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NBA Power Rankings, Day 4: Four-Team Title Contest

basketball. Whether. On the contrary. I rank all 30 teams and rank them. In our four-part series, we looked at teams looking to the future teams at a crossroads and teams at the edge of a dispute . Today, we focus on my first four NBA Finals favorites: Milwaukee and Philadelphia in the East and two Los Angeles teams in the West. None of them are as great a favorite as Golden State has been in recent years, or LeBron's Heatles were at the beginning of the decade. This decade closes completely unlike the way it started, with more parity than any other year.

This is what makes this season so different. There are only a handful of teams in the West, with no chance of making the playoffs, and virtually any team in the East can grab an honorable playoff spot like the 8 seed. This is the first year in a long time that there is no superb favorite for the finals or any clarity on which 1

6 teams will actually make the playoffs. So what happens in the games during the regular season will matter. We will get a season with twists, bigger deals and a lot of drama.

I will always have fond memories of this decade of basketball as the game evolves and the incredible moments along the way, but I & # 39; m especially looking forward to this season more than anyone else for the sake of parity. I suggest what I think will be the main talking point, story or topic for each of these last four teams in this series. Let's start this. Finals Favorite

4. Milwaukee Bucks

Can Giannis Antetokounmpo improve? And if so, what will it look like? He missed all of last year, joining Michael Jordan and Hockey Oladjuon as the only players to win both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year that season. That it would not be a total shock if Janice made another run at both 2020 awards is testament to his newfound grandeur.

Janice knocked on his jumper, but his accuracy improved; he shot 34 percent from 153 3s jumper jumps and 31 percent from 42 catches and shot 3s from Christmas last season, including the playoffs and the 2019-20 preseason. It's a small sample, but its shape looks smoother. His playmaker, on the other hand, is stagnant.

There were times in the playoffs last season when four or five quarterbacks would be in a fight and he would strike rather than kick him, as here in Game 5 against the Raptors:

If Giannis could improve at reading these situations will make the Bucks offense even more deadly. Their list makes perfect sense: Brooke Lopez earned the nickname Splash Mountain, and now his brother Robin will also roll 3s. Chris Middleton is the perfect complement to Janice and they have a bunch of other shooters. In the preseason, Giannis was noticeably aware of his goals when he was on vacation:

The development of Giannis as a passer-by would add scope to Mike Budenholzer's offense and turn Antetokounmpo into an even greater threat to make positive plays for his teammates, no matter where he is on the floor. It will also reduce Milwaukee's dependence on Eric Bledsoe's playmate. The departure of Malcolm Brogden left the Bucks in search of a secondary playmaker. He was replaced by Wesley Mathews and Kyle Corver, none of whom are in the same class as Brogdon as a passer or quarterback. He was an integral part of Milwaukee's best lineups last season. Sometimes he was even their second best player, outpacing Middleton.

The Bucks had to keep their eyes open for a better playmaker than Bledsoe, who was a stink bomb in the playoffs. In July, I suggested Chris Paul if it looks good this season. Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova and George Hill for Paul would work financially; OKC will have to move players to create storage space and more assets will be exchanged. Paul is old and expensive, but can he risk taking the title?

A reliable guard – whether Paul, Kyle Lowry or anyone else – would take the pressure off Janice and allow Budenholzer to be more creative with actions that make Antetokounmpo roll to the rim, using ball screens and dribble throws. . Or, if he improves on his own playmaker, the Bucks' front office may use assets to chase another winger, which could prove valuable in a potential series of finals. Milwaukee is close to being a contender for the finals, but there is a feeling that one track is missing. It may not matter: Janice himself may be enough. One piece is missing.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers will have the best defense of the NBA. Here we talk about the potential of the plunger from 2004. Joel Embeid is one of the most impressive rim defenders, and Ben Simmons is an All-Defender player. Now Josh Richardson has the long and fetishized to contain opposing guards. They added Al Horford, who fills a gaping hole behind Embed.

Horford will start at Embed, but he will also be the NBA's best backup center. In the preseason, Bret Brown straddled Horford with Ambiade after the opening minutes to keep a quality rim rim protector at all times. Embiid should realistically enter the playoffs with a solid and load-controlled performance thanks to Horford. Throw in Matisse Thybulle, who already looks like one of the best defenders in the league, plus long wings in Tobias Harris and James Ennis, and you have defense against matches.

The Sixers can play in match sizes: Embiid, Horford, Simmons, Harris and Richardson. Or they can be more versatile with Thybulle in the game over Horford or Embiid. Hell, they can even be small with Simmons in the center. Brown will be able to dictate matches with his defense against most teams in the East. In a potential series against the Bucks, Brown has many defenders to throw Janice at half court, and bodies to build a wall that contains his terrifying transitional attacks.

The elephant in the room is the shooting. Embiid is no external threat and Simmons shoots with the wrong hand. The reserves have a lot to prove, whether it's Thybulle and Ennis, or Zhaire Smith and Shake Milton. Harris, Richardson and Horford will have to turn off the lights. We have yet to figure out what size actually matters to the insult. In theory, sixes could knock opponents out of the ball. Brown can even get creative and run double pickups and close to the rim, which we saw Bucks do with Giannis. Philadelphia will almost always have an advantage in size, which means Simmons will have to beat guys smaller than him, and Embeid will have to read quickly when double teams come.

The Sixes also have to come up with a credible crisis – a timeline now that Jimmy Butler is in Miami. Simmons still can't rely on these situations because of his lack of a jumper, so it'll probably have to be Harris or Richardson. I made the case last month that Richardson would take on this role. Brown experimented with using Richardson as a backup point guard behind Simmons. If Philly manages to find that goal scorer, it could mean the difference in a playoff game or series.

The Sixers gain an advantage over the Bucks because of their top-class talent and potentially historic protection, though they have more issues facing their offense. The league was created to change the paradigm: Can Philadelphia force teams to start thinking big?

2. Los Angeles Clippers

The first Clippers fan I ever met is a friend of mine and Ringer colleague Isaac Lee. He often wears all black, a fitting symbol of the sadness he has long felt for his beloved team. As far as I know Isaac, he never had much hope for the Clippers because, as he told me, there was a "foreboding foreboding in the back of my mind that disappointment was inevitable. You can't argue with the story. "Well, even the most melodramatic Clippers fans like Isaac are beginning to have some hope.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will do it for you. The duel joins a group that presents last season's ugliest picking and firing duo – Lou Williams and Montrezl Harel – plus a kick shot by Landry Chamet and the world's most hostile quarterback, Patrick Beverly. Now Kawhi will take advantage of this supporting cast:

The draws had to be made in order for the Clippers to add so much star power (goodbye, Shai Gilgeus-Alexander!), But Maurice Harksles and Jamil Greene are nice veteran additions and rookie Terrance Mann could eventually make a place in the rotation.

Clippers have the staff to contact anyone. Beverly can hire smaller opposing guards like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard, while Kauhi and George can trouble LeBron James. On the contrary, there are not many teams that can stop Kawhi and George. Kauhi will take on alpha responsibilities, while George may abuse the second-best quarterback and attack rotating defensemen who have their hands full with Kauhi.

The Clippers can use another ball manipulator – watch out for Andre Iguodala if the buyout market hits – and a fat big man better than Ivory Zubak for a potential series against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. But we nitrate. The Clippers have put together a near perfect squad.

All that really matters is that this team is healthy, heading to the playoffs, but seeding is also important in a loaded conference, so George's absence early in the season is remarkable as he recovers from surgery with double arm. Doc Rivers said George will miss at least the first 10 games. However, the timeline is unclear. I announced this summer that he may miss closer to six weeks, which means he will be in 20-25 games. Until he returns, we'll either talk about how much he missed, or how Leonard is preparing his first MVP.

Kawhi said that he would not be in a load management plan anymore when he was healthy. He no longer walks the ball into the wall of defense, as he comes home to the playoffs, but can still turn it into big moments. There will be many of those early in the season before George returns, with games against the Lakers, Rockets and Bucks. And we already know what he can do offensively after coming out to full MJ last postseason.

The Clippers not only changed their roster, they changed the way they play. Their choices change: They ranked 27th in 3-point shooting rate last season, but were closer to average during preseason exhibition games. The Clippers attempted 38.8 percent of their shots from 3, the fifth-highest switch from season to preseason, trailing only two teams that changed front office regimes (Washington and Minnesota) and two teams that reapplied coach (Cleveland and Chicago). The style change of stick makes sense: The more space for Leonard and George, the better they will be.

The Clippers are the safest bet on winning the NBA Finals. I only rank them on the slider behind the Lakers because I feel that purple and gold have a little higher. Besides, do we really have to set expectations so high for the Clippers Nation? At heart they are not enough.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

There is so much focus on how depth, endurance and drama can derail the Lakers' season, but their best-case scenario is compelling. Flash News: LeBron James and Anthony Davis – two top five stars with synergistic skills – play in the same team now. These two have never played with anyone like each other. It's no exaggeration to say that they could make up the greatest pickup and roll duo the NBA has ever seen.

LeBron can score from anywhere and go in any direction. Now his favorite target is Davis – a man who can jump in 3 seconds, attack the dribble or throw off his tank tops. And we're not talking enough about how big Davis is as a passerby.

He can handle like a wing; His passing stretches began to show up last season when he averaged 3.9 assists per game. Follow Draymond Green in the clip above. He claps his hands and shakes his head irritably, even before Davis passes the ball to JaVale McGee. The game ended when LeBron made the entrance pass. With the help of a rotating defense to stop Davis from driving, Avery Bradley is wide open for 3 and McGee is lobbed. If the defense doesn't help, Davis scores.

Davis' game minimizes the need for head coach Frank Vogel to lean on Rajon Rondo to generate offense when LeBron is on the floor. AD can be the creator. But the Lakers will rely heavily on LeBron and Davis to manage the crime because of a lack of opportunities. Increased media attention means that LeBron and AD's endurance will get more coverage than other players with similar concerns, such as the Clippers' stars. But the Clippers have more players who can effectively commit offense in the event of a injury. The Lakers don't. Look for them to target Iguodala, which should eventually be available in the buy market.

This does not mean that the Lakers have a poor supporting cast. Danny Green is recognized as one of the top 3 & D players in the league; he will be LeBron's best friend as a shooter and accurate shooter. Over the past six seasons, Bradley has hit 37.9 percent of his 3 interceptions and can be a pest to protect smaller guards. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a drawback, but a solid one. Then you have competent shooters like Quinn Cook, Troy Daniels and Alex Caruso; a credible veteran in Jared Dudley; and Kyle Kuzma, a candlestick scorer. I'm not Kuzma's biggest fan, but he gets buckets and tries to defend himself even if he makes some stupid mistakes. If you just read the criticisms of the Lakers bench, you would think that LeBron is still surrounded by Bobby Gibson and Sasha Pavlovich.

The Lakers are easy to entertain because their centers are McGee and Dwight Howard. But McGee is better than his reputation and Howard only has to play a limited role. These big ones add flexibility to the Lakers lineup. They can put Davis at 5, and Kuzma and LeBron forward to play more modern teams. Either McGee or Howard can get involved in the center if they want to go jumbo, making a series of finals against a team like the Sixers. By the way, have you seen Dwight? It looks slim. He has lost his shoulders from plastic action and moves with youthful smoothness. I don't intend to overdo it with his preseason, but he seemed capable of helping this team. All the Lakers really need for Dwight is give them good minutes against opposing greats like Nikola Jokic and Embiid, and finish around the rim in cuts and rolls. The difficult part for Howard will be to resist the hijacking of offensive assets by requiring follow-up.

This team will reach LeBron and Davis's health. AD always seems to handle some injuries, and LeBron is almost 35 and has played 56,284 minutes in his career, which is more than any player in their first 16 years, including the playoffs. Whatever the doubts about James's durability, it's the ones that make this season so interesting and potentially historic for LeBron. Doubt once put Michael Jordan to the fold three times after he returned to basketball, and now LeBron faces similar questions about his future. LeBron is ready for revenge, but his body will have to deal with the weight as the rising stars leading the new claiming teams come for his crown.


NBA Finals: Lakers over Sikers in 7
Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry, Warriors
Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, Grizzlies
] Most Improved Player of the Year: Caris LeVert, Nets
Defensive Player of the Year: Anthony Davis, Lakers
Sixth Person of the Year: Lou Williams, Clippers
year: Michael Malone, Nuggets

The forecasts are difficult. A few missed games can dramatically change a player's chances of winning votes – so Morrant gets a nod over Zion Williamson here. But as discussed in Part 3 of this series, voters historically love a good story. I bet the Warriors are good, so I'd give Curry an advantage over Giannis as MVP. After his heart injury last season, Levert looks set to have a big season with Kiri Irving. And although the Sixers have the best defense in the league, it is likely that Embiid will not appear in enough games to win the votes of another nominee like Davis.

I can't remember a time with more parity. This is a reflection of the talent in the league. There are so many stars, both young and old, and so much depth on every list. Feels that everything is possible. Enjoy the ride.

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