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Last Week: 2 ↑
2018-19 record: 60-22
Pace: 103.6 (5) OffRtg: 113.5 (4) DefRtg: 104.9 (1) NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
Giannis Antetokounmpo takes every game, preseason or not, seriously. And as the Bucks went 5-0 (with top-five marks on both ends of the floor), the reigning Kia MVP somehow averaged 41.9 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 65.3%) and 18.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. The Bucks have a tough first month of the season -- 10 of their first 14 on the road and games against the Rockets, Celtics, Raptors, Clippers, Jazz and Blazers -- but no team seems more ready to get off to a strong start, even with the status of the starting point guard (Eric Bledsoe, fractured rib) in the air. In the preseason, the Bucks were once again near the top of the league in the percentage of opponent shots that came from beyond the arc (46%), so be prepared for 50-plus 3-point attempts from the Rockets on Thursday.
Aschburner: With help of trainer, Giannis' great becomes greater
Week 1: @ HOU, vs. MIA
Last Week: 1 ↓
2018-19 record: 48-34
Pace: 102.7 (7) OffRtg: 111.4 (9) DefRtg: 110.4 (19) NetRtg: +1.0 (13)
George is expected to miss the Clippers' first 10 games, a stretch that includes meetings with a lot of good teams (including the one ranked ahead of them here). The Clippers still have enough to win some of those games, though the healthy guys aren't exactly hitting the ground running. Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams played just four minutes together in the preseason, which otherwise offered some hope that Patrick Patterson (who shot 11-for-15) has something left, that the Clippers might have found something in rookie Terance Mann (the 48th pick in the Draft), and that Leonard is continuing to develop as a playmaker. He logged just 33 minutes, but there were some good pick-and-roll reads within his eight assists.
Powell: Clippers ready to level up beyond 'Best Team in L.A.'
Week 1: vs. LAL, @ GSW, @ PHX
Last Week: 4 ↑
2018-19 record: 54-28
Pace: 98.5 (26) OffRtg: 112.1 (7) DefRtg: 108.1 (10) NetRtg: +4.0 (8)
If the Nuggets are healthy, it will be fascinating to see how coach Michael Malone manages a rotation that now includes Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr., who needs playing time after missing all of last season and flashing some offensive versatility in averaging 20.8 points per 36 minutes in the preseason. After visiting Portland on Wednesday, the team that had the league's biggest home-road NetRtg differential (13.1 points per 100 possessions better at home) last season will play 10 of its next 15 games at the Pepsi Center. And given the early strength of schedule, it may be a while before we really know how good the Nuggets are defensively.
Smith: Jokic not clowning around anymore
Week 1: @ POR, vs. PHX
Last Week: 3 ↓
2018-19 record: 51-31
Pace: 102.6 (8) OffRtg: 111.5 (8) DefRtg: 108.9 (14) NetRtg: +2.6 (11)
With rookie Matisse Thybulle seemingly earning a spot in the rotation, the Sixers might be even better defensively than originally projected. Among 342 players that played at least 50 minutes, the 20th pick led the preseason with 4.9 steals per 36 minutes and ranked 13th with 2.6 blocks per 36. But, though Ben Simmons led the league in 3-point percentage, the Sixers' offense is a work in progress and looked positively brutal in the preseason finale against Washington. With the departure of Jimmy Butler and J.J. Redick (along with the absence of Simmons or Joel Embiid in three of the five games), Tobias Harris' usage rate in the preseason (21.8%) was only slightly higher than it was in his 27 games with the Sixers last season (20.8%). After hosting the Celtics on Wednesday, the Sixers will play nine of their next 12 games on the road.
Week 1: vs. BOS, @ DET
Last Week: 6 ↑
2018-19 record: 37-45
Pace: 103.6 (4) OffRtg: 107.4 (24) DefRtg: 108.9 (13) NetRtg: -1.6 (22)
Logic would dictate the Lakers would be at their best with Anthony Davis at center, where he played for about a third (26/83) of his preseason minutes. But size matters in basketball and the Lakers looked absolutely huge when they played a frontline of LeBron James, Davis and JaVale McGee. (Small sample size alert!) They outscored their opponents by 43 points in just 38 minutes (allowing just 61 points on 80 possessions) with Davis and McGee on the floor together. Davis shot just 43% (and just 4-for-21 from outside the restricted area) in the preseason, but recorded assists on 21% of his possessions, a rate which would be a career-high by a wide margin.
Week 1: @ LAC, vs. UTA, vs. CHA
Last Week: 7 ↑
2018-19 record: 53-29
Pace: 98.4 (27) OffRtg: 114.9 (2) DefRtg: 110.1 (17) NetRtg: +4.8 (5)
It doesn't appear that James Harden's offensive production will be abated much by the presence of Russell Westbrook. Harden was more prolific (41.5 points and 14.0 assists per 36 minutes) in his minutes with Westbrook off the floor, but still averaged 33.8 and 5.9 per 36 with Westbrook on the floor, dropping 40 and 44 points against the Spurs and Heat, respectively, on Wednesday and Friday. After ranking 27th in pace last season, the Rockets ranked second in the preseason (when discounting games vs. international teams), though the jump wasn't all about Westbrook, whose 2.9 fast break points per 36 minutes ranked seventh on the team. Their three-game homestand to start the season includes two rest-advantage games (Saturday vs. New Orleans and next Monday vs. Oklahoma City).
Week 1: vs. MIL, vs. NOP
Last Week: 5 ↓
2018-19 record: 50-32
Pace: 100.8 (14) OffRtg: 110.3 (14) DefRtg: 105.3 (2) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)
The preseason doesn't count and maybe the Jazz can flip the switch on Wednesday. But an 0-4 record against NBA competition and the league's worst defense (121 points allowed per 100 possessions) in the preseason (when discounting games vs. international opponents) isn't something that can be totally disregarded. This team typically finds itself in the second half of the season, but for now, the new guys need to learn the system. With additional playmaking and shooting in the starting lineup, Joe Ingles has moved to the bench, where he'll run the second-unit offense. That puts some of the defensive spotlight on Royce O'Neale as the Jazz play three of their first seven games against the Lakers and Clippers, with their stars at small forward.
Week 1: vs. OKC, @ LAL, vs. SAC
Last Week: 10 ↑
2018-19 record: 58-24
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 112.5 (5) DefRtg: 106.8 (5) NetRtg: +5.8 (3)
The contract extensions for Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam were both a little surprising, though neither necessarily affects the next six months of basketball, because Siakam wasn't going anywhere anyway and Lowry's one-year extension doesn't necessarily mean that he can't (or won't) be traded before the Feb. 6 deadline. But the Raptors looked pretty darn good (draining 24 3-pointers and assisting on 31 of their 44 buckets) in the one preseason game (Friday in Brooklyn) in which Lowry played, with Fred VanVleet starting at the other guard spot. It might be tough to start two 6-foot guys against the Celtics (who start 6-foot-7 Jaylen Brown at the two) on Friday, though coach Nick Nurse doesn't lack the requisite swag.
Week 1: vs. NOP, @ BOS, @ CHI
Last Week: 8 ↓
2018-19 record: 57-25
Pace: 101.7 (10) OffRtg: 115.0 (1) DefRtg: 108.6 (11) NetRtg: +6.5 (2)
Stephen Curry is going to have a huge offensive season; He averaged 39.5 points per 36 minutes, with 50-40-90 shooting numbers, over his four preseason games. But the last couple of weeks didn't do much to answer questions about D'Angelo Russell (who was, somehow a minus-49 in 99 preseason minutes), the Warriors' defense (which ranked 26th in the preseason), or their depth. A healthy Kevon Looney, who could be available for their game against the Clippers on Thursday, would certainly help, especially on defense, where the Warriors allowed less than 102 points per 100 possessions with him and Draymond Green on the floor together last season. The five-time (five-time!) defending West champs will play 16 of their first 18 games within the conference, a stretch that includes three of their four games against the Thunder.
Week 1: vs. LAC, @ OKC
Last Week: 9 ↓
2018-19 record: 53-29
Pace: 100.0 (18) OffRtg: 113.7 (3) DefRtg: 109.5 (16) NetRtg: +4.2 (7)
Defense is probably going to be an issue for the Blazers (at least until Jusuf Nurkic returns), given the lack of size in the backcourt, the departures of last season's starting forwards, and Hassan Whiteside's tendency to lose focus on that end of the floor. But the offense could hold up, especially if Anfernee Simons is the real deal. There were a few too many early-clock, pull-up, mid-range jumpers in his preseason arsenal, but with a quick and confident release, he shot 11-for-22 from beyond the arc. Their game against the Nuggets on Wednesday will be a good test of the Blazers' 18-year winning streak in home openers, and it's followed by a stretch where they play six of seven on the road.
Week 1: vs. DEN, @ SAC, @ DAL
Last Week: 12 ↑
2018-19 record: 49-33
Pace: 100.5 (16) OffRtg: 111.2 (10) DefRtg: 107.0 (6) NetRtg: +4.2 (6)
The No. 1 ranking in preseason defensive efficiency (85 points allowed per 100 possessions) comes with the context that the Celtics' four games were against the Hornets, Magic (without Nikola Vucevic) and Cavs (x 2). And we might get a real idea of just how much they'll miss Al Horford (and Aron Baynes) when they open the season in Philadelphia on Wednesday (and then play the Raptors and Bucks in two of their next three games). It looks like Marcus Smart will start the season on the bench, but with Daniel Theis at center instead of Enes Kanter, coach Brad Stevens is not going all-in on offense to start games. Given what Carsen Edwards showed us in Cleveland on Tuesday (26 points, 8-for-11 from 3-point range in the third quarter), the Celtics could have a second unit that comes close to matching the potency of the starting group.
Week 1: @ PHI, vs. TOR, @ NYK
Last Week: 11 ↓
2018-19 record: 48-34
Pace: 98.9 (22) OffRtg: 112.2 (6) DefRtg: 110.5 (20) NetRtg: +1.6 (12)
Press pause on thoughts of Dejounte Murray and Derrick White combining forces for major minutes this season. With White coming off the bench, the pair didn't play a single second together in the preseason, even though they both played in all five of the team's games. Floor spacing could be the issue (the two have combined to make just 74 3-pointers over their careers), but the Spurs aren't exactly launching from deep either way. The team that ranked last in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range last season (28.6%) saw the league's biggest drop in that percentage from last season to the preseason (26.5%), missing the guy (Davis Bertans) they traded to make room for a guy (Marcus Morris) who's playing for the Knicks. Morris will appropriately begin his season at the AT&T Center anyway.
Wright: Hammon's career has put NBA world on notice
Week 1: vs. NYK, vs. WAS
Last Week: 13
2018-19 record: 42-40
Pace: 101.6 (11) OffRtg: 108.8 (19) DefRtg: 108.9 (15) NetRtg: -0.1 (15)
Thanks to another hit to the face, the Nets got just 26 minutes of a masked Kyrie Irving in the preseason. There was some vintage Irving on Friday, but the loss to the Raptors was defined by the Raptors' 46-point second quarter, in which Brooklyn continuously failed to match up in transition. The Nets also assisted on just 16 of their 38 buckets in the loss after assisting on 76% through their first three. Taurean Prince shot a preseason-best 16-for-23 (70%) from 3-point range, but defense and rebounding could continue to be issues given the Nets' lack of size at the forward positions (with Caris LeVert and Prince the likely starters). The Nets will begin their season with a relatively easy first six games.
Week 1: vs. MIN, vs. NYK, @ MEM
Last Week: 15 ↑
2018-19 record: 39-43
Pace: 98.8 (23) OffRtg: 106.7 (26) DefRtg: 107.0 (7) NetRtg: -0.4 (16)
As Jimmy Butler eased into things with his new team (he took 14 shots in his final preseason game, but six of his nine buckets were assisted), Tyler Herro put on a show. And if the rookie's preseason numbers translate to the real thing, he's exactly what the Heat need offensively. It looks like he'll start the season as part of what should be a fun second unit that could also include Goran Dragic, Dion Waiters, Derrick Jones Jr. and Kelly Olynyk (if Waiters can get past whatever issue has him serving a one-game, team-issued suspension). The Heat will apparently try to manufacture spacing in their starting lineup by allowing Duncan Robinson (who played 161 minutes last season) to shoot whenever he touches the ball. He ranked sixth among non-Rockets in the preseason with 13.1 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, with 39 of his 44 total field goal attempts coming from Kaboomtown. Justise Winslow at point guard is no longer an experiment, though it's not great that he shot 0-for-12 from 3-point range in the preseason. It's time to ball, y'all, and Miami weirdly begins its season by playing each of the other three 'M' teams in Week 1.
Week 1: vs. MEM, @ MIL, @ MIN
Last Week: 16 ↑
2018-19 record: 42-40
Pace: 98.7 (24) OffRtg: 108.1 (22) DefRtg: 107.5 (8) NetRtg: +0.6 (14)
The Magic were the Jekyll and Hyde team of the preseason. They won 11 of 12 quarters over their first three games (all on the road), and then won just one of 12 quarters over their last three games (all at home), with health issues for Evan Fournier (back spasms) and Vucevic (ankle) being a factor. Fultz's shot isn't exactly fixed (he was 2-for-22 from outside the paint), but Mo Bamba looked pretty confident in draining nine of his 18 3-point attempts. When healthy (Fournier and Vucevic were both back for the preseason finale), the Magic seemingly have 12 useful rotation guys. And with much invested in both Fultz and Bamba, Wes Iwundu and Khem Birch will likely be the two guys squeezed out to start the season.
Week 1: vs. CLE, @ ATL
Last Week: 14 ↓
2018-19 record: 48-34
Pace: 98.7 (25) OffRtg: 109.3 (18) DefRtg: 105.9 (3) NetRtg: +3.4 (10)
The Pacers outscored their opponents (all NBA teams) by 30 points in 66 minutes with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner on the floor together in the preseason. In fact, the pair had a negative plus-minus in only one of its 10 stints over the four games. But in their one nail-biter (an overtime win over the Kings in India), coach Nate McMillan played only one of the two down the stretch, and the team doesn't appear ready to make a long-term commitment to Sabonis. So this experiment could be over before it really gets started, though any trade will be easier to make in mid-December when more players around the league become trade-eligible. The good news is that Victor Oladipo is progressing toward an eventual return and that the Pacers have an easy start to the schedule. Only one of their first nine games (next Wednesday in Brooklyn) is against a team that had a winning record last season.
Week 1: vs. DET, @ CLE
Last Week: 18 ↑
2018-19 record: 33-49
Pace: 103.9 (2) OffRtg: 110.7 (12) DefRtg: 112.0 (22) NetRtg: -1.3 (20)
Zion Williamson isn't just freakishly strong and athletic. He is, simply, really good. He ranked fifth in preseason true shooting percentage (73.7%) among 124 players with at least 35 field goal attempts, taking 40 of his 49 shots in the restricted area. And as the Pelicans led the league in offensive efficiency (114.2 points per 100 possessions) in the preseason, there were some impressive dimes among the No. 1 pick's nine assists. So the issue with his right knee concerns the Pelicans' ability to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference as much as it does his own development. Whether he's playing the four or the five or not playing at all, the Pelicans have one of the league's two toughest early schedules, with 15 of their first 20 games against teams that finished with winning records last season and three of the other five against below-.500 teams -- Dallas, Miami and the Lakers -- that have added All-Stars.
Week 1: @ TOR, vs. DAL, @ HOU
Last Week: 21 ↑
2018-19 record: 33-49
Pace: 99.6 (19) OffRtg: 108.7 (20) DefRtg: 110.1 (18) NetRtg: -1.5 (21)
Kristaps Porzingis came out firing in his first appearance with his new team, scoring eight points (without a dribble) on his first three frontcourt touches in his preseason debut in Detroit. Porzingis and Luka Doncic, who had a higher free throw rate (FTA/FGA) than Harden in the preseason, shouldn't have any issues finding their own shots. But it remains to be seen how the pairing is best complemented, if coach Rick Carlisle will stagger their minutes, and how much Porzingis will play the five. Potential starting center Dwight Powell missed all of the preseason with a hamstring injury, but third-year forward Justin Jackson had an encouraging preseason, shooting 61% (including 9-for-20 from 3-point range). The Mavs have a relatively soft opening schedule, though they alternate home and road games through their first seven.
Week 1: vs. WAS, @ NOP, vs. POR
Last Week: 17 ↓
2018-19 record: 39-43
Pace: 103.9 (3) OffRtg: 109.6 (17) DefRtg: 110.8 (21) NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
The Kings go into the season with questions about Harry Giles' health (he missed the entire preseason with a mysterious knee issue), with Buddy Hield chirping about wanting out if he doesn't get the contract extension he wants by Monday night, and with some tough competition in the West if they're to end their 13-year playoff drought. The development of De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley remains priority No. 1, but if you take away Bagley's 30-point performance against Melbourne United, he shot just 16-for-37 (43%) in the paint in the preseason. Fox, meanwhile, shot just 5-for-16 (31%) from the outside. And the Kings didn't appear to make much headway on defense, where they've ranked in the bottom 10 for eight straight (and 14 of the last 16) seasons. After visiting Phoenix on Wednesday, they play Portland, Utah and Denver, three games that may tell us a lot about what they can do this season.
Week 1: @ PHX, vs. POR, @ UTA
Last Week: 19 ↓
2018-19 record: 49-33
Pace: 103.4 (6) OffRtg: 109.8 (16) DefRtg: 106.5 (4) NetRtg: +3.4 (10)
Even if Andre Roberson is available for the opener in Utah on Wednesday, the Thunder have questions on the wings, where there's a lot of athleticism and not much shooting. They actually started Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder together in their first preseason game (the only game that Paul played against an NBA opponent), and it looks like Gilgeous-Alexander will spend a lot of time off the ball. He recorded assists on just 6.3% of his preseason possessions, down from 22.3% last season. Steven Adams (25.4 points per 36 minutes on 69 % shooting) looks ready to take on a larger role in the offense, and Darius Bazley is intriguing as a hybrid forward, but the first six weeks of the schedule are tough.
Week 1: @ UTA, vs. WAS, vs. GSW
Last Week: 20 ↓
2018-19 record: 41-41
Pace: 97.9 (28) OffRtg: 108.3 (21) DefRtg: 108.6 (12) NetRtg: -0.4 (17)
The Pistons' prospects for this season are tied, somewhat, to the development of Bruce Brown (who showed some playmaking improvement in the preseason) and Luke Kennard (who will likely remain a reserve). But really, it's all about the durability of Blake Griffin, who missed the last three preseason games with a hamstring issue. With the season beginning with a back-to-back (Wednesday and Thursday), we'll quickly have an idea just how cautious the Pistons plan on being with their best player. Detroit-Indiana could end up being a battle for one of the East's last two playoff spots, and all four of the meetings between the two teams will take place in the first seven weeks of the season. Two of the four will happen in the first seven days, with the Pacers playing without Oladipo and, perhaps, with a distraction regarding Sabonis' future with the team.
Schuhmann: Q & A with Dwane Casey
Week 1: @ IND, vs. ATL, vs. PHI
Last Week: 22
2018-19 record: 36-46
Pace: 100.9 (13) OffRtg: 110.6 (13) DefRtg: 112.2 (24) NetRtg: -1.6 (23)
In his first full season as Wolves coach, Ryan Saunders is changing things up. Minnesota saw the league's biggest increase in pace and its third biggest increase in the percentage of its shots that came from 3-point range from last season to the preseason, while also seeing an above-average jump in assist percentage. Alas, the system isn't as important as the talent within it, and Andrew Wiggins' preseason was less than encouraging. Among the 42 players that attempted at least 50 shots, only Markelle Fultz (31.5%) had a worse effective field goal percentage than Wiggins (38.6%), who was a brutal 8-for-19 in the restricted area. Even with Robert Covington playing the four, the Wolves have more wings -- Jarrett Culver, Traveon Graham, Jake Layman and Josh Okogie -- that Saunders can turn to in place of Wiggins, but the 24-year-old is still owed $122 million over the next four years. The Wolves begin their season with six games against the Eastern Conference.
Week 1: @ BKN, @ CHA, vs. MIA
Last Week: 24 ↑
2018-19 record: 22-60
Pace: 99.3 (20) OffRtg: 104.5 (29) DefRtg: 112.8 (25) NetRtg: -8.3 (27)
With Tomas Satoransky earning the point guard job and Wendell Carter Jr. getting healthy (though his left thumb is not yet 100%) in time for the last two preseason games, the Bulls have their starting lineup intact. But if Thursday's dress-rehearsal win over Atlanta is any indication, reserve Thaddeus Young is still going to have a huge role with his new team. In regard to the offense, Young will take a back seat to rookie Coby White, who ranked second in the preseason (to James Harden) with 77 field goal attempts, while dishing out just five assists. But the Bulls were at their best with Young on the floor. With four of their first five games against teams -- Charlotte, Memphis, New York and Cleveland -- not expected to compete for playoff spots, the Bulls have a real chance to get off to a strong start. Of course, all four of those games are on the road, where Chicago started 2-12 last season.
Week 1: @ CHA, @ MEM, vs. TOR
Last Week: 23 ↓
2018-19 record: 29-53
Pace: 104.6 (1) OffRtg: 107.5 (23) DefRtg: 113.0 (28) NetRtg: -5.5 (26)
Offensive numbers were pretty ugly across the league in the preseason, but the Hawks do not appear primed to pick up where they left off last season (when they had a top-10 offense over the last three months). They ranked 28th in preseason efficiency (counting only games played between NBA teams), scoring only 91 points per 100 possessions, and the offense wasn't any more efficient in Trae Young's minutes on the floor than it was in his time on the bench. Given this team's issues on the other end of the floor, an inability to flip the switch offensively could lead to a rough next couple of months. The Hawks play six of their first eight games at home, but still have a very tough first seven weeks of the season. Fifteen of their first 22 games are against teams that finished at or above .500 last season, another three are against teams -- the Heat and Lakers -- expected to finish with winning records this year, and they have five back-to-backs in that stretch.
Week 1: @ DET, vs. ORL
Last Week: 25
2018-19 record: 32-50
Pace: 102.3 (9) OffRtg: 110.1 (15) DefRtg: 112.9 (27) NetRtg: -2.7 (25)
Bradley Beal's extension (which prevents him from be traded before the February deadline) is a reminder that not every star player is looking to leave a team in a rebuilding situation, as we too often assume. Beal will have to take his lumps this season, with the Wizards looking like a strong candidate to rank in the bottom 10 on both ends of the floor. They may play a little more zone in an attempt to be not so terrible defensively this season. According to Synergy tracking, they led the preseason with 47 zone possessions on defense (having ranked eighth with 166 in the regular season last year). The Wizards are the only team that begins the season with a three-game road trip and they've lost 19 straight games in San Antonio, where they'll finish a back-to-back on Saturday.
Week 1: @ DAL, @ OKC, @ SAS
Last Week: 26
2018-19 record: 17-65
Pace: 100.2 (17) OffRtg: 104.0 (30) DefRtg: 112.8 (26) NetRtg: -8.8 (28)
It's not clear yet which two point guards (from the group of Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr.) are going to get the bulk of the minutes early in the season for the Knicks. Payton is the vet, but the Knicks were somehow outscored by 42 points in his 67 preseason minutes. It is clear that R.J. Barrett won't have to fight for playing time; The No. 3 pick ranked 26th among rookies in usage rate, but averaged 37.4 minutes per game (six more than any other player in the league) in the preseason. The Knicks shared the ball more, recording assists on at least 65% of their buckets in three of their four games, having done it in just five of their 82 games last season. Marcus Morris was a little too aggressive in trying to share the ball with the Wizards' Justin Anderson, though.
Week 1: @ SAS, @ BKN, vs. BOS
Last Week: 28 ↑
2018-19 record: 19-63
Pace: 101.2 (12) OffRtg: 105.3 (28) DefRtg: 114.2 (29) NetRtg: -8.9 (29)
You can see how Ricky Rubio -- FIBA World Cup MVP and professional point guard -- will help the Suns' offense and even how he doesn't need to be a great shooter to play off the ball when Devin Booker is handling it (though one made 3-pointer in 66 preseason minutes is not encouraging and staggering the minutes of the two starting guards seems logical). Frank Kaminsky had a frisky preseason (with 38 points and 11 assists over the last two games) and Aron Baynes could keep this team from ranking in the bottom three in defensive efficiency for a fourth straight season. But with little hope for competing for a playoff spot in the West, this season is still all about the development of the six first round picks under the age of 24, led by Booker and DeAndre Ayton.
Week 1: vs. SAC, @ DEN, vs. LAC
Last Week: 27 ↓
2018-19 record: 33-49
Pace: 97.1 (30) OffRtg: 105.6 (27) DefRtg: 108.0 (9) NetRtg: -2.4 (24)
The Grizzlies have rookies that ranked second (among all players) in assists (Ja Morant - 11.9) and rebounds (Brandon Clarke - 17.7) per 36 minutes in the preseason. It's too early to call Clarke a third cornerstone (joining Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.), but several general managers thought he was a steal at the 21st pick and it's not hard to see how he can complement the other two guys (nine of his 16 preseason buckets were assisted by Morant). With the young core and with a faster pace (only the Wolves saw a bigger jump in possessions per 48 minutes from last season to the preseason), the Grizz should be a lot more fun to watch than most of the other teams in the bottom 10. Of course, they lost (at home) by 21 points to the Hornets last Monday.
Week 1: @ MIA, vs. CHI, vs. BKN
Last Week: 29
2018-19 record: 39-43
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 110.7 (11) DefRtg: 111.9 (22) NetRtg: -1.2 (19)
It's going to be a rough season in Charlotte, but P.J. Washington is already providing some hope for the future. He ranked second in preseason true shooting percentage (76.6%) among 124 players with at least 35 field goal attempts, scoring inside (12-for-14 in the restricted area) and out (8-for-16 from 3-point range). Four of the Hornets' five highest paid players are taller than he is, but the team had some good minutes with the 6-7 rookie at the five. The Hornets can be patient with Washington and even Miles Bridges, but it's a big year for Malik Monk, who looked like a real playmaker against Detroit on Wednesday. His seven assists (with no turnovers) were highlighted by a touch pass to Bridges on the break.
Week 1: vs. CHI, vs. MIN, @ LAL
Last Week: 30
2018-19 record: 19-63
Pace: 97.4 (29) OffRtg: 106.8 (25) DefRtg: 116.7 (30) NetRtg: -10.0 (30)
The Cavs' 0-3 preseason record against other NBA teams included a pair of losses to Boston by a total of 69 points, and the Celtics' were without their top seven guys in the second of those. Almost as alarming as those two losses was that the Cavs ranked last in preseason assist percentage, recording assists on less than half of their buckets over their three real games. Coach John Beilein brought more 3-pointers to Cleveland (the Cavs saw the league's biggest jump in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range from last season to the preseason), but not necessarily more ball movement. With all four other guards -- Matthew Dellavedova, Darius Garland, Brandon Knight and Collin Sexton -- in the rotation, the 6-foot-5 Jordan Clarkson is apparently going to play some minutes at the three, which is probably not a good thing for what was the league's worst defense, by a wide margin, last season.
Week 1: @ ORL, vs. IND