The first week of NBA free agency has been crazy. A whopping seven All-Stars from the 2018-19 season have already switched teams this offseason and that doesn’t include Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who should be on the move soon.
Naturally, the landscape of the league has drastically shifted in recent days. How do teams stack up at the top of the league at the moment? Let’s order the top 10 squads based on what has happened so far.
Top 10 Teams
1. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers probably have the best duo in the NBA now, with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard joining the squad last season. Who is stopping those two on offense or getting past them on defense?
Fortunately, there is lots of quality in depth to support them. Patrick Beverley is an elite on-ball defender on the perimeter. Montrezl Harrell and Ivica Zubac are strong scorers inside. Landry Shamet and Lou Williams are excellent shooters. JaMychal Green and Moe Harkless provide hard-nosed defense at the forward spots.
Los Angeles’ roster may not be stacked with stars like the Warriors’ teams of the past few years, but it’s a balanced group with no legit weaknesses.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers definitely have no shortage of size. Their projected starting lineup is Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. Everyone but Richardson is 6’9” or taller, and even Richardson is 6’6”, which is about the NBA average.
Philadelphia will rely on its size to help the team score inside and beat the team up with physicality in the paint on defense and the boards. Will that lead to an NBA title? It’s tough to say, but the Sixers definitely have a lot of talent with the potential to dominate opponents if they work out their team chemistry.
3. Utah Jazz
This offseason has been a dream for Jazz fans. They started by trading star point guard Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder and Grayson Allen. Conley is a huge upgrade from the departed Ricky Rubio as floor general. He takes a lot of pressure off young shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, who was depended on to run the offense in his second year.
The next biggest acquisition was Bojan Bogdanovic, a forward who averaged 20.9 points per game after the All-Star break for the Indiana Pacers last season. Finally, rebounding specialist Ed Davis arrived as essentially a replacement for Derrick Favors. Favors will be missed, but as a low-post scorer, he was an awkward fit next to star center Rudy Gobert anyway.
Utah’s defense should remain elite, while its offense will take a sizable jump with Conley and Bogdanovic providing efficient shooting and playmaking.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks got a little bit worse this offseason after playing better than any other squad during the 2018-19 regular season. Losing Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic will hurt. While Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are fitting additions to the roster, they aren’t as good as the guys they are replacing.
Milwaukee has great defense, shooting and Giannis Antetokounmpo on its side. The reigning MVP has shown significant improvement in each of his six NBA seasons so far. There’s no reason to suggest he’s done adding to his game.
5. Los Angeles Lakers
It is going to be a blast watching LeBron James and Anthony Davis play together. Throw in the contributions from DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Kuzma, and the Lakers are going to have no problem scoring the ball.
I do have concerns with the team’s defense. Guys like Rajon Rondo, Kuzma, Cousins and Quinn Cook are not known for locking down opponents, but all figure to be key parts of the Lakers’ rotation. Even James usually plays very lazy defense off the ball in the regular season. The Lakers’ ceiling this season depends heavily on whether the squad plays with effort and cohesion on defense.
6. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets will be better than last season, even if their record doesn’t show it in a super deep Western Conference. Denver’s young foundation of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris should only be better next season. The rest of the roster is solid and only got better with Monday’s trade for Jerami Grant, who can play stellar defense at either forward spot. Redshirt rookie Michael Porter Jr. could also give the team a scoring lift.
The lack of star power compared to the teams above them is ultimately what could push them down the standings and knock them out of the playoffs.
7. Houston Rockets
This may seem low for a team that ended last year’s regular season with 42 wins in 57 games and gave the Golden State Warriors a great run in the Western Conference Semifinals, but I just think the other teams around them upgraded. Houston didn’t.
The Rockets’ offseason was pretty quiet and the ages of their key players suggest they shouldn’t bank on getting a whole lot of internal development.
However, we shouldn’t totally discount the amazing talent of perennial MVP candidate James Harden and the Rockets’ continuity. They will still be very good again.
8. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are one of the harder teams to predict this season. The foundation of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green with Steve Kerr as a coach is rock solid and should keep the team at least above .500.
There are X-factors, though. Will Klay Thompson be able to provide anything after tearing his ACL? Will the Warriors figure out how to defend with the undersized backcourt of Curry and D’Angelo Russell? Does the team have a quality wing that will step up in Thompson’s absence?
9. San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio keeps on chugging, poised to make the playoffs for the 23rd straight year. Compared to last season, the Spurs have a stronger defensive roster. The team brought in versatile forwards DeMarre Carroll and Marcus Morris to make things tougher on opposing offenses. Young guard Dejounte Murray will be return from an ACL tear after making the All-Defensive Second Team two seasons ago.
The Spurs have a pretty good youth movement started with Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker and Jakob Poeltl. However, this team will have trouble truly contending for a championship with LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan as the squad’s two best players.
10. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers earned a spot in the Western Conference Finals this spring after years of playoff disappointment. They did get swept by the Golden State Warriors, but it was definitely a momentum-building run for the franchise.
Unfortunately, center Jusuf Nurkic is going to be out most of the season with a fractured leg. Three long wings in Moe Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Evan Turner are gone, as are big men Enes Kanter and Meyers Leonard and guard Seth Curry. The Blazers are hoping that Hassan Whiteside, Kent Bazemore, Mario Hezonja and Anthony Tolliver can fill the void. Overall, I think that’s a slight downgrade.