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NBA's 30 teams rated from top contenders

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# 10.10.2019 - 09:39:53

Some people like power rankings. I prefer tiers. It's a big-picture method of capturing how good teams are today, and where they are in the NBA's rise-and-fall cycle. It is an especially interesting exercise approaching the most wide-open season in recent memory. More teams than usual have claims to membership in the highest tiers. Boundaries are fluid.

As always, the listed order within each tier does not matter.

Tier 1: Top title contenders
LA Clippers

Los Angeles Lakers

Milwaukee Bucks

Philadelphia 76ers

Utah Jazz

Provisional status: Houston Rockets

• Some have eight teams here. Others cap it at the first four listed. Let's split the difference.


• When healthy, the Clippers probably have the most complete postseason-ready roster. They are still one player away -- either a ball handler or a big man -- from being airtight on both ends, but no team is perfect anymore. The Kevin Durant-era Warriors created an impossible standard of star power and two-way balance. The 2017 and 2018 versions might well be the greatest teams ever built. Only injuries could defeat them.

Concerns about LA's overall ballhandling might be overblown. The Clippers could build closing lineups around the quartet of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell. Leonard is arguably the league's best player -- a shoulder-checking isolation bully who has made just enough progress hitting the open man. George is overtaxed as a No. 1 option, perfect as second banana. Beverley is a little underrated as an off-the-bounce threat, and he'll almost always catch the ball with a head start.

Is that enough against the league's very best defenses? Who are the best defensive teams in the West? The Clippers don't have to play themselves. Basketball gods forbid they acquire Andre Iguodala. Utah has been the conference's stingiest team two years running, but with apologies to Royce O'Neale and Dante Exum, they don't have wing defenders who unnerve Leonard and George.

Lou Williams, a walking shoulder fake who makes sweet, sweet pick-and-roll magic with Harrell, is LA's ballhandling boost -- provided he can survive on defense in high-stakes moments. He might be able to hide somewhere against Utah's new closing lineup of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Joe Ingles, Bojan Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert. Utah has more ammo with both Conley and Mitchell to break from its offense and hunt the opponent's weakest link -- as Mitchell did in all but ending Carmelo Anthony's career during the 2018 playoffs. But with mean, long help defenders flanking Williams everywhere, I'm not sure Conley and Mitchell attacking him one-on-one will scare the Clippers. LeBron and James Harden are different stories.

If the Clippers have to yank Williams in favor of a superior defender -- Maurice Harkless, JaMychal Green, Landry Shamet, someone yet to be acquired -- they can still put a decent amount of scoring firepower on the floor.
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