NBA Power Rankings: Where do the Brooklyn Nets Stand in the East?
The 2020-2021 NBA season is upon us, and the Brooklyn Nets are looking like legitimate title contenders. But where do they stand in the Eastern Conference’s Power Rankings?
It’s finally here. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will suit up for the Brooklyn Nets and take the hardwood floor, as the NBA kicks of its 2020-2021 season. They’ll take on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors, with tip-off slated for 7:00 pm EST.
While acknowledging we viewed them through preseason goggles, it’s hard not to be excited about Irving and Durant’s current health, and what it means for the Brooklyn Nets’ push for a championship. But first, they’ll have to get through the Eastern Conference which, for the first time in years, might be competitive from top to bottom (first through eighth seed, rather). As a staff, we’ve put together our “Eastern Conference Power Rankings” below, in order to get a feel for the Brooklyn Nets’ title shot.
The Cellar Dwellers
15) Collin Loring– Cleveland Cavaliers: Isaac Okoro was a great selection for this Cavaliers team, who’s in desperate need of some defensive adjusting going into next year. Only the Washington Wizards clocked a worse Defensive Rating last season than Cleveland, who were worst in the league at 114.8. And while they did nothing to aid their woes in the backcourt, Okoro should provide some immediate help along the wing. But the Cavaliers also said goodbye to Tristan Thompson, who for the last two years has made up the third part of a defensive trio alongside Larry Nance Jr and Kevin Love. With Andre Drummond only bound to play more games this year, it’s hard to see their efforts on that end of the ball getting any better. Since 2010, no team that’s finished in the bottom three spots in Defensive Rating has made a playoff appearance. Ditto for the bottom three spots in points per game as well, where the Cavaliers have made an annual appearance since LeBron James’ exit. Times are going to continue to be tough in Cleveland, I’m afraid. Prediction: 19-53(22-50 per 82 games)
14) Alec Sturm– New York Knicks: The New York Knicks are on a never-ending quest to break their cursed cycle: hire new management, bring in a new coach, draft young players, and enter a new phase of rebuilding. It usually ends with the Knicks making a win-now trade, and watching their rebuild – and everything they had worked on for about two and a half years – blow up in their face. The coach is dismissed, a new regime is brought in, and the cycle continues.
The cycle has once again begun with old-school coach Tom Thibodeau being brought in to oversee the seemingly never-ending rebuild and Leon Rose heading the front office. Promising rookie RJ Barrett is back alongside breakout center Mitchell Robinson, but the lack of spacing and overall talent is still prevalent up and down the roster. I’m rooting for rookies Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley to succeed, but I don’t think this team’s ceiling is anything but a 10 seed play-in prayer and they are all too likely to fall to the basement of the Eastern Conference once again. Prediction: 21-51 (24 wins per 82 games)
13) Dani Bar-Lavi– Charlotte Hornets: The Charlotte Hornets find themselves in a ‘rebuilding’ phase, still reeling from the loss of Kemba Walker last off-season, still desperate to find a new anchor, a new franchise player. Having finished 10th in the East season, missing the Bubble games entirely, it’s safe to say that Terry Rozier, their return on the sign-and-trade that sent Kemba to the Celtics, is not their franchise guy. This year, the Hornets swung big on another former Celtic, acquiring Gordon Hayward in a sign-and-trade that guarantees Hayward 128 million dollars over the next four years.
Hayward is a former All-Star, with an emphasis on former. Just a few months after making his first–and only–All-Star appearance in 2017, Gordon Hayward infamously tore his ACL on the opening day of the 2017-2018 season. While Hayward finally looked like his former self (if you squint) down the stretch of this past season with the Celtics, he is worth nowhere near the neighborhood of this contract, which will pay him over 30 million a year. With his athleticism and confidence sapped, Hayward currently looks only a slight improvement over Nic Batum, the Hornets’ last albatross. Considering the remaining 30 million on Batum’s contract was waived and stretched in order to make room for Hayward, this is not a good sign. Once again, Michael Jordan’s Hornets have spent themselves into a hole. Hayward is an injured, aging husk of a former fringe All-Star.
At almost 31, it’s hard to see him returning to his prime now–and even if he did, prime Gordon Hayward does not make a championship team. To make matters worse, Hayward will be recovering from injury going into the season–not a good sign for a player who’s struggled to stay on the court for the past three years. There’s a bright spot in Charlotte’s first-round pick this year, Lamelo Ball, who, in spite of years of hype, has flashed signs of potential throughout limited minutes in the preseason. But, given the limitations placed on the Hornet’s cap flexibility because of the Hayward deal, it’s hard to see Charlotte doing anything with that potential but wasting it. Prediction: 22-50 (25 wins per 82 games)
12) Gabe Ibrahim-Detroit Pistons: After finishing 13th in the East last season, the Pistons made a lot of noise in free agency to accomplish very little. Jerami Grant is a nice role player, the same can be said about Delon Wright and Mason Plumlee is uhh there. Do those additions make this team better? Sure, but not by that much. The biggest issue for Detroit will still be Blake Griffin’s health. Griffin has played over 70 games just once in the past six seasons when the Pistons made the playoffs in 2018-19. Even if he stays healthy this season, Detroit will need Grant, Wright, AND Plumlee to step up their games. Oh, and Killian Hayes will have to be the rare rookie point guard that can be effective immediately. Detroit’s future may be bright with Hayes, Sekou Doumbouya, Isaiah Stewart, and Saddiq Bey. But, it’s hard to see how this team makes the playoffs in 2021 and it might cost Dwane Casey his job. Prediction: 24-48 (27 wins per 82 games)
The Teams Looking to Force Play-Ins
11) Nolan Jensen– Chicago Bulls: Free of Jim Boylen’s borderline despotic coaching approach and Gar Forman’s often questionable decision-making, the Bulls are looking to form an identity and clamber towards NBA relevancy. Possessing an exciting crop of prospects, namely Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter Jr. — as well as newcomer Patrick Williams —the Bulls have something to work with and could emerge with proper nurturing. However, they still appear a number of years away from playing games beyond the regular season. Billy Donovan, who helmed a surprising Thunder team one quarter away from a second-round berth, will have his work cut out in front of him. This could easily be one of those “fun, but bad” League Pass teams this year. Prediction: 25-47 (28 wins per 82 games)
10) Collin Loring- Atlanta Hawks: I’m not sure anyone is too sure what to make of the Hawks’ moves this offseason. To most, it seemed like they tried to gather too much of a good thing because that strategy has never failed, right? Atlanta has an absolutely chaotic mix of guys from every tier: Danilo Gallinari is coming off of the bench if you need reassurance. Personally, I’m with the glass-half-empty crowd on this one, with a strong belief that this Hawks’ staff and front office isn’t prepared to marry their offseason acquisitions and returning players and form a winning product. Depth is never a bad thing, especially given the nature of this upcoming year. But when you’ve got too many mouths to feed, not even a backcourt featuring Rajon Rondo and Trae Young can pass the ball enough to keep any and all concerns at bay. I’m not saying this current roster isn’t built for success. But I’d expect this season to be more of an experimental one, interchanging lineups and player roles until they inevitably find what works; too late to make a push for playoffs. Prediction: 32-40 (36 wins per 82 games)
9) Alec Sturm – Orlando Magic: Are the Orlando Magic ever going to change it up? It seems they’ve been trotting out a lineup that includes Nic Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier forever. They’ve signed Johnathan Isaac and Markelle to lucrative long term deals that guarantee their destiny to be the bottom half of the playoff race in the East forever, even if I did have high hopes for Isaac: his injuries seem to be never-ending. In past years, the Magic have been able to sneak into the 7th and 8th relatively comfortably, seeing as there aren’t many fierce competitors in the conference.
Because of the Brooklyn Nets taking the next step into contention with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (and out of Orlando’s tier), as well as the Wizards, adding Bradley Beal, I’m projecting Orlando to just fall out of the top 8 but still have a fair shot at the postseason with the play-in games. Still, will it matter? What are their chances of making it out of the first round? Of landing a top prospect? Only time will tell. Prediction: 36-36(41 wins per 82 games)
Where do the Brooklyn Nets Rank Amongst Playoff Teams?
8) Dani Bar-Lavi – Washington Wizards: The Wizards have been flailing for a retooling for the past three years, ever since since-traded point guard John Wall began missing large stretches of time to injury. Without Wall for the entire 2019-2020 campaign, the Wizards finished the abbreviated season just outside the playoff picture, relying entirely on Bradley Beal. He did, for what it’s worth, have a break-out season of his own without Wall, averaging 30 points a game on a roster where their next-best player was probably … Ish Smith? Rui Hachimura, anyone?
The addition of Russell Westbrook, Washington’s return on the John Wall trade, actually has me cautiously optimistic about the seemingly cursed Washington Wizards. There have been many who have been quick to laugh off the Westbrook-Wall trade as being a trade of two washed guards, but Westbrook is a much safer bet than John Wall at this point. The Wizards would, after all, rather have the 2017 Most Valuable Player than a player that essentially hasn’t played since 2017. It’s been years since Beal had a consistent, talented backcourt partner, and in that time, Beal has become a Top 15 player in his own right. We didn’t get much of a chance to see Beal and Westbrook together in the preseason, but it should work well enough to get them at least into the playoffs. Hard to see them making a deep run in a loaded east, however. Prediction: 38-34 (43 wins per 82 games)
7) Gabe Ibrahim- Indiana Pacers: It’s easy to forget that the Pacers finished with the fourth-best record in the East last year, even without Victor Oladipo for most of the season. Then, Domantas Sabonis missed the bubble and the team got swept by the Miami Heat. Former Toronto assistant Nate Bjorkgren replaced Nate McMillan as head coach to give the team’s offense new life. Bjorkgren steps into a nice situation with TJ Warren, Malcolm Brogdon, and Sabonis all having break out seasons. Victor Oladipo looks healthy, which is massive for this team. The reason for Indiana being at seven is three-fold. First, the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, and Philadelphia 76ers should be better than last season and leapfrog the Pacers. Second, Bjorkgren is an unknown, and his offensive-minded approach may hurt the team’s stellar defense. Third, the rumors around Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner could hurt the team and lead to an in-season trade. The Pacers are close to the same team they have been lately. But that is definitely good enough to get into the playoffs and could be enough to get home-court. Prediction: 40-32 (45 wins per 82 games)
6) Nolan Jensen- Toronto Raptors: At some point, someone had to throw out a hot take. I’ll handle that responsibility. To preface what some may view as wonton blasphemy, the difference between the six and third seeds in the east this year, in my humble opinion, is going to be marginal. Quite literally the difference between two-to-four games. With one of the brightest minds in the game behind the bench and one of, if not the best executives in the league in Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ presence in their respective conference will be felt. However, I still have them as the victim of an Eastern Conference that’s going to be tough No.1 through No.6. Technically, on paper, they should be worse … but that was supposed to be the case sans Kawhi Leonard. And if OG Anunoby, who just got a shiny new extension, continues his upward trajectory — this team could make me look foolish (a difficult task, indeed!) Prediction: 43-29 (49 wins per 82 games)
5) Collin Loring- Boston Celtics: Not only did the Celtics give up Gordon Hayward for nothing, but they’re not expected to see Kemba Walker take the floor for at least a few months from the season’s start. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are on the right path, there’s no doubt in that. But this will be the most exposure they’ve ever had, and the least amount of help. Hayward isn’t a game-changer for a lot of teams, but his fit on this Boston team was nearly seamless. If he could have made a dozen or more appearances, it’s very likely they walk into this season among the favorites for the 2021 championship. But he’s not walking back through that door Danny Ainge. Walker is a different story, but until we see him on the floor healthy, how many wins can we truly set aside, lingering in the wind as he gets up and on the mend? If the Celtics’ strategy is to wait out the return of their point guard, it’s safe to go ahead and call this season a first-round playoff exit. Prediction: 46-26 (52 wins per 82 games)
4) Alec Sturm – Miami Heat: After an incredibly impressive bubble performance, I do expect the Heat to take a small step back, at least in the regular season. I don’t want to call their run in Orlando a “fluke” as many are, seeing as they beat every team fair and square under equal circumstances. However, it is imperative to remember that Miami only finished as a 5 seed last year. Milwaukee has proven to be a juggernaut during the regular season, the Nets are poised to be contenders that give the best teams in the league a fight every night, and the new, revamped, Daryl Morey-esque Sixers will maximize Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons’ talents. Miami still made minor offseason moves, but their improvement must come internally if they wish to once again be the team to beat in the East. Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Duncan Robinson all will have to add new facets to their games while maintaining stellar defense (in Bam’s case) and shooting (for the other two). Avery Bradley is solid and Maurice Harkless will try his best to replace Jae Crowder, but I don’t see the Heatles making it too far in a much more competitive Eastern Conference, no matter how many 3 AM workouts we get from Jimmy Butler. Prediction: 48-24 (54 wins per 82 games)
3) Dani Bar-Lavi – Philadelphia 76ers: At first glance, Daryl Morey had a boring first offseason with the Philadelphia 76ers, filled with horizontal trades of role players for role players. Truth be told, however, the 76ers aren’t that far off the championship hunt. Quietly, Morey has righted the ship, using trades to fill Philly’s two most basic needs: three-point shooting and a championship pedigree. My favorite acquisition Morey made this offseason is Danny Green, a great shooter who has demonstrated his willingness to accept a small role for a championship run with three different franchises over his career, including most recently the Los Angeles Lakers. The biggest x-factor for the Sixers, as it seems to be year-in and year-out, is health. Between injury and rest, Joel Embiid has never in his career played more than 65 games during the regular season.
In a shortened season in an Eastern Conference loaded with top-tier teams, every single game is going to be vital for seeding. Getting a true center to backup Embiid in Dwight Howard is a good start, but truly, the Sixer’s success lives and dies with Joel Embiid’s health. If ‘The Process’ can stay healthy, and Ben Simmons continues to improve his game, there’s a chance this can turn out to be Philly’s year, at long last. Prediction: 50-22 (56 wins per 82-games)
2) Gabe Ibrahim- Brooklyn Nets: This projection for the Nets relies on reasonable health for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That assumption may be a little foolish considering Kyrie’s injury history and the severity of KD’s injury. It is also based on the Nets’ current roster, which again may be foolish with the rumors circulating. But baking that in, the Brooklyn Nets will be an elite team in the Eastern Conference. The Nets have serious offensive firepower. Durant and Kyrie will likely take some time to mesh, but they’ll be great even trading off possessions. The team has a ton of shooting around them, as well as creators to shoulder some of the offensive load. They will likely have a top-five offense, maybe even the best offense in the NBA. Brooklyn’s defense is a question mark. The team finished 10th in defensive rating last season. But Kyrie is limited on that end, Durant may take a step back after a year off, and the increasingly immobile Deandre Jordan figures to play more this season.
The Nets will probably figure it out come playoff time, but they may face some regression during the regular season with so many new pieces. The other question mark is how much the team wants the two-seed. The Nets have great depth behind their stars and should withstand load management well. But at some point, they will have to decide between pushing for a higher seed or resting for health. The Brooklyn Nets will want to avoid the East’s six best teams in the first round, so it’s reasonable to believe that they will aim for a top-two seed. If that is the goal, Brooklyn has more than enough to get there. Prediction: 51-25 (58 wins per 82 games)
1) Nolan Jensen- Milwaukee Bucks: At this point, we have a pretty sound understanding of what the Bucks are and are not. In the regular season, as the case of the previous two seasons, they border on historically dominant. Bu in the postseason, they’ve yet to piece the puzzle together and have been on the receiving end of heartbreaking and stomach-turning exits. In Giannis Antetokounmpo, the team possesses a back-to-back MVP and basketball anomaly. They also added in Jrue Holiday, one of the best defenders of his generation, in the offseason to complement Giannis’ defensive acumen. They’re going to be good (hot take). The No. 1 seed is all but locked in for them but the playoffs remain a mystery. For now, they top off the east’s power rankings. Prediction: 54-18 (62 wins per 82 games)