nba power rankings
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets are the team to beat entering the 2021-22 NBA season, but they don’t have the top spot in ESNY’s NBA Power Rankings.

Danny Small

The NBA season tips off with four title contenders on Tuesday night. The defending champion Bucks will host this year’s favorites to win it all, the Nets. The Lakers and Warriors will cap things off in the second leg of a doubleheader.

Let’s take a dive into all 30 NBA teams with ESNY’s first NBA Power Rankings of the 2021-22 season.

30. Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves shouldn’t be in this spot for long this season. They have far more talent than the next six or seven teams on this list. However, the Timberwolves were last in ESNY’s power rankings an embarrassing amount of times last season. Putting them 30th is an homage to their ineptitude in recent years.

29. Orlando Magic

The Magic punted on last season when they traded away Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and Nikola Vucevic. They are going all-in on the youth movement and this should be a difficult rebuilding year in Orlando.

28. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder want to be bad. Despite having a rising star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City seems content to be one of the worst teams in the league. Someone must have told Sam Presti that you win the NBA Finals automatically if you have 100 draft picks in the next five years.

27. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are another team at the bottom of this list because of inexperience. Jalen Green is going to have the keys to the offense as Houston looks to rebuild in the post-James Harden era.

26. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers are confounding. They have two ball-dominant guards who make for a wonky fit in the backcourt. So, what did they do this offseason? They signed Jarrett Allen to be their starting center and drafted Evan Mobley. But they also added Lauri Markkanen and opted to keep Kevin Love. Bizarre roster construction all around.

25. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons could be anywhere from 25-30 on this list, but I’m high on them for two reasons — Cade Cunningham and Jerami Grant. The latter showed that he can be a top-scoring option in the NBA. The former needs to be the do-it-all guy that can feed off of Grant’s scoring.

24. San Antonio Spurs

Not long ago, the Spurs were penciled in as a top-10 team year in and year out. That’s not the case anymore. San Antonio could miss the playoffs for the third consecutive year. Is it time for Gregg Popovich to step aside?

23. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans were a trendy pick to make the playoffs among experts this year, but they won’t have Zion Williamson for who knows how long. David Griffin is doing a horrific job trying to build a contender around Zion in New Orleans.

22. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have talent in Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Goran Dragic, and OG Anunoby. However, Toronto looks intent on going into a soft rebuild. The Eastern Conference is going to be too tough for the Raptors to make any real noise.

21. Sacramento Kings

The Kings have been one of the NBA’s worst franchises for the last umpteen years. Their last playoff appearance was in 2006. Does a spot in the play-in tournament count as a playoff appearance yet?

20. Washington Wizards

The Russell Westbrook era was short-lived in D.C. The Wizards are trying to finally get over the hump and make any kind of noise in the playoffs. Bradley Beal is going to put up insane numbers once again, but the Wizards aren’t going anywhere.

19. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets were a pleasant surprise in 2020-21. LaMelo Ball is a star in the making, but Charlotte isn’t quite there yet. They will challenge for a play-in spot in the East.

18. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers were a massive disappointment in 2020-21 and that resulted in first-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren getting the ax. Was Bjorkgren the problem in Indiana or is this just a mediocre roster?

17. Portland Trail Blazers

Portland has been in the mix in the Western Conference for as long as Damian Lillard has been there, but they don’t move the needle. Year after year, they tinker with the roster, but the results never change.

16. Chicago Bulls

Despite major offseason moves in Chicago, they are extremely top-heavy. Their starting five of Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Patrick Williams, and Nikola Vucevic is tough. However, they have little to no depth, which actually matters during the regular season.

15. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers could be way higher on this list, but we have no idea what they are going to look like without Ben Simmons. Is he going to play at all or just wait for a trade? The Sixers are a mystery until there is clarity on Simmons.

14. Los Angeles Clippers

Speaking of uncertainty, does anyone have any idea when Kawhi Leonard will be back? Without him, the Clippers are a middle-of-the-pack team in the Western Conference. With Leonard, they are a legitimate title contender.

13. Boston Celtics

The Celtics are in year one of a new coach-GM combo. It just so happens that the old coach is the new GM. Ime Udoka is taking over coaching duties as Brad Stevens transitions to a front-office role.

12. Miami Heat

It’s going to be weird seeing Kyle Lowry in a Heat jersey, but he should fit like a glove alongside Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Miami has plenty to prove after their first-round sweep in the playoffs in May.

11. New York Knicks

Love them or hate them, the Knicks are one of the deepest teams in the NBA. They might have the best second unit in basketball. If they can stay healthy, they will battle for a top-four seed in the East.

10. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are a team that is on a steady come-up. As Ja Morant and the young talent around him mature, Memphis is going to be a dangerous team in the West. Don’t be surprised to see Jaren Jackson Jr. have a breakout year after recently signing an extension.

9. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks made a name for themselves in last year’s playoffs. After beating the Knicks in what many considered to be a toss-up series, they shocked the world by taking out the 76ers. Trae Young is emerging as one of the league’s best young players and that should continue into his fourth year.

8. Phoenix Suns

The Suns are due for a step back after last year’s trip to the NBA Finals. It’s difficult for teams that lose in the championship to bounce back immediately. The Suns are an excellent team, but they might need some time to get their legs under them this season.

7. Dallas Mavericks

There are two ways of viewing this Mavericks team. On one hand, Luka Doncic could be the best player in the world by the end of the season. On the flip side, Jason Kidd has done nothing as a head coach to inspire any confidence. I lean towards Doncic being otherworldly and thus, have the Mavericks in my top 10.

6. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors nearly made the playoffs last year without Klay Thompson for the entire year and James Wiseman for part of it. They added young pieces in the draft and should be fully healthy at some point in 2022. The Warriors are back.

5. Utah Jazz

Even though the Jazz failed to capitalize on their No. 1 seed in the playoffs, that doesn’t mean a total drop-off is coming. They still have a bright young star in Donovan Mitchell and one of the best bench units in the NBA. And oh yeah, they still have the best defensive player in the world in Rudy Gobert.

4. Denver Nuggets

Nikola Jokic is the reigning MVP, but it feels like people are completely overlooking this Denver squad. Even without Jamal Murray, they should have enough offense to be at the top of the Western Conference standings all year.

3. Los Angeles Lakers

This can be said for a lot of teams, but it all comes down to health for the Los Angeles Lakers. They are banking on LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis all being 100% for a playoff run.

2. Brooklyn Nets

No Kyrie Irving, no problem. The Nets are still the favorites to win the NBA Finals despite the melodrama surrounding Irving. They have the best duo in the league in Kevin Durant and James Harden. There is a good chance Brooklyn beats Milwaukee on Tuesday and shifts up to No. 1 next week.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

As much as I wanted to put the Nets here, I simply could not do that to the defending champs. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have a chance to break Brooklyn’s heart again in the first game of the year.